Ever have one of those lessons that you know, but you need life to kick you in the face with again and again, because you can’t make yourself learn it otherwise?
I’m currently letting life kick me in the face with this one:
Write First. Then Let Life Happen.
It’s hard to make time for writing. It’s harder when you’re worrying about all the other things you have to do as well.
Do you peek at your email before you sit down to work on your current writing project?
Do you do a survey of all the projects you want to work on?
Do you check Twitter, because, c’mon each tweet is only 140 characters long?
And do you end up finding it harder and harder to start work on your actual writing?
Join me in my new pledge: Write First.
As much as I possibly can, I pledge to Write First.
The rest of life will catch up with me as soon as it possibly can, whether or not I invite it in. So when I sit down to write, I will write first, email later.
To help me with this pledge, here are some things I’m going to do
Plan what I’m going to work on before my next writing session begins – I don’t want to sit down and think ‘hmm, what will I work on today?’. I want to sit down, knowing that I’m working on that scene where my main character is doing this thing. Or that I’m going to take this story idea and turn it into a first draft. If I have to plan this the night before, fine. If I have to plan it while I’m driving home from a day of Real Life, that’s OK too. But I need to be ready to go as soon as I sit down.
I will not have any social media windows open until after I have reached my goal for the day.
I will not give up until I have reached my word count or project goal for the day. Even if I’m feeling stabby.
How about you? Will you join me? What will your ‘rules’ be?
It’s hard enough to find time to write. Then, when you finally do, you face the paralysis of the blank page/blinking cursor.
The most useful tool I have discovered for getting past that frozen moment of potential is to do some warm-up writing.
Morning Pages And The Truth Point
I first discovered this technique in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way in the form of her morning pages.
Cameron advises you to sit down first thing every morning and write three pages’ worth of nothing in particular, just to see what come out. She lets you get several weeks into the program before asking,
Have you discovered the Truth Point yet?
And I had.
I discovered that somewhere on the second page (if I was writing longhand), my writing went from being awkward to flowing. Try it. After a page or two, you’ll find something to write about or you might just find your descriptions getting more interesting, your turn of phrase more entertaining and natural.
After writing ‘nothing’ for three pages, you’ll be able to plunge into an actual writing project and be at your best on the first line.
Flash forward a decade or two, and the website 750words.com offers an online version of Morning Pages, complete with somewhere to do your writing in case you don’t want to write on your blog or in a notebook that someone might find.
The host of 750words.com credits Cameron with inspiring the site, and says that 750 words is the ‘truth point’ for many people.
I have writing friends who blog first thing in the morning just as a way of warming up. Other people write letters to friends.
Tips For Warm-Up Writing
The only thing I would add is that, like 750words.com, you should be free to protect your warm-up writing. It’s not meant for display. It’s meant as warm-up. If you’re happy posting your warm-up writing to a blog or posting it off toa friend, great. But protect yourself as much as you need to.
And no sneaking off and reading Twitter or Facebook, or your favourite author, now!
This week I’m bringing you news of a great new short story writing challenge from StoryADay member, Simon Kewin.
Next year Simon and his friends Milo James Fowler and Stephen V. Ramey have pledged to Write1Sub1 – that’s Write One Story and Submit One Story every week of the year (actually, Simon’s taking Christmas off, but still…). You can submit to magazines, websites, or short story contests – anywhere that takes writing seriously.
And they’re not keeping this challenge to themselves: they’re inviting everyone to kick their writing career up a notch by joining in. At the end of this year of intensive writing, you certainly should have figured out how to write a short story, don’t you think?
Here’s an interview with Simon to tell you more. Links to more short story writer’s information are at the end.
What were your inspiration and your personal motivation for this challenge?
Ray Bradbury was our original inspiration. He is supposed to have completed and submitted a short story every week for a year while establishing himself.
The idea for Write1Sub1 materialised during a comment discussion on Milo’s blog and it took off from there. The point is obviously to help our own writing : to provide a focus and an incentive, a sense of community. We’re all keen short story writers and this seemed like a great way to motivate us to write more.
What are the ‘rules’?
The idea is to write a story and submit a story every week for 2011. It doesn’t have to be the same story as obviously it can take more than a week to polish a piece! Those taking part can define “story” as they like : it could be as short as a flash or nano piece for example. It could even be a poem. Whatever works for you.
