Does Thinking Count As Writing?

I asked a friend the other day how her writing was going.

“I’m thinking about writing,” she replied. “Does thinking count for anything?”

Thinking of you

Ouch. Sound familiar?

So, you know what I’m going to say, right?

Thinking…well, actually thinking DOES kind of count as writing. (There, did I surprise you? Wait for it…)

But only if you’re doing it in the right way.

(Oo, you knew there was a catch!)

Thinking Kinda Does Count…And It Really Doesn’t

  • Writers need to think — We need copious amounts of thinking time. We need to daydream and imagine and ‘what if’. Happily, we can do this while attending to all those routine brain-free tasks we have to do every day: you know, the ones that keep us clothed and fed and sanitary. (If you’re an adult you know what I mean. If you’re a kid…no, if you’re a kid you won’t even be reading this. You’ll just be writing your first best-seller. Move along.)
  • Beating ourselves up is not productive — unfortunately a lot of writers (especially the ones who aren’t doing any writing) spend a lot of their thinking time fretting about how they’re not writing, not good enough, a lousy person for not doing more actual writing. This is not only unproductive, it is destructive. The best way to stop this kind of thinking in its tracks is to write something — anything. (Keep reading for ideas on what you can write on a day like this)
  • Capturing ideas is useful — sometimes ‘not writing’ means you’re out living. This is a wonderful thing for a writer. You need experience to be able to write anything meaningful. You need to come home and process the stuff that happened to you today, so that it’s there in your brain ready for when you need it. We need to hate people and imagine all the things we should have said to them. We need to love people and freak out when our imaginations show us what life would be like without them. We need to wonder what it would really be like if our plane crashed on a desert island: how would we wash our clothes and what plant fibers could be spun into thread to repair them?
  • Thought vs.  creativity — There will come a time when you need to look at your work with a critical eye, but that time is not during the initial writing phase. In fact, the less you think while you’re writing your first draft the better. Turn off that brain, move your hands and just let the words pour out.

It’s all very well for me to sit here saying this. But how do you actually move from thinking to writing?

You Must Take Action

You have to actually carve out time to sit down and write. Even if you can’t finish a whole chapter. Even if all you can manage is 100 words, 55 words, 140 characters,

DOING something (i.e. writing, crafting a story and characters) is so much better than thinking. Always.

(You may not feel great while you’re doing it, but trust me, afterwards? You’ll feel awesome.)

How To Take Action With Your Writing

It’s easy to get overwhelmed and beat yourself up because you haven’t finished your first novel yet.

Screw that.

  • Set yourself a tiny goal and meet it. Write a twitter fiction story. Write a 55-word story. Write exactly 100 words (no more, no less). Set a deadline. Do the work. Now tell me that didn’t feel good.
  • Use prompts I know it can seem corny but grab a writing prompt and use it for your own purposes. I assigned everyone on my writing course the same prompt one day and you would have been amazed at the radically different stories that came back from 12 different people.
  • Embrace the first draft — Give yourself permission to write something truly dreadful. Tell yourself no-one is going to see it. Picture a baby learning to walk: they fall down, they get up again, they fall down, they get up again, and eventually they are up more than they are down. We learn by doing. We learn by making mistakes. Write something terrible, don’t show it to anyone. Remind yourself the goal is to write something, not to write something good. Not yet.
  • Get an accountability buddy — life comes at us fast. If you’re like me, there’s nobody knocking down your door to hand you a living wage for your fiction yet. It’s easy to let writing slip into the background and — whoosh! — a month has gone by without a single word written. By finding someone to keep you honest, you give yourself the kind of deadlines that you need. You don’t even have to swap writing samples. Just make sure you find someone who will stay on your case and not be too nice to you!
  • So yes, think. Think about your writing. Think about your characters. Think about what you’ll do when you’ve reached your goals.But most of all, keep writing.

    What one thing will you commit to writing this week? How will you make it happen?

    Leave your commitment below, & I will be your accountability buddy for this week (I will personally check up on you on Wed June 22!)

StoryFest 2011 Preparations

We have all worked so hard, don’t you think it’s fair that we get to show off a little; celebrate?

Announcing:

The Story A Day StoryFest, June 11-14, 2011:

An Online Celebration of the Second Annual Story A Day Challenge

What Is It?

