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What are the consequences of trying to write a perfect story?
That you might get stuck. That you might not progress. That you might quit. Don’t quit. Write a crappy First
Very few writers really know what they’ve done until they’ve done it…the only way I can get anything done at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts
Anne Lamott, “Bird By Bird”
What are the consequences of writing a bad story? That you might get discouraged?
That’s not something we embrace readily, but it’s not fatal.
Now, what are the consequences of trying to write a perfect story?
That you might get stuck.
That you might not progress.
That you might quit.
Embrace the cause of the crappy first draft, and save your writing life!
This is what keeps the Inner Editor from getting his claws into you.
Write like the wind. Keep running and leave the Inner Editor behind.
Write fast, get to the point where you get stuck, and keep writing anyway.
Literally, don’t look back at your draft as you’re writing. Even if you have forgotten what you named a secondary character or a town, just put in a placeholder and keep writing.
If you look back you’ll be tempted to judge, to edit, and you’ll slow down and then you’ll lose momentum, and then it’s so much harder to get going again.
The more I want to get something done, the less I call it work.
Treat your first draft as your sandbox: get your fingers dirty, build ugly models, knock them down later.
Don’t Quit. Fight The Fear. Write A Crappy First Draft Today.
This week marks the 98th anniversary of the birth of blues great Muddy Waters.
This week write a story on the theme of one of his greatest hits:
I have a subscription to Storyville, on my iPhone, because I’m a sucker for new business models and digital publishing, and I’m enjoying being exposed to a wide array of stories (old and new) every week.
This week’s story, “Gold Boy, Emerald Girl” by Yiyun Li, slowly unfolds the story of a couple, past the first flush of youth, meeting and deciding whether or not to marry. The story is set in modern-day Beijing. The woman in the story has lived there all her life, hardly noticing that she is aging and becoming a spinster, while the bachelor son of her old college professor has been off living in America.
It is anything but a cliched romance, though I will say that it has a satisfying ending. The author is quite skilled at making the characters and their culture seem complete and real without losing their interesting edge.
I liked the indirect way we learn about the characters and their backstories, as in this remark about the professor,
“Professor Dai must miss her students these days,” Siuy said after she and Hanfeng had exchanged greetings, although she knew it was not the students that his mother missed but the white skulls of mammals and birds on her office shelves, the drawers filled with scalpels and clamps and tweezers that she had cleaned and maintained with care and the fact that she could mask her indifference to the human species with her devotion to animals.
All the revelations about the characters are measured and careful, just like the characters. The whole story is a skilled blend of what we are told and how it is told, leading us to accept the ending and even agree with the choices the characters make.
It’s worth remembering that how a story is told can contribute as much to the reader’s experience as the things we write.
They publish books and help with promotion and distribution – all digital and Digital Rights Management free, so your readers can read your book wherever they want, not linked to any particular device.
They also curate a Twitter stream of 140-character tiny tales at @seedpodpublishing . You can submit your Twitter stories here. (I particularly like their Publishing Rights section, written in Real English!)
From the Writers’ Guidelines page:
We believe that writers can and should be supported financially by the community. Because of this, the free versions of our books are made possible by donations as well as by advertising from organizations that are doing socially just work. Our aim is to nurture the work of writers and keep literature accessible for all.
It’s intriguing alternative to both traditional publishing and go-it-alone self-publishing. I’ll be watching with interest.
I’ve just sent out this schedule to all the people who have already signed up for the StoryADay Warm Up Your Writing Course. A lot of the Week 1 links are live and people are meeting up in the forums. It’s not too late to sign up and jump-start your writing today.
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, March 25. 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 Your Writing” Class BONUS WORKSHOP ADDED”
Tomorrow is the birth date of escapologist and magician Harry Houdini, so it seems a good time to write a story about escape.
Conversely today marks the 10th anniversary of the Russian Space Station Mir falling back to the Earth that had held it in is gravitational embrace for so long. Mir never really escaped from Earth, but it did soar above us, suggesting the promise of escape to those of us who look to the stars in our dreams.
Write a story about escape – or the failure to escape.
This week, try starting in the middle of the action and unpacking the back story as you go.
“What if my stories are no good? What if I fail?”
This is possibly the most powerful thing holding us back.
