Get The Results You Want, For Your Writing

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Let’s be honest: fame and fortune would be nice, but it’s not really the reason we write, is it?

We write because we need to. It should be enough but sometimes we want more. This post will lead you through three ways to get yourself closer to your image of ‘writing success’. Continue reading “Get The Results You Want, For Your Writing”

The Best of StoryADay for January 2017

Happy January!

This month’s theme has been ‘Practice’ (as in setting up and maintaining a healthy writing practice).

Here’s what you might have missed:

Podcast

The January 2017 episodes covered:

Stay Excited About Your Writing This Year

Continue reading “The Best of StoryADay for January 2017”

SWAGr Tracking Worksheet – Your Key To Accountability and Productivity

Every month we get together to declare our intentions for the month in the SWAGr post’s comments.

But when the month rolls around to the 20th or so, it can be a bit hard to remember what you committed to doing this month.

Sign up here to receive a handy-dandy worksheet you can download and print out every month, when you make your writing goals.

SWAGr Tracking Sheet image

Get Your SWAGr Tracking Sheet



Write 12 Stories This Year – A Challenge From Alexis A. Hunter

Alexis A. Hunter Twitter ProfileI’ve always been impressed with how much fiction StoryADay friend and participant Alexis A. Hunter pushes out into the world: over 50 short stories in publications like Apex, Shimmer and Cricket.

In 2017, she has committed to writing a new short story every month.

That sounded like my kind of challenge, so I asked her more about it. Continue reading “Write 12 Stories This Year – A Challenge From Alexis A. Hunter”

Stay Excited About Your Writing This Year

To stick to our good intentions and create good writing practices, we have to stay excited about our writing. Meeting a word count goal or an hours-in-chair goal isn’t always enough of an incentive to break through our resistance to sitting down and creating something out of nothing, every day.

So, in this article, I’m offering you some alternative ways to get yourself jazzed about your writing practice.

Of course, being me, I’m going to recommend you incorporate short stories into your writing practice, but you can use these ideas even when you’re working on a scene in a longer work.

I’m going to show you how you can stay excited about your writing practice by:

  • Understanding the purpose of your story and how it affects the final form,
  • Experimenting with new formats and new ideas,
  • Focusing on your audience (but not too much)

I’m also going to give you one foolproof way to make sure you finish your stories, every time.

And then I’m going to invite you to make a very specific commitment to your writing this year—if it seems right for you—one with built-in accountability and support.

Take A Break

Continue reading “Stay Excited About Your Writing This Year”

Make It Better – Best of The Web for Short Story Writers, Oct 2016

This month’s theme here at StoryADay is: Make It Better.

Here’s some recommended reading from around the web on various aspects of making your writing life better.

MAKING YOUR WRITING BETTER

Here are three articles on how you can make your writing better to read, easier to sell, and impossible to put down.

Confessions of A Slush Pile reader – really useful article on why one reader rejected stories from a publication (even if your’e not submitting stories to publications, this is a great list of ‘what will put your reader to sleep’ and help you improve your writing)

Hunting Down Story Goals Plot holes are deadly to your story, but just as deadly are the other ‘holes’ that you might not be thinking about. This article tells you what they are and offers up a handy, printable template for keeping track of the important details. This might be overkill for short-short stories, but could be really useful for longer short stories, novellas and definitely for those of you working on novels.

It’s A Story, Not Just A List of What HappensIn which I offer up some writing advice gleaned from watching an interview with Trey Parker and Matt Stone — of South Park fame, among other things. [quick read]

THE WRITING LIFE

All writing is not created equal, argues James Scott Bell, while Ruthanne Reid shares advice for not quitting even when you can’t write.

The Five Modes of A Writer’s Life James Scott Bell talks about the five types of writing day you might have (from the inspired ‘flow’ state, to the solid reliable quotas of the “pro”). This is an encouraging article to help you make your commitment to your writing better: understanding that every day is not going to be blissful, really helps you stick to your priorities!

3 Steps to Writing When Life Goes NutsWe all have them: weeks (months?) when life gets away from us and writing seems impossible. This encouraging article from Ruthanne Reid commiserates, then gives you some concrete steps to take, to keep your writing life alive.

REVISION WITHOUT TEARS

Two tools to help you revise without drowning in a vat of your own words (and tears).

