First Story Cubes Winner(s)

Ack!

There were so many great comments on yesterday’s post about creativity and productivity for writers that I had a hard time choosing a winner.

And in the end I chose two (and am suffering horrible guilt about leaving out all the other people who wrote great comments).

But don’t fret, because you can all enter again to win another copy of Rory’s Story Cubes on the next post, which is all about how to work with an accountability buddy to make your writing life more productive than you ever dreamed.

This next giveaway  will be a drawing out of a virtual hat (red), and you can get extra entries for posting about StoryADay in other places. See the Accountability / Writing Buddy post for more details.

Highlights from the creativity post comments

Thanks for all your great tips on creativity and productivity.

Brenda said,

1) Go someplace (a mall, a casino, etc.) and people-watch. I try to make up backstory for the people I see.

2) Listen to instrumental music. Classical and Drum music work well, as does the genre aptly called “Trance.”

3) I grab a box of cheap colored pencils and doodle. Sometimes the doodles end up being a creature, or a map of a fantasy land, or a character. I’m not an artist, by any means, but even my second-rate scribbles (lol) can cause a spark that becomes a story.

I think the reason that these 3 usually work for me is that they all have one thing in common: they make writing fun again.

Trina, in confessional-mode, spoke for many of us,

I say I have no time, but if I truly go back and look at how much time I spend on Twitter or surfing the Net, I have plenty of time. Guilty as charged.

MJ gave me a reason to stop feeling guilty for gossiping about strangers,

Myself and my boyfriend stole the idea of sitting in a restaurant and making up stories about the other diners from a movie we watched. It can be a lot of fun and generate a ton of ideas and helps with character development.

Janel had two great points,

I plan on pulling several prompts every night in May.

I’ve just decided that I will write to ease the stress instead of looking at the stress as a writing block.

Dominique’s suggestions were,

I overcome theses moments of writers block by keeping a pen and pencil around to writ down any great thought’s , plot ideas, or character lines. I also Take a trip to the bookstore to look through coffee table books full of images related to the subject I am writing

Steven made me feel a little less schizophrenic,

I was telling a friend about some story ideas I had mulling around in my head, she said that it must be busy “in there”. I told her that at times it seems like a cocktail party,…Once I get at least the outline of a guest’s story to paper, they tend to back off and let me relax.

Brandy is, like many of us, a list-maker and note-taker,

1. Keep paper and a pen/pencil everywhere; in the car, my purse, on tables, on window ledges, etc., because I never know when inspiration will strike and not having materials near me could kill or stall a great idea.

2. Install whiteboards with markers in different areas of the house and several larger ones in your office/studio. I have found that having a place where it is okay to write in an nontrational way helps me free my thoughts. ..Having a wall of white boards in the studio/office allows me to write “on the walls” which is something we have been trained not to do since childhood…

3. Write EVERYTHING down…My grocery lists end up with story ideas, character quotes, and settings along with the bananas and soup…

You can read all the comments in full here.

 

I have decided to award today’s prize to Brenda and Brandy, but thanks to everyone for taking the time to share your tips.

 


8 Ways To Defeat Distraction – And Write!

 
Today I have a great guest post for you from Productivity expert Benny Hsu. Benny shares some tips and some really useful tools for keeping focused on your writing. Thanks, Benny!


 writing in the darkness

You’re sitting at your desk and you’re ready to write. You start writing and then you’re distracted by something on your computer. The next thing you know you’re checking Facebook, email, or Twitter.
 
If it’s not the computer, it’s the noises from your house or you start cleaning to procrastinate from writing. If it’s happened to you before don’t worry because there are ways to eliminate distractions.

Being aware of the distractions, proper preparation, and reducing them will help your focus and productivity.
  
If you’ve had problems in the past staying focused, here are tips to help you out.

Keep your workspace clean

 
Having a messy workspace will keep you fixated on the small things when your eyes wander from the computer screen. A disorganized desk will tempt you to start cleaning just to procrastinate. Keep it very minimal. A clean workspace also just feels more relaxing.

Make sure you’re comfortable

 
Since you’ll be sitting for awhile, having an ergonomically correct chair will be helpful. Also be sure you are in a good working position. You want to keep your attention on your writing and not how uncomfortable your body feels.

Find a quiet time

 
If you’re in a busy house, the most quiet time to write might be before the sun rises or after everyone goes to sleep. If that’s not optimal for you, let people in your house know to not disturb you for the next hour. Close the door. Hang a sign on the door. Put on noise canceling headphones. Turn off your phone. If you let others know in the house to not disturb you, you prevent distractions from occurring.

(Of course, this isn’t foolproof, but you might be surprised how cooperative people can be when they see you’re serious about your writing commitments – Ed.)

Set a Timer

 
Having a set time to write will force you to stay focused on writing. Set it to a comfortable amount of time (30-45 mins), work until the timer goes off, take a short break (5-10 mins), reset the timer again, and do it again.

Use a distraction free writing program

 
There are great writing programs that are full screen and have very few options besides spell checking, word counting and saving. They eliminate everything else on your computer screen but your text.
 
Try

  • q10 (PC),
  • Darkroom (PC),
  • JDarkRoom (PC + Mac),
  • OmmWriter (Mac+PC),
  • Writer (online app),
  • WriteRoom (Mac only)
  • .

    All the programs are free except for WriteRoom and the newer version of OmmWriter.
     
    I’d add IAWriter for the iPad crowd. Very nice app – Ed
     

    Shut everything down

     
    Turn off Twitter. Close your internet browser. Turn off your email notifications. You do not want any popups sending you updates. Not only will it distract you but checking one thing will lead many more.

    If you’re still tempted to check, disable your wi-fi on your laptop. Unplug your internet from your desktop.

    Eliminate or minimize background noise

     
    Having the television on for background noise is a bad idea. Listening to some soft music is acceptable if you want to drown out outside noises. Just make sure you have a playlist created so you’re not constantly searching for the next song to play.

    Try a pair of noise canceling headphones, whether you listen to music or not. Not only will it block out noise but people are less likely to bother you if you’re wearing headphones.
     

    Get out of the house

     
    If the house will be too distracting, go to a coffee shop to write. Even though it will be noisy at the coffee store, it might serve as white noise and help you focus more. Noise canceling headphones are one way to block out the ambient noise.


    Benny Hsu writes at GetBusylivingblog.com where he writes about pursuing your passion, being the person you want to be and living life to the fullest. You can connect with him on his blog, or on Twitter @Benny_Hsu. He’d love for you to say hi.


10 Great Sites For Writing Prompts – Updated Feb 2016!

writing prompt logoIt’s the Number 1 question authors are asked in interviews: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Of course, a large part of being a writer is having ideas, harnessing them, molding them. But we all have days when the ideas aren’t coming. We still want to write, but where to start?

Here are 8 sites that provide writing prompts.

StoryADay.org Writing Prompts

Starting in our own backyard, you can check out StoryADay’s very own writing prompts. During Story A Day May I post daily prompts, Every Wednesday in other months I post WriteOnWednesday challenges, where you can post right in the comments and get some immediate feedback.

A Month of Writing Prompts 2014Each prompt is intentionally ambiguous, adaptable to any genre and style, and comes with a list of tips to help you delve deeper into the ideas. Try one today or download a copy of the 2014 StoryADay May writing prompts ebook, for free.

 

DIYMFA Writer Igniter

Easily the most fun prompt generator around: hit a button and spin! The Writer Igniter generates a fresh Character, Situation, Prop and Setting (with a picture for the setting). Useful for sparking an idea when you need a quick writing hit.

Writers’ Digest Writing Prompts

Weekly writing prompts from the ultimate writers’ magazine. You can post 500 words about the prompt in the blog comments and see what other people have posted.

Tumblr

Anytime a Tumblr user tags their post as “Writing Prompt”, it’ll pop up in on this page. There is a strong (and youngish) writing community on Tumblr, serious about their art. Definitely worth bookmarking.

Writing Prompts That Don’t Suck

Over 600 writing prompts, mostly one-liners and snippets of dialogue and word lists (which can be surprisingly productive).

CreativeWriting Prompts

Never again can you say that you have nothing to write. Creative Writing Prompts lists 346 prompts all on one page — that’s almost one for every day of the year. Hover your mouse over a number to generate a prompt. More for journaling than short story writing, but still useful.

