On the Value of the Bradbury Challenge

In today’s Journal

* On the Value of the Bradbury Challenge (guest post)
* Of Interest

On the Value of the Bradbury Challenge

This is a guest post by Chynna Pace. See Chynna’s bio below.

Up until about four years ago, when I first heard about indie publishing and realized I could put my stories out there and begin the writing career I always dreamed of, I always wrote freely, without any fear or anxiety.

I wrote the stories I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted, and I didn’t care one iota how the stories turned out, or whether or not they were “good” or “written well.” All I cared about was how much fun they were to write.

That was the way I’d started writing, as a five-year-old typing up crazy tales on her mom’s clunky computer, and it was the way I continued to write, until, as I said, I discovered indie publishing.

And that’s when a horrible myth entered my head. The myth that my stories were important.

Writing continued to be a source of joy for me—it always has been, even when I’ve been persistent about beating myself up and doing everything I can to make writing drudgery for whatever stupid reason—but it wasn’t what it used to be.

Instead of writing from a place of devil-may-care excitement, I was scared and worried all the time. I worried about where the story was going, about how it would turn out. I worried about whether or not my characters were realistic, whether the dialogue was believable, and whether the magic system made sense. I worried about whether I’d used the right word, whether the prose was dull or too wordy, and so on. And that was just during the process of writing.

Then, once the book was done, I worried about a million things regarding its publication and potential audience. I worried about whether readers would like the book. I worried that they’d think I was a bad writer. I worried that I really was a bad writer and didn’t realize it.

And then, amidst all that worrying, I wondered why I suddenly had to drag myself to my manuscript instead of jumping for joy to get back to the story. I wondered why the writing was dragging on, why it would take me forever to finish a book, and why I felt like I wasn’t making any progress as a writer.

Of course, it never occurred to me that it was my own doing (grin). My problem was, I was making the writing important. And writing should never be important.

Then Harvey brought up the Bradbury Challenge and invited participants to report their weekly stories in the Journal.

I plunged into the Challenge on a whim. But I came in with a history. I’d always found it easier to write novels than short fiction, and over time, that became an insecurity. I had a habit of heaping importance on short stories, because I desperately wanted to be good at writing them. I was convinced that there was a certain magic secret to writing short fiction that I was just cursed to never have.

I started and finished a few short stories, but they always took a long time to finish, and the whole time I wrote them, I was stressed that they weren’t going to be any good. And usually they weren’t, at least in my opinion, because I was so uptight while writing them. I believe the best writing comes from a place of carefree lightness and childlike wonder.

Around the time the Bradbury Challenge came about, I was looking for ways to rekindle a lost joy for writing. I hadn’t been writing as much as I’d wanted to, and when I did write, it felt like I was just writing to meet a goal. I was missing that thrill, that rush of adventure and newness, where the story is just flowing and it feels like I’m right there with the characters.

I didn’t have an ounce of confidence in my abilities to have any sort of success doing a short story challenge, but I’d done similar challenges before, like in October when I challenged myself to write a novel in 10 days and ended up having so much fun that I wrote two more right after that and finished a whole trilogy before the month was over. That had been a great experience, so I thought I’d try the Bradbury Challenge.

I had zero expectations, but I was determined to try it. I was tired of feeling like I’d grown stale as a writer. I wanted to prove to myself that I could get past my own self-inflicted hang-ups and actually churn out some short stories and enjoy doing so.

And the crazy thing is, that’s what ended up happening. Not only have I been finishing short stories, I’ve also been enjoying the heck out of writing them. Lately, almost as soon as I start one short story, another one pops into my head at the same time.

My imagination feels like a never-ending wellspring of cool ideas, each one more exciting than the last. I’ve even been writing things I’ve never written before, stories like Hotel Stinemere, a horror story set in a creepy hotel, and The Dayfall Hour, a weird piece about eleven-year-old brothers, one sunny, the other dark and moody, who are personifications of day and night.

I’ve proven to myself week after week that I can write short stories. But at this point, I don’t even care about proving that I can continue a streak. I am just genuinely having so much fun with this. And amazingly, that pure joy has carried over into my novels as well. I’ve noticed myself going into writing sessions with the same exhilaration I have when I read books. I don’t know where the story is going and I don’t care. I’m just here for the adventure.

I’ve quit stopping every few seconds to doubt myself and worry if the writing is any good. I’ve stopped thinking of my writing in terms of “good” and “bad” at all. I’m writing more than ever, having more fun than ever, and I also feel like I’m growing and learning faster than I ever have as a writer.

When I think about what brought all this on, the answer is simple. I’ve let go of making my writing important. I hardly ever think of my stories that way now, and when I do, I catch myself quickly. Critical voice hasn’t fully gone away, and I don’t think it ever will, but I am so much better about fighting it off and stubbornly protecting my joy for writing.

I understand now that no single short story or novel is important. Like others say, it’s only a few minutes’ or hours’ entertainment. There’s no need for pressure or perfectionism. There’s no need to worry about how it will be perceived. There’s no need to do anything, except relax and have fun going on various adventures with my characters.

And remembering that has been the biggest reason behind my rekindled joy for writing.

* * *

Chynna Pace is a writer of middle grade and young adult novels and short stories spanning many genres, but you can usually always find mystery, magic, and a little something spooky in everything she writes. She enjoys telling stories about clever, funny kids and their wild, sometimes dangerous, adventures. But when she’s not writing, she can be found either baking cookies, reading a book, or strumming her guitar. Visit her website at https://chynnapace.com/.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “June Workshops Now Available” at https://deanwesleysmith.com/june-workshops-now-available/.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 0 (Guest Post)

Total fiction words for May……… 14404
Total fiction words for 2023………… 97868
Total nonfiction words for May… 23280
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 104970
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 202838

Calendar Year 2023 Novels to Date…………………… 2
Calendar Year 2023 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2023 Short Stories to Date… 4
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 73
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 221
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. On this blog I teach Writing Into the Dark, adherence to Heinlein’s Rules, and that following the myths of fiction writing will slow your progress as a writer or stop you cold. I will never teach the myths on this blog.