How To Set Your Writing Rules

The point of doing this challenge is to push yourself to do more than you thought you possibly could.

The point is to unleash the flood of creativity that comes when you have to write every day.

The point is not to give you yet another way to fail at a creative endeavor.

So yes, you should set yourself a goal that seems momentous, preposterous, monstrous even. And maybe for you that will be: writing 30 stories in 30 days. But maybe it will mean writing a story on five out of seven days.

Obey ImageThe StoryADay Rules say there is one rule, “Write and finish a story every day. That’s it.”

They then promptly go on to talk about all the ways you can add to — or subtract from — that absolute.

I know it’s a bit confusing. It’s my fault. I appreciate rules, but I’m just not very good at being told what to do and I fail to see why I should expect other writers to be any better. Hence…

So, here follows my attempt to make sense of the part where the site says “set your own rules.”

What Do You Mean “Set Your Own Rules”?

The point of doing this challenge is to push yourself to do more than you thought you possibly could.

The point is to unleash the flood of creativity that comes when you have to write every day.

The point is not to give you yet another way to fail at a creative endeavor.

So yes, you should set yourself a goal that seems momentous, preposterous, monstrous even. And maybe for you that will be: writing 30 stories in 30 days. But maybe it will mean writing a story on five out of seven days. Or limiting yourself to 100 word stories. Or taking Thursday’s off.

If you know that your Saturdays are packed with people and obligations, sun-up to sun-down; or if you have tried the challenge before and noticed that you always failed to finish a story after five days of successes; or if you are a member of a religious group that takes the holy day extremely seriously, don’t torture yourself. Write it into your rules that you get to take certain days off.

How Do I Know What A Good Set Of Rules Is, For Me?

And if you haven’t done the challenge before (or if you haven’t written anything for a while) I strongly encourage you to stick to the basic rule: write and finish one story every single day for a month.

I know that sounds ridiculous in itself: surely if you haven’t been writing you should warm up a bit, ease yourself in? No. Sorry. This is not like running a marathon. You’re not going to pull a muscle or ruin your knees.

If you haven’t pushed your short-story writing before, you have no way of knowing what your boundaries are. Only by trying to write a complete story every day for 30 days can you know whether or not you can do it. Or how close you can come. And the effort is its own reward.

If, however, you took part in May, you’ll have a good sense of how much time you could make for writing, and what your goals need to be.

Just be honest with yourself. If you wrote 12 stories in May you might be secretly disappointed in yourself — or you might be thrilled. It all depends on you, and your circumstances. Just set yourself a goal that’s a little more ambitious than whatever you accomplished before and promise yourself you will push and push to get to it.

The Second Rule

The second absolute rule you should set yourself is to treat every day as a new day until the end of the month.

No going back to finish yesterday’s story – until next month
No berating yourself for yesterday’s shortcomings
No looking ahead and saying “I’ll never make it!”
Try your utmost to stick to your writing rules today. Forgive the past, and forget the future. Just write today.

What If I Fail?

Well, first of all, I have a problem with that word: “fail”.

Did you try? Then you didn’t fail. Did you complete a story every day for a month? No? Hmm, well, did you learn something about your style or your voice or your writing method? Did you write more than you wrote the month before (or in any month before. Ever.)?

There may well be days when you fail to finish a story. Forget it. Forgive yourself and move on. You are in pursuit of a great challenge here. Keep after it.

It’s entirely likely that some of your stories are great steaming heaps of passive voiced, prepositionally phrased, tedious prose peopled by heroes who wouldn’t know a plot point if it pointed right at them. Don’t give up on them. Keep writing until you get to the end. Even if you have to kill someone (in fact, that can be kind of fun). Pushing through to the end of a story teaches you so much more than giving up and starting afresh. Finish.

And if it gets to midnight (or whenever you go to bed) and you simply cannot finish today’s story: get some rest. Let it go and vow to start afresh tomorrow.

When the month is over, you can revise what’s worth saving, and learn from what’s not. While the challenge is still running, just keep writing. Strike the word ‘fail’ from your vocabulary. So long as you are writing, you cannot fail. Pat yourself on the back. You wrote. You got complete stories out of your brain — where you didn’t even know they were lurking — and on the page. You are courageous and to be congratulated.

Can I Adjust My Rules?

Yes. Absolutely. This is your challenge. I’d rather you adjusted your rules than gave up. Just don’t be too easy on yourself. This is meant to be a, er, challenge!

In Conclusion

Set ambitious goals
Try to meet them. At the very least, put some kind of ending on each story.
Be hard on yourself every morning and kind to yourself at the end of every day.
Treat every day as a new challenge (don’t look back!)

I Don’t Feel Like Writing – Part II

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Last week we talked about the importance of writing even when you don’t feel like it. Well, enough theory. This week I bring you seven practical strategies for making it happen.

Goals, rewards and accountability buddies form part of the big picture in this scheme. They are sensible parts of your writing’s career plan. But as for the actual “starting writing” part? That’s when you need to be a bit more tricksy.

Try some of these tricks to shake loose the “sensible”, lose the “logical” and get your brain into that devil-may-care creative zone you need for writing.

1. Give Yourself Enough Time

I’ve always loved a deadline — as long as it came with a sleepless night between the two of us. But sit down to write knowing I have to have something completed in an hour?! That’s enough to induce a mammoth case of writer’s block (aka panic). Comedian John Cleese talks about this in this fabulous video on creativity (it’s long, but worth watching). He recommends no less than 90 minutes as a window for creative work, asserting that your brain will try to sabotage you for at least the first half hour…It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it does point out the necessity of allowing more time than you might otherwise plan, for creative ventures.

2. Letter To a Friend

If you’re really having trouble knowing how to get into your story, put all thoughts of readers, editors and publishing out of your head. Instead start writing a letter to your best friend, explaining what this story is going to be about. Write it as if you were describing something that had really happened. You don’t need to finish the letter (or mail it) because the act of writing it out will help you find a way into the actual story, and start writing.

3. Switch Up Your Writing Method

If you usually write on a computer, try turning on the microphone and dictating your story instead (you can transcribe it later). If you usually dictate stories, grab a good pen and some nice paper and write a few paragraphs. If you habitually write on paper, pull up a keyboard. Just the act of writing in a different physical way forces your brain to fire in different ways. You may find yourself “writing” in a different style than usual, or you may simply jump start your writing day. (This will feel awkward. That’s kind of the point. Try it.)

