SWAGr Tracking Worksheet – Your Key To Accountability and Productivity

Every month we get together to declare our intentions for the month in the SWAGr post’s comments.

But when the month rolls around to the 20th or so, it can be a bit hard to remember what you committed to doing this month.

Sign up here to receive a handy-dandy worksheet you can download and print out every month, when you make your writing goals.

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[Reading Room] Surface Tension by James Blish

Verdict: Fabulous.

Surface Tension is a science fiction story originally published in 1952 and so qualifies as being either from (or near) the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of science fiction. (I found it in The Big Book of Science Fiction, edited by Ann & Jeff Vandermeer.)

Fear not, this is not all heros saving damsels in distress and wearing silly outfits in space. It is very different from anything I’d ever read from that era, and from most sci-fi that I’ve read from later eras. Continue reading “[Reading Room] Surface Tension by James Blish”

Write 12 Stories This Year – A Challenge From Alexis A. Hunter

Alexis A. Hunter Twitter ProfileI’ve always been impressed with how much fiction StoryADay friend and participant Alexis A. Hunter pushes out into the world: over 50 short stories in publications like Apex, Shimmer and Cricket.

In 2017, she has committed to writing a new short story every month.

That sounded like my kind of challenge, so I asked her more about it. Continue reading “Write 12 Stories This Year – A Challenge From Alexis A. Hunter”

Stay Excited About Your Writing This Year

To stick to our good intentions and create good writing practices, we have to stay excited about our writing. Meeting a word count goal or an hours-in-chair goal isn’t always enough of an incentive to break through our resistance to sitting down and creating something out of nothing, every day.

So, in this article, I’m offering you some alternative ways to get yourself jazzed about your writing practice.

Of course, being me, I’m going to recommend you incorporate short stories into your writing practice, but you can use these ideas even when you’re working on a scene in a longer work.

I’m going to show you how you can stay excited about your writing practice by:

  • Understanding the purpose of your story and how it affects the final form,
  • Experimenting with new formats and new ideas,
  • Focusing on your audience (but not too much)

I’m also going to give you one foolproof way to make sure you finish your stories, every time.

And then I’m going to invite you to make a very specific commitment to your writing this year—if it seems right for you—one with built-in accountability and support.

Take A Break

Continue reading “Stay Excited About Your Writing This Year”

SWAGr – Accountability for Jan 2017

Every month we gather here to discuss what we’ve achieved and commit to making more progress in our creative lives in the coming month. We call it our   Serious Writer’s Accountability Group or SWAGr, for short! (We’re serious, not sombre!)

What people are saying about StoryADayMay 2014

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 first 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.)

Did you live up to your commitment from last month? Don’t remember what you promised to do? Check out the comments from last month. Continue reading “SWAGr – Accountability for Jan 2017”

How To Set Exciting Writing Goals for Next Year — And Actually Meet Them, This Time!

This time next year, you could be staring at a list of achievements that are directly related to the goals that matter to you…

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Scroll down to get your worksheets!

The Allure of the Fresh Start

I love the idea of a fresh start, don’t you?

It doesn’t matter when it happens (New Year, the first day of spring, the start of a new academic year), I’m always ready with my list of “this time it’ll be different” resolutions.

  • This time I’ll get my assignments done ahead of time!
  • This time I’ll write every day, even if I don’t feel inspired!
  • This time I’ll floss three times a day!

    And What Happens Next?

    You know what I’m going to say, don’t you?

    I’m excited to follow through on my plans for about three days.

    Then I start to force myself to stick to the new regime.

    Then I start to miss a day here or there…

    …and suddenly it’s June and I’m flipping through my journal and I find that massive, guilt-inducing list of Things I’m Going To Do Differently This Year, and my shoulders slump, and I spend the next three weeks in a slump, wondering why I can’t get anything done.

    Sound familiar?

Continue reading “How To Set Exciting Writing Goals for Next Year — And Actually Meet Them, This Time!”

[Writing Prompt] Interrogate A Character

InterviewToday’s writing prompt is ripped straight from my 6th Grader’s homework folder, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant. 

I’m steeped in (as well as 6th Grade homework) Lisa Cron’s fabulous latest book Story Geniusin which she makes the compelling point that you cannot begin to tell your character’s story until you know about their past.

It’s a delightfully obvious (and surprisingly overlooked) observation that ought to be front and center in every writing class. So here we go.

The Prompt

Interview a character from one of your stories. Find out as much as you can about their past and what formed the character they possess on Page One of their story. Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Interrogate A Character”

SWAGr – Accountability for December 2016

Every month we gather here to discuss what we’ve achieved and commit to making more progress in our creative lives in the coming month. We call it our   Serious Writer’s Accountability Group or SWAGr, for short! (We’re serious, not sombre!)

