I wrote 30 stories in 30 days… now what?
Analysis, learnings and future writing goals
One month ago, I decided to write and publish 30 pieces in 30 days. Thanks to determination, discipline and a healthy amount of self-induced peer pressure after announcing it all over social media, I managed to successfully complete this challenge!
Specifically, I promised to write
one Quora answer to be published on Quora (obviously) in English and/or
one piece of short fiction to be published on this Substack and Medium, alternating between English and German
from January 30 to February 28, 2023.
My secret stretch goal, however, was writing one Quora answer as well as one short fiction piece per day, ie. 60 pieces. I‘m proud to say I accomplished that as well! For this breakdown, I will only focus on the short fiction as that was more exciting but also more difficult for me.
This article comes in three parts: First, I will present the cold hard stats I was tracking throughout the challenge. Second, I will talk about what I learned. And third, I will give a little sneak peak of how I intend to continue my journey of writing in public.
What I Tracked
I like stats that show progress and trends over time. They help me decide what and how I should write. Feel free to skip ahead to the next heading if you just want to know about the lessons I learned.
First, I decided to track my word count because I do this for all my writing projects. Part of why I wanted to try and write one story a day was that I was dissatisfied with my raw output last year. I felt I had become a slow writer.
It was a relief to see that I had written 27.475 words between January 30th and February 28th, much more than I had managed in 30 days in a long time. As a serial NaNoWriMo winner, I used to be able to write a lot of words in one month without feeling burned out. I'm glad to see I still can.
I also tracked the time I spent writing via Toggl. Now, this is not something I usually do, not even in the revision and editing stages of a novel, but I was curious to see how much time I would spend writing for this challenge.
The answer is 60 hours or 2 hours per day on average, usually in the afternoons and evenings after my day job was finished. I have no idea how much time I spend writing outside of challenges like this but I suspect it to be less.
Views on Substack and Medium
I've wanted to publish my fiction online for a while now, mainly because I was curious about reader data. Platforms like Substack or Medium provide much more immediate and precise feedback than you get in traditional or self-publishing. With the latter, you also have to shell out a lot of money, time and effort upfront even though neither author nor publisher can say for sure how a book is going to sell!
When you publish online, however, you get a better sense of whether readers like your story or not. Feedback cycles are tighter. If you were thinking of writing a serial, for example, you could post 2-3 short stories that you felt excited about and compare views and likes to determine which one subscribers would want to read the most.
Of course, my numbers are rather small but I still gained some interesting insights in which of my stories readers enjoyed the most.
Note: Views and reads were recorded on March 5th, a few days after the challenge had ended.
Out of 30 stories, 9 got 20+ views across Substack and Medium. I consider these the 'successful' stories of the challenge. 3 were in German and 6 in English which is understandable as these platforms are mainly geared towards English-speaking readers. The last story I posted, On the Way to the Convenience Store, got the most views--probably because I shared it across social media with the announcement that I had successfully finished the challenge!
As for genres, my staples are fantasy and science fiction (I already had fleshed-out settings for both which helped a lot with idea generation) but I also wanted to write a wider variety to see which genres might be most popular.
When looking at the most viewed stories, the majority can be categorized as fantasy but that might just be because most of the stories overall were fantasy! Possibly fantasy is also more popular than science fiction in general.
The Booklender Who Dreamed of Venus Flytraps, one of the three historical fiction stories I wrote, ended up being more popular than expected. In many ways, it is a simple story but apparently the exciting hook and classic ghost story plot really appealed to you. I'm almost tempted to serialize my historical fantasy idea on Substack now--it might even be an interesting contrast to the abundance of fantasy and science fiction on the platform?
As for advertising, I shared all my stories on Twitter which helped direct some traffic. I also shared two stories in writing communities on Discord and some members were kind enough to provide additional feedback. One person reported that his favorite stories so far (on February 20th) were Booklender and The Sea Our Empire. He also seemed impressed that I came up with such a vast array of styles. I was just trying to keep myself entertained from one day to the next!
With all the activity, it is no surprise that my Substack subscriber count went up as well. Welcome, new people! I hope you will stick around for more fiction.
What I Learned
1. I am capable of more output than I thought
As I already mentioned, it has been a while since I wrote 25k words in 30 days. If I had been working on a novel that wouldn't require stopping and thinking about plot so much, it might have been even more. I'm glad I can still write a lot in one month and this will definitely inform my word count goals going forward.