4. Stand Up

Sitting down is not a natural attitude, in evolutionary terms. Humans are made to be upright, to be walking around. So stand up for a while. Pace the floor, muttering like a mad person about the plot point that has you foxed. If you can swing it, put a plank across the arms of a treadmill and balance your laptop on it (I recommend walking very, very slowly until you get the hang of this). Either way, regular movement-breaks help you write by getting your blood pumping and letting your mind wander. Creativity requires thinking-time as well as working-time.

5. Write Nonsense

Some days getting started feels like torture. It feels like a physical impossibility. Put your pen on the paper, put your fingers on the keyboard and just talk. Talk about anything. How hard this is, how much you hate it, what sounds you are hearing outside your window, the feeling of your hair sticking to your neck in the summer heat, anything. Eventually you will relax (and get sick of the navel-gazing, self-absorbed, pity-kitty you have become and start writing the damned story).

6. Outline one scene

Every story has scenes. The bit where we walk in to the characters’ lives. The bit where they are forced to make a decision. The bit when they have a big fight. Take one scene and outline it. Promise yourself that you’ll write this one scene today even if you don’t manage anything else. Figure out who is in the scene, where it takes place, what the characters want, why they can’t have it (yet) and what function the scene plays in the overall scheme of the story (is it a set-up scene? Does it contain the inciting incident? Is it the climax?). Don’t worry about how you’ll write the rest of the story. Outline this one scene. Then write it.

7. Visualize Success

This is the most hippy, nebulous piece of advice I will give and its a bit more ’big picture’ than the other techniques here, but used in conjunction with them it can be extremely powerful. We are a product of our beliefs about ourselves, so let’s make sure we spend some time on the positive ones. Yes, writing is hard. No, we’re not big successes yet. So why do we do this to ourselves? What do we want? Answer this question then spend some time imagining how it will feel when you get there. Use those anticipated good feelings to propel you towards your goal.

Your goal might be as grand as seeing yourself doing book signings and readers to adoring fans. Or it might be as simple as remembering the thrill you always feel when you finish a piece.

And remember, you’re a writer. It is your job to imagine things all the time. If MBA candidates and captains of industry can use this technique, how much more successful will you, a writer, be?

What techniques do you use to jump start your work on a day when you don’t feel like writing?

 

Need more help jump-starting your writing day? Check out the ebook: The StoryADay.org Guide To Breaking Writers’ Block

What If I Don’t Feel Like Writing?

You love to write, right?

Except when you don’t.

2006_05.28 Isaac tantrum

What’s a writer to do on those days when your inner writer is being a cranky toddler, plumping it’s big fat bottom down on the floor, screwing up its face and wailing,

“I dun wanna wri-i-ite!”

Today I bring some tough parenting love for your inner child-writer. Next week: seven practical strategies to jump-start your writing on the days when even The Mommy Voice won’t cut it.

Tough It Out

D’ya think the dairy farmer always leaps out of bed before dawn, whistling and praising the winter wind that whips away his breath on the way to the byre? Nope, but you need milk for your coffee, so he drags himself out of bed.

Readers, no, the world needs your stories, so get your fingers on the keyboard.

But Julie, you say, writing is a creative pursuit! How can I be expected to turn out something wonderful if writing feels like work?

In answer I say: how will you turn out something wonderful if you aren’t sitting down every day and learning how to get through the reluctance, the fear, the slog? You don’t have to write something wonderful every. You do, however, have to write. Whether you feel like it or not.

Do whatever it takes to get yourself past the reluctance and into that happy place where the words flow. Stay in your chair until you are happy to be there. Your readers will thank you.

Rewards

If you are not writing for a steady paycheck and legions of crazed fans, you need another reward structure.

It IS hard to start and finish a story. It IS hard to face the revision process. You DO deserve a reward for putting in the effort – beyond the satisfaction of knowing you did it.

So, set up some incentives for yourself. Be generous, but canny. Your rewards should enhance your creativity rather than take the edge off.

Examples of creativity-enhancing rewards:

  • -a call to a like-minded friend,
  • -a new notebook,
  • -some guilt-free time contemplating a thing of beauty,
  • -a walk in the woods

Stodgy, counterproductive “rewards”:

  • -a half-pint of ice cream,
  • -two hours flipping through the channels,
  • -a free-flowing bitch-session about how hard it is to be a writer.

 

Goals

Yes, goals. Set regular goals and meet them.

Any or all of the following – especially when you pair them with the accountability of telling a more-bossy friend about them – can help you break through the barriers on a day when you just don’t want to write:

-a daily word count or ’scene goal’. Commit to write X number of words or complete scenes every day. You will progress, even if you end up revising heavily later.
-a weekly goal can make the whole ’goal’ thing less stressful than a daily goal. Struggling on Tuesday? Make up for it on Wednesday, Thursday AND Friday.
-write down mid-term and long-term goals: “finish three stories this month”, “revise and submit stories to ten markets by October”, “self-publish a story collection in 2013”.

Refer to your list as you sit down to work. Remind yourself it’s not just about the slog or the word-count: you have goals for your writing.

And if one of your goals is “support myself through my writing, full-time” then it’s even more important that you figure out, now, how to write even when you don’t feel like it.

Next week: seven specific techniques for getting yourself in the mood to write even when your inner child-writer is saying “I dun wanna!”.

Then, let me bust your writing excuses. No more excuses!

 

So tell me, what do YOU do when you don’t feel like writing?

Climbing Mount Revision One Step At A Time

As we sit here, there are only seven days left in May. Seven more stories and then you’re free to take a break, keep writing, set your stories on fire or, preferably revise them into works of genius. To help you out with that latter option I’ve recruited Gabriela Pereira from DIYMFA.com to give you some tips on revision.

OK, I’ll admit it. When I was in high school (and college and art school and grad school) I was definitely guilty of turning in work before revising it. Sure, I would do a quick spell-check and maybe give it a once-over for grammar, but rarely did I ever roll up my sleeves and do serious revision. And I totally know why I was so resistant to revision for so long: revision is flippin’ scary. The goal for this post is to make revision a little less scary. Let’s get started!

 

Principles of Revision
Before we dive into the how-to part of this post, here are a few things to keep in mind as you revise your work.