Writing Fix

These prompts seem to be aimed at kids, but they work for me! There are journal prompts and prompts for creative writing. I love that they have them separated into Right Brain prompts and Left Brain Prompts, among other things. You can choose from among different types of prompts too: story starters, titles, themes, character descriptions, tone, even prepositional phrases!

Reddit Writing Prompts SubReddit

A collection of user-submitted prompts. Often skewed towards apocalytic/sci-fi/fantasy/horror topics, this is the place to go if you like to write dark!

The Teacher’s Corner

This site is aimed at teachers who give their students a period of free-writing or journal writing ever day, but it can work for any writer. You can use them for freewriting/morning pages/writing practice, or you might use them to spark ideas for seasonal stories (which publications love). The prompts are batched by month and often relate to themes and historical events from that month. Well worth checking out, especially if you are trying to do morning pages/journaling to warm up your writing day.

Poets & Writers Prompts

This page posts three different prompts every week: one for creative non-fiction, one for poetry, and one for fiction. Often the fiction prompt is ‘write a scene in a story that…’, but sometimes it prompts you to write a whole story, and it usually illustrates you how to think more deeply about the idea.

Get a free 17-page creativity workbook when you sign up for more articles like this



How To Become An Insanely Productive Writer

How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice!

Laptop lady
Laptop Lady by Aidan McMichael (used with permission)

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

Here are seven of the best tips from last year’s 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.

“Nothing will work until you do.”
-Maya Angelou

Insanely Productive? Yes, Please!

1. Have ideas ready to go

There is nothing worse than carving out some time to write and then being stuck for a place to start. So start now: pay attention to all the ideas you have, all the time, when you are away from your desk. Carry a notebook around. Capture snippets of conversation, what ifs that occur to you as you people-watch, thoughts spurred by other people’s stories. Write them all down, ready to be picked up again when you sit down to write.

2. Write First

When you sit down to write, actually write. Don’t check email, don’t check Twitter, don’t even check the StADa site (unless you need the daily prompt). Just leaf through your ideas until you find one you can work with, and go. Turn off your email notifications, close all the browser windows. Don’t worry about fonts and formatting or whether it’ll be any good. Just write.

@Gabi If I think too much about writing before I actually start doing it, I tend to psych myself out. Instead I just start writing and before I know it, I’ve got a bunch of words on the page and it’s time to call it a day.

3. Keep writing until you finish

Starting stories is all very well, but anyone can do that. The point of StADa is to help you learn to craft a whole, finished story. Keep writing until you finish. Even if you hate it, keep writing. You’ll thank me later.

4. Unless you must take a break

Obviously, if your kids are screaming or someone comes to the door to tell you you’ve won $10million in the lottery, or your boss calls to ask where you are, you might have to get up from your desk before your story is finished. In which case, go. But keep thinking about your story. Leave it in the middle of a sentence, so that you’re ready to leap back in, and go. But keep thinking about it. When you’re walking to the coffee machine, wonder what your characters will do next. When you’re doing some menial, mindless task (can you tell I’m a mother?) let your mind wander and picture how you’re going to resolve the central mystery of your story. If someone turns on a radio, listen to how people talk and steal yourself some dialogue.

@KristenRudd says: “My trick so far is to mull my story all day, while I’m doing whatever it is I do. I think about the directions it could go, but I mostly think about how to open it. Then, when I can finally sit down after the kids are in bed, the dishes are washed, and I’ve done everything else that needs doing, I’m excited about the story that’s been buzzing all day.

5. Make it priority #1

You can put off watching TV shows and you can turn down an occasional invitation for coffee without your life falling apart. Tell people you’re working on your writing this month, that you’ll be a better friend next month (maybe). Take some time to make your writing your top priority. You’ll always wonder, if you don’t, what you could have achieved. Explain to friends that you are investing in your dream of becoming a writer, just as they might make time to invest in a course of golf lessons or an art workshop. If you want to take your writing seriously you will find that something’s got to give, but the good news is: that could be the housework!

StADa: How do you make time for writing?
@AdorablyAlice This is a good question. And when I have an answer that doesn’t involve neglecting chores/cooking, I’ll let you know.

6. Write Wherever/Whenever You Can

It’s tempting to think that you need solitude, silence and a particular pen to be able to write, but that’s a rookie mistake. Professional writers write wherever and whenever they can squeeze in some time.

