Write A Story In 30 Minutes

This prompt is a great one for the first day because this is a day when you’re probably the most excited about the challenge and your ambitions are high and you’re quite likely to try and do too much.

The Prompt

Write a story in 30 minutes

I would rather you try to do too little and succeed and try to do too much and fai. Hence the limit on timing.

Tips

  • Set a timer. I know you probably have a phone clutched in your hand right now. Tell it to set a timer for 30 minutes. Don’t start it yet.
  • Every story starts with character. Think of your favorite type of character from somebody else’s fiction. Do you like Jack Reacher? He’s heroic he’s almost impossible to beat in a fight. And yet Lee Child manages to make him an interesting character. Is this the kind of character you like? If not what do you like? Write down qualities of characters that you love to read about, now.
  • Once you have a character, think about something that this character would never ever do.
  • Think of a way to back this character into a corner where they must do the thing they would never do.
  • For example all Harry Potter wants to do is find a place to belong, a place to call home. He finds it at Hogwarts. The last thing he would ever do is risk getting kicked out of Hogwarts. But what does he do in every book? He risks getting kicked out of Hogwarts. He does it to save his friends, to further the course of right, and ultimately to save his world.On a smaller scale in All The Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, the main character is a young blind girl who relies utterly on her doting father. The last thing she would want is to be separated from her father and have to cope with life on her own. But along comes World War II and the Nazis and guess what she has to do? It’s not a big adventure novel there are some explosions (not in a Bruce Willis kind of way), but the tension is very real because were worried about this poor vulnerable girl and what she’s going to do in her circumstances. Pick something for your character that will push them beyond their comfort zone.
  • Think about this for a little while. It might be best if you think about this while you go off and do whatever it is you have to do today, and then come back to writing later.
  • think about how late you can start the story. You don’t have to write background, telling us who the character is, what her daily life is all about. That’s for movies. This is a short story. We don’t have the space for that. Short story writers can start closer to the middle of the action — we can start in medias res, the middle of the action. Later, we show the reader the stakes, through conversation or actions. They don’t need to know everything in the opening paragraph.
  • OK, you have a few ideas? Great! Start your timer.
  • How to write a story in 30 minutes Write for no more than 10 minutes on the opening of the story. At the 10 minute mark make sure that you’re moving into the main action of the story: the complications, making things worse for your protagonist, making things funnier/more harrowing/more interesting. At the 25 minute mark, start wrapping up: even if the story isn’t completely finished, even if you have to write [something cool happens here], draw a line under the middle part of your story and get the resolution. Wrap it up by the time you hit the 30 minute mark. First draft: done!
  • This is difficult, and you’re not going to end up with a fabulous polished story. (You might, but you shouldn’t expect to.) However writing to the end of the story gives you a first draft that you can go back and clean up later. The experience of going from beginning to end in 30 minutes proves to you that you can do this. Congratulations! You have a complete story. Now start thinking about what you might write about tomorrow!

 

Continue reading “Write A Story In 30 Minutes”

Welcome to StoryADay 2016

Welcome to Week One!

This weeks’s theme: Limits

I know you’re excited. I know you want to get started on your great masterpiece. But setting that kind of pressure on yourself is the fastest way I know to a crippling case of writers block.

This week I’m going to impose limits on your writing that will make it almost impossible for you to write something great. This is my gift to you.

Continue reading “Welcome to StoryADay 2016”

How To Justify Your Writing Time (To Friends and To Yourself)

Yesterday we talked about how to decide what you’re supposed to be writing. You can read it here, but the big lesson was: write a lot. Try new stuff. Don’t let your inner-anti-cheerleader stop you.

Well that’s all very well, but what if your life is busy? When are you supposed to find the time, not to mention the discipline, to sit down and write?

The Lie That You Can Find Time To Write

You can’t.

No one finds time to write. Or to play the guitar. Or to be a rockstar. Or to be a successful investor.

You make time.

Everyone successful, fulfilled person who ever lived, made time for the thing that was important to them.

Justifying The Time

I could give you all kinds of tips for scraping together some free time to write (delegate chores, turn off the TV, say no to invitations to go out) but that’s not the hard part.

The Hard Part

The hard part is convincing yourself that you are allowed to take the time to write.

Writing is personal. You do it alone. You don’t look like you’re working hard. You look like you’re surfing the internet or sulking in your bedroom or shirking your responsibilities.

Worse still, you might feel that way inside.

But I’m here to tell you: if you want to write, you must write.

When you’re writing, no matter how hard it is, you are more truly yourself than at any other time.

