Friday Speak Out!: Dr. Scribelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Being Pretentious and Love Short Fiction

Friday, August 09, 2019
by Savannah Cordova

I studied English in college, as I imagine many of us did. And one thing that I had drummed into me as an English student — not even by teachers so much as my fellow English majors — was the longer the work, the better. David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, Haruki Murakami: these were the beacons of great contemporary literature, according to my classmates.

As for short fiction, the opposite was true. Yes, we occasionally studied well-known short stories in introductory classes. But the underlying implication was that we should only care about these particular stories because their authors had also made more “significant” contributions to the canon — i.e. full-length books.

Post-college, I spent about a year trying to write a novel, thinking it was the lone path to true writing prestige and the respect of the literati. What I didn’t realize was that attempting longform fiction with barely any shortform experience was like diving into the deep end of a pool without having had a single swim lesson. And the more I thrashed, the further I sank.

Desperately seeking a more manageable medium, I eventually stumbled upon Reedsy’s weekly short story contest. Contestants could choose from a selection of five prompts, and only had to write 1,000 words minimum. I figured I may as well give it a shot and, after selecting a prompt, began to work.

The result was a piece of creative writing better than any other fiction I’d ever attempted, including (and especially) my failed book. As it turned out, I didn’t need the pretension and pressure of trying to write the Great American Novel; what I needed was a little structure, tempered by flexibility and freedom, to write something quick and fun. Invigorated, I submitted that piece, and shed my old prejudices to become an enthusiastic advocate of the short story. Over the next few months, I won a handful of contests, became a finalist in others, and — most importantly — regained my confidence and genuine love of writing.

Another upshot of becoming a short story writer was that I managed to get a job with Reedsy, the host of the first contest I’d entered (and eventually won). Of course, this wasn’t based on my contest entry alone, but it was pretty cool to be recognized for my experience and actually apply it to my work. Within the first month I joined, I not only wrote a comprehensive guide to how to write a short story, but also helped judge the very contest I’d previously entered!

Since then, my portfolio has grown in ways I never imagined, both in terms of my own stories and helping other writers manifest their own. And while I haven’t ruled out writing a novel someday, I’m certain that I could never do it without having pursued this very different — but just as rewarding — path first. So suck it, literati; these days, I’m all about that short story life.

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Savannah Cordova is a short story enthusiast and writer with Reedsy, a publishing platform that connects authors with editors, designers, and marketers. She's also written for Thought Catalog and Litreactor and has been published in the Own Canyon Press anthology, No Bars and a Dead Battery. She writes fiction when she can, but you'll more often find her reading whatever she finds in the local secondhand bookshop.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Savannah--I usually write shorter, creative nonfiction pieces--pieces that don't need outlines.

When I dived into writing a novel (during NaNoWriMo) I needed help with organizing it, since I am a write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer. I found a particular book a wonderful resource. It helped me become an "outliner" and planner while still remaining enough of a pantser to be spontaneous when need be.

The book is "Save the Cat Writes a Novel." Here is a link to a review I did on the book for The Muffin:

Good luck with your shorter pieces. Perhaps in November you will join me for NaNoWriMo?

Unknown said...

Savannah - I related totally to your comments. When I discovered Flash Fiction, I felt like I had found my 'pot of gold'. Novel-length stories never felt right for my writing. I am currently working on several Novella's in Flash - specifically for each of my children.

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