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Writing Short Fiction and Nonfiction
by Kathryn Lay

I've had over 600 short stories, essays, and articles published in magazines and anthologies and won 62 cash prizes in writing contests. And yet, I struggle with feelings of failure because I haven't sold my children's books.

No one tells me I'm less, my peers are proud of my accomplishments. It wasn't until I realized that I love writing short pieces that I began to see the joys and advantages of them.

There is a sense of accomplishment and finality in finishing any piece of writing, but the completion of short pieces generally comes sooner than the novels I am working on. It is an exciting challenge to pack plot, conflict, characterization, dialogue, and a satisfying ending in less than 2000 words, more often less than 1000 for children's stories. I can write about things from my childhood or my daughter's childhood, things that are not meaty enough for a 100-page book. I can write nonfiction that is fun and interesting to young readers, emotional and informative for adults.

An interesting teen I've read about in the paper or know from my church is enough for a magazine profile. My daughter's experience with setting free the turtle she found fit a theme for Pockets perfectly. Combining my daughter's irritating talking doll and an experience with a nearby tornado scare became a short story that sold quickly to Boys' Life. By selling and winning contests with half the short stories I have in a themed anthology I hope to sell, I feel I've got more clout in finding a buyer for the book as a whole.

The opportunities to write and publish short fiction and nonfiction is endless. By reading and studying magazines for writers, joining writing clubs and organizations, trading information online with other writers, and reading market books, it is less frightening an experience to market your short writing.

There are magazines that include short fiction of humor, fantasy, science fiction, contemporary, adventure, mystery, western, and more.

For children I can create puzzles, poetry, how-tos, rebus. I can write stories that rhyme, read like journals, or take children to imaginary places in amazing ways.

I can write nonfiction for young and old about science, history, animals, pet care, health, safety, parenting, marriage, and much more. My life is often turned into essays, sometimes humorous, sometimes serious.

There are adult magazines and in-flight magazines that use short fiction for children, reviews of children's products, or articles for parents to understand, help, or entertain their children.

Dozens of Sunday School take-home papers for very young children through young adult and adult offer opportunities for nonfiction, short stories, profiles, poetry, crafts, puzzles, and cartoons. Some use themes. Many purchase only one-time rights, giving writers the opportunity to resell it to a non-competing denomination.

There have been anthologies for short fiction for children and adults, and many for nonfiction essays.

What about contests? Some of my short fiction and nonfiction has won contests over and over. One story has won me 5 times more money than it will probably pay when it finds a publication home. Occasionally, contests will be judged by editors.

A published picture book writer took several of her unsold picture book manuscripts and sent them to Cricket who purchased them as short stories. Turning that around, authors have had stories published in magazines and been contacted by editors who wanted them to flesh the story out into a book.

Perhaps you have published novels and nonfiction books. What about taking a strong character from your book and writing a series of short stories? Or the knowledge you used from your nonfiction research for magazine articles?

A well-published children's book writer once told me that she admired my ability to write and sell short pieces. She really wanted to, but hadn't been successful.

Magazines are read by hundreds and even millions readers.

It's true that books have influenced me as a writer and a reader. It's true that I'd love to see a book with my name on it as the sole author. But it's also true that I am deeply satisfied with completing a short story and seeing it in print. My writer's soul leaps when an idea comes that I know is a good short story or article. And receiving an acceptance, a check, a copy of a magazine or anthology or award certificate for my short stories and articles is exciting no matter how many times they come.

Do you love writing short fiction or articles? Are you a whiz at poetry or puzzles? When someone asks you what you do and you say you're a writer, what do you say when they ask what books you've written? Are you honest about being a short story writer or nonfiction article writer?

There is a place for writers of short prose, poetry, puzzles, articles, essays and cartoons...

Jump right in. And hold your head high. You are a writer.

© Copyright 2001, Kathryn Lay

Kathryn Lay is the author of 26 books for children, over 2000 articles, essays and stories for children and adults and the book from AWOC.COM Publishing, The Organized Writer is a Selling Writer. Check out her website at www.kathrynlay.com and email through rlay15@aol.com

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