1) Let your writing cool down before you revise. Revision allows you to add rational choices and strategy to the frantic bursts of creativity that came out in the first draft. Take at least two weeks (maybe longer) after writing your draft to let it cool down before you revise. Step away and work on something else, then come back to it when you’re able to look at it with an objective eye. The beauty of StoryADay is that by the time you get to Day 31 of the challenge, the story you wrote on Day 1 is probably cooled off enough that you can go back and revise.

2) You need to finish first. Nothing you write is etched in stone… you can always come back and make it better later on. You can do fix just about any problem in revision, but you can’t revise a blank page. Finish first. This is why StoryADay is such an awesome challenge: it forces you to finish. Once you’re done with the challenge, you’ll have 31 finished pieces that you can pick and choose from when you start to revise.

3) Do a first read-through. Try to create a relaxing reading experience, similar to how you would read for pleasure. Make sure you’re not focused on the fact that you’re reading your own work. Make minimal notes. Your goal is to absorb the story as a whole, not nitpick over minor details. Tip: I put my drafts into Kindle format and read it on the kindle. This makes it feel like I’m reading a “real book” and not just a printed out draft. With the Kindle, I use the footnote function to make my notes, and since I’m lazy about typing notes with my thumbs, this forces me to keep the notes short.

4) Extract an outline. Write an outline of what you’ve got as a way of getting a handle on what you have written. Then adjust the outline according to the notes you made in your read-through and implement those changes in the draft.

 

Revise in Layers
I like to think of revision as climbing up a mountain. As you go up the mountain, you focus on the challenges and struggles of that one section. You don’t think about climbing the whole mountain at once (or else you’ll psych yourself out) but instead, only worry about that one small slice of the mountain. Revision is the same way. You start at the base of the mountain, revising the most basic elements of your story, then work your way up until you’re focusing on the nitty-gritty details like word choice and grammar. In my mind, revision looks a little bit like this:

Mount Revision graphic

The advantage of approaching the revision process in layers is twofold. First, you avoid overwhelming yourself because you’re only focusing on one layer at a time. Second, if you’re working with a deadline and you don’t have time to address each layer, this method can be especially valuable. If you start at the bottom and work your way up, at the very least you’ll have covered the most important elements of the story whereas if you focus on line edits first, you won’t have time to work out those bigger problems. Here’s a quick summary of each section of the revision mountain and how to address it.

Narration: This is where you consider how you’re telling the story. Is the point of view (POV) right for your story? Should it be in past tense rather than present? Is the voice of the narrator working? The best way to figure that out is to take the first page of your story and rewrite it according to the different options you’re considering, then decide which you like best.

Character Development: Don’t try to juggle all your characters at once. Start with the protagonist and figure out his/her arc, then look at key members of the supporting cast (like the villain or other important supporting characters). Work on each character separately to keep things manageable.

Plot: Here’s where extracting an outline can be extremely useful. If the typical list-format doesn’t work for you, there are many other outline options out there so you’re bound to find something that works for you.

World Building, Dialogue Description and Theme: Focus on these elements one at a time. Is the setting for your story clear? Does it feel real to the reader? How about dialogue and description? Do they flow and ring true? Finally, what’s your theme and does your story convey it?

Take-Home Message

Ultimately, revision is where you add the strategic elements to your story. Now that you know who the characters are and what’s going to happen, you can plant foreshadowing moments and hint at themes that will be important later on. You can’t do all this in your first draft because during that stage of the process you don’t know your characters or the story completely. It’s only once you know the ending and who your characters are at their core that you can manipulate the story in a strategic way.

Once you’ve revised your story, you’re ready to think about submitting it. For details on the submission process, you can look at this handy guide on How to Submit to Literary Magazines over at the DIY MFA website. And don’t forget to join in on the Sub2Pub challenge! Write on!

 

Gabriela Pereira is the Founder and Instigator at DIY MFA: the Do-It-Yourself Program in Creative Writing. DIY MFA is dedicated to helping writers improve their technique and build the benefits of a traditional MFA into their everyday writing lives.

Gabriela has an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School with a concentration in Writing for Children. She works as a freelance writing teacher and has taught workshops throughout New York City. Her fiction has appeared in various literary magazines and one of her lesson plans was included in the anthology DON’T FORGET TO WRITE, published by 826 National. She writes regular columns on writing for the STORIES FOR CHILDREN newsletter and CURIOSITY QUILLS PRESS.

Visit DIYMFA.com for more information or connect with Gabriela on twitter (@DIYMFA), Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest. For weekly writing boosts, signup for the newsletter WRITER FUEL and stay in the loop with all the latest at DIY MFA.

Host a Writing Sprint

RunnerHaving trouble getting started with your writing today? Why not host a writing sprint?

WHAT IS A WRITING SPRINT?

A writing sprint is a focussed block of writing time. Ideally you announce it to the world and invite others to join.

It’s usually pretty spontaneous. A writer announces that they’re doing a writing sprint at :15, for example (meaning ’15 minutes past the hour wherever you are’), and says ‘join me?’

I see writing sprints mostly on Twitter, because that’s where I hang out, but there’s no reason you can’t host one on your favourite social media network: Twitter, Facebook, Livejournal, LinkedIn, even the StoryADay activity stream.

WHY HOST A WRITING SPRINT?

  • You’ll inspire other people to join you in real time, as you write.
  • You’ll feel like you’re not in this alone.
  • You’ll be accountable to the other people taking part and less likely to abandon your own efforts.

HOW TO HOST A WRITING SPRINT

Start It

All it takes is a simple announcement. You can give people some notice (if you know you’ll be writing at 7 AM EST, say so) or you can just say “Go”.

Here are some sample messages you can send

About to write my storyaday story. Want to write with me? #WritingSpring at 0:15.

I’m #writing RIGHT NOW. Join me?

The hashtags are a Twitter thing: they let people easily find other people who are interested in the same things. the ‘Writing Sprint at 0:15’ part lets people know you’re starting at fifteen minutes after whatever hour it is now, wherever they are. (Obviously you can make it 0:00 or 0:23 or any time you like).

Set A Time Limit (optional)

Some people say they’re going to ‘sprint’ for 30 minutes or an hour or 15 minutes. That lets people know how long you’ll all be writing together (though anyone should feel free to write for more or less time). This is optional, though it increases the sense that you’re all in it together for at least that amount of time.

