Warm Up Writing Course Begins This Weekend

Thinking about signing up for StoryADay May but scared to take the plunge?

 

If you need proof that YOU CAN WRITE, sign up for the StoryADay Warm-Up Writing Course starting this Friday, April 6. But sign up today and receive immediate access to the bonus Time To Write Workshop.

 

What: An online short-story writing course for writers who want to warm up their writing muscles: 2 weekly lessons, 3-4 weekly writing assignments. Starts small and builds your confidence over time. Continue reading “Warm Up Writing Course Begins This Weekend”

Writing With Confidence – Imagine The Perfect Reader

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

friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sketch out a few characteristics of you Ideal Reader now.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a good reason to storm the castle

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

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

Formulate A Plan

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

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

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

Be Flexible

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

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

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

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

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

Stay True To Your Goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I will never doubt again.”

StoryADay.org's Have Fun Storming The Castle


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

Does Thinking Count As Writing?

I asked a friend the other day how her writing was going.

“I’m thinking about writing,” she replied. “Does thinking count for anything?”

Thinking of you

Ouch. Sound familiar?

So, you know what I’m going to say, right?

Thinking…well, actually thinking DOES kind of count as writing. (There, did I surprise you? Wait for it…)

But only if you’re doing it in the right way.

(Oo, you knew there was a catch!)

Thinking Kinda Does Count…And It Really Doesn’t

  • Writers need to think — We need copious amounts of thinking time. We need to daydream and imagine and ‘what if’. Happily, we can do this while attending to all those routine brain-free tasks we have to do every day: you know, the ones that keep us clothed and fed and sanitary. (If you’re an adult you know what I mean. If you’re a kid…no, if you’re a kid you won’t even be reading this. You’ll just be writing your first best-seller. Move along.)
  • Beating ourselves up is not productive — unfortunately a lot of writers (especially the ones who aren’t doing any writing) spend a lot of their thinking time fretting about how they’re not writing, not good enough, a lousy person for not doing more actual writing. This is not only unproductive, it is destructive. The best way to stop this kind of thinking in its tracks is to write something — anything. (Keep reading for ideas on what you can write on a day like this)
  • Capturing ideas is useful — sometimes ‘not writing’ means you’re out living. This is a wonderful thing for a writer. You need experience to be able to write anything meaningful. You need to come home and process the stuff that happened to you today, so that it’s there in your brain ready for when you need it. We need to hate people and imagine all the things we should have said to them. We need to love people and freak out when our imaginations show us what life would be like without them. We need to wonder what it would really be like if our plane crashed on a desert island: how would we wash our clothes and what plant fibers could be spun into thread to repair them?
  • Thought vs.  creativity — There will come a time when you need to look at your work with a critical eye, but that time is not during the initial writing phase. In fact, the less you think while you’re writing your first draft the better. Turn off that brain, move your hands and just let the words pour out.

It’s all very well for me to sit here saying this. But how do you actually move from thinking to writing?

You Must Take Action

You have to actually carve out time to sit down and write. Even if you can’t finish a whole chapter. Even if all you can manage is 100 words, 55 words, 140 characters,

DOING something (i.e. writing, crafting a story and characters) is so much better than thinking. Always.

(You may not feel great while you’re doing it, but trust me, afterwards? You’ll feel awesome.)

How To Take Action With Your Writing

It’s easy to get overwhelmed and beat yourself up because you haven’t finished your first novel yet.

Screw that.

  • Set yourself a tiny goal and meet it. Write a twitter fiction story. Write a 55-word story. Write exactly 100 words (no more, no less). Set a deadline. Do the work. Now tell me that didn’t feel good.
  • Use prompts I know it can seem corny but grab a writing prompt and use it for your own purposes. I assigned everyone on my writing course the same prompt one day and you would have been amazed at the radically different stories that came back from 12 different people.
  • Embrace the first draft — Give yourself permission to write something truly dreadful. Tell yourself no-one is going to see it. Picture a baby learning to walk: they fall down, they get up again, they fall down, they get up again, and eventually they are up more than they are down. We learn by doing. We learn by making mistakes. Write something terrible, don’t show it to anyone. Remind yourself the goal is to write something, not to write something good. Not yet.
  • Get an accountability buddy — life comes at us fast. If you’re like me, there’s nobody knocking down your door to hand you a living wage for your fiction yet. It’s easy to let writing slip into the background and — whoosh! — a month has gone by without a single word written. By finding someone to keep you honest, you give yourself the kind of deadlines that you need. You don’t even have to swap writing samples. Just make sure you find someone who will stay on your case and not be too nice to you!
  • So yes, think. Think about your writing. Think about your characters. Think about what you’ll do when you’ve reached your goals.But most of all, keep writing.

