[Daily Prompt] May 8 – A Different Perspective

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It’s May 8 and we’re working through our second weekend already. I’m guessing the shine might have worn off this challenge a little by now and that you could be struggling.

(It’s not easy to come up with a fresh idea every day!)

So today, give yourself a break. Go back and find a story you’ve already written. Now, tell the story from a different character’s perspective.

Try to make the tone of the story totally different: the length of the sentences, the pacing, the rhythm, even the events, if the second person remembers them differently.

Rewrite One Of Your Own Stories From A Different Perspective

Go!

[Daily Prompt] May 7 – Military Spouses’ Day

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Did you know that May 7 is “Military Spouses’ Day”? Well it is, and we’re all to stop and appreciate what it takes to be a military spouse.

Hey, I know. While you’re thinking about it…why not write a story featuring, if not a military couple, certainly two people who face challenges including but not limited to: separation, relocation, trauma. Or write something with a tangential connection to something military.

There. Broad enough? 😉

Write A Story In Honor Of “Military Spouses’ Day”

Go!

[Daily Prompt] May 5 – Shindig!

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It’s Cinquo De Mayo and everyone loves a party! Except when they don’t.

Parties are a great setting for stories because they bring together people who have no business being in the same room; they put stress on relationships; they often involve booze and a consequent loosening of inhibitions…in other words, all the elements you need for a climactic moment in someone’s life.

Write A Story Set At A Party, Shindig, Fiesta or Gathering

 

Go!

[Daily Prompt] May 4 – May The Fourth Be With You

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Sorry, but give the sheer weight of all the Star Wars Lego in my house these days, I couldn’t resist.

Write A Story Featuring An Epic Battle Between Good And Evil

…and remember, that could just as easily happen between two office cubicles as in a galaxy far, far away.

You could also make a case that Star Wars is just a big family saga — or maybe a romance — so feel free to go with that too.

And if you do go with the Hero Looking For A Quest thing, remember how whiny and unheroic Luke was at the start of those movies? You might want to emulate that and give your hero some room to grow.

Write A Story About Good Vs. Evil

Go!

[Daily Prompt] May 3 – Be A Tour Guide

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Write A Story With A Strong Sense of Place

A lot of short short stories focus on character and twists and surprise, because it’s a great form for exactly those things.

But I don’t want your descriptive muscles to get all flabby.

Why not write a story with a strong sense of place? At some point in the story, imagine you are a tour guide, pointing out the landmarks and notable features of your setting to me, your eager audience.

Be a tour guide to your story’s setting, for the reader

Go!

[Daily Prompt] May 2 – Altered Realities

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Altered Reality

This is a staple of Sci-Fi and speculative fiction: you’re watching people in Forties garb but discover you’re on a space station populated by aliens who only know humans through one random Bogart movie they’ve intercepted….

But it happens in real life too: a woman thinks she’s in a happy marriage only to come home to empty closets and a note on the kitchen table; you think you’re reading a standard love story only to discover a twist at the end…

Write a story with an element of altered reality.

Go!

[Daily Prompt] – May 1: They Said It Couldn’t Be Done

Daily Prompt LogoHuge thanks to StoryADay-er @cidwrites for today’s prompt.

They Said It Couldn’t Be Done

Cid has created an imaginary book cover at her own StoryADay site, and invites you to use it as a writing prompt.

If the graphic doesn’t work for you, you can still use the prompt by writing a story that contains the line “They said it couldn’t be done.”


Writing prompts are optional, but do leave Cid a comment if you use hers!

The Do-It-Yourself MFA – An Interview With Gabriela Pereira

Gabriela Pereira is a former StoryADay participant and has spent the past month launching her DIY MFA 2.0, an intensive writing program, all online.

She took some time to tell me about the course and give some great advice for writers about to embark on a big writing jag (know anyone like that?)

She is also hosting a write-in on Sunday May 1. I highly recommend checking out her DIY-MFA site and Facebook page and following her on Twitter.

