31 Short Horror Stories in 31 Days
A Challenge to Help Overcome Writer's Block
I haven't written anything of any real consequence in four years. In the summer of 2018, I was on the top of my game, cranking out 5, maybe 6 short stories a week. And I was in the middle of writing - but really it was just plotting -my epic novel masterpiece of super epic proportions. Did I mention it was going to be epic? It better be epic, I told myself, I'd spent the last 10 years outlining and plotting and characterizing and getting it ready to finally be written. My magnum opus. The Work I was meant to share with the world. My legacy.
Then something happened. Something inside me changed, almost overnight. A switch that had been set to "ON" since I was 13 years old just suddenly flipped to "OFF." Where I had been able to knock out 3,000 or 5,000 or even 7,000 words in a single day, I was now scrambling to put together a measly 500 words. If I was lucky. On the unlucky days, I got bupkis. Nada. Zilch. Just the blank page staring back at me. Mocking me. The blank page had become my mirror, reflecting to me that I was empty, hollow, a failure.
My ego had gotten the upper hand while I'd been riding the writing gravy train. I'd had bouts of writer's block before, but they never really lasted longer than a couple days. Maybe a week. And if all else failed, I just took Hemingway's advice to "write drunk, edit sober" and that usually did the trick.
Not this time.
In the fall of 2018, I fell into a deep depression. Everything my life was suddenly complicated and overwhelming. Too much to handle. So I followed Hemingway's advice and dove into bottle after bottle, trying to find the words that seemed to be hiding from me. And I tried everything I could think of to find them again. If I could just get into the right mindset, listen to the right music, buy the right desk, buy the right laptop, buy the right pen, the right notebook, sit in the car and try to write, sit by the beach and try to write, sit in a coffee shop and try to write, join a writers group, go to workshops, read countless articles online, ad nauseam.
I wasn't just blocked. I was creatively dead.
The world around me was tinged with the constant grey of depression and self pity. I had conned myself into believing I was a "real" writer. Sure I'd gotten a lot of words on the page in the past, but I'd never published anything. I wrote for myself because I HAD to write. I couldn't not write before. It was no different than breathing. I had to. It was part of my DNA. Writing stories was what helped me make sense of the world and all of its chaos and danger. Horror, in particular, was the lens through which I could dispel my own anxieties and dig to the heart of my fears. But now that the words weren't coming and my well of imagination and creativity had run dry, what was I? I sure as hell wasn't a writer. I couldn't be a writer if I wasn't able to get a single damn word on the page without immediately crossing it out because it was the wrong word. Every word was the wrong word.
I was no writer. I was a fake. A fraud. An imposter.
Four years of misery. Four years of doubting myself and hating myself and believing that 15 years of filling notebooks and word documents with prose had all been a lie. That I should have taken advantage of the gift while I had it and tried to publish something. Now it was gone. I was broken. So very broken. For four years I mourned my lost gift and walked through life like a ghost. Most of my friendships died off as I started isolating from the world. Retreating into my personal, private Hell. I went to work, went home, drank till I passed out, rinse and repeat. There was nothing for me anymore. If I couldn't write, I was nothing.
"Comfortably Numb" by Pink Floyd had become my anthem. A song I listened to day in and day out. It's melancholy melody the perfect tune to match my dreary soul. There might have been other music that crossed my path in that time, but that's the song that sticks out the most.
This spiral of doubt and despair seemed impossible to overcome. And yet, despite everything, a miracle happened. Just as I was in the belly of the beast, being consumed from the very heart of my being, I got a swift kick in the feels by one of my friends. Someone who somehow wanted to stick around despite my best efforts to push her away.
She was concerned about my drinking - and was one of the few people who knew the truth about how much I had been consuming - and flat out told me, "You are going to die before your daughter has a chance to remember you."
In the autumn of 2020, right at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, I had given birth to my little ray of sunshine, Sophia. But a couple months of motherhood hadn't brought any respite from depression or alcoholism. And when my friend stated so bluntly that these two diseases were going to kill me before I could truly have a connection with my daughter, it did the trick. Or, at least, it pulled me out of my spiral just enough to try and do something. To make a change.
