So yesterday I finally finished reading and editing all the entries for the MICROMALAYSIANS short story anthology for Fixi. In all there were 1,163 submissions, and out of that, 100 made the cut. I wish I could have included more, but that would have meant compromising the quality of the final published book, and we all know how we don't need any more subpar books out there.
The whole experience was a challenging one. I learned that writing a compelling and engaging story in 150 words or less is a lot harder than it sounds. Just about any literate person can write 150 words, but to write something that is memorable, affects and/or entertains the reader within that short amount of time? Tough. I wouldn't be able to do it myself, really. So I have a lot of respect for the ones that got published because they stepped up to the plate and delivered.
I also learned that for a lot of the ones that didn't make the cut, their focus was misguided, in my view. What I received more often than not were what looked like middle-of-the-line, ranty 150-word tweets, when what was asked for were short stories. I'm not saying that what they wrote was wrong. Everybody has a right to write whatever they damn well please. But I guess what I would say to most of the people that didn't get published is: read a whole lot more published short stories. Read a whole lot more published anthologies. Read contest-winning short stories. Analyse and think about what makes them good stories, and take that lesson to guide your own writing.
Another thing that peeved me while reading the submissions were that a lot were very eager to ask rhetorical questions. Here's a definition of rhetorical questions, if you're not familiar:
A rhetorical question is a question that you ask without expecting an answer. The question might be one that does not have an answer. It might also be one that has an obvious answer but you have asked the question to make a point, to persuade or for literary effect.
There're times and places for rhetorical questions, and what I've found is that a 150-word short story is not one of those places. More often than not, they came off condescending to the reader, even if the writer meant well. So I guess these are notes for me as well, as a writer: lay off the rhetorical questions, and you can never get enough reading under your belt.
There are also some things that I have learned about myself throughout this process. I've learned that it takes me about 10 minutes of reading before I start dozing off now, which is an improvement from the 3 minutes I could hold back when I was still a uni student, so improvement yay!
I've learned that I'm a lot more strict with written pieces than I thought. Approving 100 out of 1163 means that for every story I approve, 10 stories do not. I guess having read what little I have read so far has informed me of what short stories should be and what they should give the reader, and I looked for those things in the stories that were submitted. Unfortunately for many of them, what they wrote did not have enough of those elements.
I've also learned that I don't hate editing. This comes as somewhat of a surprise to me, because I have once declared to myself that I hate proof-reading. I guess there's a difference between the two processes. In editing, I could choose what I wanted to proof-read and what I didn't. If the content was good enough to me, then I would proof it. If I didn't like the content, I didn't need to edit it. In proof-reading, there's no such option. What the client sends is what you get, and you have to make the best of what they've given you. Also, I think that in editing, there's a creative element to it, where one can tweak certain aspects of the story in order to make the story pop better. In proof-reading, it's just grammar and sentence-structure, for the most part. A proof-reader has little say over the creative content of the piece, or at least that's how I see it.
Overall, I'm glad that I got the job done, and I'm eager to see how people react to the book. The publishers are currently in the process of looking for illustrators to introduce a visual/graphic element to the anthology, which I think will only enhance the readers' experience of the book, so I'm excited to see how those turn out as well.
Here's to getting more stuff done in the future.