    What one thing will you commit to writing this week? How will you make it happen?

    Leave your commitment below, & I will be your accountability buddy for this week (I will personally check up on you on Wed June 22!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Lisa!

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

Skip
Joy In Motion!

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

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

Taking a break to get your body moving will:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,

Lisa


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

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

An Accountability Buddy: The Productive Writer’s Secret Weapon

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

Farewell to Polina!

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

Make yourself accountable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Win! Win! Win!

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

 

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

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

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.

 


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)



Delegate Your Way To Writing Success

Part of the Time To Write Series. Interested? Subscribe to the blog


Inside the Box 2289
Do try to make sure the tasks you delegate are age-appropriate!

When my children were tiny I didn’t do a lot of writing. But there would come a day when I simply HAD to write. With a toddler in two, however, it became almost impossible to get through a full sentence without hearing that darling little voice yap,

“Mama? Mama! MAMA!!!”

I got to the stage where it was quite a relief when my boy unexpectedly ditched “Mum” and started calling me by my given name. At least it took a while for that to start to grate on my nerves!

The Delegation Revalation

One fateful afternoon, when my son — previously happily playing with toy cars at my feet — suddenly popped up and asked for a drink. For the third time that hour. I groaned and tore myself away from my half-finished sentence to fetch him a drink.

Then it hit me. My job as a parent was not to raise him to be helpless. My job as a parent was to teach him self-sufficiency. So what if he was only 3?

I started delegating.

That day I moved some plastic tumblers onto a low shelf in an under-the-counter cabinet and made a big deal of at last unlocking the water dispenser on the fridge. Sure, I had to clean up a few spills, but it was a price I was willing to pay to get a few uninterrupted minutes.

We quickly moved on to solo hand-washing, using a stool to get the toothbrush and toothpaste (creating a few precious extra minutes before bedtime). Then I packed away any trousers that didn’t have an elasticated waist and presto! I was freed from having to accompany him to the bathroom!

How Much Can You Give Away?

As the kids have grown, so has my hunger for writing time.

I now delegate all kinds of things.

  • Where I used to be in charge of bath-time and bedtime, my husband and I now share bedtime duty.
  • When I was deep in the crunch of StoryADay last May my seven year old, a-hem, learned how to make peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches.
  • While I toiled on my novel last November, my husband taught the boys how to fold their school clothes and put them away neatly.

I could feel guilty about deserting my family when I feel the need to write. Or I can celebrate my awesomeness as a mother who cares enough about them to teach them the life skills they will need when I eventually kick them out of my house. (Ten more years, Eldest. I’m counting.)

Delegation can be fun!

It’s not always, easy of course. Things go wrong. There is often a learning curve for the people you’re delegating tasks to. There might be occasional tears.

But stick with it. You CAN find ways to nudge the people around you become more independent, while also clawing back some of your precious writing time.

What about you? What one task will you try to offload this week? What poor helpless soul will you set on the road to independence?


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Are You A Writer Or Just A Wannabe?

Nobody finds time to write. We make time for everything we have to do. Do You Really Want To Write?

Nobody finds time to write.

Few people have spare hours just lying around in the back of the closet, waiting to be discovered (and if you do, you probably have more trouble with motivation than time-management. That’s a different blog post!)

We make time for everything we have to do.

The crucial lesson, however, is that unless someone else has give us a deadline, we only make time for the things we find important; the things we enjoy.

Do You Really Want To Write?

Ask yourself: of all the things you did today, which of them mattered most to you?

  • What did you get out of reading all those tweets?
  • Did you get lost in Wikipedia doing ‘research’ for your novel? Did you really need all that information?
  • Did you need to watch another repeat of The Simpsons tonight, when you can already replay it, at will, from your memory?

