Esther Newton, at her eponymous blog has kindly posted an article I wrote for her on how I came to spend November writing my Nanthology. Please have a look at Esther’s blog here; she’s a great inspiration to and supporter of writers. This what I wrote:
National novel writing month (Nano) in November sets a target of 30 days to write 50000 words. 1667 words per day. People aim for a novel or the start of one but I decided on a different challenge this year. How about I write 1667 words each day but instead of one novel a series of short stories? And then post them. Would this be easier or harder? Would I run out of steam/ideas/ time?
This is the story of that challenge. My Nanthology. The ups and downs. How to do it. Whether I cheat and what exactly is cheating?
How it started: I posted four ideas for my Nano 2015 in October. Four books I might write. I asked my readers to help me, to express a preference for which of the four I should write or at least start during Nano. I acknowledged I would do all four sometime but which one sounded most compelling. There was, I suppose inevitably, no one favourite. And the two leading were two I felt least inclined to do. One idea was based on a short story I wrote ages ago. I noted the coincidence. It was 1667 words. A seed was sown. I floated the idea past my wife and a couple of blogging friends. ‘Crazy’ ‘Brilliant’ ‘Drink less coffee’ were some of the responses. But already I knew I had to do it.
What worried me: In my experience you will lose days to life at some point. So actually starting, finishing and posting a story a day would fail. So cheat one: I allowed I would be able to write ahead but no more than two stories. I have participated in several flash fiction challenges and other writing prompts since I started blogging in April 2014 and if I’ve learnt one thing it is I can pretty much write a story in any tense, in any genre and from any PoV if, and it is a huge if, I have a prompt. A line, a character, a picture – I thrive on picture prompts. So I needed prompts. Badly, as I was about a week from the start.
Involve others: It really isn’t a stretch to say I love blogging. And bloggers. They are my ethereal luvies, air kissing me forward with good wishes and good grace. Please, I begged, prompts people.
The themes: Pictures, themes, titles, opening lines. I haven’t counted but I must have received 30 to 40 prompts, some sent multiple pictures, from all over. As well as pictures I had themes (write as a murderer, write an LBGT story), a homage (a modern take on an Irish Myth), openings (a knock at the door), titles (1667, the year).
Other rules: Anyone who prompted me deserved a story. I don’t think I missed anyone. And the challenge had to be varied. I would write in the first, second and third person. Present and past tense. All dialogue. From the end back to the start. Cover as many genres as I could: romance, fantasy, humour, children’s, sci fi, thriller, chicklit, dystopian, historic. And I would be ruthless about the 1667 words per day.
The start: Like my bungy jump, the waiting is the worst. I wanted to get going. But I couldn’t start until 1st November if the rules were to be applied. I failed. In the end allowed myself to write outlines to three stories so I could get ahead when I started. That created another plan – a recurring theme. Would I be able to link the stories? Or some of them?
Week one: To begin it was easy. Ideas were fizzing. I developed a character, Mrs Pickwick who appeared on day one. She reappeared in the 17th century as well as far into the future. She worked with aliens and was murdered. Boy did she have one hell of a month.
The difficult second week (and third): I suppose I was ten days in and loving the encouragement when I realised I was two thirds of the way through a story that wouldn’t work. I couldn’t end it in a satisfactory way. I told myself to leave it and started on another but its presence began to drain me. It took me a couple of days of anxiety that I might dry up until I came across the answer. I deleted everything I’d written. A blank canvas restored my equilibrium. Ironically a few days later I used the main character and setting on another prompt and wrote one of my better stories. After that I was ruthless. One story became so dark that it just didn’t feel right for this work and that too went. Another turned from sci fi to the one children’s story I wrote. By day 20 I felt euphoric and exhausted.
The worst: Alongside Mrs Pickwick I created Derek Dongle a hapless, live-at-home, wannabe spy. He was my comic creation and he had three stories. Some people liked him but he lost his edge, his essential humour. The story had a surreal edge but it lost something somewhere.
The best: I wrote one story based on one of Esther’s opening exchanges (the Final Journey) that I felt had the most depth, based around a survivor from the Japanese POW camps. Ghost lead to a lady called Helen – I never found out her second name – telling me about her own grandfather, another wartime survivor, and his insatiable desire to ‘escape’ from his nursing home. That led to the Houdini of Hounslow which is probably my own favourite story for the main character, the structure, the mix of description and dialogue and twist at the end.
Conclusions: It wasn’t that hard with the helpful prompts. Rarely did I start knowing the ending, maybe twice. Setting myself other challenges around POV and genre actually helped bring out the ideas. But having a three part story around Derek was a burden, whereas bringing Mrs Pickwick in as a minor, if recurring, player helped. I did get tired about two thirds in but at the end felt I could have continued. Being ruthless was essential. If it wasn’t working I stopped and went elsewhere.
And now I have an anthology of short stories. That’s not something I ever thought I could do. I saw it as more challenging than writing a novel. It was. If you are interested in reading any of the stories, here’s a link to the 30 stories. Enjoy
My Father and Other Liars is the second book by Geoff Le Pard. Published in August it is available as an ebook and paperback here:
His first book, Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle can be found here:
Geoff Le Pard started writing to entertain in 2006. He hasn’t left his keyboard since. When he’s not churning out novels he writes some maudlin self-indulgent poetry and blogs at geofflepard.com. He walks the dog for mutual inspiration and most of his best ideas come out of these strolls.