We can find or make time if we really want to. Even if the power lines went down and the world ran out of paper, we could tell our stories out loud, around campfires as of old.
The most insightful of us understand that success brings its own stresses and that worries us.(Imagine if your first novel was a best-seller. Where would you go from there?!)
But the thing that really stops us?
Fear of failure.
Today’s prompt comes from Rory’s Story Cubes. I rolled them for you, but you can use them in any order and in any way you like.
It’s the Number 1 question authors are asked in interviews: Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
Of course, a large part of being a writer is having ideas, harnessing them, molding them. But we all have days when the ideas aren’t coming. We still want to write, but where to start?
Here are 8 sites that provide writing prompts.
Starting in our own backyard, you can check out StoryADay’s very own writing prompts. During Story A Day May I post daily prompts, Every Wednesday in other months I post WriteOnWednesday challenges, where you can post right in the comments and get some immediate feedback.
Each prompt is intentionally ambiguous, adaptable to any genre and style, and comes with a list of tips to help you delve deeper into the ideas. Try one today or download a copy of the 2014 StoryADay May writing prompts ebook, for free.
Easily the most fun prompt generator around: hit a button and spin! The Writer Igniter generates a fresh Character, Situation, Prop and Setting (with a picture for the setting). Useful for sparking an idea when you need a quick writing hit.
Weekly writing prompts from the ultimate writers’ magazine. You can post 500 words about the prompt in the blog comments and see what other people have posted.
Anytime a Tumblr user tags their post as “Writing Prompt”, it’ll pop up in on this page. There is a strong (and youngish) writing community on Tumblr, serious about their art. Definitely worth bookmarking.
Over 600 writing prompts, mostly one-liners and snippets of dialogue and word lists (which can be surprisingly productive).
Never again can you say that you have nothing to write. Creative Writing Prompts lists 346 prompts all on one page — that’s almost one for every day of the year. Hover your mouse over a number to generate a prompt. More for journaling than short story writing, but still useful.
These prompts seem to be aimed at kids, but they work for me! There are journal prompts and prompts for creative writing. I love that they have them separated into Right Brain prompts and Left Brain Prompts, among other things. You can choose from among different types of prompts too: story starters, titles, themes, character descriptions, tone, even prepositional phrases!
A collection of user-submitted prompts. Often skewed towards apocalytic/sci-fi/fantasy/horror topics, this is the place to go if you like to write dark!
This site is aimed at teachers who give their students a period of free-writing or journal writing ever day, but it can work for any writer. You can use them for freewriting/morning pages/writing practice, or you might use them to spark ideas for seasonal stories (which publications love). The prompts are batched by month and often relate to themes and historical events from that month. Well worth checking out, especially if you are trying to do morning pages/journaling to warm up your writing day.
This page posts three different prompts every week: one for creative non-fiction, one for poetry, and one for fiction. Often the fiction prompt is ‘write a scene in a story that…’, but sometimes it prompts you to write a whole story, and it usually illustrates you how to think more deeply about the idea.
Yesterday was Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, Carnevale, Fastnacht, whatever you choose to call it.
In countries around the world, people celebrated in advance of the sombre season of Lent, which starts today. Poeple around the world celebrated, even if they aren’t participating in the penance-fest that is the Lenten season.
Write a story that features a big, last blow-out before a change, echoing the idea of Mardi Gras.
(It might be a stag night, the last meal at a diner before an old man goes into a nursing home, or it might be Mardi Gras in New Orleans, itself. And don’t forget, you can write it from the perspective of the day after, too!)
- You should use the prompt in your story (however tenuous the connection).
- You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.
- Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.
- Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!
Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook
Some tweets/updates you might use:
Don’t miss my Mardi Gras story: http://bit.ly/el8ltW #WriteOnWed #storyaday
Laissez les bon temps roulez! It’s still Mardi Gras at #WriteOnWed #storyaday http://bit.ly/el8ltW
This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is “Mardi Gras”: http://bit.ly/el8ltW #storyaday
Come and write with us: http://bit.ly/el8ltW #WriteOnWed #storyaday
See my story – and write your own, today: http://bit.ly/el8ltW #WriteOnWed #storyaday
It’s been a couple of weeks since I was in touch and there’s lots happening behind the scenes at StoryADay HQ, gearing up to make this year an awesome year for you.
