[Daily Prompt] May 5 – Shindig!

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It’s Cinquo De Mayo and everyone loves a party! Except when they don’t.

Parties are a great setting for stories because they bring together people who have no business being in the same room; they put stress on relationships; they often involve booze and a consequent loosening of inhibitions…in other words, all the elements you need for a climactic moment in someone’s life.

Write A Story Set At A Party, Shindig, Fiesta or Gathering

 

Go!

[Daily Prompt] May 4 – May The Fourth Be With You

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Sorry, but give the sheer weight of all the Star Wars Lego in my house these days, I couldn’t resist.

Write A Story Featuring An Epic Battle Between Good And Evil

…and remember, that could just as easily happen between two office cubicles as in a galaxy far, far away.

You could also make a case that Star Wars is just a big family saga — or maybe a romance — so feel free to go with that too.

And if you do go with the Hero Looking For A Quest thing, remember how whiny and unheroic Luke was at the start of those movies? You might want to emulate that and give your hero some room to grow.

Write A Story About Good Vs. Evil

Go!

[Daily Prompt] May 3 – Be A Tour Guide

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Write A Story With A Strong Sense of Place

A lot of short short stories focus on character and twists and surprise, because it’s a great form for exactly those things.

But I don’t want your descriptive muscles to get all flabby.

Why not write a story with a strong sense of place? At some point in the story, imagine you are a tour guide, pointing out the landmarks and notable features of your setting to me, your eager audience.

Be a tour guide to your story’s setting, for the reader

Go!

[Daily Prompt] May 2 – Altered Realities

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Altered Reality

This is a staple of Sci-Fi and speculative fiction: you’re watching people in Forties garb but discover you’re on a space station populated by aliens who only know humans through one random Bogart movie they’ve intercepted….

But it happens in real life too: a woman thinks she’s in a happy marriage only to come home to empty closets and a note on the kitchen table; you think you’re reading a standard love story only to discover a twist at the end…

Write a story with an element of altered reality.

Go!

[Daily Prompt] – May 1: They Said It Couldn’t Be Done

Daily Prompt LogoHuge thanks to StoryADay-er @cidwrites for today’s prompt.

They Said It Couldn’t Be Done

Cid has created an imaginary book cover at her own StoryADay site, and invites you to use it as a writing prompt.

If the graphic doesn’t work for you, you can still use the prompt by writing a story that contains the line “They said it couldn’t be done.”


Writing prompts are optional, but do leave Cid a comment if you use hers!

The Do-It-Yourself MFA – An Interview With Gabriela Pereira

Gabriela Pereira is a former StoryADay participant and has spent the past month launching her DIY MFA 2.0, an intensive writing program, all online.

She took some time to tell me about the course and give some great advice for writers about to embark on a big writing jag (know anyone like that?)

She is also hosting a write-in on Sunday May 1. I highly recommend checking out her DIY-MFA site and Facebook page and following her on Twitter.

 

Tell me about DIY MFA 2.0
The idea behind DIY MFA is to simulate the experience of a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing without actually going to school.  DIY MFA has 4 main components: Reading, Writing, Workshops and Community.  The original DIY MFA (which took place in September 2010) covered these four topics at length.

DIY MFA 2.0 takes a different approach, focusing mostly on the “writing” part of the equation.  The idea in DIY MFA 2.0 is to spark new ideas and create a stash of ideas that writers can go to when they hit the wall or feel a creative drought coming on.  There are 4 ways that DIY MFA can help generate new ideas and those are through: character, story, mood and words.  Each week in April we focused on one of these areas and explored different writing exercises and techniques with that theme.  Ultimately, the goal is to develop methods and tools for generating ideas so that when you need lots of new ideas in a short period of time (like when you’re writing a Story A Day) you have a bunch of concepts already ready and waiting.

