What I Learned Writing a Short Piece of Fiction Every Day During the Month of October

Good evening. I hope this missive finds you well. 

November is upon us and it feels as though we’ve entered the tail end of fall. Color’s faded from the once vibrant foliage, temperature’s have plummeted (18 degrees on the car thermometer this morning), and the days have grown shorter. 

It’s been a week since Halloween, a week since the end of October, a week since the culmination of Short As Fictober, my self-imposed, month-long writing journey. I haven’t written much of anything since then, but I have had a moment to reflect on the experience and make a plan of sorts.

Stuck in a Rut

For over a year (since finishing my MFA program…Go Auggies!) I’ve been so caught up in trying to find an agent and get my book published through traditional means that I forgot why I wrote in the first place: I like telling stories. And while there’s nothing wrong with wanting to publish traditionally (for the record, I’d be grateful as hell if an agent chose to work with me), it can become cumbersome and demoralizing. I found that even though I did put some effort into writing new stuff, I put a lot of my energy into tweaking a query letter, revising the novel a third time, researching agents, and sending the book out. This is part of the process, but I think I put myself into a holding pattern of sorts. I was waiting for something to happen.

But there’s thousands of other writers out there working the same steps, so the odds aren’t great. 

Then I realized, that it’s okay to write for writing’s sake, that not everything needs to be placed or published in a journal or magazine, and that if I do want to publish something I can put it up on my website to share with anyone who wants to read it. 

Finding Inspiration

I took inspiration from other storytellers to push forward with this process. 

My best friend of all time, Gairo Cuevas, is a talented filmmaker out of California’s Bay Area who just released a short horror film, Hazard, and is already hard at work on another short film. The guy’s making movies because he loves to make movies. I think it’s safe to say that he wants people to see his flicks, but I believe he’d continue writing and shooting films regardless.

Michael W. Conrad is someone else who I’ve been following. He’s been grinding away at drawing and writing comics for years, and he and Noah Bailey just released a head-trip of a graphic novel, Tremor Dose, through Comixology Originals. It’s crazy good. In other news, Conrad and Becky Cloonan are responsible for the most recent issue of Doom Patrol. Conrad is consistently honest about his triumphs and travails with storytelling and publishing. In a recent exchange he said, “Finding YOUR path is critical… do what feels good, and serves you. Do no harm, but take no shit.” This is a key piece of advice. There are many roads to trip on down, and finding the one that works for me is vital.

Finally, I was listening to a Gerard Way interview in which he was talking about his creative endeavors, and he mentioned a Maya Angelou quote he has posted in his office–“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” No need to hoard the ideas for fear of running out…there’s always more. Can’t be concerned about saving a story idea for the right moment, because there’ll always be a reason not to write it.

(Back to Short As Fictober and what I learned about writing as a result):

Writing A Little Bit of Everything

Over the course of October, I wrote thirty-one pieces of short fiction, and with the exception of a few connected or continued stories, most of these were self-contained one-offs. I experimented with POV, style, voice, and genre. 

Some of the stories I wrote were solid beginnings toward something better–they had legs as some might say–and I intend to grab hold of these and wrestle them into something a little more complete, something capable of sticking to the ribs. 

A lot of the pieces sucked, and I think I knew they sucked as I was writing them, but in those instances I was just trying to get words on the page, so I didn’t really care. But it was important to write these shitty words, as it cleared the way for something better. It’s almost as if they represented an exercise in getting out of my own way. I don’t know if I was doing enough of this prior to Short As Fictober. I wasn’t allowing myself to be bad at writing. Everything had to be good, and this attitude can lead to paralysis. You’re going to have to edit and revise anyway, so you might as well let the bullshit fly.

Myth Busting

Short As Fictober also helped break loose the well-entrenched writing myth that conditions have to be perfect in order to write. I let myself believe this for far too long. It’s rare to find those perfect conditions, so it becomes necessary to write whenever and however you can. Oftentimes I wouldn’t begin writing the day’s story until after 9:00, and though I stayed up later than I should too many nights, I discovered that I could regularly knock out at least 1,000 words in about an hour and a half. This might be considered slow for some people, but I found it worked well for me. It also let me know that if I’m focused and have a clear goal in mind, then I can be more efficient with my time. I don’t recommend staying up super late for multiple nights in a row as the fatigue becomes well-bottom deep and mental faculties suffer as a result, ensuring that the next day’s piece becomes increasingly challenging to write. All that to say, I’m no longer allowed to say “I just don’t have the time to write,” because there’s always time to write in some fashion or another.

On Music:

While I love listening to music with lyrics during other parts of my day, I found that movie & television scores/soundtracks, as well the noise records of Robert Turman were most conducive for my writing process. The soundscapes clear away the mental clutter, and provide a foundation upon which to build.

On Social Media:

This was both a boon and a bust during the month. Having the ability to share stories through various social media platforms was a huge benefit, and I was happy that folks were reading what I was posting, but I wasn’t ever sure whether or not my posts were consistently visible. Because of the algorithms in place, I couldn’t tell who was seeing posts and how frequently they were seeing them. This is something I’ve been contending with lately. Initially, I’m bummed more people aren’t seeing the stuff I’m posting, but then I have to remind myself it’s ultimately not about other people clicking on the links/blogs/stories…what’s important is I’m digging what I’m writing. It’s a challenge to keep this in mind through the thick of it all, and it makes me question whether or not to hold onto Facebook.

What’s Next:

I have some other stories I took a break from during Short As Fictober I’d like to get back to, but the end goal with October’s pieces is to pull my favorites from the Basement Missives section of my website, edit and revise them, and self-publish them as a collection. I’ll leave the rest of the stories up as blog posts. I’m not sure when I’ll roll this out, but I’ve been hearing good things about GumRoad as a platform to sell independent work, so maybe I’ll put the collection and future self-published work on there.

Even though the process was a bit of a slog at times, Short As Fictober was one of the most valuable writing endeavors I’ve attempted, and I got a scoche better in my craft for it.

If you’ve hung with me this far, I say thank you, and doff the proverbial cap in your direction.

Be well. Enjoy the weekend. Heaps of gratitude and well wishes! Huzzah!

-Purdy 

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