Writers: Daydream Your Way To Success

On Writing

You want to write, and yet you find yourself reading other people’s writing, putting off writing, talking about writing, reading about writing… even writing about writing, but not actually writing.

Why Aren’t You Writing?

Writers have vivid imaginations, but we’re not always good at pointing them in the right direction. Instead of imagining what our characters eat for breakfast (or who they eat it with), we fritter away our creative energy on ourselves, our imaginary future careers and our disproportionate fears:

  • Fear of failure (“What if my writing is no good?”),
  • Fear of other people’s opinions (“What if my non-writer friends think I’m stuck-up? Pretentious? Ridiculous? Selfish?”)
  • Fear of success (“What if I am successful once and people expect me to do it again? What if I can’t? What if I can but it feels too much like work?”)

Daydreaming is what we do, though (Einstein called it ‘thought experiements’. Doesn’t that sound nice?)

So let’s take that skill and use it to propel you into a state where you can’t wait to do some actual, honest-to-goodness writing!

Think about your current project. The one that gives you butterflies in your stomach when you think about it. The ambitious one you really want to start but are stalling over.

What Are Your Goals?

  • Are you writing to prove to yourself that you can finish a piece in this style (a novel, a poem, a play, a short story?).
  • Are you trying to develop your style?
  • Are you trying to make one little girl in her bedroom feel the way you felt the first time you read “A Wrinkle In Time”?
  • Are you trying to win the Newberry Award?

(Hint the latter one is an outcome, not a goal. Shelve it and focus on finding what you love).

What Will Happen If You Succeed?

What will happen? How will you feel? Will you be more or less confident? What will you be able to do next?

Take a moment and be honest with yourself. Grab a pen and write down the answer to those questions. Now look at what you wrote and think about what you didn’t dare write.

For those results, isn’t it worth taking the risk?

Now go! Get writing!

If you’d like some free tools to help you explore these ideas more fully, sign up for the Story A Day Creativity Lab: a low-frequency mailing list containing workbooks and practical exercises to get you closer to your writing goals.

Finding Time To Write – Parents’ Version

Writing and taking care of small children are two not-entirely-compatible aims in my life, how about you?

Take today: I got up early, started to write… The kids started to ask me for things and I started saying, ‘In a minute,” and “hold on” and “Just ‘shhhhh’ a minute, would you?”

I was getting frustrated with them, they were getting frustrated with me, and no-one was getting what they needed.

Something had to give. So I came up with a technique that has been working out really well…

So it’s the summer holidays here in the US and that means fun with the kiddies for we stay-at-home parents.

Which is all great, of course, but sometimes you still want (NEED!) to get some writing done. It can be incredibly frustrating to try to write and take care of a family, especially if you have small children at home with you all day. But it can be done.

I know some people can get up early or stay up extra late, or write while their spouse watches sports. That’s not me. Or if it is, everyone else wakes up early too!

Take today: I got up early, started to write, got all inspired and came up with tons of great ideas. The kids got up and started to ask me for things and I started saying, ‘In a minute,” and “hold on” and worst of all “Just ‘shhhhh’ a minute, would you?”

Oh, the guilt. I was getting frustrated with them, they were getting frustrated with me, and no-one was happy.

Something had to give. So I came up with a method, that has been working out well.

Getting Stuff Done With Little Kids In The House

My sons are 5 and 7 so they can’t be left alone (or together) for too long. They can, however, be set up on different floors of the house (or different rooms if you don’t have floors) with whatever toy/activity has captured their attention recently.

Today, for us, that means the eldest has a project making his own versions of Pokemon cards, while the 5 year-old makes a massive messHot Wheels track in the basement.

They both inevitably needed help, sometimes at the same time, (leading to more ‘just a minute’s and frustration). Finally I struck a deal with them.

I took the time-out clock (a kitchen timer) and set it for 10 minutes. They agreed to leave me alone until the timer rang so that I could get some writing done. When the timer rings, I go and check on each of them and ask if I can help or see what they have been doing.

