03 May 2012

Permission to Fail: Some Further Thoughts on Story a Day

I met the gorgeous and fabulous Nicole Cushing of Laughing at the Abyss via her Twitter hashtag #storyeachnight. She reads a short story each day, and posts the title and mini review under that hashtag. Since one of my goals is to read a story a day in 2012, I jumped right in with my usual occasional-but-enthusiastic participation.

Nicole wrote a thoughtful blog post about the Story a Day in May writing challenge. She brings up some really good points about the potential mental scatter that could accompany putting together 31 different plots in such a short span of time. She writes,
If I participated in StoryADay, I’d end May with…well…thirty-one crappy flash fiction pieces. (Note: I’m not saying all flash fiction pieces are crappy, or that all StoryADay pieces are crappy. Just that if I participated in this event, my work — under those kind of constraints — would be crappy). It’d be crappy because my passion for writing would end up divided in thirty-one directions.
I wrote an excessively long comment to this post - so long I felt I had to apologize, and so long that I figured I might as well post it here. A shorter and more appropriate answer would be that yup, I did write a bunch of crappy stories last year, so I see where you're coming from, Nicole. Despite that, I'm doing the challenge again this year. Here's why.

I have recently started interval training. Normally, I'm a long distance meanderer / hiker, and I practice tai chi for hours on end. So the idea of doing short, super high intensity, repetitive bursts using all major muscle groups seems just a touch intimidating, if not downright cray-cray. I am used to having a certain precision control over how I move - that's what tai chi is all about - but in interval training, I'm spazzing all around my living room like someone who's been bitten by a hundred poisonous snakes. I am demonstrating to myself just how limited some of my physical capacities are as I fail to do certain kinds of push-ups (okay, any push-ups) and my legs feel like they're giving out.

However, I am getting strong. I feel freaking amazing (sore muscles notwithstanding) and I have all kinds of energy.

Analogically, last year I did Story a Day. I did not write 31 stories. I fell in love with some stories and lingered over them. Some ran to 7500 words and took two or three days to draft. Some stories didn't come out right the first day I tried to write them, so I gave myself permission to try writing them again the next day. I don't naturally write to flash lengths, so I had no expectations about doing that, but I gave myself permission to write super super fast and crank out a 2-4k story most days. I got one good story out of the month, and 18 monsters, so 19 stories in all. Besides that one good piece, the rest...well, I toy with one or two, but mostly they're trunked.

What did I get out of it? I got a month of practicing beginnings, middles, and ends. Personally - and this could just be me - I didn't feel scattered. I felt super focused on the mechanics of plot. No matter whether I was writing about rapacious monks or dark magic rituals or doppelgangers, I was thinking about how to make the leap from one plot point to the next without falling on my face.

I got strong. Super strong, at least, compared to where I was before the challenge. Creatively ripped. When the next NaNoWriMo came along, I had all this confidence about plotting, and I wrote 100k in November: a good, solid, workable first draft.

So...here's the thing. Yes, I found Story a Day to be singularly unproductive from the perspective of producing stuff that is good enough, or will be good enough, to polish and submit. However, I spend all the other months of the year trying to write stuff that is good enough to polish and submit. The problem is, how do you train to be a writer? The question is, is there value in giving yourself time to train without expectation of a certain outcome? When we set a goal of always writing good enough stories, do we miss out on valuable practice? To my way of thinking, Story a Day is about practicing writing. Runners do bajillions of sprints before they run a race. Short story writers are basicallly sprinters. Why should our training be any different?

Via

25 comments:

PT Dilloway, Superhero Author said...

My goal this year is to read 25 books. I'm about 40% done with that.

Deborah Walker said...

That's interesting, Elizabeth. I'm so pleased that you've found something that gives you such a creative boost.

Esther Spurrill-Jones said...

What a great way to look at it. I may have to try this next year.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

This sounds like a lot of work. I could never write a story a day. Maybe I'm just not a real writer.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

This is the first year I'm doing Story A Day. I have no illusions that everything I write this month will become something I will revise and submit. For me, it's about practicing the craft and playing with ideas and form and prompts, etc. Focused creativity, if you will. :)

Sarah Ahiers said...

ooh very nice analysis!

Julie said...

Hey, Elizabeth! Thanks for writing this. It's exactly what I hoped to get out of StoryADay when I started it and you've expressed it beautifully.

Of course, if people are writing well, and regularly they might not need a month like this. But if they're in a rut, or unproductive, or still finding their voice, there's no substitute for working hard and fast and making as many mistakes as quickly as possible, so as to get them out of the way :)

I'm so glad to hear it was productive for you and wow! That NaNoWriMo word count is impressive!

Emily L. Moir said...

Wow, I commend your drive. Both physically and creatively it takes a lot of discipline to force yourself through such rigorous exercises.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Good goal! For the past two or three years I've had a tradition of flunking a challenge to read 52 books in a year. So far, I'm on par with that and the short story reading challenge. We'll see what happens as the year progresses.

Elizabeth Twist said...

I am a challenge-oriented kind of person. This I know.

Elizabeth Twist said...

I was surprised by how much I liked it. You could always try a week of the challenge this year, to see if it suits you.

icedgurl trek said...

wow! very persevering..

cheers!
..TREK..

Traci Kenworth said...

Very impressive.

Scribbles From Jenn said...

Thought provoking and somewhat comforting. I may give it a try next year.

ScribblesFromJenn

Jan said...

It's more reading I do lately, though I wanted to write dayly, I can't seem to find the time to do so anyway these days.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Yeah, you're the type of impostor who completes and publishes novels. Faker.

Elizabeth Twist: Writer, Plague Enthusiast

Elizabeth Twist said...

Hooray for trying the challenge. I hope you like it!

Elizabeth Twist said...

Thanks!

Elizabeth Twist said...

Thanks, and you're welcome! I am enjoying the challenge again this year.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Thanks! I find it is gratifying to push yourself sometimes, though you can't expect to do it all the time.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Hiya, icedgurl! Nice to meet you.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Thanks.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Glad you found it somewhat comforting, Jenn. I am trying to stay positive even though it is a tough challenge.

Elizabeth Twist said...

I hope you find the time, Jan! If you don't write, it's always good to read instead, I find.

kelworthfiles said...

Best of luck failing, Elizabeth! :D I'm still not quite crazy enough to fail at a story a day, but I'm going to keep this principle in mind as I work on new stories in May. I've also written a meditation on stretch goals and success.

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