That night, I went to my first recovery meeting. And I have been sober for 15 months since. Sobriety was what I was missing. The work has been hard, but worth it. Truly working on myself through the path of recovery was the shining beacon of hope that managed to break through the wasteland of my existence. Recovery hasn't fixed me or my problems, but it has given me the clarity of mind and the understanding of the word "serenity." And that has been the game changer. Never in my life have I been serene. Never before have I felt grounded and connected to something bigger than me. Now I am and now I feel less hollow and I beat myself up less. It's a massive improvement and I'm grateful for every sober breath I take.
However, even with 15 months of recovery, I still haven't written anything. Not a damn thing. I've tried, and failed, over a dozen times. I set goals for myself, both through word counts and page numbers. Failed. Gave up. Lost traction. I once more got into the routine of trying to find the right notebook, the right laptop, the right writing space, the right atmosphere, the right playlist, the right inspiration. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
And then last night, a miracle happened.
I was on TikTok, of all places, and just mindlessly scrolling through my FYP. Then this wonderful TikToker came on (and I curse myself for not saving her video or even taking a screenshot her username otherwise I would tag her here) and talked about how she used a random plot generator to get her out of writer's block. How she was so obsessed on the story she had to write, but couldn't. So she turned her attention to stories she could write. And that helped her finish and publish her novel.
A very intriguing proposal. And something I had never tried before. Never even considered before. Everything I'd ever written had to begin and end with me. My ideas. My writing. My muse. My inspiration. Me. Me. Me.
I reasoned that, even if the writing was mine, that didn't mean the inspiration had to be mine. Inspiration could come from anywhere, at anytime, and anyplace. That is the beauty of being an artist. You never know when the mundane will turn into the magical. Something you have seen a million times all of a sudden is transformed and inspires you to create.
And since my ideas weren't working, would it hurt to get some help from others?
Inspired by her TikTok, I decided to set a challenge to myself. A test, of sorts, to try and see if I can shake off the shackles of writer's block. Instead of trying to write my super epic novel of epic proportions, I would set aside my expectations for perfection and focus on starting and then finishing 31 stories. Short stories. I'm not waiting to start on a specific day or occasion (like NaNoWrimo), but just jump in and see what happens.
The only objective is to finish what I start.
The challenge is simple, but not easy. It wouldn't be worth it if it was easy.
And if anyone is interested, here is the overview and the general "rules" to this particular challenge:
1. I have collected 101 horror story prompts from various prompt sites (such as Masterpiece Generator, Springhole.net, and Screencraft) and number them. Then I use Google random number generator (just Google it and it pops up on the first page) to pick a number between 1 and 101. I'm not sure why I went with 101 versus 50 or even 1000. It's just the number that sounded right.
2. I generate a number and look at the prompt associated with that. If I get stuck on that prompt or if I just really don't like it, I can draw again. BUT I can only have the two prompts and I must pick one to write. This is the only hard stipulation. Otherwise, I could get lost in the loop of "nah, I don't like that one, don't like that one, don't like that one," and never end up writing anything.
3. I must write for a minimum of 30 minutes. I'm not shooting for any particular word count or page number. Again, the only goal is to start a story and finish it. If I have to go the other ol' Hemingway route (aka the legendary shortest story ever written - "For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.") then so be it. But I must spend 30 minutes trying to get something on the page and complete it. I cannot stop until it is completed.
4. I must remember that these are 31 prompts are for "warm up." A challenge to get the rust off my writing machine. To prove to myself that I can do this. The stories don't have to be good, they don't have to be polished, I don't even have to publish them. But I have to write them.
5. I don't have to write one story every day. If I'm having a bad day, a depressive episode, a day without spoons, then I can give myself a guilt free pass. I have to do my best to write the next day, but I've learned all too well that depression can linger and cling on for several days, if not weeks, until something breaks the cycle. I didn't want to give myself an "out" with this clause, but at the same time, I can't put the pressure on myself to write every single day. That'll lead to burn out and resentment toward this challenge. The goal is to finish regardless of how much time it takes. If it takes me a month or a year, it doesn't matter. As long as I have 31 stories to show for it.
And that's it. Those are the rules/overview of my little challenge. I feel it is achievable, flexible, and yet has some pretty good structure to it.