Some people like the idea but have decided to Write1Sub1 on a monthly rather than a weekly basis, which is fine. Hopefully the challenge will still be a help to them.
How do people join in?
There’s theWrite1Sub1 blogto follow and there’s also a Linky there to “sign up”. We plan to do a weekly check in post on a Sunday for everyone to share their experiences of the week. We’ll do a monthly one too for those doing it that way. There is also a Twitter hashtag people can follow – #Write1Sub1 – and there are banners on the blog folks can download.
Where will you submit?
Good question! The people who’ve signed up write a wide variety of different things, so I suppose we’ll all have our own target markets. But we’re putting together a page of useful resources on the blog for tracking down markets, and obviously, sharing our experiences on the blog should be a great help.
How will you stay motivated (esp when the inevitable rejections come in) ?
Hopefully being part of theWrite1Sub1community will be a big help here. It’s definitely a help to know others are going through the same experiences! And of course, the thought of receiving the end-of-year “winner” banner will be a huge incentive!
There are so many articles in the world already about ‘how to write a short story’, but I’m a firm member of the ‘learn to write by writing’ school or thought. (And reading, of course!). This is one project I’m not going to be able to resist, although I’ll be signing up for the monthly version (there are banners for that too, at theWrite1Sub1 site).
It should ensure that I don’t get lazy and forget how to write a short story between now and May, when StoryADay starts up again!
Acres of Internet space have already been devoted to this topic, because it’s a tough one. There are as many solutions as there are people who want to write, so there is always room for one more blog post on the topic.
In this 3-post series, I’m going to give you some thoughts, some links and some tools, to help inspire you to find time for your writing.
TIME FOUND UNDER SOFA CUSHIONS!
There is a reason you never see that headline. Time is never found. Time is made, cadged, scrimped, stolen, begged, borrowed, spent.
There is always something else you could be doing. Always. The trick is, finding ways to make time for the things that really matter to you.
Make Tough Sacrifices
I’m saying this first, to get it over with because it sounds awful, but you will have to make sacrifices if you want to make writing a priority. Some of these sacrifices will be hard.
Today I turned down a walk with a friend, which I know would have been lovely. Sometimes a walk with a friend is the perfect thing to boost your creativity. But for me, this week, it would eat into the only clear time I have to Get Stuff Done. Some of that stuff is mundane, household stuff, but part of that Stuff is Writing & Writing Prep.
No matter how nice that walk would have been, I had to say ‘no’. Next week, I’ll budget my time differently to make sure I can say ‘yes’.
Make Easy Sacrifices
Some things will be easy to give up, or at least good for you.
Me? I overeat. When I’m stressed or bored I head for the pantry and strap on the nosebag. It uses up time and leaves me comfortably numb. But if I’m serious about my writing, I resist the nosebag, make light, healthy meals and get back to my notebook. Good for productivity and good for my heart.
An ‘hour long’ TV show is actually 42 minutes of content. The rest is commercials. Why not record your favourite shows or download them from iTunes? Even if you still watch two shows in an evening, you could carve out 36 minutes for writing just by watching it commercial-free and still get to bed at the same time.
What changes could you make, even if occasionally, to create more time for the thing you really love to do?
Accept That You Can Write In Bursts
You don’t need long swathes of time in which to write. In fact, that can be bad for productivity. As someone who has suffered prolonged bouts of enforced inactivity (lack of a work visa, looking after small children) I can tell you that more free time does not make writing easier. You just get more creative with your excuses.
Jamming in 250 words here and there on your commute — a 1000 if you’re lucky on a lunch break — keeps your writing feeling like a treat, not a chore.
Plus, it’s how most full-time writers started. Stephen King wrote after shifts at the laundromat. Scott Turow wrote bits and pieces while working as for the US Attorney’s office. Most ‘literary fiction’ writers have quite demanding schedules teaching at colleges and conferences. Even if they do get to take a semester off to finish a novel, they can hardly wait for inspiration to strike during that one precious semester.
Accept That You Can Write In Big Long Jags
If you do get the chance to write in a big binge on the weekends, go for it. Don’t feel guilty. Some people spend hours watching sports every Sunday. Do what you enjoy; what makes you a better person. Negotiate with family/friends for writing time if you have to, and write as fast as you can for as long as you can, whenever you get the chance.