I get what I want (writing time) and they get what they want (an attentive, engaged parent).

Then, depending on how things are going, I negotiate another 10 minutes.

KEYS TO MAKING THIS WORK

-Pick a time of day when the kids’ energy levels are right (that might be ‘high’ or ‘low’ depending on their personalities. When you know they can concentrate on their favorite activity for a while, pounce!

-Work to an outline. I’m not sure that trying to do any brainstorming or really creative work could happen in 10 minute bursts, but writing a paragraph or two of a piece that I had already outlined worked brilliantly.

-Stretch the sessions to more than 10 minutes if it is safe or makes sense or if you find the kids can handle it.

-Sit where you can hear them (I’m in the dining room, and they are in rooms with doors open, where I can hear frustrated whining winding up or, worse, suspicious silences)

-Be willing to stop after two or three sessions. You can’t push this too far. Try to remember that they’ll be out of your hair entirely one day (if you do your job right) and that even these long summer days will be over sooner than you expect. Take some time to enjoy the kids — secure in the knowledge that at least you got a few things accomplished today.

Story A Day May 2010 In Review

Sick of starting and never finishing writing projects, in April 2010 I announced that I was challenging myself to write a story a day in May.

“Write a story a day. Finish them.” Those were the only rules.

Born of A Hunger To Write

Word spread around the writing blogs and the Twitter hash tag #storyaday was born. Within 3 days about 80 people had signed up to join in, and many more joined throughout the month. At last count (not counting spam bots) the active membership was in the hundreds.

Some people decided to write on weekdays only, some declared they would sketch a story idea every day, some weren’t sure what they could manage anything, but just the idea of committing to this hare-brained scheme with a bunch of other writers had got them so excited they couldn’t resist.

The enthusiasm for the project amazed me. It spoke of a hunger to write, no, a hunger for permission to write that I never dreamed was so widespread.

We gathered our story ideas and fragments and waited for the “off”.

Who Were The Writers?

The writers came from all walks of life and all over the world:

  • The youngest participant was a seven-year old home-schooled girl from Texas.
  • One of our writers from nearer the other end of life’s journey lives in New Zealand. Every day she had written and posted her story long before the US participants woke up.
  • We had participants from the US, Canada, Singapore, the UK, New Zealand and Australia.

What Did They Achieve?

While several of the writers did write 31 stories in as many days, many others declared victory on their own terms.

Some were simply thrilled to be writing actual stories again after years of putting it off.

BBC  Writers' Room Screenshot
Honourable Mention from the BBC

Some were active novelists who found that writing stories every day jumpstarted their creativity and allowed them to try new voices and approaches, freshening up their prose.

Some have already had external success with their Story A Day stories: Matt Zandstra’s Story A Day idea turned into a radio play that was chosen as a runner-up in a contest at the BBC’s Writer’s Room — judged by a working BBC drama writer.

Me? I got to write (almost) every day, finish most of the stories and, in the process remember how to make a short story hang together.

But most of all, I got a huge creative boost from writing, reading and sharing stories with a bunch of other writers who understand the urge to write in a way that ‘normals’ in our lives, no matter how loving, really can. I found friends. I found my tribe.

What’s Next?

Please come back to the site between June 11-14, when we’ll be highlighting some of the best stories to come out of this, the first StoryFest.

Then, sign up for the mailing list, so we can send you details about next year’s challenge.

Whether as a writer or a reader, we’d love to have you as part of the family.

Lessons Learned After Writing A Story A Day

When I said I was going to write a Story A Day in May, plenty of people looked at me with *that look* in their eyes, or said thinks like,
‘Well, good luck…”.[1. I expect if you’ve ever taken on any kind of creative assignment (not directly related to a paycheck) you know what I mean by *that look*.]

“Why?” was the most common question. Good question. If we’re not writing for money, then why do we write?

“How ?” was the second most common question.

I wasn’t 100% sure about the answer to either. After a month of attempting to write a story a day I do have some answers.

