short and sweet

I bought myself two new books today. This was wholly unnecessary, as I own at least fifty books I have not yet read, and I have a reading list of well over 100. But I can’t control myself, and I love bookstores, and I figured that at least I was buying books of short stories, which I don’t read enough of, and I decided that this would help me further the education I am getting in my fiction writing classes at school, which all have focused on short stories.

One book is a large collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s shorts. The other is an anthology about adolescence, which should prove to be entertaining. Plus, a lot of my writing focuses on that, so it’s good to see what’s out there. The short story anthologies for our classes always duplicate famous stories, and they get so dull. I know I should read the classics, and I do, but crotchety old men get rather boring, as do cliché assignments like Jamaica Kincaid’s “Girl” (itself wonderful writing, but it as an assigned reading kind of hackneyed and obvious) and the same story by the same writers. This is my problem with poetry anthologies as well. I understand that I should read a lot of one author to really understand them, but is it too much to ask that not every collection have the same poems in it? William Carlos Williams wrote more than one good poem. Shakespeare did more than comparing thee to a summer’s day. Blah, blah, blah.

But it hit me that I can’t further my education if I haven’t learned anything. I have a lot of snobbery going into my writing classes here, which stems out of a variety of things: 1. I was trained in high school to consider myself completely above U of A; 2. I naturally consider myself above most things; 3. U of A’s creative writing program is nothing special unless it’s the MFA, which obviously I am not getting right now; and 4. I really have not learned that much about writing, at least not in a direct way, in either last semester’s beginning class or this semester’s intermediate class. I definitely learned a bit about craft in the beginning class, because we actually had to read a book about writing, and we had lectures and exercises that specifically helped us develop certain aspects of writing, from dialogue to setting to whatever. And, of course, we all know that the best way to become a better writer is to actually write, and to read anything and everything. Duh. So practicing my writing by having to write stories for class is always a good thing.

But it’s like I can’t remember anything I learned last semester, and this semester we only practice and half heartedly critique, rather than hone skills. What does that leave for the advanced writing class? Never having been one to write short anything, I have a lot of trouble with short stories. And after a semester and a half of “college writing classes,” I don’t really know much more about the art of short fiction than I did when I was writing paragraph-long stories in second grade. I have no idea what I’m doing. Teach me, please.

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