This month is our longest story in the 12 Short Stories challenge. I had been planning this post to encourage you because it is the month when many writers dropout, but given our current circumstances I am so happy to share this with you. I hope it’ll inspire you to turn your worry into words.
The world is on its head. We’re all trying to adjust to a constantly evolving situation. I asked some of the challenge veterans for advice on writing through it all. These are some of the writers who have successfully completed the 12 Short Stories Challenge every year since we started in 2017.
This is their advice for the longer March story, but also for writing in general and earning your #12/12 #braggingrights.
1. Don’t overthink it. Write a story from the heart and enjoy it.
2. Do not, ever, judge it. If it’s good enough for you, then it’s good enough (in my review of my first 25 I just published, I read them all again and thought, ‘I like these!’).
3. Don’t be a perfectionist. I write them, tweak them a bit and then post them. I sometimes run them through Grammarly. Done. Perfection is in the eye of the beholder, so making them too perfect for you might be moving them away from someone else. It’ll do!
1. Freewriting (just sitting and writing whatever comes into your head) is a great way to get an idea or sometimes a whole story or get rid of the dam wall of other thoughts that are stopping the creativity. Whatever comes is useful.
2. Never give up – ever. Whether you have an hour left or missed the last prompt, carry on writing.
3. Take feedback as what it is – help. It really isn’t personal. We learn the most from honest criticism not platitudes and we’re here because we want to become better.
4. Read others and some of their comments, it makes you a better writer and able to give better feedback to others.
- Just write and the story will come.
- Don’t stress if it is not perfectly punctuated just get the words down.
- It doesn’t have to be perfect, you can always change it later.
- It may be more words than you have written in total for January and February but not much more.
1) The challenge is addictive – all three the stress factors give me a kick:
i) to find a story around the prompt
ii) to stick to the word count
iii) to post on the day (come hell or high water!)
2) There are words to be found for every horrible prompt – and sometimes the one least-loved brings the biggest and bestest response.
3) Just write. Just post. Then read. And learn.
4) It’s a safe community that nurtures one’s insecurities into blossoming creativity.
Get it done
I think the one important rule in this particular writing environment is this: don’t try too hard to get it right/perfect/amazing. Just get it done. You can fix things up when you edit what you wrote later. But if there’s nothing written in the first place then you’re not doing a very good job at being a writer.
Let me explain a little. A long time ago I used to write for a magazine. When I first started I took forever to finish anything. Was it good enough? Did I get the right energy across? How’s the grammar? Are there still spelling mistakes? And so on. This paranoia caused me to usually submit very late which I later found out (when I became the editor myself), really puts pressure on the whole publication. I’m not sure when it happened, but at one point along the line I stopped caring about all the silly stuff and just got the job of writing done. Perhaps it was the strict deadlines or perhaps it was me realising that just getting something written is often the hardest part. You can always fiddle with it later.
Never skip a deadline
The second bit of advice is don’t skip a month. If you skip one, then skipping a second is easier. Before you know it you’re only writing one or two stories a year and making 8 excuses.
This is a self-discipline thing. Do not accept missing a deadline no matter what happens. I see using outside influences as excuses for not writing in the same way I see procrastinating instead of writing. The excuses just get bigger and bigger until you’re no longer writing. You’re just doing everything else, be that washing the dishes or caring for a sick child. There shouldn’t be an excuse. This is a harsh approach, but it’s worked for me.
Back-up your work
Keep a back-up of your work. Two copies is better. Gmail a copy to yourself occasionally, and copy your work onto a USB which you keep away from your computer (off-site). Don’t overwrite anything; just add the latest date on the end. Sometimes you want to go back to an old version.
We all go through our daily lives hurrying to complete tasks for all the different hats we wear and we often get on autopilot, hearing but not listening, looking but not really seeing. As a writer, I have learned to be present in each moment, to slow down and take in whatever environment I’m in with all five senses. I hear tidbits of conversations; see a really beautiful pop of color on a rainy day; take time to read an interesting news article about something random that popped into my inbox; had a thought pop into my head when I was being still for a moment and asked myself “what if” and created a scenario; or laughed out loud at some ridiculousness on a morning radio show. Why am I telling you this? Because these are all the ways that ideas for stories came (and still come) to me.
I know it’s hard to slow down when we have so much on our plates. But as the entire globe seems to be deeply impacted by this Corona virus, take some time and learn how to be present in the moment, not thinking about anything except the current task you are on. Take in your surroundings, describe things to yourself: smells, sounds, colors, the energy of where you are. Stay present and be open to whatever you might notice–and keep a notebook and pen nearby–and you’ll find ideas for stories revealing themselves to you everywhere!
I am not participating in the challenge this year and it was a decision I didn’t come to lightly. But I still wanted to take a moment to encourage you all. So, relax, be present and write on, writing comrades!