  • Ray Bradbury rented a typewriter in a typing room in the basement of a library and typed until time ran out. That couldn’t have been quiet or private or relaxing, but he’s one of the most prolific writers around.
  • Stephen King wrote in a passageway in the back of a trailer, with two toddlers, a wife and a full-time job in a laundry jostling for his attention.
  • PD James worked for the Home Office by day, visited her sick  husband in hospital on the weekends, and put her two daughters to bed alone, and wrote her first novel — all during the London Blitz!

You may need some peace and quiet to get a story started, but once you’re up and running, write! Write when ever you have 15 minutes, wherever you are, with whatever comes to hand. Write!

(Hint: you full-time workers have the gnawing envy of stay-at-home parents of young children: you get a lunch break. Are you sneaking off somewhere and using it for writing?)

7. Be realistic

You’re not going to write an epic or a polished draft in a day. You’re going to write something and it’ll likely be bewtween 30 and 2000 words. The more frequently you write and finish a story, the more you’ll get a sense for how to pace yourself and your story. Don’t waste time on backstory or explaining anything at the  beginning. Jump in half way through and unpack the story as you go. Some of it will be terrible, some of it you will learn from and some of it might even be quite good. On a good day you’ll write a character you’re proud of or make yourself smile with a twist, or discover you can write really convincingly about a gardener.

@GabiOnly a handful of the stories are worth keeping and working on. One of them has spawned into an idea for a middle-grade book that I am in love with.

Every lesson enriches your writing. Every day you practice, you’re one step closer to Carnegie Hall.

Bonus Tip: Be part of a community.

I know a lot of us are loners (I certainly crave my ‘alone’ time) so the idea of joining a community seems strange. But one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in the past year is the value of having people on your side, people who understand what it’s like try to write, people who are rooting for you (because if you can do it, maybe they can too).It was incredibly inspiring to drop in to the StoryADay.org forums during May – and afterwards ‘meet up’ with people on Twitter – and trade stories of how our writing day is going.

Join our Serious Writers’ Accountability Group (SWAGr) and post your goals for this month…today! (We’re “Serious”, not sombre. All are welcome!)

Thanks to all the previous participants for their comments and suggestions, quoted here or otherwise.


What do you do to keep writing? Share  your best tips in the comments.



To be among the first to hear when sign-ups open for this year’s challenge sign up for the Advance Notice List. (No spam. Just StoryADay.org news)



NaNoWriMo or No?

What are your best tips for approaching NaNoWriMo?

I love short stories

I love writing them, reading them, dissecting them.

…but for the past 10 years or so I’ve been tempted by National Novel Writers’ Month: Write a novel in a month.

I’m put off by the time commitment – with two small, demanding kids, a part-time job and a husband i actually like to spend time with – I can’t imagine making time.

But now I have writing friends from Story A Day who are urging me to try it for reals this year. And, for the first time, I don’t have a baby, visitors or crisis hanging over me.

So what are your best strategies for approaching NaNo, all you veterans and pushers?

What do you do before November, during November, when things are going well, when things are going badly? How do you pace your novel? What are the absolute must-do tactics for you? What are the traps and time-sinks?

Please comment below, or write your answer on your own blog and leave a link here. Remember: complete newbie here. Tell me anything, even things you’d forgotten you once didn’t know

Finding Time To Write – Parents’ Version

Writing and taking care of small children are two not-entirely-compatible aims in my life, how about you?

Take today: I got up early, started to write… The kids started to ask me for things and I started saying, ‘In a minute,” and “hold on” and “Just ‘shhhhh’ a minute, would you?”

I was getting frustrated with them, they were getting frustrated with me, and no-one was getting what they needed.

Something had to give. So I came up with a technique that has been working out really well…

So it’s the summer holidays here in the US and that means fun with the kiddies for we stay-at-home parents.

Which is all great, of course, but sometimes you still want (NEED!) to get some writing done. It can be incredibly frustrating to try to write and take care of a family, especially if you have small children at home with you all day. But it can be done.

I know some people can get up early or stay up extra late, or write while their spouse watches sports. That’s not me. Or if it is, everyone else wakes up early too!