And when you finish a writing session, no matter how exhausted or wrung-out you feel, the rest of your life seems just a little bit easier. You are fulfilled. Your mind is clear. You have a sense of achievement. You are a better person when you’re writing.

And that’s the real payoff.

Not internet celebrity. Not publishing contracts. Not the legions of fans. Not the multi-millions in movie-rights sales.

The actual payoff for writing is that you are happier.

Which makes you a better person to be around.

Convince Yourself, Convince Your Crew

You have to try this for yourself to really experience it. And once you have, feel free to point it out to the people around you. If they’re smart, they’ll become accomplices in making time for you to write. If you keep at it long enough, there will come a day when you’re rampaging around the house barking at everyone and, instead of barking back, one smart housemate will say, “Hey, why don’t you go and grab a notebook. You need to be writing.”

Trust me. It happens. And if it doesn’t, perhaps you need to surround yourself with smarter, kinder people.

Resources

Here are some resources to help you convince yourself that your writing is not only important but vital to your continued existence — and some suggestions on how to overcome three common obstacles.

If you’re wondering why you can’t get anything written when you’re setting aside a whole 20 minutes every lunchtime, watch this video from John Cleese. It’s his process for being creative. There may be times when 20 minutes can be productive for you, but there are other times when you will need to listen to Mr Cleese’s advice. https://vimeo.com/89936101

If you can’t get past the suckiness of your first drafts, you need to watch this interview with Ira Glass (again). I get the impression he’s a bit bemused that this is rapidly becoming what he’s most famous for, but it’s because it is so very, very true. (Hint: You need to write a lot!) https://youtu.be/PbC4gqZGPSY

If you don’t believe me that your art is worth doing for its own sake (for your sake), then you need to watch this talk by last year’s StoryADay Guest of Honor, Neil Gaiman. Watch it now. https://youtu.be/ikAb-NYkseI

When The Pencil Meets The Paper

Of course, having bought yourself time to write, doesn’t make it go easily.

If I’ve convinced you that you need to write a lot and that you need to make time for your writing, your next question is probably going to be: but how do I turn all this time and dedication into actual stories?

Tomorrow we’ll talk about The Care and Feeding of Ideas, and how to turn those ideas into fully-fledged story drafts.

Until then: do you have a friend who’s always talking about wanting to write, but never quite getting around to it? Why not share this post with that person? Maybe, between the two of us, we can get them to where they need to be and you two can spend blissful afternoons on writing dates, instead of kvetching about how much writing you’re not doing. Share this now!

Help! I Missed A Day. What Do I Do?

OK, so this is Day 5 of the challenge and if you haven’t missed a day yet, the chances are strong that you will. Soon.

So here’s my advice, based on five years of May challenges, a couple of StoryADay September challenges and the writing courses I run.

Let It Go
[1. Cue the sound of my two elementary school aged boys screaming “No! Enough with the Frozen!”]

Let the unwritten stories go and write again tomorrow.

Seriously. This is not so much about turning out 31 complete stories as leaning to turn up every day, even when you feel like a failure. I encourage people never to try to catch up with days they’ve missed. That creates far too much baggage. (You can always keep writing into June if you want your 31 stories!)

Watch And Learn

The other point of a challenge like this is to try to do more than you think you can do, and to watch where it is hardest and where/when it was most fluid. Then, when you go back to your normal writing schedule you will have all these experiences in your tool kit. You’ll know that Saturday is maybe not a day to expect to get much writing done. And you’ll know that 11-midnight is prime time. Or you’ll know that it’s easier to write when you have a plan (or not).

Don’t worry too much. Just keep turning up, keep breathing and keep watching all the ways your inner demon tries to sabotage your writing life. Say ‘Huh, that’s interesting, demon. Nice try, but I’m still turning up again tomorrow”.

If we are going to write for the rest of our lives (and lets face it, we are), all we can do is keep learning!

Adjust Your Rules

Back in 2012 (my third year) I decided I was no longer going to commit to writing on Sundays. I COULD, I just didn’t HAVE to.
Between running the site and having two small children and a husband that I quite like to spend time with, something had to give. Sundays were it, for me.

This is fine. If you decide not to write EVERY day in May that’s cool.

BUT do try to assess your progress on a week to week basis rather than waking up each day and thinking “I wonder if I should write today”. (You should).

Stop now and see how your first five days (which include a weekend) have gone. Decide what you’ll commit to for the next seven days.

Of course, I thoroughly encourage you to write an actual StoryADay unless the thought of it is making you truly miserable. If you’re miserable, change the rules. But keep writing.

So, how’s it going? What are you learning? What tips do you have?