How do you make time for writing?
I don’t make time for writing.  I steal it.  I’m always on the lookout for hidden pockets of time when I can read or write because if I sit around waiting for a huge block of time to land in my lap, I know it will never happen.  I live in a city, so for me subways and buses are great places to sneak in some writing.  I love my Kindle because I can put a copy of my WIP on it and can edit on the go.  I also carry small notebook with me everywhere so that if I’m stuck waiting for an elevator or waiting on a subway platform, I can break out my notebook and jot down a few sentences.

Even with all this time-theft going on, I also try to carve out a few small chunks of time when I do writing “sprints.”  In DIY MFA, I’ve asked participants to do at least one sprint per week on Saturdays, but for me these sprints happen whenever I manage to steal a chunk of time long enough that I can call it honest-to-goodness solid writing time.  During these precious moments, I’ll practice some stealth writing, where I run to a coffee shop and hide out while I write.  Not only am I more efficient if I know I only have a short span of time to write, but the stealth aspect also makes it more exciting (like I’m doing something I shouldn’t… something naughty).

And don’t underestimate the power of the Pomodoro.  That adorable little tomato timer app that sits on my desktop has worked wonders for me.  If I know I only have 25 minutes to write, I won’t stop to check email or twitter or anything else, I’ll just write.  After I’ve finished a couple of rounds of Pomodoro, I’ll treat myself to a short spurt of internet fiddling.

What’s your best advice for someone who’s trying to make writing a priority (again)?
I’m a huge believer in baby steps and I’m not a fan of huge, unmanageable goals because they set writers up to fail.  Missing a goal can lead to feelings of “I can’t do this” or “I’m not good enough” which only leads to paralysis, writer’s block and loss of motivation.  Of course, lower motivation means the next set of goals becomes even more unmanageable so the cycle just continues.  The trick is to break the cycle of negativity and find ways of sparking the motivation when it starts slipping away.

For me, writing isn’t  about success vs. failure; it’s about doing.  If a writing challenge helps a writer motivate themselves and stay on track, fantastic!  But the important thing in my mind is that writers do the work, whether it means meeting a goal within a certain time frame or not.  That’s where I think Story-A-Day gets it right: because it’s not just about writing a story every day, it’s about bouncing back on the days when you can’t actually get a story done.  It’s about getting ideas down quickly, without judging.  It’s about writing it and moving on, leaving the tweaks and edits for some later point.

Ultimately, I think StADa and DIY MFA have similar goals: to help writers rekindle their love of writing and help them develop a sustainable, enriching writing life.

Thanks, Gabriela!

An Accountability Buddy: The Productive Writer’s Secret Weapon

Today’s guest post from Melissa Dinwiddie is a wonderful primer on how to use the StoryADay community to help you become more productive than you ever dreamed. Thanks, Melissa!

Farewell to Polina!

Do you know one of the most effective things you can do to get your writing done?

Make yourself accountable.

I don’t know the statistics, but it’s a well known fact that if you want to reach a goal, speaking your commitment — including your deadline — to someone you know will hold you to it makes you dramatically more likely to actually do it.

Accountability is a powerful tool, and there are a number of ways you can integrate it into your writing practice. One of my own secret weapons is an accountability buddy.

Here’s what I’ve learned about maintaining an effective accountability partnership.

At the start of the year I was in a mastermind group (another great accountability tool), assembled with the express purpose of helping each other accomplish one specific goal in the month of January. When that group dissolved, a couple of us decided to keep checking in with each other.

At first our monthly calls started to get a little chatty — understandable enough, since we liked each other and had come to think of each other as friends.

This is an inherent danger in any accountability relationship. The problem, of course, is that chatting does not make for finished projects and completed goals.

Accountability partners have to be vigilant, and must keep coming back to the purpose for their partnership. If you want to chat, set up another date specifically for that. During your accountability check-ins, stick with the agenda: keeping each other on track.

This is exactly what I did at the end of a particularly chatty call. “Before we hang up,” I asked, “what’s your next step?”

My buddy confessed that she had a novel that had been sitting in a drawer for way too long, and what she really wanted was to get it edited and up for sale as a download on her site.