The 7DayStory – This email course, that I created with Gabriela Pereira of DIYMFA, takes you through the process of writing, REVISING and releasing a short story in seven days. It’s free and, if you’re looking for a methodical way to work through the revision process, pay particular attention to days 3–6

Climbing Mount Revision, One Step At A Time – The guest post that began the 7DayStory process, by Gabriela Pereira of DIYMFA.com

BETTER CRITIQUE GROUPS

Critique is a funny thing. If you get lucky, you find a great group and you’re all mature and experienced. If you’re not so lucky, you get newbies or jerks. If you’re thinking of starting a group (or want to make yours better) start by showing them this video: Professor Puppet’s Writing Critique instructions.

This short, funny video by my buddy Gary Zenker, is a great introduction for anyone new to critique, or who needs a refresher Air this video at the start of your group, to set the ground rules in an entertaining way!

How To Ask For — And Act On — FeedbackIf you have other writers willing to read and critique your work it can be really valuable. Here’s are some of the right, and the wrong ways, to deal with feedback.

I hope these evergreen articles will help you Make It Better this month and in the future.

Do you have any tips for things that have made your writing or your writing life better? Share in the comments!


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Finish Your Book In Three Drafts — An Interview With Stuart Horwitz

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Finish Your Novel In Three Drafts: How To Write A Book, Revise A Book, and Complete A Book While You Still Love It

Every word of that title is important, so go back and read it again.

Doesn’t that sound appealing?

The first time I came across Stuart Horwitz, I was struck by the way his writing instruction bridges the gap between Pantsers and Plotters, and how he provides actual processes and methods for getting from ‘wannabe writer’ to ‘someone who can polish and finish their work’.

His latest book comes out today and provides a powerful, user-friendly guide to getting work done, while LOVING what you do.

It takes you through the process of writing a book in three drafts and includes extras like PDFs and stop-motion animated videos that illustrate the lessons in the book. It’s really delightful and powerful stuff.

I had a chance to interview Stuart Horwitz about his books, his editing work and his own writing this week, and he had some great advice for us, as we work on short stories and perhaps move on to our longer, book-length projects.

Finish Your Novel In Three Drafts. Really?

JD: Why did you want to write this particular book? What problem are you trying to help writers solve?

Stuart Horwitz HeadshotSH: We only have a limited number of books in us — mostly because our time here is limited — and so it becomes a matter of figuring out what are the best books for us to work on, and how we can bring the most excitement to that work and then, how we can get through it, while we still have that energy and affection for it. (Like I say in the subtitle “while you still love it”.) And then move on to the next thing.

Time’s ticking.

And I know this very well because, little-known fact: I trained as a mortician. I walked out of there knowing for a fact that I was going to die. We all are.

Before that time comes, how about we accomplish some shit, you know? That’s all I’m saying.

JD: So how do we do that?

SH: Having a ritual while you write is crucial. There are times when it’s not possible [to fit in everything from your ritual]. We have to recognize that its value doesn’t lie within the ritual itself, it lies in its ability to bring you to a joyful state. It helps us penetrate beyond appearances and figure out why we’re doing this…what we’re doing.

And every writer has to have a process. It doesn’t have to be my process. You can get some from me, four from this other person, and make up 2 of your own and there’s your process. But if you stick to it, it will help you on the less-excited days.

PANTSER OR PLOTTER?

JD: You take a very moderate approach to the whole ‘Write by the seat of your pants’ vs ‘Outline everything’ debate. You sound terribly reasonable.

SH: We like to call it The Middle Way in Buddhism.

There’s always a reason to bend the rule and there’s always a reason to practice discipline.

KNOW WHAT DRAFT YOU’RE IN

JD: The thing that helped me immensely, every time I read your books, is the concept of “Knowing What Draft You’re In”. Can you explain that a bit?

SH: The first draft is just getting it down – The Messy Draft. The second draft is the Method Draft which is about making it make sense. The Third Draft is the Polish Draft which is about making it good.

So, when you sit down to start, it’s all First Draft.

And when you do action steps to figure out what you’re actually working with and then take the best parts up a level, it becomes the Second Draft.

And then you go through your beta-reading process, bring in outside input, and use that to get to your third draft, which is your polish draft.

And I’m talking about a real draft. I’m not talking about tweaking. Like: these five scenes are all going in trash. And: I need scenes that aren’t here yet. Adding three commas? That’s not a draft. That’s just ornamentation. That’s chasing perfection.

