[Markets For Writers] Portland Review Online

What to do with your stories once you’ve written and polished them?
Submit, of course! Here’s this week’s market:

The Portland Review

The Portland Review has been publishing exceptional short prose and poetry since 1956. The most recent issue featured poetry by Ursula LeGuin.

They read submissions from Sept-March update: Reading period has been extended until April 1 2011

Full submission guidelines

Special notes for the online edition:

We’re looking for new or established authors of flash fiction/micro/prose-poetry and poetry for our website. We need your scannable, digitizable art. We need your willingness to interview and to be interviewed. Most of all we need your attention.
Written works should be under 1,000 words. Neat on the outside, hot like a Mexican jumping bean on the inside.
Art (graphic, mixed media, etc.) should be in pdf, jpeg, gif, tif form and reasonable in size. We don’t necessarily need ideal beauty, but evidence of an attempt at mastery or sloppiness in leaving at least your heart or brain in the work you produce.
Both art and written work may be sent to: portlandreviewonline@gmail.com

I’ll Write Any Damned Thing I Want, Thank You Very Much

This tweet and the article it links to got me all riled up on Sunday[1. With all due respect to Colleen Lindsay who is an extremely generous tweeter and knowledgeable publishing person who you should totally be following.And I do sympathise with her points, from her perspective.]

Now the thread goes on to make some valid points, from the point of view of a publishing insider. The article she links to however, gets my hackles right up and I call for a rallying cry of:

“Yah boo sucks to you! I’ll write any damned thing I want”

And so should you!

The Problem With New York[2. Not the whole city, obviously. Just the centralized publishing industry part of it]

The publishing machine exists for a reason (to help authors distribute their work to the masses). For some authors that still works just fine.

For the vast majority of writers, however, the publishing machine is broken. They don’t have a big audience, so they don’t fit the economic model.

The problem comes when publishing insiders forget that the limitations of their system are exactly that: economic.

If something is deemed ‘unpublishable’ it does not mean that,

  • That people aren’t interested in it,
  • That it’s bad,
  • That you shouldn’t write it

It might mean that,

  • Not enough people are interested in it to justify a huge print run, distribution deals and a massive marketing campaign.
  • You won’t sell very many copies. (Although you may. You never know.)
  • It will be intensely interesting to a tiny number of people, who are easily identifiable because they a, live in the place you’re writing about or b, join associations of other-people-who-do-similar-pastimes, etc.

The Soul-Eaters

My problem with “Oo, the peons shouldn’t write their stories” articles [3. Apart from the short-sightedness, a lack of awareness of subaltern studies school of historical research and the insufferably smug arrogance, obviously]  is that they are destructive to the very soul of humanity.

I’m not exaggerating here.

We are a story-telling people. It’s how we make sense of our lives and our world. It’s what separates us from the brute beasts. It is an essential part of our nature.

  • Think about the friend who makes you laugh the most. What is she doing? Telling stories — stories with pacing and suspense and great twists.
  • Think about the most boring person you know. What does she do? Tell stories — terrible, unending, pointless, rambling stories.

Sometimes we make up stories about our origins and pass them on to our progeny. Sometimes we write beautiful epics that explain the human condition. Sometimes we unwittingly preserve a way of life that is destined to die out and be forgotten, except for our stories about it.

What does it do when some arbitrary gatekeeper says, “No, the story of your life growing up in Hicksville with a quirky family isn’t important enough to be published. Don’t even waste your time writing it down.”?

What arrogance! What utter idiocy!

Take Back Your Stories

We’ve been trained by a couple of generations of TV, music labels, and yes, publishers, to believe that we little people aren’t qualified to tell stories, make music or entertain our friends.

  • Homer [4. or the composite historical phenomenon that has come to us in the stories handed down] kept people spell-bound around the fire with tales of Ulysses and his epic journey.
  • Jane Austen catalogued a lifestyle long since extinct but nonetheless fascinating to us all these years later.
  • My grandparents hosted get-togethers where my grandmother played the piano for sing-a-longs, my grandfather told uproarious lies and everyone had a great time.

