30 stories in 30 days: Unpacking No Novel November 2019

No Novel November is officially over! Here’s my debrief of the challenge, plus my personal takeaways and future plans.

A wild abstract design coming from the quill of a writer's pen - I am writing you a poem by archann via Deviant Art

I can’t believe I did it, you guys. 30 stories in 30 days (read them all here), and I only got behind once.

I learned so much.

So buckle up, kiddos, because it’s time for a debrief.

…not that kind, put your pants back on.

How it started

If I could produce a drawing every single day, maybe I could parlay that structure into writing.

The idea for No Novel November came to me during Inktober, when you do one drawing a day for a month. I tried it as a fun thing to do with my actual-artist sister-in-law, but not expecting anything from myself. About halfway through, I realized, “Hey, I can actually do this.” And I did!

The whole experience shifted my perspective of what’s creatively possible. Since choosing the stay-at-home-parent life, I’ve struggled mightily to continue even thinking of myself as a creative person, much less to generate any actual work. But if I could produce a drawing every day, maybe I could parlay that structure into writing.

November is traditionally National Novel Writing Month, but I knew my toddler-bound schedule wouldn’t let me write 1667 words each day to win. I had to find something else.

I considered drabble and six-word stories but found them too restrictive. Standard short stories were too long for daily production; same for flash.

Microfiction, though, had promise. Shorten it to 250 words (a page in editing terms), add a prompt list to springboard from, and it actually sounded doable.

I fished for interest on social media and was surprised so many people wanted in. NaNoWriMo can be daunting, and I appeared to have hit a vein of writers itching to stretch their muscles but who, like me, weren’t able (or motivated) to novel.

And thus No Novel November was born!

The challenge

I never expected so many people to play along, much less dedicate themselves to the challenge so wholeheartedly.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about how this went down was how many people jumped on board. I expected a handful of friends to join, but we wound up with 65 in the Facebook group and a handful more Twitterers—almost all people I don’t know!

When I realized that interest was way higher than anticipated, my Type 1 brain kicked in, and things shifted from “casual writing thing” to “official community event.” I wrote a miniseries about writing microfiction for the FB group, made shareables, created a couple hashtags, and even spooled up the ol’ dusty newsletter. Srsbzns.

All told, we had nearly 20 regular contributors, and several opened themselves up for critique. Reading everyone’s stories each day was by far my favourite part of the challenge. While I’d originally planned for that, I hadn’t planned on providing feedback for everyone who asked. Which I did. Daily. It was a hell of a lot more work than I bargained for, but truly a joy; the stories were so good and the writers so invested that I couldn’t not.

In the end, roughly 10 people “won” No Novel November. I never expected that many people to play along, much less dedicate themselves to the challenge so wholeheartedly. Even those who fell off the wagon along the way are insanely precious to me. The challenge was about just doing the dang thing, and they did! I’m bursting with den mother pride.

What I learned

If I could spin an entire world with characters and plot in 250 words in under an hour, what other projects could I undertake?

This challenge took the revelation I had with Inktober, slammed it down on the table, and demanded another round from the bartender. In October, I realized I could create something every day; November opened my eyes to the larger implications of reliably generating new, complete stories every single day within strict limitations. If I could spin an entire world with characters and plot in 250 words in under an hour (and not always all at once), what other projects could I undertake?

I could write mini posts every day.
I could write a microfic once a week.
I could write a flashfic once a month.
I could finish Apple of Chaos in a year.
I could do all of those things at once.


For the past 60 days, I’ve done what I’d thought was impossible. This challenge showed me how I’ve been limiting myself and opened up a world of possibility that’s both tantalizing and daunting. Rather than diving in headlong, like I usually do, I’m taking my time to see what develops. It’s all too glorious to look at directly.

Also, doing 30 days of feedback for 4-6 people was like boot camp for my consultation and editing skills: grueling at times, but oh so satisfying in the end. I loved the puzzle of each story, looking for its gems and pitfalls, then presenting them to the author in a loving, yet professional way; I loved their delight at finding the potential in their own work even more.

What was most revealing, though, is that I never got tired of doing it. I seemed to have boundless patience and energy for reading and critiquing, asking questions and finding answers. And if I’ve learned anything about finding your path, that’s the neon sign pointing you in the right direction.

Going forward

I can do more. I can write more. And I’m going to.

You might have noticed that I failed to post three of the 30 stories here on the blog and missed even more social media. Never fear! Those stories will have another life in the near future. I can’t say more because I promised the newsletter crew they’d hear first (so get on it if you want to hear secrets), but it’s gonna be good.

I’m also spending some time meditating on what to do next. I love the idea of a Fiction Friday here on the blog, and y’all know how I feel about Apple of Chaos being undone. But there’s also a part of me that wants to do spiritual writing. I know there’s a place for all of that somewhere; I just don’t know where yet.

What I do know is that I can do more. I can write more. And I’m going to.

No Novel November 2019 WInner Badge

PS: For those of you asking, YES, this will be an annual thing. No Novel November will ride again in 2020! I bought the URL and everything.

ALSO: I suspect we’ll do another microfiction challenge in March or May for alliteration, so stay tuned.