Write

This is important: get offline and write.

No, you won’t actually know if anyone is writing along with you because you’re not checking your messages (right?!). But just imagining a squad of other writers out there writing along with you is kind of fun.

End The Sprint

When your story is finished (or your time is up), send another quick message to let your followers know you are done, and invite them to check in. Sample messages:

#WritingSprint finished! I got a lot done! How about you?

That #WritingSprint was bit of a slog, but I did get 523 words written. How did you do?

Enjoy The Feedback

Sometimes you’ll hear nothing (especially if your network is small and not populated by writers) but sometimes you’ll hear from people you don’t even know, who just saw your hashtag, or message, and jumped in because you gave them the motivation they needed to get going today. And even if you don’t hear from them, there mayl be writers out there who saw your ‘writing sprint’ announcement and buckled down to write a story that would not otherwise have been told.

And trust me, it’s a pretty warm and fuzzy feeling, knowing you’re helping motivate people to write.

Save Our StoryADay!

Sending out an SOS to writers who are struggling with StoryADay this May

sos

Maybe you haven’t started yet. Maybe you’re eight stories in. Maybe you started and then, well, life got in the way and…
But where ever you are, there are still 23 days left in May.
What will you do – in the next 23 days – as your gift to your Writing Self?
Here are 9 Ways To Save (or Support) Your StoryADay May:

1. Reset Your Goals

Only you know what’s going on in your life. If you know (or have discovered) that you simply can’t write a story a day, ask yourself what you could write. Three stories a week? One story, but worked on four days out of the week?
This is your challenge. Make it what you need it to be.

2. Forget The Past

Missed a day (or eight)? Forget it. Forgive it. You have today. Write something today.

3. Forget The Future

31 stories in 31 days sounds like a lot – and it is. What if you’re tired? What if you can’t face the idea of having to do another story tomorrow?
Well, what if the world ends and there is no tomorrow? What if aliens abduct all the writing materials on Earth tonight?
Just write for today.

4. Forget Your Audience

Nothing is more paralysing than thinking about what someone might think of your writing. On a first draft you must shut out all those voices. Don’t worry about the snooty woman in your book club who thinks First Person stories are lazy. Don’t worry that your sister will recognize herself in the portrait of the uptight pain in the posterior you are writing. Write to entertain or amuse yourself, to exorcise your demons, to distract yourself from having that drink or eating that fourth slice of pie. Whatever.
You do not need to share these stories with anyone. Write for yourself.

5. Write Rubbish

Really. You are allowed to write something truly terrible. Because if you allow yourself to write badly, you can laugh at yourself, and laughter is powerful voodoo. And then you can learn what not to do tomorrow.
And, the chances are, somewhere in that steaming midden of middling prose, will be a phrase, a clause, a character, an image — something — that you’re just a little bit proud of and that will make you come back and try again tomorrow.

6. Read & Comment On Someone Else’s Stories

Go to the StoryADay blogs and pick one. Read a story. Leave a comment. Admire the double bravery of your fellow writer who both wrote a story and put it out into the world. Encourage them. Imagine how it might feel to get a little of that love in return. Want it? Write something!

7. Get A Buddy

If you do read and comment on some other StoryADay participants’ stories, you’ll probably find that you’ve just built yourself a personal cheering squad.
It’s a pretty awesome, supportive community over at StoryADay.org. Comment on someone’s story and they’re liable to come looking for yours. Ask them to check in on your progress and they will. Knowing that someone is waiting for your story (or to see your post in the Victory Dance group) can work wonders for your productivity!

8. Use The Prompts

Even if you hate the idea and sit staring at them for ages before anything comes, prompts can be a great way of getting you started on your day’s writing. Even if it’s just to shout, “This is stupid. I’m writing X, instead!”
You can subscribe to the StoryADay Prompts By Email service (this week they’re focusing on ‘character’), or check out these other prompt sites on the Resource Page.

9. Take the StoryADay SOS Course

I’ve run this course in April for the past two years, with good results. It’s a guided writing course with lessons and a dedicated private forum. You write three stories each week, starting with micro-mini stories and building on your successes. If you are really having trouble knuckling down and writing, this might be just the jump-start you need.
I’m going to run the course again starting this Friday, May 11, and it will run through until May 31 as a Save Our StoryADay Rescue course.Click here for more details.
BONUS CONTENT: I’m including in a weekly one-to-one Accountability phone call with me – a 10-15 minute check-in each week to chat about how you’re getting on, and what might be holding you back.

Limited to 20 people so don’t delay!

How To Become An Insanely Productive Writer This May

Seven of the best tips from previous StoryADay participants, to help you become an insanely productive, happy and sane writer.

If you really want to become a good writer, in this lifetime, you have to write. You have to write a lot.

Write First! Write Fast!

Here are seven of the best tips from previous StoryADay participants, to help you become an insanely productive, happy and sane writer. Plus one bonus tip and a question for you, at the end.

Read More

You Can’t Write Well Without Writing A Lot

“If you want to write, practice writing. Practice it for hours a day, not to come up with a story you can publish but because you long to learn how to write well, because there is something that you alone can say. Write the story, learn from it, put it away, write another story.”
– Ann Patchett “The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life (Kindle Single)

 

I had barely started reading Ann Patchett’s short treatise on writing, when I wanted to adopt her.

We, as writers, can spend all day reading about writing (or just reading, for that matter), but there is nothing like the act of writing to teach us how to do the job.

 WRITE A LOT

And not just writing, but writing a lot.  My new buddy Ann puts it perfectly:

“Think of a sink pipe filled with sticky sediment: The only way to get clean water is to force a small ocean through the tap. Most of us are full up with bad stories, boring stores, self-indulgent stories, searing works of unendurable melodrama. We must get all of them out of our system in order to find the good stories that may or may not exist in the fresh water underneath.”

 

What?! There’s no reason to apologize or feel bad about all the trite, self-indulgent stories that bubble up to the surface? There is no reason to expect that any of what we write will be good, especially if it has been a while since we did any serious writing-in-quantity? We can write without being perfect? What a concept!

 TEN THOUSAND HOURS

And it’s not just m’buddy Ann.

Malcolm Gladwell points out, in his fascinating book Outliers: The Story of Success, that experts become experts not by being talented or smart, but by loving what they do and putting in lots and lots of practice. He refers to a study into musical talent and preparation by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson:

“Ericsson and his colleagues then compared amateur pianists with professional pianists…The amateurs never practiced more than three hours a week over the course of their childhood, and by the age of twenty they had totaled two thousand hours of practice. The professionals, on the other hand, steadily increased their practice time every year, until by the age of twenty they, like the violinists, had reached ten thousand hours. The striking thing about Ericsson’s study is that he and his colleagues couldn’t find any ‘natural’, musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did.”

 

(And you thought a story a day sounded like a big commitment!)

Gladwell applies this theory to all kinds of experts and ‘geniuses’ including Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and The Beatles.

“And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyeone else. They work much, much harder.”

THE JOY OF WORK

But don’t let that word “work” scare you. After all, you are a writer. You love to write (or at the very least, you love having written!).

The reason the Bills, Steves, John-Paul-George-and-Ringoes and Yo-Yo Mas of the world “work” so hard to become world-class at what they do, is precisely because they don’t see it as “work”. They love what they do.

 

Not every second, I would imagine — any more than you love those moments when you want to bang your head off the desk then throw your computer out of the window. But we love what we do, in the sense that we will do it forever, for the joy of it, whether or not anyone ever pays us for it.

 LEARNING TO DO IT WELL

So we might as well do it well.

The consensus seems to be that to do something well, you have to do lots of it. You have to practice. And you have to learn to love the practice, not just the promise of future rewards. Steve Jobs famously celebrated his meandering approach to education, saying that if he had never stumbled into a typography class (and loved it), the Mac would never have become what it did – and nor would Apple, and nor would Steve Jobs.

StoryADay is here to help you get back into the habit of practicing your writing. It’s not here to promise you publication, or fame or riches. It’s not here to promise you’ll write anything throughout the whole month that will be worthy of publishing. But StoryADay May is coming to help you push yourself to practice. Think of StADa as the parent who made you play scales between piano lessons; the coach who inspired you throw endless pitches at the side of your house in the evenings; the teacher who made you do fractions over and over and over again until it finally clicked and you started to see the music between the numbers.

Use StoryADay in place of the teacher Ann Patchett still celebrates for teaching her,

“..how to love the practice and how to write in a quantity that would allow me to figure out for myself what I was actually good at. I got better at closing the gap between my hand and my head by clocking in the hours, stacking up the pages.”

 

Are you ready to start stacking up the pages?

Writing With Confidence – Imagine The Perfect Reader

When you write, if it is to be any good at all, you must feel free, free and not anxious.
-Brenda Ueland “If You Want To Write”

friends

Some of my best writing, before I started to concentrate on my fiction again, was done in hand-written letters to my childhood friend, Linda.

She is witty and clever and very different from me in many ways, but we share a long history, and she understands all my references. She is unfailingly supportive, except when I’m being an idiot and need a kick up the rear, which she will happily – and gently – administer.

Writing letters to my friend is effortless because I want to entertain her, I know her, and I know she will be a generous reader.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could be sure that all your stories were met with such an audience?

Well, of course, you can’t. But the best way to assure a good response to your writing is to write your very best stuff. And the only way to write your very best stuff, is to come at it with confidence, as if it were going to be read by your ideal reader.

Do you know who your ideal reader is? (Hint: it might be you).

Sketch out a few characteristics of you Ideal Reader now.

  • Do you actually know someone who would be your ideal reader?
  • What authors does she like?
  • How does he like his characters to act?

Now, keep this image of your ideal reader in mind next time you sit down to write a story.


If this technique helps you, leave a comment and the description of your ideal reader, below. I’d love to see what you came up with.

17 Ways For Writers To Use Pinterest

Intro: What Is Pinterest?

  • Pinterest is a bookmarking site that lets you save images, rather than text links.
  • Find a page (or picture) you like on the web, ‘pin’ it and add one of its images to a visual pinboard
  • Pinterest is also a social network: find interesting images and links based on what friends with common interests are ‘pinning’
  • Images on Pinterest automatically link back to the original page where the images was posted (creating the ‘bookmarking’ part).

I'm going back on Pinterest as soon as I get home...As you browse Pinterest it becomes clear that most people are using it to create ‘idea vision boards’ for projects like home-decor and craft projects. But there are plenty of ways for a writer to use Pinterest to, from building a collection of inspirational quotes to building a following as a  high-quality ‘pinner’ in a particular niche.

So, how do you use Pinterest? As well as browsing Pinterest and repinning other people’s images, I recommend grabbing the ‘bookmarklet’ and putting it in your browser’s links bar. Then, as you browse the web, ‘pin’ images and arrange them in boards, adding new material to Pinterest.

As with every hot new social network, building a reputation early is key to becoming influential on that network. Allocate some time every day to building quality links and soon you’ll be a Pinterest guru. People are inclined to feel personally invested in the ventures of people they ‘know’, so gathering a large audience on a social network can ultimately lead to sales of your work.

Here are 17 ways you can use Pinterest to inspire and improve your own writing, and build an audience for your work. 

 

1. Create an Ideas board

Never again sit down at your desk and think “I don’t know what to write!”.

Browse the web and ‘pin’ pictures that suggest an intriguing starting point (or climax) for a story.

Browse other people’s boards on Pinterest, always thinking about characters, settings and story.

Add all these pictures to one “Writing Prompts” board  and refer to it as often as necessary.

2. Create a vision board for your characters

3. Create a vision board for story settings

  • Houses
  • Interiors
  • Exotic locales
  • Mundane locales

4. Collect inspirational posters and sayings

Lots of people collect and pin posters of inspirational sayings. You can create your own writing related board.

You can also easily create visual version of favourite quotes that you come across while reading.

  • Fire up your image software
  • Create a nice background,
  • Overlay some text in a nice clean, readable and a large enough size that it’ll catch someone’s eye when they are browsing lots of little thumbnails.
  • Post to a page on your own website.

When people click on the pin (and the repins) they will be brought to you site, so make sure there is something good for them to discover on the page as well as the picture!

To see an example of how I used this technique click here, then click on the image.

5. Build a board full of pictures of your mentors

*Collect pictures of authors: those you love, those you aspire to be like. Look at them for inspiration

I recommend collecting three tiers of mentor. (Some days you won’t be able to stand looking at anything but the bottom rung…)

  • Writers you know you must be able to equal,
  • Writers who are more practiced than you, but who you don’t hold in complete awe,
  • The gods of your writing life. You can’t imagine being like them, but reading their work always inspires you.

