Writing under Pressure

How can you write a story in 90 minutes?

That is the challenge I take on every weekend via the Liberty Hall Writers website.  This is a critique group of speculative fiction writers, whose focus is primarily on publication – more than anything else, more than community building, writing skill building or support.  Those things do happen, in the quest for publication, but there isn’t a lot of chatter.  Writers are generous in thoughtful critiques, in supportive encouragement, but the focus is always on the writing.

Every Friday, I send out an email and get a writing prompt by return email.  I must send back my “entry” within 90 minutes to “qualify” for the group vote on best flash.  The winner gets to set the prompt the following week. If you take more than 90 minutes, you are disqualified from the voting, but you still get your story posted for all to read and review.

Some weeks I mull over possible story lines before I send out my request for the prompt. If it fits, or if I can twist the story to make it work, I will write the story that’s in my head.  Sometimes it inspires something completely different and I discard my ideas & write like mad.  Sometimes it doesn’t fit my vague story idea OR inspire anything – then I walk around in angst & try to brainstorm.  So far I have only “failed” once – completely failed to get in a story after seeing the prompt.  Of course I’ve “failed” many times as far as creating a fabulous flash fiction story in 90 minutes!  But, even the failures usually have a solid kernel to pull out.

Having that 90 minute deadline is amazing.  First off, it is rare to have a complete story arc develop in such a short time.  Knowing that everyone else is under the same crazy pressure relieves (for me) the worry about being “good enough” to share.  In addition, the stories go up anonymously – people try to guess, but you don’t have to confess to your story if you hate it.   And several times I have written something worth working on.

Writing under pressure has taught me that I can create something to be proud of if I get that first draft out, knowing that others will see it.   My internal editor has to cooperate when I’m frantically trying to meet that kind of crazy deadline.

Have you ever tried something like this?  Did it work?


One response to “Writing under Pressure

  1. Nice description of what we do, Lee. Thanks!

    Sometimes something else happens when you bypass the internal editor; you may also bypass your internal social editor. You know, the one who keeps you from voicing dark thoughts and murderous impulses that occasionally flit through your mind? Like when that semi-driver decides to tailgate you?

    I’ve seen that happen. I’ve seen good writers leave LH just because they were shaken by what they wrote. And I’ve seen writers like Mary Kowal embrace that darkness and turn it to their advantage.

    The key, no matter what method you use, is to get words down on paper on a regular schedule and as off-topic (as in not related to your grand scheme of things) as possible. Our 90-minute challenges do that.

    By the way, never ever get Mary Kowal mad at you. The woman writes simply chilling stuff…


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