Last January, in need of a creative boost, I impulsively decided to try and write seven short stories in seven days. I thought it might be a fun challenge but it ended up being precisely what I needed; a burst of spontaneous creativity that left me feeling reinvigorated after a pretty flat 2018. It worked so well, in fact, that I decided I would do the same every January going forward.
That… might have been ambitious.
This year I thought I was fully prepared for it. I designated a starting date, Tweeted about it a bunch and tried to get a few others on board with me. I was all ready to go but January 2020 looked a lot different to January 2019, in all the best ways. Namely, I have been inundated with writing work, meaning that when the starting date rolled around I had clean forgotten about the whole thing. Stress and a niggling sense that I was letting paid work and major commitments slip by the wayside provided a less-than-inspiring foundation for this year’s attempt, and very quickly the whole thing started to look a lot more like a chore than the total joy it had been last time. But I was determined to see it through, and so I did.
I think the results, comparative to the previous attempt, do indicate that my heart wasn’t in it in the same way. Additional to this there were some major setbacks; namely that the one story that I thought could be truly excellent was lost 2000 words in when my computer crashed and didn’t save it. I’d be lying if I said this didn’t lead to a bit of irrational resentment towards the whole thing.
All of that said, I don’t think it was a waste of time or that the stories are uniformly terrible. In 2019 I ended up with a couple of pieces (Last Call and Three Dollars) that I thought were as good as any short I’d ever written. This year I don’t think the same thing happened. I don’t know that any of these stories are really bad, but with the exception of The Yew Bow I can’t say I’m especially proud of any of them.
There’s some pretty good writing in there, I think. Like in 2019 I started with a basically autobiographical piece (The Girl and the Grey then, The Substitute now) that, while not exactly an example of sterling narrative craft, has some prose that I believe is super solid. Also reflecting last year, despite my attempts to make every story something totally new, one among them does feature a major character from a novel of mine – last year it was the adult version of Nelson from Nelson and the Gallagher (coming March 2021), this year it was Maggie from the The Hunted (May 18, pre-order now). In both cases I think the respective pieces ended up the weakest of the lot, maybe partly because they were both written at the point where I was running out of ideas and as a Hail Mary resorted to familiar ground.
In both instances of trying this experiment I ended up with a central theme, by accident more than anything else (although whatever subconsciously led to this, who can say). In 2019 every story was in some way about compromised human connection; The Girl and the Grey was about a brief fling that ends up meaning the world to the protagonist, Last Call is about a guy trying to come to terms with who his now dead best mate was, Fanboy Tears was about somebody trying to maintain perceived personal integrity in the face of a potential relationship that might require him to abandon it, Three Dollars was about a kid using an act of bare minimum compassion to impress a girl, Grandpa’s Attic was about a woman trying to reconcile the grandfather she loves with a terrible choice he made years ago, Ghosts in the Snow was about a guy whose current relationships don’t compare to those he formed one winter over a decade ago and The Crime Writer was about the deadly intersection of friendship, ambition and creativity. Every character in every story was driven by a kind of yearning for connection, every story about how they try to achieve it – or, in some cases, what they do about the fact that they can’t.
This year, every story was about something that happened in the past affecting the present of the character. I won’t go through them one by one; I’d rather let you discover them for yourselves (provided you still want to after this negativity). If I’m proud of one thing about this year’s attempt, it’s how the stories all provide a different angle on the same idea, creating a sort of thematic narrative that ties them all together.
Anyway, now that I’ve finally had the time to read through the seven stories, here they are for anyone who cares to check them out. Part of the crux of this exercise is that the stories are uploaded with only a cursory edit; raw and rough and more or less as they were upon being written, a kind of naked creativity. If you do want to give them a read, I hope you find something to enjoy in there. I should clarify; for all that I might seem down on this bunch, I’m still glad I went for it and remain happy to share them. Even when writing becomes as much of a full time job as it now is for me, it’s still really important to find the time to write just for the hell of it, to make something without worrying about whether it will be any good or not. For better or worse, that’s what I’ve tried to do here.
Writing words about writing words.