6. Collect pictures of beautiful libraries and bookshelves

You’re in this business because you love books and reading, right?. There’s nothing like gazing at a beautiful space filled with books to fill you with dreams of seeing your book among them. (Also, these are popular pictures, often ‘repinned’ by avid readers, and isn’t that your target audience?

Untitled
Start your own “writing spaces” board on Pinterest by pinning this picture!

7. Collect pictures of authors’ workspaces, for inspiration

There’s  nothing like a little solidarity to make you feel you’re not alone in your writing journey. Why not pin some pictures of other writers’ workspaces? Or start your own board with this one ->

8. Collect funny comics or pictures to give yourself a break

There is a lot of humor and comics online aimed at readers and writers (and librarians). Pin a few!

9.  Create a vision board for your story’s antagonist

Back to the writing! Start working on your antagonist. Collect pictures of

  • People (mean people, nice people, overbearing parents, sweet grandmothers. Antagonists come in all forms)
  • Expressions of emotion
  • Mean-spirited quotes
  • Places that typify your antagonist or evoke the difficulties your characters get into.

10. Collect beauty

Who says everything in your pinboards has to be connected to writing?

For inspiration – to get you in the creative zone –  collect pictures of things that you consider really beautiful. Art and beauty tend to feed each other.

If you only focus on books and writing you’re inviting creative block. Look at all the beauty in the world and art, and feel those creative juices flow again.

11. Collect cover art of books similar to your story

It can be easy to lose your way while writing, and lose the ‘tone’ you were striving for. A quick glance at a board full of the covers of books written the style you’re aiming for can get you right back on track. (Imagine looking at a screen full of hard sci-fi books versus a screen full of historical romance covers. Instant mood-change!)

12.  Create a board for pictures of your work ‘in the wild’

If you have already published work, appeal to your fans for pictures of your work out in the real world. (You can do this through Twitter or Facebook or some other social network if you have a following there).

Collect pictures of your book being read, on shelves, on benches, in boxes arriving from Amazon.

Sharing these pictures oing this creates ‘social proof’ that other people are reading your work: a powerful marketing tool to encourage readers to try your work.

13. Create a board for fan art

  • Sure they’re dinging your copyright, but you’ll create more raving fans with a compliment than a ‘cease & desist’ letter
  • Best-selling author Neil Gaiman regularly posts links to fan art, and his following is the kind of cultish, raving fans you want to create!
  • Allowing not-for-profit derivative works gives people a sense of ownership of your characters. They will love them (and you) all the more if you acknowledge them.

14. Create a board about something you really love, whether or not it’s related to writing

Yes, it’s off-topic but there are two very good reasons for doing this:

  1. Readers like to get to know the authors, to get a look behind the scenes
  2. You’re more likly to keep updating a board filled with things you are passionate about, rather than one you think you ought to be doing

15. Don’t go, ahem, overboard with this

One or two off-topic boards are great – they let readers see another side of you. However, if eight out of ten of your Pinterest boards are off-topic, you risk your followers missing the message your’re trying to send (“I write. You might want to read my stuff if you like my taste”.)

16. Create a board of other books like yours

*This might seem counter-intuitive, but you’re not really competing with other authors. If someone is a dedicated reader, they’re always looking for more titles like the ones they love. If you become a valued source of recommendations, they’re going to learn to trust your taste, and are more likely to give your books a try.

17. Create a board that will appeal to a particular interest of your readers

Promoting yourself and your work doesn’t necessarily mean talking about yourself and your writing all the time (in fact, I would argue that talking about yourself and writing shoudl be the least of what you do). Think about what your readers like, and pin those things.

  • Debbie Macomber, an author who knits and often inclues knitting in her books, could create a board of beautiful kniting patterns, accessories or humor (yes, there is knitting humor!)
  • Sophie Kinsella might create a board full of images from the latest fashion shows and blogs

If you like to read in the genre you’re writing in, think of the other things that interest you. Chances are your fellow readers in that genre are also interested in some of them. Create an awesome board in that niche and start building followers.

 

WARNING COPYRIGHT ISSUES

There is a brewing controversy with Pinterest since people are taking and repinning other people’s (possibly copyrighted) images. Also, Pinterest’s terms of service have all kinds of silly things in them that say they can reuse and sell anything pinned on Pinterest. I remember a similar controversy back in the stone age of the intenet when Yahoo took over Geocities. These things usually get sorted out when a few stroppy creatives stand up to the lawyers writing the terms of service. (I’m not downplaying the importance of this issue, but I do believe it will be sorted out by a change in the language in the terms of service).
UPDATED 3/24/12: Pinterest has announced an update to its terms that addresses the silly “we can sell your stuff” clause and have announced tools to make reporting of copyright infringement easier. These are good signs that Pinterest is evolving and should survive, and is therefore worth putting time into.

More damaging, however, is the idea of using other people’s work without permission. The consensus so far seems to be that you should only

  • Pin artwork from the page where it was originally posted (this way, the ‘pin’ leads back to the original site and the original artist gets credit. For extra credit yourself, look at any images on pages and try to make sure that they are not violating someone’s copyright before you give that page more publicity by pinning the image’. If the image is clearly from a professional photographer yet is on a 13 year old’s fan site, with no attribution, you’re probably looking at a copyright violation.)
  • Create your own artwork
  • Find images that are marked as being available under the Creative Commons license (for example, you can do an advanced search at Flickr and check the box that says ‘search only within Creative-Commons licensed content”)
So that’s it. Now you have no excuse to say “Oh that Pinterest thing? I don’t know, maybe I’ll get to it later.”
Go now, start pinning!
How are you using Pinterest? I’d love to hear your comments!

 

Have Fun Storming The Castle – Writing Lessons From The Princess Bride

Writing and crafting a good story is hard work. But there is joy in it too. Otherwise what would be the point?

I was reminded of this when quoting one of my favourite lines from the movie, The Princess Bride.

The heroes are off to take on bad guys. The odds are against them and they have a hard, painful and probably futile fight ahead of them. Neverless Miracle Max and his wife Valerie wave them off cheerfully, crying,

“Bye, boys! Have fun storming the castle!”

