[Monday Markets] Seedpod Publishing

Seedpod Publishing is a “micro-publishing cooperative” — which sounds to me like a collection of authors and publishing people banding together to distribute literary fiction, digitally.

They publish books and help with promotion and distribution – all digital and Digital Rights Management free, so your readers can read your book wherever they want, not linked to any particular device.

They also curate a Twitter stream of 140-character tiny tales at @seedpodpublishing . You can submit your Twitter stories here. (I particularly like their Publishing Rights section, written in Real English!)

From the Writers’ Guidelines page:

We believe that writers can and should be supported financially by the community. Because of this, the free versions of our books are made possible by donations as well as by advertising from organizations that are doing socially just work. Our aim is to nurture the work of writers and keep literature accessible for all.

It’s intriguing alternative to both traditional publishing and go-it-alone self-publishing. I’ll be watching with interest.

Warm Up Your Writing Schedule

I’ve just sent out this schedule to all the people who have already signed up for the StoryADay Warm Up Your Writing Course. A lot of the Week 1 links are live and people are meeting up in the forums. It’s not too late to sign up and jump-start your writing today.

$97

WEEK 1 SCHEDULE

This week is all about breaking down your resistance by starting you off slowly, and with short assignments; figuring out  how to  manage your time; and turning you into Idea Generators, so you never again have to say “I don’t have any ideas”.

Friday, March 25

Time To Write Workshop – work through this at your own pace.
Reading Assignment – mine your own shelves
Idea Generator Workshop & Assignment – generate 15 Story Sparks this week.
Writing Assignment 1.1 (including audio & Resources PDF) – Twitter Fiction
(+ bonus writing assignment for the gung-ho).
(Writing assignments are due before the next assignment goes out.)

Monday, March 28

Mentors & Inspiration Lesson – Reading for inspiration
Writing Assignment 1.2 (audio and Resources PDF) – 55 Word Stories

Wednesday, March 30

Writing Assignment 1.3 – Drabbles (100 word stories)
Q&A Conference Call (tentative. Suggestions for date/time welcome)

WEEK 2 SCHEDULE

This week we’ll focus on building your confidence and finding your voice. We’ll talk about the importance of first drafts and work on an assignment that will prove once and for all, that you have a unique voice that deserves to be heard.

Friday April 1

Test (just kidding)
Finding Your Voice Lesson
Writing Assignment 2.1 – Write a 300 word story
Reminder: generate 15 more Story Sparks this week.
Reading Assignment 2 – Prepare for next week’s Copycat Class

Monday, April 4

The Importance of First Drafts Lesson
Writing Assignment 2.2 – Write a 640 word story (newspaper column length)

Wednesday April 6

Breaking Through Writers’ Block Workshop (audio & PDF)
Writing Assignment 2.3 – Write a story of between 750 – 1200 words using the  Write On Wednesday prompt from StoryADay.org
In the forums:
A review of lessons you’ve learned about your tastes, voice, and writing habits and how to make them work for, not against, you,

WEEK 3 SCHEDULE

This week we’ll increase the intensity. Now that you know you can write stories, we’ll stretch the word count and the number of assignments. But fear not! I’m not going to let you go it alone

Friday, April 8

Capture 30 more story starter ideas this week – for a total of 60
Lesson & Writing Assignment 3.1  CopyCat Writing Class –  sit at the feet of your favorite author and dissect one of their stories then write your own story on their framework – just like a Renaissance apprentice!
Reading – Don’t forget to read some short stories by writers you admire, to keep you inspiration levels high.

Monday, April 11

Avoiding Short Story Pitfalls Lesson – a look at form and technical details
Writing Assignment 3.2 – Write a story 1200-2000 words

Wednesday, April 13

Writing Assignment 3.3 – Write the story you’ve been waiting to write.
Forum Focus – schedule some time to dive into the forums over the next two days, to comment on other people’s writing, compare strategies for your writing after the course, and talk about what you’ve learned/discovered. Use this time to make new commitments and put them out in public.

