Lessons learned from writing 52 short stories
This was originally posted on reddit a while back, and I’ve been meaning to post it here.
I wrote 52 short stories across 9 different genres that totaled over 52,000 words. My constraints were one short story every Sunday, at least 500 words, and Iâ€™d publish them on my personal website. Iâ€™d consider them as first drafts, some needing more work than others, some exist as scenes, and some serve as the start of a longer story. I gave myself the challenge in order â€œjust write,â€ but also explore different characters, genres and ideas.
Success and learnings
In doing this, I now have a body of work, where I could (and will) return to and edit them to be excellent stories. And with this body of work, I can see what tics or habits I lean on. For example, I need to get better at showing emotion in a variety of ways, and my ingrained aversion to to-be verbs causes verb tense issues at times. Moreover, if I donâ€™t have a clear vision of an ending, my endings get muddy and flat no matter what idea I had at the start.
In exploring ideas, I found fun in writing other genres and challenge in working to incorporate people different than my male, American, hetero self. The western I wrote about a bar tender recounting a story of a samurai in his saloon was one of the best, and I realized I could work with the conventions of the genre and still be able to execute; the same can be said of the fantasy stories I played with. And I made conscious decisions to write women, minorities, LGBT, in fantastic or mundane scenarios as normal, ordinary people. Did I do them justice? I donâ€™t know. Iâ€™ll need to get feedback, especially for the story where a transwoman goes and buys a gun in reaction to an election.
Story telling may just be an exercise in empathy.
Ideas came from all over:
- A picture of greenhouse I saw on r/pics spurned a horror yarn with two teenage boys
- News headlines gave me more than one
- My father asking about whether I wanted any of our Brio trains chugged along into a magical realist story
- A joking comment about bourbon poured into oatmeal swirled into a story about a cam girl
- Self driving cars can go on dark rides along technologyâ€™s cliff
- Storage unit + science = !
- Ferris wheel that goes underground
- Social media is ripe for exploration
And on and onâ€¦
I even managed to write three on my phone while traveling 35,000 feet up in the air. But Iâ€™ll be honest, there were days where I scraped my keyboard for words. One idea Iâ€™ve had for sometime revolves around the woman in white ghost story trope but at a whiskey distillery. I was miserable writing itâ€”i wasnâ€™t feeling well, the setup was off, and it needed to be at least 5,000-6,000 words to create the tension. It was my worst. I cheated with the end, writing, â€œeverything burned, and he died.â€
I do intend to go back to that one and redo it.
- Scrivener served as my main tool; the iOS Notes app, and then the iOS Scrivener app for mobile
- I listened to a lot of post rock, jazz, and ambient music while writing
- I drank coffee, water, Mountain Dew, beer, or whiskey
- I really need to get dictation set up. I played with Dragon and a headset, but got frustrated with it
- Total words: 52258
- Average: 1005
- Median: 885
- Longest: 2351
- Shortest: 515