While living and working in Edinburgh in 2008 I set out to write one million words in 366 days... but only managed 800,737.

Monday, December 1, 2008

November Experiment – A Post-Mortem

[to go along with number 21.]

It’s strange to sit down at my computer today and not need to get a hundred word story out of the way. Throughout November the task was a millstone. I couldn’t start working on a longer story until I’d done my hundred word one, and despite the length, they weren’t that quick to write. First there was coming up with an idea: either a plot (such as the ribcage on the beach in 13), an image (e.g. “full flame” in 30), or an arbitrary rule (e.g. using every letter of the alphabet except “A” in 20). Then there was writing a story. Then there was making it work in one hundred words. Most of the time this meant cutting. A couple of times this meant looking for another sentence.

So I should be relieved to not have to write another tiny story today, right? Except I feel I’ve got another story in me. I’ve overheard snippets of dialogue that could be the beginnings of a hundred word story. Images have popped into my head that could be chiselled away to reveal their clovis point. The palindromatic and 7th person singular stories I never got round to writing are still waiting in the green room, reading magazines with the covers ripped off, hoping their name is called next.

The November Experiment is, at least in this respect, like a micro version of my yearlong experiment. Creative writing is habitual. Ideas come when you have somewhere to put them. Words come when you have something to sit down for. The way to get over whatever hump you’re at, so it appears to me, is to write regularly. Whatever it takes to sit you down -- a blog, a competition deadline, a book contract – you gotta milk that for as many hours as you can.

I think it also speaks back to my post a fortnight ago on Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and the fact a writer needs to put in around 10,000 practice before their genius will show. I don’t think my hundred word stories became demonstrably better as the month went on, despite knowing more about what the form can do (and what it can’t). But I feel like I could, if my life depended on it, write a better hundred word story today than I could on 1 November. Or perhaps just write one quicker. I’d be able to recognise the false starts and the blind alleys, having come across similar before. I’d be able to choose the best suited of available ideas.

The same goes with short stories (over 100 words): the more stories I write, the more I can see the roadmap before I begin and can choose a more direct route. The story itself may not be the best I’ve ever written as I write it, revise it, or even after I’m finished and satisfied with it, but that may not be the fault of how much practice I’ve put in. That may be a failure of genius.

FOOTNOTE: According to wikipedia, a hundred word story is called a drabble. I just found this out.

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