Thursday, April 14

Final conference call with people you’ve got to know over the past three weeks, and who will be your posse during StoryADay in May

“Warm Up Your Writing” Class BONUS WORKSHOP ADDED

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, March 25. 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 Your Writing” Class BONUS WORKSHOP ADDED”

How To Fail At Story-Telling

“What if my stories are no good? What if I fail?”

This is possibly the most powerful thing holding us back.

FAIL stamp

We can find or make time if we really want to. Even if the power lines went down and the world ran out of paper, we could tell our stories out loud, around campfires as of old.

The most insightful of us understand that success brings its own stresses and that worries us.(Imagine if your first novel was a best-seller. Where would you go from there?!)

But the thing that really stops us?

Fear of failure.

Good News! Failure is Good For You!

Continue reading “How To Fail At Story-Telling”

10 Great Sites For Writing Prompts – Updated Feb 2016!

writing prompt logoIt’s the Number 1 question authors are asked in interviews: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Of course, a large part of being a writer is having ideas, harnessing them, molding them. But we all have days when the ideas aren’t coming. We still want to write, but where to start?

Here are 8 sites that provide writing prompts.

StoryADay.org Writing Prompts

Starting in our own backyard, you can check out StoryADay’s very own writing prompts. During Story A Day May I post daily prompts, Every Wednesday in other months I post WriteOnWednesday challenges, where you can post right in the comments and get some immediate feedback.

A Month of Writing Prompts 2014Each prompt is intentionally ambiguous, adaptable to any genre and style, and comes with a list of tips to help you delve deeper into the ideas. Try one today or download a copy of the 2014 StoryADay May writing prompts ebook, for free.

 

DIYMFA Writer Igniter

Easily the most fun prompt generator around: hit a button and spin! The Writer Igniter generates a fresh Character, Situation, Prop and Setting (with a picture for the setting). Useful for sparking an idea when you need a quick writing hit.

Writers’ Digest Writing Prompts

Weekly writing prompts from the ultimate writers’ magazine. You can post 500 words about the prompt in the blog comments and see what other people have posted.

Tumblr

Anytime a Tumblr user tags their post as “Writing Prompt”, it’ll pop up in on this page. There is a strong (and youngish) writing community on Tumblr, serious about their art. Definitely worth bookmarking.

Writing Prompts That Don’t Suck

Over 600 writing prompts, mostly one-liners and snippets of dialogue and word lists (which can be surprisingly productive).

CreativeWriting Prompts

Never again can you say that you have nothing to write. Creative Writing Prompts lists 346 prompts all on one page — that’s almost one for every day of the year. Hover your mouse over a number to generate a prompt. More for journaling than short story writing, but still useful.

Writing Fix

These prompts seem to be aimed at kids, but they work for me! There are journal prompts and prompts for creative writing. I love that they have them separated into Right Brain prompts and Left Brain Prompts, among other things. You can choose from among different types of prompts too: story starters, titles, themes, character descriptions, tone, even prepositional phrases!

Reddit Writing Prompts SubReddit

A collection of user-submitted prompts. Often skewed towards apocalytic/sci-fi/fantasy/horror topics, this is the place to go if you like to write dark!

The Teacher’s Corner

This site is aimed at teachers who give their students a period of free-writing or journal writing ever day, but it can work for any writer. You can use them for freewriting/morning pages/writing practice, or you might use them to spark ideas for seasonal stories (which publications love). The prompts are batched by month and often relate to themes and historical events from that month. Well worth checking out, especially if you are trying to do morning pages/journaling to warm up your writing day.

Poets & Writers Prompts

This page posts three different prompts every week: one for creative non-fiction, one for poetry, and one for fiction. Often the fiction prompt is ‘write a scene in a story that…’, but sometimes it prompts you to write a whole story, and it usually illustrates you how to think more deeply about the idea.