Take today: I got up early, started to write, got all inspired and came up with tons of great ideas. The kids got up and started to ask me for things and I started saying, ‘In a minute,” and “hold on” and worst of all “Just ‘shhhhh’ a minute, would you?”

Oh, the guilt. I was getting frustrated with them, they were getting frustrated with me, and no-one was happy.

Something had to give. So I came up with a method, that has been working out well.

Getting Stuff Done With Little Kids In The House

My sons are 5 and 7 so they can’t be left alone (or together) for too long. They can, however, be set up on different floors of the house (or different rooms if you don’t have floors) with whatever toy/activity has captured their attention recently.

Today, for us, that means the eldest has a project making his own versions of Pokemon cards, while the 5 year-old makes a massive messHot Wheels track in the basement.

They both inevitably needed help, sometimes at the same time, (leading to more ‘just a minute’s and frustration). Finally I struck a deal with them.

I took the time-out clock (a kitchen timer) and set it for 10 minutes. They agreed to leave me alone until the timer rang so that I could get some writing done. When the timer rings, I go and check on each of them and ask if I can help or see what they have been doing.

I get what I want (writing time) and they get what they want (an attentive, engaged parent).

Then, depending on how things are going, I negotiate another 10 minutes.

KEYS TO MAKING THIS WORK

-Pick a time of day when the kids’ energy levels are right (that might be ‘high’ or ‘low’ depending on their personalities. When you know they can concentrate on their favorite activity for a while, pounce!

-Work to an outline. I’m not sure that trying to do any brainstorming or really creative work could happen in 10 minute bursts, but writing a paragraph or two of a piece that I had already outlined worked brilliantly.

-Stretch the sessions to more than 10 minutes if it is safe or makes sense or if you find the kids can handle it.

-Sit where you can hear them (I’m in the dining room, and they are in rooms with doors open, where I can hear frustrated whining winding up or, worse, suspicious silences)

-Be willing to stop after two or three sessions. You can’t push this too far. Try to remember that they’ll be out of your hair entirely one day (if you do your job right) and that even these long summer days will be over sooner than you expect. Take some time to enjoy the kids — secure in the knowledge that at least you got a few things accomplished today.

Lessons Learned After Writing A Story A Day

When I said I was going to write a Story A Day in May, plenty of people looked at me with *that look* in their eyes, or said thinks like,
‘Well, good luck…”.[1. I expect if you’ve ever taken on any kind of creative assignment (not directly related to a paycheck) you know what I mean by *that look*.]

“Why?” was the most common question. Good question. If we’re not writing for money, then why do we write?

“How ?” was the second most common question.

I wasn’t 100% sure about the answer to either. After a month of attempting to write a story a day I do have some answers.

How To Be A Prolific Writer – Even When You Don’t Have Time

I’m not going to lie and say it was easy to find time for writing this month. In fact, I almost never ‘found’ time. I ‘made’ time.

Making time means something else had to give. Sometimes it was housework, but more often it was the relatively random consuming of information that I do. The BBC news website might have been minus a few thousand hits this month, my personal blog was updated less. The grocery shopping got more, er, targeted.

But the biggest lesson I learned about the “How” was this:

How To Write Anything

  1. Start writing.
  2. Write until it is finished.

It is one of those annoying pieces of advice that mean almost nothing until you try it.

Sitting down to write can be paralyzing. It is so much easier to get up and walk away — tell yourself you don’t have time — than it is to start writing.

I had to, so I used story prompts, memories, jokes, other people’s stories, to get me started. I put my pen on the page (quite literally) and told myself to write a sentence. Anything. One day I started by simply describing where I was sitting. It turned into a story about a homicide detective!

So, the answer to ‘how to write’ becomes quite simply:

Commit to doing it. Make time. Start writing.

(I did learn a bunch of other trick for helping with that, which I’ll be writing about soon.)

Why Write?

Once I had started figuring out the ‘how’ I was amazed to discover a n amazing set of benefits in the ‘why’ column – some that I had not expected.

