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

If you want to read more like this, let me send future articles straight to your inbox:

Happy 6th Birthday, StoryADay May!

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

 Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 7.14.40 PM
(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”

How To Become A Highly Successful Writer

Dancing

There’s a scene towards the end of the movie WALL-E when the captain of the only remaining human ark-in-space realizes it’s time to go home to Earth. They’ve been away for generations. By any reasonable measure, he’s been successful. His ship is still flying. His people are still alive and procreating. Everything is running smoothly.

But, in his research, the captain falls down  a hyperlinked-rabbit-hole of cultural practices that humanity has simply forgotten.

“Computer,” he says, prompted by the previous entry. “Define: dancing.”

Imagine an existence where we’ve forgotten about dancing! Would you consider that kind of existence ‘successful’?

DEFINE: SUCCESS

Continue reading “How To Become A Highly Successful Writer”

What Are The Last Three Books You Opened?

Sometimes, when it’s hard to pick a writing project, it can be useful to take inspiration from other authors.

Sometimes, it’s good to review what kinds of books we’re reading and ask whether or not they are helping us in our writing.

Sometimes, it’s just fun to challenge our friends.

So here’s my challenge to you: tell me about the last three books you opened

(Not your favorite books, not books you wanted to read, not books you think will impress me. What books did you open? And yes, this can be in ebook, audio or picture book form)

Share your #last3books on your blog or social media and/or in the comments below. Then post this challenge to your friends.

Magnificat Year of Mercy Companion

This is part of my challenge to myself to read a spiritual meditation every morning. I hope that this will continue all year (and if it does, I may ‘retire’ it from this list.)

A mixture of personal stories, poetry, reflections on scripture, lives of the saints and litanies, it’s a positive way to start the day. It makes me less selfish.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

I’m switching back and forth between the ebook and the audio version, because a, it’s looooong, b, it’s huge fun, and c, the narrator, Michael Page, is fabulous.

Set in a densely realized fantasy world, centered in one city, but so deeply developed that I have confidence there’s a whole universe around it. Locke Lamora is a lovable rogue, who, with his gang ‘The Gentleman Bastards’, tries to pull of the biggest scheme of his life and ends up in more trouble than even he could ever have imagined. There is magic in this universe but it is expensive, therefore it is sparely, which makes me happy. I prefer relatable tales of people getting in and out of scrapes on their own wits and training.

It’s an incredible feat, especially for a debut novel. The language is rich and earthy and witty (like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s lovechild, if it had been abandoned and raised in a gutter). It is long though. I kind of wish it was a series of three shorter books, so I could enjoy one, put it down and sigh, and then look forward to he next one. There’s certainly enough story there, for that. But that’s not the choice they made, so I’ll be picking this on up for some time to come.

Unstoppable by Bill Nye

In spite of the negative connotations of the title, Bill Nye’s book about the mess we’ve made of our planet is far from a downer. In fact, the “Unstoppable” force he’s referring to is not climate change, but us: humanity.

With his trademark chatty tone and irrepressible optimism, he points out all the problems we face and encourages the next generation to be bold, and believe that they can come up with solutions, if only they care enough.

Great read.

 

So, those are the last three books I opened. What about you? Leave a comment!

Don’t forget to share the challenge. Here are some updates you might use:

What are the last three books you opened? Take the #Last3BooksChallenge http://storyaday.org/last–3-feb

 

Dare to share the last three books you opened? Take the #Last3BookChallenge http://storayday.org/last-3-feb

Beyond Word Count – Other Ways To Log Your Writing Progress

I’ve made a case for logging your word count to keep yourself accountable, to give yourself a pat on the back, to encourage consistency and good writing habits.

But it doesn’t have to be word count.

WHEN WORD COUNTS HELP

Setting a word count goal makes sense if you’re working on a novel and want it finished by X date.

It also makes sense if you want to become a faster writer.

WHAT IF THAT DOESN’T WORK FOR YOU?

It might not make sense to set a word count goal  if you’re still struggling to create a writing habit. Or if you’re writing flash fiction.

And what if you’re int he editing (or marketing) phase of a project, but still want to feel productive?

In these cases, you might want to to track the number of days on which you worked, to see how your writing practice is becoming part of your life.

HOW TO LOG YOUR DAYS

Set a goal for the number of days a week that you will Write Something (or Work on Project X).

  • Make a new column in your StoryADay Writing Log. Call it “Days Worked”
  • Any day when you work, just type “YES” or a “+” in that new column.
  • If you want to get fancy — set up conditional formatting to turn the cell green when it finds that text in the field).

