10 Tips for Writing A Story A Day Without Losing Your Mind

You’re trying to write a story a day. Some days will be harder than other.

For those days, here is some tried-and-tested advice from the StoryADay archives.

[tl;dr version: The world needs your story. You need to write. Don’t quit.]

10 Tips To Help You Keep Writing Every Day, Not ‘Some Day’

Lessons from 5 Years of StoryADay Writing Challenges

 

  1. …from How To Write A StoryADay Without Burning Out graphic of excerpt from linked article, about the brink of desperation
  2. …from It’s Only Painful Until You Start
    graphic of excerpt from linked article, list of best practices for storyaday
  3. …from Help! I Missed A Day, What Do I Do?
    graphic extract from linked article, advice to let it go, if you miss a day in storyaday
  4. …from How To Write A StoryADay Without Burning Out
  5. graphic of excerpt of linked article
  6. …from How To Set Your Writing Rules
    graphic extract from the article, how to set your writing rules for the storyaday writing challenge
  7. …from Writing With Confidence
    graphic extract from the article writing with confidence, imagine your perfect reader
  8. …from 6 Reasons You’ll Never Be A Writer
    graphic extract from the article six reasons you'll never be a writer; 5, your writing sucks
  9. …from The Difference Between You And A Published Writer
    graphic extract from the article The Difference Between You And A Published Writer
  10. …from The Price Of Quitting
    graphic of excerpt from linked article, about why the world needs your story

Now, go and write something!

 

All About Amazon’s New Exclusive Rights Grab and Royalties Changes

I’m hearing a lot of outrage and panic about the new Amazon Kindle royalties announcement. I’m also hearing a lot of misinformation.

Before you grab your pitchfork, your flaming torches, your tar and your feathers, here’s what you need to know:

The Basics

THIS DOES NOT APPLY TO ALL KINDLE BOOKS

This agreement applies to books that are (voluntarily by the author) enrolled in Kindle Select — a program that is not required in order to put your ebooks on Amazon, but is an optional agreement that renews every 90 days until you tell it not to, to offer your ebooks ONLY on Amazon in exchange for some benefits. Those benefits include higher royalties in some markets, the ability to use Amazon’s custom-build promotional programs (like Countdown deals and advertising), and enrollment in the Kindle Lending Library and the Kindle Unlimited program.

In Short: if you chose to enroll you Kindle ebook Kindle Select, you offer Amazon the exclusive right to sell it, for 90 days. They make it available to people who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited and people who like to borrow (not buy) Kindle ebooks. [Back To Top]

WHAT IS CHANGING?

If your Kindle Direct Publishing titles are enrolled in the Kindle Select program, the way you are compensated will change ONLY for Kindle Online Lending Library borrows and Kindle Select purchase.

Instead of everyone being given the same amount for every title borrowed, authors will be compensated for the number of pages they wrote and their readers read, as a percentage of all pages read across the program.

That is, if people borrow and read 1,000,000 pages’ worth of content and 1,000 of those page are yours, you’ll get 1,000th of the Global Fund’s money. (Previously, everyone who enticed borrowers to read at least 10% of their borrowed title, got a flat fee, whether their book was five pages long or 500. If they didn’t hit that 10% mark, you got nothing.)

In short: You will receive more money if readers actually read your books, less if they don’t.

If your books are in the Kindle Online Lending Library or Kindle Unlimited programs you have already opted to make your e-books available exclusive at Amazon. This is not changing. [Back To Top]

WHY HAS AMAZON MADE THIS CHANGE?

According to their announcement it is in response to author feedback.

Authors who work hard on their books and produce useful/entertaining titles are (reading between the lines) miffed that they get compensated the same as authors who slap up any old rubbish, promote it well and get a bunch of people to download it, even if it is never actually read. Amazon has decided to incentivize authors to write good/useful books by rewarding them per page read.

[Presumably this will also help readers because lazy authors are not going to bother putting out books that don’t make money — totally editorializing here- JD] [Back To Top]

AUTHOR FAQs

WHAT’S ALL THIS ABOUT AMAZON DEMANDING EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS TO MY WORK?

They’re not.

You can use the Kindle Direct Publishing system (KDP) without giving up any rights. You grant them non-exclusive rights to distribute your title. You can publish it elsewhere too.

If you want the benefits offered by Kindle Select, then you may grant them exclusive rights (for 90 days) to sell your ebook.

This is not changing. [Back To Top]

WHAT IS KINDLE SELECT AND WHAT ARE THESE SO-CALLED BENEFITS?

Kindle Select is an optional program. You decide to give Amazon the exclusive right to sell your ebook for 90 days. In return they put your book into the Kindle Unlimited (KU) and Kindle Online Lending Library (KOLL) programs. In some markets you get access to a bigger cut of the profits on your sales (70% instead of 30%). You also get access to various promotional tools Amazon has built for their customers (Countdown deals, free promotions, best-seller lists etc.)

At the end of each 90 day period your agreement auto-renews unless you tell Amazon otherwise (mark it on your calendar if you plan on un-enrolling. I did!)

See the terms of service here.

This is not changing. [Back To Top]

WHAT IS THE KINDLE ONLINE LENDING LIBRARY (KOLL)?

Amazon has created a fund of money (currently $10m annually) that compensates authors every time their book is borrowed by an Amazon Prime customer.

[N.B. In 28 counties (NOT including the USA, where Amazon is based) Public Lending Rights compensate authors when their books are bought or borrowed from public libraries. Amazon brought this model to their online lending library, even though it was a new idea in the US. I applaud them for that. – JD]

You can opt out of enrolling your book in KOLL.

This is not changing, although the way you are compensated is. [Back To Top]

WHAT IS KINDLE UNLIMITED?

Kindle Unlimited is the newest of these programs. Think of it as Netflix for books. Subscribers pay a monthly fee and can download as many books from the Kindle Unlimited library as they want. Authors are compensated from the Global Fund.

This is not changing, although the way you are compensated is.

ARE MY BOOKS AFFECTED?

Did you sign up for Kindle Unlimited when you went through the Kindle Direct Publishing program?

No?

Then no, your books are not eligible for the Kindle Online Lending Library or Kindle Unlimited, so you are not affected.

If yes, your books are affected.

  1. You have three choices:
    Remain in Kindle Select and allow your books to auto-renew at the end of your 90-Day term (found in your Dashboard)
    Remain in Kindle Select for now and opt out at the end of your 90-Day term.
    Contact Amazon before July 1, 2015 to be removed from he program before the changes take effect. [Back To Top]

WHEN DOES THIS TAKES EFFECT

July 1, 2015

I HATE IT! LET ME OUT!

If you want to take your books out of the Kindle Select program before July 1, 2015 because you don’t want to be part of this new royalty structure (or for any other reason), you send the ASIN of your book (the unique ID in the Amazon store, found in the book info page) to https://kdp.amazon.com/contact-us and tell them to remove it.

In other words, you can get out of your current 90-Day exclusivity agreement now, if you want to. (I assume this is a one-time offer, because the terms may be changing mid-way through your current agreement — JD) [Back To Top]

WAIT, THIS KIND OF SOUNDS LIKE A WIN-WIN FOR SERIOUS AUTHORS AND SERIOUS READERS

Well, I think so. I laughed when I read the announcement. [Back To Top]

WHAT THE AGREEMENT SAYS

FROM THE AMAZON EMAIL AND WEBSITE ANNOUNCEMENT

Beginning July 1, 2015, we’ll switch from paying Kindle Unlimited (KU) and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) royalties based on qualified borrows, to paying based on the number of pages read. We’re making this switch in response to great feedback we received from authors who asked us to better align payout with the length of books and how much customers read. Under the new payment method, you’ll be paid for each page individual customers read of your book, the first time they read it.

Royalty payments under the new program will be different

As with our current approach, we’ll continue to set a KDP Select Global Fund each month. Under the new payment method, the amount an author earns will be determined by their share of total pages read instead of their share of total qualified borrows.

Here are some examples of how it would work if the fund was $10M and 100,000,000 total pages were read in the month:
The author of a 100 page book that was borrowed and read completely 100 times would earn $1,000 ($10 million multiplied by 10,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).

The author of a 200 page book that was borrowed and read completely 100 times would earn $2,000 ($10 million multiplied by 20,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).