Or would it have been more satisfying
to sit down and write something?

Do you even know where all your time went?


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The Difference Between You and a Published Writer

What IS the difference between you and a published author?

Time.

In one sense, linear time: they were discovered before you were. Bad luck for you, good luck for them.

But in another, more useful sense: they made time to write. Have you?

Who Do You Think Does Stephen King’s Laundry?

Well OK, maybe HE can afford a housekeeper. But it’s just as likely that he still has to schlep down to the basement himself with a load of unmentionables whenever he runs short.

And you can bet your boots that your favourite midlist author doesn’t have a housekeeper. Or a nanny. But they still keep churning out the books year after year.

Things only get worse for your favorite author if they happen to be writing Literary Fiction. They are almost guaranteed to be a commercial failure and have to subsidize their income teaching rich kids at private universities to appreciate the rebellious soul of art. If they’re lucky they might negotiate a semester’s sabbatical in which to write their next book, but only if  they agree to eat nothing but oatmeal, turn off the heating and bust out the fingerless gloves.

And even if your favorite commercially-successful author can afford an assistant to make sure the cat gets fed, they  can’t pay her to write the book, do the revisions, talk to the agents and editors, catch the planes and go on the book tour for them.

When Do Authors Find Time To Write?

Just like us: in the gaps between Real Life’s obligations.

If you’re commercially successful one day (or have no life) you might be able to wedge those gaps open a little wider.

But life is happening to everyone. And somehow, thousands of people finish books every year.

When Will You Make Time To Write?


Part of the Time To Write Series.


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One Simple Rule For Writing Success

Photo on 2011-01-11 at 10.36

Ever have one of those lessons that you know, but you need life to kick you in the face with again and again, because you can’t make yourself learn it otherwise?

I’m currently letting life kick me in the face with this one:

Write First. Then Let Life Happen.

It’s hard to make time for writing. It’s harder when you’re worrying about all the other things you have to do as well.

  • Do you peek at your email before you sit down to work on your current writing project?
  • Do you do a survey of all the projects you want to work on?
  • Do you check Twitter, because, c’mon each tweet is only 140 characters long?

And do you end up finding it harder and harder to start work on your actual writing?

Join me in my new pledge: Write First.

As much as I possibly can, I pledge to Write First.

The rest of life will catch up with me as soon as it possibly can, whether or not I invite it in. So when I sit down to write, I will write first, email later.

To help me with this pledge, here are some things I’m going to do

  • Plan what I’m going to work on before my next writing session begins – I don’t want to sit down and think ‘hmm, what will I work on today?’. I want to sit down, knowing that I’m working on that scene where my main character is doing this thing. Or that I’m going to take this story idea and turn it into a first draft. If I have to plan this the night before, fine. If I have to plan it while I’m driving home from a day of Real Life, that’s OK too. But I need to be ready to go as soon as I sit down.
  • I will not have any social media windows open until after I have reached my goal for the day.
  • I will not give up until I have reached my word count or project goal for the day. Even if I’m feeling stabby.

How about you? Will you join me? What will your ‘rules’ be?

The First Thing Writers Should Do Every Day

Beach Inspiration by Debbie Ohi
Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at Inkygirl.com.

It’s hard enough to find time to write. Then, when you finally do, you face the paralysis of the blank page/blinking cursor.

The most useful tool I have discovered for getting past that frozen moment of potential is to do some warm-up writing.

Morning Pages And The Truth Point

I first discovered this technique in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way in the form of her morning pages.

Cameron advises you to sit down first thing every morning and write three pages’ worth of nothing in particular, just to see what come out. She lets you get several weeks into the program before asking,

Have you discovered the Truth Point yet?

And I had.

I discovered that somewhere on the second page (if I was writing longhand), my writing went from being awkward to flowing. Try it. After a page or two, you’ll find something to write about or you might just find your descriptions getting more interesting, your turn of phrase more entertaining and natural.

After writing ‘nothing’ for three pages, you’ll be able to plunge into an actual writing project and be at your best on the first line.

750Words.com

Flash forward a decade or two, and the website 750words.com offers an online version of Morning Pages, complete with somewhere to do your writing in case you don’t want to write on your blog or in a notebook that someone might find.