Separate Your Thinking Time and Your Writing Time
On that note, don’t put off thinking about your story even if you don’t have time to sit down and write. When do get some writing time, you want the ideas to be flowing. You can think about the next plot development while you are doing any menial task (of which we all have plenty).
But do try to focus. It’s hard to stop your mind wandering off to the sequel or what you’ll do with your wealth when people are using your name where they used to use Stephen King’s. Rein it in. Focus on the next scene, the next bit of dialogue, the next plot twist. Make notes if you have to. Better yet, commit the ideas to memory, then you’ll be turning them over and over until it’s time to write.
Then, when you do carve your 36 minutes out of the evening’s schedule, your fingers will be twitching. You’ll be ready to jump right in.
Scare Yourself Straight
If you find yourself frittering your time away on Facebook or Twitter or in front of the TV when you know you could be writing, take an excellent piece of advice from Jon Scalzi:
“Think of yourself on your deathbed saying, “well, at least I watched a lot of TV.”
Take a moment now. Picture it. Use that fertile imagination of yours.
If you aren’t already sweating, then maybe there is a whole other reason why you can’t and won’t find time to write.
And that’s OK, too. Maybe you’re really a reader, a critic, an enthusiastic conneseur of the narrative form. Join a book group or a film society and have fun with your life. Just stop beating yourself up about not finding time to write.
But if you’re a writer, make time. You’ll never “Find” It.
Am I being glib? Smug? Wrong? Have you found things that work for you? Tell me in the comments.
My favourite comment earns the writer an advance copy of the Time Test Tool I’m working on, to be launched to the Creativity Lab mailing list in two weeks.
As writers we’re curious. About everything. About people, technology, history, our neighbours, everything.
I’m particularly curious about other writers and how they work, what keeps them going, why they do it.
So here’s the first in a series of interviews with writers, starting with writers who took part in the StoryADay challenge last May.
AdorablyAlice was one of our most active writers during the first challenge. In this interview she gives a lot of credit for her writing success to her secret weapon: her friend and mentor: Cid (also a StoryADay veteran). I’d love it if you’d leave a comment below, picking out one thing from this interview that stood out for you: something that sounded sooooo familiar it made you smile, or something you’d like to try in your own writing life.
Before you started StoryADay how would you have described your writing life?
I used to write a lot when I was younger. Sometime after high school, I stopped. It wasn’t until NaNoWriMo 2009 that I began writing again. So between NaNo and StADa, I was still trying to find a balance between work, school, life and writing.
What made you decide to do StoryADay?
Cid. I found out about StADa through her, and because short story is my weakest point, I thought it would be a good challenge. Plus, I thought it would help me get into the habit of writing daily.
What did you expect to achieve? What did you actually achieve? What did you learn during the challenge?
I wanted to write something every day, and I wanted to get stronger at writing short stories. I did write everyday, but I think I’m still weak in writing short stories. I learned about Twitter fiction, which intrigued me, and I actually wrote a few TwitFic pieces.
How do you make time for writing?
This is a good question. And when I have an answer that doesn’t involve neglecting chores/cooking, I’ll let you know.
Why do you write? What keeps you motivated?
I am most productive on #writersdatenight (yes, I have to include the Twitter hashtag). Once a week a group of five writers (including myself) meet at McAllister’s to eat, socialize a little and write. Because the other four ladies have been writing longer than I have, I feel motivated to write a lot when I’m around them. The sound every one typing is motivating. I’ve tried other writing groups, but they’ve been more socializing than writing, so I don’t enjoy them as much. Lately, Cid has been setting goals for me. Write 5K and get a book. Write 5K and have a Glee marathon. It works. She’s awesome.
What are your aspirations?
Well, I’d love to be published and that’ s definitely a long term goal, but more short term…I’d like to finish a story. Well, I’ve finished a few, but I don’t revise. So a good aspiration would be to go back and revise…lol
Do you have a project or website you’d like to tell people about?
Well, there’s Book-Addicts. There are four of us (Cid’s one of them) and we basically review books across all genres, interview authors, have guest blog spots and book giveaways. It’s a pretty awesome place for people who are as addicted to reading as we are. www.book-addicts.com – get your fix!