What people are saying about StoryADayMay 2014

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 first 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.)

Did you live up to your commitment from last month? Don’t remember what you promised to do? Check out the comments from last month.

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

****

Examples of Goals Set By SWAGr-ers in previous months

  • Write a story a day in May – everyone!
  • Revise at least 10 short stories – Iraide
  • Write two short stories. – Jami
  • Attend one writers’ conference – Julie
  • Write fable for WordFactory competition – Sonya
  • Re-read the backstory pieces I wrote in May and see if I can use them within my novel – Monique
  • Research the market – Jami
  • Focus on my serial – Maureen

 So, what will you accomplish this month? Leave your comment below (use the drop-down option to subscribe to the comments and receive lovely, encouraging notifications from fellow StADa SWAGr-ers!)

(Next check-in, 1st of the month. Tell your friends. )

A Month of Writing Prompts 2016

Don’t forget, if you need inspiration for a story you can still get ALL THE PROMPTS from StoryADay May 2016 and support the running of the StoryADay challenge at the same time. (I’m really proud of this year’s collection!) Give a little, get a little :) Click here. Now only $2.99

NB: if you haven’t posted before, or if you include two or more links, you’ll go into the moderation queue. I’ll get to you, don’t worry!

A Thank You, A Favor, And Two Reminders

The Thank You

Thank you so much to all the people who responded to my ‘what does short story writing do for you’ survey last issue.

Not all of the quotes made it into the Writer’s Digest Magazine article (coming March/April 2017), but they all informed it and made it better.

I’ll be making an online extra to go along with the article, which will include quotes from almost everyone I talked to during my research, so stay tuned for that and again, THANK YOU!

The Favor

Secondly, the favor: if you enjoy StoryADay.org and have a moment today, please consider nominating it (and other writing sites you love) for a Writers Digest Magazine 101 Best Websites for Writers listing.

If you’d like to nominate any site, you have to do it today, because the deadline is Dec 1. You can email writersdigest@fwcommunity.com (mailto:writersdigest@fwcommunity.com) and tell the the name of the site, it’s address and (optionally) why you like it.

You could send something like

“Hi, I’d like to nominate StoryADay (storyaday.org) as one of your 101 Best Websites for writers. It has helped me become more creative/ find a community online/ write more than ever.

Thanks!”

My first website for writers, the 21st Century Publishing Update (back in 2002, when the century was young), landed on the list and I’ve been itching to get StoryADay on there too, to spread the word about our fabulous little community.

Reminder 1: The Podcast

Looking Back & Looking Forward

If you haven’t discovered the StoryADay podcast yet, now’s the perfect time.

The current episode is all about Looking Back over your writing year and pulling out some achievements to help power you up for a new year of writing challenges and opportunities.

It includes ways that you can dig out those achievements from your murky memory of a year overshadowed by celebrity deaths and global crises; and shares some reasons for doing the exercise along with my examples of what I thought was worth of note, from my own writing year.

The next episode (in two weeks) will talk about Looking Forward to next year and will offer some concrete strategies on how to stop your writing becoming another casualty on your New Year’s Resolution list (abandoned, lonely and shivering by Jan 15 along with your good intentions for diet and exercise. Oh yes, we’ve all done it!)

To listen to this week’s episode, go here

To subscribe, paste this address into your favorite podcast-listening-software (it might be iTunes or maybe you’re more complicated than that), and have new episodes delivered automatically to your phone/computer/neural implant (it’s coming, don’t you doubt it).

http://storyaday.libsyn.com/rss

Reminder 2

SWAGr Is Coming

On the first of every month, a group of us ‘meet’ in the comments of that month’s Serious Writers’ Accountability Group post (we’re serious, not sombre) and leave commitments to our writing life, and look back over our past month’s progress.

If you aren’t receiving updates about this group, sign up for the mailing list and add yourself to the SWAGr group.

This month I’m encouraging everyone to do a Big Look Back at the entire year, and also to make commitments to your writing for the upcoming month: December. It can get overlooked in all the “Planning For Holidays And Making Resolutions For Next Year” nonsense, so hop on over tomorrow and make sure you set some writing goals for poor, neglected December. They don’t have to be big goals: just enough to keep you moving forwards.

And that’s it. That’s all I’ve got for now.

Except to say that I went to the Writer Unboxed Unconference last month and atteneded some mind-blowing sessions and met some amazing people. I’ll be sharing more of what I learned over the next few months in podcasts and blog posts, so stay tuned.

And…

Keep writing,

Julie

P.S. Remember to keep your energy high and get some rest this month. If you need more tips, check out last month’s podcast about energy for writing

SWAGr – Accountability for November 2016

Every month we gather here to discuss what we’ve achieved and commit to making more progress in our creative lives in the coming month. We call it our   Serious Writer’s Accountability Group or SWAGr, for short! (We’re serious, not sombre!)