“Aha,” I responded, kicking into coaching mode, “so what’s stopping you?”

I asked her realistically how long she thought the editing would take, and when she said “about four hours,” I suggested (okay, I practically insisted) that she do it this week. In other words, I held out an expectation that I thought was achievable.

With my kick in the butt, she was ready to take on this project that she’d been putting off, so the next step was to set up a check-in schedule that worked for her. She committed to emailing me a progress report every night before going to bed, and set a goal of a 2-3 chapters per day.

Although it turned out four hours was an underestimation, I’m pleased to report that in less than two weeks my buddy had finished editing her entire manuscript and was ready to tackle the production side of getting her novel made into a downloadable ebook format. She swears she never would have gotten there without my help.

Do you think this kind of partnership might work for you? Give it a try! To keep you on track, I recommend sticking with the same structure every time you meet. The following questions are a good jumping off place:

  • What did you achieve since we last checked in? Did you accomplish your goal?
  • What didn’t work? What are you going to do differently next time?
  • What goal do you commit to between now and the next check-in?
  • What can you use help with?

Remember to reserve your chatting for another time, and let me know how it goes!

Artist, Writer and Inspirationalist Melissa Dinwiddie helps creatives (and “wannabe” creatives) to get unstuck, get unpoor, and just plain play bigger. Find her at her blogs, Living A Creative Life and 365 Days of Genius.



Win! Win! Win!

Leave a comment with your best tips for boosting productivity and/or working with other people and win a copy of Rory’s Story Cubes, a wonderful dice game that doubles as a story-telling tool. Roll the dice and make a story from the extremely cute images on the dice.

 

Today’s winner will be a random draw, so you get extra entries if you post about StoryADay on your blog, Twitter, Facebook or anywhere else (yes, I’ll give credit for blog posts from yesterday). Just leave me a comment saying where you posted.

Special thanks to Rory O’Connor and the lovely folks at Gamewright Games for donating this prize.

The Sloth’s Secret to Writing Success

Sloth

Recently, naturalists announced that the sloth — the animal whose name has become a synonym for laziness — is actually a lot more active than previously thought. It turns out that when we cage them and observe them, we don’t see what’s really going on in the sloth’s world.

Today I have a great guest post for you from Susan Daffron, a writer and publishing consultant. She shows us how, as writers, the times when our minds are  most fertile and active, might — to an observer — look like the times when we are being, well, slothful. She shows us that productivity for writers makes its own demands, and how to succeed by embracing that.

(You can read more about Susan’s upcoming publishing conference at the end of the article).

Then, leave your comments about how you will jump-start your creativity at the end of the article and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Rory’s Story Cubes – a great creativity booster in a box!


 

 

As a writer, I’ve gone through periods of extreme productivity and extreme sloth. Although I have written 12 books, last year in 2010, I released exactly zero.

For a variety of personal and business-related reasons, I went through a creative burnout like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Writing, which had always been fairly easy for me in the past, was suddenly extremely difficult.

Climbing Out Of A Slump

I also discovered that the less I wrote, the less I wanted to write. Talk about a lack of productivity!

I spent some time looking back at what happened during my creative slump. I realized my lack of writing productivity stemmed from three issues:

1. Lack of ideas. The stressful events I experienced caused my creativity to simply shut down. To jumpstart my mind, I surfed to online writing sites (like StoryaDay.org!),  used random-word and writing-prompt generators, and started talking to my husband about my various writing thoughts for outside feedback and support.

2. Lack of motivation. As noted, a bunch of things that happened last year brought me down. Creativity does not flow when you’re depressed. I decided to make a commitment to exercising and started reading more inspirational materials on creativity, writing, and life balance. (The library is full of wonderful FREE books just waiting to be read!)

3. Lack of time. You’ve read it before, but I’ll say it again: you have time to write if you make time to write. During my slump, I wasn’t working smart. Part of me already knew it, but I had to forcibly reacquaint myself with the methods I’d used in the past to carve out real productive writing time. I opted to make a commitment to write every morning and also started thinking up ideas for articles and posts the night before. “Sleeping on” a writing idea really works!

