May 1 – Limit Yourself To 40 Minutes

Day 1 – Limits: 40 Minutes

Freedom is horrible. If you are free to do anything, write anything, then there is an infinity-minus-one of ways you could do it. That’s a lot of words, ideas and characters you have to reject just to get something on the page.

This is the power of limits (‘write a sonnet; here are the rules’) and challenges (‘write a story a day; of course some of them will be rubbish, do it anyway’).

Today we are exploring time limits. By limiting the amount of time you have to write this story, you will be forced to make quick decisions and not second-guess yourself.

The Prompt

Write a story in 40 minutes


  • Remember this story is a first draft. It does not have to be perfect. It must, however, have a beginning, a middle and an end that you can revise later.
  • Use the first ten minutes to write an opening and think about your characters. Use the next 20 minutes to write the meat of the story. You’ll start to get an idea of where it’s going about half way through. You’ll also start to have ideas for complications, digressions, a full-length novel. Great. Jot them in the margins or put them in square brackets, and drag your story back to the point. Use the last ten minutes to construct an ending and read over the whole thing for mistakes.
  • By all means make notes as you read over your completed draft, but do not revise it today.
  • If you like the story, put a date on your calendar for next month, to revise it.
  • If you don’t like the story, take a few minutes to figure out why? Is your main character flat? What flaw can you give a hero tomorrow, to spice up that story? Did you take too long to get to the point? Maybe tomorrow’s story should start in the middle of an action scene.
  • Don’t waste a lot of time coming up with a story for this exercise. If you must, retell a story you’ve written before, or tell a bedtime story, a fairytale, a fable, a Greek myth, a Norse myth, a reimagining of “Atlas Shrugged” if the characters were bunnies and the railroad were a new super-warren…


Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

12 thoughts on “May 1 – Limit Yourself To 40 Minutes”

  1. I really liked this challenge. I wrote a beginning, a middle, and a sort-of-an ending. My story did end up rubbish, but I ended up with some parts that I liked. I put those in separate index cards and may work with them later. Thanks for this!

  2. Well, I kind of wrote the story in 10 minutes, but then again, I never seem to sit down to write unless it’s for a novel. But I did finish the story nonetheless.

  3. It took me a while, and the 40 minute time limit was really only the start (I finished it this evening), but it got me going. I was drawing a blank using the guest prompts, but I only had an hour for lunch, so I hopped over to Writing Excuses and used one of those prompts. I’m very excited to’ve finished a story already, even though I know it’ll need some revision; it’s great to have a finished product to be able to revise!

  4. OK, I didn’t finish in the first forty minutes (but I did know where the story was headed, and jotted down some notes to guide me). The story came together in 1 hour, 12 minutes.

    I made a basic revision pass, and I like the 2224 word story that emerged.

    Besides the time prompt (which didn’t quite work out for me), I used the guest prompt, with the first quote, “The cut worm forgives the plow.”

    I also used a word prompt from a friend, ‘cucumber’, and two from a Stream of Consciousness Saturday, a weekly meme I participate in: ‘compliment/complement’.

    I loved this prompt, and the bittersweet mother/son story that it birthed!

    Once I’ve got the story posted, I’ll add a link to the Victory Dance forum.

    So happy to be back at Story a Day1

  5. I’ve done my forty minutes, probably not one of my best pieces of fiction but it may trigger something later. After checking out the Heaven and Hell thing, I took the prompt more as Angel and Devil.

  6. I’ve written my story for today, about 800 words on “Who saved who?” about getting my dog Benji. Thank you.

  7. What a fun writing exercise! Love the idea of giving myself 4o minutes of write time! This was fitting for me, when the ideas come, I feel blissful, heavenly…(in the spirit of William Blake, I feel great being obedient, but when the blank screen mocks me, my mind insists on looting and creating disharmony…) and when the ideas don’t come easily, it is torture, I am overwhelmed, watching the seconds tick by… Today was a good day 🙂 Thanks so much for this opportunity!

  8. OK, my 40 minutes are up. I so love pantsing!

    But, for me the big learning is that I can cobble together a story in 40 minutes that is a readable little story, in a genre I know nothing about, starting with a simply a sentence that took me home!

    I’m grateful for the structuring of my non-structured rambling that had me on the clock at 10 minutes, 30 minutes and then the ending. I actually liked the discipline that it gave me in my 1508 words (with no editing or corrections!).

    This is a perfect experience form me, because I simply left my 2 x 40K stories run away with themselves, leaving me with big lump-s of stories only as my future. Now I see (already too!), that my potential is different.

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