My five hundred words: an alternative to NaNoWriMo

It seems that somewhere along the way this year, I lost focus of some of my basic writing goals for 2011, one of which was to write 12 short stories. Part of my distraction has come from my efforts at blogging, but a bigger part has come from a kind of mental confusion about what it means to be a science fiction writer. Part of it has come from a simple lack of discipline on my part, something that is both embarrassing and disappointing to admit. And part of that loss of focus comes from deciding whether or not I should be trying to write novels instead of short stories. This last item has been a particular distraction for me and I’ve spent a lot of energy convincing myself that I should, and then just as much energy convincing myself that I shouldn’t. I have writer friends who tell me that I could do it–that the mere fact that I’ve had stories published in places like Analog and Apex and InterGalactic Medicine Show show promise. The seemingly simple question is: should I do it? Should I try to write a novel?

I’ve gone back and forth on this. At times I feel like I shouldn’t and then I talk to novelist friends and I suddenly think that I should. I find myself in friends’ offices explaining to them why I should focus on short stories, or writing blog posts like these, essentially rationalizing for one way or the other, but always indecisive, always on the fence.

Well, not any more.

Not doing NaNoWriMo this year, after a couple of “successful” years was, I think, my own way of admitting that writing novels don’t really interest me. Don’t get me wrong, I had a fantastic time doing NaNoWriMo, which for me was like a kind of friendly, competitive writing marathon. But that is not how I tend to work. I can write 1,667 words per day for 30 days when there is the arbitrary pressure of a competition on me, but on most days, I can’t get myself to write a single word of fiction–because I am torn on who I should be as a writer: a short story writer or a novelist. But I know now that I am a short story writer through and through.

What I need to do is stop denying that in myself, stop trying to convince myself to be something that I am not–a novelist–and get back to writing fiction in a regular kind of way. So I am using the month of November–and NaNoWriMo specifically–as a way of reforming the good habit of writing short fiction every day. To that end, I am going to try and write 500 words of fiction each and every day in the month of November. I can write 500 words in 30 minutes, but that isn’t the point. I want to slow things down, write deliberately, find the write words, let the stories find their proper length. All I am aiming for is that 500 words. And then, the next day another 500, and another the day after that.

The idea is that once November turns into December, writing 500 words in a day will be a part of my routine. On December 1 I’ll write another 500 and on December 2 and 3rd and 4th as well.

Now, I could write 500 words each day and eventually produce a novel, but when I really think about it, that is not the kind of writing that I enjoy. It is certain the kind of writing that is fun to imagine and think about, but when it comes down to it, I love short stories as an art form, I love their compactness and their feel and the fact that they come in essentially bite-sized chunks. I think I’ve said before that I’d love to become a prolific short story writer, but even that is getting ahead of myself.

The first step is to write 500 words of fiction today.

As I said one of my goals was to write 12 stories this year. I’ve written one. I’m hoping with my 500 words, things will start to change.


  1. Funny, I also decided to do 500 words a day in November. (Also on short stories, but I’ll get back to novels in January.) Good luck on getting more stories written.

  2. When it came out last spring, Steven Pressfield’s DO THE WORK received much praise on many blogs. And for a time, when it was first released, it was a free Kindle download.

    Now, if you are both Kindle user and Prime member, you can borrow it for free.


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