[Write On Wednesday] Stolen Secrets

Thanks to StoryADay-er Jeffrey T for recommending this resource!

Postsecret.comPostSecret is a site where people confess their secrets online, via postcard. Some are sweet, some are sad and some are downright disturbing. They are all fantastic moments that suggest short stories.

The Prompt

Write a story based on a secret shared at PostSecret.com

Tips

  • If you’re worried about ‘stealing’ someone’s story, don’t be. You’re inspired by the emotion behind their postcard, or the moment that it evokes. What you write won’t be their story. It’ll be yours.
  • Don’t quote the actual words on the postcard (that’s plagiarism). Just think about what inspired the person to confess this secret and go from there.
  • Don’t choose one of the tragic ones unless you like writing tragic stories. I liked this one, this one, and this one.
  • Don’t be surprised if your story veers away from your first assumptions.
  • Focus on the moment suggested by the secret. Write only about that. Use as little backstory as possible, for a taut, emotional story.

Go!

Warm Up Writing Course Begins This Weekend

Thinking about signing up for StoryADay May but scared to take the plunge?

 

If you need proof that YOU CAN WRITE, sign up for the StoryADay Warm-Up Writing Course starting this Friday, April 6. But sign up today and receive immediate access to the bonus Time To Write Workshop.

 

What: An online short-story writing course for writers who want to warm up their writing muscles: 2 weekly lessons, 3-4 weekly writing assignments. Starts small and builds your confidence over time. Continue reading “Warm Up Writing Course Begins This Weekend”

That Awkward Moment When I Met NaNoWriMo Founder Chris Baty

or: Confronting Your Fears Can Be Fun!

OK, I’m inviting you to write a story a day in May, just like that.

How’s that making you feel? Feeling some resistance? That’s normal. Feeling a cold rush of terror? Not unusual. But I’ll bet you’re feeling something else too: a little thrill at the idea. (C’mon, you’re a writer. Of course you’re tempted.)

Sharing your creative efforts is a risk and taking a risk requires bravery.

And sometimes, taking that risk leads to something completely unexpected.

Let me tell you a story about what happened when I met Chris Baty, the founder of National Novel Writer’s Month, an insane creativity challenge I in-no-way-ripped-off when I started StoryADay.

How I Absolutely Did Not Rip Off NaNoWriMo

In the late 1990s, when the Web was young, I had a writer friend who was a real sucker for collaborative creative challenges: Illustration Friday, Livejournal memes and, eventually, this crazy new thing called National Novel Writer’s Month.

It was the first time I had entertained the idea that writing might be anything but a solitary endeavour.

Over the years, I tried a few of these challenges (100Words.net, NaBloPoMo) and even came close to signing up for NaNoWriMo in 2009. I had read NaNoWriMo founder, Chris Baty’s book “No Plot, No Problem” and loved his ‘creativity for all’ outlook — but by this time I had I had two small kids and my creative life had contracted to the point where I was reduced to drafting critical analyses on Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends (I have a whole thesis on Gordon’s daddy issues, and Percy? Classic victim mentality.)

So I chickened out. Again.

What Do You Do When You Hit Rock Bottom?

The winter dragged on and I sank into a deep slump.

I was grumpy with everyone all the time. I needed a creative outlet but every time I started anything, even my beloved short stories, I failed to finish.

You know that feeling when you’re scared to start because you might let yourself down again?

One memorable day in March 2010 I hit bottom. Driving along a bleak country road in Pennsylvania – the bare tree-limbs reaching out to claw out the last shreds of my creative soul as we sang along to “Cranky, He’s The Dockyard Crane” – I snapped. That’s it, I thought. I have to do something really scary to jolt myself out of this. I’m going to write a story a day for a month. I can do a story a day, right? I’m going to finish each one, and I’m going to tell everyone about it, so they can shame me if I stop writing.

It was terrifying.

So I did it.

See? “Inspired by” NaNoWriMo. Not “Ripped Off From”.

Fast forward to this January.

With two years of StADa under my belt I was ready to stretch my wings. My wonderful husband practically pushed me out the door to the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC (If you haven’t been to a conference, I can recommend it: being surrounded by professionals and passionate would-be-professionals has a powerful effect on your motivation and self-respect, never mind what the workshops do for your skills).

The keynote speaker was to be NaNoWriMo’s own Chris Baty, which was a bit thrilling, but I wasn’t actually going to, you know, meet him or anything. (Not if I could help it, anyway.)

The first evening was a whirl: so many ideas, so much inspiration, so many notes to take, so much preparation to do for the Agent Pitch Slam (like speed dating, with literary agents). I was up so late preparing my pitch than I hardly slept.

I Blame Sleep Deprivation For What Happened Next.

I stumbled into the wrong session. After ten minutes, I ducked out early to look for the right session. As I wandered past the author area, my heart gave a little lurch. There was a tall, bald man sitting behind a stack of Chris Baty’s books. And I’d just made eye contact with him. It couldn’t be, could it?

The long moment stretched. My internal thermostat went crazy. I think I did that darty-eyed thing small animals do when cornered.