And The Winner Is…

I’m happy to report that the old adage “writers write” is true. Since I got my writing mojo back again, I have been writing regularly. I have my next book completely outlined and 19 case studies/interviews input so far. I’ll be speaking at a conference this summer and plan to release the book in time for it. (Deadlines help motivation too!)

If you’re a writer who wants to publish, you can get inspiration and learn more about the book publishing process at the Self-Publishers Online Conference. The third annual event is May 10-12, 2011 (http://www.SelfPublishersOnlineConference.com) Use the code SusanSentMe and get 10% off your registration!


Susan Daffron, aka The Book Consultant (http://www.TheBookConsultant.com) owns a book and software publishing company. She spends most of her time writing, laying out books in InDesign, or taking her five dogs out for romps in the forest. She also teaches people how to write and publish profitable client-attracting books and puts on the Self-Publishers Online conference (http://www.SelfPublishersOnlineConference.com) every May.


Win! Win! Win!

Leave a comment with your best tips for jump-starting creativity and win a copy of Rory’s Story Cubes, a wonderful dice game that doubles as a story-telling tool. Roll the dice and make a story from the extremely cute images on the dice. Brilliant for days when you’re stalled and need to regain your mojo.

Special thanks to Rory O’Connor and the lovely folks at Gamewright Games for donating this prize.

8 Ways To Defeat Distraction – And Write!

 
Today I have a great guest post for you from Productivity expert Benny Hsu. Benny shares some tips and some really useful tools for keeping focused on your writing. Thanks, Benny!


 writing in the darkness

You’re sitting at your desk and you’re ready to write. You start writing and then you’re distracted by something on your computer. The next thing you know you’re checking Facebook, email, or Twitter.
 
If it’s not the computer, it’s the noises from your house or you start cleaning to procrastinate from writing. If it’s happened to you before don’t worry because there are ways to eliminate distractions.

Being aware of the distractions, proper preparation, and reducing them will help your focus and productivity.
  
If you’ve had problems in the past staying focused, here are tips to help you out.

Keep your workspace clean

 
Having a messy workspace will keep you fixated on the small things when your eyes wander from the computer screen. A disorganized desk will tempt you to start cleaning just to procrastinate. Keep it very minimal. A clean workspace also just feels more relaxing.

Make sure you’re comfortable

 
Since you’ll be sitting for awhile, having an ergonomically correct chair will be helpful. Also be sure you are in a good working position. You want to keep your attention on your writing and not how uncomfortable your body feels.

Find a quiet time

 
If you’re in a busy house, the most quiet time to write might be before the sun rises or after everyone goes to sleep. If that’s not optimal for you, let people in your house know to not disturb you for the next hour. Close the door. Hang a sign on the door. Put on noise canceling headphones. Turn off your phone. If you let others know in the house to not disturb you, you prevent distractions from occurring.

(Of course, this isn’t foolproof, but you might be surprised how cooperative people can be when they see you’re serious about your writing commitments – Ed.)

Set a Timer

 
Having a set time to write will force you to stay focused on writing. Set it to a comfortable amount of time (30-45 mins), work until the timer goes off, take a short break (5-10 mins), reset the timer again, and do it again.

Use a distraction free writing program

 
There are great writing programs that are full screen and have very few options besides spell checking, word counting and saving. They eliminate everything else on your computer screen but your text.
 
Try

  • q10 (PC),
  • Darkroom (PC),
  • JDarkRoom (PC + Mac),
  • OmmWriter (Mac+PC),
  • Writer (online app),
  • WriteRoom (Mac only)
  • .

    All the programs are free except for WriteRoom and the newer version of OmmWriter.
     
    I’d add IAWriter for the iPad crowd. Very nice app – Ed
     

    Shut everything down

     
    Turn off Twitter. Close your internet browser. Turn off your email notifications. You do not want any popups sending you updates. Not only will it distract you but checking one thing will lead many more.

