How to Become a Better Writer: 5 Reasons Short Stories Will Help Your Craft

How to Become a Better Writer: 5 Reasons Short Stories Will Help Your Craft

Are you a novelist? Poet? Blogger?

It doesn’t matter which genre you specialize in, you’re surely wondered how to become a better writer. I’ll tell all of you the same thing: Writing short stories can improve your writing craft.

For those of you who are wary to spend your time writing short stories, let’s be clear: Writing short stories is not a waste of time.

It doesn’t matter if you publish your stories or not because either way, you’ll get something great out of it— becoming a better writer!

Here’s how short stories can help you become a better writer.

Table of Contents

  1. Don’t Worry About Length
  2. Focus on Scenes
  3. Improve Your Word Choice
  4. Tell Backstories
  5. Work on Your Self-Editing

5 Ways Writing Short Stories Helps You Become a Better Writer

pencil drawing of a hand writing - how to become a better writer

1. Don’t Worry About Length

Short stories get you writing.

Before I wrote my first novella in 2013, I was honestly scared of writing fiction because I didn’t think I had what it took to write a full-length novel. I’d started and stopped so many stories when I was a kid because I was always aiming for something huge. When I stopped worrying about the word count, my first finished novella came in at 30,000 words.

That’s still a little long for a short story, but the point is this: If you’re worried about length like I was, good stories are going to go left untold.

Take it one small step at a time. I wish I would have written more short stories years ago so I could have honed my craft early on. When you’re writing, your creative juices are flowing, and you need that to help you become a better writer.

Am I saying short stories are only for beginners or aspiring novelists? Of course not, but it definitely does help those who are crippled with fear over length.

2. Focus on Scenes

One thing I’ve noticed in my writing is that when I write long-form fiction, I get focused on reaching the destination and making sure each scene is going to take me there. But when doing that, it’s easy to forget about the scene itself.

Short story writing is a little different.

While you should care about the destination, there are fewer scenes to focus on, allowing you to treat each one with special care.

3. Improve Your Word Choice

The benefit to short stories is that they’re more focused. Sub-plots are minimal, and you typically don’t need to work in as much backstory as in long-form fiction.

Does that mean you should ignore dialogue and description in long-form fiction? Of course not.

But short stories help you exercise your talents to improve your word choice skills and help you learn how to paint vivid pictures for your readers.

4. Tell Backstories

A great exercise is to use short stories to tell stories that don’t make it into your longer form fiction. Dig into your characters’ backstories, or write short stories about secondary characters.

Even if it doesn’t make it into your novel or an anthology, it helps strengthen your other books by giving you deeper insight into your characters and bringing their experiences to life.

Plus, you can always use these short stories as reader magnets, in your newsletter or in anthologies meant to build your readership.

5. Work on Your Self-Editing

Some people might argue with me, but I feel that self-editing a short story is easier than self-editing a novel.

In my experience, you’re less likely to have major plot holes, and when you can read your story in one sitting, it gives you a better comprehensive view on your story.

With fewer scenes and subplots to focus on, you can focus more energy on each scene, your dialogue and word choice. All of this helps you become better at catching inconsistencies, grammar mistakes and other story elements.

One of our sister sites, the Freelance Writer’s Den, is running a bootcamp in the month of October focused entirely on improving your writing skills. Click the banner below or click here for more info.

how to become a better writer

Writing short stories can be tough. I find them more difficult than writing novels because there’s less room to elaborate on backstory or work in “clues” to the final resolution.

It’s not about cramming a novel into a shorter word count.

While you should still follow a story arc, it doesn’t mean your scenes are fast-paced. It just means there are fewer scenes that get you to the destination, and that gives you the chance to really hone your skills when it comes to dialogue, description, setting, and pace.

If you’re struggling to write short stories, a great tip is to listen to the real-life stories people tell you. These stories almost always follow a story arc with a beginning, middle and end, so it gives you a good place to start to come up with ideas that will suit the “short story” category.

Short stories are not just exercises to help you with long-form fiction. However, they can act that way when you want to improve your writing skills.

Have fun writing, and let us know in the comments below how your latest short story has helped shape your writing.

Filed Under: Craft

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  • Vinmori says:

    Deep and helpful

  • Colin Guest says:

    Some great advice here and I love all the comments. I write novels as well as short stories but have recently been advised by a top author to write short stories of around five hundred words. I had already written some, but will have to check on how many words they contain. In the meantime, once again thank thanks for posting this.

