Fifty-Six Stories


Kent Nelson took only two English courses as an undergraduate at Yale University, where he was majoring in political science, but one of these was crucial to his eventual decision to make a career out of writing. In a class called “Daily Themes,” the students had to write 300-word stories every day for eight weeks, and it was this process, he noted in a 1992 interview, that taught him some crucial things about writing: “It gradually dawned on me that to write fiction you had to know everything. You had to listen to the way people talked, you had to observe how they acted, you had to study the environment. That was a powerful revelation to me. Twenty-four hours, a day you’re paying attention to everything you can pay attention to with the intention of learning from it. You have to train yourself.” – Literature and the Environment, a Reader on Nature and Culture by Lorraine Anderson, Scott Slovic, and John P. O’Grady

I have challenged myself to this, and now I am resolved to do it.  Some of these little stories I write may be horrible, some might be good.  The point is not whether they are good, but whether this process is teaching me anything.  Of course I hope I shall be able to do it well, but the main thing is discipline, that’s what it is.  It’s training myself to be steady, to take everything I notice and turn it into a story.  Beatrix Potter, Kenneth Grahame, Arthur Ransome, and countless others took in the food of their natural surroundings, the places they loved, and turned them into stories.

Another thing is important.  I must not write about things I know nothing of, or things I am not interested in.  I must not write merely to meet my challenge.  I must force myself to imagine, train myself to notice, discipline myself to love what should be loved.  That is what is at the root of this whole practice.

Fifty-Six Stories, one 300-word story every day for eight weeks.

Of course all writers should do this.  But I would also encourage non-writers to do this too.  Take time out of your day.  An hour, maybe, in the morning or in the evening, it doesn’t matter.  Think quietly for a few moments, and then take up your pen.  Make your plot minuscule, but your moral broad.

It does matter whether you are young or old, single or married, a student or a working person; this can apply to anyone.  It is three hundred words.  Some of you might have trouble.  Some of you might not.  The words might be stuck in your brain, or they might flow easily from your mind through your fingers, like a clear stroke of paint.  It doesn’t matter who you are or what your capabilities are.  You can train yourself.

I have a friend who challenged me to write 1,000 words a day for my novel.  When I complained to her she said: “Well, let’s do a detox.  What are you having trouble with?”  She made me dig down to the root of the issue, which was that I didn’t feel like writing, and the inspiration was dead.  But she told me to go on, and I did.

You must pursue it.  If you lie on your couch all day with a pen waiting for it to come, you will probably never get anything written.  Life must be studied in order for writing to be pursued, and both these things require thinking.

Remember that Kent Nelson did not begin as a writer, but he became one through practice and determination.

Click on the following link to read my eight weeks of stories.  Fifty-Six Stories