Get a free 17-page creativity workbook when you sign up for more articles like this



[Write On Wednesday] – Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras 2008
Photo by Michael Nyika

Yesterday was Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, Carnevale, Fastnacht, whatever you choose to call it.

In countries around the world, people celebrated in advance of the sombre season of Lent, which starts today. Poeple around the world celebrated, even if they aren’t participating in the penance-fest that is the Lenten season.

Write a story that features a big, last blow-out before a change, echoing the idea of Mardi Gras.

(It might be a stag night, the last meal at a diner before an old man goes into a nursing home, or it might be Mardi Gras in New Orleans, itself. And don’t forget, you can write it from the perspective of the day after, too!)

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 Mardi Gras story: http://bit.ly/el8ltW #WriteOnWed #storyaday

Laissez les bon temps roulez! It’s still Mardi Gras at #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://bit.ly/el8ltW

This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is “Mardi Gras”: http://bit.ly/el8ltW #storyaday

Come and write with us: http://bit.ly/el8ltW #WriteOnWed #storyaday

See my story – and write your own, today: http://bit.ly/el8ltW #WriteOnWed #storyaday

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

With thanks to my friends at Creative Copy Challenge for inspiration and support. Go to Creative Copy Challenge every day for a new writing prompt and supportive community of writers.

Story A Day Update for March

It’s been a couple of weeks since I was in touch and there’s lots happening behind the scenes at StoryADay HQ, gearing up to make this year an awesome year for you.

First, A Pep Talk

There have been a lot of new subscribers to the newsletter recently (hi!).
I know that you might have signed up thinking, “oo, that sounds like fun”, but the more you think about it, the more you go “Um, hmm, that sounds a bit, er, scary”.
But I don’t want you to think that Story A Day is all about extremes of writing and terror. One of the greatest things about the challenge last year was the community. Until it opens up, I’ve got a video for you to remind you why you wanted to sign up in the first place and to reassure you that, yeah, you can totally do this.
Stay tuned to the end for a special offer on some practical tools to help you with your writing journey.
There’s another video coming out on Friday but I don’t want to clutter up this list. If you want to hear more about the tools and products and videos I’m offering, you should sign up for the Creativity Lab mailing list, if you haven’t already.

New Things This Year

Contest

I’m currently chatting with my friendly neighbourhood business lawyer about the ins and outs of contests and whether I can host one at StoryADay without getting myself sued.

I’ve also been talking with an Extremely Awesome Potential Judge, who I’m very excited to say is totally on board as long as I get the legal nod.
So fingers crossed that my lawyer is both cheap and competent, please!
Swag

Also, this year I’ve decided to contact some companies that offer fun and useful writers’ swag and see if they want to kick in some giveaways and prizes. I’ve already had a ‘yes’ from the first company I talked to, so stayed tuned for News Of Swag.

(Also feel free to fire off ideas about how you think I should give away the aforementioned Swag. You can comment on this blog post).

Write on Wednesdays

I’ve launched a new feature at the website: WriteOnWednesdays, which gives us all a chance to warm up our flash-writing muscles in anticipation of the challenge in May.
Come on over to this week’s post and write a quick tale, comment on everyone else’s. Flex those creative muscles! (You don’t have to actually write on Wednesday…)

The STORYADAY Site Progress Report

I’m working on a way to keep the site looking like it did last year: with blogs for all and the activity stream intact. It might mean moving web hosts, though.
If anyone knows someone who is a crack WordPress database wrangler, please, please put them in touch with me. I know enough to set up the site in the first place, but moving it? That’s a whole new kettle of fish, and it’s making my brain hurt!
Right, that’s it for this newsletter. If you have any questions, suggestions, complaints or compliments, you know what to do 🙂
Meanwhile, keep writing,
Julie

[Tuesday Reading Room] Man of The House by Frank O’Connor

from Fifty Great Short Stories(Milton Crane, Ed. Bantam Classics reissued 2005)

This story, originally published in The New Yorker in 1949, is a wonderful example of how every line in a short story should contribute to the story, the plot or the characterization. That’s tough to do, so don’t be discouraged if your first draft isn’t as good as Mr O’Connor’s New-Yorker-ready version! It is, however, a goal worth keeping in mind.

