Earlier this month, I set myself a challenge: to write a 2,000 word sci-fi short story over the course of 48 hours. Well, strictly speaking, the Sci-Fi London Film Festival set the challenge for me:

On Saturday 8 April 2017 at 11am, we task you to write some original science fiction using elements we give you.   Your story should not exceed 2000 words and you only have 48 hours: the best story we receive will be published on New Scientist’s website and the author will receive £500 and a VIP pass to this year’s festival which runs in London from 27 April to 6 May 2017.

Two things appealed to me about this challenge.

First, the deadline. The more I write, the more I’ve found that a firm deadline helps me to focus on what I need to achieve. I’m planning on doing another ‘Agile Novel Development‘ post about this in the near future, talking about my experience with the concept of writing sprints and how writing in short, fixed bursts can be a great way to develop a consistent writing habit.

Second, the constraints – specifically the length of the story and the mandatory prompts. Every entrant received two mandatory and one optional prompt, all of them – seemingly – randomly mixed together. I’ve often found writing prompts a little too woolly to work with and appreciated that, in this case, I would have more than one connected prompt to work with.

When the morning of the challenge arrived, these were the prompts I was assigned:


Dialogue: “Have a look online, see if we can hire one.”

I also had an optional ‘scientific’ prompt, which was to include some reference to the fact that stars appeared to be disappearing due to the universe expanding faster than the speed of light. These three combined were vague yet specific enough to inspire. That being said, I wasn’t immediately struck with an idea. Of the 48 hours that the challenge lasted for, I spent at least half of them fretting over what I should write about.

Should I take the title literally and write about a tiny civilisation forming in the dregs of tea leaves? Should I focus more on the expanding universe and explore the idea of a future-Earth that is dealing with the sky turning dark one star at a time? What exactly was someone going to hire online? All of these questions made me seriously doubt not only my entry into the contest, but also my ability to write at all.

By the end of day one, I had a rough idea what I wanted to write about. By the evening of the second day, the story was done. I revised what I’d written, got friends and family to pass a critical eye over the text. At the end of it, I had a short story that I was – to my surprise – quite pleased with. Regardless of whether it’s shortlisted for the Sci-Fi London competition, I got a lot out of the process and am now actively seeking other similar challenges to take part in, as a way to stretch myself and giving myself an occasional break from working on the manuscript for Witherfist.

If you’d like to read my entry, you can find it as a free e-book on various sites including Amazon (below). You can also read tweets about other author’s experiences – and links to their entries – on the #SFL48HRFlash hashtag on Twitter.