At the beginning of 2015 I started a new writing project. I decided that every day for the next 365 days I would write a short story on the back of a postcard. Each story would be inspired by the day’s events and posted to a friend, (mostly local, some as far away as Vietnam and South Africa). Every recipient would be someone I actually knew and, with the exception of a strange man Hannah McPhillimy met on a flight from Portland, I managed to keep to this rule. I didn’t miss a single day, though some stories were undoubtedly ropier than others. I only repeated myself twice and I actually ended up developing some of the ideas into longer short stories. I’m hoping to find somewhere which will publish a selection of the best Postcard Stories at some stage in the future.
It was a great year and a great way to keep myself writing, but I’m quite glad it’s over now, glad to get an extra half hour back in my day. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the things I learned during my year of writing Postcard Stories.
- The old-fashioned letter isn’t dead– I couldn’t believe how many people really appreciated receiving something in the post which wasn’t a bill. Even though Postcard Stories are over I’m going to make more of an effort to send actual letters from now on.
- Swapping art is amazing– I received so many lovely postcards, pieces of art and illustrations, photos and all sorts of treats in the mail from grateful recipients. We should do more swapping of art. It doesn’t cost much if anything, and it keeps us all connected.
- I have more ideas than I thought– I didn’t think I’d be able to come up with 365 different stories but after a few days of writing these I found that I’d trained myself into looking for inspiration everywhere I went. This project taught me the discipline of observation: listening to what people say, watching what they do, looking out for the odd and remarkable, the kind of things which form the foundations of a story.
- I can write really small– one person said that my tiny handwriting looked like rain on a windowpane, (this was nice), another person said it gave them a migraine and required a magnifying glass to read, (this was not so nice).
- I can fit 250 words on a single postcard– If there is every another World War and I have to send letters to a lover at the Front this will be a very useful skill.
- The Royal Mail is not very reliable– At least a third of the Postcard Stories never arrived, despite spending over £250 in stamps this year. There are also some post boxes which are much more likely to make your letters disappear than others. If you’re thinking of posting anything in the postbox outside the pizza place on the Holywood Road you’d be just as well posting it straight into your wheelie bin.
- Every day projects sit well with me– I write a lot but I still don’t find it easy to sit down and start writing. I’m a terrible perfectionist and tend to procrastinate if I can’t find the exact words to start a piece. The sheer volume of work required to complete an every day writing project like this forced me to get over my hang ups and get something down on paper every day. I’ve already started to notice how this is helping me to get down to my writing sessions quicker.
- I’m not as computer-centric as I thought I was– I’ve never been a pen and paper writer. I love the flexibility of writing on a lap top and self-editing as I go, but for the Postcard Stories I used a series of notebooks to jot down ideas and develop each piece, only typing the stories up once the final version had been written on the back of a postcard. I actually enjoyed the experience of rediscovering my own handwriting and the flexibility of being able to jot down quick notes everywhere I went.
- It’s best to warn people before sending them art in the post– Apologies to Roisin’s Grandma who accidentally read her Postcard Story about a girl with three dozen hands and was mightily confused.
- It’s pretty obvious where my interests lie– If you removed all the Postcard Stories about Bob Dylan, Agatha Christie, the Ulster Hall, Flannery O’Connor, Casualty and Inspector Morse there’d probably only be about three stories left. I know my strengths and I stick to them.