I’m currently chatting with my friendly neighbourhood business lawyer about the ins and outs of contests and whether I can host one at StoryADay without getting myself sued.
Also, this year I’ve decided to contact some companies that offer fun and useful writers’ swag and see if they want to kick in some giveaways and prizes. I’ve already had a ‘yes’ from the first company I talked to, so stayed tuned for News Of Swag.
from Fifty Great Short Stories(Milton Crane, Ed. Bantam Classics reissued 2005)
This story, originally published in The New Yorker in 1949, is a wonderful example of how every line in a short story should contribute to the story, the plot or the characterization. That’s tough to do, so don’t be discouraged if your first draft isn’t as good as Mr O’Connor’s New-Yorker-ready version! It is, however, a goal worth keeping in mind.
The story’s opening is crammed with short, efficient sentences that do an amazing job of setting the scene,
“When I woke, I heard my mother coughing, below in the kitchen.”
We don’t know yet, when the story is set, but we have a setting – a home, where the main character still lives with his/her mother. The mother is up early, in the kitchen, probably fixing breakfast.
“She had been coughing for days, but I had paid no attention.”
That sounds callous, but consistent with what we discover about the narrator: that his is a ten year old boy. It also sets up a tension that carries right through to the end: what is wrong with the mother. Will she survive? Will he be paid back for his callous disregard of her? When a line like “I had paid no attention’ is offered up right a the start of the story, it makes me nervous!
The third sentence (we’re still only 24 words into the story here) is completely natural and conversational, easily rooting the story in its geographical place, painting a picture of it and, at the same time, letting us know that this was happening some time ago,
“We were living on the Old Youghal road at the time, the old hilly coaching road into East Cork.”
All that from 19 words. I love it!
The rest of this paragraph paints a picture of both the mother and the narrator that puts us firmly on their side and rooting for them both,
“The coughing sounded terrible. I dressed and went downstairs in my stocking feet, and in the clear morning light I saw her, unaware that she was being watched, collapsed into a little wickerwork armchair, hoding her side. She had made an attempt to light the fire, but it had gone against her. She looked so tired and helpless that my heart turned over with compassion. I ran to her.”
Isn’t that a great opening?
The story is mostly told in one voice — that of the 10 yr old boy — but from time to time the voice of the older version of the boy creeps in, now grown up and telling us the story, judging, explaining. In one glaring example the narrator voices an opinion that will enrage most of the women (and some of the men) reading it, when he casually opines,
“It’s a funny thing about women, how they’ll take orders from anything in trousers, even if it’s only ten.”
Not a very modern, politically-correct attitude and it is the one line that makes the story seem old-fashioned. The rest of it seems fixed in a particular time, but also pretty timeless: a small boy is struggling between childhood and responsibility; sometimes he’s good; sometimes he fails; how he feels about it all. We’ve all been 10 [1. with apologies to any younger readers out there. You’re even better placed to understand this character!]. We’ve all struggled with the passage from childhood to adulthood, whether in rural Ireland or a suburb or a city.
But even that one jarring line serves an important purpose in the story. It’s not just in there because the writer wants to tell us something about his character’s attitude towards women. It tells us the age of the boy in the story, and that there is no way he should be the titular man of the house. It also tells us a thing or two about his mother in particular, (and you could argue that it talks about her only, rather than women as a whole, if the line makes you uncomfortable).
Most of the time, though, the world is presented to us through the voice of the ten year old from a particular time and place.
“In the afternoon, my mother wanted me to run out and play, but I didn’t go far. I knew if once I went a certain distance from the house, I was liable to stray into temptation. Below our house, there was a glen, the drill field of the barracks perched high above it on a chalky cliff, and below, in a deep hollow, the millpond and millstream running between wooded hills — the Rockies, the Himalayas, or the HIghlands, according to your mood. Once down there, I tended to forget the real world…”
He notices the things a ten year old boy would notice: the barracks where the soldiers live, the millpond where you could find creepy crawly things, and the hills, a setting for imagined adventures.
The story continues to take our likable little hero away from home and into temptation. Whether he resists and whether he has to pay for his sins are the questions that kept me turning the pages faster and faster until I reached the end.
Is your writing economical or more wordy? Which point-of-view do you use most often in short stories? Are your ‘voices’ distinctive?
Tell us in the comments: