What I Learned from Writing a Story a Day for a Month
The Daily Flash Fiction Challenge
Sometimes writers feel the need to challenge themselves. Maybe we’re in a rut and want to try writing out of our comfort zone. Maybe we want to finish that novel we keep putting off. Or maybe we just feel like seeing if we can do something new. I recently challenged myself to write a flash fiction story a day for the entire month of October, and I learned a lot about what I’m capable of as a writer.
It wasn’t an official challenge, but I took my Daily Flash Fiction Challenge seriously. I had recently finished a novel that I’d had on the back burner for years, and I wasn’t sure what project to start next. I wanted to try something new, since I’d spent the last year focused on the same story. I thought working on a smaller project might help, but I didn’t have any short story ideas in mind.
So I decided to force myself to come up with some new ideas. Thirty-one, to be exact. And to write them all in a month.
The rules for my personal writing challenge were simple: I had to write a flash fiction story (no more than 1000 words) every day for the entire month of October. I could brainstorm story prompts ahead of time, but I had to do all my plotting, writing, and editing all on the same day.
Like the famous writing challenge NaNoWriMo, this was a marathon not a sprint, but rather than focusing on one story for the month, I had to think quick and figure out a new one each day. That idea appealed to me. After working on several longer projects over the years, I was worried my short story skills were not as honed. One of the goals of this challenge was to see if I could still write in short form.
But it was more than that. I wanted to see how far I could push myself. Could I come up with thirty-one new stories in a month? Could I write a fully fleshed-out flash fiction every day? Could I force myself to write even when I felt like my creative juices had run dry?
The answer to all those questions turned out to be yes.
Coming up with 31 Story Ideas
Coming up with a new story idea each day was sometimes difficult, but I never failed to find something to write about (for a full list of my stories, see the end of this essay). Since I was writing in October, I often used Halloween-themed ideas. Some were scary (The Sound Water Makes), some were funny (Cursed Anonymous), some were tragic (The Return). Anything and everything was welcome. I would often pick an object or a vague concept—like a skull (The Skull in the Garden) or the idea of something sinister happening when it rains (The Rain)—and go from there.
Honestly, even everyday activities acted as inspiration, like when I was listening to music and thought an ominous song might make for a good story (Sweet Music). Trying to come up with thirty-one stories, I chose to accept any prompt as a possibility, no matter how mundane (lighting candles: Candlelight), absurd (an internet meme about Mambo No. 5: Where Have All the Mambos Gone), or cliché (creepy dolls: The Doll).
Plotting and Writing at the Same Time
Once I had a story idea, I had to plot it all out and write it in a day. I usually did both within an hour or less. Rather than sitting down and outlining each story, I just started writing the story and watched the plot unfold as I went. This is what writers call “pantsing,” where you make up the story as you go along. For longer works, I usually hit a wall at some point when pantsing things, but I found that it worked perfectly when writing flash fiction.
Most of the stories I wrote for this challenge started with me writing an opening image or scene, not knowing what would happen next. But putting words on the page helped the brainstorming process that leads to plotting. Once I had an opening scene or image, my brain immediately kicked in, asking what happens next, and I just had to think quickly about the answer. If the story became too cliché, I would try to think of the best way to throw in a twist that would make it stand out from other stories like it.
Writing Without a Clue
Writing down words on the page helped me focus on the story, even when I went in having no clue where I was going with it. In fact, one of the stories, The Blank Page, started out with the narrator discussing writer’s block and the daunting aspect of a blank screen, and that was because I hadn’t come up with a new story prompt, so I just started writing the first thing that came to mind.
Freewriting is a type of brainstorming technique where you write whatever is on your mind—even if it’s nothing—for a certain amount of time, usually only a few minutes. I found that freewriting was a great way to kick off some of my stories, just writing the first thing that came to mind. Freewriting then transitioned into more complex brainstorming, as I sat back and tried to answer the questions the initial freewriting came up with, which then evolved into plotting, all while writing the story along the way. During the times where I thought I couldn’t possibly come up with a new story that day, I found that freewriting helped a lot.
Editing Is a Writer’s Best Friend
Of course, freewriting and pantsing my way through a story meant that the first draft was usually pretty rough. But that’s what editing is for. Editing is like molding clay into a vase—except you have to make the clay first. But once you get that clay down, you can shape it into something beautiful.
Some of my stories needed a lot of editing because I didn’t know where it was going when I started it. Others ended up being too long for the challenge and had to be cut down. Yes, anything that went over 1000 words had to be pared down and it had to still work as a story. Harbinger was especially difficult for me to edit down to size because it deals with a historical topic I love to info-dump about, but I cut out the unnecessary details and I think the story became stronger for it. Editing was where most of these stories became stories.
This challenge really was, well, a challenge, but I made it through. And now I know that I can still write in short form. I can write a lot in short form. Not just that, but I can turn almost anything into a story. Looking in a mirror? Boom! That’s a story now (The Mirror). Struggling to speak to a real person in customer service rather than an automated voice? Also totally a story (Thank You for Calling). But I think the most important lesson I learned through the challenge was that I could write even when I didn’t think I could. Even when I felt the stories had run dry, I was still able to come up with something. And for anyone who has ever suffered from writer’s block, that is an important skill to learn. Writing challenges push us to the limits. Learning that you can hang on even when you don’t think you can is one of the greatest feelings in the world.
The Complete Daily Flash Fiction Challenge Story List
October 1: The Skull in the Garden
October 2: Old Growth
October 3: That’s Just What Cats Do
October 4: The Sound Water Makes
October 5: Cursed Anonymous
October 6: Candlelight
October 7: Harbinger
October 8: The Castle by the Sea
October 9: Bloom
October 10: The Doll
October 11: Perchance to Dream
October 12: Sweet Music
October 13: In the Dark
October 14: Bury a Friend
October 15: The Rain
October 16: The Return
October 17: A Light in the Fog
October 18: The Mirror
October 19: Bedtime Stories
October 20: In Between
October 21: Interrupted
October 22: Thank You for Calling
October 23: A Haunting
October 24: Trick or Treat
October 25: Standing Still
October 26: The Blank Page
October 27: Where Have All the Mambos Gone
October 28: And the Dead Shall Rise, Maybe Around Noonish
October 29: Carving Pumpkins
October 30: Stars
October 31: Halloween