Tag Archives: short story writing challenge

2012 Writing Goals & 2011 Short Story Challenge in Review

I haven’t had time to post in a while, but I did tweet (@aainscott) my progress on my 2011 Short Story Challenge– to write 40 short stories in a year, which I revised on the fly to shoot for 50 stories instead– and this is how it went:

  • Dec. 1st: Short Story #40 mailed (flash fiction)– challenge met! How many more I can get done in December? Race score=33.
  • Dec. 2nd: Received rejection #100 on the year, mailed short story #41 of (another flash fiction piece). I don’t give up easy.
  • Dec. 12th: Finished stories #42, 43, 44. Two flash fiction pieces mailed to professional markets and a longer story which I moved direct to e-pub.
  • Dec. 22nd: Mailed stories #45-48 of my 2011 Short Story Challenge (three flash pieces, one longer short story).
  • Around this time I also got a really nice personal rejection letter from Flash Fiction Online, a professional SFWA-qualifying market: “I really enjoyed your story. It’s well written, with a lot of powerful imagery, and a compelling voice.” The problem? Oops, I exceeded the PG-13 criteria for the publication.
  • Dec 31st: Mailed story #49, about 7,000 words, to the Writers of the Future contest. Struggled with this one, the story just wouldn’t flow, but got it done.

Alas, I didn’t quite make 50– but I came really, really close because the short novel (~30,000 words) that I wrote earlier in the fall is incredibly close to being ready to go up. But my priority was to get something mailed to the Writers of the Future contest, so I had to bump that back to January.

My overall 2011 results were:

  • 49 new pieces of fiction completed
  • 152 manuscripts mailed
  • 122 rejections
  • 30 manuscripsts currently still in the hands of editors who might buy them
  • 14 personal rejections
  • 1 story currently shortlisted
  • 1 acceptance (“Piss Match,” Penumbra Vol. 1 No. 4, a professional-paying market)

So overall I’d have to say that 2011 was an unmitigated success on the writing front even though I fell just a tad short of the updated goal of 50 stories finished & mailed to professional markets or e-published online.

The 2012 Hundred Fictions Challenge:
Produce 100 New Pieces of Fiction.

For 2012 I’ve decided to go all-out. I hit a nice rythym the last quarter of 2011 so I think I can produce a lot more this year than last year.

My goal is 100 new pieces of fiction. Any length counts as long as I mail it to a professional market (or e-publish it). I like to write at flash lengths and to be honest I have had the most encouraging comments from the pro markets with my shorter pieces, so I see no reason not to keep at it, so long as I am writing a mix of longer pieces as well to keep building those storytelling muscles.

Because I want to stay on the learning curve for e-publishing I am also going to include in that count any e-pubbed collections of short stories, to give me an incentive to assemble those. But individual stories e-published don’t count.

I also will have 5 short novels in that count of 100 pieces, including the one just about ready to go up. Any length of about 15,000 words or more counts, i.e. any works that I would put up at $2.99 or higher. And at least one must be 60,000 words or more.

Other goals for 2012, in no particular order:

  • Do at least one POD (print-on-demand) book because I want to learn how to do that.
  • Practice writing faster. My typical pace is around 500-800 words per hour, sometimes up to 1000 or 1200 words/hour when things are going well. I’d like to more consistently hit that 1,000 words plus per hour range.
  • 250,000+ new words written.

My main goal for 2012, however, is to keep firing short stories at the professional markets. My race score topped out at 35 in 2011. I want to see how much higher I can push that this year, while still producing a number of novella/short novel length works.

So that’s it and I’ll look forward to shooting off short stories side-by-side with you as you progress on your own writing challenges. We can have a bit of a wild west short fiction shoot-out here on the rugged coast of the Pacific Northwest!


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Filed under 2012 Hundred Fictions Challenge, E-Pub, Flash Fiction, Novels, Short Novels & Novellas, Rejections, Short Stories, Story Challenge 2011

First Professional Sale & Short Stories #38, #39 Mailed


I’ve sold Story #26 of my 2011 Short Story Challenge– to write 40 new short stories this year– to Penumbra, a new speculative fiction e-magazine. And yes, they pay professional rates of 5 cents per word.

My story will appear in the January 2012 issue. I’ll post more details and a link to the magazine when I have them.

