Short Stories About Writing or Poetry

These stories are about writers or authors. Some will show the writer’s process or struggles.

For stories that comment on storytelling or writing, see Postmodern.

See also:

“The Great Automatic Grammatizator” | Roald Dahl

Adolph Knipe has just finished building an automatic computing machine, the most advanced type ever made. His boss, Mr. Bohlen, is pleased with their success, but Adolph isn’t excited. Mr. Bohlen insists that Adolph take a vacation and relax. He comes up with an even bigger idea—maybe the same principles in his new invention could be applied to English grammar.

This story can be read in the preview of The Umbrella Man and Other Stories.

The Crop | Flannery O’Connor

While doing her daily chore of wiping the crumbs off the dining table, Miss Willerton thinks about ideas for a story. She settles on writing about a sharecropper because it’s an arty subject with social implications.

This is the fourth story in the preview of The Complete Stories.

“The Kilimanjaro Device (Machine)” by Ray Bradbury

A man arrives at the mountains and hills near Ketchum and Sun Valley. There’s one hill with a grave that he doesn’t want to look at. He’s looking for the place that an old man used to walk. He talks to a hunter who remembers seeing the old man. They talk about the old man’s writing.

This story can be read in the preview of I Sing the Body Electric and Other Stories.

“Cal” by Isaac Asimov

Cal is a robot and his human master is a writer of crime fiction. Cal was designed to perform mundane tasks, and that’s all his master requires of him. Cal wants to write, like his master. They talk about the possibility, but Cal’s understanding is limited. The Three Laws of Robotics also prevent him from creating many situations that would arise in crime fiction. His master comes up with something.

Some of this story can be read in the preview of GoldAsimov’s last collection. (20% into preview)

The Plutonian Fire | O. Henry

A short story writer who had some fiction published in the South struggles to get an editor’s approval in New York.

This is the first story in the preview of The Selected Stories of O. Henry

“Arts and Trades” by Rubem Fonseca

The narrator is one of the new rich. He made his money buying and selling. He’s improved his appearance, lives in a mansion, married a woman from a good family and has a mistress. One thing money hasn’t been able to fix is his lack of education. He knows that people think he’s a dummy. He reads an ad in the paper from a ghostwriter offering to write whatever the client wants. This could solve his problem.

This story can be read in the preview of Winning the Game and Other Stories(12% into preview)

“Portraits of His Children” by George R. R. Martin

A package is delivered to Richard Cantling’s door. It’s a painting, obviously from his daughter, Michelle. They’ve had a falling out, and this is a nice gesture. She had destroyed a self-portrait before storming out. No doubt this is a replacement. Cantling is angered to find the painting isn’t of Michelle. It’s of someone else he knows very well, although he’s never seen the person before.

Some of this story can be read in the preview of Future on Ice(62% into preview)

“The World of Apples” | John Cheever

Asa Bascomb, eighty-two years old, wonders why he hasn’t been given the Nobel Prize. He’s been awarded just about every other honor a poet can receive. His reputation rests largely on just one of his many volumes—The World of Apples. Admirers visit his home in Italy almost daily. One day, he has an experience that makes his thoughts run along more carnal lines.

“The World of Apples” is in The Stories of John Cheeveras well as many other excellent selections.

The Secret Miracle | Jorge Luis Borges

Jaromir Hladik, an author, is in his apartment when he is arrested by the Nazis. He is sentenced to die by firing squad; he is terrified, but his biggest concern is that he won’t be able to finish his latest drama.

Read “The Secret Miracle”

Guy de Maupassant | Isaac Babel

A destitute writer is hired by a wealthy married woman to help her translate Guy de Maupassant’s works.

Love Poems | Lon Otto

A man writes a love poem, which he is very proud of. He plans on sending it to a woman, timing it to arrive on Valentine’s Day.

Read “Love Poems”

Absense | Carol Shields

A woman sits down to write a story but finds her keyboard has a broken letter. She decides to carry on and make do.

Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote | Jorge Luis Borges

The narrator, a French academic, outlines the works of Pierre Menard, an author. According to the narrator, these are merely Menard’s visible works. He is going to focus on what he believes to be the authors’ unparalleled achievement—some chapters of the novel Don Quixote.

Read “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”

The Man Who Did Not Smile | Yasunari Kawabata

The author of a screenplay has been watching the filming of his movie for a week. He is inspired to rewrite the last scene, having smiling masks appear all over the screen. The movie is set in a mental hospital, so he thinks he must add a happy ending.

The Birth of a Poem | Amrita Pritam

A poem is forming in Ravi’s mind. He writes some of it. He broods over what goes into his poetry and his motivation for writing.

Read “The Birth of a Poem” (Pg 263)

Main Currents of American Thought | Irwin Shaw

Andrew finishes up his radio script of Dusty Blades, one of his recurring characters. He thinks of money in terms of how many words he has to write. He has lots of bills.

Read “Main Currents of American Thought” (third story in preview)

Portrait of an Immortal Soul | H. L. Mencken

Mencken receives a request to critique a manuscript. The novel is far from a masterpiece but it does contain an excellent story. He returns the manuscript with his suggestions for a rewrite. Mencken is surprised by the quality of the rewritten story.

Read “Portrait of an Immortal Soul” 

Winter, 1965 | Frederic Tuten

A writer has a story accepted by the Partisan Review. His acquaintances acknowledge his success  in the months leading up to the publication date. When the big day finally arrives, he rushes to the newspaper shop, grabs a copy of the periodical, and scans the table of contents.

Read “Winter, 1965” 

Moving Pictures | Charles Johnson

A man is in a movie theater waiting for the show to start. He thinks about the power of movies, and the status of filmmakers compared to novelists. We learn of the man’s background, including a failed marriage and financial issues.

The Middle Years | Henry James

Dencombe, a writer, is in failing health. He sits at a resort reading a copy of his latest novel, The Middle Years. He observes three people walking at a distance, and speculates about their relationship. One of the group, a young doctor, sits by Dencombe. They discover they’re both reading the same book.

Read “The Middle Years”

Seventeen Syllables | Hisaye Yamamoto

Mrs. Hayashi is a Japanese immigrant living in America. She writes haiku, but her daughter, Rosie, can’t read Japanese, so they don’t connect through her poems. Rosie is attracted to Jesús, a Mexican boy at her high school.

The Human Chair | Edogawa Rampo

Oshiko is a popular writer. Every day she receives letters from admirers and amateur writers looking for feedback. She takes the time to read them all. She starts reading a  manuscript, but it begins with “Dear Madam”—perhaps it’s a letter instead. A man, a chair-maker, says he has to confess a terrible crime. He’s been in hiding for months, but a change in his thinking impels him to reveal his secret.

Read “The Human Chair”

“Of This Time, Of That Place” | Lionel Trilling

Joseph Howe is an English instructor at Dwight College. One of his students, Ferdinand Tertan, is intelligent but mentally erratic. Howe, who is also a poet, is attacked in a literary journal as an irresponsible writer.