Keeping up with what’s become a theme for me, at least in the early weeks of 2013, let’s talk about this whole writing more thing again. I’ll refer you back to some previous weeks’ posts regarding my desire—strike, that: GOAL to write more short stories this year, to write every day, and in general to, y’know, write more.

So last night, determined not to let the evening go by without writing, I plopped myself down on the couch after dinner and started watching The West Wing on Netflix with my wife until I fell asleep and she woke me up to give her the remote so she could turn off the TV and go to bed.

Why am I sitting here watching this guy pretend to write while reciting lines written for him by people who sat down and wrote?

Why am I sitting here watching this guy pretend to write while reciting lines written for him by people who sat down and wrote?

In terms of sitting down and writing, short stories or whatever, that felt like a failure, but that’s only because it was a failure. But I guess I shouldn’t beat myself up too bad, right? Everybody needs some downtime, and if you’re going to watch TV you can do much worse than the exemplary The West Wing. But still . . .

Then I woke up, all stiff from having fallen asleep (yet again) on the couch and I looked around the dark living room, then at the clock. It was coming up on 11:00 pm. Well, that’s not so late.

I started doing some math, which isn’t easy for me even when I’m not half asleep, and figured I’d probably been asleep for about and hour and a half, maybe close to two hours.

Then I looked up at the shelf upon which my laptop sits.

Damn it, I thought. This is exactly what I’ve been talking about.

I dragged my sorry ass up, took down the laptop, turned on a light, and started sifting through the cable TV menu.

Wait, what?

This isn’t what it sounds like.

Many years ago, when I was racing a crushing, impossible deadline on a project that shall never speak its name I learned how to write with the TV on, taught myself out of pure necessity to write while life was going on around me. Then, over the years, I started to actually like, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say “need”—the TV on while I write. Now I tend to look for just the right movie to help me get in the mood for what I’m writing. Having something to shift focus to helps me. Sometimes I just need to pause and let the bad ideas empty from my head.

So last night I found a movie—turns out it was The Chronicles of Riddick, which is a favorite of mine and one I’ve seen many times, so I didn’t feel as though I had to pay attention to it. Then I started up the laptop, and having already, earlier yesterday, in fact, come up with my first sentence, I started writing a short story.

And it was awesome.

Not the story, necessarily, which I still have to look at a few more times before I can tell if it’s worth sharing, but the act of writing it was terrific. It flowed out of me at the speed of typing. I just barreled in, keeping my idea in mind, and (very unlike me) with nothing like a written outline or notes. I just wrote and wrote and wrote and kept writing.

When I noticed that the battery on my old laptop was nearly drained, I moved over to the side of the couch closer to an outlet, plugged it in, and kept going.

I kept writing, just as fast as I could, until I was done with the story.

I didn’t start with any word count in mind, just an idea, and the desire to get it down. I flew through it, ignoring typos and misspellings and little plot holes or inconsistencies. I pressed ahead. I got it out of me and into a form that I can later go through, slowly and carefully, and make into something readable.

I wrote a complete story in one sitting by following these simple rules:

    • Have the story almost done, in your imagination, before you start.
    • Don’t turn on the computer until you know what your first sentence will be.
    • Don’t worry about details. Details are for later.
    • Keep going, just as fast as you can, no matter what.
    • When you get to where the story feels like it’s over, stop.

I ended up crawling into bed at about three am and slept the sleep of the just.

And when I woke up this morning I had one complete rough draft of a short story, which ended up being somewhere around 6000 words.

It can be done.


—Philip Athans




About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. Congratulations on the great night and early morning of writing, and thanks for the inspiration.

  2. Yes congrats on the excellent writing day! I don’t know if I can finish that much in a sitting, but I’ll give some of your tips a go and see what comes of it 🙂

  3. Pingback: 5 dicas para escrever contos | .:: Escriba Encapuzado ::.

  4. Pingback: 5 dicas para escrever contos

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