If you like to keep your logs in a more tangible form:

At the end of the month, step back and gaze at the ‘heat map’ of your work progress. Hopefully there’ll be enough ’stickered’ days to make you smile. If not, make a commitment now to do better next month.

KEEPING YOUR GOALS REALISTIC

If you can make an unbroken chain of those days that’s great. But bewarE! Setting so high a bar can backfire. What happens the first time life gets in the way and you miss a day? You feel terrible. You get demotivated. You quit.

Rather, I’d suggest setting a goal to write on a certain number of days a week.

WHAT TO DO WITH THE INFORMATION

At the end of the month, look back at your log see how much you achieved and if any patterns emerge (are weekends good or bad for you? Do you write more when you’ve had more sleep? When the kids are in school?). You can see where you might make changes or improvements.

NO GUILT

Again, try to not use the log as a weapon to bludgeon yourself with guilt. Use it to analyze and study (and to face) what’s really going on.  Try to increase your goal a little from what you actually achieved this month (not some abstract and possible unrealistic ‘ideal’).

Whatever type of log you choose, use it to keep yourself accountable, spur positive changes, and reinforce good work habits.

Because all of these things get you closer to where you want to be: writing.

Are you logging your writing days or word count? What methods do you use, and how do you use it to help you progress? Share in the comments, below!

How I Used Word Count Tracking To Write 100,000 Words

How I used the StoryADay Word Count Logging tool to write 100,000 words last year, and why you should be logging your progress too!

Do you log your word count?

I’ve been logging my word count (on and off) for the past couple of years. Last year, without really trying too hard, I managed to write 100,000 words of fiction. That was the end of one novel, several short stories (a couple published) and the first half of a second novel.

If I’m so productive, why bother logging my word count, you say?

Come closer and let me whisper into your ear…I’m productive because of the word count log.

Here are four ways  logging my progress helped me meet my goals: Continue reading “How I Used Word Count Tracking To Write 100,000 Words”

Don’t Let Guilt And Shame Derail Your Writing Goals

Not living up to your New Year’s Resolution? Now is the time to reset — to recommit — before guilt and shame derail the rest of your year.

You probably set some pretty ambitious writing goals at New Year. Did they include writing a certain amount every day or every week? And now, are you find it hard to even log your word count because you’re afraid of what you might see (or not see)?

That the sinking feeling you get when you’re disappointed in yourself is not something installed in us by a malevolent designer to make our lives miserable.

What you’re feeling is guilt. And the point of guilt is to alert you to something you’re not happy about, so that you can change it. Continue reading “Don’t Let Guilt And Shame Derail Your Writing Goals”

Anchoring Habits For A More Productive Writing Life

To create a regular writing habit (and stick to it), try scheduling it immediately after something you already do regularly…

There is a very helpful technique for creating new habits, known as ‘anchoring'[1. I didn’t make this up. It’s being studied by Dr BJ Fogg, a human-behaviour scientist at Stanford University].

Anchor In Sand image
Photo by: Plbmak

The idea is this: you don’t think about brushing your teeth before you go to bed at night, or showering when you get up. It’s just something you do.

If you want to create a new habit (and stick to it), try doing it immediately after something you already do by rote.

So, if you want to remember to floss your teeth, say you’ll do it after your morning tooth scrub. If you want to brainstorm ideas for stories, say you’ll do it as soon as you’ve poured your first cup of coffee.

Choosing Your Anchor

Your anchor has to be something that works for you, specifically. Continue reading “Anchoring Habits For A More Productive Writing Life”

10 Books Short Story Writers Should Have On Their Wish Lists

This week’s Reading Room is a little different: 10 (+1) books to add to your wish list. Enjoy!

Short Stories & Essays (To Learn The Craft)


I buy this every year and it has yet to disappoint. Curated by high school students and founded by Dave Eggars, this is a collection that is both quirky and keeps me feeling young!

Yes, everyone but British writers (someone idiosyncratically defined, if the reviews are to believed) are excluded from this 2-Volume collection. But I like a little focus in my anthologies, don’t you? (Side note: you might want to complement this with something from the Best American series. I couldn’t, in good conscience, link to their “Best Short Stories” edition because it is so resolutely ‘literary’ and I usually end up hating it, but YMMV. Their Mystery one looks interesting, and I wish they had more fiction genres to choose from.)


There’s nothing quite like reading the well-crafted words of Smart People on Important Issues to inspire you to get back to writing. Lots of essays in here from diverse voices.

ENCOURAGEMENT TO EMBRACE CREATIVITY


This wonderful call to artistic arms was hugely influential in my decision to start StoryADay. Gentle and encouraging it definitely helps you if you’re struggling with the whole permission to write thing. If you think you NEED to be doing stuff for other people before REWARDING yourself with time to write, Ms. Ueland will set you straight….

I haven’t read this one yet, but … Elizabeth Gilbert! Have you seen her TED talk? And she’s fabulous fictioneer in her own right, so sign me up for a copy!


I really bought this to use with my kids, but it turns out it’s a Rescue Pack for adults who have forgotten how to play. There is nothing a writer needs more than to be an Explorer of the World and Keri Smith shows you tons of ways you can have fun out in the real world again, noticing all the little details that fiction requires.

Chuck Wendig at his trademark profane, hilarious, no-nonsense, encouraging best. Not to be missed.

PRODUCTIVITY AND THE WRITER


If you haven’t discovered this book yet, it’s well worth a read. It talks about resistance and why we need to break through it.


If you HAVE read “The War of Art” (above) and are sick of bloody Resistance and want to know WHY it’s kicking in and what to do about it…this is the book for you. I received a review copy from the author Mark McGuinness but liked it so much that I’ve bought it again three times to give away (you can enter for a chance to win a copy here). Seriously. Read it.

If I might be allowed a little self-promotion, this book has 60+ ways to break writers’ block and some REALLY nice reviews on Amazon (thanks, guys!)
What would you add to this list? Comment below!

Brainstorming & Outlining for People Who Hate Outlines

We have to tell stories to unriddle the world - Alan GarnerThis post is for people who are having trouble getting past the exciting beginning of their story and into (and through) the mushy middle. It works for novelists and short story writers.

Beyond The Beginning

Starting a story can be hard. But once you get started, the excitement carries you through some initial world-building, character-developement and scene setting. Then what?

Then, you get stuck, going around in circles, with your characters doing stuff, but not really going anywhere (either literally or plot-wise).

This is the perfect time to outline the next part of your story and start thinking about where you want to go from here. If you hate the thought of  outlining, think of it as brainstorming. You do this in your head, if you’re a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants), but sometimes it can be helpful to catch some of your ideas on paper.

Brainstorming (Not Outlining)

If you’re not a natural outliner, don’t go crazy with this. You know you’re going to write something that captures your interest and throw out the outline, or maybe a new character will do something unexpected and interesting. So don’t outline. Just brainstorm a few questions like:

  • What is my character’s main desire?
  • What is stopping her from getting to that desire?
  • What does a ‘victory’ look like, in story terms and for my character?
  • How can I make things worse for her?
  • How can I make things even worse for her?
  • Who does she need to ally with to help her reach her ‘victory’?
  • Who/what is the antagonist and what does it/they want?

Even if you’re not a fan of outlining, keeping these questions (and the answers you discover) in mind as you write, will help keep your enthusiasm high for your story.

Revisit these questions every few writing sessions, or after every couple of scenes. Map out what needs to happen next to advance your character’s journey. Let future ideas dance around the back of your brain.

Then add another scene to your story.

More Resources

I’m posting these with the caveat that you should use as few of these as possible and ONLY when you are absolutely, dead stuck. Do not think these will help you if you aren’t actually writing. You must be writing your story for these resources to make any meaningful contribution.

Worksheets

Jill Williamson has a fabulous resource page full of everything from Novel Brainstorming Worksheet and one for short stories, to scene planning worksheets (one and two POVs), to character archetypes, genres & subgenres, even a worksheet for thinking about your characters’ hobbies!

Larry Brooks has a one-page checklist to help you plot out your novel. I find this one a little overwhelming, but if you take it step by step (i.e. write  your way to a point when you’re stuck, then consult his list to see what you need to think about for the next quarter of your story) it might be more manageable. You can also find his Character Checklist here.

Books To Get You Unstuck

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is one of three books they’ve written (along with the Negative Trait Thesaurus and the Positive Trait Thesaurus) that can help you if your characters are feeling flat.

Book Architecture: How to Plot and Outline Without Using a Formula by Stuart Horwitz. Can’t recommend this enough. It takes a fresh look at how to keep your plot interesting, by examining through-lines of themes and imagery and character traits rather than focusing on the old ‘Plot point I”, “Plot point II” “Dark Night Of The Soul” structure, which I find really unhelpful. This book, on the other hand, make small explosions go off in my brain. If you’re resistant to the idea of outlining, this might be the book to help you keep your story on track, nevertheless.

Million Dollar Outlines (Million Dollar Writing Series) by Dave Farland. Unashamedly commercial in outlook, this book is stuffed with examples (mostly from the movie world) of what makes a compelling story, what readers are looking for (even down to age and gender breakdowns) and leaves you feeling totally convinced that anyone with a modicum of talent and the will to persist, can do this and maybe even make a living at it. Why not you? Hoo-ah! Also stuffed with practical advice on how to make YOUR story sing.

Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between by James Scott Bell. I found this very encouraging, particularly his insight into what the ‘midpoint’ of the novel really is, and the kind of moment you can write for your protagonist that crystallizes both the midpoint and what comes next.

Motivation for Creative People: How to Stay Creative While Gaining Money, Fame, and Reputation by Mark McGuinness. This book won’t tell you how to write a novel, but it will help you think about all the ways your poxy brain is holding you back, and how to make it work for you, instead. This is not your average ‘rah-rah, tell yourself you can do it’ book. McGuinness uses everyday examples and his background as a coach to show you how different types of motivation work on you. Grounded in academic studies, this is a chatty, accessible and inspiring look at how you can free yourself to create.

Other Resources

The Snowflake Method – From Randy Ingermanson, this is another wonderfully logical way to avoid the whole inverted-triangle, unhelpful story structure plotting that drives me crazy. It helps you focus on the key points of the story you want to tell (which you’ll discover while going through his exercises). It has the added bonus of creating your story summary and proto-marketing materials before you’ve even written it (which is the part most people say they hate even more than writing the thing in the first place).

This works even if you’ve started your novel. I was stuck at the half way point of a novel I’d been tinkering with for years, when I came across this method. Spent a few hours following Randy’s advice and pounded out the second half of the novel in a couple of weeks!

 

Back To The Future

This is it.

This is the day Marti McFly travels forward to: 4:29 pm (California time), October 21, 2015.

And this was the moment when I knew I was going to be a writer:

Docbrownexplains

The pure joy that shot through me as the writers unveiled the time paradox, set off a bomb in my brain. I was, on the one hand, delighted that the explanation was so clever (I was a time-travel junkie, but I was only 17 and there was no Internet — at least not available to the general public — so I was not jaded by fandom’s endless discussions of the permutations of every plot trope ever).

At the same time I knew that I wanted to DO THAT: I wanted to give someone that moment of joy and revelation. I wanted to be that clever. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to do it. But that was what I wanted to do.

This is why writers write: to invite people into a collective dream. To show off. To give people a thrill.

So go and write something!

Now What?

StoryADay Sept is over. You did great. You wrote. You participated in the community. You got a real boost from all the creativity.

But now it’s half way through October and you’re not writing nearly as much, if at all. You feel like a failure.

Change Your Point Of View

Day 88: Flipped!
Photo by sodaniechea

As with so much of your writing, this too, is a matter of Point of View.

If you’re feeling discouraged, it’s probably because you thought StoryADay was helping you build a great writing practice. You wrote every day. So why aren’t you still writing a story a day?

Because StADa wasn’t about building habits. It was bootcamp. You can’t keep it up.

So Now What?

Now it’s time to ask what you learned from writing a story a day.

  • What did you learn about the types of stories you like you write?
  • What did you learn about the time of day you write best?
  • What did you learn about the value of finishing?
  • What did you learn about your need for community?
  • What did you learn about your writing strengths and weaknesses?

How you can use those lessons to improve not just your writing but also to create new writing habits?

  • What will you commit to doing?

(Hint: think of something that sounds reasonable, then commit to doing half as much.)

  • How will you track your progress?

(Hint: make it as simple as possible. If you, like me, have a gadget clamped in your hand at any time and think a monthly word-count goal will help you, please help yourself to a copy of my “Writing Log” in Google Docs. Otherwise, every day when you do write, color in a box on your paper calendar with a green pencil so you can see at a glance how you’re doing.)

  • How will you get other people to help you stay accountable?

(Hint: check in with the very welcoming SWAGr group here, on the first of every month).

Tomorrow I’ll talk about Anchoring Habits and a scientifically-tested process for making your new writing habits stick.

In the meantime, leave a comment sharing how you’re getting on, what you learned and what you will commit to doing to improve your writing habits.