What do we do? We watch pre-packaged, fake ‘reality’; we listen only to homogenous music on stations that only play one style of music, and we read only the stories that an intellectual elite has chosen for the universality of their appeal.

There’s Room For Everyone At The Digital Inn

There is nothing wrong with best-sellers, nothing at all. I love me some pulpy paperback mystery and sci-fi, and I read the big ‘literary’ hits whenever I can stomach them.

The problem I have with the top-down model of publishing (whether books or music or art) is that it stifles the creative lives of ordinary, gloriously creative people. Because that’s what we are, us humans. Endlessly creative and passionate and social animals.

Luckily, we live in a great age for do-it-yourself distribution of creative products, whether stories, music or video.

No, not everything that people put out into the world is my cup of tea.

Yes, there is a lot more dross to sort through these days.

But it’s also a lot more likely than ever before that I’m going to find something fascinating to read, on a topic of my choosing, by asking around online and getting recommendations from people with similar tastes.

And One Final, Not-Insignificant Point

This flowering of creativity and distribution is going to be an absolute gold mine for anthropologists in the future.

As someone with an MA in History, I am incredibly excited about the breadth of primary sources we are leaving to future historians[5. Part of my Masters’ research was on the travel journals of explorers to the New World in the 1500s. Some of my other research invoved the shopping lists of Ventian guilds and what they could tell us about what was going on in the city and the world at the time. I’m betting the people who wrote those documents never imagined they’d be considered important by scholars 400 years into the future] Imagine if everyone in the Bronze Age had had a handy, dry cave wall where they could have documented their daily deeds. How much more would we know about our ancestors than we do now from a few scratchings in Lascaux and the occasional stomach-pumping of a frozen ice-mummy?

So go. Write your memoirs. Make them as detailed as you like. Make them as vivid as you can. And don’t listen to anyone who tells you it’s all been said before. Because it hasn’t.

Not by  you.

And your story deserves to be written.

Can I Kill The StoryADay User Blogs?

This post is a house-keeping one for people involved in the StoryADay challenge. I would love to hear comments from past and potential participants as I work to get the site ship-shape for the 2011 Challenge.

The Way It Was

Last year each user could sign up for both a member name and a blog at storyaday.org/membername. Some people used them, some people didn’t. Spammers snapped them up like nobody’s business, which put a huge strain on the sites’ resources and my time.

The good thing about user blogs were:

  • Having a dedicated place to post your Story A Day writing
  • Any posts you made at your StoryADay blog were automatically noted in the Activity Stream, so all members could see that you had posted.

The bad thing about user blogs were:

  • Spammers moved in by the metric ton and registered all kinds of blogs. This put a strain on resources and on my time.
  • A lot of people didn’t use them because they were posting at their own sites instead.
  • If a lot more people sign up this year, the back end of the site is going to need a lot more technical TLC than I am qualified to give it, and my host might shut me down if too many blogs get created.

So the questions are:

  1. Do I stop new members from creating new blogs?
  2. If you already have a StoryADay blog would you care if it went away altogether? (Assuming I give you fair warning and let you export all the content to somewhere else — I would provide instructions and help if this becomes likely)

Please do chime in, in the comments, if you have any thoughts one way or another.

I’ll have more questions about the design and functionality of the site in the weeks to come, but lets start with this one:

To blog, or not to blog?

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?


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


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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How It Feels To Be Published

StoryADay alumnus Mart Pelrine-Bacon shares her submission success story: how she worked on the story, how she found the market and how it feels to be published.

StoryADay May alumnus Marta Pelrine-Bacon shared some fabulous news yesterday: one of her StoryADay stories has been accepted for the May 2011 issue of Cabinet Des Fees, a journal of Fairy Tales (and a paying market, at that).

I got in touch to ask Marta to tell us about how she worked on the story, how she found the market and how it feels to have a submission accepted — hint: there was a lot of ‘all-caps’ on Twitter yesterday 😉

Cabinet Des Fees banner

What is the story & when did you write it?