I found that, if I sat down and got a story started in the morning,

  • It energized me. I was more (not less) likely to take care of the laundry, the dishes, the 1001 other mundane things that we usually blame for getting in the way of our writing.
  • I became more responsible and attentive to all my obligations, from family to my business.
  • My brain was less fuzzy. I spent less time worrying about all the things I ought to be doing, and, instead, started crossing things off the list, prioritizing better than ever, in order to get back to my writing (to make time for it).
  • I paid attention to the world around me. I was doing that thing people talk about as ‘living mindfully’. I was doing it in order to gather ideas and snippets for stories, but no matter why you do it, mindfulness is acknowledged by religions, psychologists and hippies, to be A Good Thing.
  • I found I had more time to give to people, because I wasn’t constantly feeling like I ought to be doing something, or resenting the time they were taking from things I really wanted to do. I had made time for myself and my thing, and now I could take an interest in you and yours.
  • I even wrote my way out of a really foul temper one day, just by letting my characters do and say things I never would, in real life, being all well-brung up and all that.

So the sort answer to ‘why do you write?’ is just this:

It makes me a better, happier person.

As an added bonus, posting some of my stories, made some readers happy. Granted,a lot oft hem were related to me, but some were complete strangers.


If you have ever thought about doing one of those creative challenges like NaNoWriMo, or The Artist’s Way or any other challenge, I highly encourage you to commit to doing it. What you gain will be so much more than you sacrifice. What you learn will be so much different from what you expect.

Meanwhile, why not subscribe to the StoryADay.org mailing list, so that you’ll be among the first to know when we’re gearing up to do this all again next May?

10 Days To Go

OK, so ten days to go and we’re all at various stages of “success” and we’re all still turning up.

It’s getting harder though, isn’t it? …

(Wow, it seems like no time at all I was posting that headline in my promo efforts for the yet-to-born Story A Day challenge!)

OK, so ten days to go and we’re all at various stages of “success” and we’re all still turning up.

It’s getting harder though, isn’t it? Finding a whole new story every day drains the well pretty quickly. We need to work on staying encouraged, finding new ideas, new angles, and remembering what inspires us to write.

@CidWrites wrote this really helpful self-pep-talk that I certainly benefitted from reading (so thanks, Cid)
(and then she went on to write a really fun and intriguing story that day)

@AdorablyAlice wrote a great blog post on writing during slumps, that I’m sure you’ll find something of use in.

@dorlamoorehouse has an upbeat, celebratory post here that makes me grin and think: I want some of that!

Don’t forget these posts from the Story A Day Blog archives:

Finding Ideas For Stories

Finding Time (and Ways) To Write

StADa participants’ Feedback After Week 1

and the Resources page which includes links to sources of Inspiration, Prompts, Productivity Tools and Tips from Great Writers.

If it helps, why not take a few minutes to read other people’s stories right here at Story A Day. OK, you might get intimidated, but on the other hand, you might just get inspired.

Onward!

Don’t Try To Do Too Much in One Short Story

The best short stories can say a lot, but they don’t try to do too much.
A short story is not a novel…

one candle
The best short stories can say a lot, but they don’t try to do too much.

Writing a story a day is going to be a huge challenge. Inventing characters and settings and inhabiting them for just one day? Huge.

Don’t try to do too much.

We don’t have the time or space to tell wandering epics.

We have time for one incident or one central character or theme [1. by the way all of this is also not true. In writing rules are made to be broken. Except that one about the apostrophe. I will hunt you down and smack your palm with a ruler if you put an apostrophe before the “s” in a plural!]

If your story starts to wander towards an interesting side character, slap that character’s hand and promise him he can be the hero of tomorrow’s story. If you find yourself backtracking to show too much of what happened before the ‘now’ of your story, file the idea and write a prequel tomorrow.

The beauty of writing aevery day is that you don’t have to do it all today. You can write tomorrow. In fact, you have to!

Finish Today, Plan For Tomorrow

So finish the story you started (even if you’ve fallen out of love with it) and make note of all the other ideas that were so good they butted in today.


Good writers are those who keep the language efficient. That is to say, keep it accurate, keep it clear.
-Ezra Pound


Writing The Same Story Different Ways

Stuck?

Here’s a secret weapon to keep you writing every day:

Rewrite the same story in different styles.

How?

Is your story refusing to sing? Are you sick of the sound of your own prose?

There are times when every (good) writer feels this way. It could be a moment of great despair, but it could also be an opportunity to try something new.

Continue reading “Writing The Same Story Different Ways”