I first heard about the Story A Day Challenge in May 2018, when I was struggling with poor health, poor finances, and concern over a family member who’d been hospitalized for a mysterious illness.
The idea was simple: get a prompt a day, and write a story a day. And with 31 days in May, that meant I’d have to write 31. Stories. Every. Day. No. Exceptions. Period.
I considered all of the compelling reasons why I shouldn’t participate in such a fool-headed venture: I needed to focus on more important things. I didn’t have the time. Or the energy. Or the ideas.
There was no good reason why I should sign up.
So of course I signed up.
Participating in the Story A Day Challenge taught me a few interesting lessons from the experiment, lessons which you can learn too, if you decide to take the plunge:
1. Writing 31 stories in 31 days is NOT as hard as you think
All you need to do is, as Hemingway said:
- Sit down at the typewriter and bleed.
- And tell all your friends and family members that they will not see your beautiful face for the next 31 days, because as soon as you get home from work, you’re going straight to your den/home office/laptop/typewriter, and woe to those who dare disturb you in the middle of your creative madness.
- And, if possible, move your bed and refrigerator into your writing room so that you don’t need to waste time walking across the hall for your daily necessities.
Some banging-your-head-against-the-nearest-wall and shedding of tears once in a while helps, too.
I’m kidding, I’m kidding.
2. Writing 31 stories in 31 days is HARDER than you think
That is, if you do it wrong — ie, If you wait ten minutes before the clock strikes midnight and expect plot inspiration to download from the heavens straight into your brain, you’re out of luck.
3. You will produce quite a bit of rubbish
Let’s face it. Inspiration is a beast. It comes when you don’t want it to, and doesn’t stick around when you do. Yet without it, your work is often, well, rubbish.
This is when we all must remember the words of the unfortunately-not-immortal Richard Burton:
If you’re going to make rubbish, [make it] the best rubbish[!]
4. But you will not always produce rubbish
A mentor once told me the story of a pottery class where half the students were told to produce one perfect pot in one year — the other half was told to simply produce one pot per day.
At the end of the year, the second half of the class had produced a pile of impressively ugly pots. But their “good” pots were far better in quality than their classmates who were given the whole year just to make ONE pot.
I other words, quantity leads to quality. Or at least, forcing-yourself-to-stop-being-so-darn-judgmental-about-your-work-to-the-point-of-paralyzing-yourself-into-writer’s-block leads to quality. And making yourself write a story a day for a whole month seems to do that quite nicely.
5. Worst case scenario, rubbish is recyclable 😀
The thing is, by forcing yourself to write even when your Inspired Brain is not cooperating with you, you’ll eventually produce so much twaddle that your Inspired Brain will get frustrated with your nonsense and throw a few genius lines, characters, and ideas, into the mix.
Then, it’s your job to extract the gems from the gunk and repurpose them in your future writings.
6. You will discover that cats are your favorite animal
Well, I don’t know if that will happen to you, but when I got writer’s block, tossing a cat into the mix (see Lesson #12) was all it took to get the plot moving again 🙂
7. Everything, literally EVERYTHING, can be your inspiration (especially other art forms)
Keep your eyes peeled, because you never know when/where/how inspiration will hit.
One of my stories was based almost entirely on a foreign language song I stumbled on:
(This is not my usual listening fare…I had no idea what the singers were talking about without reading subtitles, but hey, if it works, it works!)
8. You will discover that “story” can be a very amorphous term
One of my stories was 6 words. Another one was 14 bulleted sentences. Another one was a shopping list.
Yes. You read that right. It was a shopping list. (And it was my favorite one!)*
9. Darker stories are easier to write
Death, pain, suffering — all provide great fodder for stories. Which means if you are (or want to be) a storyteller, don’t be too upset when life sucks. Every drop of that painful experience can be turned into a story…maybe even an awesome one!
10. If you want to make things a little easier on yourself, take off your pants!
Well, not literally.
I’m referring to “pantsers” like me — people who like to write “by the seat of their pants,” ie: sitting in front of a blank page and waiting for nonexistent inspiration to download from the heavens.
Take it from a 10-year pantsing veteran: Pantsing does not work.
Well, like maybe 0.79% of the time. But if you really want to be a writer, those are NOT good odds.
So stop it with the pants.
Plan your story a little before you start writing — my easiest days on the StoryADay challenge were when I had at least a germ of an idea written down and ready to go when I sat down at the keyboard the day after.
11. Writing short is harder than writing long
If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter — Blaise Pascal
It would have, in some ways, been easier for me to write a novella per day than a short story per day.
Because it’s easy to come up with story ideas (just surf reddit or quora), but not so easy to tighten the idea enough that you can tell it in 1000 words or less, without the whole thing falling apart.
I now have a new respect for short story writers.
(But not the ones who create ads featuring shiny cars driving down winding mountain trails or draped with minimally-clad women, ideally not at the same time. That would be dangerous).
12. There is no shame in stealing
Stealing story ideas, I mean.
If you get caught nabbing a garlic knot from your local pizzeria, though, don’t sue me. Let me spell it out clearly: Stealing is wrong, everybody!
…Except when you “steal” ideas from life to create YOUR OWN story.
For example: Years ago, I heard a true story about a family whose children prayed for a cat (See Lesson #6), and the animal literally dropped from the sky. I kid you not. It really happened.
(There was a reason for the cat’s unexpected airborne abilities, of course. You’ll have to read the story to see what it was. See “call to action” below)
So all I had to do was make up some character names, dialogue, and other details, while keeping the basic story situation intact, and voila! An original story was born.
Good artists copy; great artists steal. — Pablo Picasso
13. Once the month is over, you will NEVER want to participate again…until at least next month
I’m not gonna lie. When June arrived, I was extremely relieved that the month was finally OVER.
Writing a story a day is demanding, draining, and sometimes kinda awful. It also requires quite a bit of discipline, which, let’s face it, I do not possess in spades.
But it also taught me a lot about myself. Story writing is a kind of journaling, which is not only therapeutic, but, done right, can change your life.
Also, it feels pretty darn awesome to have finished freaking 31 stories in 31 days. 31 STORIES! I mean, that’s pretty much a full novel, people.
The best part is — no one has to read your stories (unless you let them). You can learn all the lessons from writing, save the gems, and burn the rest, if you want to.
Ultimately, when you commit to writing a story a day, you will emerge a different person. A stronger writer, a clearer thinker, a more confident storyteller.
So if you haven’t yet given writing a story a day a try, do it. Now.
Lock that self-critical, doubting voice in a trunk, and toss it in a well.
Determine to give your writing a real go.
You owe it to yourself and to your world to give your potential and your ideas a chance to live.
Because once you’ve written 31 stories in 31 days, you’ll be unstoppable.
Ready to Kick Off Your Writing Career?
I’ve created a system to help you find and harness the discipline and inspiration to write a story a day, and beyond. Get the dig here: