Story Sparks and Writing Prompts

I talk a lot about writing prompts and Story Sparks around here. They are your secret weapons for getting through a month of extreme short story writing!

What is a Story Spark?

It’s a term I coined for something that is less than a story idea and certainly not an outline, but something that you notice while walking the world: things that make you go ‘hmmm’, if you will.

Story sparks are details about the world that you can use either to spark or add richness to a story. They can be:

  • Fragments of conversation: become a dedicated eavesdropper, if you aren’t all ready.
  • Details from the world around you: the exact color and shape of a dogwood flower in April; a snippet of conversation overhead, out of context; the rhythm of a 14 year old girl’s speech,
  • Big Ideas that occur to you randomly: the ‘where are all these people going?’ that pops into your head while you’re sitting in traffic; what if my baby had been born with wings? why do so many of us believe in a deity?.
  • Memories: spend some time going through old memories and pulling out interesting characters, conflicts, fears, hopes, joys. Gather some of them as Story Sparks.

Some of these, with a little interrogation and development could be come a story or a series of stories, but for now they are simply ideas that flit across your brain.You needn’t have any clue what kind of story they’ll fit into or how you might use them.

Capture them.

Save them for later.

How To Harness The Power Of Story Sparks

To feel the power of Story Sparks you must gather them continuously.

Set yourself a goal of gathering three story sparks every day and you will find yourself seeing the world in a different way (a writer’s way).Aim to have 15 at the end of each week, but don’t collect them all on one day.

By getting into the habit of observing the world around you and capturing story sparks daily, you are training your brain to see the world through an artist’s filter. This will help immeasurably when you sit down to write.

Writing Prompts Are Not Story Sparks

(At least not the way I do them here at StoryADay)

I provide an optional writing prompt for every day in May (If you want to support the challenge and give me a pat on the back, you can grab a copy of last year’s prompts here or stay tuned for the release of this year’s prompt ebook)

My writing prompts are intentionally vague.

I don’t know if you prefer comedy or tragedy, sci fi or contemporary romance. I don’t know if you’re a woman or a man or a child or a nonogenarian. So I keep the prompts vague. Here’s an example:

prompt screenshotI’m not giving you a topic or a character or telling you where to set your story. I”m giving you a way into a story.

This is the perfect time to start digging around in your Story Sparks notebook/file and see what might fit with this prompt. Choose a Spark that leaps out at you today, in today’s mood, with today’s time restrictions and today’s challenges.

I also give you tips everyday. They are intended to help you drill down further into the prompt, and figure out how you can make it work for you.

Tips for prompt 1

Here’s another example:

Prompt 2

Notice, I don’t tell you what kind of character to choose or where to place him/her. That’s up to you. Dig into your Story Sparks and see if you can find inspiration for a character who might have these qualities.

Here are the tips I provided for this prompt:

tips for prompt 2

Again, you’ll need to bring your own ideas to this exercise. It’s not a scenario that dictates any details about the story, but rather a prompt; a way into finding a character and a story that matter to you.

And that is the only way to write a story that matters to readers.

So go now and start collecting Story Sparks: 3 a day. You’ll thank me, around May 14, when the creative well is not only dry but cracking and threatening to implode.

 

The Writing Prompt eBook – Details!

On Monday, April 20, 2015Updated: Saturday, April 23, 2016  I’ll be releasing the A Month of Writing Prompts 20152016 as an ebook through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Program. Its list price will eventually be $6.99, but you’ll be able to get it for $2.99 before May begins (and yes, I’ll send you an email to remind you, if you’re on the list).

The ebook will contain all of the writing prompts I’ve written for this year’s challenge. As with last year we’ll have some guest prompts and those will be exclusively at the website.

I started creating ebooks of the prompts because so many of you told me you wanted to be write to the prompts, but you like to be able to plan ahead.   It was super successful last year and I hope you enjoy this year’s edition as much, if not more.

Behind The Curtain

Why Make It Available Exclusively Through Amazon?

A few reasons: One is that it keeps things simple for me. There’s a lot going on around here in April/May and setting up an ebook with three or four different vendors is a LOT of work. I like Amazon. You can get it for Kindle or use their browser-based Kindle app at no charge.