From June 11-13 the front page of this site will change to the StoryFest Page.

The StoryFest page will contain blurbs about and links to each author’s favorite story (or collection of stories if you’re writing super-short stories)

Readers can come by on their coffee breaks, browse the best of our work, leave comments, tell their friends.

(See last year’s StoryFest front page, to see what I’m talking about.)

What Do You Do?

  • First, pick your favorite Story A Day stories  that you wrote (this can be the same story you intend to enter in the contest).  Pick one, if it’s a long or multi-part story. Pick a couple if they are short. Pick ten if you’re a twitter-fiction writer ;) No real restrictions here.
  • Write a short blurb about you/your stories/the challenge (about 50-75 words).
  • Optional extra: pick your favorite one or two stories by other people to recommend to readers.
  • Email a blurb and the links to your own stories and your ‘recommended reading’ stories as soon as possible. (editor at story a day dot org / subject: StoryFest Submission) I will put them on the StoryFest page for readers to find.
  • On June 11, start tweeting and blogging and Facebooking (sorry) and telling all your friends and family to stop by. (I will provide some sample messages, in case you’re uncomfortable with self-promotion, but you should feel free to write whatever you like.
  • During StoryFest be sure to share your recommendations for stories you’ve enjoyed by other StADa writers.
  • On June 13, send another reminder to people that time is running out, to access the StoryFest page, and discover all the wonderful new writers that you’ve been reading and enjoying throughout May.
  • Sit back and bask in the feedback.

I’ve created a StoryADay StoryFest graphic that you can hang on your StoryFest stories, no matter where you posted them (here or your personal blog)

What Can Readers Do?

Readers can stop by any time between June 11 and June 14.

They will find the front page all decked out for StoryFest and featuring links to your favorite stories.

They can read, comment and, I hope, recommend stories to their reading friends.

What’s The Point?

It’s a celebration! Writing a story a day was hard, wasn’t it?

This is our chance to show off. This is our recital. (Tutus strictly optional).

It’s also a chance for readers and writers to connect. Readers are always looking to find great new writers and interesting stories. Writers want to be found.

I’ve been thrilled by the quality and diversity of the stories I’ve read here, and I want to share that with other readers.

Why So Short?

Making the StoryFest an event with a limited timeline gives readers a good reason to come NOW, not just think ‘that’s cool, I’ll stop by later maybe’ and then forget about us. Instead, we’re creating scarcity and a deadline. It’s basic sales psychology, and it works!

None of the Story A Day blogs will disappear (unless you delete them), so readers can still find your stuff for as long as you want them to.

The StoryFest is just a big promotional/celebratory party, and we all know that at some point, every party has to wrap up and someone has to turn out the lights.

(Luckily, no one will have to mop anything up after this one.)

A Time To Live

I was going to be starting the StoryADay Warm-Up Your Writing Summer Course today, but I’ve decided to postpone it until September.

I’m going to explain why and then I’m going to offer you some free tools, and a chance to help a worthy cause. If you just want the goodies, you can skip ahead.

Why I’m Not Running The Warm Up Writing Course This June

I live in one of those mythical neighbourhoods where everyone knows everyone else and we like each other. We have Easter Egg hunts and a Christmas party and our kids all ride bikes and play in the street together all summer and there is always a parent or five hanging out with them. It’s the kind of neighbourhood where you know that if your kid does something stupid while you’re not looking, one of the other parents will hunker down and gently discuss why ‘we don’t that’ and negotiate a peace treaty between whichever kids need it.

And if anyone needs help, the neighbourhood springs into action.

And we’re springing into action.

Last weekend my next door neighbour’s five year old daughter, Gabriella, was suddenly admitted to the local children’s hospital and diagnosed with a rare and aggressive brain cancer.

So we’re babysitting and running errands and making sure life seems as normal as we can for all the kids here at home. We’re raising money and cooking meals and organizing prayer chains and trying to be available for anything our friends might need.

And yes, though all this I could find time to run the course. But I wouldn’t be able to give it my all, and that’s not fair to anyone. So I’m postponing until September, when I will offer the Warm-Up Your Writing Course again, at the summer rate.

And in the meantime, I’m going to spend the summer creating high-quality free content and tools to help my lovely StoryADay friends focus on creativity and productivity and to keep writing every day, not ‘someday’.

