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A Short Story a Day for a Year

February 8, 2010

“A short story a day, keeps the creative blues at bay.”

There is always a flurry of discussion each January about the perceived rise and fall of short fiction, with dooms-dayers equally paired with those who see an unprecedented potential facilitated by technological advances and diminishing attention spans (which play in the favour of the short – and ever shortening – form.) No guessing which camp I belong to!

Something occurred to me last year though. I don’t read short stories.

The thought came to me when I realised just how many unread anthologies I own, as they sat in a pile, beside my laptop, glaring at me. I had collected them up as reference guides while I was designing the ‘look’ for The Red Book. Seeing them there, covered in thick layers of dust… oh the shame. And it wasn’t just the dust – it was the knowledge of owning so many unread anthologies.

Of all the anthologies which have ever crossed my path, I have only read four (of which one was for uni many moons ago and one was mistaken as a novel – don’t ask, it’s an embarrassing story.) This appalls me when I compare it to the number of novels I’ve read. But this is still only a portion of the shame.

There is a certain school of thought which advocates the idea you should read what you write. When I look at the way my time is distributed and the investment I make in writing and editing short fiction, my equivalent in reading is abysmal.

But the biggest portion of the shame falls here. I can be as bright and optimistic on paper and in conversation about the future of short fiction, but if I’m not actively reading any of it – I’m a hypocrite of the highest order (and I hate hypocrisy!) As a writer, editor and publisher of short fiction, how can I expect people to read short fiction if I don’t.

In my defence, I did try last year to read more short fiction. It started with purchasing The 2009 Best Australian Short Stories anthology, (edited by Delia Falconer) and ended three stories into it. It has the thinnest layer of dust.

What’s the problem?

I read predominantly at night and that’s the crux of the issue – not the form. At the end of the day, like most people, I’m brain dead. Reading has to be easy. I want to pick up something I can simply continue on with. I don’t have the emotional and intellectual reserves to connect with another new writer, more characters, an unfamiliar narrative. Short stories are just not designed for my late night reading enjoyment.

For the past week I’ve been trialling a new commitment to the short story. With my son now at school, I’ve been going home via a local café, enjoying a pot of tea and a short story as a way of easing into the day.

The first day I was in a foul mood, in flux with the new arrangements and feeling ‘empty nest syndrome’ acutely, when I thought I would be rejoicing in my new found freedom. So it was through gritted teeth I ordered my pot of Earl Grey and opened 10 Short Stories You Must Read This Year, a not-for-retail-sale anthology of contemporary short fiction by some of Australian’s best known and loved authors. It was released as part of the Books Alive campaign last year.

Within five minutes I was transported to the North Coast of NSW and into the world of men, surfing and forbidden lust – not somewhere I would normally have chosen to go on a Monday morning, but it was somewhere I needed to go as a writer.

By the time I had finished Robert Drewe’s story, not only was I out of my icky mood, I was creatively recharged and ready to get myself home to tackle everything, both mundane and exciting (housework and writing!)

It turns out, for me, a short story in the morning is the best possible start of the day and it has been easy to keep it up. I liken reading a short story to a creative kick start, almost the equivalent to a short black on the body. It would be interesting to know if anyone else find this.

My plan for 2010 is

  • To read a minimum of 365 short stories, in as many genres as I can lay my hands on.
  • To read all the anthologies I own (or die trying!)
  • To write a simple critique of 365 stories.
  • Encourage other people to adopt short reading this year, as a staple rather than a sometimes treat. My wonderful new writing friends, Dan Powell, Chris Chartrand and Evie Applegate have all expressed an interest in trying it.
  • To find where the best fit is for short fiction in every day life (the morning, at night, at lunch time)

Inspired?

The short story a day for a year challenge begins this Sunday, 14th February. You can sign up at Writing in Black and White.

Until then a couple of questions:

… what was the last short story anthology you read?

… what was the last short story to blow your mind?

… if you write short fiction, do you read it – why/why not?

Jodi Cleghorn‘s creative year is ending with a bang… The Chameleon accepted for AXP’s upcoming anthology, Taping Lydia in the Best of Friday Flash 2009 and  interviewed with Paul Anderson on US radio Saturday. She also celebrates a year with Write Anything tomorrow. ‘Be-Fan’ Jodi on Facebook.
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8 Comments
  1. February 8, 2010 1:57 am

    I’m kind of tempted by this, but probably wouldn’t be able to do 365 stories due to work and all of that.

    I don’t read enough short fiction but I do read some, particularly Midnight Echo, the magazine of the Australian Horror Writers Association as well as Voiceworks and Overland.

    I definitely want to read more this year.

  2. February 8, 2010 2:18 am

    Getting excited about starting this now. Great excuse to crack open the pile of anthologies crammed onto my bookshelf.

  3. February 8, 2010 3:05 am

    I wonder if we’ve got any anthologies in common.. and good company to be in as an anthology horder… if I do say so myself.

  4. February 8, 2010 3:06 am

    Oh, I’m so glad someone else has mistaken an anthology for a novel. I did exactly the same thing recently and was gutted it wasn’t a novel.

    Before that one, I didn’t read short stories; like you I enjoy picking something up I can carry on, I don’t like starting from scratch every 10 minutes or so. Having said that, I found reading short stories at night helped with being able to go to sleep at a decent time. I could easily read a story and put the book down, unlike a novel where I always want to know more which often that keeps me up until the early hours.

  5. February 8, 2010 4:40 am

    NTWG: It didn’t happen to be Nick Earls’ “Head Games” did it. No where on the dust jacket or inside the cover did it mention it was a ‘collected works’… at the back there was a small note about it.

    No wonder it was called Head Games! It certain stuffed with my head – trying to work out how all the stories fit together. Of course it didn’t help either, that I was sick and running a temperature when I started reading it.

  6. Ian Dorking-Clark permalink
    February 8, 2010 7:23 am

    Why am I so technically inept that when I want to post a comment, I press the wrong button and my submission travels into the ether, alone, unseen, and unread?

    My thought was: Why should any person want to use the reading of a novel, of a story (whether short of long) or a poem as a springboard for honing one’s tools of the trade. I thought that the main point of reading was to provide enjoyment; to increase one’s knowledge; to confirm what one already knows, or thinks one knows.

    God knows I read slowly enough, and when I embark on a novel or whatever, I try to make sure that I will eventually finish it within a number of weeks (in many cases) so am happier with anthologies of works by a single author. This, for the same reason as you who like the continuity of a novel; not having to learn a new group of characters, or learn some new author’s mind sweep.

    I will take up this challenge, but hope that I have the guts to choose something just a trifle longer than ‘The ‘Hungry Caterpillar’.

  7. jim wisneski permalink
    February 8, 2010 7:27 am

    Jodi -

    The last anthology I read through was Just After Sunset by Stephen King. The last short that HIT me was Dolan’s Cadillac by Stephen King from Nightmares and Dreamscapes.

    I just started getting back into short story collections – why? Because you have a small space to tell a big story. Every word and line counts which is a lesson in itself to write a novel – sure, you may have a wide range of 80,000 words to tell a story but you need to make EVERY word count.

    Jim

  8. rooeymarree permalink
    February 9, 2010 4:55 am

    Ha! Oops… I thought this challenge was to write a short story a day, not read one!! Oh well, I’m still going to work on the premise of writing, rather than reading (although I’m going to do that too!)… with a slight adjustment… it will only be one a week – the challenges of cramming my other writing and work into each day just doesn’t leave me with enough hours! Thanks Jodi!

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