Another is that Amazon is a big kahuna. If lots of people buy the ebook from Amazon (especially if you all buy it on opening day) the ebook shoots up the charts and gets more exposure, and more people hear about StoryADay, which makes the community more buzzy and you more likely to find a writing friend you lurve. (See? It’s all about you).

Thirdly (and this one is less about you), Amazon pays well. If I use their Kindle Direct Publishing and make the book exclusive to them, I get 70% of the list price in royalties in every international market they cover. This money all goes into the running of StoryADay (so actually, it is about you!).

Speaking of money: I intend to keep the StoryADay May challenge free forever. But running it is not. In addition to the hundreds of hours I spend working on this every year, I have hosting and domain-registration costs, support for the times when the web coding gets too much for me, the Mailchimp email list hosting (we’re such a big tribe now that we’ve outgrown Mailchimp’s free service); hosting fees for the service I use to sell workshops and ebooks, and on and on the costs go. I’m fairly frugal but the costs run over $1000 a year.

If everyone on the mailing list bought a copy of the ebook on release day I would cover my costs and have a bit left over to make the site prettier and more functional next year.

That won’t happen, but every little bit helps. If you do feel like kicking in a few more dollars of support, don’t forget about the StoryADay Shop, which is full of books, writing workshops and the world-famous StoryADay Warm Up Your Writing eCourse (Home Study Version – yours to keep forever!).

So there’s my Amanda-Palmer-inspired begging bowl. Want to support StoryADay? Buy an ebook, course or workshop. Or, if money is tight, spread the word to your writer friends. Get them involved in StoryADay. That’s as valuable to me as a monetary contribution! And more fun.

OK, this was a long post today. Sorry about that, and thanks to anyone who’s still here at the end of it!

Phew! On with the challenge!

How To Write A StoryADay in May Without Burning Out

Writing a story a day is hard. No doubt about it.

In fact, I had long been scared to commit to writing a novel, but after completing my first StoryADay back in 2010, I said, “Surely writing the same story every day for a month has to be easier than that!” and plunged into NaNoWriMo later that year and ‘won’. (I recently completed that novel – my first!)

So Why Keep Writing A StoryADay Each May?

Writing 31 short stories in a month drives you to the brink of desperation…and it’s right at that brink where interesting things start happening.

  • You stop caring about whether the story is good and just get it written.
  • You try crazy ideas that sometimes turn into highly original stories.
  • You find yourself seeking out story ideas all day, every day, because you know you’ll need a new one tomorrow.
  • You discover that the more you write — the more ideas you use up — the more creative you become. You never run out of ideas. There’s always another one coming along right behind it.
  • You discover you can write more than you thought you could. Even if you’re exhausted every day, it’s only one month. You’ll be amazed what you can do with a deadline, a community and little bit of stubborn. And it will feel exhilarating.

Keeping Things Fresh

Past participant Sarah Cain had just finished a novel and was deep in the business of revising the manuscript and looking for an agent, when she found herself in a creative slump. She heard about StoryADay and was intrigued.

“[I thought] would be a change,” she says. “Give me a chance to get some creative energy flowing, which it did. I had great fun with it, and now write quite a lot of flash fiction.”

In addition, she went back to her novel revisions, refreshed and reinvigorated. The following year she landed an agent and signed a two-book deal for that novel and its sequel.

So How Do You Write A StoryADay Without Burning Out?

There are lots of ways to keep writing. Here are some that other StoryADay writers have used:

Accept that these are first drafts — Don’t revise as you write. Just keep moving the story forward, every day until you get to the end. No revisions, no backtracking. Finish with a flourish, drop your pen and walk away. You have the rest of the year to revise these things!

Finish each story — Do your heroic best to get to the end of each story. Even if you have to write something like “[get Frank from the school to the roof of the hospital. Car chase! Explosions]” and skip to the resolution, get to the end of the story.

Resolve as many loose ends as you can and put it on the ‘to be revised’ pile for June. There is an energy about finishing a story that buoys you up for the next one. “You can do this,” it whispers in your ear as you sit down to write the next day. “You told a complete tale yesterday. No reason you can’t do it again today.”

