How To Write A StoryADay in May Without Burning Out

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

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

So Why Keep Writing A StoryADay Each May?

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

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

Keeping Things Fresh

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

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

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

So How Do You Write A StoryADay Without Burning Out?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

 

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

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4 Magical Ways To Keep Writing Through The Holidays

The holidays are coming! The holidays are coming!

(I know this seems early to some of you but here in the US “The Holidays” start with Thanksgiving which happens in November — even earlier for Canadians — and continue right through until we all heave a collective sigh on Jan 2 — or the 6th if you’re Eastern Orthodox Christian.

Yikes, that’s a long time to have your daily (writing) routine interrupted.

So here’s a re-blog of a popular post chock full of strategies to get you through the winter holiday season without losing your mind or becoming a curmudgeonly recluse.
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How To Write Through The Holidays

SWAGr – September Writing and Accountability Group Check In

What people are saying about StoryADayMay 2014

You’re back! Or you’re here for the first time. Either way, good for you!

Welcome to the Serious Writers Accountability Group, where we post our goals for the coming month and ‘fess up to how much we wrote last month.

Leave a comment below telling us how you got on last month, and what you plan to do next month, then check back in on the second Wednesday of each month, to see how everyone’s doing.

(It doesn’t have to be fiction. Feel free to use this group to push you in whatever creative direction you need.)

Don’t remember what you promised to do? Check out the comments on previous SWAGr posts.

And don’t forget to celebrate with/encourage your fellow SWAGr-ers on their progress!

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Examples of Goals

  • “I’m going to write every morning from 6-7 AM.”
  • “I’ll write 250 words a day, minimum.”
  • “I’ll write 10,000 (fiction) words this month.”
  • “I’ll write one full story and revise another.”
  • “I’ll write four stories and submit one story to a publication.”
  • “I’ll outline that presentation I’ve been putting off working on, and create half of the slides.”
  • “I’ll track my time and see what’s getting in the way of my writing.”
  • “I’ll keep a journal to track my resistance to getting the work done.”

Still not convinced? Check out Melissa Hoffman’s Guest Post on what an accountability buddy can do for your writing life.

 So, what will you do this month? Leave your comment below:

(Next check-in, October 11, 2014. Tell your friends. )

SWAGr – Monthly Writing Goals & Check In

What People Are Saying About StoryADay May 2014

Welcome to the first meeting of our monthly Serious Writers Accountability Group (Acronym: SWAGr, because every insecure writer needs a little swagger, don’t you think?)

Writing is a lonely business and, as StoryADay May proves year after year, there’s nothing quite like peer pressure for helping you meet your goals.

Every month I encourage you to come here, leave a comment and tell us what your goals are for this month. Then, next month, check in, tell us how you did and what you’re going to do in the following four weeks. (It doesn’t have to be fiction. Feel free to use this group to push you in whatever creative direction you need.)

Examples of Goals

  • “I’m going to write every morning from 6-7 AM.”
  • “I’ll write 250 words a day, minimum.”
  • “I’ll write 10,000 (fiction) words this month.”
  • “I’ll write one full story and revise another.”
  • “I’ll write four stories and submit one story to a publication.”
  • “I’ll outline that presentation I’ve been putting off working on, and create half of the slides.”
  • “I’ll track my time and see what’s getting in the way of my writing.”
  • “I’ll keep a journal to track my resistance to getting the work done.”

 So, what will you do this month? Leave your comment below:

(Next check-in, Wednesday, July 9, 2014. Tell your friends. )

Help! I Missed A Day. What Do I Do?

OK, so this is Day 5 of the challenge and if you haven’t missed a day yet, the chances are strong that you will. Soon.

So here’s my advice, based on five years of May challenges, a couple of StoryADay September challenges and the writing courses I run.

Let It Go
[1. Cue the sound of my two elementary school aged boys screaming “No! Enough with the Frozen!”]

Let the unwritten stories go and write again tomorrow.

Seriously. This is not so much about turning out 31 complete stories as leaning to turn up every day, even when you feel like a failure. I encourage people never to try to catch up with days they’ve missed. That creates far too much baggage. (You can always keep writing into June if you want your 31 stories!)

Watch And Learn

The other point of a challenge like this is to try to do more than you think you can do, and to watch where it is hardest and where/when it was most fluid. Then, when you go back to your normal writing schedule you will have all these experiences in your tool kit. You’ll know that Saturday is maybe not a day to expect to get much writing done. And you’ll know that 11-midnight is prime time. Or you’ll know that it’s easier to write when you have a plan (or not).