Man Of The House

The story’s opening is crammed with short, efficient sentences that do an amazing job of setting the scene,

“When I woke, I heard my mother coughing, below in the kitchen.”

We don’t know yet, when the story is set, but we have a setting – a home, where the main character still lives with his/her mother. The mother is up early, in the kitchen, probably fixing breakfast.

“She had been coughing for days, but I had paid no attention.”

That sounds callous, but consistent with what we discover about the narrator: that his is a ten year old boy. It also sets up a tension that carries right through to the end: what is wrong with the mother. Will she survive? Will he be paid back for his callous disregard of her? When a line like “I had paid no attention’ is offered up right a the start of the story, it makes me nervous!

The third sentence (we’re still only 24 words into the story here) is completely natural and conversational, easily rooting the story in its geographical place, painting a picture of it and, at the same time, letting us know that this was happening some time ago,

“We were living on the Old Youghal road at the time, the old hilly coaching road into East Cork.”

All that from 19 words. I love it!

The rest of this paragraph paints a picture of both the mother and the narrator that puts us firmly on their side and rooting for them both,

“The coughing sounded terrible. I dressed and went downstairs in my stocking feet, and in the clear morning light I saw her, unaware that she was being watched, collapsed into a little wickerwork armchair, hoding her side. She had made an attempt to light the fire, but it had gone against her. She looked so tired and helpless that my heart turned over with compassion. I ran to her.”

Isn’t that a great opening?

Voice

The story is mostly told in one voice — that of the 10 yr old boy — but from time to time the voice of the older version of the boy creeps in, now grown up and telling us the story, judging, explaining. In one glaring example the narrator voices an opinion that will enrage most of the women (and some of the men) reading it, when he casually opines,

“It’s a funny thing about women, how they’ll take orders from anything in trousers, even if it’s only ten.”

Not a very modern, politically-correct attitude and it is the one line that makes the story seem old-fashioned. The rest of it seems fixed in a particular time, but also pretty timeless: a small boy is struggling between childhood and responsibility; sometimes he’s good; sometimes he fails; how he feels about it all. We’ve all been 10 [1. with apologies to any younger readers out there. You’re even better placed to understand this character!]. We’ve all struggled with the passage from childhood to adulthood, whether in rural Ireland or a suburb or a city.

But even that one jarring line serves an important purpose in the story. It’s not just in there because the writer wants to tell us something about his character’s attitude towards women. It tells us the age of the boy in the story, and that there is no way he should be the titular man of the house. It also tells us a thing or two about his mother in particular, (and you could argue that it talks about her only, rather than women as a whole, if the line makes you uncomfortable).

Most of the time, though, the world is presented to us through the voice of the ten year old from a particular time and place.

“In the afternoon, my mother wanted me to run out and play, but I didn’t go far. I knew if once I went a certain distance from the house, I was liable to stray into temptation. Below our house, there was a glen, the drill field of the barracks perched high above it on a chalky cliff, and below, in a deep hollow, the millpond and millstream running between wooded hills — the Rockies, the Himalayas, or the HIghlands, according to your mood. Once down there, I tended to forget the real world…”

He notices the things a ten year old boy would notice: the barracks where the soldiers live, the millpond where you could find creepy crawly things, and the hills, a setting for imagined adventures.

Plot & Suspense

The story continues to take our likable little hero away from home and into temptation. Whether he resists and whether he has to pay for his sins are the questions that kept me turning the pages faster and faster until I reached the end.