The author of a 200 page book that was borrowed 100 times but only read halfway through on average would earn $1,000 ($10 million multiplied by 10,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).
We will similarly change the way we pay KDP Select All-Star bonuses which will be awarded to authors and titles based on total KU and KOLL pages read.

You can enroll in KDP Select at any time by visiting your Bookshelf. If you no longer want your book(s) to be included in KDP Select you may unenroll from the program by contacting us with the ASIN of the book you would like to remove.

Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC v1.0)

To determine a book’s page count in a way that works across genres and devices, we’ve developed the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC). We calculate KENPC based on standard settings (e.g. font, line height, line spacing, etc.), and we’ll use KENPC to measure the number of pages customers read in your book, starting with the Start Reading Location (SRL) to the end of your book. Amazon typically sets SRL at chapter 1 so readers can start reading the core content of your book as soon as they open it.

This standardized approach allows us to identify pages in a way that works across genres and devices. Non-text elements within books including images, charts and graphs will count toward a book’s KENPC.

When we make this change on July 1, 2015, you’ll be able to see your book’s KENPC listed on the “Promote and Advertise” page in your Bookshelf, and we’ll report on total pages read on your Sales Dashboard report. Because it’s based on default settings, KENPC may vary from page counts listed on your Amazon detail page, which are derived from other sources.

Reporting

After this change, you’ll be able to view your Kindle Unlimited (KU) and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) Pages Read in your Sales Dashboard report by marketplace and title.

We’ll continue to update this Help page with more information on your KDP reports, KU/KOLL royalties, and KDP Select Global Fund payouts as the changes roll out.

[Back To Top]

*WHY I’M QUALIFIED TO TALK ABOUT THIS

I’m not a lawyer and I’m not privy to any inside information…anymore.

BUT I was the first Director Of Author Services at the first company to offer print on-demand publishing AND ebook distribution directly to authors. My bosses tried to get two of the leading booksellers of the time to invest in our company (hint: one was named after a big river). This was wa-ay back in the late 90s, early 2000s — before Nook or Kindle or Createspace and certainly before we were big enough that any of the traditional publishers had to take us seriously or start dreaming up agency pricing.

Throughout that negotiation process I got a pretty good impression of the management styles of the two booksellers we were dealing with. One seemed all about the bottom line (which meant keeping traditional publishers happy) and the other seemed to genuinely want to make the world a better place for readers — to the extend that they did not invest in our company, in part I suspect, because we didn’t have that piece figured out yet.

I’ve thought a lot about indie-publishing in the digital world, read (and edited) and lot of publishing agreements, explained the new world of publishing to literally thousands of authors (from NYT bestsellers to newbie & wannabe authors). I’ve used these programs myself.

I currently use Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing — some of my books are currently enrolled in the Select program, some are not. I have also used Booklocker, Xlibris, Lulu and Smashwords. I’ve also sold e-publications directly from my website using e-Junkie to manage the shopping cart and potential affiliate relationships. I’m currently trying to interest traditional publishers in both fiction and non-fiction projects that I believe could benefit from the relationships and power of the traditional industry.

I’m a fan of Amazon but I’m an informed fan. I read this agreement carefully from the perspective of an author, a reader and someone who understands the new-indie models inside and out and has had access to some of the brightest minds in this space over the years. [Back To Top]

For an interesting, well-thought-out counter-argument read this article by erotica author Selena Kitt. (Erotica is a big seller on Kindle).
And here’s a look at the program and what people have been saying about it (this one comes out slightly in favor of it, I’d say).

So, what do you think? Have I missed anything? Do you think I’m misinterpreting things? Are you still worried? Comment below!

Writers’ Conferences: The Introvert’s Guide

Conference season is upon us! Here are 3 essential tips for surviving a writers’ conference, as an introvert.

Writers’ conferences are wonderful places for learning, connecting, being inspired and reminding yourself to take your writing seriously.

They also have cringe-making moments of high-school flashbacks, with you cowering in a corner, wishing the earth would swallow you.

After the event you’ll remember and value the connections you made and the people you met. In the moment, for introverted writer-types, all that enforced socializing can be torture.

But if top spies can withstand torture with a little training, why not us?

1. Stop Thinking About Yourself

When I think about my favorite people in the world it strikes me that they are not just my favorite people. They are a-lot-of-other-people’s favorite person too. They attract people to them. How? By being interested in us.

Take a leaf out of the book of the most charismatic person you know: make eye contact, ask questions about the other person, have a response ready (or a follow-up question — and yes, you can rehearse these things at home. That’s what successful sales people and successful charmers do!), smile and do whatever you can to make the other person feel great about themselves.

Here are five ways to make the people around you feel great, courtesy of Dale Partridge (click for a bigger view)

5 Ways To Make People Feel Great
Text: Dale Partridge Photo: Linda Owen

2. Find A Bubbly Friend

(Use this with care. You don’t want to be a parasite.)

If you can connect with someone whose skills complement your own (i.e. an extravert), do so. Ride their coattails. Let them introduce you to people as you go around the conference.

The best way to do this without becoming an actual pest, is to hang with this person a little bit, then give them some space, and connect with them again later. (Maybe you can find two or three extraverts and float between them).

Think about what you can do for them, to repay them for being your ice-breaker: once you’re in a new group of people, tell other people about your friend’s writing, or talents or ask them to tell that funny story you heard them tell earlier to a different group. You can also ask them about their work or their challenges, and keep an eye out for information and opportunities that will help — especially if you’re attending different sessions. Pass on information, contacts and resources you think might help your friend.

How to find your bubbly friend: see if any of your internet friends are going to the same conference. Arrange to meet up, at least once. If none of your friends are going, check out the conference’s hashtag on Twitter (smart conference directors will always have one). Follow the bubbliest Tweeter and, if you make a connection online, suggest meeting up at the conference too. (Naturally, the same rules apply here as in real life: only approach if you sense a real connection. Don’t be creepy. Don’t smother people.)

3. Understand Your Introverted Nature

Don’t berate yourself for needing to crawl off to a dark, quiet space from time to time during the conference.

We introverts need quiet time to recharge. If you need to get out of the hotel for lunch alone, or if you need an afternoon power nap, go for it. Just get back out there when you’re refreshed.

Also, don’t think that just because you’re a bit of an introvert, you can’t be sociable. Some of the most charming people I know are introverts. But they do need to take time to recharge or they become cranky and unhappy. Be yourself. Pay attention to your body. If you’re getting fidgeting and cross, take a break. Alone. It’s OK.

Keep In Touch After The Conference

If you’ve made a connection with someone, keep in touch after the conference.

The good news is, you’ll probably be able to do it online, which will be a relief, won’t it?

How Reading Short Stories Made Jacob Tomsky A Better Writer

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 7.31.05 PMAre you familiar with the Short Story Thursdays emails?

Every week for almost five years, Jacob Tomsky has been researching and sending a short story to an email list of rabid readers. He doesn’t write the stories (he’s a best-selling memoir writer and budding novelist), but he does curate them.

Driven by his mood, he plucks a story that speaks to him from the vast slush pile of Public Domain works, and sends it to thousands of his Internet friends.  Not only that, but Tomsky writes a passionate (and often expletive-laden) exhortation to readers as to why they should read this week’s story. If Tomsky’s ‘dispatches’ are the amuse-bouche of Short Story Thursdays, the stories are the meat.

Since he’s been doing this for four years, he must always really loved short stories, right?

“I actually hated short stories for a really, really long time. Maybe I still kind of do,” he laughs.  “I don’t buy short story books, I never did. I was never a fan. I love novels. That’s what I like to read and that’s what I like to write.”

How It All Started

So here’s how it all started: Tomsky had a full time job he hated, in a hotel.

Bored, he began printing out short stories from the web – using company paper and company toner– because it “would look like I was working, like I was just reviewing documents or something.”

When a similarly-bored bellman asked him what he was reading, Tomsky stumbled onto something that has kept him sending out his dispatches weekly, years after breaking free of the job he hated.

“This was not a man that you would consider being a lover of literature at all and he read it and said ‘what’s next?’” Tomksy said. “I really got joy not only out of the minor escape it gives you from work, but also the fact that I was exposing people to short stories that had never even considered it before.

