2017 has been, for me, the year of the short story. So far, I've read seven books of short stories (eight, if you include December), in addition to many of the stories published in The New Yorker. I haven't counted them up individually, but this year's total is already well over 100. And while seven books isn't a large number, it still represents a pretty big shift in my reading habits. Prior to 2017, I read mostly novels, with a few books of nonfiction thrown in.
Why the change? As an undergraduate, I majored in writing. The curriculum was quite broad—I took a bunch of lit classes, classes on non-fiction, classes on English history, etc—but my emphasis was on fiction, which meant I wrote a bunch of short stories. From the first day, I hoped to write something publishable.
In the 11 years (!) since graduating, I've carved out a decent career publishing journalism and short nonfiction, but my goal of publishing a short story has still not come true. I haven't always pursued this goal with diligence, but still, over those 11 years I've produced dozens of stories and been rejected easily 50 times.
It sounds like a lot, but 50 rejections is nothing compared to some other writers. Getting rejected is sort of a rite of passage. Everyone's got a story about rejection. The novelist Donald Westlake, to choose one example from the deep well of rejection lore, famously papered his wall with the 204 rejections he got before selling his first short story.
Anyway, I realized placing a short story in a literary journal is one of my life's longest-standing unaccomplished goals. Rather than feel sorry for myself, I figured I'd do something about it, and that meant basically taking it more seriously. So, in addition to making time to write fiction every morning, I've been reading a book of stories every month.
I take notes. I've learned a lot. I've written a lot. I've made progress, and, while I've been wrong before—more than 50 times, to be exact—I think, finally, I have some material that is worthy of publication.
I know there are a lot of folks out there with similar goals and frustrations. I also know writing is a lonely gig. But it doesn't have to be. So in that spirit, I'll be blogging here about what I've read and learned, how I've tried to apply those lessons to my own writing, and my (hopefully successful) publishing journey.