Is your writing economical or more wordy? Which point-of-view do you use most often in short stories? Are your ‘voices’ distinctive?
Tell us in the comments:


[Markets for Writers] Postcard Shorts

Inspired by a postcard-length short story by science fiction master Arthur C. Clarke, Postcard Shorts accepts stories that are, well, postcard length.
PostcardShorts.com screenshot

(That translates to about 250 words)

Pretty much anything goes, as long as it’s not completely devoid of merit (in the Editor’s opinion). The Editor’s decision is final.

The copyright for anything you submit is wholly yours. You own it. This site just displays your work.
– from Postcardshorts.com

This is not a paying market but it is bite-sized and very tempting.

How To Become An Insanely Productive Writer

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice!

Laptop lady
Laptop Lady by Aidan McMichael (used with permission)

If you really want to become a good writer, in this lifetime, you have to write. You have to write a lot.

Here are seven of the best tips from last year’s StoryADay participants, to help you become an insanely productive, happy and sane writer. Plus one bonus tip and a question for you, at the end.

“Nothing will work until you do.”
-Maya Angelou

Insanely Productive? Yes, Please!

1. Have ideas ready to go

There is nothing worse than carving out some time to write and then being stuck for a place to start. So start now: pay attention to all the ideas you have, all the time, when you are away from your desk. Carry a notebook around. Capture snippets of conversation, what ifs that occur to you as you people-watch, thoughts spurred by other people’s stories. Write them all down, ready to be picked up again when you sit down to write.

2. Write First

When you sit down to write, actually write. Don’t check email, don’t check Twitter, don’t even check the StADa site (unless you need the daily prompt). Just leaf through your ideas until you find one you can work with, and go. Turn off your email notifications, close all the browser windows. Don’t worry about fonts and formatting or whether it’ll be any good. Just write.

@Gabi If I think too much about writing before I actually start doing it, I tend to psych myself out. Instead I just start writing and before I know it, I’ve got a bunch of words on the page and it’s time to call it a day.

3. Keep writing until you finish

Starting stories is all very well, but anyone can do that. The point of StADa is to help you learn to craft a whole, finished story. Keep writing until you finish. Even if you hate it, keep writing. You’ll thank me later.

4. Unless you must take a break

Obviously, if your kids are screaming or someone comes to the door to tell you you’ve won $10million in the lottery, or your boss calls to ask where you are, you might have to get up from your desk before your story is finished. In which case, go. But keep thinking about your story. Leave it in the middle of a sentence, so that you’re ready to leap back in, and go. But keep thinking about it. When you’re walking to the coffee machine, wonder what your characters will do next. When you’re doing some menial, mindless task (can you tell I’m a mother?) let your mind wander and picture how you’re going to resolve the central mystery of your story. If someone turns on a radio, listen to how people talk and steal yourself some dialogue.

@KristenRudd says: “My trick so far is to mull my story all day, while I’m doing whatever it is I do. I think about the directions it could go, but I mostly think about how to open it. Then, when I can finally sit down after the kids are in bed, the dishes are washed, and I’ve done everything else that needs doing, I’m excited about the story that’s been buzzing all day.

5. Make it priority #1

You can put off watching TV shows and you can turn down an occasional invitation for coffee without your life falling apart. Tell people you’re working on your writing this month, that you’ll be a better friend next month (maybe). Take some time to make your writing your top priority. You’ll always wonder, if you don’t, what you could have achieved. Explain to friends that you are investing in your dream of becoming a writer, just as they might make time to invest in a course of golf lessons or an art workshop. If you want to take your writing seriously you will find that something’s got to give, but the good news is: that could be the housework!

StADa: How do you make time for writing?
@AdorablyAlice This is a good question. And when I have an answer that doesn’t involve neglecting chores/cooking, I’ll let you know.

6. Write Wherever/Whenever You Can

It’s tempting to think that you need solitude, silence and a particular pen to be able to write, but that’s a rookie mistake. Professional writers write wherever and whenever they can squeeze in some time.