“People were talking about literature and that was very exciting for me as a long time lover and a writer of literature. I was able to get people to read these short stories, [people] that had never read before.”

Why short stories? Well, apart from their utility as a good cover at work, Tomsky points out,

“Everything’s shortening, our attention spans are dropping. I don’t think it’s even a bad thing. Twitter’s 140 characters, Vine videos are 6 seconds. Everything is so short and people’s attention spans are rapid fire.”

Short stories seem like the perfect way to get people reading, “…and I pick really short ones. Really short. So it’s just something people can read on the train and not feel like they’re having to trudge through it.”

The Beauty of the Short Story

Because he’s posting stories mostly from public domain, Tomsky is rediscovering some older writers, some who have been largely forgotten.

“This week’s story,” he says, about a recent Dispatch, “is making people cry. I’ve had six people email me already and say this story made them cry… I couldn’t even find out any information abou this author. The fact that I get to breathe life into these forgotten authors is wonderful.”

Another advantage of reading older works is, “some of this langauge is just amazing. It’s not even antiquated, we just don’t speak like this. Some of these words have fallen out of favor. Phrases and just the tone of language has changed so much. To get to read something …that’s so different from any other sentence you’ll read in the rest of the week, has been wonderful.”

Of course, the short story form has evolved a lot since its invention, and many of the stories Tomsky finds irritate readers because they aren’t subtle or don’t  have the emotional impact of modern stories. And, a frustration for Tomsky is that the public domain collection is ‘a sea of white males’.

Still, Tomsky sees a a benefit to reading these stories week after week. “There’s been some great writing…and it’s kind of great to see what we expected from short stories in the past. Those were pure entertainment in the past. It wasn’t entertainment that was vying for attention with any other form of entertainment, you were just happy to be reading anything.”

He adds, “There have been some stories I’ve read on public domain that I think are better than anything I’ve read publishing now.”

Benefits As A Writer

Although the New York Times called Tomsky’s whose memoir is titled “Heads In Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality” ‘an effervescent writer’, he wasn’t writing humor before SST.

“I had three novels pior to that and none of them had a joke in it,” he says. “It wasn’t until I started ShortStoryThursdays that I started with the humor.  I think that really primed me for when I had to write a funny book about the hotel world.  I was totally ready because I had been practising.”

Another, unexpected benefit of writing to a group of strangers every week was a surge of confidence in himself as a writer, that came simply from turning up week after week.

“It took out the whole ‘bullshit inspiration’ crap. You just have to sit down and write no matter what. You kind of trust that…there’ll be quality in there.”

Even In The Middle of An Ocean

No-one’s better at coming up with excuses than writers (it stands to reason: we’re creative!). But Tomsky even kept up his weekly dispatches during a four-month stay in South Africa AND during a ten-day crossing of the Atlantic on a freighter from Liverpool to Philadelphia.

“So I told [everyone] I’d be missing a week,” but in reality he queued up a post and had a friend hit ‘send’. “Then, when I was in the middle of the ocean, it just dropped on them,” he laughs.

Track Your Progress

Another tip for boosting your confidence as a writer is to keep track of how much work you’re doing.

While working that hotel job that he hated, Tomsky started tracking his progress.

“I was like, I’m putting 50 hours a week into a job that I hate, that’s going nowhere. How much time am I putting into my art? So I used to clock myself and tape the papers up on my wall. That was very helpful.”

“It’s such a weird, ‘spooky art’. Any way that you can normalize it and bring it into some kind of standard reality, it’s helpful. And if that’s clocking it—like you would yoru time at work—that at least gives you a feeling of progress. Feelings of progress are extremely rare in this art.”

Just Write

So is he cured of the writer’s enemy: doubt? Tomsky gives a qualified ‘no’.

“It still happens every week. Every Thursday I’m like, f*ck I don’t know if I can write anything good, but I do it consistently, and somewhere in my head that helps me …Looking back on a rather successful string of SST dispatches really does give me the courage just to sit down.

“Definitely more writers should do that,” he says, equating writing practise with the benefits of going to the gym. “I always tell people tha—and not just to bring up the fact that I’m going to the gym! The more you do it, the easier it becomes and the better you get at it. It’s not even magic it’s just straight up practice.”

 

Two of Jacob Tomsky’s favorite short stories in the public domain:

Arabesque The Mouse by A. E. Coppard

The Inconsiderate Waiter by J.M. Barrie

 

Thanks, Jacob!

 

To sign up for a new short story in your inbox every week email: shutyourlazymouthandread@shortstorythursdays.com

And check back here during May 2015 for Jacob Tomsk’s Guest Writing Prompt!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrity Guest Prompts Are Coming

Writing prompts can be great: a way into a story without having to stare too long at the blinking cursor; writing exercises that force you to dig deeper; a way to support StoryADay May…

…But even better than that, writing prompts can sometimes be a peek inside the head of a successful writer.

Last year we had Neil Gaiman kick things off four us, joined by his fellow NYT Bestselling author Heidi Durrow, author and gracious host of Writer Unboxed Therese Walsh, illustrator and author Debbie Ohi, mystery novelist Elizabeth Spann Craig, WritersHelpingWriters authors Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman, Hugo award winning short story writer (and novelist) Mary Robinette Kowal and more.

2015guestprompters2

This year we’re back on the Hugo track with a Cambell Award Winner (the award for best new writer in SciFi) and multiple Hugo nominee Seanan McGuire (aka Mira Grant); New York Times bestseller and Happiness guru Gretchen Rubin; Bram Stoker and Edgar Award winning writer Joe R. Lansdale; novelist John Dixon (whose first novel Phoenix Island was the inspiration for the CBS series Intelligence); Writer’s Loft mentor and novelist Charlotte Rains Dixon; DIYMFA.com’s Gabriela Pereira; novelist and creative writing teacher at Rosemont College, PA, Gregory Frost; mystery novelist Meg Wolfe, paranormal mystery author Phil Guinta, and the NYT Bestselling author and host of the fabulous Short Story Thursdays email dispatches, Jacob Tomsky. And more to follow.

(Pause, for brief squeeeeeeeeeeee!)

These working writers have come up with some fantastic writing prompts for you (one or two of them scare me a little!).

These prompts will only be appearing on the blog, so keep checking every day for your look inside the brains of some of the most creative people working today!

oo0oo

If you’re not signed up to receive the daily prompts by email, you can do that by making sure you’re on the mailing list and selecting “Daily Prompts During the Challenge” as one of your options.

Dial-A-Story for Short Story Month

This is an awesome (and quirky) opportunity for you to have you story published during May. I spoke to organizer, Meriwether O’Connor by phone earlier this month and she told me she’s bringing back an old idea that worked really well when she was publicizing earlier novels. In the age of podcasts and on-demand radio, the idea of calling a telephone number to have someone read you a story has something of a charming, olde-time aire, doesn’t it? Submit now!! 

Appalachia North invites you to celebrate National Short Story Month with us by submitting a short, short story to appear on DialAStory. Stories can be any length or genre but those with a reading time of not more than three minutes will have a definite advantage. Even if yours isn’t selected to be featured, you can still participate. How?!

One of the highlights of the project is breaking down the wall between performer and listener. With that in mind, callers are invited to respond with a spontaneous or written storyor tale of their own after listening to the featured piece. This way, the author or performer steps down to become the listener while the audience themselves steps forward to become creative and active as the performer or yarnspinner. You are also welcome to read your favorite short story out of a book in response if you prefer.

Our featured book of short stories for May will be Joe Potato’s Real Life Recipes: Tall Tales and Short Stories by Meriwether O’Connor. Nominated for a Weatherford and chosen Editors’ Pick by Story Circle Review, Joe Potato is a darkly humorous grit lit work with both an Appalachian and Texas flair. Bestselling author Carolyn Chute (The Beans of Egypt, Maine and Treat Us Like Dogs And We Will Become Wolves) said, “A strong writing voice like (O’Connor’s) is rare”. Submitted stories are not required to be in a similar genre as the featured book.

Please send your story or tall tale to appalachianorth@hotmail.com by midnight E.S.T.Friday April 24, 2015. If you snail mail, it needs to arrive by the same day at PO Box 57 East Dixfield, Maine 04227. Check back here later for the phone number to call during May, National Short Story Month, to hear or respond to the stories and tales presented on DialAStory. Hope to hear from you.