The secret to the three drafts is that when, during the second draft, you uncover holes and start writing that scene, remember that new scene is in its first draft. If you stare at that new piece and say, “Why aren’t you as good as everything else already?” it’s going to be madness.

Keep in mind, every time you encounter new material it’s first draft.

JD: How do you know what to work on next, in revisions?

SH: There are action steps [in his books – JD] that you can take between drafts which will reveal to you what you are working on, more clearly.

Mapping the journey we’re on at the same time that we’re on it, gets kind of dizzying/confusing.

We need a separation between the viewer and the subject matter.
I’m a big fan of grids [Here, I refer you to Stuart’s books and his website because this is a big, meaty and really useful subject – JD]

AVOIDING OVERWHELM

JD: How can a short story writer avoid overwhelm at the thought of writing a novel?

SH: I like to break it down in to writing sessions. The question is “how many writing sessions does it take”? From my own experience: I have a short story that is probably one session away from nailed and that is Number 5.

So it’s the same concept. My second book, Book Architecture Method, took 60 writing sessions.

You show up to one of those 60 sessions, you necessarily have to reduce the scope of your expectations. What am I doing today? I’m not writing a novel today. I’m writing a part of a chapter in a draft today.

I’m going to take the rest of that junk out of my mind and I’m going to sit down and write, and I’m gonna write what I was thought I was writing, and I’m going to discover new stuff, and I’m going t write stuff that isn’t good, and I’m going write stuff that is good, and I’m going to keep going, and I’m going to get to the end of this session.

When I get to the end of the session, if I’ve made progress, that’s a win.

ON WRITING WITH CONFIDENCE

JD: It’s easy as writers to judge ourselves as having failed. You idea of grids and process and ritual take the emotion out of the revision process.

SH: Self judgement is a very complex phenomenon and has many many faces. There may be a reason why that never really goes away: a tension exists where our need to constantly slay that dragon helps us bring forth our best work, or brings us to our edge. But the nagging, griping voices in our heads are, for the most part, not contributing to the forward motion.

You have to believe in yourself first. That is probably the hardest thing about writing. It’s probably one of the harder things about living, so practice in one helps with the other.

ON FINISHING

JD: I stress finishing stories during StoryADay. Your books are all about helping writers finish books. Why do you think so many writers never finish their projects?

SH: There are a lot of reasons why people don’t finish. [Sometimes] there’s some pretty deep psychological stuff going on. Somewhere there was a message that was encoded that ‘you are not good enough’.

Then the people who didn’t get that message, and who actually suck a lot worse with you, are filling up the airwaves with what they did. And now we’re having to read ten books by them before we get one book by you.

The fact is if you have 10 people who are reading what you have to say you can write something great. you can even write something great if one person is listening to you.

———————————————————

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Finish Your Novel In Three Drafts: How To Write A Book, Revise A Book, and Complete A Book While You Still Love It

This book is a fabulous introduction to Stuart Horwitz’s method for writing and revising works of any length, and I can’t recommend it enough. Pick up a copy today.

Welcome to StoryADay, Week Five!

This is it! Can you believe it?

Three more days to go!

I’m calling this partial-week The Last Hurrah.

This week we’re going to:

  • torture your characters
  • look at the rule of three

And then on the final day I am encouraging you to

  • go big or go home.

(Actually, you’ll probably go big and go home, but that’s OK too)

I applaud everyone who is still turning up at this point in the challenge whether or not you’ve written every day, whether or not that all your goals, the fact that you’re still turning up here makes you a winner in my book.

Three more days. Let’s do this!!

Cinderella Story Structure

Write a story with a Cinderella story structure: try, fail, try, fail, try, fail, life-changing moment.

We’re starting our week of Story Elements prompts with a deep dive into story structure.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

The Prompt

Write A Story With a “Cinderella Story Structure

The Life-Changing Moment

I come to believe that short stories revolve around one life changing moment.

It doesn’t have to be literally life-changing, but it has to change something for the characters (temporarily or permanently).

If you’re writing quiet internal literary fiction, the moment is going to be something small, like realizing you can’t go on in this relationship, or this job.

If the story is a big action thriller then the life-changing moment could be anything from the moment you decide you need to take action, to the moment when you win or lose.

A Cinderella Story Structure

Cinderella Story Structure

In the story of Cinderella our heroine wants to find happiness. She tries and fails and tries and fails. A lot.