What would I say? Would he be mad at me? And would he even understand me, now that my tongue had swollen up to three times its normal size and my mouth had turned to sandpaper?

The next thing I remember, I was standing in front of the great man (really. He’s very tall) handing him a card and confessing my sins.

He looked at the card.

He looked at me.

“Is it free?” He asked, somewhat unexpectedly.

“Um yes, yes!” I said. “I mean I have some courses and ebooks people can buy if they want, but the challenge? Oh yes, totally free. They don’t even have to sign up at the site. I just think its so important to encourage people to be creative and…”

I was babbling and breathless.

“Huh,” he said, looking up at me (he was sitting down). “This is so GREAT!”

He beamed.

I beamed.

We started ranting about creativity and the importance of people giving themselves the permission to write. We raved about community and the other creative challenges on the web (he gave me generous, concerned advice about running a challenge), and we shared typical-writer-insecurities. We talked about the thrill of writing and the joy of having a hand in other people’s growth as writers. We promised to stay in touch. I may have started to refer to him as “m’new-boyfriend-Chris-Baty” (it’s OK, the wonderful husband understands). I walked around on a cloud for the rest of the weekend.

The last person I saw, as I wheeled my suitcase out into the New York streets, was m’new-boyfriend-Chris-Baty, sitting in the lobby, tapping away on his laptop. He looked up and waved. I had a new ally and it felt wonderful.

Confront Your Fears And Wonderful Things Can Happen

Starting StoryADay was scary.

Walking up to Chris Baty was scary.

Sitting down to write every day is scary.

But pushing yourself to do the scary thing is almost never a bad idea. (Unless that scary thing involves heights. Or venemous snakes. Don’t do them.)

You Can Do This – Today

I cannot stress strongly enough the value of:

  • Making a commitment to your writing,
  • Taking a chance on yourself,
  • Reaching out to a wider community of writers,
  • Being open to support and encouragement from unexpected sources.

StoryADay May is one way you can do all those things. Sure, the aim is to write a story a day, but I’ve always maintained that you should set your own rules. Some people aimed for 3 stories a week and hit that challenge. Some people aimed for 31 but their lives got complicated and they came out of the month with ‘only’ 12 stories … and were still thrilled.

But you don’t have to wait for May and you don’t have to travel to New York to confront your fears.

Write a story today. Post it online, if you dare.

 

[UPDATED] See? I didn’t make this up!

[Tuesday Reading Room] The Door by E. B. White

E. B. White's image

After reading the first few lines of “The Door” by E. B. White [1. found in Fifty Great Short Stories, Milton Crane (Ed.)] my immediate feeling was one of outrage: here I am reading a story by the author of a book that has generations of writers in terror of writing something the ‘wrong’ way (The Elements of Style by Strunk & White), and it’s all over the place! White is breaking his own rules with flagrant , jaw-dropping abandon!

Everything (he kept saying) is something it isn’t. And everybody is somewhere else. Maybe it was the city, being in the city, that made him feel how queer everything was and that it was something else. Maybe (he kept thinking) it was the names of things. The names were tex and frequently koid. Or they were flex and oid, or they were duroid (sani) or flexan (duro), but everything was glass (but not quite glass) and the thing that you touched (the surface, washable, crease-resistant) was rubber, only it wasn’t quite rubber and you didn’t quite touch it but almost.

OK, so there aren’t actually many disregarded rules there, apart from possibly some missing quotation marks – but still! What an odd and unbalancing opening that is.

And I loved it. Because the words are doing exactly what the writer intends to convey: they are confusing and disjointed and all out of kilter. They are slightly beyond comprehension. Just likethat we are in the same emotional space as the main character.

You couldn’t do this without a good command of the norms of writing, so perhaps E. B. White is exactly the right person to be writing this story!

Why The Story Works

This was a trying story on a first reading. I was never really sure what was going on, although I have my own ideas. It was like reading a stream-of-consciousness Beat poem.

But it hung together. It worked even though little in the story is explicit.

Some reasons it worked:

  • It was visceral. The writer takes us right inside the head of someone who is disorientated and out of step with the world. He keeps us off-kilter with his language. We are never explicitly told what is up with the main character (they way we may not know what’s up with ourselves when we are ‘out of sorts’). We do, however, feel what the character is feeling, through this helter-skelter narrative.
  • We are inside his head, though it is not all first-person. The story switches point of view without fanfare, so sometimes we are in first person and sometimes not (“Maybe (he kept thinking) it was the name of things”).
  • The author sets up a metaphor at the beginning, that of rats in a scientific experiment, “…trained to jump at a square card with the circle in the middle of it…”. It is a clear and coherent part of the story. He then takes this metaphor and alludes to it throughout the story, using the phrase ‘the one with the circle on it’ in various places to let us know he’s talking about frustrated expectations or unexpected changes — about life changing the rules, just when we’ve got the hang of them — whether or not we know what’s going on in the particular moment (and on a second reading, these moments become more clear).
  • The story (and the protagonist) travel somewhere. At the end, I’m still not exactly sure what is going on, but I know more than I did at the beginning. The protagonist is moving on.
  • The ending has a finality to it, a sense of actually being an ending. The author ties everything up in a bow by bringing back some metaphors from earlier in the story, the way a modern stand up comics will bring us back around to a joke from the start of their routine, before taking their bow.