 

As I understand it, there’s no payment for this venture, but it does sound kind of a fun way to celebration Short Story Month!  – JD

Story Sparks and Writing Prompts

I talk a lot about writing prompts and Story Sparks around here. They are your secret weapons for getting through a month of extreme short story writing!

What is a Story Spark?

It’s a term I coined for something that is less than a story idea and certainly not an outline, but something that you notice while walking the world: things that make you go ‘hmmm’, if you will.

Story sparks are details about the world that you can use either to spark or add richness to a story. They can be:

  • Fragments of conversation: become a dedicated eavesdropper, if you aren’t all ready.
  • Details from the world around you: the exact color and shape of a dogwood flower in April; a snippet of conversation overhead, out of context; the rhythm of a 14 year old girl’s speech,
  • Big Ideas that occur to you randomly: the ‘where are all these people going?’ that pops into your head while you’re sitting in traffic; what if my baby had been born with wings? why do so many of us believe in a deity?.
  • Memories: spend some time going through old memories and pulling out interesting characters, conflicts, fears, hopes, joys. Gather some of them as Story Sparks.

Some of these, with a little interrogation and development could be come a story or a series of stories, but for now they are simply ideas that flit across your brain.You needn’t have any clue what kind of story they’ll fit into or how you might use them.

Capture them.

Save them for later.

How To Harness The Power Of Story Sparks

To feel the power of Story Sparks you must gather them continuously.

Set yourself a goal of gathering three story sparks every day and you will find yourself seeing the world in a different way (a writer’s way).Aim to have 15 at the end of each week, but don’t collect them all on one day.

By getting into the habit of observing the world around you and capturing story sparks daily, you are training your brain to see the world through an artist’s filter. This will help immeasurably when you sit down to write.

Writing Prompts Are Not Story Sparks

(At least not the way I do them here at StoryADay)

I provide an optional writing prompt for every day in May (If you want to support the challenge and give me a pat on the back, you can grab a copy of last year’s prompts here or stay tuned for the release of this year’s prompt ebook)

My writing prompts are intentionally vague.

I don’t know if you prefer comedy or tragedy, sci fi or contemporary romance. I don’t know if you’re a woman or a man or a child or a nonogenarian. So I keep the prompts vague. Here’s an example:

prompt screenshotI’m not giving you a topic or a character or telling you where to set your story. I”m giving you a way into a story.

This is the perfect time to start digging around in your Story Sparks notebook/file and see what might fit with this prompt. Choose a Spark that leaps out at you today, in today’s mood, with today’s time restrictions and today’s challenges.

I also give you tips everyday. They are intended to help you drill down further into the prompt, and figure out how you can make it work for you.

Tips for prompt 1

Here’s another example:

Prompt 2

Notice, I don’t tell you what kind of character to choose or where to place him/her. That’s up to you. Dig into your Story Sparks and see if you can find inspiration for a character who might have these qualities.

Here are the tips I provided for this prompt:

tips for prompt 2

Again, you’ll need to bring your own ideas to this exercise. It’s not a scenario that dictates any details about the story, but rather a prompt; a way into finding a character and a story that matter to you.

And that is the only way to write a story that matters to readers.

So go now and start collecting Story Sparks: 3 a day. You’ll thank me, around May 14, when the creative well is not only dry but cracking and threatening to implode.

 

The Writing Prompt eBook – Details!

On Monday, April 20, 2015Updated: Saturday, April 23, 2016  I’ll be releasing the A Month of Writing Prompts 20152016 as an ebook through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Program. Its list price will eventually be $6.99, but you’ll be able to get it for $2.99 before May begins (and yes, I’ll send you an email to remind you, if you’re on the list).

The ebook will contain all of the writing prompts I’ve written for this year’s challenge. As with last year we’ll have some guest prompts and those will be exclusively at the website.

I started creating ebooks of the prompts because so many of you told me you wanted to be write to the prompts, but you like to be able to plan ahead.   It was super successful last year and I hope you enjoy this year’s edition as much, if not more.

Behind The Curtain

Why Make It Available Exclusively Through Amazon?

A few reasons: One is that it keeps things simple for me. There’s a lot going on around here in April/May and setting up an ebook with three or four different vendors is a LOT of work. I like Amazon. You can get it for Kindle or use their browser-based Kindle app at no charge.

Another is that Amazon is a big kahuna. If lots of people buy the ebook from Amazon (especially if you all buy it on opening day) the ebook shoots up the charts and gets more exposure, and more people hear about StoryADay, which makes the community more buzzy and you more likely to find a writing friend you lurve. (See? It’s all about you).

Thirdly (and this one is less about you), Amazon pays well. If I use their Kindle Direct Publishing and make the book exclusive to them, I get 70% of the list price in royalties in every international market they cover. This money all goes into the running of StoryADay (so actually, it is about you!).

Speaking of money: I intend to keep the StoryADay May challenge free forever. But running it is not. In addition to the hundreds of hours I spend working on this every year, I have hosting and domain-registration costs, support for the times when the web coding gets too much for me, the Mailchimp email list hosting (we’re such a big tribe now that we’ve outgrown Mailchimp’s free service); hosting fees for the service I use to sell workshops and ebooks, and on and on the costs go. I’m fairly frugal but the costs run over $1000 a year.

If everyone on the mailing list bought a copy of the ebook on release day I would cover my costs and have a bit left over to make the site prettier and more functional next year.

That won’t happen, but every little bit helps. If you do feel like kicking in a few more dollars of support, don’t forget about the StoryADay Shop, which is full of books, writing workshops and the world-famous StoryADay Warm Up Your Writing eCourse (Home Study Version – yours to keep forever!).

So there’s my Amanda-Palmer-inspired begging bowl. Want to support StoryADay? Buy an ebook, course or workshop. Or, if money is tight, spread the word to your writer friends. Get them involved in StoryADay. That’s as valuable to me as a monetary contribution! And more fun.

OK, this was a long post today. Sorry about that, and thanks to anyone who’s still here at the end of it!

Phew! On with the challenge!

How To Write A StoryADay in May Without Burning Out

Writing a story a day is hard. No doubt about it.

In fact, I had long been scared to commit to writing a novel, but after completing my first StoryADay back in 2010, I said, “Surely writing the same story every day for a month has to be easier than that!” and plunged into NaNoWriMo later that year and ‘won’. (I recently completed that novel – my first!)

So Why Keep Writing A StoryADay Each May?

Writing 31 short stories in a month drives you to the brink of desperation…and it’s right at that brink where interesting things start happening.

  • You stop caring about whether the story is good and just get it written.
  • You try crazy ideas that sometimes turn into highly original stories.
  • You find yourself seeking out story ideas all day, every day, because you know you’ll need a new one tomorrow.
  • You discover that the more you write — the more ideas you use up — the more creative you become. You never run out of ideas. There’s always another one coming along right behind it.
  • You discover you can write more than you thought you could. Even if you’re exhausted every day, it’s only one month. You’ll be amazed what you can do with a deadline, a community and little bit of stubborn. And it will feel exhilarating.

Keeping Things Fresh

Past participant Sarah Cain had just finished a novel and was deep in the business of revising the manuscript and looking for an agent, when she found herself in a creative slump. She heard about StoryADay and was intrigued.

“[I thought] would be a change,” she says. “Give me a chance to get some creative energy flowing, which it did. I had great fun with it, and now write quite a lot of flash fiction.”

In addition, she went back to her novel revisions, refreshed and reinvigorated. The following year she landed an agent and signed a two-book deal for that novel and its sequel.

So How Do You Write A StoryADay Without Burning Out?

There are lots of ways to keep writing. Here are some that other StoryADay writers have used:

Accept that these are first drafts — Don’t revise as you write. Just keep moving the story forward, every day until you get to the end. No revisions, no backtracking. Finish with a flourish, drop your pen and walk away. You have the rest of the year to revise these things!

Finish each story — Do your heroic best to get to the end of each story. Even if you have to write something like “[get Frank from the school to the roof of the hospital. Car chase! Explosions]” and skip to the resolution, get to the end of the story.

