April 8, 2011

Thinking (or Overthinking) About Short Stories

The other day, while experiencing a standard writerly episode of doubt and frustration, I thought that maybe what I ought to do is try to get a short story published. The first motivation behind this thought is that novels take a damn long time to write and then to publish, and I'm impatient and human and want some external validation sooner than that. This motivation becomes more or less urgent depending on my mood, but in general I can basically get over it.

The other reason I've considered publishing a short story is that I feel awkward (again, with fluctuating intensity) about dispensing advice for fiction writers when I can't yet point to any examples of my fiction out there in the world. Why should anyone pay attention to what I have to say about fiction if they can't evaluate my fiction for themselves?

This worry is one of the many situations where, once I examine it, I realize I'm holding myself to higher standards than I apply to other people. The fact is, I read lots of blogs by writers, and I follow these people because I like what they have to say about writing, but I mostly haven't read their fiction, whether it's available or not. So I should potentially just get over this reason, too.

I'm not really a short story writer, and I think more importantly, I'm not a short story reader. Sure, I've read many short stories in my life, very often in the context of a literature or writing class. I have four short fiction anthologies here on my shelf, all of which I used in classes. Short stories are a great form, and given infinite time, I'd read a lot more of them. But since I can't read everything, I usually choose to spend hundreds of pages with one story rather than glimpsing different lives for a dozen pages each.

I especially never read literary journals or any other sort of print or online publication that I would submit to if I was trying to publish a short story. I'm sure there's excellent work in these places, but again, it's a matter of my reading priorities and habits. I don't think it makes a lot of sense to ask a publication to consider my work if I have no history of reading and supporting them. Perhaps this is an unrealistic standard again, but at least in this case, I'd like to apply it to everyone, not just myself.

I find this a compelling enough reason to ignore my impulse to get some short fiction published. Conveniently, this means I don't have to further analyze whether it would be worth taking the time away from my novel in order to write and submit these theoretical short stories.

After figuring out all this, it occurred to me that if my biggest motivation is to offer a sample of my work to my blog readers, I could simply post a story on my own site. I do have a story I wrote two years ago for a class that's a decent example of my writing. It needs some amount of revision, and since I haven't even looked at it in two years, I don't know what that amount is, but I think I could polish it up without letting this project become too much of a distraction from the novel.

You may now commence anticipation of the release of a new short story by Lisa Eckstein, forthcoming this spring from lisaeckstein.com.

7 comments:

Anna Scott Graham said...

I am very excited at the prospect of reading a short story by Lisa Eckstein. :) I too am not really geared into the short story style of writing; I've written some shorter novels, but even those are over 50K. But I have a great appreciation for those able to condense an idea into a small space.

I also have a great appreciation for those who write rather witty entries about their standard writerly episode of doubt and frustration. Ta love!

Lisa Eckstein said...

Thanks for your appreciation, Anna!

Henri said...

Borges, who is an awesome short story writer, never wrote a novel. If he had an idea for a novel, he would write a "review" of it. His argument was that this way he saved himself the trouble of writing it, and he saved us the trouble of reading it.

If you want to quickly absorb some science fiction before the next FOG event, you could do worse than picking up the collection of Nebula Award winning stories. I haven't done that in a couple of decades, but back in the day, I read lots of those anthologies, and they gave me a taste of the top writers then writing in the genre.

I wonder if those still come out every year.

--Henri

Lisa Eckstein said...

Borges has a good time-saving idea there. I should have thought of that sooner!

At some point during my teen years, I read a lot of sci-fi short story anthologies, but relatively few longer sci-fi works. Good idea to try that again.

Henri said...

I just started reading Ali Smith's collection _The First Person and other stories_. The first story is more like an essay about the short story form, and in it she sort-of-quotes many writers on this subject (including Borges).

Also: an SF short story collection I remember enjoying, and not only because of its title, is Gene Wolfe's _"The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories", and other stories_.

One of the stories in there is called "The Death of Doctor Island".

Lisa Eckstein said...

I love the titles in the Wolfe collection! I will have to read that, and the Ali Smith sounds good, too.

Henri said...

Another set of sf recs:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/may/14/science-fiction-authors-choice
Some great sf authors recommend some great sf authors.

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