May 6 – Ripped From The Headlines

The Prompt

Steal a story from another source, and use it as inspiration

Tips

Great places to look for stories like this include:

  • News sites. Subjective sites like TMZ and Unworthy give you more editorial and emotion to work with. Harder news sites like The New York Times or the BBC, or the front page of Wikipedia, will give you more facts and less interpretation. Depending on your personality, one or other approach might be more inspiring to you.
  • Obituaries and alumni magazines are great places to find character studies. Obits give you a person’s life, summed up and including the one or two personal details someone else thought were the most interesting. Alumni magazines offer an insight into character in a different way: what kind of person updates their alumni magazine on ‘what I’ve been up to’? What kinds of things do these people think are worthy of report. What does that say about them?

GO!

Post a comment at the blog to let us know you’ve written today, or join the community and post in the Victory Dance Group.

The Time You Spend Waiting To Begin

Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.

via Neil Gaimans Journal.

This except comes from a compendium of New Year’s Wishes from the master of modern storytelling, and champion of creatives, Neil Gaiman.

All of the New Year’s wishes are inspirational but this one struck me particularly.

  • We struggle to find time to write.
  • We make excuses for not doing the thing we love, in case we’re not good enough.
  • We say we’ll be creative another day, just as soon as we’ve cleared out plates of these urgent (but not necessarily important) tasks.

So try.

Try to do something creative today.

Then do the same tomorrow.

It’s worth it. I promise.

Need help getting started? Breaking Writers’ Block: A StoryADay.org Guideis chock-full of 60+ suggestions for ways to get started, even on the hardest day.

The Price Of Quitting

I was lucky enough to go to see Cabaret on Broadway this past December. The Emcee was played by Alan Cumming who, like me, is from Scotland.

I was absolutely transfixed by his performance and I couldn’t help being so very grateful that he had stuck with his talent through what must have been a challenging road from Carnoustie to Studio 54 in NYC, in part so that I, a total stranger, could experience a few moments of joy.

(Is there a reader out there, waiting for your story?)

It struck me:

  • What if he had decided not to leave home to go to theater school because it was too far away?
  • What if he had quit after a failed audition?
  • What if he had cared about all those people who make fun of boys who like the theater?
  • What if he had been scared to sing in public that first time?
  • What if he had let bad reviews get to him?
  • What if he had decided coming back to Broadway all these years later, would make him look foolish?
  • What if he had decided not to work so hard, to be mediocre, to be lazy because artistic success is difficult and chancy and really, why not just be cynical about it instead of working hard?

If he had let all those doubts, naysayers, fears and nerves gang up on him, I would have missed out on an absolutely transcendent moment.

Alan Cumming can’t possibly know what my trip to NYC and the fabulous performances in that show meant to me (unless he’s reading this. Hi, Alan!). But he did his bit, for 35 or so years, to become the performer he is today, and I thank him for that.

Where Do Your Talents Lie?

Do you understand that you can’t know who your stories will touch?

Are you brave enough to write the best stories you can, the truest stories you can muster, and put them out into the world to find their audience?

Are you strong enough to keep writing, year after year, using your gifts just for their own sake?

I hope so.

Because you never know who is out there, needing to hear your story.

Help! I’m Drowning In Ideas!

Help! I’m suffering an explosion of creativity and I can’t seem to stop myself finding time and ideas for writing!

How It All Began

One recent evening I tucked myself into my armchair, put my feet up, pulled my knitting on to my lap and settled down in the flickering black and white light coming from my television as we fired up a couple of episodes of The Twilight Zone — our nightly non-guilty pleasure.

I love The Twilight Zone. The stories are so imaginative, they’re not afraid to take a dark turn (!); they’re stylish, well-crafted and intellectually stimulating.

I’ve been telling myself that they’re great research for my own story telling efforts.

And in a way they are. They’re all about a character (often a man, aged 36, oddly enough) who needs something, lacks something, wants something. Great stuff for storytellers.

But at the end of every Season 1 episode, I keep seeing this little line of text that makes me uneasy.

The line?

“Based on the short story…”

Short Stories Are Not Screenplays

I follow a lot of working writers’ blogs, but people who are getting paid to write the equivalent of short stories now are often working in TV. The influences they cite are other TV shows and writers. I follow those links and spend hours reading about how those other writers write and find success.

