What Every Writer Ought To Know About The Writing Life

I’ve been reading Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook, which is a rollocking, inspiring come-along-with-me look over the shoulder of one of the busiest writers in British TV…Here are some excellent insights for less-experienced writers, pulled from the book:


I’ve been reading Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale, , which is a rollocking, inspiring come-along-with-me look over the shoulder of the busiest writer in British TV. The book contains correspondence (mostly email) between Davies, the show-runner of the modern Doctor Who series and Cook, a journalist. The emails are written while Davies is in the midst of dreaming up, writing and producing not just one but three concurrent TV shows. It has a breathlessness and reality that you wouldn’t get if you just sat a writer down and said,

“So, how do you write?”

I came away from the book with a sense that successful, highly-paid writers have it no easier than the rest of us, even though we daydream that they do. They still get blocked, they still have to sit down and do the work, and in fact, it might be harder for them because the stakes are higher.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts about writing so far.

On Procrastination and Blocks

I spent all day stuck, not writing, because I couldn’t work out a way for the Doctor to meet Miss Hartigan… I couldn’t work out how to do it, where to do it, when. All day, gone. Pissed off. Then I sat down to write, with no solution and… thought of it! Immediately. Obvious. Simple. If I’d started sooner…Ah, the only way to write is to write. For all my banging on about what to do if you’re really stuck on something, there’s nothing dumber than sitting there writing nothing at all. Stupid bastard job.

(My emphasis.)

Doesn’t it make you feel better to know that someone as apparently prolific and actually successful as Davies still forgets this? I know I do.

Finding The Confidence To Write

I was astounded to run across the following line from this seemingly-somewhat-arrogant writer, written the night before a meeting to lay out a new series’ story ideas with other writers and production staff.

Oh god. I am dreading it. I feel out of my depth.

(Now bear in mind that Davies has been working in TV, very successfully, since the 1980s. He has created and written around 10 original TV productions,before he even got to the mammoth 5-series of Doctor Who and its two spin-offs. )

Most of the correspondence in this book is florid, energetic, conversational. This staccato yelp really leapt out at me. It seemed both true and familiar. Only Davies has a contract and a budget and a huge staff of people relying on him for their employment so he can’t scurry away from his fears and just stop writing.

On why we write (and why it is so hard):

…truth, in writing, is the only important thing. That’s what it’s for. The whole time, every day, all these pages, all my life, means sitting here looking for something – some line, some insight, some microsecond – that makes me think: yes. Yes, that’s true. That’s real. I recognize that. I know it. That’s all I’m after! It might be a truth discovered ten million times before by other people, but that doesn’t matter. If you discover it for yourself, then that makes everything worthwhile. No wonder writing is such hard work! You’re strip mining your own head, every day, searching for this stuff – and then those moments of revelation are like a godsend.

The discovery of a truth like that doesn’t come along often, though every other moment is spent working towards it.

It’s so worth it, when it happens. Oh my word. Gold dust. It feels like vindication.

I think I’m going to tape this one up above my desk.


 

Writers: Daydream Your Way To Success

On Writing

You want to write, and yet you find yourself reading other people’s writing, putting off writing, talking about writing, reading about writing… even writing about writing, but not actually writing.

Why Aren’t You Writing?

Writers have vivid imaginations, but we’re not always good at pointing them in the right direction. Instead of imagining what our characters eat for breakfast (or who they eat it with), we fritter away our creative energy on ourselves, our imaginary future careers and our disproportionate fears:

  • Fear of failure (“What if my writing is no good?”),
  • Fear of other people’s opinions (“What if my non-writer friends think I’m stuck-up? Pretentious? Ridiculous? Selfish?”)
  • Fear of success (“What if I am successful once and people expect me to do it again? What if I can’t? What if I can but it feels too much like work?”)

Daydreaming is what we do, though (Einstein called it ‘thought experiements’. Doesn’t that sound nice?)

So let’s take that skill and use it to propel you into a state where you can’t wait to do some actual, honest-to-goodness writing!

Think about your current project. The one that gives you butterflies in your stomach when you think about it. The ambitious one you really want to start but are stalling over.

