Monday, September 06, 2010

Confessions of an Unrepentant Short Story Writer

Herewith is the opening to a fantastic essay by Scott Bradfield that appears in the July issue of Critical Quarterly chronicling the toils of a short story writer as only Bradfield can.

by Scott Bradfield

Nothing teaches you to live with failure better than a ‘career’ (and I usethe term loosely) spent writing short stories. First there are the days you can’t get the story started, or figure out how it ends; or the dayswhen you find the ending, but don’t know what to start the nextmorning. There are the days when you finish the damn thing, but can’tfind an editor to publish it; or when you get the damn thing published,and nobody reads it. Then there are the days you don’t sell to the New Yorker (there are lots of days like this, by the way), or you don’t sell anoption to the movies, or you’re overlooked by the latest crowd of‘year’s best’ anthologies that continually assemble on local bookstoreshelves like jeering bullies on a playground.

But if you’re lucky, and you live long enough, you progress intowider and more prosperous regions of failure. You sell that story to the New Yorker, say, or you win a prestigious (i.e. doesn’t pay much) award. You publish your stories in a collection, and get well reviewed – OK, maybe not on the front page of the New York Times – but hey, youactually get a collection reviewed in the New York Times! You’re invited to an A-List party in Manhattan; you give a reading, or speak at a college. And then the big day comes, the day that every writer can only dream about while toiling at the difficult, and often deliriously happyjob of writing short stories. Which is when the big editor or film producer calls. And they’ve got a question.

‘Great stories, guy. So when are you going to write a novel?’

For a short story writer – this means you’ve arrived.

You’ve failed about as well as you can.

1 comment:

Francis said...

You epitomize the thoughts of a generation of doodlers who aspire to be Frank O'Connordom. Great stuff Scott. I'm thinking about the magazine editor spotting the interesting doodle on the top of the border of the Times and asking, "when are you going to write a short story?"