The host of 750words.com credits Cameron with inspiring the site, and says that 750 words is the ‘truth point’ for many people.

I have writing friends who blog first thing in the morning just as a way of warming up. Other people write letters to friends.

Tips For Warm-Up Writing

The only thing I would add is that, like 750words.com, you should be free to protect your warm-up writing. It’s not meant for display. It’s meant as warm-up. If you’re happy posting your warm-up writing to a blog or posting it off toa  friend, great. But protect yourself as much as you need to.

And no sneaking off and reading Twitter or Facebook, or your favourite author, now!

Make Time To Write — Because You’ll Never “Find” It.

Time
Time by Robbert van der Steeg

Acres of Internet space have already been devoted to this topic, because it’s a tough one. There are as many solutions as there are people who want to write, so there is always room for one more blog post on the topic.

In this 3-post  series, I’m going to give you some thoughts, some links and some tools, to help inspire you to find time for your writing.


TIME FOUND UNDER SOFA CUSHIONS!

There is a reason you never see that headline. Time is never found. Time is made, cadged, scrimped, stolen, begged, borrowed, spent.

There is always something else you could be doing. Always. The trick is, finding ways to make time for the things that really matter to you.

Make Tough Sacrifices

I’m saying this first, to get it over with because it sounds awful, but you will have to make sacrifices if you want to make writing a priority. Some of these sacrifices will be hard.

Today I turned down a walk with a friend, which I know would have been lovely. Sometimes a walk with a friend is the perfect thing to boost your creativity. But for me, this week, it would eat into the only clear time I have to Get Stuff Done. Some of that stuff is mundane, household stuff, but part of that Stuff is Writing & Writing Prep.

No matter how nice that walk would have been,  I had to say ‘no’.  Next week, I’ll budget my time differently to make sure I can say ‘yes’.

Make Easy Sacrifices

Some things will be easy to give up, or at least good for you.

Me? I overeat. When I’m stressed or bored I head for the pantry and strap on the nosebag. It uses up time and leaves me comfortably numb. But if I’m serious about my writing, I resist the nosebag, make light, healthy meals and get back to my notebook. Good for productivity and good for my heart.

An ‘hour long’  TV show is actually 42 minutes of content. The rest is commercials. Why not record your favourite shows or download them from iTunes? Even if you still watch two shows in an evening, you could carve out 36 minutes for writing just by watching it commercial-free and still get to bed at the same time.

What changes could you make, even if occasionally, to create more time for the thing you really love to do?

Accept That You Can Write In Bursts

You don’t need long swathes of time in which to write. In fact, that can be bad for productivity. As someone who has suffered prolonged bouts of enforced inactivity (lack of a work visa, looking after small children) I can tell you that more free time does not make writing easier. You just get more creative with your excuses.

Jamming in 250 words here and there on your commute — a 1000 if you’re lucky on a lunch break — keeps your writing feeling like a treat, not a chore.

Plus, it’s how most full-time writers started. Stephen King wrote after shifts at the laundromat. Scott Turow wrote bits and pieces while working as for the US Attorney’s office. Most ‘literary fiction’ writers have quite demanding schedules teaching at colleges and conferences. Even if they do get to take a semester off to finish a novel, they can hardly wait for inspiration to strike during that one precious semester.

Accept That You Can Write In Big Long Jags

If you do get the chance to write in a big binge on the weekends, go for it. Don’t feel guilty. Some people spend hours watching sports every Sunday. Do what you enjoy; what makes you a better person. Negotiate with family/friends for writing time if you have to, and write as fast as you can for as long as you can, whenever you get the chance.

Separate Your Thinking Time and Your Writing Time

On that note, don’t put off thinking about your story even if you don’t have time to sit down and write. When do get some writing time, you want the ideas to be flowing. You can think about the next plot development while you are doing any menial task (of which we all have plenty).

But do try to focus. It’s hard to stop your mind wandering off to the sequel or what you’ll do with your wealth when people are using your name where they used to use Stephen King’s. Rein it in. Focus on the next scene, the next bit of dialogue, the next plot twist. Make notes if you have to.  Better yet, commit the ideas to memory, then you’ll be turning them over and over until it’s time to write.