My method for getting started was to stay in bed for a little longer some mornings and let my mind wander for a few minutes looking for a theme for a story. Much of my writing comes from life events or recreating people I have known. Often an idea would just arrive. I would sometimes write in my head an opening paragraph or more before I got out of bed.
The rest was just sitting down with the belief I would reach the required word count. If I needed more words or less words, I would just experiment on adding or leaving out words. I stay relaxed and tried to have a good time as though it was a game to get the right number of words. I often leave it and then return rather than struggle. It sounds self-centered but I would read the words out loud as though I were a reader rather than a writer. Whenever I am writing, I believe in my ability to work with words like a carpenter with words or a nurse with patients. I just assume I am writing because I was meant to write. I don’t say it like a proud person but as someone who simply needs to tell others a story on paper. It is almost like sitting down with a cup of tea and telling a word story.
I begin by researching the prompt. The meaning and history of the word, consider the synonym. I write everything down.
I begin to consider names for possible characters. If there is no immediate inspiration I read thru my notebook of inspiration: quotes, fragments that I have saved. Whatever strikes me in that I write down.
By now I have already begun to put things down on paper. The act of writing itself is a stimulant. Forget about waiting for inspiration to strike. Forget too, about writing the next greatest novel. Like all who wish to become great in their chosen field, be it musicians, dancers, artists or athletes, must go thru the daily routine of practise. So too writers.
The discipline to write a short story to a given word count and prompt, is what flexes our writing muscles.
I take the challenge personal and serious. The most thrilling experience has been when I simply started writing without any idea where it would lead and I myself discovered the story as it unfolded.
There is indeed method to the madness of exact word count, prompt within a time limit. Consider it pure exercise.
Then, critique. If ever you want to show the world your work, you need to be tough and prepared to listen to both negative and positive critique. I have learned much from having to give constructive critique, it is hard.
Listen to and be grateful for the comments of those who give of their time to read and comment on your work.
Reciprocate and you have the opportunity to grow as a writer. You will be amazed at just how much growth takes place by being consistent and persevere in 12/12.
Before I joined this writing group I’d been writing, for myself, for over 20 years. I had tried sharing with another group and it was not good. According to them, and myself, I wasn’t a writer.
This group has changed that. I took a chance with this group when I submitted my first story three years ago. It was definitely shorter than 2020 March’s 2500 words. Looking back at it now, it was not my best work. It didn’t have to be. I received positive feedback, meaning NO ONE HATED IT. NO ONE WILL HATE whatever you write here. They WILL GIVE you positive feedback on HOW to make your story BETTER.
Trust yourself, the story will come. This is a very supportive group. We want to HELP you succeed. There are many professional writers in this group. I don’t say that to scare anyone off, just the opposite. I say that to encourage you to write, and take the suggestions we give. I am NOT one of the professional writers. I AM HOWEVER A WRITER. As soon as you POST your story YOU ARE A WRITER. If you WRITE, YOU ARE A WRITER. When you post your story here you are a writer working to improve your craft. Posting your stories here month after month you are a writer who is and will improve. I have, so can you.
The idea always comes. I used to get really anxious that it wouldn’t appear and then the anxiety really blocked anything from coming, but you have to write to find it.
You have an idea and sometimes you just have to do what Mia says and ‘write the crap out of it’ in order for more ideas to come and sometimes to find out the central conflict or twist. But trust the process.
- The idea always comes. Trust your writing.
- I post my story every month, even if I don’t like it. Those are the stories I learn the most from.
Write no matter what. In these times of feeling out of control, writing is something you can control. Pour yourself into it. When you do, you’re not focusing on the scary monsters for the length of time it takes to write. Don’t write about the current situation if you can. Remember people read to escape, write for the same reason.
Post your story no matter how you feel about it. Often the stories I’ve been least happy with have had the greatest impact.
And even if your story does suck, it doesn’t matter. Every time you write you get better and we’re all on this journey together. We are a kind community. It’s a safe place to have sucky stories. And the next one will be better.
If you don’t have an idea then spend time free writing. Open any book and use the first line you read as the first line in your story. Start from there and then just write and see what happens.
You might just have one line but no story. That’s fine. Put that line down. You only need to think one more line. Put that one down. Then you only need to think of another line. Keep going soon the lines will take over and a story will emerge. After that, all you need to do is make sure the lines are in the right order.
Stay safe, stay strong, write your way through this crisis. You can do it. We all believe in you.
Cheryl Rush Cowperthwait
I hope these lovely words from these dedicated writers inspire you or give you hope. Please remember no one can tell you how to deal with this situation. If deadlines are too overwhelming right now take a step back. The challenge will continue and it will be here when you are ready to start writing again.
Happiness and stay safe.