On December 17, 2015, I started a 365-day challenge. I would write a 15-minute writing prompt every single day for a year.
And I did.
It all started when I read this article about people doing tiny challenges once a day for 365 days, blogging about them, and rocketing to fame and fortune (or at least a link in a Washington Post article). I wanted to try that. No, I didn’t care to build tiny furniture or eat a lot of tacos or braid my hair (maybe my beard). I was a writer with very little writing that existed away from notebooks or offline files. It was time to change that.
Sure, I could have waited until January 1st to even things out, but I was too excited to get started. And why wait? It was 14 days until New Years 2016, and that was ample time to change my mind. So I didn’t give myself that chance. I announced my challenge on this website on December 17th in order to make myself more accountable. And I got started.
I was in university at the time, occasionally running a writing circle for some fellow students and me. We mostly did readings and workshops of our creative writing pieces, but as a warm-up I devised a writing prompt method that didn’t require me to Google good writing prompts.
In a nutshell: I wrote lists of character archetypes, settings, props, and situations, chopped them up into slips of paper, threw them in a hat, and got everyone to draw three at random. For whatever three things you got, you’d have to write a little story that incorporated all three. I’d typically run it for 15 or 20 minutes. Then we’d read what we wrote and reveal our prompt categories last.
A colleague of mine named it the “hat trick” writing prompt method.
It was perfect for a daily challenge.
It’s easy to get carried away when writing. You second-guess yourself, you edit as you go, and half (or more) of the time you never get it done. Some of my best work at the time came from writing prompts I wrote during creative writing classes. Why? The atmosphere? The academic setting? Maybe. More likely it was the rush to finish (class time is limited) and the pressure to have something you can read in front of the class and not be horribly embarrassed by.
I needed a time limit, and I needed to post publicly.
You can find 15 minutes somewhere in a day, even if you have to get up a little bit earlier. For some reason, 20 minutes sounds like a lot more. So I made it 15. At first, I was strict about cutting myself off at the 15-minute mark, but after awhile I relaxed that rule.
Some days were tough. It’d be 11:30pm, I’d be tired, and I’d have been too busy during the day to do my prompt. But I’d push through. (All credit goes to my girlfriend for encouraging/threatening me to get them done.) A couple times there, I let myself fall behind a day or two (or three in one case), but I always caught up, doing two in a day when needed. Thankfully, such a need was rare.
Many of my prompts are garbage. Hell, they’re all first drafts—every one. But there are many of them that I love. Stories I’m excited to polish and submit for publication. Stories that would have never ben conceived, let alone written, before I did this challenge. I made whole worlds and explored them throughout the year. I had recurring characters. Sequels. I wrote stories I thought up a decade ago that I never thought I’d write for real, played in fantasy worlds that got lost at the worldbuilding stage years prior.
I went from having a small handful of stories online to more than 365.
It was a good year for writing. Onto the next challenge!
Interested in taking a similar (or identical) challenge? In my next post, I’ll do a step-by-step, clickbaity list where I’ll outline my writing prompt method.