Help! I Missed A Day. What Do I Do?

OK, so this is Day 5 of the challenge and if you haven’t missed a day yet, the chances are strong that you will. Soon.

So here’s my advice, based on five years of May challenges, a couple of StoryADay September challenges and the writing courses I run.

Let It Go
[1. Cue the sound of my two elementary school aged boys screaming “No! Enough with the Frozen!”]

Let the unwritten stories go and write again tomorrow.

Seriously. This is not so much about turning out 31 complete stories as leaning to turn up every day, even when you feel like a failure. I encourage people never to try to catch up with days they’ve missed. That creates far too much baggage. (You can always keep writing into June if you want your 31 stories!)

Watch And Learn

The other point of a challenge like this is to try to do more than you think you can do, and to watch where it is hardest and where/when it was most fluid. Then, when you go back to your normal writing schedule you will have all these experiences in your tool kit. You’ll know that Saturday is maybe not a day to expect to get much writing done. And you’ll know that 11-midnight is prime time. Or you’ll know that it’s easier to write when you have a plan (or not).

Don’t worry too much. Just keep turning up, keep breathing and keep watching all the ways your inner demon tries to sabotage your writing life. Say ‘Huh, that’s interesting, demon. Nice try, but I’m still turning up again tomorrow”.

If we are going to write for the rest of our lives (and lets face it, we are), all we can do is keep learning!

Adjust Your Rules

Back in 2012 (my third year) I decided I was no longer going to commit to writing on Sundays. I COULD, I just didn’t HAVE to.
Between running the site and having two small children and a husband that I quite like to spend time with, something had to give. Sundays were it, for me.

This is fine. If you decide not to write EVERY day in May that’s cool.

BUT do try to assess your progress on a week to week basis rather than waking up each day and thinking “I wonder if I should write today”. (You should).

Stop now and see how your first five days (which include a weekend) have gone. Decide what you’ll commit to for the next seven days.

Of course, I thoroughly encourage you to write an actual StoryADay unless the thought of it is making you truly miserable. If you’re miserable, change the rules. But keep writing.

So, how’s it going? What are you learning? What tips do you have?

How To Set Your Writing Rules

The point of doing this challenge is to push yourself to do more than you thought you possibly could.

The point is to unleash the flood of creativity that comes when you have to write every day.

The point is not to give you yet another way to fail at a creative endeavor.

So yes, you should set yourself a goal that seems momentous, preposterous, monstrous even. And maybe for you that will be: writing 30 stories in 30 days. But maybe it will mean writing a story on five out of seven days.

Obey ImageThe StoryADay Rules say there is one rule, “Write and finish a story every day. That’s it.”

They then promptly go on to talk about all the ways you can add to — or subtract from — that absolute.

I know it’s a bit confusing. It’s my fault. I appreciate rules, but I’m just not very good at being told what to do and I fail to see why I should expect other writers to be any better. Henceā€¦

So, here follows my attempt to make sense of the part where the site says “set your own rules.”

What Do You Mean “Set Your Own Rules”?

The point of doing this challenge is to push yourself to do more than you thought you possibly could.

The point is to unleash the flood of creativity that comes when you have to write every day.

The point is not to give you yet another way to fail at a creative endeavor.

So yes, you should set yourself a goal that seems momentous, preposterous, monstrous even. And maybe for you that will be: writing 30 stories in 30 days. But maybe it will mean writing a story on five out of seven days. Or limiting yourself to 100 word stories. Or taking Thursday’s off.

If you know that your Saturdays are packed with people and obligations, sun-up to sun-down; or if you have tried the challenge before and noticed that you always failed to finish a story after five days of successes; or if you are a member of a religious group that takes the holy day extremely seriously, don’t torture yourself. Write it into your rules that you get to take certain days off.

How Do I Know What A Good Set Of Rules Is, For Me?

And if you haven’t done the challenge before (or if you haven’t written anything for a while) I strongly encourage you to stick to the basic rule: write and finish one story every single day for a month.

I know that sounds ridiculous in itself: surely if you haven’t been writing you should warm up a bit, ease yourself in? No. Sorry. This is not like running a marathon. You’re not going to pull a muscle or ruin your knees.

If you haven’t pushed your short-story writing before, you have no way of knowing what your boundaries are. Only by trying to write a complete story every day for 30 days can you know whether or not you can do it. Or how close you can come. And the effort is its own reward.

If, however, you took part in May, you’ll have a good sense of how much time you could make for writing, and what your goals need to be.

Just be honest with yourself. If you wrote 12 stories in May you might be secretly disappointed in yourself — or you might be thrilled. It all depends on you, and your circumstances. Just set yourself a goal that’s a little more ambitious than whatever you accomplished before and promise yourself you will push and push to get to it.

The Second Rule

The second absolute rule you should set yourself is to treat every day as a new day until the end of the month.

No going back to finish yesterday’s story – until next month
No berating yourself for yesterday’s shortcomings
No looking ahead and saying “I’ll never make it!”
Try your utmost to stick to your writing rules today. Forgive the past, and forget the future. Just write today.

What If I Fail?

Well, first of all, I have a problem with that word: “fail”.

Did you try? Then you didn’t fail. Did you complete a story every day for a month? No? Hmm, well, did you learn something about your style or your voice or your writing method? Did you write more than you wrote the month before (or in any month before. Ever.)?

There may well be days when you fail to finish a story. Forget it. Forgive yourself and move on. You are in pursuit of a great challenge here. Keep after it.

It’s entirely likely that some of your stories are great steaming heaps of passive voiced, prepositionally phrased, tedious prose peopled by heroes who wouldn’t know a plot point if it pointed right at them. Don’t give up on them. Keep writing until you get to the end. Even if you have to kill someone (in fact, that can be kind of fun). Pushing through to the end of a story teaches you so much more than giving up and starting afresh. Finish.

And if it gets to midnight (or whenever you go to bed) and you simply cannot finish today’s story: get some rest. Let it go and vow to start afresh tomorrow.

When the month is over, you can revise what’s worth saving, and learn from what’s not. While the challenge is still running, just keep writing. Strike the word ‘fail’ from your vocabulary. So long as you are writing, you cannot fail. Pat yourself on the back. You wrote. You got complete stories out of your brain — where you didn’t even know they were lurking — and on the page. You are courageous and to be congratulated.

Can I Adjust My Rules?

Yes. Absolutely. This is your challenge. I’d rather you adjusted your rules than gave up. Just don’t be too easy on yourself. This is meant to be a, er, challenge!

In Conclusion

Set ambitious goals
Try to meet them. At the very least, put some kind of ending on each story.
Be hard on yourself every morning and kind to yourself at the end of every day.
Treat every day as a new challenge (don’t look back!)