2. Coming up with one story per day is hard
My process for the challenge was to write each story one day in advance so I could let it rest for one night, then read and lightly edit before posting the next day. After the first excitement had worn off, by far the hardest part was coming up with and writing one story from start to finish. Every. Single. Day.
I had to think about what I felt like writing that day, make sure the idea was short and simple enough to be completed in one day (not too complex, light on the research etc.) and then actually write it too. I didn't have the luxury of taking a few days or mulling over it when the plot or the characters didn't seem to work. I had to keep going. In a way, the stakes weren't low because each day came with a new story, but they were also incredibly high because the time I could spend with each story was so incredibly limited.
It was an interesting experience. If you are a writer, I recommend trying it at least once just to see how it makes you feel.
3. Time pressure can create unexpected gems
As hard as it was coming up with one story per day, I also produced some unexpected gems. In my announcement, I stated I wanted to explore side characters and places from my existing fantasy and science fiction universes but I didn't think I would write so many interconnected stories in both.
The science fiction stories feature many side characters from the novel I'm currently working on (tentatively titled Eris Equation). I wrote them in hopes of some readers hunting for connections and comparing how they are portrayed in these shorts vs. in the novel, once it is published.
I also wrote some stories set in my high fantasy world, specifically one region and culture I have been working on the longest. This is exciting because I had never shared any stories from this world before! These are interconnected as well, mainly because I found two characters I really liked that I wanted to spend more time with.
That being said, I would have liked to worldbuild more before releasing some of these stories into the wild. The puppet magic and moth catcher trade are not as fleshed out as I wanted them to be but on the other hand, I am excited to tinker with these ideas some more!
4. Popularity is unpredictable
You can never predict which stories trend and which stories flop--this is something I already suspected. As writers, we reach a point in working on our stories when we just can't tell anymore if they're good or not. It's part of why I prefer to give stories to beta readers and process their feedback before submitting or publishing them anywhere (the rest is good old-fashioned perfectionism).
There is also some greater unpredictability to publishing though. Not even big publishers can say for certain how a book is going to sell before they put it out there. This is exactly why it is a good idea to publish as much as possible. If publishing is a gamble, you turn the wheel of fortune every time you release something. You'd want to turn the wheel as often as you could to increase your chances of winning, right?
Publishing online is ideal for this. I hope to find out more about what stories might appeal to readers as I continue posting on Substack. Please also let me know in the comments if there were any stories or genres you particularly enjoyed and want to see more of!
5. English gets more attention than German
I have been thinking about writing in English on and off for years. I often get asked if I want to write and publish in English, mainly for two reasons.
People seem to think I could pull it off even though I'm not a native speaker.
The English-speaking literary market is so much bigger and more diverse than the German-speaking one.
I was on the fence about this for the longest time. Eventually I decided to alternate between English and German for this challenge. It was a fun, frictionless way of getting back into writing in English. I also felt my writing was more precise, less meandering than in German because I had to think about each and every word: Does it mean what I think it means? Does it most accurately describe what I want to say or is there another word that might do a better job?
Haruki Murakami famously started writing in English because it forced him to be more sparse in his prose than he would have been in Japanese, his native language. He'd write a few paragraphs in English, then translate them back into Japanese and through this method develop his own unique style. I feel the same when writing in English but unlike Murakami, I have no desire to translate these stories back into German.
As for this challenge, the stories I wrote in English predictably got more views. This is likely for two reasons.
Substack is an overwhelmingly English-speaking platform.
I posted a few links in English-speaking Discord communities.
I will continue writing stories in English and posting them online. I don't think I will ever stop writing in German as it is still my native language and culture but this challenge has definitely given me more confidence in my English writing skills.
I am glad for the experience and insight I gained from this challenge but I don't think writing a story a day is sustainable over the long term. Instead, I aim to publish one piece per week on this Substack for the foreseeable future. It might be a short story, a longform chapter (more on this to come) or a nonfiction article such as this one. Once again, I am announcing this here to keep me accountable!
Behind the scenes, I hope to finish revising my science fiction novel Eris Equation by the end of May. One of my goals for this year is getting this novel through revision, editing and deep into querying. Between Substack and the novel, I will have more than enough projects to keep me excited and hopefully keep up the daily writing habit I established over the last few weeks.
It would mean the world to me if you stayed on for more stories. And if you missed any of the ones I wrote in February, now is the time to catch up!