It’s been hot in Virginia this August. I mean, miserable hot. The sort of hot where you go out after six in the evening because it’s finally cooled off, and you’re still soaked with sweat after twenty minutes. After a solid two months of seriously exercising every day, my biking routine took a nosedive in August because I just can’t bring myself to step outside unless I positively have to. That leaves me with plenty of time to come up with all sorts of weird ideas for pushing my writing forward in the fall.
The first plan for getting my brain working again in the waning days of summer: Thirty Short Stories in Thirty Days.
Yeah, I know it sounds like a recipe for producing a pile of crap content, but let me tell you why this is a good idea.
Too often, we get stuck on one idea. Think of that stereotypical English major, toiling away on his Great American Novel for five years before finally revealing a perfectly polished ball of dung to the world… leaving him with nothing but a failed Kickstarter and a beard soaked with tears and craft beer. I’ve never been precious about my writing, but I’ve long put most of my effort into writing novels on the hope that one of them would finally sell more than an hundred units.
Writing novels is fun and there’s something to be said for remaining focused on a craft that requires a long attention span in this a…
Sorry, I checked Twitter and lost what I was talking about.
Anyway, the point is that the short story is a venerable form which is experiencing a renaissance thanks to the re-emergence of science fiction magazines on the internet and the rise of the 99¢ Kindle Single. There’s no better time than now to dive into a challenge which will see you laying a foundation of ideas for your future writing.
And it’s important to think of it as a foundation.
Countless novels have begun their lives as short stories, and many a writer of science or detective fiction made a name for themself in short stories before selling their first novel. The form is a fantastic opportunity to explore ideas in a limited form so you don’t get trapped by a story that is doomed to sink into Nemo’s realm at 20,000 words. Which is not to say that you can’t keep up that one page a day pace of your next novel at the same time that you are writing your short stories.
It’s damn hard to make a living as a writer of any kind, and whatever regeneration of Doctor Short Story Who we might be on, the simple truth is that you’re probably not going to make a living of writing shorts and selling them to crowdfunded webzines. But don’t let that stop you from trying!
Because it wouldn’t be a challenge without arbitrary rules, here are a few that I’m laying down for myself. Feel free to steal them, tweak them, or throw them out the window and spent September writing pages 678-681 of your epic novel about an elderly barber reflecting on all the throats he would have cut if only he had known his razor lay upon the throats of bastards who ordered their caramel foam tea from Starbucks.
- Start a new story every day.
If you don’t finish it, fine. You can come back to it at the end of the month or tomorrow, but the point of this challenge is to cold press fresh ideas from your brain like a wifi-connected juice maker.
- Aim for 1000 to 2000 words in each story.
You need to give your readers value, but you also need to get in and out of the story quickly. We’ll talk more about where to submit your stories in October, but for now focus on producing content that falls in the low- to mid-range of lengths that magazines tend to accept. Shorter is okay. Do not go over 4,000 words! (He said, then noticed that the short story he’s currently working on is looking to be 6,000…)
- Vary your topics.
Don’t just write science fiction, or mystery, or erotica. Don’t write exclusively from one perspective. And for the love of literature try to write from a variety of ages, genders, and even species.
- Don’t publish.
Listen, I know it’s hard to hold on to a story when you’re doing a challenge like this, but the short story marketplace tuns on tight margins and they want to know that they’re getting your fans’ eyeballs. So keep it secret, keep it safe, and we’ll talk about publishing next month.
Now stop reading my words and start generating a list of potential topics for your 30 days of new ideas. Share your ideas in the comments or tweet them using #30DayShorts, which will clearly be only about writing and have zero posts from teenagers competing in a challenge to wear the same pants for a month.