Promptober 2020 Retrospective

Why Promptober?

My decision to create and participate in Promptober for the first time came after a difficult week of writing.

The first pain point occured when I realized one of the short stories I was working on just wasn’t good enough to publish, despite having sunk a few dozen hours into the piece and written a half-dozen drafts.

Similarly, another short story I was working on ran into an issue. Although I had written multiple drafts of this piece and sunk upwards of fifteen hours into it, coming back to it after setting it aside for four months, I realized the story had a major flaw. After a week of mulling over the problem and brainstorming ideas, I couldn’t find a sufficient solution. I honestly don’t think there was one. I decided to abandon the story and abandoned the characters of that story, characters I had become rather attached to.

I became very depressed about my writing after that. Part of it was having to abandon a story I had high hopes for, but the more insidious issue was I realized I had fallen into the trap of chasing publication. I made getting published too big of a goal, too big an expectation, especially for someone only in their second year of writing. Because it was such an overbearing desire, when I failed to write stories that were publishable—which were all my stories at this point—I would get depressed and start questioning my ability to become a storyteller, to become a writer.

I needed to free myself from the publication trap and climb out of this pit of despair. But how?

This had all taken place in the middle of September. October was coming up. Hmm . . .

Back in January, I did have this idea of an Inktober for writers, but I never worked out what form it would take.

Prompts! That’s the ticket: writing prompts.

I had read about many a writer that used writing prompts to help them overcome writer’s block or challenge themselves or improve their skills or any number of other reasons. Perhaps writing prompts could help me shift my paradigm. Perhaps for the month of October, I could attempt to write a new story every day, for thirty-one days, using a new writing prompt each day. It’s impossible to write so many stories in such a short amount of time and expect even a fraction of them to be good, certainly not publishable. Publication can’t be the goal for these stories.

Thus, Promptober was born! Write 31 stories in 31 days.

So, eyes wide and trepidatious, I embarked on my first Promptober journey.

The True Meaning of Promptober 2020

Two weeks into Promptober, I realized what this Promptober was actually about. Yes, it was about destroying the idea that every story I wrote had to be publishable. However, it was really about something higher level and more significant than that.

No, what this Promptober was really about was me learning to be okay with writing a bad story; it was about me learning to be okay with spending three, fifteen, thirty plus hours on a story only to realize the story isn’t that good or that is has flaws I don’t know how to solve or does not have any interesting ideas or that it is just plain a terrible story. I had to learn to be okay with tossing aside or trunking a story, regardless of how much time or effort went into it, regardless of how attached I had become to it. If the story is not working and I can’t figure out solutions to its problems, that’s okay. Let that story go, then move onto the next one.

Instead of focusing on the outcome of the story, I needed to focus more on the process of writing that story, sinking into the act of crafting the narrative and seeing it come to life bit by bit on the page. Regardless of the story’s quality or how long it took to write it, the journey I went on to get the story onto the page is the valuable thing.

That, Charlie Brown, was the true meaning of 2020’s Promptober.


Totals and Averages

Total Number of Words41,680
Average Number of Words Per Story1,344.52
Total Hours51.5
Average Hours Per Story1.66
# of 1st drafts18
# of 2nd drafts7
# of 3rd drafts5
# of 4th drafts1
Science Fiction Stories9
Fantasy Stories8
Horror Stories1
General Stories15
FanFiction Stories2


And because data is often more palatable as pretty pictures, here are some charts representing the above data (and the raw data shown at the bottom)


Looking at pure word count, in thirty-one days I wrote the equivalent of a short novel, or depending on who you talk to, a long novella. That came from writing an average of 1,345 words a day. At my average writing speed, that is approximately an hour and a half of writing a day. So, theoretically, projecting from this data, if I spent two to three hours a day writing, averaging two to three thousand words a day, I could theoretically write a 60,000 to 90,000 word novel in 30 days. That puts NaNoWriMo in a new perspective for me. Drafting a novel now seems a little less overwhelming.

Back in September, I was in a very fantasy genre mood. A lot of what I was consuming and writing then was fantasy, so it surprised me when Promptober started out so Science Fiction heavy. I guess that genre had been feeling a little neglected. This turned out to be wonderful, as the change of genre breathed life into my desire to write that first week of Promptober. Fantasy ended up becoming more of a muse later in the month.

However, general and literary-ish fiction was by far the leader in the genre wars for this Promptober. I haven’t written a lot of general/literary fiction, although some of the best fiction I have written in the past has been of that type.


With regard to the rules of Promptober, I was successful. In 31 days, I wrote 31 different stories.

Beyond that, however, I also believe I successfully achieved my original goal for this Promptober. As the month progressed, I very much became less and less concerned with writing publishable stories and simply writing stories. I found myself enjoying the writing process more and found the writing to be more relaxing. Writing a new story every day filled with new characters, plots, worlds, and conflicts was a delight. Moving forward, my focus is going to be less about getting published and more about enjoying the fact that I’ve become a storyteller.

The true goal of this Promptober, as mentioned in the retrospective’s introduction, is another goal I believe I achieved. I am far more comfortable sitting down to write a story and having zero expectations for that story. I instead focus on the act of creating that story and the joy it brings. Sinking multiple hours into a story just to realize the story is not working or realizing I don’t know how to make it work does not bother me as much as it did prior to October 2020.

A lesson I learned from this Promptober was that Promtober is not a sprint but a marathon. Seems a bit obvious in hindsight. You have to pace yourselves throughout the month. I had stretches of two or three days where I wrote stories of 2000+ words. The day following those high word-count evenings, I would be low on energy. On those low energy days, I wrote smaller pieces. However, I was often able to write multiple drafts of those shorter stories. So it wasn’t so much about word count as it was about scope. You don’t have to hold nearly as much information in your head for a 250-word piece of flash fiction as you do a 3000-word short story. This, for me anyway, makes drafting far less draining on my mental and emotional reservoirs.

The second lesson I learned was that I will never have writers block, or if I ever do, I know of a sure-fire method to get rid of it—go browse through writing prompts until one catches my attention and just roll with the story that comes to mind. Somehow, I came up with a new story every day for 31 days straight. I didn’t think my creativity could handle that. I was wrong, happily so.

Promptober 2020 was a resounding success! I am thrilled with many of the stories I ended up writing, even if they didn’t turn out good. Many of the stories surprised me with where they went, the details that made it in, and what some of them had to say. It was a fun month. I look forward to Promptober 2021!

Raw Data

Day# of Words# of DraftsHoursGenre
1188023Science Fiction
2104122Science Fiction
6145712Science Fiction
8113321.75Science Fiction
910341Science Fiction
12308913Science Fiction (FanFiction)
2155411Science Fiction
2325531Science Fiction (FanFiction)
2580811Science Fiction
31130511General (Fantasy)