I keep hearing the saying that every successful writer must write one million failed words before they have their first success. I think that's one of the reasons I'm working on short stories right now. It's easier to tell whether or not an idea is going to pan out within the first few paragraphs of a short story, but sometimes, I get all the way through an outline and two chapters into a book before I realize it's just not something I want to write.
And when writing fiction, it's important to enjoy what I'm writing. There may come a day when I'll be contractually obliged to write a book in a story-line that I'm "over," but that's still years away. Many years away. If it ever happens (and for those of you who may read that as self-doubt, it's not. I'm simply stating that I don't expect to have to write something I don't enjoy).
So what are failed words?
As far as I can tell, they're simply words that make it to the page but never make it beyond the first or second draft. I gave up keeping track years ago, so I have no idea where I am on the trek to a million, but I'm going to try to make my first success happen long before then, anyway.
What about my short stories, then? If they're not part of the trek to a million words, what's the point?
To learn. To smooth out my writing style. I need to become a better writer, and that means learning how to paint pictures with words, but in as short a space as possible. My goal is to learn how to shorten my imagery while livening up my story-telling. To make the emotional impact of each passage more powerful. Make the colors brighter and clearer. To draw the reader in so deep that they forget it's just words on a page.
I don't know how well I've done that in my novels, but if I want to get better at my writing, I need to do something challenging, like trying to get short stories published. There's an art to creating a short story, and I can definitively say that I'm far from mastering it. But master it I will. Or die trying!
My goal is to write and edit and polish four stories by June 10. I don't know why I picked that date, but it's a deadline that I set, and I'm going to push to reach it.
I already wrote one story that's waiting for revision, and I'm working on another one today that I'm probably going to scrap (one more for the pile of failed words, I guess). But I'm 15% of the way to my goal already!