I also have my personal website, www.adorablyalice.com, I keep up with how I’m doing as a writer, offering the lessons I learn as I delve into the mysterious ways of The Writer.
Thanks, Alice! (And you can read more about Alice’s experiences with her writers’ groups and productivity in this blog post – which features a fun cartoon from my own writing friend and secret mentor, Debbie Ohi.)
[And one more thing: I’d love to interview you about your writing, no matter what stage you’re at or whether or not you’ve done one of these creative challenges, so leave me a comment below if you’d be willing to chat.]
What are your best tips for approaching NaNoWriMo?
I love short stories
I love writing them, reading them, dissecting them.
…but for the past 10 years or so I’ve been tempted by National Novel Writers’ Month: Write a novel in a month.
I’m put off by the time commitment – with two small, demanding kids, a part-time job and a husband i actually like to spend time with – I can’t imagine making time.
But now I have writing friends from Story A Day who are urging me to try it for reals this year. And, for the first time, I don’t have a baby, visitors or crisis hanging over me.
So what are your best strategies for approaching NaNo, all you veterans and pushers?
What do you do before November, during November, when things are going well, when things are going badly? How do you pace your novel? What are the absolute must-do tactics for you? What are the traps and time-sinks?
Please comment below, or write your answer on your own blog and leave a link here. Remember: complete newbie here. Tell me anything, even things you’d forgotten you once didn’t know
I’ve been reading Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook, which is a rollocking, inspiring come-along-with-me look over the shoulder of one of the busiest writers in British TV…Here are some excellent insights for less-experienced writers, pulled from the book:
I’ve been reading Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale, , which is a rollocking, inspiring come-along-with-me look over the shoulder of the busiest writer in British TV. The book contains correspondence (mostly email) between Davies, the show-runner of the modern Doctor Who series and Cook, a journalist. The emails are written while Davies is in the midst of dreaming up, writing and producing not just one but three concurrent TV shows. It has a breathlessness and reality that you wouldn’t get if you just sat a writer down and said,
“So, how do you write?”
I came away from the book with a sense that successful, highly-paid writers have it no easier than the rest of us, even though we daydream that they do. They still get blocked, they still have to sit down and do the work, and in fact, it might be harder for them because the stakes are higher.
Here are some of my favorite excerpts about writing so far.
On Procrastination and Blocks
I spent all day stuck, not writing, because I couldn’t work out a way for the Doctor to meet Miss Hartigan… I couldn’t work out how to do it, where to do it, when. All day, gone. Pissed off. Then I sat down to write, with no solution and… thought of it! Immediately. Obvious. Simple. If I’d started sooner…Ah, the only way to write is to write. For all my banging on about what to do if you’re really stuck on something, there’s nothing dumber than sitting there writing nothing at all. Stupid bastard job.
Doesn’t it make you feel better to know that someone as apparently prolific and actually successful as Davies still forgets this? I know I do.
Finding The Confidence To Write
I was astounded to run across the following line from this seemingly-somewhat-arrogant writer, written the night before a meeting to lay out a new series’ story ideas with other writers and production staff.
Oh god. I am dreading it. I feel out of my depth.
(Now bear in mind that Davies has been working in TV, very successfully, since the 1980s. He has created and written around 10 original TV productions,before he even got to the mammoth 5-series of Doctor Who and its two spin-offs. )
Most of the correspondence in this book is florid, energetic, conversational. This staccato yelp really leapt out at me. It seemed both true and familiar. Only Davies has a contract and a budget and a huge staff of people relying on him for their employment so he can’t scurry away from his fears and just stop writing.
On why we write (and why it is so hard):
…truth, in writing, is the only important thing. That’s what it’s for. The whole time, every day, all these pages, all my life, means sitting here looking for something – some line, some insight, some microsecond – that makes me think: yes. Yes, that’s true. That’s real. I recognize that. I know it. That’s all I’m after! It might be a truth discovered ten million times before by other people, but that doesn’t matter. If you discover it for yourself, then that makes everything worthwhile. No wonder writing is such hard work! You’re strip mining your own head, every day, searching for this stuff – and then those moments of revelation are like a godsend.
The discovery of a truth like that doesn’t come along often, though every other moment is spent working towards it.
It’s so worth it, when it happens. Oh my word. Gold dust. It feels like vindication.
I think I’m going to tape this one up above my desk.