 

Tell me about DIY MFA 2.0
The idea behind DIY MFA is to simulate the experience of a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing without actually going to school.  DIY MFA has 4 main components: Reading, Writing, Workshops and Community.  The original DIY MFA (which took place in September 2010) covered these four topics at length.

DIY MFA 2.0 takes a different approach, focusing mostly on the “writing” part of the equation.  The idea in DIY MFA 2.0 is to spark new ideas and create a stash of ideas that writers can go to when they hit the wall or feel a creative drought coming on.  There are 4 ways that DIY MFA can help generate new ideas and those are through: character, story, mood and words.  Each week in April we focused on one of these areas and explored different writing exercises and techniques with that theme.  Ultimately, the goal is to develop methods and tools for generating ideas so that when you need lots of new ideas in a short period of time (like when you’re writing a Story A Day) you have a bunch of concepts already ready and waiting.

How do you make time for writing?
I don’t make time for writing.  I steal it.  I’m always on the lookout for hidden pockets of time when I can read or write because if I sit around waiting for a huge block of time to land in my lap, I know it will never happen.  I live in a city, so for me subways and buses are great places to sneak in some writing.  I love my Kindle because I can put a copy of my WIP on it and can edit on the go.  I also carry small notebook with me everywhere so that if I’m stuck waiting for an elevator or waiting on a subway platform, I can break out my notebook and jot down a few sentences.

Even with all this time-theft going on, I also try to carve out a few small chunks of time when I do writing “sprints.”  In DIY MFA, I’ve asked participants to do at least one sprint per week on Saturdays, but for me these sprints happen whenever I manage to steal a chunk of time long enough that I can call it honest-to-goodness solid writing time.  During these precious moments, I’ll practice some stealth writing, where I run to a coffee shop and hide out while I write.  Not only am I more efficient if I know I only have a short span of time to write, but the stealth aspect also makes it more exciting (like I’m doing something I shouldn’t… something naughty).

And don’t underestimate the power of the Pomodoro.  That adorable little tomato timer app that sits on my desktop has worked wonders for me.  If I know I only have 25 minutes to write, I won’t stop to check email or twitter or anything else, I’ll just write.  After I’ve finished a couple of rounds of Pomodoro, I’ll treat myself to a short spurt of internet fiddling.

What’s your best advice for someone who’s trying to make writing a priority (again)?
I’m a huge believer in baby steps and I’m not a fan of huge, unmanageable goals because they set writers up to fail.  Missing a goal can lead to feelings of “I can’t do this” or “I’m not good enough” which only leads to paralysis, writer’s block and loss of motivation.  Of course, lower motivation means the next set of goals becomes even more unmanageable so the cycle just continues.  The trick is to break the cycle of negativity and find ways of sparking the motivation when it starts slipping away.

For me, writing isn’t  about success vs. failure; it’s about doing.  If a writing challenge helps a writer motivate themselves and stay on track, fantastic!  But the important thing in my mind is that writers do the work, whether it means meeting a goal within a certain time frame or not.  That’s where I think Story-A-Day gets it right: because it’s not just about writing a story every day, it’s about bouncing back on the days when you can’t actually get a story done.  It’s about getting ideas down quickly, without judging.  It’s about writing it and moving on, leaving the tweaks and edits for some later point.

Ultimately, I think StADa and DIY MFA have similar goals: to help writers rekindle their love of writing and help them develop a sustainable, enriching writing life.

Thanks, Gabriela!

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.

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.

 


The Sloth’s Secret to Writing Success

Sloth

Recently, naturalists announced that the sloth — the animal whose name has become a synonym for laziness — is actually a lot more active than previously thought. It turns out that when we cage them and observe them, we don’t see what’s really going on in the sloth’s world.

Today I have a great guest post for you from Susan Daffron, a writer and publishing consultant. She shows us how, as writers, the times when our minds are  most fertile and active, might — to an observer — look like the times when we are being, well, slothful. She shows us that productivity for writers makes its own demands, and how to succeed by embracing that.

(You can read more about Susan’s upcoming publishing conference at the end of the article).