Resolve as many loose ends as you can and put it on the ‘to be revised’ pile for June. There is an energy about finishing a story that buoys you up for the next one. “You can do this,” it whispers in your ear as you sit down to write the next day. “You told a complete tale yesterday. No reason you can’t do it again today.”

Allow yourself to experiment—Write short-short stories, longer stories, stories that are all dialogue, stories that rhyme, retelling of old stories, retellings of your own stories (in a different point of view, or setting…the possibilities are endless).

Some days you’ll need to do what feels like ‘cheating’ by rewriting a fairytale or reimagining a story of your own, just so you don’t have to work out all the detail. That’s OK. It worked out fine for Gregory Macguire and for Walt Disney…

Allow yourself to fail — You will have some days when it is torture and you when you get to the end of a story and think “what was that?!”. Learn to laugh it off. If you can, figure out why it didn’t work. (Did you forget to give the character something to root for? Did you not know enough about the exotic setting you tried to use? Did you start writing when you were too tired?)

Write down the lessons learned and save them for future reference.

Have A Backup Plan To Help You Start Again—There may be days when time gets away from you and you don’t finish a story. Or whooosh! The whole day goes by and you just forget to write. Prepare for this by having an “if/then” plan in place (an idea I came across in Gretchen Rubin’s excellent new book Better Than Before). Tell yourself “If I miss a day, then I’ll pick right back up the next day. I won’t try to catch up, I’ll just move forward”. Or maybe you can say “If I miss a day, then I’ll confess my sins in the StADa community, and get back to it the next day.” Or some other (positive) “If/then” cycle. All is not lost when you mess up if you have planned for what you’ll do after the inevitable slip.

Join the community — Yes, yes, I know. There’s a danger here. You could spend so much time reading other people’s posts that you never get around to posting, yourself. BUT, there is nothing like a little pat on the back, or a little peer pressure, to make us better than we think we can be. At least post in the Victory Dance group every day after you write something. Congratulate a few other people who have posted, and post a micro-update about your own day. Use the other boards to ask for help, or find a shoulder to cry on when the day didn’t work out as you had hoped.

Don’t ‘quit’ — If you get to day 14 and your life implodes, don’t quit. Change the rules. Admit that life got in the way and you can’t write a story a day this month, BUT commit to writing at least two more stories this month, or one, or whatever you feel you can manage. Come back to the challenge at least one more time.

You’re not failing. You’re learning. Write down what you’ve learned about your writing habits, needs, preferences, struggles, successes, so far this month. Post them somewhere you can find again (a blog is a great place, since it’s archived). Then commit to writing at least one more story before the challenge ends.

Make a note in your diary to check in to the community before the end of May and celebrate the progress everyone has made. Print out your winner’s tiara and wear it with pride, because you showed up. You wrote. You win.

 


 

Tomorrow we’re going to talk about story sparks, writing prompts and what you can do NOW to make sure you have the best chance possible of writing 31 stories during StoryADay May. I’ll also be reminding you that I’ll be releasing I have published the StoryADay Guide: A Month of Writing Prompts 2015 on Monday, April 20. Until May 1, 2015 it’ll be selling at a steep discount, so don’t miss that!

Hint: it’s going to look a lot like last year’s edition, but with all-new prompts, tips and pep-talks.

 

If you want to make sure you receive the rest of this series and notifications about the discounted ebook, and the opening of the StoryADay Community for 2015, join the Advance Notice List:

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required


Which Emails Do You Want?

Email Format


Conquering A Creative Slump – An Interview with Author Sarah Cain

Today we’re taking tips from Sarah Cain, a repeat-StoryADay-participant, whose debut novel The Eighth Circle will be published by Crooked Lane Books in January 2016.

StADa: When did you first participate in StoryADay?

SC: My first StoryADay was in May 2013.  I wasn’t really much of a short fiction writer, but I thought it seemed like a great creative challenge.

StADa: How did StoryADay affect your writing?

SC: I had written a novel and had queried agents to a chorus of rejections and was feeling in a real creative slump. I was working on another novel, but wasn’t happy with the progress. So when the StoryADay challenge came up I thought I could manage to write short pieces for a month, and it would be a change. Give me a chance to get some creative energy flowing, which it did. I had great fun with it, and now write quite a lot of flash fiction.

StADa: What advice do you have for writers thinking about jumping in to StoryADay May?

SC: I think writers should just approach it with the spirit of adventure. It’s a challenge, but great fun. Plus you always have wonderful prompts which writers can follow or not. There’s something very satisfying about finishing a piece of fiction and saying, “Ta da! I did it.” And once you get through the month, you’ll have thirty-one (or however many) stories that you can polish up and submit. Or just put them out on your blog. That’s amazing.

StADa: How’s your writing going now?

SC: Happily, I did find an agent and my novel, The Eighth Circle, a noir thriller, did find a home. It will be published in January 2016 by Crooked Lane Books. Sometimes you just need a spark to get everything moving. I’m now working on a sequel to that novel, and I will be doing StoryADay May this year.

Sarah Cain wrote her first story as a precocious five-year old. She graduated from Smith College with a degree in English and went on to write speeches, ad copy, and videos. Her short fiction has appeared in Unclaimed Baggage, Voices of the Main Line Writers and FlashDogs, An Anthology, and she’s a regular at Flash!Friday where she’s won two first place awards, and her debut novel, The Eighth Circle, will be published by Crooked Lane Books in January 2016. You can find her on Twitter @SarahCain78 and in the StoryADay community @sarahc.

Thanks, Sarah! Looking forward to seeing The Eighth Circle  on bookstore shelves next year!!

From Idea To Story: 7 Ways To Develop Great Stories From Sparks

So far this week we’ve talked about How To Decide What To Write and How To Justify Your Writing Time (To Your Friends and To Yourself).

Now that you’re all keyed up to write, we turn to the tricky question of how to take all your good ideas and turn them into story drafts.
angelou-untold-story

From Idea To Story

Ideas are great.

Story Sparks are great.

Writing prompts can be great.

But anyone can have an idea.

It takes a writer to develop and idea and turn it into a story. Yeah, uh, how do we do that, then?

The Right Way To Write A Short Story

There is no one right way to write a short story.

That’s the beauty of the short story. It can be anything from a classic three-act narrative to a loosely connected collection of nouns verbs and prepositions.

There are as many ways to write a short story as there are writers. The only right way to write a story is to tell it the way you want to tell it.

Writing a short story that readers want to read, however, is a little more limiting.

1. Play With Structure

Short stories don’t have to follow a particular structure. With a short story you can forget about plot diagrams and character arcs and still end up with a satisfying story.

Why? Because short stories exist to immerse a reader in a moment in a character’s life. Or to make them question an assumption by illustrating its absurdity in miniature.

A list can be a short story. A diary entry can be a short story. A tweet can be a short story. But none of them work without the active participation of the reader.

Think about it: in writing short stories, you have to leave a lot out. You can’t spend a lot of time describing the six layers of undergarments worn by ladies of the court, the way you can in a novel. You can’t give much (any) backstory. You can imply, hint and leave spaces.

It’s up to the reader to slow down, pay attention and supply those details. In that way, the short story is a lot like poetry. Even as you play with the structure you must write for the reader.

2. Write For Readers

I don’t mean ‘write for acquisition editors and publishers’. I mean write for your ideal reader.

Readers expect certain things in a story. They expect setting and character and something to happen. Depending on your reader’s preference and tolerance level, they may expect suspense (or not), character development (or not), and a resolution of sorts (or not).

Literary fiction can get away with more of those ‘or not’s than genre and mainstream fiction. Mainstream readers tend to be looking for a less intense escape from reality than literary readers who are willing to study every line as if there’ll be a test on Friday (which they intend to ace.)

But it’s OK for even mainstream or genres readers to expect their readers to participate in the story.

What Do You Mean, Readers Have To Participate?

Read this oft-cited example of the shortest-short story:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

So what? On one hand, it’s just a classified ad. But if you, the reader really start to think about it, you start filling in the details: why the shoes were never worn; who might have placed the ad; and inevitably, how they must have felt, doing so.

You, the reader, are telling the story in cooperation with the author.

This is a pretty extreme version, of course. But you should be aiming for the same effect in every story you write, no matter its shape or length.