This was an oddly satisfying story.

I think it is made more difficult by reading it at a time (and as part of a culture) very different from the the one in which it was written. Life was changing for the protagonist in ways that reflected the times. Now, 70+ years later, it’s hard to catch all the cultural allusions (without studying more deeply).

The style feels very modern (or possibly “Modern”) in its form and ambition. In fact, I was stunned to find it was originally published in 1939. I think it would still prove a bit too avant garde for many readers.

But it was anything but boring.

 

Writer’s Tips

If you are uninspired by a story that you are writing, maybe it’s because you are sticking too closely to the rules, to a formula.

Try taking a leaf out of E. B. White’s book and mess with your readers a bit.

  • Try a different style.
  • Say less — or more.
  • Drop the dialogue attributions.
  • Throw out the quotation marks.
  • Write run-on sentences — or write in fragments.
  • Tell the story out of order.
  • Try to make your language sound less like you and more like the inside of your character’s head. Let the words race, if your character is running; or make them lugubrious if she is weary.
  • Allow yourself to take some chances.

After all, words are just squiggles on a page, and even the most experimental squiggles can be erased and re-written.

Take some chances in your writing today.

Read it online here


Did you try any new techniques after reading this? Leave a comment (and a link, if you’re daring) and let us know what worked – or didn’t.

[Write On Wednesday] – The Ambiguous Protagonist

I/Eye illustrationMy nine-year-old son recently volunteered that he hates “I” stories, because you can’t know the main character’s name until someone else says it.

I found it interesting that he finds this lack of information about a character annoying. Perhaps I did, at age nine. Now, however, I enjoy the gaps in a short story, in the descriptions. I relish the mystery, the sense of discovery. Sometimes the discovery is simply the true character of the protagonist. Sometimes, the character turns out to be not human at all.

The Prompt

Write a story in which the reader does not know a key piece of information about one of the characters. It can be as simple as making the story a first-person narrative, or you can offer a twist in the tale.

Tips

  • Don’t worry about your audience and who might read it
  • Make sure your story travels from start to end: don’t just write a scene, make someone or something change between the first word and the last.

The Rules:

  1. You should use the prompt in your story (however tenuous the connection).
  2. You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.
  3. Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.
  4. Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!

Optional Extras:

Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook

Some tweets/updates you might use:

Don’t miss my short story about the a mysterious character:  #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://wp.me/p1PnSG-oJ

This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is “the ambiguous protagonist”! #storyaday http://wp.me/p1PnSG-oJ

Come and write with us:  #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://wp.me/p1PnSG-oJ

See my story – and write your own, today:  #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://wp.me/p1PnSG-oJ

If you would like to be the Guest Prompter, click here.

Tuesday Reading Room – Live From The Continuing Explosion by Simon Kewin

This week’s story is “Live From The Continuing Explosion”, taken from Perfect Circles, a collection of previously-published short stories by Simon Kewin. (Full disclosure, Simon is a former StoryADay participant and co-founder of  Write1Sub1, a year long writing and publishing challenge that I highly recommend you check out. The new collection is available on Kindle and, at the time of publication, is priced $0.00!)

Live from the Continuing Explosion is a Big Ideas story.

Perfect Circles (eBook) by Simon Kewin

When I was writing about Dorothy Parker’s “The Standard of Living“, I spent some time talking about how short stories are fabulous for taking a tiny moment and using it to create characters and events that stay with the reader, regardless of scale.

This week’s story, Simon Kewin’s “Live From The Continuing Explosion” is, by contrast, a Big Ideas story. Yes, it starts with – and stays with – a moment in time, but the moment contains a huge, earth-shattering event that shapes not just the lives of the participants but grips the whole world in its fall-out.

I’m reluctant to say too much because this story unfolds gradually, but at its heart is a terrorist event and its effects on one person and on the world.

Kewin manages to share his big ideas while creating characters that grow more and more real throughout the story. He uses the event to talk about ideas as personal as the relationship between twins and as vast as philosophy, global politics and the nature of mankind.

The Dangerous World Of The Big Idea

This story, if categorized at all, would fall into the ‘sci-fi’ bracket. One of the attractions of sci-fi is its ability to deal with big ideas, even more than the appeal of technology, spaceships or characters in tight-fitting jumpsuits (only one of those three sci-fi staples appears in this story, and it’s not the jumpsuits!).

The danger of the big idea, however, is that it can hijack the story – that the author’s voice leans over your shoulder and lectures like a pompous professor. It’s hard to insert thoughts about gods and politics into a story without jumping up on a soapbox.

One of the ways “Live From The Continuing Explosion” deals with this danger is by giving various characters a virtual soapbox as part of the story. Right at the end, for example, one character makes a speech about “what has been learned”. It doesn’t jar, however, because it is an actual speech, in front of a crowd. As reader,  you’ve come along on the journey with that character as she moves from by-stander to reluctant figure-head, and you have a lot of sympathy for her. A lot of the action before the end is sketched out, implied, and I was happy to have the character tie everything together at the conclusion. Plus, that’s not the end of the story…

Beyond The Big Idea

If this story dodges the danger of using big ideas it is because the author spends time building up the characters, even the minor ones. He concentrates at times on descriptive writing so that the reader can *see* the set-pieces and isn’t just being lectured to. He does that with vivid descriptions – not of the height and weight of his characters, by how they move, what they look at.