  • Ed Rude says:

    I love the idea, but back in college, I never took a creative writing course.
    Yup, four years of college, three years of graduate school and nary a course on writing.

    All the craft books I’ve purchased emphasize the long-form style we call novels. So I started plotting stories that would more or less take 75-80K words.

    I suspect the short story uses a different approach, or is it just fewer scenes?

  • I had quite a successful few years publishing short stories in the nineties but then styles changed, the ‘quick read’ and ‘twist in the tale’ became popular, neither of which appealed to me (I loved writing characters). I then moved over to article writing and travel-writing and achieved reasonable success here as well. BUT, and it’s a bit but, now I cannot get the creative juices flowing again and I find I cannot write short stories even for my own amusement. Any ideas as to how I can re-start the fiction muse? I’d love to pick it up again.

    • Marie,

      Have you tried writing short pieces using creative prompts? If you look in my post above, you’ll see that I talked both about how those have helped me and about my “conflict of interest” because I sell collections of prompts.

      The idea isn’t necessarily that your next short story will flow from a prompt written by someone else, but that the exercise of using the prompts regularly for a while will get your creative juices flowing so that you’ll soon be able to come up with ideas for your own stories again.

      Whatever method you decide to use, I wish you happy writing!

      Trish O’Connor
      Epiclesis Consulting LLC

  • Jennifer Florence says:

    Thank you for these tips. I’m just getting started writing short stories. I see the value in short stories now.

  • Shan O'Meara says:

    I have completed 2 short stories, but need for someone to look at them for me with a critical eye. When I give them to people, they always say, “I liked the first one better than the second one,” but never has anyone said anything about the content, just an overall yes or no. My family will never read anything I write, for some reason or another and all my friends say the stories are too long. The first one is 8500 words and the second one 6500, 19 and 15 pages, respectively. I could just use some help here. any takers?

    • I realize that your first choice is probably to get some feedback from a fellow author who is willing to help out for free, or perhaps in exchange for similar feedback on his or her own work. If, however, you end up deciding that you would like to invest in a critique from a professional editor, I hope you will keep me in mind. You might want to poke around the websites of a few editors to see who might be a good “fit” for you. Particularly take a look at my “Shop” section, where I have some critique packages that are especially good for shorter samples than a typical book manuscript.

      Whatever you decide, I wish you success. It’s exciting to have completed some stories, and I hope you find a home for them!

      Trish O’Connor
      Epiclesis Consulting LLC
      Freelance Editorial Services and Writer’s Resources

      • Shan O'Meara says:

        Thank you, Trish, I appreciate you stopping to take the time to help me out. You never said how much a professional editor would cost me. I have seen other prices and if you can beat them, that would help to sway more business your way. They are both fairly short pieces, 8500 and 6500 words, 19 and 15 pages. If you could give me your prices, lets go from there. Again, thanks for answering!

        • The folks at The Write Life have been so kind to provide this blog, so I want to respect them and not hijack their comment threads by posting price lists here, but since you asked, I can direct you how to find it:

          I suggest you look at my website,, and go to the section called “Shop.” You can find the kind of critiques you are looking for under “General Writing Critiques”, and that will give you a sense of what I can offer and what it would cost. If the packages listed are not exactly what you are looking for, just click the “Contact” link to propose something that will meet your needs. I am not currently set up for electronic payment processing directly through my site, so you would need to register on Etsy to purchase one of the packages.

          Thank-you so much for your interest!

          • Shan O'Meara says:

            Hi Trish-I have written several blogs. They are all about epilepsy because that is what I have. I could send you those too if you want. They are only about 400 words though. I will look on your website to find those prices. Thanks again for your prompt response!

    • Lisa says:

      If you’re still interested, I’d love to read your work.

      • Shan O'Meara says:

        Ok. I am working on my third right now, but have kind of stalled. I can’t think of anything that’s not so outlandish. Want to keep it in the same tone. Howdo I get it to you?

  • M. E. Picray says:

    Short stories, long stories… it doesn’t seem to make any difference. Writing is not a problem. Not being a computer wiz, I can’t figure out how to “publish” them. Amazon? Sure. If I could figure out what all that computer lingo means and how to do it, I’d be good. I’d like to publish collections of shorts… I have a lot of them, but … as above… can’t get them in code. I’m a WRITER, not a computer guru.