Allow yourself to experiment—Write short-short stories, longer stories, stories that are all dialogue, stories that rhyme, retelling of old stories, retellings of your own stories (in a different point of view, or setting…the possibilities are endless).

Some days you’ll need to do what feels like ‘cheating’ by rewriting a fairytale or reimagining a story of your own, just so you don’t have to work out all the detail. That’s OK. It worked out fine for Gregory Macguire and for Walt Disney…

Allow yourself to fail — You will have some days when it is torture and you when you get to the end of a story and think “what was that?!”. Learn to laugh it off. If you can, figure out why it didn’t work. (Did you forget to give the character something to root for? Did you not know enough about the exotic setting you tried to use? Did you start writing when you were too tired?)

Write down the lessons learned and save them for future reference.

Have A Backup Plan To Help You Start Again—There may be days when time gets away from you and you don’t finish a story. Or whooosh! The whole day goes by and you just forget to write. Prepare for this by having an “if/then” plan in place (an idea I came across in Gretchen Rubin’s excellent new book Better Than Before). Tell yourself “If I miss a day, then I’ll pick right back up the next day. I won’t try to catch up, I’ll just move forward”. Or maybe you can say “If I miss a day, then I’ll confess my sins in the StADa community, and get back to it the next day.” Or some other (positive) “If/then” cycle. All is not lost when you mess up if you have planned for what you’ll do after the inevitable slip.

Join the community — Yes, yes, I know. There’s a danger here. You could spend so much time reading other people’s posts that you never get around to posting, yourself. BUT, there is nothing like a little pat on the back, or a little peer pressure, to make us better than we think we can be. At least post in the Victory Dance group every day after you write something. Congratulate a few other people who have posted, and post a micro-update about your own day. Use the other boards to ask for help, or find a shoulder to cry on when the day didn’t work out as you had hoped.

Don’t ‘quit’ — If you get to day 14 and your life implodes, don’t quit. Change the rules. Admit that life got in the way and you can’t write a story a day this month, BUT commit to writing at least two more stories this month, or one, or whatever you feel you can manage. Come back to the challenge at least one more time.

You’re not failing. You’re learning. Write down what you’ve learned about your writing habits, needs, preferences, struggles, successes, so far this month. Post them somewhere you can find again (a blog is a great place, since it’s archived). Then commit to writing at least one more story before the challenge ends.

Make a note in your diary to check in to the community before the end of May and celebrate the progress everyone has made. Print out your winner’s tiara and wear it with pride, because you showed up. You wrote. You win.

 


 

Tomorrow we’re going to talk about story sparks, writing prompts and what you can do NOW to make sure you have the best chance possible of writing 31 stories during StoryADay May. I’ll also be reminding you that I’ll be releasing I have published the StoryADay Guide: A Month of Writing Prompts 2015 on Monday, April 20. Until May 1, 2015 it’ll be selling at a steep discount, so don’t miss that!

Hint: it’s going to look a lot like last year’s edition, but with all-new prompts, tips and pep-talks.

 

If you want to make sure you receive the rest of this series and notifications about the discounted ebook, and the opening of the StoryADay Community for 2015, join the Advance Notice List:

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From Idea To Story: 7 Ways To Develop Great Stories From Sparks

So far this week we’ve talked about How To Decide What To Write and How To Justify Your Writing Time (To Your Friends and To Yourself).

Now that you’re all keyed up to write, we turn to the tricky question of how to take all your good ideas and turn them into story drafts.
angelou-untold-story

From Idea To Story

Ideas are great.

Story Sparks are great.

Writing prompts can be great.

But anyone can have an idea.

It takes a writer to develop and idea and turn it into a story. Yeah, uh, how do we do that, then?

The Right Way To Write A Short Story

There is no one right way to write a short story.

That’s the beauty of the short story. It can be anything from a classic three-act narrative to a loosely connected collection of nouns verbs and prepositions.

There are as many ways to write a short story as there are writers. The only right way to write a story is to tell it the way you want to tell it.

Writing a short story that readers want to read, however, is a little more limiting.

