‘Lately, All My Stories Fall Short.’

It’s time to look at everything everywhere all at once.

Hi Yanyi. I’m at a standstill where writing fiction is concerned. I’ve been writing consistently for a few years and I’ve been lucky to have a writing community to support me and give me feedback. Lately, every time I finish a story, I feel like I’m aware of how the story falls short and my limitations as a writer. I’ve been struggling to improve my understanding of my craft and how to make it better. I’m also a little frustrated at how long it takes me to finish a story. Any advice?


Dear ___,

I so, so sympathize with how long it takes to write, and to learn how to write. In your letter, you share that you’ve done the legwork to build a writing life with both a routine and a community, which is great. Perhaps you have completed and even published some stories already.

Before I go any further, I have to make some conjectures from your letter, as you don’t say how your work is falling short. Where is the compass, exactly? The craft advice you’re reading and the published work you’re reading? Or some intuitive, inchoate sense within you that the stories just don’t work? I will try my best to answer your question with both of these separate possibilities, but just a heads up that I’ll lean in the direction of the latter.

Your frustration with your latest work sounds like peering into a bricked-up window. No matter how much you can visualize the image of the parlor beyond, you don’t yet have the tools to chip that wall away. That frustration, however, is also an indicator of a good thing: you’ve outgrown the stories you’ve been writing. You’ve read enough fiction to recognize what’s good, but you can’t bridge the gap between what you want and what you can do.

If you’re feeling that your work is inadequate because it doesn’t seem to match what’s out there right now, remember that craft is a retroactive amalgamation of other writers’ processes and creations. It reflects what’s past, not what’s yet to come. You are the one who tries for what’s coming. Attempting the unknown is how an artist grows.