How I Spent a Year Reading a Short Story Each & Every Night
It began, as many good things have, with Ray Bradbury.
In a 2001 lecture, he gave newer writers the following advice: “Read…one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night for the next one thousand nights.” In September of 2011, I began to follow Bradbury’s advice — maybe not to the letter — but close enough. And now here we are in September of 2012. In the past year, I have read a short story each and every night, and tweeted about it under the hashtag #storyeachnight.
It has not always been easy. There were some nights when I arrived home from work so exhausted that I purposefully sought out the shortest of short-short tales (thank you, Raymond Carver and Richard Christian Matheson). But, to compensate, there were other nights when I read novelettes and even the rare short novella (thank you, Glen Hirshberg and Algernon Blackwood). There have been nights I’ve wanted the bleakest of bleak fiction and picked up Ligotti. There have been nights when my brain needed a respite, and I read a Laymon shortie. There have been stretches in which I craved something from a different perspective, and sought out anthologies of African or European fiction (thank you, Lauri Kubuitsile; thank you, Olga Tokarczuk).
It has not always been easy, but it’s always been worthwhile. I’ve gotten a chance to read a lot of the classic short tales in weird fiction — the canonical stuff I probably should’ve read a long time ago, but hadn’t I’ve also read a more diverse range of authors than I would otherwise read. Fiction from other continents, for example., or literary fiction. As a writer, I feel my grasp on the short story has improved immensely. By immersing myself in stories, I think I may have gotten a better sense of what works and what doesn’t. I like to think that I’ve added to my writer’s toolbox by reading so much over the past year. In any case, there’s one statistic that bears examining: this year, I’ve sold more short stories than I ever have. I suspect that’s not a coincidence. I suspect that immersing myself in short stories, each and every night, has something to do with this apparent improvement in skill level.
Any time I indulge self-congratulation for this grand demonstration of what may be a mild case of O.C.D., though, I remind myself that — by Bradbury’s standards — I’m a total slacker. I’ve not kept up much with reading poetry, and I can count the number of formal essays I’ve read this past year on one hand. Likewise, I’m only a little bit more than a third of the way to the “one thousand nights” goal.
Still, spending an entire year reading a short story each and every night is probably worth celebrating. And so, this week at Laughing at the Abyss, I’m inviting some of my Twitter friends who’ve joined into the #storyeachnight fun to write guest blogs on what the project has meant for them. Later today, I’ll be posting U.K.-based author and editor Victoria Hooper‘s piece on her #storyeachnight experience. Tomorrow, I’ll be posting author (and fellow-Midwesterner) Michael Haynes‘ #storyeachnight guest blog.
In the meantime, feel free to check out #storyeachnight on Twitter. You need not commit to reading a story each and every night to use the hashtag. This is all about having fun, sharing our mutual passion for short fiction, and building a community of like-minded souls.