Curtis Sittenfeld's 5 Steps For Writing A Short Story

Curtis Sittenfeld’s 5 Steps For Writing A Short Story


Writers Write is a writing resource. In this post we share American novelist, Curtis Sittenfeld’s five steps for writing a short story.

Curtis Sittenfeld was born 23 August 1975.  The American writer is the best-selling author of PrepThe Man of My DreamsAmerican Wife, Sisterland, and Rodham.

Her first short story collection, You Think It, I’ll Say It, was published in 2018 and picked for Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club. Curtis has interviewed Michelle Obama for Time, and appeared as a guest on NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’, CBS’s ‘Early Show’, and PBS’s ‘Newshour’.

Her books have been translated into 30 languages. Her nonfiction has been published in The New York TimesThe AtlanticTime, and Glamour.

Follow her on Twitter: @csittenfeld and visit her website: curtissittenfeld.com

In a recent article for The New York Times, she included her one-month plan for finally writing that short story. We think her five steps are incredibly practical and useful and we wanted to share some of the advice with you.

We have included excerpts from the article below. Please read the full article here.

Curtis Sittenfeld’s 5 Steps For Writing A Short Story

Step 1: Make A Time To Write Every Day & Decide Where You’ll Write

Before you start writing, you need to decide when you’re going to do it. The author says: ‘Look at your calendar and decide in advance which day(s) and time(s) you’ll write.’

You also need to know where you’re going to write. She goes on: ‘… Also to do in advance: Decide where you’ll write and what has to happen so that when your first writing session arrives, you’re ready.’

Step 2: Decide What Your Story Is About & Create An Outline

It’s a good idea to decide what or who you’re going to include in your story – and to make sure it’s something you would like to do. She says: ‘If you haven’t already, decide what your story is about. The most important criterion is not that it sounds impressive or even interesting to someone else; it’s that you find it interesting.’

She then spends time talking about an outline. She adds: ‘This part is optional… but writing an outline, even if you use almost none of it, can be incredibly helpful.’

Step 3: Spend Your Allocated Time At Your Writing Desk

Step 3 seems self-evident but is probably the most important step. She instructs: ‘Write! Or, during your scheduled writing times, don’t write — that’s totally acceptable, too. Just don’t do anything else.’

Step 4: Finish The Story

Step 4 is so important, especially for beginner writers. It’s all about finishing that first draft. Sittenfeld says: ‘Keep writing… Your goal is not to write a great story but to finish a story.’

Step 5: Decide Where You Want To Go next

She says that you may discover that you’ve finished a story and that that is enough for you: ‘After you’ve finished your first draft, read your story in its entirety once. Maybe this is as far as you want to take it. If so, congratulations — you did it!’

But perhaps you’ve discovered that you want to do more with the story. This will, of course, require more work on your part. She continues: ‘If you want to improve your story, put it away for at least a week then start revising.’

And if the second is true for you, she ends with the caveat that you may have just discovered that you want to become a writer. ‘ If the idea of continuing to smooth out the messiness of your work feels weirdly exhilarating, if multiple additional stories are burbling inside you, if completing a draft or two makes you suspect you’re at the beginning of a journey rather than the end of one, you also deserve congratulations. You just might be a writer.’

Please read the full article here.

Resources For Short Story Writers:

  1. How To Show And Not Tell In Short Stories – Workbook
  2. The Short Story Checklist – Workbook
  3. Short Cuts – Course

Source for image

 by Amanda Patterson

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Top Tip: Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop.

This article has 1 comment

  1. Anne

    There are two statements in this article that does runs counter to my own short story writing experience: “make sure it’s something you would like to do.” As a novelist, my genre is contemporary romance, but I enjoy writing short stories, as it gives me the opportunity to try different genres. In one story, my male MC is a serial killer, and he murders the female MC. In another, the MC commits suicide. In others, she is run over by a taxi; he is a heartless libertine; she is killed by a bomb. Now I come to think of it, I do have a tendency to kill my characters off – certainly not something I would like to do.
    The other statement I have a problem with is: it is not important that it is interesting to someone else. That goes against the precept that you need to know who your readers are, and what interests them, if you want to sell your stories. If you are writing for yourself of course, and do not want to publish, then it does not matter.
    In the end, what works for me, as a writer, may not work for someone else. In the end, every writer has to find their own way.

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