  • She tries to find it by being nice to her sisters and stepmother, but they just treat her terribly.
  • She tries to find it by going to the ball, but she’s not allowed to go.
  • She tries to find it from her fairy godmother. This one almost works, but there are time limits and she fails. When the love-struck prince can’t find her, all is lost.

Eventually, the life-changing moment comes at the end of the story when the prince finds her and Cinderella gets to choose her happy ending.

(In most versions she says yes and marries the prince; in every version, this choice is the first time Cinders has had any power. This is when her life changes.

So, this is where the story ends because the character’s story arc is over: She has her chance to reach her goal, at long last.

How To Write A Cinderella Story

Write a story with a Cinderella story structure: try, fail, try, fail, try, fail, life-changing moment.

  • Let you character want something. In Cinderella’s case she wants happiness. Your character might want anything from fulfillment to a piece of chocolate cake!
  • Start the story with the character in a place where they don’t have the thing they want.
  • Let us see the character trying to achieve their goal once, twice, three times.
  • The first failure can be pretty small. (She drops a perfect piece of chocolate cake on the floor.) The second failure should be a little more discouraging. (She goes to the shop and discovers they’re out of cake.) The third failure should seem insurmountable.(The government bans chocolate cake!)
  • These failures have taught the character how much they want their goal and that the only way to achieve it is through using their unique talents. Now the climax is on. (In my story, for example, my witty and feisty heroine decides to run a political campaign and get elected to office in order to strike down this terrible anti-chocolate cake legislation. Your story could be more serious.)
  • The story ends when the character realizes what needs to be done and makes the decision to pursue it or to walk away. In a short story you don’t have to show was the rest of the events. The arc, the journey, for the character is over at the moment when they see the path to pursuing their goal.
  • Of course this is not the case in every story structure but in this story structure, the Cinderella story structure, the character’s journey — and the story — ends here.

Welcome to StoryADay 2016

Welcome to Week One!

This weeks’s theme: Limits

I know you’re excited. I know you want to get started on your great masterpiece. But setting that kind of pressure on yourself is the fastest way I know to a crippling case of writers block.

This week I’m going to impose limits on your writing that will make it almost impossible for you to write something great. This is my gift to you.

Continue reading “Welcome to StoryADay 2016”

Stop Sabotaging Your Writing Dreams – March 2016 Newsletter

StoryADay News March 2016

In This Issue

  • News & Notes – The Warm Up Course Is Back + Podcast Intern
  • Featured Articles – Permission To Write
  • Coming This Month – Productivity
  • Inspiration – Reading Room and Writing Prompts
  • SWAGr – Commit to your writing
  • Podcast Engineer Intern

News & Notes

Welcome, all! (Including the 59 people who joined the list last month!)

It’s already March, which means we have something like eight weeks until StoryADay May! I’m shaking up a few things this year, so stayed tuned for next month’s newsletter that’ll tell you what’s new, and how to be first into ‘behind the velvet rope’ community when it opens up again in late April.

In the meantime, let’s spend three of those weeks together, warming up for StoryADay.

I’m running a LIVE version of the StoryADay Warm Up Course again this year, with (new this year) a private Facebook group.

(And yes, if you’ve ever taken the course before or bought the Home Study version, you can join in this time around, for free!)

It all kicks off on April 2, 2016, so watch your inboxes for more news about that.

February’s Theme: Permission To Write

Sometimes the hardest thing about writing is getting started…and a lot of that is to do with allowing ourselves to get over our fears and doubts. In these three articles I talked about ways to stop sabotaging your writing dreams and instead, give yourself permission to write.

These articles all have audio embedded, so if you have things to do but can’t bear to stop ‘reading’ click on the “play” button. If you’d like more of these (or if you’d like hem in podcast form — downloaded automatically onto your device of choice) let me know by replying to this email.

How To Be A Successful Writer

In which I use the Pixar movie Wall-E to encourage you to succeed on your own terms…

Want To Write More?

In which I bust all your writing excuses (and give you a little pep talk, too…

Your Right To Write

In which I award you a printable certificate that guarantees you Permission to Write 😉 …

Coming This Month – Productivity

Having dealt with building good writing Habits in January, and given sourceless Permission To Write in February, this month at the blog, I turn my attention to Productivity.

You want to write, you believe you should be writing, maybe you are writing.