 The two children run, screaming with delight. Around the legs of the adults in the crowd, legs like planted trees. They run in easy harmony as they veer left or right, speeding up or slowing down together without needing to watch each other. They laugh so much they can barely breathe. They hold hands, letting go only at the last moment as they split off to go around someone before reuniting.

A dog, watching them, barks excitedly, wanting to join in.

They run as if they have practised the whole set of manoeuvres beforehand. They run almost as one, a single being with two halves.

It’s a lovely, vivid moment and — given what follows — a really great opening to the story.

Staring Down A Cliche

It’s hard to describe the world in terms readers understand without stumbling into cliches. Of course it is. Cliches become cliches because they are good desciptions that we identify with.

Kewin deals with one of these in a way I really liked: he jumps on the cliche and expands it until it is no longer a cliche but an image that is all his own. He uses words that work exquisitely well to do this. When talking about an explosion Kewin takes the cliche “the blossom” of an explosion and expands it:

… vast, obscene flower billowing forth at demonic speed, black stigma deep inside red and yellow petals.

(By the way, use of ‘stigma’? In this context? Love it!)

He also takes the the idea of someone being inside a bubble and ‘owns’ it: making it the universal name for a phenomenon, not just a literary device. People all over the world begin calling the phenomenon ‘The Bubble’, as naturally as if someone had officially named it.

Short Story or Novel?

The other danger of the big idea is that you must devote so much space in your story to the ideas that the action and character development happen too quickly and the reader is left wishing the story had been a novel instead.

I think this story suffered a touch from this — which is not the worst thing anyone could say about a story 😉


Writer’s Lessons

  • If you can’t see a way around using a familiar image, try using one of Kewin’s techniques: expand the cliche with a clever twist, or weave it through the story so that it becomes natural.
  • If you ever feel that you have no ideas that are big enough to merit writing down, remember this. For the short story, tiny truths are even often just as valid, if not more,  than big ideas.

Have you written stories with Big Ideas behind them? Are they easier/harder to write? Do you feel they worked as well as stories based on smaller moments?

Writing With Confidence – Imagine The Perfect Reader

When you write, if it is to be any good at all, you must feel free, free and not anxious.
-Brenda Ueland “If You Want To Write”

friends

Some of my best writing, before I started to concentrate on my fiction again, was done in hand-written letters to my childhood friend, Linda.

She is witty and clever and very different from me in many ways, but we share a long history, and she understands all my references. She is unfailingly supportive, except when I’m being an idiot and need a kick up the rear, which she will happily – and gently – administer.

Writing letters to my friend is effortless because I want to entertain her, I know her, and I know she will be a generous reader.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could be sure that all your stories were met with such an audience?

Well, of course, you can’t. But the best way to assure a good response to your writing is to write your very best stuff. And the only way to write your very best stuff, is to come at it with confidence, as if it were going to be read by your ideal reader.

Do you know who your ideal reader is? (Hint: it might be you).

Sketch out a few characteristics of you Ideal Reader now.

  • Do you actually know someone who would be your ideal reader?
  • What authors does she like?
  • How does he like his characters to act?

Now, keep this image of your ideal reader in mind next time you sit down to write a story.


If this technique helps you, leave a comment and the description of your ideal reader, below. I’d love to see what you came up with.

17 Ways For Writers To Use Pinterest

Intro: What Is Pinterest?

  • Pinterest is a bookmarking site that lets you save images, rather than text links.
  • Find a page (or picture) you like on the web, ‘pin’ it and add one of its images to a visual pinboard
  • Pinterest is also a social network: find interesting images and links based on what friends with common interests are ‘pinning’
  • Images on Pinterest automatically link back to the original page where the images was posted (creating the ‘bookmarking’ part).

I'm going back on Pinterest as soon as I get home...As you browse Pinterest it becomes clear that most people are using it to create ‘idea vision boards’ for projects like home-decor and craft projects. But there are plenty of ways for a writer to use Pinterest to, from building a collection of inspirational quotes to building a following as a  high-quality ‘pinner’ in a particular niche.

So, how do you use Pinterest? As well as browsing Pinterest and repinning other people’s images, I recommend grabbing the ‘bookmarklet’ and putting it in your browser’s links bar. Then, as you browse the web, ‘pin’ images and arrange them in boards, adding new material to Pinterest.

As with every hot new social network, building a reputation early is key to becoming influential on that network. Allocate some time every day to building quality links and soon you’ll be a Pinterest guru. People are inclined to feel personally invested in the ventures of people they ‘know’, so gathering a large audience on a social network can ultimately lead to sales of your work.

Here are 17 ways you can use Pinterest to inspire and improve your own writing, and build an audience for your work. 

 

1. Create an Ideas board

Never again sit down at your desk and think “I don’t know what to write!”.

