There are times when a writer just gets stuck. Not ‘writer’s block’ stuck, but in a ’motivationally challenged’ kind of way. That was me in November.
My book came out in July and was having modest success. People were asking about a sequel and I had begun developing a storyline which I was excited about.
I could have plowed ahead, but somehow wasn’t quite up to it. Maybe the second book won’t take four years, but still… knowing my turtle pace, I’m sure it will be at least two.
Someone who knows me well suggested taking a novel break and try writing short stories. One-a-day. Like multiple vitamins. “You don’t have to finish one every day,” she added, seeing my skepticism. “But come up with a new storyline you can finish later. Try it and see what happens,” she said. A little too breezily I thought.
But I liked the idea, even though I had no idea how to write short stories. It was a very ‘Ray Bradbury’ thing to do and I went for it. So while everyone else was doing the NaNoWriMo challenge in November, I created my own Short Story challenge.
Depending on the number of times I hit the ‘Snooze’ button, I have about two hours of concentrated writing time every morning. Here’s how I did it.
My rules for writing 20 short stories in 20 days:
- Every morning I had to come up with an idea for a short story.
- I had to start a new one every day. (No editing a previous start.)
- I couldn’t ‘cheat’ by thinking about what I’d write the night before.
- I had to NaNo write, meaning just plunder in and write off the cuff, grabbing at the slightest hint of an idea until something landed solidly on the page. This is also a very ‘Bradbury technique’. If you haven’t watched Ray Bradbury’s videos lately, they’re worth checking out.
- I set a time limit. Twenty stories in twenty days sounded right.
I got organized and made a Word Doc called ‘Short Story Grab Bag’ and inserted a table into it. At the top is a definition and five elements of a short story and some inspirational quotes. Then I made sections for Themes, Story Settings, Phrases that intrigue me, Metaphors, Interesting Words, Euphemisms, Phobias, Objects of Interest, Characters of Interest. I can throw anything in the Grab Bag at any time.
Each story idea, however, no matter how long or short, has its own separate doc.
Everything is in the same Folder simply titled: Short Stories
To kick the muse into action each morning, I used a variety of these tools.
- First things first: Make coffee and feed the cats.
- Settle in at my computer.
- Select a book from my ragtag collection that includes: Timetables of History, A Dictionary of Euphemisms, Sisson’s Word and Expression Locator, Thereby Hangs a Tale (Stories of Curious Word Origins). All of which I bought for $1 or less from our library book sales. They’re a great resource of ideas.
- Read Yahoo’s Odd News for plot and/or characters. It’s amazing what happens when you throw two or three disparate characters together in an out-of-the-ordinary setting.
- Check the Grab Bag, if needed, for a setting, a theme, or some odd phobia I can saddle my character with. People have some strange fears, including the fear of garlic, peanut butter, English culture and feathers.
Some days the plugs would spark before I finished my first cup of coffee. Other days it took the whole two hours. I don’t know how, but I managed to come up with more than 20 stories in 20 days. Here’s a few samples:
- A globe-trotting, gum-chewing Aunt who loves the kids and horrifies the parents, turns out to be a CIA agent.
- A man who believes someone is trying to kill him; the only thing that will save him is a white rooster which he carries everywhere.
- Discovery of a mysterious box containing ten thousand wedding rings.
- A homeless man who receives a $1and spends it in an unusual way.
- Story told through the POV of a front door who undergoes many transformations and sees more than the inhabitants of its house.
- A taxi driver, his cat and the drive of a lifetime
Why I’m starting to love writing short stories.
- I can play around with them to my heart’s content and still be done in a week or two, which gives me a sense of completion sooner.
- I can work on honing my writing skills in this smaller format that doesn’t require juggling all the bulky elements needed for a book.
- I can practice writing from a variety of POVs.
- I can write a story with a character I intend to use in a book, in order to get to know him/her better.
- I can write a story with a character that had to be cut from a book, but refuses to die.
Before I started this, I’d never written a short story. Now I’m hooked.
Update 1.8.12: Since doing this challenge, I’ve completed three short stories and picked up the gauntlet of writing another book.
Interested? Here’s the rules for my Short Story challenge?