The story is titled The Fear of Apples and I wrote it fairly early during Story-A-Day May.

Have you written others like it?

I thought writing a story a day would be easier if I had a overall idea–in this case, fairy tales. Every story that month was a modern fairy tale.

Did you do much revision after StoryaDay?

That particular story I went over about three times–though I did not make any major changes. Most of my edits were attempts to fix an awkward sentence or add (or delete!) a detail for the plot.

Hw did you find the market?

I found the market when I friend told me about Duotrope. I’ve always been intimidated by figuring out the marketplace, and duotrope made the process seem manageable.

How did you feel when you heard?

Shocked–because I’d gotten so many rejections for other stories. And I almost cried I was so happy, and then I danced into work and told everybody. I am not a cool character.

Are you submitting more stories now?

I will be. This has certainly spurred me to realize publication can happen and not to give up.

Thanks for sharing Marta!

Have you had success submitting any stories the past year? Drop me a line: julie at storyaday dot org or leave a link to your ‘bragging page’ in the comments. Everybody loves to hear how other writers ‘just like us’ are making things happen!


If this has inspired you to write more, or maybe sign up for Story A Day May, take a look at my free, downloadable workbook The Creative Writing Challenge Handbook – 31 Days to A Writer’s Life. It’ll help prepare you for this year’s challenge.


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!

Write1Sub1 – A New Short Story Writing Challenge for 2011

This week I’m bringing you news of a great new short story writing challenge from StoryADay member, Simon Kewin.

Next year Simon and his friends Milo James Fowler and Stephen V. Ramey have pledged to Write1Sub1 – that’s Write One Story and Submit One Story every week of the year (actually, Simon’s taking Christmas off, but still…). You can submit to magazines, websites, or short story contests – anywhere that takes writing seriously.

And they’re not keeping this challenge to themselves: they’re inviting everyone to kick their writing career up a notch by joining in. At the end of this year of intensive writing, you certainly should have figured out how to write a short story, don’t you think?

Here’s an interview with Simon to tell you more. Links to more short story writer’s information are at the end.

What were your inspiration and your personal motivation for this challenge?

Ray Bradbury was our original inspiration. He is supposed to have completed and submitted a short story every week for a year while establishing himself.

The idea for Write1Sub1 materialised during a comment discussion on Milo’s blog and it took off from there. The point is obviously to help our own writing : to provide a focus and an incentive, a sense of community. We’re all keen short story writers and this seemed like a great way to motivate us to write more.

What are the ‘rules’?

The idea is to write a story and submit a story every week for 2011. It doesn’t have to be the same story as obviously it can take more than a week to polish a piece! Those taking part can define “story” as they like : it could be as short as a flash or nano piece for example. It could even be a poem. Whatever works for you.

Some people like the idea but have decided to Write1Sub1 on a monthly rather than a weekly basis, which is fine. Hopefully the challenge will still be a help to them.

How do people join in?

There’s the Write1Sub1 blog to follow and there’s also a Linky there to “sign up”. We plan to do a weekly check in post on a Sunday for everyone to share their experiences of the week. We’ll do a monthly one too for those doing it that way. There is also a Twitter hashtag people can follow #Write1Sub1 and there are banners on the blog folks can download.

Where will you submit?

Good question! The people who’ve signed up write a wide variety of different things, so I suppose we’ll all have our own target markets. But we’re putting together a page of useful resources on the blog for tracking down markets, and obviously, sharing our experiences on the blog should be a great help.

How will you stay motivated (esp when the inevitable rejections come in) ?

Hopefully being part of the Write1Sub1 community will be a big help here. It’s definitely a help to know others are going through the same experiences! And of course, the thought of receiving the end-of-year “winner” banner will be a huge incentive!


Thanks, Simon!

There are so many articles in the world already about ‘how to write a short story’,  but I’m a firm member of the ‘learn to write by writing’ school or thought. (And reading, of course!). This is one project I’m not going to be able to resist, although I’ll be signing up for the monthly version (there are banners for that too, at theWrite1Sub1 site).