Browse the web and ‘pin’ pictures that suggest an intriguing starting point (or climax) for a story.

Browse other people’s boards on Pinterest, always thinking about characters, settings and story.

Add all these pictures to one “Writing Prompts” board  and refer to it as often as necessary.

2. Create a vision board for your characters

3. Create a vision board for story settings

  • Houses
  • Interiors
  • Exotic locales
  • Mundane locales

4. Collect inspirational posters and sayings

Lots of people collect and pin posters of inspirational sayings. You can create your own writing related board.

You can also easily create visual version of favourite quotes that you come across while reading.

  • Fire up your image software
  • Create a nice background,
  • Overlay some text in a nice clean, readable and a large enough size that it’ll catch someone’s eye when they are browsing lots of little thumbnails.
  • Post to a page on your own website.

When people click on the pin (and the repins) they will be brought to you site, so make sure there is something good for them to discover on the page as well as the picture!

To see an example of how I used this technique click here, then click on the image.

5. Build a board full of pictures of your mentors

*Collect pictures of authors: those you love, those you aspire to be like. Look at them for inspiration

I recommend collecting three tiers of mentor. (Some days you won’t be able to stand looking at anything but the bottom rung…)

  • Writers you know you must be able to equal,
  • Writers who are more practiced than you, but who you don’t hold in complete awe,
  • The gods of your writing life. You can’t imagine being like them, but reading their work always inspires you.

6. Collect pictures of beautiful libraries and bookshelves

You’re in this business because you love books and reading, right?. There’s nothing like gazing at a beautiful space filled with books to fill you with dreams of seeing your book among them. (Also, these are popular pictures, often ‘repinned’ by avid readers, and isn’t that your target audience?

Untitled
Start your own “writing spaces” board on Pinterest by pinning this picture!

7. Collect pictures of authors’ workspaces, for inspiration

There’s  nothing like a little solidarity to make you feel you’re not alone in your writing journey. Why not pin some pictures of other writers’ workspaces? Or start your own board with this one ->

8. Collect funny comics or pictures to give yourself a break

There is a lot of humor and comics online aimed at readers and writers (and librarians). Pin a few!

9.  Create a vision board for your story’s antagonist

Back to the writing! Start working on your antagonist. Collect pictures of

  • People (mean people, nice people, overbearing parents, sweet grandmothers. Antagonists come in all forms)
  • Expressions of emotion
  • Mean-spirited quotes
  • Places that typify your antagonist or evoke the difficulties your characters get into.

10. Collect beauty

Who says everything in your pinboards has to be connected to writing?

For inspiration – to get you in the creative zone –  collect pictures of things that you consider really beautiful. Art and beauty tend to feed each other.

If you only focus on books and writing you’re inviting creative block. Look at all the beauty in the world and art, and feel those creative juices flow again.

11. Collect cover art of books similar to your story

It can be easy to lose your way while writing, and lose the ‘tone’ you were striving for. A quick glance at a board full of the covers of books written the style you’re aiming for can get you right back on track. (Imagine looking at a screen full of hard sci-fi books versus a screen full of historical romance covers. Instant mood-change!)

12.  Create a board for pictures of your work ‘in the wild’

If you have already published work, appeal to your fans for pictures of your work out in the real world. (You can do this through Twitter or Facebook or some other social network if you have a following there).

Collect pictures of your book being read, on shelves, on benches, in boxes arriving from Amazon.

Sharing these pictures oing this creates ‘social proof’ that other people are reading your work: a powerful marketing tool to encourage readers to try your work.

13. Create a board for fan art

  • Sure they’re dinging your copyright, but you’ll create more raving fans with a compliment than a ‘cease & desist’ letter
  • Best-selling author Neil Gaiman regularly posts links to fan art, and his following is the kind of cultish, raving fans you want to create!
  • Allowing not-for-profit derivative works gives people a sense of ownership of your characters. They will love them (and you) all the more if you acknowledge them.

14. Create a board about something you really love, whether or not it’s related to writing

Yes, it’s off-topic but there are two very good reasons for doing this:

  1. Readers like to get to know the authors, to get a look behind the scenes
  2. You’re more likly to keep updating a board filled with things you are passionate about, rather than one you think you ought to be doing

15. Don’t go, ahem, overboard with this

One or two off-topic boards are great – they let readers see another side of you. However, if eight out of ten of your Pinterest boards are off-topic, you risk your followers missing the message your’re trying to send (“I write. You might want to read my stuff if you like my taste”.)

16. Create a board of other books like yours

*This might seem counter-intuitive, but you’re not really competing with other authors. If someone is a dedicated reader, they’re always looking for more titles like the ones they love. If you become a valued source of recommendations, they’re going to learn to trust your taste, and are more likely to give your books a try.

17. Create a board that will appeal to a particular interest of your readers

Promoting yourself and your work doesn’t necessarily mean talking about yourself and your writing all the time (in fact, I would argue that talking about yourself and writing shoudl be the least of what you do). Think about what your readers like, and pin those things.

