10 things I learned from writing 52 short stories
I have literally just finished writing number 52. So, I will capture my thoughts here.
- think it helped that I started with a goal of ‘until Christmas’. (This added up to 24 weeks, 24 short stories). Having got to 24, I was like… ‘Huh! This is fun. I’m learning a lot. I’ll keep going.’
- I liked the container of writing the story in 2h or less. (Some weeks I had less than 2h, so I did what I could in the time.) No going back and editing. It kept it doable, and now I have my own treasure trove to go back and mine if I want to.
- It forced me to speed up decision-making, on every level. I only had 2h to try and make a story shape. I had to decide, decide, decide.
- I benefited from showing up, every week, no matter what. I know that some people think this approach is strict. But I didn’t put any pressure on myself to make something good. I just had to make something. I found it incredibly freeing to know that there would be another week. And another week. No one story was a big deal.
- It is an incredible opportunity to try anything for one writing session. I could try out different POVs. I could set any focus or challenge that I wanted. It was a really fun way to practice and explore.
- I deliberately stayed out of a highly analytical approach. I am doing the Ray Bradbury 1000 nights challenge (where you read a poem, a short story and an essay every night for 1000 nights). So I was reading short stories. But I did not turn it into some sort of quest to master ‘the perfect short story’. I just wanted to make 52 and have fun doing it. I trusted that I would get better in the doing. And that there’ll be plenty of time now to go back and work more developmentally on the ones that interest me the most.
- I decided to post them publicly, on my website. Personally, I wish we got to see more work in its first draft form. On the writing retreat that started off this challenge, I massively benefited from both Maggie Stiefvater and Sarah Batista-Pereira showing me their laptop screens with scenes in progress and earlier work. You will see typos, flaws, clunk, and stumbles in my stories. But I don’t think this should equal shame. (Even if sometimes it does feel a bit like getting dressed in public.)
- It was so much fun to start and finish something in one sitting! For the first two weeks, I wrote ‘notes for development’ as I was so frustrated that my time was up, and I felt like I had made such a mess. An excuse for a story. But by about week 4 or 5 I was sick of feeling miserable about what the story could or should have been. I made a decision to let the story be what it was, and that was enough. I just made notes if there were really fun ideas that I loved and couldn’t get to. (E.g. a hair-washing scene with zombies.)
- If you have a brain like mine, you might need to rein in your plot monkeys…who can see a bazillion things that could happen, and will try to get you to crush them all into 2 pages!
- It is the coolest thing to start the 2h with a blank screen and then end the 2h with a story. Even if it is a janky, warped, holey story. It did not exist 2h before. Isn’t that fun?! I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you try this challenge for yourself, designed in a way that works for you.
A few thoughts on what I've learned...