It should ensure that I don’t get lazy and forget how to write a short story between now and May, when StoryADay starts up again!

Useful Links and Writers’ Markets

Write1Sub1 Rules

About the guys behind Write1Sub1

Market Listings from Write1Sub1

2010 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market from Writer’s Digest (aff)

Writer’s Market listings from Writer’s Digest (subscription required. Free email newsletter)

Writers Weekly Market Listings (mostly non-fiction, but occasional fiction listings)

Writing In The Real World – Interview with Gabi

IggiandGabiStoryADay participant Gabi (and her alter ego Iggi), also known as Gabriela Pereira is a writer/teacher/entrepreneur living in New York City.  She has just graduated from an MFA Program in Creative Writing with a special focus on Writing for Children.  She writes middle grade and teen fiction, with the occasional short story for grown-ups thrown in for good measure.  She has several post-graduation schemes up her sleeve, many of which include a Do-It-Yourself MFA program.

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

I would say my writing life was pretty busy. I was in a full-time MFA program and my writing life was very school-centric. I was looking for something to break me out of the MFA mindset. Don’t get me wrong, the MFA was a great experience, but I saw graduation looming at the end of May and I knew I needed to shake things up or I was going to have major separation anxiety come summer.

What made you decide to do StoryADay?

I was in the middle of rewriting my thesis for the third time and I needed a break. I also needed something to propel me into life-post-MFA and StoryADay came at just the right time. I wanted to do a project that was outside of school and outside my thesis, to force me to write for myself and not for school (because that’s what post-MFA writing is all about, right?)

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

I expected to write a whole story every day. It lasted only a week and then my thesis deadline reared its ugly head and I had to reorganize my priorities. But the great thing I realized in StoryADay is that I didn’t need school deadlines to make me write–I could motivate myself. And that lesson was probably the most valuable thing StoryADay could have taught me. This is why, even though I didn’t come close to winning the challenge, I still see this past May as a success.

How do you make time for writing?

I try not to think about it. 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. Also, I find that writing “out” is much more productive. My little paper notebook doesn’t have all those pesky distractions like email and twitter and blogs. Ooh, and a little trick I’ve learned: I try to end each writing session at a cliff-hanger or in the middle of a sentence so that when I sit down the next time, I can jump right in and keep writing.

Why do you write? What keeps you motivated?

I write because if I don’t, I start missing my characters. Also, I write because I want to know what will happen next. I live for those surprise moments when the characters do something I wasn’t expecting, or those a-ha moments when some pieces of the puzzle finally come together. It’s that constant feeling of discovery that keeps me motivated.

What are your aspirations?

The realist in me has dreams of writing and teaching and being able to make a reasonable living.
The dreamer in me hopes that DIY MFA might someday take the writing world by storm.

Tell us about your DIY MFA project. It sounds fascinating.

DIY MFA stands for Do-It-Yourself MFA. The premise is that while MFAs are great for some writers, they aren’t necessarily feasible for many writers out there. Either because of logistics, or finances, or family/work responsibilities, many writers who want to do an MFA end up not doing one. The idea here is that since I did an MFA, I wanted to share what I learned and help interested writers put together their own individual writing plan. The DIY MFA method consists of 4 branches: Reading, Writing, Community and Critique, which I divided into “classes.” I posted weekly articles on my blog through the month of September, each day of the week representing a different DIY MFA class. Now in October, though the September extrabloganza is done, DIY MFA will continue in a more organic fashion. But never fear, all the DIY MFA posts and classes will still be there so writers who missed the September fun can catch up. For more information on DIY MFA, visit iggi U. We also have a DIY MFA twitter hash tag (#diymfa) and an online community: http://diymfa.spruz.com/

For more information about me and my many projects, check out my blog at: iggiandgabi.blogspot.com

You can also follow me on twitter: @iggiandgabi

Thanks, Gabi!


Becoming A “Real” Writer – Interview With Heather Muir

Heather MuirAnother inspiring interview, this time with Heather Muir, a StoryADay alumnus who made it to 31 stories and then went off to Writer’s Camp and is working on her YA novel now.