  • Debbie Macomber, an author who knits and often inclues knitting in her books, could create a board of beautiful kniting patterns, accessories or humor (yes, there is knitting humor!)
  • Sophie Kinsella might create a board full of images from the latest fashion shows and blogs

If you like to read in the genre you’re writing in, think of the other things that interest you. Chances are your fellow readers in that genre are also interested in some of them. Create an awesome board in that niche and start building followers.

 

WARNING COPYRIGHT ISSUES

There is a brewing controversy with Pinterest since people are taking and repinning other people’s (possibly copyrighted) images. Also, Pinterest’s terms of service have all kinds of silly things in them that say they can reuse and sell anything pinned on Pinterest. I remember a similar controversy back in the stone age of the intenet when Yahoo took over Geocities. These things usually get sorted out when a few stroppy creatives stand up to the lawyers writing the terms of service. (I’m not downplaying the importance of this issue, but I do believe it will be sorted out by a change in the language in the terms of service).
UPDATED 3/24/12: Pinterest has announced an update to its terms that addresses the silly “we can sell your stuff” clause and have announced tools to make reporting of copyright infringement easier. These are good signs that Pinterest is evolving and should survive, and is therefore worth putting time into.

More damaging, however, is the idea of using other people’s work without permission. The consensus so far seems to be that you should only

  • Pin artwork from the page where it was originally posted (this way, the ‘pin’ leads back to the original site and the original artist gets credit. For extra credit yourself, look at any images on pages and try to make sure that they are not violating someone’s copyright before you give that page more publicity by pinning the image’. If the image is clearly from a professional photographer yet is on a 13 year old’s fan site, with no attribution, you’re probably looking at a copyright violation.)
  • Create your own artwork
  • Find images that are marked as being available under the Creative Commons license (for example, you can do an advanced search at Flickr and check the box that says ‘search only within Creative-Commons licensed content”)
So that’s it. Now you have no excuse to say “Oh that Pinterest thing? I don’t know, maybe I’ll get to it later.”
Go now, start pinning!
How are you using Pinterest? I’d love to hear your comments!

 

Write On Wednesday – The Unknown

I came across this delicious map in an online archive, instantly started thinking about story-writing.

Map of North America by George Willdey , 1715

Not only do our stories often start out this way (we can see, maybe as far as Cleveland, but beyond that it is terra incognita), but the whole frontier idea is rich with story possibilities.

The Prompt

Write a story that involves the unknown, the unknowable, a frontier (physical or metaphysical). It could be set any time or place in this world or another universe.Take the idea of that unknown portion of the map from 1714 and find a way to work it into your story’s landscape.

Tips

  • Don’t worry about your audience and who might read it
  • Make sure your story travels from start to end: don’t just write a scene, make someone or something change between the first word and the last.

The Rules:

  1. You should use the prompt in your story (however tenuous the connection).
  2. You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.
  3. Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.
  4. Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!

Optional Extras:

Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook

Some tweets/updates you might use:

Don’t miss my short story about the Unknown:  #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://wp.me/p1PnSG-o7

This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is a cool old map! #storyaday http://wp.me/p1PnSG-o7

Come and write with us:  #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://wp.me/p1PnSG-o7

See my story – and write your own, today:  #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://wp.me/p1PnSG-o7

If you would like to be the Guest Prompter, click here.

[Write On Wednesday] How to Use Pinterest To Write A Short Story

Don’t even think of telling me you can’t think of anything to write.

Not with a site like Pinterest at your fingertips.

How To Use Pinterest To Help With Your Writing

What is Pinterest? It’s a virtual scrapbook where people grab and save images from the web, all neatly categorized and ready for your browsing pleasure. It’s like looking over the shoulder of everyone in the world, but being able to choose only the topics that you’re interested in right now.

This week we’re going to use Pinterest to create the elements of a story that you will write.

The Prompt

First, your setting. Choose a picture of an interior or an outdoor vista, and use that as your setting.

Next, characters. Click here to find the face of your characters in the story. Choose at least two (one can be minor, one should be your major character). If you choose a celebrity, just steal their face for your story. Look at their features, forget about the persona. Use their features in any descriptions in your story.

Now that you have your character and setting, something needs to happen. Browse this eclectic page until a picture jumps out at you, and suggests a question or an event. I found this picture of a teacup and saucer and immediately saw an opportunity for a story  — some kind of inter-generational story with the teacup coming down to a young woman from an elderly relative; the story behind it; life lessons; redemption; who knows? But it’s a spark on which to hang a story.

Tips

  • Don’t worry about your audience and who might read it
  • Make sure your story travels from start to end: don’t just write a scene, make someone or something change between the first word and the last.

The Rules:

  1. You should use the prompt in your story (however tenuous the connection).
  2. You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.
  3. Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.
  4. Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!

Optional Extras:

Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook

Some tweets/updates you might use:

Don’t miss my Pinterest-inspired short story:  #WriteOnWed #storyaday bit.ly/xk1FwJ

This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is all about Pinterest! #storyaday bit.ly/xk1FwJ

Come and write with us:  #WriteOnWed #storyaday bit.ly/xk1FwJ

See my story – and write your own, today:  #WriteOnWed #storyaday bit.ly/xk1FwJ

If you would like to be the Guest Prompter, click here.