1. Play With Structure

Short stories don’t have to follow a particular structure. With a short story you can forget about plot diagrams and character arcs and still end up with a satisfying story.

Why? Because short stories exist to immerse a reader in a moment in a character’s life. Or to make them question an assumption by illustrating its absurdity in miniature.

A list can be a short story. A diary entry can be a short story. A tweet can be a short story. But none of them work without the active participation of the reader.

Think about it: in writing short stories, you have to leave a lot out. You can’t spend a lot of time describing the six layers of undergarments worn by ladies of the court, the way you can in a novel. You can’t give much (any) backstory. You can imply, hint and leave spaces.

It’s up to the reader to slow down, pay attention and supply those details. In that way, the short story is a lot like poetry. Even as you play with the structure you must write for the reader.

2. Write For Readers

I don’t mean ‘write for acquisition editors and publishers’. I mean write for your ideal reader.

Readers expect certain things in a story. They expect setting and character and something to happen. Depending on your reader’s preference and tolerance level, they may expect suspense (or not), character development (or not), and a resolution of sorts (or not).

Literary fiction can get away with more of those ‘or not’s than genre and mainstream fiction. Mainstream readers tend to be looking for a less intense escape from reality than literary readers who are willing to study every line as if there’ll be a test on Friday (which they intend to ace.)

But it’s OK for even mainstream or genres readers to expect their readers to participate in the story.

What Do You Mean, Readers Have To Participate?

Read this oft-cited example of the shortest-short story:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

So what? On one hand, it’s just a classified ad. But if you, the reader really start to think about it, you start filling in the details: why the shoes were never worn; who might have placed the ad; and inevitably, how they must have felt, doing so.

You, the reader, are telling the story in cooperation with the author.

This is a pretty extreme version, of course. But you should be aiming for the same effect in every story you write, no matter its shape or length.

I’ve been hosting StoryADay since 2010 and I’ve read a lot of stories in that time. The stories that immerse me in a character or a world or a moment are the ones that stay with me. The stories that ask a question and make me care about the answer (whether or not they supply it) are the ones I seek out and re-read.

So how do you take an idea (either from your own head or from a writing prompt, or from some combination of the two) and make readers keep wondering about it long after they’ve stopped reading the words on the screen?

3. Ask Questions

If you start with in idea about a particular character or setting, next ask yourself “who cares?”. Who will be interested about a story about that character or setting?

Then ask “why”? What makes this situation different? What makes this person interesting?

For example, The Care And Feeding of Plants by Art Taylor, opens with two people who are having an affair, one is married, the other is not. Ho-hum, right? Except that “During one of their trysts…Robert told Felicia to bring her husband over for a Friday night cook-out.” Wait, what? DURING? What kind of people are these? I don’t know about you but I had to keep reading!

Next take your idea and ask yourself “if…then” questions.

In the example above the author might have asked himself: if the husband does come over, what could happen? If the wife refuses to invite him, then what happens? If the lover changes his mind, then what? Follow this line of reasoning down its most interesting, tangled alleys and see what you can come up with. (If you’re like me you’ll need to start writing round about now, because you’ll be too excited not to!) 

4. Leave Gaps

Not literally (though maybe, depending on your story). But leave gaps, as in the six word short story above, and readers will start to ask the questions you leave lying around for them to find.

It might not be necessary to tell readers in the first sentence why your character is standing on a bridge, wind whipping her hair around her tear-stained face, one hand on the thin guide rail behind her. Just put her there and then make us care. You can supply the reasons (or not) later.

You might not need to walk through your character’s entire day to make poignant the moment when they walk through the front door of their home, mussed-up and frazzled.

Think about the minimum amount of information you can give the reader in order to pull them in, and keep them interested, yet still give them room to search for clues in the context as to what’s really going on in the story.

In “Orange” by Neil Gaiman, the entire story is told as a set of responses to questions that the reader never hears. Bob Newhart did a series of comedy sketches based on a one-sided phone call (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnO1lnPH3BQ). He never tells us what happens at 1:41, but I’ll bet you, along with the laughing audience, can guess. You can replicate these ideas or you can use them to remind yourself to leave some things unsaid in your stories, to draw the reader in.

