I started 2020 doing a final edit of my next novel and preparing to start the daunting task of querying literary agents. I’d been working on this particular novel off and on for almost ten years, so I was exhausted creatively.
Always eager to be writing something, I started to ask myself, “What’s next?” I don’t have another novel in me. Not yet. Besides working on query letters and a novel synopsis, I was eager to at least work on something new.
Around this time, I started reading a collection of short stories by one of my favorite Southern authors, Truman Capote, and it got me to thinking about the short story art form. Back in my college days, I loved reading short stories in my literary classes, and I filled black and white Mead journals with short stories in grade school.
It has been years since I’ve written a short story, so I decided to challenge myself to write ten short stories in ten weeks. One of the reasons I’d probably avoided the short story form is because I can’t think of anything to write about, so I knew this was going to be a very interesting challenge to take on. To get started, I needed a topic or something to write about.
Around this time, I read a post on Medium about how to submit short stories to be considered for various Chicken Soup for the Soul books. On their website, they list topics that they are currently accepting stories for, so this was a perfect way to get started. I found two topics that immediately inspired me. This would give me two stories to write! Chicken Soup also has a word limit of 1200 words, so these would be a quick way to knock two stories out of the way and work on the tight short story form at the same time.
While working on these stories, I was constantly watching and listening and thinking about other short story ideas. I started making a list of things that got my attention. Catching up with an old friend via Facebook messenger got me to thinking about how his life had turned out and how he got there. This ended up inspiring two stories. I watched a documentary about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer where his father was interviewed about his son. His father said something that caught my attention so I researched it and quickly had an idea for another story.
Sometimes I’d just come across interesting facts that I thought would make a neat story title so I wrote it down. One of these was “An Eclipse of Moths.” I learned a group of moths is called an eclipse and that just created all sorts of imagery in my head. It turned into a short story about two friends playing together during the summer and then losing touch over time as they grow up.
I heard a story on NPR about sex workers being out of work due to quarantine during Covid-19. This got me to thinking about their clients being in isolation, and how this could be emotionally damaging for people who are alone and have no form of human interaction. I started this story very early during my ten weeks, but it was the hardest to write and was the last story I finished. I actually finished the last story with 4 days to spare.
Most of the time I had no idea how the story was going to end. I just sat down with a general idea in mind, starting writing, and then let the characters take over and take me where they wanted to go. As I finished each story, it was quite exhilarating. It felt good to have written and finished something.
I created a folder on my computer and named it “10 Short Stories in 10 Weeks” to keep me inspired. I kept all the stories and drafts in this folder. Each time I came up with a new idea, I created a new document and saved it in the folder. Sometimes it was just a title or some key words or a few notes. After I finished each story, I added its number in front of the title which became the file name: 1 Everything Stays the Same, 2 The Night Auditor, 3 An Eclipse of Moths, and so on. This was a quick way to see the progress I was making.
Overall, it was a fun challenge and I’ll probably do it again soon. Having not written short stories in quite some time, it gave me a new mode of thinking for brainstorming and coming up with new ideas and keeping the story tight. And like I said, it was a great feeling each time I finished a story and got closer to my goal.
I plan to share some of the stories here in the coming weeks, so check back soon if you’d like to read them!