 

[Write On Wednesday] Starting Over

The Prompt

Any resolution for 2oo7?

It’s January: the time of resolutions and fresh starts.

Write a story in which your character is starting over, has a fresh start, or resolves to do something differently from now on.

 

Tips

  • Your ‘character’ doesn’t have to be a human. It could be a fresh start for an old building; a story written from the perspective of a newly-laundered curtain flapping on the clothes line; a demon with a quota to fill…go wild.
  • Write fast, as fast as you can.
  • Make sure your story travels from start to end: don’t just write a scene, make someone or something change between the first word and the last.The Rules:
  1. You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.
  2. Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.
  3. Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!

Optional Extras:

Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook

Some tweets/updates you might use:

Don’t miss my Starting Over short story:  #WriteOnWed #storyaday

This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is Starting Over: #storyaday

Come and keep your writing resolution with with this week’s prompt:  #WriteOnWed #storyaday

See my story – and write your own, today:  #WriteOnWed #storyaday

If you would like to be the Guest Prompter, click here.

Grammar Resources for Writers

Later this week I’m running a teleseminar on Editing and Revising for Short Story Writers

(You can find out more by signing up here)

This seminar won’t be a grammar lesson because I’ve noticed that most of the writers around here are, well, pretty good writers. But, in case you need a little help, or have that one rule that always trips you up, here are some great grammar and style resources for you:

Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tricks

Mignon Fogarty is possibly the most famous grammarian around these days and this page is a great start for those little grammar niggles that plague you.

Grammar Grater

This is a fun grammar and words podcast from Minnesota Public Radio. It’s short (6-8 minutes) and entertaining. Just the thing for a quick drive or during your morning shower!

Grammar Bytes!

Straightforward, clear definitions plus a test-your-own grammar section. Oh, and a gorilla.

 

Chicago Manual of Style

If you write for magazines or newspapers in the US, this is the style guide they probably use. The site requires a subscription but it is exhaustive — and you can get a free trial.

Purdue Online Writing Lab

A great resource from Purdue University. Lots of good stuff in here.

 

But for all this, the absolute best thing you can do to improve your grammar is read lots and lots of really well-written books: immerse yourself in awesome grammar. (I recommend Dickens, P. G. Wodehouse, Norton Juster, John Steinbeck, Stephen King, A.S. Byatt, oh and many, many others).

You cannot immerse yourself in wonderful writing and come away worse off. You cannot read perfect grammar and not absorb it.

So, I repeat the best advice ever give to any writer: read, read, read!

What Readers Say To Writers

I posted a casual question to my Twitter network about whether or not I should struggle on, reading a book I wasn’t enjoying.

The answers turned out to be a valuable lesson for anyone writing a book.

Reading[Day12]*

Reading between the lines, I saw that most people have a set of definite and personal rules about what it takes for them to keep reading — whether they realize it or not.

The responses seemed neatly divided between those who struggle on at all costs and those who gaily cast the book over their shoulder and waltz off with a new one, with nary a second glance.

1. Is The Writing Good?


As you’ve probably guessed, I considered myself firmly in the first camp for years and years (probably a product of a British upbringing, where it is understood that certain literary works are ‘worthy’ and ‘must’ be read, even if you hate them).

But now? With so many books and so little time? Why soldier on?

Well, if the writing is exquisite, if it moves something inside me, I’ll keep picking up the book even if I hate the characters or think the plot is dull. I might never make it to the end, but I’ll continue to feel like I ought to make the effort.

Books in this category for me include:
Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, which was worth sticking with and opened up a whole world of ‘magical realism’ books to me.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke . This took me well over a year to read because the language was so dense that I had to keep putting it down and coming up for air. But I kept going back to it and consider it totally worth the investment.

If the writing isn’t amazing, then reading this book isn’t even improving my own writing, so why am I reading it?

2. Are the characters compelling?

I read a terrible Harlequin romance recently. In fact, I say ‘terrible’, but it obviously wasn’t because I stayed up into the wee hours just to finish it. The plot was predictable, the language made me cringe — often — but the characters…something about the characters made me keep turning the pages just to find out how they ended up together. (Oh, and there were racy bits that were fun). The pacing was good and the writer part of me was fascinated by how this writer was keeping me hook even though I shouldn’t have been.

If I care about the characters and the language is at least readable, I’ll stick with pretty much any book.

I gave up on “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith because her characters, though finely drawn, had nothing for me. I’m struggling with Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” because, even though I can see that it’s “important” I dislike every character – including the omniscient narrator. I’m giving up on a mystery novel because the characters all sound alike, except when the author is using them as a punchline.

3. Am I Learning Anything?

Even if I’m not loving the characters or the plot, I might keep reading if the setting is well realized. If the author has really done their research and is painting a gripping picture of life on a Martian colony or how to build a medieval cathedral (or an elevator to space), or what it would be like to grow up in Venice, I’ll probably keep reading.