5. Try Something New

If you always write narrative stories with a character encountering an obstacle that clashes with their desires/needs, take a break. Try something different. Instead, write a story made up only of dialogue, or in the form of a memo to the staff, or a series of social-media posts or voicemails.

Challenge yourself to create complete characters or illustrate an absurdity, without talking directly to the reader.

As you write, keep asking ‘what if’ and ‘so what’ questions of your ideas.

6. Getting Unstuck

There’s a point, somewhere in the middle of every story, where it’s very easy to get stuck.

You’ve set up the characters and the situation, but now you’re starting to get tired and the thought of fighting your way to the end (with all the digressions that crop up as you think of objections and things you’ve left out, and things you want to explain) is just too much to bear. (A bit like that sentence.)

At this point, we go back to the questions.

If you don’t know what should happen next, ask yourself: what does your character want? What is standing in her way? How can you make it worse? What is she not prepared to do? Can you force her to do it? How can you resolve the reader’s question of “does she get what she wants” as quickly as possible?

If you’re really stuck, simply finish your sentence then write the words “But then” Finish that sentence and write: “And so” Finish that sentence. Repeat as necessary. You can edit out these phrases and clean up the prose in the rewrite (what else do you have to do in June?), but sometimes a crude, structural approach forms the foundation of a what turns out to be a strong story.

7. Keep Writing

If you are really stuck, the only thing to do is to write. Not brainstorm. Not diagram. Not sketch ideas. And certainly not turn to the next, bright shiny idea.

Write your way out of the problem and get to the end of the story.

It’s a short story. What do you have to lose? No one dies if you get it wrong. No one even needs to see it. But by finishing it, you will have learned so much more than if you give up.

I promise you, from bitter, joyful, exhausted experience, this is the truth.

Use the tactics in this article to blast past your fear, push through the mushy middle, and get to the end of today’s story. It might be a mess. It might be the foundation of something great. It might be a complete mistake.

But the biggest mistake of all is to stop writing.

Fear of making mistakes can itself become a huge mistake, one that prevents you from living.

-Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide To Getting Lost

 

Tomorrow we talk about how the heck you keep doing this over and over again for 31 days in a row. With tips from past “winners” (Plus: how to be a winner even if you don’t write 31 stories)

At the end of this week I’ll be telling you about how you can get your hands onAvailable now a tool to help you sit down and write every day: the 2015 StoryADay Month of Writing Prompts ebook.

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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!

How To Decide What You Should Be Writing

This week I’m posting a series designed to help you through the emotionally-charged business of deciding whether or not to commit to writing a StoryADay in May this year.

(Actually it may not be emotionally charged for you. Maybe you already know ‘heck-yeah, I’m onboard’  or you’re sure you can’t/won’t/don’t need to take part this year. Good for you. Also, you’ll probably still enjoy the series. You just get to read it without the angst!)

We’ll be talking about:

Then I’ll be telling you all about how you can get your virtual paws on all my writing prompts for StoryADay May before it even begins!

How To Decide What To Write

You feel, in your gut, that you should be writing. You know it’s something you want to do. But how do you know what you’re supposed to be writing?

To non-writers, that sounds like a stupid question. Have you ever tried talking to a non-writer about this?

You: “I want to write but I don’t know what to write.”

Them: “Can’t you just, like, write about a wizard or some vampires or a sex-crazed billionaire and become a best-seller and split the profits with me? Can I start planning our round the world cruise for next year?”

Or, more likely.

You: I want to write but I don’t know what to write.

Them: So stop whining and do it. ‘K?

But what should you be writing?

The problem is you could be writing about ANYTHING. And that’s paralyzing. You know you need to pick something, but what?

And The Answer Is…

I don’t know.

I don’t know you. I mean, on some level I kind of do, because you’re probably a bit like me: someone who thinks a lot, worries about other people’s feelings, and finds yourself standing in the middle of the kitchen with the phone ringing and no idea why you’re there but you know that damned phone has just interrupted the Best. Daydream. Ever. And that if you could just get some time to write it down you’d be happy and fulfilled and probably rich and famous to boot.