But I’m not writing screenplays. I need to remind myself how to show a scene in words, not images.

So I’ve embarked on another challenge (you know how I love a challenge, right?) and I invite you to come along with me.

Following Ray Bradbury’s prescription for writers (watch it here. It’s worth the time) I’m trying to read a short story every day, especially those from the late 19th and early 20th centuries — stories with some staying-power. I’m also trying to read one essay a day (though accessible, classic essays are proving harder to find than good short stories) and one poem a day (oddly enough, though poems are shorter, I’m finding it harder to rouse myself to do this part of the program).

The Results Are In

I’ve been doing this for just over a week and, as I said, I’ve been ‘suffering’ under an explosion of creativity. I’ve written one, long-for-me, 6,000 word short story and sketched out ideas for more than 50 more (yes, 5-0!) in a few different themes/genres, started my second story and written four blog posts.

And my kids are on vacation!

But I can’t seem to stop myself finding time to read and write.

I’ve rediscovered the joy of both reading and writing. I’m sneaking off, staying up late, ignoring people I love, to read — and little of it is on Facebook or Feedly or Twitter. I’m reading well-crafted fiction and non-fiction that has stood the test of time. And I’m bursting with ideas, references and imagery — I’m so full of ideas that I can’t hold them back. I simply have to write. (This is not always the case with me. I always feel better when I’m writing but I’m quite good at being lazy and grumpy instead).

Want to join me in being more creative, more productive, and more joyful? Start reading and writing today!

Here are some of the books I’m using to find short stories, poetry, essays and other inspiring non-fiction to read.

[Write On Wednesday] Digital Story Cubes

OK, so I’ve used my real-life Story Cubes to generate a prompt once before, but now the cute game has an even cuter app, and who am I to resist?

So, behold: this week’s story prompt comes from the Rory’s Story Cubes app.

 

storycubesapp

I’ll leave it up to you whether you use ALL the cubes, but I think I have to insist that you use at least five. Good luck!

(P.S. With a shooting star, a magic wand, a turtle and a world, how many of you are going to be writing Discworld fan-fic?)

 

Tips

  • Don’t worry about your audience and who might read it
  • Make sure your story travels from start to end: don’t just write a scene, make someone or something change between the first word and the last.

The Rules:

  1. You should use the prompt in your story (however tenuous the connection).
  2. You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.
  3. Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.
  4. Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!

Optional Extras:

Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook

Some tweets/updates you might use:

Don’t miss my StoryCube-inspired short story:  #WriteOnWed #storyaday

This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is dice-based! #storyaday

Come and write with us:  #WriteOnWed #storyaday

See my story – and write your own, today:  #WriteOnWed #storyaday

If you would like to be the Guest Prompter, click here.

[Write On Wednesday] Photo Prompt

Sometimes it’s easy to come up with a subject, a character, a problem or an issue on which to hang your short story.

Some days it’s not. But that doesn’t mean you can’t write. I just means getting started might be harder.

If you’re finding it hard to start writing today, hop on over to the Flickr “Interesting” page (pictures someone at Flickr has tagged as ‘interesting’ in the past 7 days).

Screen shot 2011 09 21 at 10 53 26 AM

The Prompt

Grab a picture and start writing. See where it leads.

Tips

  • Don’t try to force your usual style onto this story. See what comes out.
  • Don’t try to do too much. Whatever you start will probably be a brand new idea. Keep it short and simple.
  • Make sure your story travels from start to end: don’t just write a description, make someone or something change between the first word and the last.

The Rules:

  1. You should use the prompt in your story (however tenuous the connection).
  2. You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.
  3. Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.
  4. Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!

Optional Extras:

Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook

Some tweets/updates you might use:

Don’t miss my Flickr-inspired short story: http://bit.ly/nEQ6Mc  #WriteOnWed #storyaday

This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is a Photo Prompt: http://bit.ly/nEQ6Mc #storyaday

Come and write with us: http://bit.ly/nEQ6Mc  #WriteOnWed #storyaday

See my story – and write your own, today: http://bit.ly/nEQ6Mc  #WriteOnWed #storyaday

If you would like to be the Guest Prompter, click here.

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.