I’ve been hosting StoryADay since 2010 and I’ve read a lot of stories in that time. The stories that immerse me in a character or a world or a moment are the ones that stay with me. The stories that ask a question and make me care about the answer (whether or not they supply it) are the ones I seek out and re-read.

So how do you take an idea (either from your own head or from a writing prompt, or from some combination of the two) and make readers keep wondering about it long after they’ve stopped reading the words on the screen?

3. Ask Questions

If you start with in idea about a particular character or setting, next ask yourself “who cares?”. Who will be interested about a story about that character or setting?

Then ask “why”? What makes this situation different? What makes this person interesting?

For example, The Care And Feeding of Plants by Art Taylor, opens with two people who are having an affair, one is married, the other is not. Ho-hum, right? Except that “During one of their trysts…Robert told Felicia to bring her husband over for a Friday night cook-out.” Wait, what? DURING? What kind of people are these? I don’t know about you but I had to keep reading!

Next take your idea and ask yourself “if…then” questions.

In the example above the author might have asked himself: if the husband does come over, what could happen? If the wife refuses to invite him, then what happens? If the lover changes his mind, then what? Follow this line of reasoning down its most interesting, tangled alleys and see what you can come up with. (If you’re like me you’ll need to start writing round about now, because you’ll be too excited not to!) 

4. Leave Gaps

Not literally (though maybe, depending on your story). But leave gaps, as in the six word short story above, and readers will start to ask the questions you leave lying around for them to find.

It might not be necessary to tell readers in the first sentence why your character is standing on a bridge, wind whipping her hair around her tear-stained face, one hand on the thin guide rail behind her. Just put her there and then make us care. You can supply the reasons (or not) later.

You might not need to walk through your character’s entire day to make poignant the moment when they walk through the front door of their home, mussed-up and frazzled.

Think about the minimum amount of information you can give the reader in order to pull them in, and keep them interested, yet still give them room to search for clues in the context as to what’s really going on in the story.

In “Orange” by Neil Gaiman, the entire story is told as a set of responses to questions that the reader never hears. Bob Newhart did a series of comedy sketches based on a one-sided phone call (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnO1lnPH3BQ). He never tells us what happens at 1:41, but I’ll bet you, along with the laughing audience, can guess. You can replicate these ideas or you can use them to remind yourself to leave some things unsaid in your stories, to draw the reader in.

5. Try Something New

If you always write narrative stories with a character encountering an obstacle that clashes with their desires/needs, take a break. Try something different. Instead, write a story made up only of dialogue, or in the form of a memo to the staff, or a series of social-media posts or voicemails.

Challenge yourself to create complete characters or illustrate an absurdity, without talking directly to the reader.

As you write, keep asking ‘what if’ and ‘so what’ questions of your ideas.

6. Getting Unstuck

There’s a point, somewhere in the middle of every story, where it’s very easy to get stuck.

You’ve set up the characters and the situation, but now you’re starting to get tired and the thought of fighting your way to the end (with all the digressions that crop up as you think of objections and things you’ve left out, and things you want to explain) is just too much to bear. (A bit like that sentence.)

At this point, we go back to the questions.

If you don’t know what should happen next, ask yourself: what does your character want? What is standing in her way? How can you make it worse? What is she not prepared to do? Can you force her to do it? How can you resolve the reader’s question of “does she get what she wants” as quickly as possible?

If you’re really stuck, simply finish your sentence then write the words “But then” Finish that sentence and write: “And so” Finish that sentence. Repeat as necessary. You can edit out these phrases and clean up the prose in the rewrite (what else do you have to do in June?), but sometimes a crude, structural approach forms the foundation of a what turns out to be a strong story.

7. Keep Writing

If you are really stuck, the only thing to do is to write. Not brainstorm. Not diagram. Not sketch ideas. And certainly not turn to the next, bright shiny idea.

Write your way out of the problem and get to the end of the story.

It’s a short story. What do you have to lose? No one dies if you get it wrong. No one even needs to see it. But by finishing it, you will have learned so much more than if you give up.

I promise you, from bitter, joyful, exhausted experience, this is the truth.

Use the tactics in this article to blast past your fear, push through the mushy middle, and get to the end of today’s story. It might be a mess. It might be the foundation of something great. It might be a complete mistake.

But the biggest mistake of all is to stop writing.

Fear of making mistakes can itself become a huge mistake, one that prevents you from living.

-Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide To Getting Lost

 

Tomorrow we talk about how the heck you keep doing this over and over again for 31 days in a row. With tips from past “winners” (Plus: how to be a winner even if you don’t write 31 stories)

At the end of this week I’ll be telling you about how you can get your hands onAvailable now a tool to help you sit down and write every day: the 2015 StoryADay Month of Writing Prompts ebook.

Want more articles like this?

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



A Springboard for Short Story Success – Interview with Alexis A. Hunter

StoryADay regular Alexis A. Hunter stopped by the blog to chat about her writing journey over the past few years, and how she’s used StoryADay to help push her beyond her fears. Over the past few years more than 50 of her stories have been published!

StADa: When did you first participate in StoryADay May?

AAH: 2011 was the first year I participated in StoryADay May.  I heard about this awesome challenge about three or four days into the month and so wrote extra stories to catch up.  I have since then participated in the challenge for a total of four years.  It’s been so eye-opening and rewarding!

StADa: Tell us a little about your successes in the past few years.

AAH: The writing journey works differently for different people; my journey has been a bit slow, but always steady.  I’ve made some good headway, breaking into markets I’ve always wanted to be published in.  This year I’ve had stories published in Shimmer, Flash Fiction Online, and Fantastic Stories of the Imagination.  I’ll have a story out in Apex this fall.  It’s really exciting and I don’t think I’d be here (or at least it would have taken me longer to get here) if it weren’t for the StoryADay challenge.

StADa: How have you used StoryADay to help fuel your writing?

AAH: StoryADay taught me things I might not have learned otherwise.  When I first sat down to start writing seriously about five years ago, I was perpetually full of dread about writer’s block.  I had suffered extreme bouts of it before.  Every time I finished a story, I questioned and worried and fretted over whether or not I’d be able to finish another one.

StoryADay taught me that I could do so and that I could do so consistently if I only tried hard enough.  It showed me that if I thought long enough on any given prompt, my mind would rise to the challenge.  It was so…liberating!

I’ve since then used the challenge to fuel my writing by providing a large stock of stories to edit and submit throughout the year. Of course, there are a lot of duds throughout the month of May, but there are also a handful of pretty good stories that I wouldn’t have come up with otherwise.

StADa: What advice do you have for someone thinking about embarking on the challenge or longing to boost their creativity?

AAH: To those thinking about embarking on the StoryADay challenge, I recommend a bit of prep before May 1st hits.  I like to do two things in particular to get ready: 1.) Gather prompts.

I love using the prompts provided by storyaday.org, but I also love combining them with picture prompts.  I keep a Pinterest board of photo prompts, which I add to all year long.  2.) Pick some specific target markets.

Last year, I collected a list of (mostly) themed deadlines for magazines I wanted to get into.  Stuff like an anthology about pirates or magical cats.  The themed nature of those deadlines helped spark stories and having a set market to send the stories to, in turn, kept me on the ball in June and July–editing the stories and getting them sent out instead of letting them languish in an abandoned file.

To those longing to boost their creativity–get into writing prompts! Especially photo prompts, if your mind works well with them.  There is so much amazing art out there that I find especially inspiring.  Prompts are a good way to push you out of your comfort zone.  Try writing a genre you’ve never written before–even if it’s scary.

The result might not be so good, but it will stretch you in a way that writing in your normal groove won’t.  Oh, and try StoryADay if you can!

StADa: What’s next for you?

AAH: Well, May is nearing, so I’m staring down the barrel of another StoryADay challenge.  I hope to participate again this year, even if I don’t hit the 31 story goal like I normally do.  I’m also knee-deep in editing a YA Science-Fantasy novel, which I hope to one day do something with.  But in the meantime, I just keep focusing on writing better and better short stories.  That’s where my heart is really at.

Thanks, Alexis and all the best for your future success!

 

Alexis A. Hunter revels in the endless possibilities of speculative fiction.  Over fifty of her short stories have appeared recently in Shimmer, Cricket Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, and more.  To learn more, visit www.alexisahunter.com.