What people are saying about StoryADayMay 2014

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 first 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.)

Did you live up to your commitment from last month? Don’t remember what you promised to do? Check out the comments from last month.

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

****

Examples of Goals Set By SWAGr-ers in previous months

  • Write a story a day in May – everyone!
  • Revise at least 10 short stories – Iraide
  • Write two short stories. – Jami
  • Attend one writers’ conference – Julie
  • Write fable for WordFactory competition – Sonya
  • Re-read the backstory pieces I wrote in May and see if I can use them within my novel – Monique
  • Research the market – Jami
  • Focus on my serial – Maureen

 So, what will you accomplish this month? Leave your comment below (use the drop-down option to subscribe to the comments and receive lovely, encouraging notifications from fellow StADa SWAGr-ers!)

(Next check-in, 1st of the month. Tell your friends. )

A Month of Writing Prompts 2016

Don’t forget, if you need inspiration for a story you can still get ALL THE PROMPTS from StoryADay May 2016 and support the running of the StoryADay challenge at the same time. (I’m really proud of this year’s collection!) Give a little, get a little :) Click here. Now only $2.99

[Writing Prompt] Steal A First Line

The Prompt

Steal the first line of your favorite book and write a totally different story

Tips

  • Don’t agonize about your ‘favorite’ book. Just go to the shelf and pick one.
  • Type out the first line and then think of ways you can take that introduction in completely different directions.
  • Read Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Lady Astronaut of Mars, for an example of how you might do this. Or listen to the audio collection it comes from.
  • Consider writing a tiny, flash-fiction story that you can start and finish today.
  • If you’re brave enough, post your story in the comments.

Go!

Make It Better – Best of The Web for Short Story Writers, Oct 2016

This month’s theme here at StoryADay is: Make It Better.

Here’s some recommended reading from around the web on various aspects of making your writing life better.

MAKING YOUR WRITING BETTER

Here are three articles on how you can make your writing better to read, easier to sell, and impossible to put down.

Confessions of A Slush Pile reader – really useful article on why one reader rejected stories from a publication (even if your’e not submitting stories to publications, this is a great list of ‘what will put your reader to sleep’ and help you improve your writing)

Hunting Down Story Goals Plot holes are deadly to your story, but just as deadly are the other ‘holes’ that you might not be thinking about. This article tells you what they are and offers up a handy, printable template for keeping track of the important details. This might be overkill for short-short stories, but could be really useful for longer short stories, novellas and definitely for those of you working on novels.

It’s A Story, Not Just A List of What HappensIn which I offer up some writing advice gleaned from watching an interview with Trey Parker and Matt Stone — of South Park fame, among other things. [quick read]

THE WRITING LIFE

All writing is not created equal, argues James Scott Bell, while Ruthanne Reid shares advice for not quitting even when you can’t write.

The Five Modes of A Writer’s Life James Scott Bell talks about the five types of writing day you might have (from the inspired ‘flow’ state, to the solid reliable quotas of the “pro”). This is an encouraging article to help you make your commitment to your writing better: understanding that every day is not going to be blissful, really helps you stick to your priorities!

3 Steps to Writing When Life Goes NutsWe all have them: weeks (months?) when life gets away from us and writing seems impossible. This encouraging article from Ruthanne Reid commiserates, then gives you some concrete steps to take, to keep your writing life alive.

REVISION WITHOUT TEARS

Two tools to help you revise without drowning in a vat of your own words (and tears).

The 7DayStory – This email course, that I created with Gabriela Pereira of DIYMFA, takes you through the process of writing, REVISING and releasing a short story in seven days. It’s free and, if you’re looking for a methodical way to work through the revision process, pay particular attention to days 3–6

Climbing Mount Revision, One Step At A Time – The guest post that began the 7DayStory process, by Gabriela Pereira of DIYMFA.com

BETTER CRITIQUE GROUPS

Critique is a funny thing. If you get lucky, you find a great group and you’re all mature and experienced. If you’re not so lucky, you get newbies or jerks. If you’re thinking of starting a group (or want to make yours better) start by showing them this video: Professor Puppet’s Writing Critique instructions.

This short, funny video by my buddy Gary Zenker, is a great introduction for anyone new to critique, or who needs a refresher Air this video at the start of your group, to set the ground rules in an entertaining way!

How To Ask For — And Act On — FeedbackIf you have other writers willing to read and critique your work it can be really valuable. Here’s are some of the right, and the wrong ways, to deal with feedback.

I hope these evergreen articles will help you Make It Better this month and in the future.

Do you have any tips for things that have made your writing or your writing life better? Share in the comments!