Don’t worry too much. Just keep turning up, keep breathing and keep watching all the ways your inner demon tries to sabotage your writing life. Say ‘Huh, that’s interesting, demon. Nice try, but I’m still turning up again tomorrow”.

If we are going to write for the rest of our lives (and lets face it, we are), all we can do is keep learning!

Adjust Your Rules

Back in 2012 (my third year) I decided I was no longer going to commit to writing on Sundays. I COULD, I just didn’t HAVE to.
Between running the site and having two small children and a husband that I quite like to spend time with, something had to give. Sundays were it, for me.

This is fine. If you decide not to write EVERY day in May that’s cool.

BUT do try to assess your progress on a week to week basis rather than waking up each day and thinking “I wonder if I should write today”. (You should).

Stop now and see how your first five days (which include a weekend) have gone. Decide what you’ll commit to for the next seven days.

Of course, I thoroughly encourage you to write an actual StoryADay unless the thought of it is making you truly miserable. If you’re miserable, change the rules. But keep writing.

So, how’s it going? What are you learning? What tips do you have?

A Month Of Writing Prompts – The eBook!

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A Month Of Writing Prompts 2014


Writing a story a day for a month is a crazy endeavour, but one that hundreds of writers have signed up for every May since 2010. During month of courageous creativity, writers learn how to write every day (not ‘someday’), how to craft a story, how to write in different forms, how to fail and dust themselves off, and write again.
Are you ready to join them?
The StoryADay Month of Writing Prompts book shares the daily writing prompts for StoryADay May 2014: 31 writing prompts, meditations, lessons and pep talks to accompany on your journey to becoming a more prolific, creative and fulfilled writer.
Use these prompts during the StoryADay challenge, or any time you need a creativity boost.


Where Do You Write?

“…I only have to turn up at my coworking space 10 times a month to make it cheaper than a coffeeshop…and here I don’t have to ask a stranger to guard my gadgets while I run to the loo… “and other, cheaper ways to carve out a writing space

Over at my personal blog today I wrote about my love for the coworking space I rent in my town. I jokingly call the old industrial building my ‘writer’s garret’ and my post was called “Everybody Needs A Garret”.

Which got me thinking. While it’s important to be able to write everywhere and any time and in long or short increments, it is incredibly powerful to have a space or a routine that helps you focus on your writing.

Where Do You Do Your Best Writing?

Some people, like me, have the luxury of time, a hip hometown and a little extra moolah, and can rent cheap, shared office space as a writing garrett.

Other people carve out space in a disused closet or the space under the stairs, jam headphones on their ears and pound away at the keys there.

Some people write in bed, on buses, in libraries and coffee shops.

If you haven’t set up your own writing space yet, experiment with some of these ideas until you find out what works for you.

Your Own Writing Space – Some Tips

If you want to try out having a writing space here are some tips:

  • Search your local area for a coworking space or a writers’ collective with desk space for rent. You might be surprised at how much flexibility you can find for relatively little cost (I worked it out. If I spend a morning working at a coffee shop I’ll buy a fancy coffee and probably a breakfast sandwich or something for lunch, to assuage my guilt at hogging one of their tables all morning. I might buy a bottle of water or a second coffee too. That’s probably $10-14 per trip. I only have to turn up at my coworking space 10 times a month to match that…and here I don’t have to ask a stranger to guard my gadgets while I run to the loo.)
  • Office Nook In The MorningCarve out a space in your home. It can be as little as an under-used corner of the kitchen, under the stairs, below an awkwardly sloped ceiling, in the space between two doorways. Pick up a cheap desk or, if you want a standing desk, pop this lap desk on top of a sideboard/buffet and call it your ‘desk’. (This really cuts down on the amount of space you need, as there is no chair to worry about). Maybe order an lightweight room divider screen that you can set up around yourself while you work and fold up when you’re finished. Get a desk lamp to illuminate (and focus) your little corner. Let everyone know that, when you’re in your writing space, this is Writing Time and tell them how long they have to leave you alone before they are allowed to have their next emergency. [2. It will probably take a long time and some persistence before this lesson kicks in at all, even with other adults.]
  • Carve out an Aural Writing Room by picking up a decent pair of big, obvious over-the-ear headphones [3. Make them big and obvious to signal to the world that you are Not Available] and a White Noise or ambient sounds generator (White Noise is ok, but I really like the Study app for iOS, which has soothing spa-like music and birdsong that is supposed to make you smarter).
  • 20140312-112836.jpgRemember, a Writing Garrett isn’t an office. You don’t have to have filing cabinets and lots of shelves [4. You already have books all over your house, don’t you?]. I keep my essential writing supplies for the major current projects together in a backpack. I grab that, and go – whether my writing space for the day is the Garrett or ‘back under the covers’.