Turning Off That Pesky Editor – An Interview with Marian Allen

Marian Allen headshot
Marian Allen

Today we’re taking tips from Marian Allen, author, publisher and repeat-StoryADay-participant.

StADa: When did you first participate in StoryADay May?

MA: I heard about StoryADayMay in 2013. I did 2013 and 2014 and I’m looking forward to 2015. ~cracks knuckles~

StADa: Tell us a little about your successes in the past few years.

MA: The first year, I posted this:

People sometimes ask where writers get their ideas. Listen: Getting the ideas is the easy part. Ideas fall like the gentle rain from heav’n upon the place beneath. It’s hooking an idea up with plot, theme, characters, setting, dialog, point of view, language, length, tone, and all the other things that turn an idea into a story that writing is all about.

So I have a big fat folder filled with false starts, snippets remembered from dreams, overheard conversations, random thoughts, and all sorts of “bits”. I plan to reach into that folder and grab a handful of “seeds” and make stories out of them.

That worked. The next year, I went around the house and took pictures of random things, like a globe, a box with a scene on the top, a bowl of rocks, a statue of two giraffes – really random. Those were my prompts.

I always do posts about cats on Caturday – I mean Saturday, or my cats post for me, so my Saturday stories always featured cats. On Sample Sunday, my stories were always about Holly Jahangiri because. Just because. Holly is a real person [A Matter of Perspective ], but twice she won contests I ran to have her name in a story, so now I write stories about her all the time.

StADa: How have you used StoryADay to help fuel your writing?

MA: I tend to write slllllllowwwwwwwwlllllyyyyyyyy, hammering out each word and sentence of a scene. StoryADay is even better than NaNoWriMo at making me turn off that pesky editor. I have to grab an idea and run with it. Knowing that I can do that keeps me from getting too bogged down in polishing when I ought to be knocking together a rough framework. Besides, it’s invigorating to just haul off and write a little story. Telling stories is fun!

StADa: What advice do you have for someone thinking about embarking on the challenge or longing to boost their creativity?

MA: Don’t pre-write. Don’t overthink. Don’t feel bad if it doesn’t work for you. Nothing is for everyone. Give it a try, though; turn off the editor and just let those inventive juices flow. Have fun with it. Think of the StoryADay stories as word doodles.

StADa: What’s next for you?

MA: I have a couple of novels I need to revise for reissue and many novels roughed out or unfinished. I’m putting together a couple more short story collections (including some from past Mays). I’m one of three partners in Per Bastet Publications, so there’s that to keep up with. Book signings. Family. Cats. Much to do!

But first – fun with StoryADay May!

Marian Allen writes science fiction, fantasy, mystery, humor, horror, mainstream, and anything else she can wrestle into fixed form. Her latest books are the SAGE fantasy trilogy, her science fiction comedy of bad manners SIDESHOW IN THE CENTER RING, and her YA/NA paranormal suspense A DEAD GUY AT THE SUMMERHOUSE, all from Per Bastet Publications. She blogs daily at Marian Allen, Author Lady. Every. Single. Day.

Finding Fuel And Focus – An Interview with Cecilia Clark

StADa: When did you first participate in StoryADay?
I don’t remember exactly when I joined a Story A Day but it was likely close to the start of 2014. In 2013 I had begun exploring what was available in the wide world to support and encourage my new career direction as a writer and when I gave notice at my day job in December 2013 StoryADay was one of the important tools I used to keep me focussed as I took the scary, exciting, long overdue and challenging path.

StADa:  Tell us a little about your success.
I had put aside my youthful dreams of being a published writer and paid artist when my first child came along and then life kind of got in the way and my dreams slipped way back into the dust covered depths of the internal storage of my mind.

When a life changing pivotal moment arose I finally embraced my inner creative and launched myself whole heartedly into becoming my dream.

I completed my first NaNoWriMo in November 2013, working a full time job, raising teens and participating in three other challenges as well, I managed to produce 104000 words, 36 pieces of art (SkaSaMo) and 41 picture book ideas (PiBoIsMo).

Then I joined social media groups for writing and art, paid subscriptions to organisations dedicated to supporting writers and artists and I looked for opportunities to challenge myself to write stories and then find homes for my stories.

Since my first camp Nano in April 2013 I have written and had published more than fifty pieces of fiction ranging from 500 word competition pieces and ezine contributions to 30k short stories and novellas. I have completed two novels 60k and 80k+ and begun five more novels. I have produced several hundred pieces of art and actually have a growing body of dedicated followers to my blog.

StADa:  How have you used StoryADay to help fuel your writing?
At first I was lucky if I wrote 200 words a day so I needed fuel for story ideas and some form of prod to keep me focussed. StoryADay provided me with a lot of good ideas for generating flash fiction. StoryADay has a great deal to offer in terms of prompts and advice and I found this to be terrific for churning up the creative juices, especially when I have been stuck.

StADa:  What advice do you have for someone thinking about embarking on the challenge or longing to boost their creativity?

There are so many opportunities and I have found the creative community is a generous and supportive one world wide.

Use what you find out there and make it fit in your life. Whatever time you can dedicate to your dream there is bound to be someone out there with just the right bit of advice for you at a price you can afford. There is a lot of free information- find it and share it.

Set aside fifteen minutes a day and write.

Thinking about your story counts as writing but at some point you need to transfer the words from your head to the page or you will lose them.

Keep a note book handy and jot down ideas, snippets of conversations you overhear, interesting thoughts.

Don’t give yourself a hard time if you don’t write. When you decide the time is right to write you will dedicate the time and effort to it that you give your other day job (that includes parenting). Remember that some of the best writers in the world did not start their writing careers until they had raised their kids and filled their memories with incredible experiences to draw on.

It takes a long time to become an overnight success and the money doesn’t roll in quickly but don’t give up because your story could change the world or even just one persons life so write it. Oh and writing 104000 words in a month while doing all those other things is stupid crazy and caused me to strain my eyes to the point of needing reading glasses, plus swollen ankles, a sore back and no housework done for a month.

It was worth it and I learned to be a little less obsessed and a bit more level headed. The most I have written in a month since then is 56k.

StADa:  What’s next for you?
I have been working on prioritising my online time and increasing my actual writing time. It is way too easy to spend too much time in social media groups to the detriment of the word count. I joined a class to learn how to plan my novels more efficiently. I am attending conferences this year for Romance writers, SCBWI(kids books) and finding writers festivals to attend.

After having 30 anthology pieces published I am no longer submitting to small press as most small press pay nothing and I want to be paid for my work. I intend finishing at least two novels this year.

I have had a brief break from my art due to moving house and intend making art daily once we settle in again. My goal is to have my first full length novel under contract this year.

Cecilia A. Clark is a writer and an artist. She has been a chef, disability carer, teacher, farm worker, foster parent and props master plus so much more. She has volunteered for dozens of organisations, had children, coached public speaking and lived. She is curious. Shecan be found online at her blog, Goodreads, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

I’m exhausted just reading all that. Good luck, Cecilia! I expect to see your novel under contract soon! – Julie

How To Justify Your Writing Time (To Friends and To Yourself)

Yesterday we talked about how to decide what you’re supposed to be writing. You can read it here, but the big lesson was: write a lot. Try new stuff. Don’t let your inner-anti-cheerleader stop you.

Well that’s all very well, but what if your life is busy? When are you supposed to find the time, not to mention the discipline, to sit down and write?

The Lie That You Can Find Time To Write

You can’t.

No one finds time to write. Or to play the guitar. Or to be a rockstar. Or to be a successful investor.

You make time.

Everyone successful, fulfilled person who ever lived, made time for the thing that was important to them.

Justifying The Time

I could give you all kinds of tips for scraping together some free time to write (delegate chores, turn off the TV, say no to invitations to go out) but that’s not the hard part.

The Hard Part

The hard part is convincing yourself that you are allowed to take the time to write.

Writing is personal. You do it alone. You don’t look like you’re working hard. You look like you’re surfing the internet or sulking in your bedroom or shirking your responsibilities.

Worse still, you might feel that way inside.

But I’m here to tell you: if you want to write, you must write.

When you’re writing, no matter how hard it is, you are more truly yourself than at any other time.