Now you need to ramp up that word count, or that story count, and get in some serious writing practice.

Watch the blog for weekly articles on the business of creative productivity.

Inspiration – The Tuesday Reading Room

If you want to write short stories you should be reading short stories. I’ve reviewed a selection of short stories this month, including stories by Richard Matheson and Adam Foulds.

SWAGr

Have you posted your goals for March in our Serious Writers’ Accountability Group yet? Check out this post, and add your pledge in the comments.

Remember, you don’t have to pledge to do anything particularly impressive. It can be “read three short stories this month” if that’s what works for you.

Just remember to come back next month and tell us how you got on.

Accountability, geddit?

Podcast Intern Opportunity

Would you like to get some practice editing, uploading and managing a podcast workflow?

I’ve been recording audio of the blog posts all year, and would love to put out a regular podcast, but the time required to edit and splice and upload and notate is defeating me.

If you’re interested in online business, audio production, or podcasting and would like to learn more about Libsyn, iTunes, metadata and social media marketing, we need to talk.

You will:

  • Take my audio and check it for flubs and mistakes
  • Edit intro and outro loops that I supply, onto each episode.
  • Check volume levels
  • Upload audio to Libsyn (including adding metadata for episodes)
  • Create episode listings (‘show notes’) post of the blog.
  • Have Skype training sessions and consultation with me.

Interested? Email me (julie at storyaday dot org) and let me know!

 

Phew! OK, that was a lot of news. Inspired? Check out these writing prompts before you go. And now,

Keep writing!

Julie

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Happy 6th Birthday, StoryADay May!

Six years ago today, I posted this at StoryADay.org

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(Of course, the site didn’t look like that, back then. And look, I haven’t even set up any categories for the posts yet. Bless.)

That first year about 100 writers joined me in my harebrained scheme, largely due to the fact that the very lovely Debbie Ohi is unable to resist a challenge (or the urge to blog about it), and spread the word.

Since then, thousands of writers have started writing again, written their first-to-be-published story, embarked on careers as novelists and generally had a ripping good time.

We’ve started hosting challenges in September too.

I’ve published books and run courses.

Neil Gaiman, Gretchen Rubin, Heidi Durrow, Joe R. Lansdale and more have posted guest writing prompts for us to enjoy.

And this year, in less than two months, the seventh annual StoryADay May starts up.

Are you in?

I Hereby Grant You Permission To Write

In the middle of the 20th Century “Art” because professionalized, to the point where we felt we didn’t deserve to tell stories unless a New York publishing house was slapping it between hardcovers, or an overpriced university program anointed us “Writer, MFA”.

This was an aberration; a moment in history that did not exist before and does not exist now.

Humans have always sat around and told each other stories, without the benefit of editors or tutors or anyone giving us permission. We told stories to audiences, and we gauged their reaction in order to make our stories better next time.

The success of the “amateurs doing things on TV” genre (American Idol, The Voice, Dancing With The Stars) along with the boom in indie publishing, indie movie making, indie everything making, are signs that the artificial workshop of creative professionals is over. Humans are taking back control of our own creativity.

Are you?

Tell your stories. Show them to people. Make them better. Write new stories.
That’s all there is to it.

You have every right to write. In fact, print out this certificate and write your name on it.

Permission To Write Certificate Thumbnail

There. You have my permission to write.

Can you give yourself permission to write?

Want To Learn To Write More? Give Yourself Permission To Write

We all imagine a perfect time when the obstacles will fall away and Writing Will Happen. And We’re All Wrong…

Pencils

We all have reasons why we’re not writing.

  • We’re too busy.
  • We’re too tired.
  • We don’t have anything to say.
  • We’ve tried before and failed to finish.
  • We have to get these pencils lined up just right…

We all have reasons why we’re not writing right now:

  • We’ll do it after you’ve settled in to this new job.
  • We’ll do it at the weekend.
  • We’ll do it when the kids go to sleep.
  • We’ll do it when the sun comes out.
  • We’ll do it on a rainy day
  • We’ll do it when we retire.

We all imagine a perfect time when the obstacles will fall away and Writing Will Happen.

Except We’re All Wrong

In all of it.

Too Tired?

Maybe, but remember how invigorated you felt last time you got into that flow state while writing, and the time just flew away? Continue reading “Want To Learn To Write More? Give Yourself Permission To Write”