I officially started this challenge last night. And the results were...amazing.
4,092 words. 3 hours. And I had fun. I actually had fun writing something. I haven't had fun in years. I wrote a story from start to finish and I had fun doing it.
Maybe as time goes on, I'll consider publishing them here, on Vocal. Get my work out for others to read. No guarantees, but it's something I'm considering. Because that's the other way to shut up any thoughts of imposter syndrome. To actually take the leap of faith and publish. Get my work out there for others to read. And be willing to accept any critique or criticism that comes with that. But I'm not rushing to publish. The objective is to write and then see what comes. Pressure may turn carbon into diamonds, but I'm just a squishy human being and too much pressure will kill me.
Because of that, I'm trying to be kinder to myself. I'm trying to meet myself where I'm at. And last night reminded me that I love writing. Because I am a writer. A writer who has beaten herself up for far too long and with more maliciousness than a Mean Girl. I am coming to love myself, and my craft, and this is the best gift I can give to me. The me who is in recovery and the me who is trying to be better today.
If - no when - I pull this off, I will have 31 stories to show for it. 31 pieces of art to look at and prove to myself that I've still got what it takes and defeat that imposter syndrome. Show myself that I can do this. Even if my super epic novel never gets written, that's fine. I am a writer and writing is what I do.
I wanted to share all of this here with you because I know there are those who might struggle like I have. Those who have given up on themselves. Those who don't think they're a writer anymore or an artist anymore because they can't produce work. I hope to maybe inspire others like that glorious TikToker inspired me. You don't have to be in recovery to find your voice or your words. That's what worked for me. That's what I needed. But sometimes we all need a little inspiration.
If you want to use this challenge for yourself, by all means. I hold no claim to it. Hell, I even got the idea from someone else, so it's not even my original thought. It's just a simple matter of find X amount of plot prompts, use that ol' reliable Google random number generator, and get tappy tapping on that keyboard. You can do it too.
One last thought before you go: Never give up on yourself. Though the world may get dark and scary, with monsters and ghoulies hiding out in the woods, always remember you've got what it takes to survive. You have the strength and courage you need to get out of that darkness and back into the light. No matter how weak you feel. No matter how tired or defeated, you do have that strength within you. You can do it. I believe in you.
Much love to you and good luck on your journey.
About the Creator
Content Moderator @ Creatd (NASDAQ: CRTD)
Writer of horror fiction 🥰👻
Favorite novels and main source of inspiration are:
- Don Quixote by Don Miguel Cervantes
- The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
- The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Expert insights and opinions
Arguments were carefully researched and presented
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme
Original narrative & well developed characters
Zero grammar & spelling mistakes
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
In the fall of 2018, I fell into a deep depression. Everything my life was suddenly complicated and overwhelming. Too much to handle. - I can relate to this. Thanks for your honesty.
This is so encouraging, thank you for sharing!
I really like your approach and am going to try it myself, thank you for this excellent motivational idea!
You are courageous and a brave warrior to share your story that many need to hear. It speaks to me. Thank you! Look forward to reading your work. 😎
Thank you for sharing your journey. I know from experience that takes a great deal of courage. Your story is a motivation to others! Stay positive, and keep driving forward. I look forward to eventually reading your collection of stories!
Firstly congrats on your sobriety. Secondly, very well written I felt as though I was on the journey with you. I can’t wait to maybe see some of your creations
Thanks for sharing and good luck to you! I’m going through something similar, but grief instead of depression, or maybe I’m just kidding myself. Either way, I haven’t written anything except a blog post for months, not even in my personal journal! I should try this!
This is a great challenge for us newbies who are trying to build up the habit of writing every day. Thanks for sharing!
This captures so much of what it is to be a "writer" who isn't writing. Or isn't writing now. I've felt a lot of what you talk about. How do we think of ourselves is we're not where we thought we would be? I also like your idea about getting started. I am 100 percent positive I've never written 4K words in 3 hours, so congrats about that.
Thank you for this! I hit the dreaded Writer's Block in my mid-late teens and only last year found the curse broken with, none other than, Vocal's Chocolate Cake challenge. Who knew a challenge writing about food would snap me out of it? Thank you for the writing prompts idea. I'd never even considered something like that to help push myself.