Heather says she used StoryADay to help her “make the transition from student writer to ‘Real’ writer”. Yay!

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

Very sporadic. Just before StoryADay started, I had graduated with a B.A. in English with a creative writing emphasis. I only wrote for deadlines in class and I occasionally wrote something on my pet project, a fantasy novel I started when I was 16 that has been reincarnated so many times I don’t know what it is anymore. I needed a challenge.

What made you decide to do StoryADay?

A few weeks before StoryADay started, I had been accepted into Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp that would start at the end of June. I knew I needed to pump up my writing muscles as much as I could before the camp and StoryADay seemed like the answer.

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

By the time I had heard about StoryADay, May was only two days away. My goal was to write a story every day as well as come up with the story idea every day. I wanted to test my ability to come up with stories quickly and from anything and everything.

I did write a story every day. I wrote a total of 10,987 words. On a few days my stories were only a few sentences long. Some I look back on and say “What was I thinking?” Only a handful of the stories are worth keeping and working on. One of them has spawned into an idea for a middlegrade book that I am in love with. Another is going to be incorporated into the motivations of the evil queen in a retelling of a fairy tale I want to work on.

What I learned from the challenge was that I could write everyday. It was hard certainly. But it really helped me make the transition from student writer to “real” writer. I no longer had school to fall back on, giving me deadlines. StoryADay was a great way to get that deadline and prove to myself that I was a serious writer.

How do you make time for writing?

Making time for writing is easy when you don’t have a social life and you are a bit of an insomniac. 🙂 I work at a 24-hour pharmacy so I never have a consistent time to write. Usually I try to write in the time before or after work. It’s never more than an hour or two but it is enough to stay consistent.

Why do you write? What keeps you motivated?

I write because I love stories. I was the kid who loved read-a-thons and going to the library. I write because I have to. I have tried to stop. I tried to start pharmacy school, to upgrade from technician to pharmacist but I could not get the story ideas out of my head. They haunt me until I write them down. And I also learned I could never be a pharmacist because I would hate my job. I don’t even want to hate my job. I want to live the dream and create for a living.

As far as motivation, I keep in contact with other writers. I have a writing group. I attend local conferences. I listen to a great podcast, Writing Excuses. I read a lot of books and remember how much those stories mean to me, how they have changed who I am. Now it’s almost unthinkable to not write.

The desire to create is too strong to ignore.

What’s Next?

As I said, I attended OSC’s Literary Bootcamp and returned triumphant. I’m now working on a YA novel about ghosts that I started at the camp. I hope to have a full draft finished in the next 6-8 months (judging by my pace so far). I have two other novel ideas on the back burner (one of them that came from story a day) as my next projects when the current novel is being submitted.

I hope StoryADay continues to be a success. It was very helpful to me though I don’t think I’ll participate again, now that I’m working on larger projects. It is perfect for the writer who lacks the courage to write and needs that support. StoryADay helped me. I hope it helps others.

Thanks Heather!

[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.]

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.]

NaNoWriMo or No?

What are your best tips for approaching NaNoWriMo?

I love short stories

I love writing them, reading them, dissecting them.

…but for the past 10 years or so I’ve been tempted by National Novel Writers’ Month: Write a novel in a month.

I’m put off by the time commitment – with two small, demanding kids, a part-time job and a husband i actually like to spend time with – I can’t imagine making time.

But now I have writing friends from Story A Day who are urging me to try it for reals this year. And, for the first time, I don’t have a baby, visitors or crisis hanging over me.

So what are your best strategies for approaching NaNo, all you veterans and pushers?

What do you do before November, during November, when things are going well, when things are going badly? How do you pace your novel? What are the absolute must-do tactics for you? What are the traps and time-sinks?

Please comment below, or write your answer on your own blog and leave a link here. Remember: complete newbie here. Tell me anything, even things you’d forgotten you once didn’t know

What Every Writer Ought To Know About The Writing Life

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


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

“So, how do you write?”

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

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

On Procrastination and Blocks

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

(My emphasis.)

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

Finding The Confidence To Write

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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