The Short Review

shining the spotlight on short story collections

A quick word about speed

One of the most interesting things for me, as editor of The Short Review, is seeing how different authors answer our standard author interview questions. The first question “How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection” often brings forth comments along the lines of Bret Anthony Johnston‘s in this month’s issue: “I’ve always known that I’m a slow writer, but man oh man; looking at it this way really highlights it to an embarrassing degree.” How long did it take Johnson to write Corpus Christi? Five years. Is this extraordinarily slow? Is there reason for his embarassment. Well, according to our survey, absolutely not.

So, to make Bret – and frankly all of us writing short stories – feel better, let’s take a quick look:

Mary Akers: Let’s see, I wrote the first story back in 1997, and the last story in 2007, so the math is easy. Ten years.

Allison Amend: The earliest story was written in 1997; the last was written expressly for the collection in 2008.

Paolo Bacigalupi: The first, Pocketful of Dharma was written in 1998, the last was written in 2007, so… 9 years?

Rusty Barnes: These stories were written between 1999 and 2006.

Kevin Barry: They’d been slowly oozing from my fetid little brain onto the computer screen for the best part of seven years.

Alan Beard: Thirteen years since my first collection (Taking Doreen out of the Sky), and that took twelve years to complete.

Aimee Bender:  About six years.

Regi Claire: To be honest, quite a few years (my guess is six)!

Ramola D: I think the stories that ended up in this collection were written across about twelve years.

Lise Erdrich: I could say twenty years, since that is when they first started to get published here and there.

Deborah Kay Davies: It took about 10 years altogether. 

Charles Lambert: I wrote the oldest story here (Beacons) over fifteen years ago and the most recent (Something Rich and Strange) last year.

Kelly Link: Altogether, I wrote these stories over the course of fifteen years.

Alison MacLeod: Eek. Should I admit this? A ‘debut’ collection makes the author sound so new, almost virginal, but the truth is the stories in the collection were written over a period of twenty years.

Clare Wigfall: Almost a decade.

Tamar Yellin: About twelve years.

Okay, I could go on and on…but I think you get the point. There are a number of authors who wrote all their stories in a year or two (or even six months, Warren Adler, and four months for Rob Shearman) but the majority, who didn’t have a collection in mind as they wrote, took years and years. Are you a hare or a tortoise? What does this mean? What pithy conclusion can be drawn?

Perhaps just this: it takes as long as it takes. Yup.Let’s leave it there.

9 comments on “A quick word about speed

  1. Freya Morris
    September 6, 2011

    It's true, you can't rush a good story.


  2. Jill Dian
    September 6, 2011

    Well that makes me feel a whole lot better…However I'm so old I doubt I'll get to the end of my story!


  3. Laura
    September 9, 2011

    Now THAT is so heartening to hear!


  4. Deb Rickard
    September 11, 2011

    Phew! Thank goodness for that. I've written 'several' I'd be happy to put in a collection this year but don't see any chance of a useful number for some years! Also, my stories often develop over time and are better left to mature in the dark for a while. Fingers crossed.


    September 13, 2011

    6 years for the first collection but I wasn't writing 'a collection' as such, just stories 🙂


  6. dan powell
    September 15, 2011

    Great post. Makes me feel a bit calmer about wanting to get my first collection out. As I have only seriously been writing short fiction for about three years, I can afford to take my time and give my stories the space they need to grow.


  7. Tania Hershman
    September 15, 2011

    Goodness, for some reason I didn't get notification of all your comments, hello! I am so glad this calms you all down, that was entirely my intention – pass the word on to any writers who mistakenly think they're "slow"!


    September 28, 2011

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    December 15, 2011

    The sentient cracks our keeper. The permanent food burns around a rose. Under this backward romantic arrives a deputy opera. The scarlet mumble averages a laughter under the mandatory arena. A studio clicks beneath the woman!


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