    The other problem I have is covers/illustrations. I’ve approached three colleges, and contacted a multitude of “artists” and they all seem willing to make some money… but then I go away all hopeful and I never hear from them again. One young lady just LOVED to talk about her anime… but I am not writing cartoons. (It seems that there are fifty thousand “anime” artists, but none who can do a simple illustration of a hamster or a cover art spaceship or a Chinese Imperial dragon.) Maybe I became spoiled by seeing Kenn Brown’s work? (I can’t afford him.)

    One college art department head said her students would love a chance to get published and in print… but then I never heard back from her. Another college art department head sounded all enthused, but I never heard back from her either. Is “follow up” a problem in schools these days?

    Another art venue asked me what “style” I wanted and she threw all these “art” classifications and styles at me. Lady… if I knew anything about art, (like the “styles” & etc) I wouldn’t be talking to her.

    So… it begins to seem that I’m going to have to do my own art. I’ve come up with an idea (maybe helpful to someone else?) I’m no slouch at photography. So I’m thinking I should just shoot some photos and use them as cover art or illustrations?

    If you have any ideas, or contacts, pls kick back to me. Tnx!

  • I LOVE writing short stories.
    In fact, I’ve started a series of golf short story books. ⛳
    Being in my primary genre, I’m unindated with tales from everyone I meet which provides me with ample material.

    I find with fewer words you are enveloped in the story faster. And with less words I can move to the next adventure while maintaining enthusiasm in the prose

  • Anthony says:

    Great post and 5 great reasons. I love writing short stories. It has helped me become a much better writer because of it.

  • Excellent advice. I actually publish parts of a novella on my website. This is the second one I’ve done. I know it’s not quite a short story, but I have written some. I also write poetry that I publish on my blog from time to time.

  • Colin Coles says:

    Great list of reasons. My short stories have been 250 words or even flash fiction. I enter free competitions and four have been published. I recommend entering your stories, especially where there’s feedback. There are times when you question your writing and a bit of positive affirmation along the way works wonders for gaining confidence. It does for me, anyhow. Composing poems can also be beneficial, when you are exploring characters or plot progression in a novel. Local writing competitions appeal to some, but the judges can have a very narrow focus of interest and may prefer a restricted genre, which they are keen to encourage and dismissive of new writers, who do not match their insular ideas about short stories. National/international writing competitions tend to be on the look out for originality and genuine new talent. Short story competition preparation and entry is good practice for getting that final novel manuscript back to the publisher- for going live.

  • In my writers group, we are all working on novels except for one member who submits short stories… and I love it! Workshopping her short stories always help me re-focus on pacing–good pacing, fast pacing, getting into a scene and out again. Yay for short stories!

  • Wonderful, Alicia, thanks for sharing. I’m writing only short stories right now, which land on my website or get published in online journals. I agree with all of your points! I particularly find it gratifying to be getting reaffirmation for short stories on current events from FB readers…a great way to build readership.

  • Kirsten McAleese says:

    Writing short stories seems a very intelligent way to use creative juices. I’m currently gathering (and honing) my poems together to set up a second collection of my poems. I’ll write a short story tomorrow though because that will keep my creative brain ticking in a slightly differnet way.

    Thanks for this advice article in the meantime.

  • I agree with this article. There is much to be learned by writing short pieces.

    My favorite writing exercise is even shorter than a novella or short story, the five-minute “sketch,” a short passage written with no prep or revision in response to some kind of prompt, such as a title or first line. It’s not written for publication, but can improve a writer’s skills and tap into the depths of imagination in ways that enrich later work.

    In the interests of full disclosure, I do have a potential conflict of interest, because I sell collections of prompts in my Etsy shop, but I do use them and find them helpful in my own writing.

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Freelance Editorial Services and Writer’s Resources

  • virginia says:

    I want to know how to get started and to get contacts to get my poems and stories out there.

    • Alicia Rades says:

      To my knowledge, it’s very difficult to publish poems and short stories with traditional publishers. You might consider self-publishing. Or if you’re not ready for that, you can publish stories online, such as your blog or on Wattpad to help you practice and get feedback.

    • PJ says:

      Authors Publish has some good resources. Of course, everything is competitive so be sure you send your very best edited and proofread work.

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