Writing a story is a lot like storming a castle and there is a lot we writers could learn from Wesley, Inigo, Fezzik, Buttercup and yes, even Vizzini, as we storm the gates of our stories.

Have a good reason to storm the castle

Castles are strong. They were built specifically to withstand a good storming, employing all kinds of tricks to repel attackers. You had to have a damned good reason to want to storm a castle. As we know, Wesley had the most important reason to storm his castle (‘true love’). No lesser cause would have compelled him to overcome the difficulties of overpowering enemy manpower, a locked gate with only one key, and having been mostly dead all day.

You need a good reason to write. Even if you lose faith at times, at one point you believed enough in this story, this character or the lesson you felt you could share, to begin the audacious process of breaking through fear, apathy and laziness and begin writing this story. Hold fast to that reason. Your story is worth fighting for.

Formulate A Plan

It may not seem like the heroes have much going for them, but they take stock of their resources (“If only we had a wheelbarrow”), examine their strengths (“your brains, Fezzik’s strength, my steel”), and come up with a plan, long before they take their first step towards the castle gate.

Don’t assume that, just because you like to write, you can sit down and create a whole story without doing any planning. You don’t have to know what will happen at every step of your plan but you need something to build on. Every story needs a hero, a setting, and some movement (something must happen or change between the beginning and the end). Do you know what must change for your character? (even if you don’t know *how* it will change).

You don’t even have to form a plan before you begin writing (the heroes have left to storm the castle before Wesley even wakes up, never mind begins to form his plan), but perhaps, like Wesley and his friends, you should pause at the edge of the woods to take stock, and plan the next stage of  your battle every so often.

Be Flexible

WESLEY: Now, there may be problems once we’re inside.

INIGO: I’ll say. How do I find the Count? Once I do, how do I find you again? Once I find you again how do we escape?”

FEZZIK: Don’t pester him. He’s had a hard day.

Just because I’m saying you should plan a little, doesn’t mean you need to be rigid. Once you have stormed the gates of your story (the beginning), you still have to find your enemy, rescue the princess and find a way out. You do not need to know how all these things happen before you start to write. You may find that circumstances within your story take you in unexpected directions. You will need to be flexible. But bend too far and your story can break.

To avoid this that each of your characters, and you as the writer, stay true to your goals.

Stay True To Your Goal

When Count Rugen is at the point of Inigo’s sword, he offers Inigo money, power, all that he has and more, anything he asks for. It’s a pretty tempting offer for a drunk with no prospects (“there is not a lot of money in revenge”). Inigo, however, does not hesitate. He knows exactly what he wants, and that is: to avenge his father.

As you are writing, your story and your characters will offer you little side trips, new characters may pop up and tempt you with their fascinating foibles, new elements may demand to be included. Take some advice from Vizzini (“When a job goes wrong, you go back to the beginning”). Take a breath and ask yourself what was your goal for this story?

However much it loves being endlessly written, this story’s fate (like Count Rugen’s) is to be finished off. Stay focused on the main idea, the main theme, the main direction of the action, and ignore all its false promises of goodies if you just keep writing it, if you let it live, forever. You know, as well as Inigo, that the only way to satisfaction is to stick with your goal until the end.

Trust That An Ending Will Present Itself If You Keep Moving Towards It

At the climax of The Princess Bride, things are in a bit of a mess for our heroes. Sure, they have successfully stormed the castle and Inigo has his revenge, but it seems that Buttercup has married the evil prince after all, Fezzik has disappeared and Inigo can’t find Wesley. Buttercup is about to kill herself, Wesley cannot move and is at the point of Prince Humperdink’s sword in a tower room with no apparent exit.

Does Wesley give up? No, he does not. Instead, he vamps.

That’s right, he keeps talking, until something changes, until he finds the strength to take action. And when that moment comes, everything changes for the better: Humperdink surrenders, Inigo reappears and Fezzik turns up with the perfect means of escape.

The “all-is-lost” point is a classic narrative technique. Unfortunately it tends to hit us writers hard, too. The only piece of advice I have ever heard about how to get out of the pit of despair while writing a story, is to keep writing. It’s about as appetizing as that Miracle Pill cooked up by Miracle Max, and ultimately just as effective.

Even if you stumble, like Wesley, or end up editing out some of what you write, keep moving and a solution will spring from your characters, your situation or both.  Trust me on this. Just keep writing and an ending will appear. If you start to question this advice, remind yourself of what Buttercup says to Wesley when he first reappears in her life:

“I will never doubt again.”

StoryADay.org's Have Fun Storming The Castle


There are so many wonderful moments in this movie that I’m sure I could have kept writing on this theme all day.  What writing lessons would you draw from the characters and scenes in The Princess Bride? Please do share your Princess Bride writing tips in the comments 🙂

Grammar Resources for Writers

Later this week I’m running a teleseminar on Editing and Revising for Short Story Writers

(You can find out more by signing up here)

This seminar won’t be a grammar lesson because I’ve noticed that most of the writers around here are, well, pretty good writers. But, in case you need a little help, or have that one rule that always trips you up, here are some great grammar and style resources for you:

Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tricks

Mignon Fogarty is possibly the most famous grammarian around these days and this page is a great start for those little grammar niggles that plague you.

Grammar Grater

This is a fun grammar and words podcast from Minnesota Public Radio. It’s short (6-8 minutes) and entertaining. Just the thing for a quick drive or during your morning shower!

Grammar Bytes!

Straightforward, clear definitions plus a test-your-own grammar section. Oh, and a gorilla.

 

Chicago Manual of Style

If you write for magazines or newspapers in the US, this is the style guide they probably use. The site requires a subscription but it is exhaustive — and you can get a free trial.

Purdue Online Writing Lab

A great resource from Purdue University. Lots of good stuff in here.

 

But for all this, the absolute best thing you can do to improve your grammar is read lots and lots of really well-written books: immerse yourself in awesome grammar. (I recommend Dickens, P. G. Wodehouse, Norton Juster, John Steinbeck, Stephen King, A.S. Byatt, oh and many, many others).

You cannot immerse yourself in wonderful writing and come away worse off. You cannot read perfect grammar and not absorb it.

So, I repeat the best advice ever give to any writer: read, read, read!

The Myth Of The Solitary Writer

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


Run For Your Lives

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

~Steven Pressfield, Do The Work

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

What The…?