And when you finish a writing session, no matter how exhausted or wrung-out you feel, the rest of your life seems just a little bit easier. You are fulfilled. Your mind is clear. You have a sense of achievement. You are a better person when you’re writing.

And that’s the real payoff.

Not internet celebrity. Not publishing contracts. Not the legions of fans. Not the multi-millions in movie-rights sales.

The actual payoff for writing is that you are happier.

Which makes you a better person to be around.

Convince Yourself, Convince Your Crew

You have to try this for yourself to really experience it. And once you have, feel free to point it out to the people around you. If they’re smart, they’ll become accomplices in making time for you to write. If you keep at it long enough, there will come a day when you’re rampaging around the house barking at everyone and, instead of barking back, one smart housemate will say, “Hey, why don’t you go and grab a notebook. You need to be writing.”

Trust me. It happens. And if it doesn’t, perhaps you need to surround yourself with smarter, kinder people.

Resources

Here are some resources to help you convince yourself that your writing is not only important but vital to your continued existence — and some suggestions on how to overcome three common obstacles.

If you’re wondering why you can’t get anything written when you’re setting aside a whole 20 minutes every lunchtime, watch this video from John Cleese. It’s his process for being creative. There may be times when 20 minutes can be productive for you, but there are other times when you will need to listen to Mr Cleese’s advice. https://vimeo.com/89936101

If you can’t get past the suckiness of your first drafts, you need to watch this interview with Ira Glass (again). I get the impression he’s a bit bemused that this is rapidly becoming what he’s most famous for, but it’s because it is so very, very true. (Hint: You need to write a lot!) https://youtu.be/PbC4gqZGPSY

If you don’t believe me that your art is worth doing for its own sake (for your sake), then you need to watch this talk by last year’s StoryADay Guest of Honor, Neil Gaiman. Watch it now. https://youtu.be/ikAb-NYkseI

When The Pencil Meets The Paper

Of course, having bought yourself time to write, doesn’t make it go easily.

If I’ve convinced you that you need to write a lot and that you need to make time for your writing, your next question is probably going to be: but how do I turn all this time and dedication into actual stories?

Tomorrow we’ll talk about The Care and Feeding of Ideas, and how to turn those ideas into fully-fledged story drafts.

Until then: do you have a friend who’s always talking about wanting to write, but never quite getting around to it? Why not share this post with that person? Maybe, between the two of us, we can get them to where they need to be and you two can spend blissful afternoons on writing dates, instead of kvetching about how much writing you’re not doing. Share this now!

How To Decide What You Should Be Writing

This week I’m posting a series designed to help you through the emotionally-charged business of deciding whether or not to commit to writing a StoryADay in May this year.

(Actually it may not be emotionally charged for you. Maybe you already know ‘heck-yeah, I’m onboard’  or you’re sure you can’t/won’t/don’t need to take part this year. Good for you. Also, you’ll probably still enjoy the series. You just get to read it without the angst!)

We’ll be talking about:

Then I’ll be telling you all about how you can get your virtual paws on all my writing prompts for StoryADay May before it even begins!

How To Decide What To Write

You feel, in your gut, that you should be writing. You know it’s something you want to do. But how do you know what you’re supposed to be writing?

To non-writers, that sounds like a stupid question. Have you ever tried talking to a non-writer about this?

You: “I want to write but I don’t know what to write.”

Them: “Can’t you just, like, write about a wizard or some vampires or a sex-crazed billionaire and become a best-seller and split the profits with me? Can I start planning our round the world cruise for next year?”

Or, more likely.

You: I want to write but I don’t know what to write.

Them: So stop whining and do it. ‘K?

But what should you be writing?

The problem is you could be writing about ANYTHING. And that’s paralyzing. You know you need to pick something, but what?

And The Answer Is…

I don’t know.

I don’t know you. I mean, on some level I kind of do, because you’re probably a bit like me: someone who thinks a lot, worries about other people’s feelings, and finds yourself standing in the middle of the kitchen with the phone ringing and no idea why you’re there but you know that damned phone has just interrupted the Best. Daydream. Ever. And that if you could just get some time to write it down you’d be happy and fulfilled and probably rich and famous to boot.

But on another level I really don’t know you. I don’t know what you like. I don’t know what matters to you. I don’t know what gets you so wound up you stay up all night blogging or researching or fretting about it. I don’t know what makes you laugh, or what you love to read, or what kind of writing makes you throw books across the room (then pick them up and smooth out the cover apologetically because, hey, it might be terrible, but it’s still a book, you know?)

I don’t know who your favorite writers are; what genre you couldn’t live without; what you like in a hero; what you love in a villain; whether a galloping plot or deep introspection is more important to you; whether you like a happy ending or prefer something that feels more like real life.

But oh, look. I just gave you a list of things you might use to find a way into writing your own stories.

(If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend digging out your copy of the Creative Challenge Workbook. It walks you through a lot of this and helps you build a roadmap for the future. You can download another copy here if you need to.)

The Big Secret…That Isn’t Really A Secret

Here’s the thing. Even with all of that information you’ve just gathered about yourself, there’s no way to be sure what you should be writing until you…yup, sit down and write.

The best and only way to find your way to your best style/topic/length/tone is to try everything.

Write A Lot, Write Quickly, Finish Everything

How StoryADay Can Help

How many stories did you write last month? How many last year? What did you learn from writing them? Do you even remember? I know I don’t. (I do remember for 2013 though. 2013 was a good year. I wrote a lot in 2013 and I learned a ton!)

Trust me when I tell you: if you write and finish even 20, even 12 stories in on month you will win so much more than bragging rights. You’ll win a free pass into the Secret Society of I’ve-Discovered-What-I-Want-To-Write.

Write Quickly To Defeat Your Inner-Anti-Cheerleader

Writing quickly and writing every day over a sustained period exhausts your inner-anti-cheerleader.

Sure, on the first day, she’s all perky and energetic. She jumps up and down telling you how worthless you are and how you can’t write and you shouldn’t try.

But your anti-cheerleader thrives on attention. When you turn your back on her and start writing, she can shake her pompoms all she likes, but she can’t really do anything more than distract you and make things difficult.

The next day, she’s looking a little less fresh. Maybe her hair’s not quite as neat. Maybe her jump-kicks are a little sloppy. She’s still trying, but you turn your back on her and ignore her once again.

By the fourth day, she’s getting frantic. Frankly, she’s a mess. Her eyeliner’s smudged and her hair’s all poufy, and the only reason her pompoms are shaking at all is because of her rage that you’re ignoring her.

You’ll think you’ve defeated her, but beware: she’s going to rest up for a few days and let you think she’s gone, but really she’s just waiting for you to get tired. Somewhere in the second week of your writing surge, she’s back: revitalized and vengeful. Don’t listen to her. Keep going. This is where you pull out the big guns:

Finish Everything

There is a power in finishing stories that you need to experience for yourself. I can tell you about it but you won’t believe me until you do it.

Finishing teaches you what each story is about.

Finishing shows you that you’re not a terrible writer, no matter how desperate you felt in the muddy middle of your story.

Finishing gives you a first draft you can revise.

Finishing each story gives you a biochemical surge that triggers your brain’s reward centers and makes it more likely you’ll finish the next.

And sitting down, every day*, to start the next story is what defeats your inner-anti-cheerleader. The routine of it tells her firmly that you are going to ignore her again today. She can’t stand up against that kind of ritual snubbing.

(*’Every day’ doesn’t mean ‘every day’. But having a routine is a powerful thing. More about that later this week…)

It’s all very well for me to tell you to sit down to write every day, but what about the rest of your life? You have responsibilities, right? People who rely on you? Deadlines and obligations unrelated to your writing. How on earth are you supposed to find time to write as well?

Stay Tuned

Tomorrow we’ll talk about the big lie in that question, along with a shift in thinking that will allow you to make your writing a priority at long last.

Make sure you’re on the Advance Notice list (check the “Creativity Lab” group option to make sure you receive this series every day), or check out the blog tomorrow to find out how to justify your writing time to friends, family and yourself.

At the end of this week I’ll be telling you about how you can get your hands on a tool to help you sit down and write every day: the 2015 StoryADay Month of Writing Prompts ebook.

P.S. If you found this useful, why not forward it to a friend? You know, that friend that’s always saying they want to write, but never actually does…