How To Be A Prolific Writer – Even When You Don’t Have Time

I’m not going to lie and say it was easy to find time for writing this month. In fact, I almost never ‘found’ time. I ‘made’ time.

Making time means something else had to give. Sometimes it was housework, but more often it was the relatively random consuming of information that I do. The BBC news website might have been minus a few thousand hits this month, my personal blog was updated less. The grocery shopping got more, er, targeted.

But the biggest lesson I learned about the “How” was this:

How To Write Anything

  1. Start writing.
  2. Write until it is finished.

It is one of those annoying pieces of advice that mean almost nothing until you try it.

Sitting down to write can be paralyzing. It is so much easier to get up and walk away — tell yourself you don’t have time — than it is to start writing.

I had to, so I used story prompts, memories, jokes, other people’s stories, to get me started. I put my pen on the page (quite literally) and told myself to write a sentence. Anything. One day I started by simply describing where I was sitting. It turned into a story about a homicide detective!

So, the answer to ‘how to write’ becomes quite simply:

Commit to doing it. Make time. Start writing.

(I did learn a bunch of other trick for helping with that, which I’ll be writing about soon.)

Why Write?

Once I had started figuring out the ‘how’ I was amazed to discover a n amazing set of benefits in the ‘why’ column – some that I had not expected.

I found that, if I sat down and got a story started in the morning,

  • It energized me. I was more (not less) likely to take care of the laundry, the dishes, the 1001 other mundane things that we usually blame for getting in the way of our writing.
  • I became more responsible and attentive to all my obligations, from family to my business.
  • My brain was less fuzzy. I spent less time worrying about all the things I ought to be doing, and, instead, started crossing things off the list, prioritizing better than ever, in order to get back to my writing (to make time for it).
  • I paid attention to the world around me. I was doing that thing people talk about as ‘living mindfully’. I was doing it in order to gather ideas and snippets for stories, but no matter why you do it, mindfulness is acknowledged by religions, psychologists and hippies, to be A Good Thing.
  • I found I had more time to give to people, because I wasn’t constantly feeling like I ought to be doing something, or resenting the time they were taking from things I really wanted to do. I had made time for myself and my thing, and now I could take an interest in you and yours.
  • I even wrote my way out of a really foul temper one day, just by letting my characters do and say things I never would, in real life, being all well-brung up and all that.

So the sort answer to ‘why do you write?’ is just this:

It makes me a better, happier person.

As an added bonus, posting some of my stories, made some readers happy. Granted,a lot oft hem were related to me, but some were complete strangers.


If you have ever thought about doing one of those creative challenges like NaNoWriMo, or The Artist’s Way or any other challenge, I highly encourage you to commit to doing it. What you gain will be so much more than you sacrifice. What you learn will be so much different from what you expect.

Meanwhile, why not subscribe to the StoryADay.org mailing list, so that you’ll be among the first to know when we’re gearing up to do this all again next May?

Story A Day Festival

We have all worked so hard, don’t you think it’s fair that we get to show off a little; celebrate?

Announcing:

The Story A Day Story Fest, June 11-14, 2010: An Online Celebration of the First Annual Story A Day Challenge

What Is It?

From June 11-13 the front page of this site will change to the StoryFest Page.

The StoryFest page will contain blurbs about and links to each author’s favorite story (or collection of stories if you’re writing super-short stories)

Readers can come by on their coffee breaks, browse the best of our work, leave comments, tell their friends.

What Do You Do?