  • Ray Bradbury rented a typewriter in a typing room in the basement of a library and typed until time ran out. That couldn’t have been quiet or private or relaxing, but he’s one of the most prolific writers around.
  • Stephen King wrote in a passageway in the back of a trailer, with two toddlers, a wife and a full-time job in a laundry jostling for his attention.
  • PD James worked for the Home Office by day, visited her sick  husband in hospital on the weekends, and put her two daughters to bed alone, and wrote her first novel — all during the London Blitz!

You may need some peace and quiet to get a story started, but once you’re up and running, write! Write when ever you have 15 minutes, wherever you are, with whatever comes to hand. Write!

(Hint: you full-time workers have the gnawing envy of stay-at-home parents of young children: you get a lunch break. Are you sneaking off somewhere and using it for writing?)

7. Be realistic

You’re not going to write an epic or a polished draft in a day. You’re going to write something and it’ll likely be bewtween 30 and 2000 words. The more frequently you write and finish a story, the more you’ll get a sense for how to pace yourself and your story. Don’t waste time on backstory or explaining anything at the  beginning. Jump in half way through and unpack the story as you go. Some of it will be terrible, some of it you will learn from and some of it might even be quite good. On a good day you’ll write a character you’re proud of or make yourself smile with a twist, or discover you can write really convincingly about a gardener.

@GabiOnly a handful of the stories are worth keeping and working on. One of them has spawned into an idea for a middle-grade book that I am in love with.

Every lesson enriches your writing. Every day you practice, you’re one step closer to Carnegie Hall.

Bonus Tip: Be part of a community.

I know a lot of us are loners (I certainly crave my ‘alone’ time) so the idea of joining a community seems strange. But one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in the past year is the value of having people on your side, people who understand what it’s like try to write, people who are rooting for you (because if you can do it, maybe they can too).It was incredibly inspiring to drop in to the StoryADay.org forums during May – and afterwards ‘meet up’ with people on Twitter – and trade stories of how our writing day is going.

Join our Serious Writers’ Accountability Group (SWAGr) and post your goals for this month…today! (We’re “Serious”, not sombre. All are welcome!)

Thanks to all the previous participants for their comments and suggestions, quoted here or otherwise.


What do you do to keep writing? Share  your best tips in the comments.



To be among the first to hear when sign-ups open for this year’s challenge sign up for the Advance Notice List. (No spam. Just StoryADay.org news)



Write-On-Wednesdays – Embrace Your Inner Sadist

If you saw the comments on last week’s post 6 Reasons You’ll Never Be A Writer, you’ll know that one reasons touched a nerve with a lot of people:

#6: You’re Too Nice

Commenter Michelle Kobayashi captured the mood when she said:

“My first 17 chapters were very nice. There was little conflict and the characters worked out their issues reasonably.

“It sucked.

“Then I learned about inciting incidents and the need for conflict. That’s when the fun began. One character in particular is so rude I cringe when I reread her scenes. And I wouldn’t change a thing. Embrace your inner sadist indeed!”

(Thanks to Donald Maass for the catchy slogan at the end there!)

Seems like this is something ia lot of us need practise with. So,

The Prompt

Shout ! ! !
Photo by lempicki.maciek

Write a scene featuring a truly loathsome (but believable) character. They don’t have to be a Disney Villain. It could be that really annoying person at work who has no redeeming qualities that you can find, no matter how hard you try.

Dig deep. Remember how annoying, frustrating, irritating your least favorite person in the world is. Pair them up with your favorite hero-type and give them a scene.

Then let your hero say all the things you’ve rehearsed in your head but would never say, because you’re just, well, too nice.

Let it all out. Make us (and yourself) cringe.

The Rules:

  1. You should use the prompt in some way in your story (however tenuous the connection)
  2. You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.
  3. Post your scene 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:

Embracing My Inner Sadist: http://bit.ly/ehx03t #WriteOnWed #storyaday

I never knew I could be so mean! #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://bit.ly/ehx03t

This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is “Embrace Your Inner Sadist″: http://bit.ly/ehx03t

Come and write with us today: http://t.co/OpHsJ04 #WriteOnWed #storyaday

See my story – and write your own: http://t.co/OpHsJ04 #WriteOnWed #storyaday

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

With thanks to my friends at Creative Copy Challenge for inspiration and support. Go to Creative Copy Challenge every day for a new writing prompt and supportive community of writers.