That mystery novel I just shelved? It’s supposed to be set in England but the author writes like an Anglophile who has learned about Britain from Agatha Christie novels (Tips for Anglophiles: no-one has stopped for afternoon tea since the 1930s, though they might stop for a tea break consisting of a cuppa and a nice choccie biccie. No English policeman would make an internal comment about being ‘blue collar’, but he’d probably be proud of his working class roots. People in Britain don’t talk about their car’s speed in kph, even if we are supposed to be metric.)

A good setting can be spellbinding. A poorly researched or written one will get you shelved.

4. Am I pressed for time?


There are a lot of books out there and, in the midst of every day life, I’m going to get resentful pretty quickly if I think the author’s wasting my time.

If, however, I’m on holiday in a cabin in the woods with no-one asking me for anything, I’ll be much more forgiving. I’ll wait for the author to get to the point. I’ll struggle on to find out what happens, even if the author doesn’t seem in a hurry to get to the climax.

On the average day, though? Many people subscribe to this philosophy.

As a writer who wants to be read, you need to revise and revise until your language is the best it can be, your characters utterly compelling and your setting is spellbinding.


EDITING AND REVISION SEMINAR

Editing your writing is hard, but it’s one of the things that makes the difference between a first draft and a published draft.

On Sept 9, come and learn about the different levels and stages of editing with StoryADay.org’s own Julie Duffy.

In this teleseminar you’ll learn about:

  • Understanding the different levels of editing and how to use this knowledge to keep from being discouraged,
  • How to figure out what you need right now,
  • DIY editing,
  • How to effectively get editing help from others.

You’ll also receive an exclusive money-saving offer on my upcoming series of writing seminars aimed specifically at short-story writers.

Sign up for the Creativity Lab to hear more about the free editing seminar.
(The Creativity Lab is different from the StoryADay Advance List, which is only about the challenge. The Creativity Lab is an infrequent newsletter, chock-full of tools and information to help you in your writing life).

Thanks!

Short Story Contest 2011 Winners

Before we start, I just want to say that StoryADay May is about creativity and output and getting-the-words-on-the-page. It’s not about judging or being judged. But then I threw a writing contest in to the mix too. Why?

To encourage everyone to go back into their new story pile and start to learn to revise and polish and take their writing seriously.

And lots of people did. From all the entries there can be only one winner, but I enjoyed reading every entry. I was proud of every one of you for writing it down and for taking the chance on showing your stories to someone else.

If you don’t see your name below, please don’t fret. (I promise you not one story I read in the entries made me think, “Ugh, this person should stop writing”.) Just keep writing and reading and telling your stories.

And check out the end of this post for a special offer of a free online workshop all about editing your stories.

Now, on to the main event.

Contest Results

Our judge elected not to award a second and third place prize, so we have a winner and a short-list of nine honourable mentions.

First Place:

What’s On The Inside by Kelly Buchholz

Our final judge Heidi W. Durrow said,

“It’s a disturbing, but well-realized story–the tone and structure and language all making it work! Congrats to the winner!”

Kelly will receive the first prize of $50, copies of The Novel and Short Story Writers Market (Writers Digest Books), The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass and Rory’s Story Cubes (Gamewright Games).

In addition to the winner, we have nine Honorable Mentions. They are:

Connecting Flight by Alexis A. Hunter
Ninety Nine by Aaron Shively
The Reading by Monique Cuillerier
Drawing Faces by Neha Chaudhuri
Matchmaker by Almo Schumann
After Math by Bridget Sutton
An Unlikely Alliance by Danica West
Evaluation M-047 by Amanda Makepeace
Childhood’s End by Sam Webb

Each of these writers will receive a copy of the StoryADay journal – excellent for jotting down story ideas!

Thanks To Our Judges and Sponsors

Huge thanks go to our final judge, Heidi W. Durrow, whose first novel The Girl Who Fell From The Sky (Algonquin Books, 2010) won the Bellwether Prize and NYT Bestseller, and has just been picked by the city of Portland as its Everybody Reads title for 2012. You can listen to Heidi in conversation with Terry McMillan live online on August 18, and you can see Heidi at the Pen Center USA’s Dirty Laundry Lit event in LA on August 27th.

Huge thanks also our first-round judge Melanie Rigney. Melanie is the former managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine, a seasoned writing contest judge, frequent speaker at writers’ conferences, author and editor.

Thanks also to Gamewright Games for providing copies of Rory’s Story Cubes, an awesome creativity tool disguised as a cute dice game.


A Special Offer For You

Editing your writing is hard, but it’s one of the things that makes the difference between a first draft and a published draft.

On Sept 9, come and learn about the different levels and stages of editing with StoryADay.org’s own Julie Duffy.

In this teleseminar you’ll learn about:

  • Understanding the different levels of editing and how to use this knowledge to keep from being discouraged,
  • How to figure out what you need right now,
  • DIY editing,
  • How to effectively get editing help from others.

You’ll also receive an exclusive money-saving offer on my upcoming series of writing seminars aimed specifically at short-story writers.

Sign up for the Creativity Lab to hear more about the free editing seminar.
(The Creativity Lab is different from the StoryADay Advance List, which is only about the challenge. The Creativity Lab is an infrequent newsletter, chock-full of tools and information to help you in your writing life).

Thanks!