Thursday, October 15, 2009

Strategies for the Last Lap of the 365 Short Stories Challenge

I have to admit, back on New Years, when I resolved to do a 365 SF Short Stories Challenge, I thought it would be a walk in the park. It's turned out to be a tough slog.

It's my own damn fault, of course. My initial thought was that I could make it through by alternating short story anthologies and novels - I'd gorge myself on a bunch of the small stuff and jack up my total for the challenge, then take a break with a long-form work for a bit, and back to an anthology again afterward, topping it up every quarter with an extra short story boost from the latest issue of On Spec or the odd copy of Neo Opsis. What could go wrong?

Well... me, of course. I'd hit a patch where I just couldn't resist reading a couple or more novels back to back without those crucial anthologies in between. Lost time.

But then I'd give myself a kick and figure I could double up: read one short story a day and then let myself spend the rest of the day's reading time with a novel. It ain't that simple though. Different anthologies have different ideas about what constitutes shortness in their collected works. Some are consistently brisk, with a whole bunch of stories that don't exceed a dozen pages. Easy to toss back one or two a day. Then you've got the ones that are all over the map - including items that are just a page or two alongside gigantor works that are up around 30 or 40 pages - novelettes or novellas or however they're classified. Big ass stories at any rate that can easily consume limited reading time in a day and not infrequently push over into the next day.

'Cause that's an important factor too - the time available to read each day. Some people may be militant about budgeting their reading time. As much as I love to read though, I'm not one of them. How much time I allocate fluctuates greatly depending on dinner, conversations or outings with my wife, quality time with the cat (and you cat owners out there all know that cats are very particular about getting every second they feel they're entitled to), plans with friends, TV time, blogging, work, yadda yadda yadda. Some Saturdays, I may spend hours with my nose in a book. Other times, there just ain't no time to read more than a page or two. When you run into a 30 page not-so-short story, a scheduling issue will set the short story tally back a pace.

Now, you might just be laughing right now and saying "Read faster, pokey!" But I like to enjoy my books. No point in reading if you're going to whip through so fast that you can't remember anything that you read along the way.

You might also suggest that if I really want to hit the magic 365 then I ought to play it smart and skip the big ones - say, set an arbitrary limit of however many pages and if a story exceeds that then pay no attention and move on to the next. But I don't like the idea of that either. If I'm reading an anthology, I want to read the whole thing, unless I've encountered one of the stories elsewhere recently and am indifferent to it. Those are the stories I'll skip. Otherwise, I've got to take on the whole thing.

Then I hit the summer and threw back a bunch of novels without many short stories in between. Lost a lot of time there. So, for the past three months or so, I've devoted myself entirely to anthologies and will stick to a diet of short stories only until I'm done this thing. (unless I see a new novel from one of my favourite authors, in which case I might feel the uncontrollable need to put off the short stories for a while so I can read it right away - but I can't let myself go down that road... must stay in control) At approximately 220 now, I figure I can down another 145 before the end of the year. I hope.

Even within this short-story only strategy, there are tactics I could employ to get through it faster. Sure, I won't skip a longer story if I come across it in an anthology, but I could choose anthologies specifically for the length of their content, setting aside ones with tales that are too long. In fact, I could hunt for anthologies that are specifically geared towards super short submissions, like Futures from Nature, where no story is longer than three pages. I could make up a lot of volume blasting through that one! Problem is, I read that book last year, so it's too soon to go through it again - at least, not without a vague feeling of cheating or running the risk of over-exposure to its stories, and I wouldn't want to get bored by them. I guess I'll stick to the straight-forward approach of picking up the next anthology on the pile, regardless of story lenghts inside, and power through cover to cover.

I've got more than enough anthologies to do the job - old ones that I haven't read for several years and new ones I haven't touched yet. Now it's just a matter of getting through the next 145 stories in a little over two months. So what am I doing here writing about the reading I should be doing when I could be doing it?

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