Tuesday Reading Room – Brooksmith by Henry James

from Fifty Great Short Stories (Milton Crane, Ed. Bantam Classics reissued 2005)

I don’t know much about Henry James, though I have struggled through more of his short stories than I have novels. I’ve never formally studied his writing, so don’t know what the prevailing literary criticism theories are…but I can tell you this: I dislike his characters and I dislike his outlook and I always end up, as I did at the end of this story, wanting to punch at least one of the characters in the nose.

Which is, I suppose a kind of a compliment to the writer.

Brooksmith by Henry James

As much as I say I don’t ‘like’ Henry James’s stories, I do recognise the work of a master craftsman. (I wonder if I would have liked him any better if he had been writing today [1. Probably not.])

The first thing I admired about this story was the way he pulled me in right from the first sentence. You might not think of the slow-paced Henry James novels as belonging on the same shelf as Ian Fleming or James Patterson, but there is, nonetheless, plenty of suspense to keep the reader hooked:

We are scattered now, the friends of the late Mr. Oliver Offord, but whenever we chance to meet I think we are conscious of a certain esoteric respect for each other.

Who was the late Mr. Oliver Offord and why do his friends only ‘chance to meet’ and share a ‘certain esoteric respect’ – and what does that really mean?

James continues to ratchet up the suspense in the very next sentence,

“Yes, you too have been in Arcadia,” we seem not too grumpily to allow.

Why was it “Arcadia” (and why would they ordinarily be grumpy with each other)?

The story turns out not to be about Mr Offord at all, but about his butler, Brooksmith and the perils of allowing the servant class to rise above their station.

I’m not sure which side Henry James would really have taken on the issue of class and station, but his narrator has a very fixed, extremely anti-egalitarian viewpoint that makes him supremely unsympathetic to the modern reader.

He is, however, so unrelentingly shaped by his societal norms that he is absolutely believable and ‘true’ – and loathsome, I might add.

It really struck me — after putting down this book with a sneer on my face and a punchy urge in my fist — that my writing could benefit from a bit more loathesomeness. I’m really a very nice person, trained in life to be fair and tolerant and to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. But being well-brought-up can create a tendency to be too nice to my characters, too forgiving.

If I want to create characters as ‘true’ and real as Brooksmith‘s unworthy narrator, I have to risk creating characters that someone 111 years from now might want to punch.


What do you do to make your characters ‘real’? Please do leave a comment!


[Markets for Writers] Six Sentences

Six Sentences is a place to publish just that: six sentence stories.

Six Sentences screenshot

It has been one of Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Sites For Writers and publishes a new six-sentence story every day. It’s a great (non-paying) market for flash fiction writers.

It offers readers the chance to vote the story “good”, or “spectacular” (a ratings system I love) and provides a link back to the author’s site.

Check out the writer’s guidlines here or read some recent six-sentence stories.

6 Reasons You Will Never Be A Writer

Wondering when you’ll reap the fame and fortune that come with your dream of being a writer? Well, probably never. If you’re making any of these six classic mistakes…

Wondering when you’ll reap the fame and fortune that come with your dream of being a writer? Well, probably never. If:

1. You don’t read

The Writers' Museum
The Writer's Museum, Edinburgh by Peter Nijenhuis

At least, not the right things. You read all the books on writing and polishing and publishing, and all the books that literary critics are praising, but nothing of any real value. You don’t read books that light a fire under you, you don’t read in your genre, you don’t read non-fiction for fun and inspiration.  You don’t have an Audible membership or a library card and you couldn’t name a book that has meant anything to you since you turned 20.