It’s also a milestone for me because it marks my first professional sale.

I decided to get serious about my fiction about a year ago. Really started to focus on finishing things, on mailing them out rather than endlessly revising the same unfinished stories. Started really paying attention to the advice given by professionals, especially Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. And yes, I learned a ton– and took in a lot simply by osmosis– when I attended the June 2011 Short Story Workshop (taught mainly by Kris, an award-winning editor and writer).

Now, I’m not sure I agree with every bit of advice they dole out. But you know what? They’re both established professionals making a living from their writing. They have been at this for decades. They know what the heck they are talking about.

So I listened, and I learned. And I’m still learning.

Making the sale is great, but it doesn’t fool me; I know I still have a ton to learn to bring my craft to a higher level. My job now is to write the next one, and the next, and the one after that. May sell or it may not. But I’ll keep practicing and learning new tools, how to tell a good story in a compelling way.

I have to admit the making the sale did get in my head for a few days. I found it hard to sit down and write. The idea that someone might actually publish these words I was writing, these practice sessions that I was setting down on paper, paralyzed me. Felt like the words had to be perfect, the story had to be great.

Well you know what? Some stories I set down on paper stink. I know that. I’m sure editors are sometimes thinking that when they send me form rejections.

But I also know that I’m wrong about that sometimes, and the only way to find out is to finish the story and mail it.

The story I sold is a perfect example. It’s a short, funny sci-fi story. In many ways the premise is ridiculous. I wasn’t sure the story even worked. I wondered if I should mail it out or just trunk it.

But I was wrong; it worked and it worked great, and an editor bought it. Sold the first time out, actually.

It feels great to have a story out there and published that never got rejected!

And really, it didn’t take so long:

  • I wrote that story just a little bit past 100,000 words of fiction written since I got serious about it. None of the stories from the first 100,000 words has sold yet, although I know at least one of them moved on to later rounds of reviewing (a piece I sent to ChiZine, a really tough market to crack).
  • It was the 73rd manuscript that I mailed out this year.
  • I wrote the story when my race score was at 20 stories in the mail; the acceptance came at 31 stories in the mail. (My race score at the moment is 32; the point for the story that sold doesn’t come off until it’s published).
  • The acceptance came after I’d hit 90 rejections.

Now it may be twice as long before I sell the next one, or who knows, one of the stories I have out might sell tomorrow. No way to know. But I feel like I’m on the right path and I’ll keep working at it. I’m sure I’m no exception and I have a million words of crap in me. Or heck, I’ve written so much non-fiction in my professional work that I may very well need two million words of crap to overcome that deficit.

But I know there will be some gems in there too.

I have gotten over the hump of the sale now and moved on to the next one. Mailed out Stories #38 and #39 in the last week or so.  Both are on the short side; #38 is about 1500 words, #39 is a flash fiction piece. But I’ve been learning a lot and having great fun writing a number of shorter pieces; one of them sold and another was shortlisted elsewhere before it ultimately got rejected. So it seems to be working for me.

I have story #40 nearly finished as well, so I’ll make my 2011 Short Story Challenge goal of 40 stories written and mailed probably by early next week.

So now I’m gunning for my stretch goal of 50 Stories finished and mailed by the end of the year, but it will be tough to get there with some upcoming travel for work plus the usual holiday distractions. But we’ll see. I’m going to take a run at this and see just how far I can get.


Filed under Accepted Stories, Dean Wesley Smith, Flash Fiction, Kris 'n' Dean Short Story Workshop, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Rejections, Short Stories, Story Challenge 2011

Short Stories #35, 36, 37 Finished

I wrote an ultra-short on Sunday night (the title is longer than the piece itself!). I dreamed the story in a state of semi-consciousness as I woke up, and jotted it down on the iPad. It’s so short I almost didn’t bother mailing it, but there it was, a bit of finished clutter taking space in my mental closet, so out it went.

I also finished off a 3,500 word story that I started last week, and figured out the ending for another flash fiction piece– a raw punch-in-the-face sort of story– that had been fermenting and just needed a bit of attention to reach that magical point of completion.