  • First, sign up for the mailing list so that I can contact you.
  • Next, pick your favorite of your Story A Day stories  that you wrote. If you need to, spend a few days polishing them up. Pick one, if it’s a long or multi-part story. Pick a couple if they are short. Pick ten if you’re Simon 😉
  • Write a short blurb about you/your stories/the challenge (about 50-75 words).
  • Optional extra: pick your favorite one or two stories by other people to recommend to readers.
  • Send me the blurb (@admin) and the links to your stories and your ‘recommended reading’ stories by June 9. I will put them on the StoryFest page for readers to find.
  • On June 10, start tweeting and blogging and Facebooking (sorry) and telling all your friends and family to stop by. (I will provide some sample messages, in case you’re uncomfortable with self-promotion, but you should feel free to write whatever you like.
  • During StoryFest be sure to share your recommendations for stories you’ve enjoyed by other StADa writers.
  • On June 14, send another reminder to people that time is running out, to access the StoryFest page, and discover all the wonderful new writers that you’ve been reading and enjoying throughout May.
  • Sit back and bask in the feedback.

I’m planning on creating a StoryADay StoryFest graphic that you can hang on your StoryFest stories, no matter where you posted them (here or your personal blog)

What Can Readers Do?

Readers can stop by any time between June 11 and June 14.

They will find the front page all decked out for StoryFest and featuring links to your favorite stories.

They can read, comment and, I hope, recommend stories to their reading friends.

What’s The Point?

It’s a celebration! Writing a story a day was hard, wasn’t it?

This is our chance to show off. This is our recital. (Tutus strictly optional).

It’s also a chance for readers and writers to connect. Readers are always looking to find great new writers and interesting stories. Writers want to be found.

I’ve been thrilled by the quality and diversity of the stories I’ve read here, and I want to share that with other readers.

Why So Short?

Making the StoryFest an event with a limited timeline gives readers a good reason to come NOW, not just think ‘that’s cool, I’ll stop by later maybe’ and then forget about us. Instead, we’re creating scarcity and a deadline. It’s basic sales psychology, and it works!

None of the Story A Day blogs will disappear (unless you delete them), so readers can still find your stuff for as long as you want them to.

The StoryFest is just a big promotional/celebratory party, and we all know that at some point, every party has to wrap up and someone has to turn out the lights.

Luckily there won’t be any dishes to wash after this one.


So remember, please SIGN UP FOR THE MAILING LIST so that I can contact you with more details about StoryFest and, after that, the plans for the Second Annual Story A Day May!

It’s Almost Over. What Now?

Hey everyone,

We’re drawing to the end, and I know everyone is racing to complete their stories and write their “What I Learned During Story A Day May” (I kid), but I wanted to get your thoughts on what come next.

I have some thoughts (not least of which is getting you all to sign up to a mailing list so I can email you in April next year and do this all over again), but I’d really love to hear what you would like to happen next.

Thanks a million for making my hare-brained scheme such a success and soooo much fun. I couldn’t have done it alone!
Julie

Daily Prompt – May 22: Hobbies

Write A Story That Features A Hobby/Activity You Have Tried

Daily Prompt LogoWrite A Story That Features A Hobby/Activity You Have Tried

The only rule in today’s prompt is that the hobby may not be “writing”.

I have my own special reasons for this — namely: that, as an adult, I cringe every time I see a book where the main character is any type of writer. It seems to betray a lack of imagination. (Of course I’ll make an exception when re-reading books by LM Alcott or LM Montgomery or some other beloved writers whose initials are not “LM”, but for today the rule stands).

The hobby does not have to be anything you have done recently or frequently. It could be basket-weaving or finger-painting. But it should be something of which you have real-world experience and so can describe in minute detail if you need to.

Go!

10 Days To Go

OK, so ten days to go and we’re all at various stages of “success” and we’re all still turning up.

It’s getting harder though, isn’t it? …

(Wow, it seems like no time at all I was posting that headline in my promo efforts for the yet-to-born Story A Day challenge!)

OK, so ten days to go and we’re all at various stages of “success” and we’re all still turning up.

It’s getting harder though, isn’t it? Finding a whole new story every day drains the well pretty quickly. We need to work on staying encouraged, finding new ideas, new angles, and remembering what inspires us to write.

@CidWrites wrote this really helpful self-pep-talk that I certainly benefitted from reading (so thanks, Cid)
(and then she went on to write a really fun and intriguing story that day)

@AdorablyAlice wrote a great blog post on writing during slumps, that I’m sure you’ll find something of use in.