What Are Your Goals?

  • Are you writing to prove to yourself that you can finish a piece in this style (a novel, a poem, a play, a short story?).
  • Are you trying to develop your style?
  • Are you trying to make one little girl in her bedroom feel the way you felt the first time you read “A Wrinkle In Time”?
  • Are you trying to win the Newberry Award?

(Hint the latter one is an outcome, not a goal. Shelve it and focus on finding what you love).

What Will Happen If You Succeed?

What will happen? How will you feel? Will you be more or less confident? What will you be able to do next?

Take a moment and be honest with yourself. Grab a pen and write down the answer to those questions. Now look at what you wrote and think about what you didn’t dare write.

For those results, isn’t it worth taking the risk?

Now go! Get writing!

If you’d like some free tools to help you explore these ideas more fully, sign up for the Story A Day Creativity Lab: a low-frequency mailing list containing workbooks and practical exercises to get you closer to your writing goals.

Daily Prompt – May 22: Hobbies

Write A Story That Features A Hobby/Activity You Have Tried

Daily Prompt LogoWrite A Story That Features A Hobby/Activity You Have Tried

The only rule in today’s prompt is that the hobby may not be “writing”.

I have my own special reasons for this — namely: that, as an adult, I cringe every time I see a book where the main character is any type of writer. It seems to betray a lack of imagination. (Of course I’ll make an exception when re-reading books by LM Alcott or LM Montgomery or some other beloved writers whose initials are not “LM”, but for today the rule stands).

The hobby does not have to be anything you have done recently or frequently. It could be basket-weaving or finger-painting. But it should be something of which you have real-world experience and so can describe in minute detail if you need to.

Go!

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!

Daily Prompt – May 20: Rewrite In The Style Of…Pt III

Today, rewrite a story you have written before, but this time as a dramatic monologue.
Taking a look at the story from another angle is a challenge in itself. Then add the challenge of making the dialogue seem real and you can really have fun with this…

Daily Prompt LogoThis is the thirdin a series of prompts that will encourage you to choose a story to write several different ways. You could choose a fairy story or a tale you’ve already told right here during Story A Day May. Each day I’ll give you a style to write in. You can reuse the same character, plot, timing, whatever works as you import your story into the new style. Feel free to ditch characters, change their names, switch out the endings, whatever makes sense.

Today, rewrite a story you have written before, but this time as a dramatic monologue.

Taking a look at the story from another angle is a challenge in itself. Then add the challenge of making the dialogue seem real and you can really have fun with this.

(NB, the character who is ‘monologuing’, to borrow a phrase, doesn’t have to be the original story’s hero. It could be someone who was walking by and saw the action; a minor character in the action; anyone really).
Go!

(PS Did I mention? Day TWENTY! And you’re still here? Awesome, dude!)

Daily Prompt – May 20: Write In The Style of…Pt.II

Write (or Rewrite) A Story In The Style Of Your Favorite Dead Writer

Daily Prompt LogoThis is the second in a series of prompts that will encourage you to choose a story to write several different ways. You could choose a fairy story or a tale you’ve already told right here during Story A Day May. Each day I’ll give you a style to write in. You can reuse the same character, plot, timing, whatever works as you import your story into the new style. Feel free to ditch characters, change their names, switch out the endings, whatever makes sense.

Write (or Rewrite) A Story In The Style Of Your Favorite Dead Writer

I’m tempted to suggest Dickens, but maybe you’re more of an Austin or Bronte fan. Or maybe one of those Russians. Or further back? Chaucer, anyone? Shakespeare? Douglas Adams? (Nope, still too soon. Sob!)

Go!

Daily Prompt – May 19: Write In The Style of…Pt. I

Write (or Rewrite) A Story In The Style Of A TV Show You Know And Love

Daily Prompt LogoThis is the first of a series of prompts that will encourage you to choose a story to write several different ways. You could choose a fairy story or a tale you’ve already told right here during Story A Day May. Each day I’ll give you a style to write in. You can reuse the same character, plot, timing, whatever works as you import your story into the new style. Feel free to ditch characters, change their names, switch out the endings, whatever makes sense.