An Important Reminder For Writers

But this bump in the road has reminded me of a very important rule for writers:

As important as it is to keep writing, it’s even more important to keep living. Only by grabbing life with both hands and holding on tight through every experience, can we hope to be able to write stories that help, heal, entertain, make readers think, and, in our own small way, change the world for the better.

How You Can Help

Having a sick child gets expensive really quickly, especially when it is something as complicated as brain cancer. So I’m raising money for the family by offering a special discount on my Time To Write Workshop for $17 $10, with 100% of the proceeds going to Gabriella’s family.

The Time To Write Workshop contains three modules to help you figure out why you never seem to find as much time as you’d like for your writing and how to change that. It comes with two bonus worksheets you can print out and use to track and plan your time, and it comes with an mp3 version for auditory learners and interactive mind maps for the more visual among you.

Click here and use the code “forGabby” to get the Time To Write Workshop at a 40% discount AND send $10 to a family in need.

 

If you already have the Time To Write Workshop but still want to help, you can click here to donate directly. Or, if you can afford some prayers, we need them too.

(As a thank you, please help yourself to the PDF of the Idea Generator Resource Sheet — which is part of the Warm-Up Your Writing Course).

More details about the Time To Write Workshop (remember, use the code ‘forGabby’ for your discount).

Writing Contest 2011

So you’ve spent a month writing stories. Now what?

Announcing: StoryADay.org’s First Writing Contest!

I am thrilled to announce that Heidi Durrow, author of last year’s breakout debut novel (and NYT bestseller) The Girl Who Fell From The Sky has agreed to judge our first ever StoryADay Writing Contest.

Anyone who has a StoryADay username and has been writing this May (I’ll have to trust you on that) is eligible to enter one story in the contest. There is no entry fee, but there are prizes!

  • 1st Prize: $50, A copy of the Writers Digest Short Story & Novelist’s Markets book, a copy of The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass, a box of Rory’s Story Cubes
  • 2 Runners-up: $25 and a box of Rory’s Story Cubes.

The deadline is June 15, with results announced in early August. There will be two rounds of judging. The first round will be judged by experienced editors and working authors, the final round by Ms. Durrow.

You may submit using a special submission from that will go be up by June 10, 2011. Details to be posted here.

Click here for the complete rules.

FAQ

Is the contest open to everyone?

Only to people with a StoryADay username.

I was writing during May but didn’t sign up at the site. Can I still enter?

Sorry, no. This is only open to people who were in the online community. It’s a way for me to reward the community and ensure that only stories written this May get entered

But that’s not fair is it?

No, not entirely. But it’s the best I can do. Sorry. I will rethink this for next year.

How will you ensure the contest is fair?

Entries will go to judges without names attached. Beyond that, judging is entirely subjective as it is with all writing contests.

Will Heidi Durrow read all the stories?

No, she is going to read a short-list of ten. The first round will be judged by working editors and writers.

When will the results be out and how will I be notified?

Not later than August 15. Results will be posted on the site (http://storyaday.org) and entrants will receive an email telling them the winners and runners up.

How are the prizes funded?

The prizes are funded mostly by me, Julie Duffy of StoryADay.org. The copies of Rory’s Story Cubes were generously provided by Gamewright Games.

If I don’t win, does that mean my story is no good?

No, it very definitely does not. I have judged these kinds of contests myself and can assure you that judging is entirely subjective. If your story is not picked, all it means is that it did not appeal to this particular set of judges in this particular month as much as someone else’s story did. Keep writing (and submitting)!

[Daily Prompt] May 30 – The Lake At Dusk

Daily Prompt LogoToday’s prompt is a stanza from “The Lake At Dusk” by Robin Robertson (from Swithering, Harcourt 2006)


 


Rinsed after the rain,

The forest is triggered and tripwired;

When I pause for a bird call

The silence takes time

To reassemble around me

Like a dream retrieved.

 

 

No-one will find me here.

 


Go!

[Daily Prompt] May 27 – Graduation

Daily Prompt LogoIt’s that time of year again.

I spent the evening watching my kindergartener receive a certificate and getting ready to move into First Grade. He’s already been at the same school for three years, and is moving on to…the same school, but next time in 1st Grade.

Still, it was an ending, a moment of transition, a biggish deal (mainly because the grown-ups made it that way).