When I said I was going to write a Story A Day in May, plenty of people looked at me with *that look* in their eyes, or said thinks like,
‘Well, good luck…”.[1. I expect if you’ve ever taken on any kind of creative assignment (not directly related to a paycheck) you know what I mean by *that look*.]
“Why?” was the most common question. Good question. If we’re not writing for money, then why do we write?
“How ?” was the second most common question.
I wasn’t 100% sure about the answer to either. After a month of attempting to write a story a day I do have some answers.
How To Be A Prolific Writer – Even When You Don’t Have Time
I’m not going to lie and say it was easy to find time for writing this month. In fact, I almost never ‘found’ time. I ‘made’ time.
Making time means something else had to give. Sometimes it was housework, but more often it was the relatively random consuming of information that I do. The BBC news website might have been minus a few thousand hits this month, my personal blog was updated less. The grocery shopping got more, er, targeted.
But the biggest lesson I learned about the “How” was this:
How To Write Anything
Write until it is finished.
It is one of those annoying pieces of advice that mean almost nothing until you try it.
Sitting down to write can be paralyzing. It is so much easier to get up and walk away — tell yourself you don’t have time — than it is to start writing.
I had to, so I used story prompts, memories, jokes, other people’s stories, to get me started. I put my pen on the page (quite literally) and told myself to write a sentence. Anything. One day I started by simply describing where I was sitting. It turned into a story about a homicide detective!
So, the answer to ‘how to write’ becomes quite simply:
Commit to doing it. Make time. Start writing.
(I did learn a bunch of other trick for helping with that, which I’ll be writing about soon.)
Once I had started figuring out the ‘how’ I was amazed to discover a n amazing set of benefits in the ‘why’ column – some that I had not expected.
I found that, if I sat down and got a story started in the morning,
It energized me. I was more (not less) likely to take care of the laundry, the dishes, the 1001 other mundane things that we usually blame for getting in the way of our writing.
I became more responsible and attentive to all my obligations, from family to my business.
My brain was less fuzzy. I spent less time worrying about all the things I ought to be doing, and, instead, started crossing things off the list, prioritizing better than ever, in order to get back to my writing (to make time for it).
I paid attention to the world around me. I was doing that thing people talk about as ‘living mindfully’. I was doing it in order to gather ideas and snippets for stories, but no matter why you do it, mindfulness is acknowledged by religions, psychologists and hippies, to be A Good Thing.
I found I had more time to give to people, because I wasn’t constantly feeling like I ought to be doing something, or resenting the time they were taking from things I really wanted to do. I had made time for myself and my thing, and now I could take an interest in you and yours.
I even wrote my way out of a really foul temper one day, just by letting my characters do and say things I never would, in real life, being all well-brung up and all that.
So the sort answer to ‘why do you write?’ is just this:
It makes me a better, happier person.
As an added bonus, posting some of my stories, made some readers happy. Granted,a lot oft hem were related to me, but some were complete strangers.
If you have ever thought about doing one of those creative challenges like NaNoWriMo, or The Artist’s Way or any other challenge, I highly encourage you to commit to doing it. What you gain will be so much more than you sacrifice. What you learn will be so much different from what you expect.
The best short stories can say a lot, but they don’t try to do too much.
A short story is not a novel…
The best short stories can say a lot, but they don’t try to do too much.
Writing a story a day is going to be a huge challenge. Inventing characters and settings and inhabiting them for just one day? Huge.
Don’t try to do too much.
We don’t have the time or space to tell wandering epics.
We have time for one incident or one central character or theme [1. by the way all of this is also not true. In writing rules are made to be broken. Except that one about the apostrophe. I will hunt you down and smack your palm with a ruler if you put an apostrophe before the “s” in a plural!]
If your story starts to wander towards an interesting side character, slap that character’s hand and promise him he can be the hero of tomorrow’s story. If you find yourself backtracking to show too much of what happened before the ‘now’ of your story, file the idea and write a prequel tomorrow.
The beauty of writing aevery day is that you don’t have to do it all today. You can write tomorrow. In fact, you have to!
Finish Today, Plan For Tomorrow
So finish the story you started (even if you’ve fallen out of love with it) and make note of all the other ideas that were so good they butted in today.
Good writers are those who keep the language efficient. That is to say, keep it accurate, keep it clear.