Then, leave your comments about how you will jump-start your creativity at the end of the article and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Rory’s Story Cubes – a great creativity booster in a box!


 

 

As a writer, I’ve gone through periods of extreme productivity and extreme sloth. Although I have written 12 books, last year in 2010, I released exactly zero.

For a variety of personal and business-related reasons, I went through a creative burnout like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Writing, which had always been fairly easy for me in the past, was suddenly extremely difficult.

Climbing Out Of A Slump

I also discovered that the less I wrote, the less I wanted to write. Talk about a lack of productivity!

I spent some time looking back at what happened during my creative slump. I realized my lack of writing productivity stemmed from three issues:

1. Lack of ideas. The stressful events I experienced caused my creativity to simply shut down. To jumpstart my mind, I surfed to online writing sites (like StoryaDay.org!),  used random-word and writing-prompt generators, and started talking to my husband about my various writing thoughts for outside feedback and support.

2. Lack of motivation. As noted, a bunch of things that happened last year brought me down. Creativity does not flow when you’re depressed. I decided to make a commitment to exercising and started reading more inspirational materials on creativity, writing, and life balance. (The library is full of wonderful FREE books just waiting to be read!)

3. Lack of time. You’ve read it before, but I’ll say it again: you have time to write if you make time to write. During my slump, I wasn’t working smart. Part of me already knew it, but I had to forcibly reacquaint myself with the methods I’d used in the past to carve out real productive writing time. I opted to make a commitment to write every morning and also started thinking up ideas for articles and posts the night before. “Sleeping on” a writing idea really works!

And The Winner Is…

I’m happy to report that the old adage “writers write” is true. Since I got my writing mojo back again, I have been writing regularly. I have my next book completely outlined and 19 case studies/interviews input so far. I’ll be speaking at a conference this summer and plan to release the book in time for it. (Deadlines help motivation too!)

If you’re a writer who wants to publish, you can get inspiration and learn more about the book publishing process at the Self-Publishers Online Conference. The third annual event is May 10-12, 2011 (http://www.SelfPublishersOnlineConference.com) Use the code SusanSentMe and get 10% off your registration!


Susan Daffron, aka The Book Consultant (http://www.TheBookConsultant.com) owns a book and software publishing company. She spends most of her time writing, laying out books in InDesign, or taking her five dogs out for romps in the forest. She also teaches people how to write and publish profitable client-attracting books and puts on the Self-Publishers Online conference (http://www.SelfPublishersOnlineConference.com) every May.


Win! Win! Win!

Leave a comment with your best tips for jump-starting creativity 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. Brilliant for days when you’re stalled and need to regain your mojo.

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

[Tuesday Reading Room] Gold Boy, Emerald Girl

I have a subscription to Storyville, on my iPhone, because I’m a sucker for new business models and digital publishing, and I’m enjoying being exposed to a wide array of stories (old and new) every week.

This week’s story, “Gold Boy, Emerald Girl” by Yiyun Li, slowly unfolds the story of a couple, past the first flush of youth, meeting and deciding whether or not to marry. The story is set in modern-day Beijing. The woman in the story has lived there all her life, hardly noticing that she is aging and becoming a spinster, while the bachelor son of her old college professor has been off living in America.

It is anything but a cliched romance, though I will say that it has a satisfying ending. The author is quite skilled at making the characters and their culture seem complete and real without losing their interesting edge.

I liked the indirect way we learn about the characters and their backstories, as in this remark about the professor,

“Professor Dai must miss her students these days,” Siuy said after she and Hanfeng had exchanged greetings, although she knew it was not the students that his mother missed but the white skulls of mammals and birds on her office shelves, the drawers filled with scalpels and clamps and tweezers that she had cleaned and maintained with care and the fact that she could mask her indifference to the human species with her devotion to animals.

All the revelations about the characters are measured and careful, just like the characters. The whole story is a skilled blend of what we are told and how it is told, leading us to accept the ending and even agree with the choices the characters make.

It’s worth remembering that how a story is told can contribute as much to the reader’s experience as the things we write.