So, a little over 4,000 new words, and three more stories in my 2011 Short Story Challenge done. So, I’ll hit my original goal of 40 stories pretty soon here, and I’ve decided to go full out for the stretch goal of 50 stories. I’ve hit a pretty good pace recently so 13 stories in 7.5 weeks actually is looking pretty doable at the moment as long as I don’t get knocked too far off the pace by holiday distractions.

I also have some words in the bank already. There are first drafts of three or four more stories lingering from previous weeks that I haven’t mailed yet because they need some light editing work. I am discovering rather quickly here that I really hate editing, even though I have tons of experience doing exactly that for many years in my non-fiction writing. In the realm of fiction new words are king and that has been the constant focus of my attention this year.

In other news I received word that one of my stories has moved on to the final batch of stories being considered by a pro-paying market for an upcoming issue. So, it may sell or it may still end up getting rejected. Either way, my job is just to write the next one.

The mail brought six rejections (one story twice) and I mailed out five pieces. So, my race score has dipped to 27 despite the new work, until I figure out where to turn around some of those rejected pieces.

One of the new stories I also haven’t mailed yet because I wrote it with a specific market in mind that I wanted to sent it to first, but the market is temporarily closed. I will probably hold that piece until the market re-opens– if I send it out somewhere else it may not come back in time for the submissions window.

Or I may try writing another story for that same market and see which one I like best. I did this for the Borderlands 6 Anthology, which I mailed a story to a while back. I wrote and finished one story with the anthology in mind, but another idea was nagging at me, so I wrote a second, totally different story as well. Then I just mailed the story that I liked best to the anthology. Will the editors like it too? Who knows, but I feel like a took a good shot at it and sent them the best story I could write now.

UPDATE: Got all the finished manuscripts out in the mail (except the ultra-short; note to self: 25 word stories are not that marketable). Race score breaks 30 for the first time!


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Filed under Flash Fiction, Rejections, Short Stories, Story Challenge 2011

Short Story #34 Mailed

Okay, I’m officially on a roll.  Short Story #34 (roughly 2,000 words) of my 2011 Short Story Challenge is out the door.  To be honest I had some misgivings about this story, and when I finished it I considered just filing it in my __CRIMES_AGAINST_LITERATURE folder. But this morning I took another look at it and decided it wasn’t so bad, and mailed it out after a light editing pass. The thing was done, so why trash it? I just write ’em, I’ll let the editors decide if what I’ve written is any good or not. Having it out the door also clears mental baggage, I find, and removes the temptation to edit or revise the story more to “fix” it.

That’s two stories done this week, and race score now at 28.

Can I go for three? Well, maybe, if it’s one more short one, or editing the 5,000 worder that has passed first draft and is just sitting there on my hard drive collecting dust. With that one, there are just some scenes that are too thin or missing altogether, so it’s more a matter of cycling through and adding than of wholesale revision, so I feel comfortable revisiting it.

Only six stories to go to hit 40 for this year, or sixteen more for the stretch goal of 50. It feels more and more doable by the day.


Filed under Short Stories, Story Challenge 2011

Short Story #33 Mailed

Yep, finished Short Story #33 of my 2011 Short Story Challenge over the weekend and mailed it to a professional market. The story ended up right around 1,000 words; I’d planned to write something longer, but the story idea resolved itself nicely in a short space so I just went with it.

That leaves me with just 7 stories to go to meet my 2011 goal of 40 stories mailed, and I already have two more first drafts done (the short novel of ~31,000 words and a 5,000-worder), just waiting in the wings to polish off, so I’m sure that I’ll make it quite comfortably.

Is my stretch goal of 50 stories still possible? 17 more stories done in 8 weeks would be tough, but not out of the question. I think it’s doable especially if I continue to do a lot of flash pieces. Also, I started off pretty slow on this challenge and most of the stories have been written in the last 8 months or so. So I think I can do it.

And this week looks good for a two-story week, so we’ll see just how far I can push this thing.


Filed under Short Stories, Story Challenge 2011

Short Story #32 Mailed

I finished a new ~4,000 word story for a pro-paying anthology submission last night and mailed it off today, for Story #32 completed of my 2011 short story challenge. I thought the story turned out pretty well, but who knows. It’s impossible to judge your own work, so I will await the judgement of the editors, but I feel like I put out a good effort for this one and I’ll simply hope for the best.