Write (or Rewrite) A Story In The Style Of A TV Show You Know And Love

I’m not going to limit you, because I know I wouldn’t have a clue what to do if you told me to write in the style of a CSI show, but a more gentle mystery might work for me. Or maybe it’ll be sci-fi, daytime soap, or rip-roaring Melrose Place evening soap. Reality show? Sitcom? Adult cartoon? What do you watch and love?

Go!

Daily Prompt – May 18: The Lie

Write About A Lie

Daily Prompt LogoOooo, the lie. We’ve all done it. We do it all the time, even though we know we shouldn’t. Sometimes we get away with them and other times they come back to bite us in the most spectacular fashion.

Write About A Lie

Is it a tiny one? A whopper? Does no-one find out about it? Does that mean your character really ‘gets away with it’? Does it spiral out of control and become a Fawlty Towers episode?

GO!

Daily Prompt – May 15: Amusement Parks

I’m spending the day at an amusement park with the kiddies.

I love watching all the different people and types, from the loud, dramatic teens, to the young parents, the kid-free couples, the grandparents, the happy ones, the cranky ones…it’s great fodder .

Write a story set at an Amusement park

It’s a setting ripe for drama, mystery, horror, poetry, action, joy and sorrow.

Go!

Daily Prompt – May 14: Skylab

Write a story using space or sci-fi elements

Daily Prompt LogoOn this day in 1973, the US launched the orbital space station Skylab.

Write A Story With  Space/Science Fiction Elements

Even if you’re not a big fan of science fiction, this doesn’t have to be a difficult assignment. Sci-Fi isn’t all about techno-babble or rockets.

Two of my favourite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation are:

1, Captain Picard is left on a planet, by a malevolent force, with the captain of a ship from a culture that communicates so strangely not even Star Trek’s wonderful translators can handle it. They are in peril and must work together. Gradually Picard figures out that the alien captain’s language is based on metaphors, but he doesn’t share the same culture so how can he find metaphors with which to communicate? It’s basically a stranded-on-an-island, must-work-together-to-escape-peril story, all about linguistics. In space.

2, Someone from Starfleet wants to take the sentient andriod Data back to HQ and take him apart to figure out how he works, for the greater good of the service (a fleet of Datas? We’d be unstoppable, Great!). Picard demands a tribunal at which he attempts to prove that Data is an individual not merely a piece of equipment. A wrinkle? Picard’s second in command and Data’s buddy, Riker, must act as prosector, and try to prove that his friend is merely a machine. This one is called “Measure of a Man” and is a long, fascinating philosophical argument about what it means to be human. Set on a spaceship.

Another example: the movie Moon, which came out last year. It is a psychological thriller set on the moon. It uses a sci-fi setting  to create an isolation you couldn’t realistically create in a story set on our planet these days. And it uses some sci-fi tricks to mess with the hero’s mind and throw obstacles in his path, and none of it is extraneous.

What kind of story could you write, that uses as space or futuristic setting? A mystery? A romance? A morality play?

Daily Prompt – May 11: Irving Berlin

Write a song inspired a song.

Daily Prompt LogoAnother birth anniversary from the Golden Age of US popular culture: Irving Berlin.

Born Israel Baline in New York in 1888, Berlin was a prolific songwriter, penning some of the most well-known songs ever, from White Christmas to Blue Skies and God Bless America.

While a lot of his songs lyrics were saccharine-sweet, being written for shows, they were all clever and often deceptively simple. My favourite Irving Berlin songs are the ones where he lets a tinge of sadness or regret into them (What’ll I Do? is an example of a both a seemingly simple lyric and real, poignant emotion).

With A Song In Your Heart

(OK, that was Rogers and Hart, but let’s not pick nits)

Write a story inspired by a song. I’m going to suggest this verse (that’s the bit they usually don’t tack onto popular recordings of standards) from the Irving Berlin song Remember:

One little kiss,

A moment of bliss,

Then hours of deep regret.

One little smile,

And after a while,

A longing to forget.

One little heratache

Left as a token,

One little plaything,

Carelessly broken.

But you can pick another lyric if you want to.