@dorlamoorehouse has an upbeat, celebratory post here that makes me grin and think: I want some of that!

Don’t forget these posts from the Story A Day Blog archives:

Finding Ideas For Stories

Finding Time (and Ways) To Write

StADa participants’ Feedback After Week 1

and the Resources page which includes links to sources of Inspiration, Prompts, Productivity Tools and Tips from Great Writers.

If it helps, why not take a few minutes to read other people’s stories right here at Story A Day. OK, you might get intimidated, but on the other hand, you might just get inspired.

Onward!

Daily Prompt – May 20: Rewrite In The Style Of…Pt III

Today, rewrite a story you have written before, but this time as a dramatic monologue.
Taking a look at the story from another angle is a challenge in itself. Then add the challenge of making the dialogue seem real and you can really have fun with this…

Daily Prompt LogoThis is the thirdin a series of prompts that will encourage you to choose a story to write several different ways. You could choose a fairy story or a tale you’ve already told right here during Story A Day May. Each day I’ll give you a style to write in. You can reuse the same character, plot, timing, whatever works as you import your story into the new style. Feel free to ditch characters, change their names, switch out the endings, whatever makes sense.

Today, rewrite a story you have written before, but this time as a dramatic monologue.

Taking a look at the story from another angle is a challenge in itself. Then add the challenge of making the dialogue seem real and you can really have fun with this.

(NB, the character who is ‘monologuing’, to borrow a phrase, doesn’t have to be the original story’s hero. It could be someone who was walking by and saw the action; a minor character in the action; anyone really).
Go!

(PS Did I mention? Day TWENTY! And you’re still here? Awesome, dude!)

Daily Prompt – May 20: Write In The Style of…Pt.II

Write (or Rewrite) A Story In The Style Of Your Favorite Dead Writer

Daily Prompt LogoThis is the second in a series of prompts that will encourage you to choose a story to write several different ways. You could choose a fairy story or a tale you’ve already told right here during Story A Day May. Each day I’ll give you a style to write in. You can reuse the same character, plot, timing, whatever works as you import your story into the new style. Feel free to ditch characters, change their names, switch out the endings, whatever makes sense.

Write (or Rewrite) A Story In The Style Of Your Favorite Dead Writer

I’m tempted to suggest Dickens, but maybe you’re more of an Austin or Bronte fan. Or maybe one of those Russians. Or further back? Chaucer, anyone? Shakespeare? Douglas Adams? (Nope, still too soon. Sob!)

Go!

Daily Prompt – May 19: Write In The Style of…Pt. I

Write (or Rewrite) A Story In The Style Of A TV Show You Know And Love

Daily Prompt LogoThis is the first of a series of prompts that will encourage you to choose a story to write several different ways. You could choose a fairy story or a tale you’ve already told right here during Story A Day May. Each day I’ll give you a style to write in. You can reuse the same character, plot, timing, whatever works as you import your story into the new style. Feel free to ditch characters, change their names, switch out the endings, whatever makes sense.

Write (or Rewrite) A Story In The Style Of A TV Show You Know And Love

I’m not going to limit you, because I know I wouldn’t have a clue what to do if you told me to write in the style of a CSI show, but a more gentle mystery might work for me. Or maybe it’ll be sci-fi, daytime soap, or rip-roaring Melrose Place evening soap. Reality show? Sitcom? Adult cartoon? What do you watch and love?

Go!

Daily Prompt – May 18: The Lie

Write About A Lie

Daily Prompt LogoOooo, the lie. We’ve all done it. We do it all the time, even though we know we shouldn’t. Sometimes we get away with them and other times they come back to bite us in the most spectacular fashion.

Write About A Lie

Is it a tiny one? A whopper? Does no-one find out about it? Does that mean your character really ‘gets away with it’? Does it spiral out of control and become a Fawlty Towers episode?

GO!