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

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

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

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

Fixing The Problem

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

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

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


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

Don’t Write! How ‘Not Writing’ Could Save Your Story

It can be a struggle to find time to write, and yet here I am, bringing you a post on fitness? What’s up with that?

Well, the facts speak for themselves: making time for fitness is like an investment in ourselves that pays us back in increased concentration, productivity and creativity.

Today I’ve asked Lisa Johnson from LisaJohnsonFitness to give us some pointers about how to integrate exercise and creativity without derailing our writing schedules.

I particularly like her 10-minute burst idea – check it out below.

Also, Lisa has offered to answer any questions you might have about integrating fitness into your routine. (Normally she charges people handsomely for the privilege!) Just post your questions below.

Thanks Lisa!

How ‘Not Writing’ Could Be The Best Thing You Ever Did For Your Writing Career

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Joy In Motion!

Hunched over our laptops, tapping away on the keyboard, writers feel like we have to be writing to be productive.

But, to get those creative juices flowing, maybe what we really need is to push away from the desk, slap on those sneakers and head outside.

Taking a break to get your body moving will:

  • Decrease stress
  • Increase productivity
  • Improve time management
  • Improve mental sharpness
  • Boost creativity

The 30 minutes that you spend in motion will be more than made up for through increased creativity and output. I promise. )

So pick an activity that you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be a prescribed fitness routine with weights, reps, and sets at the gym. It doesn’t have to be the “Om” of a yoga class, but it can be if that’s what you like to do. Some options to consider:

  • Just go for a walk; nature helps us calm down and declutter our brains.
  • If you’ve got the cardio endurance, go for a run.
  • Take a yoga or Pilates class for weight-bearing strength work and a little Zen.
  • If you like group exercise classes or watching TV while you do cardio, go get a gym membership.
  • Buy some free weights for your home (cuts out all travel time).
  • Watch fitness DVDs; stream them on your computer or use your local cable company for free routines.

Also, if the idea of being away from your writing for an hour just seems completely unfathomable, you can always break workouts down into 10-minute bursts. I tell this to clients regularly. When you’re transitioning from one task to another, do a quick 10-minute burst of cardio. This can be as simple as running in place or skipping rope or throwing on some tunes and dancing around your living room. The brain break will give you a clean slate as you start your next task. It’s amazing how well this works.

If you’re looking for overall guidelines, you want to do a minimum of 150 minutes of cardio per week; anything above that is gravy. Your heart will thank you, your doctor will thank you, and your readers will thank you!

If you have any questions, just ask below, and I’ll answer them.

Cheers,

Lisa


Lisa Johnson has been a certified personal trainer and Pilates instructor since 1997. She owns Modern Pilates in Brookline, MA and has been a fitness blogger for three years at Lisa Johnson Fitness.com. She also blogs for FitStudio.com (a Sears company.)

http://lisajohnsonfitness.com
http://modernpilatesboston.com

An Accountability Buddy: The Productive Writer’s Secret Weapon

Today’s guest post from Melissa Dinwiddie is a wonderful primer on how to use the StoryADay community to help you become more productive than you ever dreamed. Thanks, Melissa!

Farewell to Polina!

Do you know one of the most effective things you can do to get your writing done?

Make yourself accountable.

I don’t know the statistics, but it’s a well known fact that if you want to reach a goal, speaking your commitment — including your deadline — to someone you know will hold you to it makes you dramatically more likely to actually do it.

Accountability is a powerful tool, and there are a number of ways you can integrate it into your writing practice. One of my own secret weapons is an accountability buddy.

Here’s what I’ve learned about maintaining an effective accountability partnership.

At the start of the year I was in a mastermind group (another great accountability tool), assembled with the express purpose of helping each other accomplish one specific goal in the month of January. When that group dissolved, a couple of us decided to keep checking in with each other.

At first our monthly calls started to get a little chatty — understandable enough, since we liked each other and had come to think of each other as friends.

This is an inherent danger in any accountability relationship. The problem, of course, is that chatting does not make for finished projects and completed goals.

Accountability partners have to be vigilant, and must keep coming back to the purpose for their partnership. If you want to chat, set up another date specifically for that. During your accountability check-ins, stick with the agenda: keeping each other on track.

This is exactly what I did at the end of a particularly chatty call. “Before we hang up,” I asked, “what’s your next step?”

My buddy confessed that she had a novel that had been sitting in a drawer for way too long, and what she really wanted was to get it edited and up for sale as a download on her site.

“Aha,” I responded, kicking into coaching mode, “so what’s stopping you?”

I asked her realistically how long she thought the editing would take, and when she said “about four hours,” I suggested (okay, I practically insisted) that she do it this week. In other words, I held out an expectation that I thought was achievable.

With my kick in the butt, she was ready to take on this project that she’d been putting off, so the next step was to set up a check-in schedule that worked for her. She committed to emailing me a progress report every night before going to bed, and set a goal of a 2-3 chapters per day.

Although it turned out four hours was an underestimation, I’m pleased to report that in less than two weeks my buddy had finished editing her entire manuscript and was ready to tackle the production side of getting her novel made into a downloadable ebook format. She swears she never would have gotten there without my help.

Do you think this kind of partnership might work for you? Give it a try! To keep you on track, I recommend sticking with the same structure every time you meet. The following questions are a good jumping off place:

  • What did you achieve since we last checked in? Did you accomplish your goal?
  • What didn’t work? What are you going to do differently next time?
  • What goal do you commit to between now and the next check-in?
  • What can you use help with?

Remember to reserve your chatting for another time, and let me know how it goes!

Artist, Writer and Inspirationalist Melissa Dinwiddie helps creatives (and “wannabe” creatives) to get unstuck, get unpoor, and just plain play bigger. Find her at her blogs, Living A Creative Life and 365 Days of Genius.



Win! Win! Win!

Leave a comment with your best tips for boosting productivity and/or working with other people and win a copy of Rory’s Story Cubes, a wonderful dice game that doubles as a story-telling tool. Roll the dice and make a story from the extremely cute images on the dice.

 

Today’s winner will be a random draw, so you get extra entries if you post about StoryADay on your blog, Twitter, Facebook or anywhere else (yes, I’ll give credit for blog posts from yesterday). Just leave me a comment saying where you posted.

Special thanks to Rory O’Connor and the lovely folks at Gamewright Games for donating this prize.