Do you have a space where you write? Post a comment (or share a picture) below.

Writing Through The Holidays

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You’re busy. Or you’re sad. Or you’re conflicted. Or over scheduled. Or delirious with excitement.

Whatever the holidays mean to you, this time of year can be a killer for your writing productivity.

Depending on what you’re working on, that can be OK. Or perhaps you will need to continue to carve out some serious work time even though the 12 Tribes of HisFamilyAndYours are descending on you, daily.

Here are some encouraging words from me to you, on how to keep your inner writer and your outer productive-member-of-society happy together at the year’s end.

What Do You Need?

We’re used to asking what our characters need, but for once, let’s look at what YOU need, as a writer.

If You’re In The Middle Of A Project

If you have an ongoing project like a long short story, a story you’ve just started or a novel, you really will have to make time every day to write. The good news is you don’t have to do much. Even 250 words a day will keep your head in the project and your characters in your head. The even better news is that getting back to your imaginary world for even this little time every day, will be an incredible mood booster. Sneak off to a spare room for 30 minutes, come out smiling (and get the extended family talking about what on earth you keep in there!).

If You’re Between Projects

If you don’t have an ongoing project, my best advice for you is: don’t worry.

  • Don’t worry about trying to craft stories when you’re temporarily overwhelmed with commitments.
  • Don’t worry about writing stories when you have people you enjoy hanging out with.
  • Do keep a notebook or your smartphone nearby and make notes. Capture moments, turns of phrase, jaw-droopingly inappropriate comments by in-laws (note: you may have to excuse yourself and run to the bathroom so people don’t know you’re writing about them). Use this time of enforced activity and sociability to capture all these things and call them Story Sparks.
  • Don’t worry about what these Story Sparks might or might not turn into, just yet. Write them down. Keep them safe.

Keep Yourself Sane By Journalling

We write because we need to get the voices out of our heads, or because we need to know how we feel about things.

Just because you don’t have time to craft short stories over the holidays, don’t let that drive you insane.

Take a pretty notebook with you (keep it safe) and your favorite pen, and just write. At the start or end of the day, or in any stolen moment, write about your day.

  • Write about what pisses you off.
  • Write about what delights you.
  • Write about what scares you.
  • Let your handwriting reflect your mood. Write tiny letters or huge scrawls or in jagged, stabby motions.
  • Try to write at least one sentence in there that uses some of your writerly skills, but mostly, just let the voices out.

You don’t need ever look at this journal again (though it might be useful to drag it out in July when you are both thinking of writing holiday stories for submission to winter holiday markets and making your own Christmas plans for next year!)

Here’s wishing you a peaceful and fruitful holiday season. I hope you get some rest, and manage to keep your inner writer healthy, wealthy and raring to go in the New Year.

How Was Your Writing Year?

Worksheet Alert! I have a new, free worksheet for you! Take a few minutes to look back at what you’ve done this year. Spend a little time patting yourself on the back on this new worksheet for those of us who like lists but aren’t linear thinkers…[read more]

Worksheet Alert! I have a new, free worksheet for you!

We all love the New Year: the retrospectives, the ‘where are they now’s, the ghoul pools, the feeling of starting afresh and of possibilities.

Well, the end of the year is nigh and it’s time to take a look at your writing life. And I have a printable worksheet to help you do just that.

 

Introducing The StoryADay.org “My Writing Year” Quick Planner

It’s a one-page, 8.5″x11″ printable form without any straight lines — perfect for those of us who like lists but aren’t linear.

(If you’re not using a US printer and paper, you’ll need to check the ‘resize to fit page’ box in your printer options, but it should work out OK.)

Take a few minutes to look back at what you’ve done this year. Spend a little time patting yourself on the back as well as taking note of opportunities missed, or where you could do better next year. Capture where you were and how far you’ve come. Scribble down a few plans for next year.

Get your free copy now!

 

If you discover any surprising truths or want to share anything you put down, leave a comment here.

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



Let Me Bust Your Writing Excuses

The last two blog posts were all about what to do when you don’t feeeeeeel like writing (wah!)

This time I’m on a mission.

karate boy breaking boards

Post your biggest writing excuses below (‘not enough time’, ‘my inner editor won’t shut up’, ‘my ideas aren’t original’, ‘my kids are eating me alive!’) and I’ll let my inner drill sergeant loose on them.

 

Ready to have your go-to writing excuse busted? Post them now:

 

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?

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!

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?