What you see is what you get

Day 30: Stretch
No Novel November 2019

Large antique mirror in frame exploding with smoke

My fingers brush the ledge, the tips of my boots barely touching the cavern floor, the rest of me teetering over an open pit.


I wobble and throw myself backwards onto my pack. Any other expedition, and I’d have gone home already. But returning empty-handed isn’t a mere academic failure this time. This time, the fate of humanity is at stake.

I know. It sounded stupid in the proposal, too. But this isn’t just any artifact.

Muscles shaking, I get to my feet and glare at the gap. I’m so close I can see its light reflected on the ceiling of the chamber above—I just have to get up there.

Only one thing left to try.

I shed everything with weight, and before I can talk myself out of it, I’m running as hard as I can, flinging myself through the air, arms outstretched—all in. My hands smack solidly on stone. I scrabble up, dragging myself to safety against a large boulder.

On top of which rests a glowing silver mirror.

Breath ragged and hands shaking, I grip the frame and raise it to my face. “Show me my true worth,” I whisper.

I wait for the image to change, to reveal my soul’s hidden value, to transform me into someone beautiful or rich or successful.

But nothing happens.

I wait longer. Still no change.

Eventually, it dawns on me that it won’t, no matter how long I look.

That’s when I start to cry. Not because the mirror is a fake, but because it works. Humanity isn’t ready for this. What will happen to society when people learn that true worth can’t be earned or bought—that they already have it?

This story is part of No Novel November, a daily microfiction challenge. If you'd like to know more and/or join in, click here.

Nigh invincible

Day 29: Bone
No Novel November 2019

The cold only bothers him first thing in the morning. Once he’s up and moving, he barely notices. But right now, lying in his empty bed surrounded by an Eastern seaboard winter, his body aches to its marrow.

The other agents at the Supernatural Cases Division think he’s invincible, but it’s only half true. Inside, he’s a patchwork of grafts and mends. He may not need casts or bed rest, but broken bones magically healed still leave their mark, still remember their weakness when the weather shifts.

He grunts with the effort of swinging his legs to the floor. The comminuted femur complains as he stands, his slight weight too much for the patch yet. A trio from the left foot creaks in agreement, chorusing with ribs six through twelve as he stretches, hitching at a shoulder dislocated so many times he’s lost count.

Moving warms the blood in stiff muscles as he washes his face. Long fingers with round knuckles slide over a thin jaw calloused at the hinge, glide across fine hair hiding sutures opened and closed. Thankfully, brushing his teeth doesn’t raise any alarms.

Body done with its complaints, Jack Alexander slides on his ubiquitous black suit like a second skin that covers his fractured skeleton and steps out into the frozen DC air, wondering how today will try to break him.

This story is part of No Novel November, a daily microfiction challenge. If you'd like to know more and/or join in, click here.

How do you like them apples

Day 28: Rotten
No Novel November 2019

Johnny surveyed the orchard full of naked trees and sighed. Every year, the harvest was less, the waste more. The apples of belief bloomed each spring, swelled in summer, ripened in fall, and hit the ground to rot before the first frost. Months of back-breaking work for nothing.

He spent the day clearing the ground the old-fashioned way. For their anniversary, Demeter had bought him a fancy cart off Amazon that sucked them up automatically as he walked, but it stayed in the garage. Some things needed doing by hand. Besides, ten acres was nothing compared to what he used to work.

As the sun dipped below the branches, Johnny threw the last bag of mealy brown apples into the barn and himself into the armchair in front of the fire. He reached for his phone and the red-labeled bottle on the end table, opening both.

“Yeah, D, I think this is it for me. Nobody quests anymore, especially not for enchanted produce.” He took a swig from the bottle and grimaced. “Time to retire to the big orchard in the sky. Two hundred years is a good run, right?”

He paused for another pull. “Good gods, this is terrible,” he coughed. “Why do people like it?”

As Dionysus expounded on the wonders of scotch, Johnny’s attention faded. Something about the red label and the burning in his sinuses stirred up an idea.

“Hey, D,” he interrupted. “What do you think about Johnny Appleseed’s Hard Cider—‘So Good, It’s Magic’?”

This story is part of No Novel November, a daily microfiction challenge. If you'd like to know more and/or join in, click here.

Mighty but vulnerable

Day 24: Quill
No Novel November 2019

Red quill feather pen line drawing via Pixabay

The quill lies limp in my hand as the click of boots on marble gets fainter and fainter, finally disappearing behind the slam of the great hall’s heavy doors. No one will return from the hunt until after dark—until it’s too late for me. But I must tell them. I must reveal the traitor.

Shaking fingers dip my pen into the most precious of inks that now pools around my chest. The cool white floor is my parchment as I scrawl the name of the man who flatters doddering kings and murders inquisitive priests. I pray the warning is legible. I pray it is heeded.

Strength expended, I exhale and let the quill fall. As the grey curtain of this world draws closed, I cannot help admiring the irony of this end. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but those who wield the former are still vulnerable to the latter.

This story is part of No Novel November, a daily microfiction challenge. If you'd like to know more and/or join in, click here.