How to brainstorm and write a story in 24 hours (or less)

I’m adding another ‘thank you‘ to Jamie’s to those of you who participated in the recent NHWN poll. Great feedback.

Onward! In April, I wrote about a 24-hour short story contest I find to be fun, stressful, inspiring, challenging, entertaining, and a great exercise for my muse. Do you see the ups and downs in that last sentence? I have a lot of emotions when writing for a contest, assignment, or a client. And I like that. If I didn’t have a mix of emotions, then I’d take that as a sign I’m too comfortable. Growth comes from pushing into the ‘uncomfy zone,’ not from the same ol’ same ol’.

With the next rendition of the contest coming this Saturday, and based on survey feedback, I thought I’d delve into some tips for writing a story or article with a deadline of a day or less.

These tips can also be applied to blog posts, interviews, and more.

  1. Know the assignment. If it’s a contest, be familiar with the rules. If it’s a client project, make sure you’re clear on the deliverable. If it’s an article, blog post, or interview, know the key points to be covered.

    Brainstorm on the screen or on paper

    Brainstorm on the screen or on paper

  2. Write out initial thoughts – brainstorm. Turn off your internal editor (easier said than done sometimes, I know) and start freewriting ideas. Make lists, mindmap, scribble, draw, whatever it takes to get initial ideas downloaded from your brain. Use a timer, or write until you run dry, whatever works best. For me, a timer keeps the internal editor from speaking too loudly.
  3. Step away. Turn the paper over, minimize the window, close the laptop, walk away from your desk, or close your eyes. I find it helpful to change gears completely and go for a walk, have a snack, listen to music, read e-mail, or anything that doesn’t relate to the project. The mind is still turning ideas over, and likes to do so when you aren’t paying close attention.
  4. Come back with fresh eyes. Read through your notes. Highlight the items from your brainstorming that catch your eye and cross off the ideas that are too typical. What else leaps to mind now? What strikes you as interesting, original, or fun? Shift perspectives — if you’re the reader, which of the items, which focus/approach, would be most interesting or refreshing?
  5. Pick one idea. Yes, just one. Which one floats to the top of the list? Start with that one. (You can always go back to the list later if you need to.)
  6. Free write.  Write on that one topic you’ve just chosen without worrying about what you don’t have. Assignments can need research, quotes, pictures, or other background material. Don’t worry about that now. Write your story/article/blog post with what you know at the moment. You’ll know where you need to insert details later. Leave a blank line, capital letters (XXX), or symbols (???), if you need to. Most important, is that you write without worrying about spelling or word count.
  7. Repeat step 3.
  8. Write your second draft. You know the topic now; your muse is partnering with you to get the story written. Fill in the blanks.
  9. Repeat step 3. A great time for a treat because you’re almost done.

    Deliciously cool key lime pie

    A treat — Deliciously cool key lime pie

  10. Read with an editor’s eye. Clean up the grammar and punctuation. Get within your word count. Give your story / article / assignment a nice polish.
  11. Sleep on it. Similar to step 3, but, it’s the final stretch. The words are on the page and fulfill the guidelines. You have time to relax and let the piece simmer.
  12. Make final revisions and submit before your deadline.

And my favorite step — 13. Celebrate the milestone. I do the “whoot whoot” and fist pump the air and/or do a happy dance. It’s a great feeling knowing a task / assignment / contest entry / what-have-you has been completed and submitted.

It’s like using the fine china or crystal today instead of waiting for “a special event”. Celebrate the moment, the accomplishment. The piece didn’t exist in any form 24 hours (or less) ago, and now it’s done, dusted, and submitted.

Now for the next project!

If you have specific questions, please ask.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is a self-employed writer and editor. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis. You can connect with her on Facebook, TwitterLinkedIn, and Biznik.

31 thoughts on “How to brainstorm and write a story in 24 hours (or less)

  1. Thank you for the reminder. I registered when you posted it back in April. It looks like I just paid another entry fee again. Oh, well. I couldn’t find the original until I attempted to download this one. This will be my first time. Thank you for the hints. good Luck.

    • If you email Angela (who hosts the contest) I’m sure she’ll refund your duplicate payment. She’ll probably notice it and get in touch with you, actually. She’s very attentive to folks.

      I hope you have fun with it – I’d love to hear what you think about it. 🙂

      • I will let you know what I think. It will definitely be a challenge not knowing the topic or word count until that day. I had fun doing the NaWroMo challenge last November. It was also my first time participating. I am still working on rewriting it. Thank you for the feedback.

      • My “Pat’s in the Doghouse, Now” story has been written and sent to Angela for the 24 Hour Story Contest. Thank you. I had a blast participating in this. I followed your quideslines and added one of my own. I had my husband and sister read it for gramatical mistakes only. I’m at step #13 doing the happy dance/fist pumping the air and shouting “whoot-whoot;” which startled my dog, Yoda. Thank you for you very useful post.

  2. I would love to try this some time, but it would require a bit of extra planning on my part…in the form of getting rid of my husband and daughter for a day. lol There is no way I would be able to do anything like this with the two of them around! NaNoWriMo is nearly impossible enough!

    • Hi Tracey — NaNo is impossible for a LOT of folks! Definitely skip step #3 with NaNo — you just want to get all the words on the page in November. 🙂

      The interruptions you have with your family can be your #3 — your mind definitely isn’t focused on your story/article, so when you return to it, you have the fresh eyes you need.

  3. We can also apply this knowledge to writing longer posts/stories to even a novel, only more extended. 🙂

    I absolutely agree with stepping away for a moment. Staring at the screen will only fry your eyes and thinking process (creativity, as well). Not good. Thanks for the advice!

  4. I have three hound mixed breed dogs. They love step #3 because they know several sniffing missions are around the corner. When they hear the timer chime they beat feet to the door.

    I was a little confused by the last two sentences:

    6. Free write. Write on that one topic you’ve just chosen without worrying about what you don’t have. Assignments can need research, quotes, pictures, or other background material. Don’t worry about that now. Write your story/article/blog post with what you know at the moment. You’ll know where you need to insert details later. Leave a blank line, capital letters (XXX), or symbols (???), if you need to. Most important, is that you write without worrying about spelling or word count.

    Great blog!

  5. Pingback: Defeat Writer’s Block: Use These 17 Comprehensive Resources for Generating Blog Post Ideas

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