The Short Story Plan


I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. It feels too arbitrary, making life affirming decisions only one time in the year. I feel this to a point where I actually resent getting any decent ideas at the turn of the year. But that’s what’s happened. It was deep into January when I heard about someone learning one poem a month off by heart. I thought I might join him, it sounded like a worthy thing to do, like dedicating my commute time to getting through all of the works of Shakespeare, and it would help me get into poetry, which I’ve mostly ignored in my reading life. But then I realised this would all be pretending: If I’m honest with myself, I’m never going to really appreciate poetry as much as perhaps I should. So why not, instead, do something that means more to me? I’d already been trying to read more, to plough through books rather than pick at them. So I looked towards writing. How about writing one short story a month? It might not produce anything worthwhile but at least I would be building up a habit of writing regularly and by the end of the year I would have amassed a significant chunk of work.
It was reading a Lydia Davis story, Break It Down, which formed an extra edge to the monthly stories. I think of Davis as a cerebral writer but this story, while obviously following one man’s thought process, is full of passion and emotion and body. I have always admired exact writers, writers without fluff, writers like Joan Didion and William Maxwell. And whenever I’ve written, I’ve tried to fashion my writing to the same pattern. But Break It Down made me think, why not try writing a different style each month? It will be an exercise to stretch my writing into different shapes and in different directions.
We’ve just slipped into February and because of having the idea late in January, I haven’t given myself a full month with the first story. Still I am going to stop and pass onto the next one. What I’ve finished up with isn’t completely tailored. It’s rough, with loose ends and not filled out. But I have tested myself. I have written something that needs more plot but is full of feeling without being mawkish or sentimental. It is honest. If I get another monthly story done early I could go back and patch this one up. But I have a story.


Setting Off


So my reading, instead of getting more conservative, settled or narrowed into a particular channel as most things do with age, is widening. Up to only a couple of years ago I limited what I read to exclude pretty much any genre fiction and any non-fiction. I stuck mostly to contemporary American fiction, and while there is much territory to explore within that, I was depriving myself of so much. It was only after taking a deep breath and asking for a list of sci-fi reads on a distant, forgotten corner of the blogosphere – and actually liking some of the choices – that I realised reading, for me, serves many purposes. Before, I was only getting one taste; after, I realised I could wring so much more out of books. Now, sometimes I read purely for entertainment. Sometimes for relaxation. Sometimes I want the book to excite me. Sometimes I want the worldly truth. Sometimes I want writing to exercise my brain. Sometimes I simply thirst just for the right words. Sometimes I want inspiration to fuel my own writing. Very rarely – if ever – have I read to relate. I don’t buy into that whole argument. Drama and strangeness are injected into most writing to give it a jolt of interest so I don’t see how this is possible. On the other hand, it might be pointing towards my own colour on the autism spectrum. Another source for opening up my reading comes from having kids, looking out onto the open, reflective fact that everyone and everything should be well rounded. So this blog will be a space for me to think about writing. A place to hoist up my own writing. And the books I will review will take in everything, with one caveat: If I can’t get into a book, I will cast it aside. So all the books reviewed here must have some force to have swept me through the length of it.