I also received one rejection back from a story that had been out for a long time, and mailed it back out the very same day– to a market that pays better, even– so my race score now stands at 26.

I decided the ~5,000 word story that I had tentatively earmarked for the anthology had too many problems at present, so I decided not to mail it off yet. I’ll revisit that story in a while and decide what to do with it, with the options being mail it out as is (if fresh eyes revise my opinion of it), trunk it, redraft it (write most of it starting over from scratch), or most likely, add some scenes and word count so that it can deliver better on its original promise.

The absolutely key thing to avoid is a death-spiral of revision, tempting though that may sometimes be. I found myself quite tempted to start fiddling with this one, which from experience I know is at best a fine way to waste time and at worst a very effective way to ruin a perfectly good story. This is also what Kris ‘n’ Dean preached repeatedly at their Short Story Workshop– it takes a lot of experience and skill to make anything more than superficial revisions to a story, particularly if you let youself slip into critical voice– so I just set it aside and completed the other story instead, and now I’m glad that I did.

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Filed under Kris 'n' Dean Short Story Workshop, Short Stories, Story Challenge 2011

VOMIT SETTING ONTO THE PAGE. (and 100th Submission, 75th Rejection, & Short Story #31 Mailed)

It’s been a while since I last posted but things have been busy. Since Oct 7th I received 9 rejections (one piece rejected twice) and mailed out 11 pieces. That brings my race score to 25.

I also passed some milestones this week, with the 75th rejection of the year coming in and the 100th mailing of the year going out.

I still also have one piece being held by an editor for possible publication. No clue when I will hear back about that, but it’s for a market that pays professional rates.

I mailed off Short Story #31 of my 2011 Short Story Challenge several days ago, a short strange one about a character with phantom limbs.

I have also finished a first draft of the short novel at about 31,000 words as well as a first draft of a 5,000 word short story that I was thinking of submitting to an anthology call. So, lots of words coming through the keyboard, but finding time to do some editing (as opposed to producing new words, which has been my priority) has been a challenge.

I started a new piece this week as well where I decided to have fun and follow explicitly the directions that Dean Wesley Smith gave us for one excercise at the June 2011 Short Story workshop when he was none too pleased about the results of a previous assignment about story setting:


So I went and did just that and have a 2,500 word start on another story where the first six pages do nothing but layer in a creepy setting bit by bit, filtered through the viewpoint and opinions of the main character. I rather like how it has turned out so far.

The reason to “vomit setting onto the page” is that, as an early-stage professional writer, it is too easy to focus on plot and other story aspects and leave the setting too thin. That leaves you with a white-room story full of fake details (“the bench” vs. “the grubby oak-planked bench capped with wrought-iron finials,” for example). This also brings particular and concrete details into your story that evoke the five senses.

On this new story, I’m admittedly a bit stuck on where it will go next. But I have a solution for that, as well, thanks again to another bit of advice that Dean pearled out during the dinner on the last night of the workshop.

One of the students asked Dean how to flesh out a big idea, how to get going on it, how to develop it to its full potential. Dean had a great, short answer that might seem trite at first glance but actually encapsulates a lot of wisdom:

“Just start typing.”

The student looked at him incredulously and started to rephrase the question. To which Dean said, “No, really, just start typing.” His point was that the place to do world-building is at your keyboard, with probes and bore-holes drilled in the form of stories. If a particular story veers off of your big idea, well so what. Let your subconscious, creative mind take you where it will, finish off that story, and take another whack at it with your next story. And then the next. And the next. Soon you’ll understand your “big idea” better, and through the process of exploration in story form, likely come up with many twists and turns and improvements on your idea that you never would have otherwise.

Now, I may have little track record as a fiction writer but I’ve worked in advanced R & D for my entire professional career and so I could see the wisdom in Dean’s words. It’s way, way to easy to paralyze yourself into inaction because an idea seems to big or too difficult or too vague in its present form. You just have to build stuff, try things out, and gradually via exploration-through-experience something interesting will come out of it– as long as you trust yourself and permit yourself to have some whiffs along the way.

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Filed under Dean Wesley Smith, Kris 'n' Dean Short Story Workshop, Novels, Short Novels & Novellas, Rejections, Short Stories, Story Challenge 2011, Workshops