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Paragraph Planet

Writing.ie | Magazine | Writing & Me

Richard Hearn

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First, I’d better tell you about the website. Paragraph Planet –http://www.paragraphplanet.cominvites submissions of exactly 75 words, with a different one being published on the home page each day.  They might be short, short stories, descriptions of a moment, or extracts from longer pieces. The only criteria for entry is they have to be exactly 75 words.

Other features have been added over time: you can write a sequel (which must also be 75 words), there’s an archive section with previously published tales (over 1000 at the time of writing); you can comment on paragraphs, find out more about contributors in the author section, plus I’ve recently introduced Author Interviews and a map of writing groups.

So why did I start Paragraph Planet? I’m not a web designer but I enjoyed learning HTML to set up websites publicising my freelance work. I’d also been a member of a novelists group that met in Brighton and we’d talked about setting up a website, so that got thrown in the pot. I realised a home page that changed every day attracted visitors, plus I’d always enjoyed the final stage of writing where you have to chisel away to fit a word count (my Dad column has to be 450 words) and, and….

You get the picture. Basically, a few ideas came together, the arbitrary word limit was set at 75 words, and all I then needed was a title. It was going to be ‘Minutiae‘, then ‘Objects and Moments’, then I threw various words I liked into a bag including Monkey, Planet (although that combination was already almost a film, starring Charlton Heston), Junkie was there, Paragraph…and well…you‘ve read the title, you know the ending.

Two pieces of code were crucial to get the site working. The first so the computer loads an image based on that day – the submissions are saved as images, named after the days of the week – the second piece of code producing a live word count (down from 75) to help the author when writing their masterpiece. To test whether all this worked, I wrote the first week’s entries myself. They weren’t that good to be honest. Example subject matter? A matchbox, and waiting for water to boil while camping, but they did the trick of seeing whether the paragraph changed each day, and how everything displayed.

I emailed some writing contacts and local groups. Activity gained momentum when a local community publisher emailed my publicity out to their list, then a few writing tutors started using it in their evening classes. Entries started building, and it was soon getting mentioned on far-flung newsletters and magazines, on twitter, and on various author blogs.

Right from the start, the entries were strong. (Much better than the matchbox and the aforementioned water being warmed up). I always find the variety exciting. They might be poignant, punchy, delicate, thrilling, descriptive. Some are mini twist-in-the-tale stories, others play with language, or instantly create an atmosphere. A few have been the opening of a soon-to-be published novel.

For some contributors, it’s their first piece of published writing, for others it’s a warm-up exercise before they get down to finishing the novel their publisher is hassling them for. It’s nice that there’s that mixture; writers on various rungs of the ladder rubbing shoulders (I’m not sure that metaphor works in spacial terms but we’ll stick with it!)

Having emailed other English-speaking countries, it’s exciting to see word spread – my website stats show me approximate locations of visitors – and I think I’ve now had entries from every continent except Antarctica.  C’mon Antarctica, get your finger out!

So if you fancy reading a few 75-word stories, or contributing one yourself, why not visit the site, and maybe spread the word – or paragraph – about Paragraph Planet.

About the author

(c) Richard Hearn, August 2011

Richard Hearn is a freelance writer and artist and has been published in various magazines on topics as diverse as camping, immortality and the comedy of Sat Navs. He writes regular features for The Artist Magazine, and a weekly column, ‘Distracted Dad’ on being a parent. He is also the developer of the flash fiction website Paragraph Planet which has published authors from Ireland, the UK, USA and Australia and here we’ve asked him to give some behind-the-scenes insights into creating a writing website. 


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