If you want to read more like this, let me send future articles straight to your inbox:

[Writing Prompt] Regrets, I’ve Had A Few

With Our Eyes Wide Open...This week’s writing prompt is completely stolen from the first story in the 2016 edition of The Best American Short Stories (edited by Junot Diaz)

In the story, a man visits his elderly parents. A chance remark reminds him of an incident in his childhood where he was clearly in the wrong, and someone else suffered.

Without being heavy handed, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie allows her character to reminisce, taking us through a bright moment in a child’s life, before showing the act the man would later regret. There is very little commentary, just lush scene-painting and evocation.

The Prompt

Write a story inspired by one of your regrets

Tips

  • Write this story using a nugget from your own past: an act or words of which you were later ashamed.
  • Alternatively, combine a story you heard from someone else with the emotions you felt when you did something wrong.
  • Don’t use this as a vehicle to feel sorry for yourself, now. Rather, use your experiences to conjure up for the reader the feelings, the physical experience of your shame.
  • Don’t write this autobiographically (unless you really love memoir). Give your feelings to another character.
  • Consider giving the feelings of shame to a character who is very unlike you, and see how they would react to facing the consequences of their own actions.
  • Try to not consciously teach the reader a lesson. Instead, explore the experience and let them draw their own conclusions.
  • Try to evoke the experience of doing something you know to be wrong, getting caught, or getting away with it but regretting it anyway, in ways that a reader might recognize from their own experience (that’s why I suggest focusing on the physical reactions).
  • If the point of storytelling is to connect with other readers, sometimes its our worst experiences that give us the vivid emotional memories that allow us create a vivid story.

[Reading Room] Apollo by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This story opens the 2016 edition of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Junot Diaz.

It begins with a man visiting his parents, where a chance comment sparks a memory from his childhood. It’s clear, as the story goes on, that the man regrets his action as a child, but the author manages to convey this without ever being as heavy-handed as to say so.

The Opening Line

The story opens with a line that tells us a lot and paints a vivid scene in delicate brush strokes.

Twice a month, like a dutiful son, I visited my parents in Enugu, in their small over furnished flat that grew dark in the afternoon.

Think about how much we know:

  • The son visits, but is only acting ‘like a dutiful son’. He doesn’t want to be there, but he goes, by rote, because that is what one must do.
  • “Enugu” tells us that where this story is taking place. Even if we don’t know where Enugu is (do you?) it tells us where it is NOT taking place.
  • “Small, over furnished flat” suggests that the parents have downsized after a retirement or other change of circumstances
  • “That grew dark in the afternoon” – the son is not happy with this place. It suggests to me that the parents once had a larger, lighter, more expansive home. The son feels claustrophobic in this new flat – how much of that is real and how much psychological, we can’t know yet, but it certainly introduces the concept straight away.

The second sentence begins

Retirement had changed them…

For me, as a reader, this pulls me in straight away. I know this is not going to be wholly a naval-gazing story about a middle aged man. It’s inviting me to ask questions: how has it changed them? How has/will retirement change me/my parents?

And the changes that the son chooses to focus on are interesting: his parents are more credulous than they used to be. Several times he insists “my parents would have scoffed at these stories”. It’s not clear where the story’s going, but the ‘first act’ of the story ends when a lurid story relayed by his parents bring up a former acquaintance — a servant or ‘house boy’ — from his childhood, who has got into trouble as an adult.

“…the ringleader was Raphael? He was our houseboy years ago, I don’t think you’ll remember him.”

I stared at my mother. “Raphael?”

“It’s not surprising he ended like this,” my father said. “He didn’t start well.”

My mind had been submerged in the foggy lull of my parents’ storytelling, and I struggled now with the sharp awakening of memory.

My mother said again, “You probably won’t remember him. There were so many of those houseboys. You were young.”

But I remembered. Of course I remembered Raphael.

And we’re off. Of COURSE we’re going to keep reading, because once again the writer has invited us to ask questions. Why does he remember Raphael? What went down between them? And what does it have to do with his later rabble-rousing?

The rest of the story recounts the narrator’s life as a twelve year old boy, the son of older, intellectual parents who could afford to have servants help raise him and tend the house.

But Aidiche doesn’t really tell the story. She paints it. We live through the boy’s obsession with Kung Fu; we feel the sanded down wood of the nunchucks Raphael makes for him out of old mop handles; we see a still-life of the ‘patient’s altar’ his parents make by his bed when he is sick (“orange Lucozade, a blue tin of glucose, and freshly peeled oranges on a plastic tray”)

And when the story ends, we know that the seeds of the man’s later regret are planted in the moment the twelve year olds. The author doesn’t have to beat us over the head with it.

This story is a wonderful example of how to infuse a moral message into a story without making it read like a fable. It also illustrates how to introduce readers to a different culture, without great sections of exposition, but rather through select details and dialect/language choices.