    If you’re still tempted to check, disable your wi-fi on your laptop. Unplug your internet from your desktop.

    Eliminate or minimize background noise

     
    Having the television on for background noise is a bad idea. Listening to some soft music is acceptable if you want to drown out outside noises. Just make sure you have a playlist created so you’re not constantly searching for the next song to play.

    Try a pair of noise canceling headphones, whether you listen to music or not. Not only will it block out noise but people are less likely to bother you if you’re wearing headphones.
     

    Get out of the house

     
    If the house will be too distracting, go to a coffee shop to write. Even though it will be noisy at the coffee store, it might serve as white noise and help you focus more. Noise canceling headphones are one way to block out the ambient noise.


    Benny Hsu writes at GetBusylivingblog.com where he writes about pursuing your passion, being the person you want to be and living life to the fullest. You can connect with him on his blog, or on Twitter @Benny_Hsu. He’d love for you to say hi.


Write Something Terrible Today

What are the consequences of trying to write a perfect story?
That you might get stuck. That you might not progress. That you might quit. Don’t quit. Write a crappy First

Very few writers really know what they’ve done until they’ve done it…the only way I can get anything done at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts

Anne Lamott, “Bird By Bird”

sandcastles
Photo by David Templeman

Make Lots of Mistakes Quickly =
Learn Quickly How To Avoid Those Mistakes In Future

What are the consequences of writing a bad story? That you might get discouraged?

That’s not something we embrace readily, but it’s not fatal.

Now, what are the consequences of trying to write a perfect story?

That you might get stuck.

That you might not progress.

That you might quit.

Embrace the cause of the crappy first draft, and save your writing life!

How To Create Your First Draft

1: Work Fast

This is what keeps the Inner Editor from getting his claws into you.

Write like the wind. Keep running and leave the Inner Editor behind.

Write fast, get to the point where you get stuck, and keep writing anyway.

2: Don’t Look Back

Literally, don’t look back at your draft as you’re writing.  Even if you have forgotten what you named a secondary character or a town, just put in a placeholder and keep writing.

If you look back you’ll be tempted to judge, to edit, and you’ll slow down and then you’ll lose momentum, and then it’s so much harder to get going again.

3: Have Fun in the First Draft Sandbox

The more I want to get something done, the less I call it work.

-Richard Bach

Treat your first draft as your sandbox: get your fingers dirty, build ugly models, knock them down later.

Don’t Quit. Fight The Fear. Write A Crappy First Draft Today.

[Tuesday Reading Room] Gold Boy, Emerald Girl

I have a subscription to Storyville, on my iPhone, because I’m a sucker for new business models and digital publishing, and I’m enjoying being exposed to a wide array of stories (old and new) every week.

This week’s story, “Gold Boy, Emerald Girl” by Yiyun Li, slowly unfolds the story of a couple, past the first flush of youth, meeting and deciding whether or not to marry. The story is set in modern-day Beijing. The woman in the story has lived there all her life, hardly noticing that she is aging and becoming a spinster, while the bachelor son of her old college professor has been off living in America.

It is anything but a cliched romance, though I will say that it has a satisfying ending. The author is quite skilled at making the characters and their culture seem complete and real without losing their interesting edge.

I liked the indirect way we learn about the characters and their backstories, as in this remark about the professor,

“Professor Dai must miss her students these days,” Siuy said after she and Hanfeng had exchanged greetings, although she knew it was not the students that his mother missed but the white skulls of mammals and birds on her office shelves, the drawers filled with scalpels and clamps and tweezers that she had cleaned and maintained with care and the fact that she could mask her indifference to the human species with her devotion to animals.

All the revelations about the characters are measured and careful, just like the characters. The whole story is a skilled blend of what we are told and how it is told, leading us to accept the ending and even agree with the choices the characters make.

It’s worth remembering that how a story is told can contribute as much to the reader’s experience as the things we write.