But on another level I really don’t know you. I don’t know what you like. I don’t know what matters to you. I don’t know what gets you so wound up you stay up all night blogging or researching or fretting about it. I don’t know what makes you laugh, or what you love to read, or what kind of writing makes you throw books across the room (then pick them up and smooth out the cover apologetically because, hey, it might be terrible, but it’s still a book, you know?)

I don’t know who your favorite writers are; what genre you couldn’t live without; what you like in a hero; what you love in a villain; whether a galloping plot or deep introspection is more important to you; whether you like a happy ending or prefer something that feels more like real life.

But oh, look. I just gave you a list of things you might use to find a way into writing your own stories.

(If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend digging out your copy of the Creative Challenge Workbook. It walks you through a lot of this and helps you build a roadmap for the future. You can download another copy here if you need to.)

The Big Secret…That Isn’t Really A Secret

Here’s the thing. Even with all of that information you’ve just gathered about yourself, there’s no way to be sure what you should be writing until you…yup, sit down and write.

The best and only way to find your way to your best style/topic/length/tone is to try everything.

Write A Lot, Write Quickly, Finish Everything

How StoryADay Can Help

How many stories did you write last month? How many last year? What did you learn from writing them? Do you even remember? I know I don’t. (I do remember for 2013 though. 2013 was a good year. I wrote a lot in 2013 and I learned a ton!)

Trust me when I tell you: if you write and finish even 20, even 12 stories in on month you will win so much more than bragging rights. You’ll win a free pass into the Secret Society of I’ve-Discovered-What-I-Want-To-Write.

Write Quickly To Defeat Your Inner-Anti-Cheerleader

Writing quickly and writing every day over a sustained period exhausts your inner-anti-cheerleader.

Sure, on the first day, she’s all perky and energetic. She jumps up and down telling you how worthless you are and how you can’t write and you shouldn’t try.

But your anti-cheerleader thrives on attention. When you turn your back on her and start writing, she can shake her pompoms all she likes, but she can’t really do anything more than distract you and make things difficult.

The next day, she’s looking a little less fresh. Maybe her hair’s not quite as neat. Maybe her jump-kicks are a little sloppy. She’s still trying, but you turn your back on her and ignore her once again.

By the fourth day, she’s getting frantic. Frankly, she’s a mess. Her eyeliner’s smudged and her hair’s all poufy, and the only reason her pompoms are shaking at all is because of her rage that you’re ignoring her.

You’ll think you’ve defeated her, but beware: she’s going to rest up for a few days and let you think she’s gone, but really she’s just waiting for you to get tired. Somewhere in the second week of your writing surge, she’s back: revitalized and vengeful. Don’t listen to her. Keep going. This is where you pull out the big guns:

Finish Everything

There is a power in finishing stories that you need to experience for yourself. I can tell you about it but you won’t believe me until you do it.

Finishing teaches you what each story is about.

Finishing shows you that you’re not a terrible writer, no matter how desperate you felt in the muddy middle of your story.

Finishing gives you a first draft you can revise.

Finishing each story gives you a biochemical surge that triggers your brain’s reward centers and makes it more likely you’ll finish the next.

And sitting down, every day*, to start the next story is what defeats your inner-anti-cheerleader. The routine of it tells her firmly that you are going to ignore her again today. She can’t stand up against that kind of ritual snubbing.

(*’Every day’ doesn’t mean ‘every day’. But having a routine is a powerful thing. More about that later this week…)

It’s all very well for me to tell you to sit down to write every day, but what about the rest of your life? You have responsibilities, right? People who rely on you? Deadlines and obligations unrelated to your writing. How on earth are you supposed to find time to write as well?

Stay Tuned

Tomorrow we’ll talk about the big lie in that question, along with a shift in thinking that will allow you to make your writing a priority at long last.

Make sure you’re on the Advance Notice list (check the “Creativity Lab” group option to make sure you receive this series every day), or check out the blog tomorrow to find out how to justify your writing time to friends, family and yourself.

At the end of this week I’ll be telling you about how you can get your hands on a tool to help you sit down and write every day: the 2015 StoryADay Month of Writing Prompts ebook.

P.S. If you found this useful, why not forward it to a friend? You know, that friend that’s always saying they want to write, but never actually does…