So today’s prompt is:

Write a story that contains a transition, an ending or a new beginning.

Go!

The Myth Of The Solitary Writer

Today’s article is a guest post by Kirsten Simmons, host of The Interactive Novel. Thanks, Kirsten!


Run For Your Lives

“The first professional writing job I ever had, after seventeen years of trying, was on a movie called King Kong Lives. I and my partner-at-the-time, Ron Shusett, hammered out the screenplay for Dino De Laurentiis. We were certain it was going to be a blockbuster. We invited everyone we knew to the premiere; we even rented out the joint next door for a post-triumph blowout.Nobody showed. There was only one guy in line beside our guests, and he was muttering something about spare change. In the theater, our friends endured the movie in mute stupefaction. When the lights came up, they fled like cockroaches into the night.”

~Steven Pressfield, Do The Work

The movie, as Pressfield goes on to describe, was an unqualified disaster. It was roundly panned by the critics and barely registered on the gross lists.

What The…?

How did something which had such promise in the eyes of the authors go so totally wrong?

I’ve never spoken with Pressfield, so I can only guess at the reasons behind the tanking of King Kong Lives. But if I were to guess, I’d say it has something to do with community.

We tend to believe that writers work in seclusion. Think of the stereotypical writer pounding away at the keyboard all by his lonesome. This is especially true when there’s money attached to the work. The people paying us don’t want too many people to know the story, after all, otherwise who would buy it down the road?

But this brings up some problems, because the worst person to judge a piece of writing is the author. We’re far to close to our work. When I’m trying to edit anything I’ve written, I either think it’s brilliant or I see flaws that don’t exist. In my earliest writing days, I ruined dozens of perfectly good stories by tearing them apart to fix perceived flaws in the ideas. (My mechanics, on the other hand, were rarely the target of my edits, despite needing a fair amount of help.)

Fixing The Problem

What’s changed since then? I found a community.

All writers need people they can turn to for additional opinions when they run into problems. Outside eyes can offer a fresh perspective and are much more likely to identify the problems in our work. Communities like this one are essential to achieving a finely tuned, structurally sound story.

When you find your community, love them and hold them tight. Thank them profusely for their input (even if it’s not what you want to hear) and offer at least as many insights as you receive. Every amazing writer has a strong community behind them. We are nothing without our people.


Kirsten is a student, entrepreneur and author taking the idea of community to a whole new level. The Interactive Novel, about a girl who disappears without human touch, is evolving entirely in public with audience feedback. Come check it out!

[Daily Prompt] May 24 – Life-Changing

Daily Prompt Logo Today I was talking to a neighboor who had just had her first baby.

(He was super-cute, by the way. Lots of hair.)

Anyhoo, it struck me, as we chatted, how completely huge this moment was for her. My kids are ancient now (8 & 6) and motherhood has sort of crept up on me. It’s only now, hearing my friend say “we’re getting the hang of things” that I can look back and appreciate how completely my life changed the moment I carried that first baby through the front door.

There are so many moments in so many lives — Tiny things, big things, things missed — that change a life completely. The protagonist doesn’t  always appreciate the significance of the pivotal moment at the time. But short stories can highlight them beautifully.

Tell a story about a moment in which someone’s life changes (whether they know it now, or not)

Go!

[Daily Prompt] May 23 – Before The Parade Passes By

Daily Prompt Logo I spent Saturday afternoon at a small town annual parade here in the eastern part of the US. There were marching bands, local civic organizations and even Mummers from Philadelphia.

Small towns breed all kinds of stories and traditions and secrets. They are ripe settings for stories, especially when you set your story in or around an annual event.

Write A Story Set In A Small Town

[Daily Prompt] May 22 – Elementary

Writing Prompt LogoToday is the birthday of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

This is close to my heart, not only because I love mysteries in general and Holmes in particular (and everything it has inspired), but also because, when I was at university, I used to go past Sir Arthur’s old house every day: he was a student at Edinburgh University and his lodgings are  still in use by the university.

So, today’s post is:

Write something inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

It needn’t be a mystery or a Sherlock Holmes-like story, but perhaps you could have a faithful sidekick whose job is to stand around and say ‘what did you just do there?’ like Dr Watson. Or perhaps you’ll use the word ‘elementary’. Or write something with a brilliant, or manic, or extremely logical lead.

Go!