Then, when you do carve your 36 minutes out of the evening’s schedule, your fingers will be twitching. You’ll be ready to jump right in.

Scare Yourself Straight

If you find yourself frittering your time away on Facebook or Twitter or in front of the TV when you know you could be writing, take an excellent piece of advice from Jon Scalzi:

“Think of yourself on your deathbed saying, “well, at least I watched a lot of TV.”

Take a moment now. Picture it. Use that fertile imagination of yours.

If you aren’t already sweating, then maybe there is a whole other reason why you can’t and won’t find time to write.

And that’s OK, too. Maybe you’re really a reader, a critic, an enthusiastic conneseur of the narrative form. Join a book group or a film society and have fun with your life. Just stop beating yourself up about not finding time to write.

But if you’re a writer, make time. You’ll never “Find” It.


Am I being glib? Smug? Wrong? Have you found things that work for you? Tell me in the comments.

My favourite comment earns the writer an advance copy of the Time Test Tool I’m working on, to be launched to the Creativity Lab mailing list in two weeks.

Writing In The Fast Lane – Interview With AdorablyAlice

As writers we’re curious. About everything. About people, technology, history, our neighbours, everything.

I’m particularly curious about other writers and how they work, what keeps them going, why they do it.

So here’s the first in a series of interviews with writers, starting with writers who took part in the StoryADay challenge last May.

AdorablyAlice was one of our most active writers during the first challenge. In this interview she gives a lot of credit for her writing success to her secret weapon: her friend and mentor: Cid (also a StoryADay veteran). I’d love it if you’d leave a comment below, picking out one thing from this interview that stood out for you: something that sounded sooooo familiar it made you smile, or something you’d like to try in your own writing life.


Before you started StoryADay how would you have described your writing life?

I used to write a lot when I was younger. Sometime after high school, I stopped. It wasn’t until NaNoWriMo 2009 that I began writing again. So between NaNo and StADa, I was still trying to find a balance between work, school, life and writing.

What made you decide to do StoryADay?

Cid. I found out about StADa through her, and because short story is my weakest point, I thought it would be a good challenge. Plus, I thought it would help me get into the habit of writing daily.

What did you expect to achieve? What did you actually achieve? What did you learn during the challenge?

I wanted to write something every day, and I wanted to get stronger at writing short stories. I did write everyday, but I think I’m still weak in writing short stories. I learned about Twitter fiction, which intrigued me, and I actually wrote a few TwitFic pieces.

How do you make time for writing?

This is a good question. And when I have an answer that doesn’t involve neglecting chores/cooking, I’ll let you know.

Why do you write? What keeps you motivated?

I am most productive on #writersdatenight (yes, I have to include the Twitter hashtag). Once a week a group of five writers (including myself) meet at McAllister’s to eat, socialize a little and write. Because the other four ladies have been writing longer than I have, I feel motivated to write a lot when I’m around them. The sound every one typing is motivating. I’ve tried other writing groups, but they’ve been more socializing than writing, so I don’t enjoy them as much. Lately, Cid has been setting goals for me. Write 5K and get a book. Write 5K and have a Glee marathon. It works. She’s awesome.

What are your aspirations?

Well, I’d love to be published and that’ s definitely a long term goal, but more short term…I’d like to finish a story. Well, I’ve finished a few, but I don’t revise. So a good aspiration would be to go back and revise…lol

Do you have a project or website you’d like to tell people about?

Well, there’s Book-Addicts. There are four of us (Cid’s one of them) and we basically review books across all genres, interview authors, have guest blog spots and book giveaways. It’s a pretty awesome place for people who are as addicted to reading as we are. www.book-addicts.com – get your fix!

I also have my personal website, www.adorablyalice.com, I keep up with how I’m doing as a writer, offering the lessons I learn as I delve into the mysterious ways of The Writer.

Thanks, Alice! (And you can read more about Alice’s experiences with her writers’ groups and productivity in this blog post – which features a fun cartoon from my own writing friend and secret mentor, Debbie Ohi.)

[And one more thing: I’d love to interview you about your writing, no matter what stage you’re at or whether or not you’ve done one of these creative challenges, so leave me a comment below if you’d be willing to chat.]