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?