If you were learning to be an accountant you’d study accounting law. If you were studying to be a doctor you would read medical books. Stephen King, in On Writing calls it the Great Commandment: Reada lot, write a lot.

“Read, read, read, Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it.”

-William Faulkner.

2. You’re too busy to write

You’re not independently wealthy: you’ve got a job, a family, commitments, a social life, a pressing engagement with the cast of Glee! You can’t possibly squeeze any time out of your day to write.

Jon Scalzi, current president of the Science Fiction Writers of America puts it bluntly and truthfully:

So: Do you want to write or don’t you? If your answer is “yes, but,” then here’s a small editing tip: what you’re doing is using six letters and two words to say “no.” And that’s fine. Just don’t kid yourself as to what “yes, but” means.

You can make time to write, but something else is probably going to have to give. It might be sleep, it might be ‘watching Ellen in the afternoon’, it might be having lunch with the same people every day in the dreary work cafeteria. It might be ‘feeling bad about yourself because you’re not getting any writing done and eating ice cream instead’.

But, chances are, you can make time to write.

3. You have no original ideas

Every time you sit down to write you are paralyzed by the overwhelming feeling that everything has been said before. Well, you know what? You’re right. But it hasn’t been said by you, in this time and place, at your age, and in your circumstances. Agent Donald Maas talks a lot in The Breakout Novelist about the difference between ‘original’ and ‘unique’. You don’t have to be original, but you do have to be ‘unique’.

I once interviewed Daniel Pinkwater and he said the same thing: only you can speak in your voice, and if you write for a while you’ll discover what that voice is.

I love that what my readers need, they can only get from me. It’s riskier, but much more ego-gratifying
-Daniel Pinkwater, 2003 interview

He also said,

Ideas are everywhere. I have 60 ideas a day. So do you. So does everybody.
-Daniel Pinkwater, 2003 interview

The trick is paying attention, taking those ideas and developing them into the story only you can tell.

4. You have no qualifications for this. You don’t know what you’re doing

No writer does. Every artist is engaged in creating something unique and new. Experienced writers say this all the time: I don’t know what I’m doing until I’ve done it. Here’s a little evidence:

The only way to write is to write… Stupid b*****d job.
-Russell T. Davies, Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale

Very few writers know what they are doing until they have done it.
-Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

You can’t completely understand what good writers do until you try it yourself…Write from the very beginning, then, and keep on writing…The next story will be better, and the next one after that still better, and eventually—
-Isaac Asimov, Gold

5. Your Writing Sucks

When you do make the time to write, it’s hard. The words do not come dripping off your pen easily; all the elements in your story don’t come out in the right order; your characters are flat and uninteresting and they speak in cliches; you want to give up.

And that is what Anne Lammot calls your ‘shitty first draft’. It has to be got through in order to get to the second draft, the third, and the polished end result. If you are too scared to suck, too scared to fail then you will never be a writer, because all writing involves putting some truly terrible prose on the page — and excising it later or, like William Faulkner, throw it out entirely and start again,

Write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.
-William Faulkner

Sure, it’s scary but even the great and prolific Isaac Asimov says, of the writer’s daily task:

We sit there alone, pounding out words, with out hearts pounding in time. Each sentence brings with it the sickening sensation of not being right.
-Isaac Asimov, Gold

Can you allow your first drafts to be less than perfect?

6. You’re Too Nice

In real life it’s nice to be nice: people like you, you offend nobody and your mother is proud of you.

In literature, being nice doesn’t pay. It’s boring if nothing happens, if no-one gets upset, if no-one is threatened, insulted, shamed, murdered, even. Your writing can be your playground. Be nice in real life if you must but, in your writing,

Embrace your inner sadist.
-Donald Maass, The Breakout Novelist


I’d love to hear which of these touched a nerve with you. Let me know in the comments which part of your writing life you’re struggling with the most at the moment? Has it changed over time?

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If you’re feeling inspired to write now, why not check out some of the StoryADay Writing Prompts? You might want to start with some Flash Fiction, to warm up.