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Character & Power | StoryADay 2024 Day 8

Character sheets are all very well, but no man is an island…

Bonus: if you’re starting to struggle, check out the SOS – Save Our StoryADay Guide now to get back on track

The Prompt

Write a story in which your character interacts with three other characters, one who has power over them, one whom they have power over, and one who is on an equal footing with them.

Things To Consider

Character biographies and archetypes are all very well as a starting point, but a person’s character is not fixed, nor does it ever fit one archetype. People are complex and and society even more so.

People show different parts of themselves in different situations. A useful way to decide which aspects of your character to show in a particular scene is to think the power dynamics in that scene. And remember: power can be psychological, physical, or the power of the group.

Our characters react based on who has the most power in an interaction. This dictates which masks they use to fit into a situation (or sometimes, to stand out) or whether they can be raw and vulnerable. Psychological Power

There are a bunch of old sayings like: you can judge a person’s character by what they do when no-one’s looking, or by how they treat ‘the staff’ (which, these days, tends to mean waitstaff, valet parkers, grocery store clerks or anyone they perceive as having less power than them in a given situation).

And this is true to a certain extent that these action reveal a person’s character and values.

But none of these interactions reflect how that character always acts. Nobody always acts as their best or worst self. And few people remain unchanged throughout their lives.

Physical and Social Power

In The Expanse series by James S A Corey one of the most interesting characters is Amos Burton, who is always, phsyically, the most powerful person in the room and the most comfortable with violence as a solution. In a room full of violent thugs, he is absolutely at ease.

Over the course of the series we don’t see his values change, but we do see him learn how to act in different situations, based on his desire to stay with the crew. It doesn’t feel insincere because his actions are not always dictated by his values and that feels very human.

He still has no problem with violence but he knows his captain does. He masks that part of himself because the captain of the ship has power over him, and the collective power of the rest of his crew is greater than his individual power (even though he could beat them all to a pulp if he felt so inclined).

Power Dynamics for Writing

In each scene of a story, in each interaction, we are seeing a snapshot of your characters. How they act in general is not necessarily how they will act in this moment.

But how to decide?

If you’re not sure what to do with a character in a scene, look around.

Who else is in the scene, and how much power does your character have, relative to them?

How does that affect how your character acts?Do they hold themselves differently? Do they speak differently? And how does that affect their mood and actions going into the next scene, where they might interact with someone with a different power relationship.

It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being insincere in any of those situations. Rather, they are operating on a high-level understand of social dynamics. (Being human is complicated!)

Further Reading on character:

Give Your Characters A Voice

Character Counts (podcast)

Creating Compelling Characters – StoryADay Essentials Series

Great Character Writing with Angela Ackerman (podcast)

How I Met Their Father (or: Characters Are People Too)

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

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Title Longer Than Story | StoryADay 2024 Day 7

I feel like I should have worked harder on the title for today’s prompt…

The Prompt

Write a short story in which the title is longer than the short story itself

Things To Consider

Sometimes contents and anthologies call for stories of a very particular word count. I am often asked if the title counts towards the limit.

It does not.

Therefore, if you’re feeling cheeky, it can be fun to write a story with a ridiculously long title.

In fact, this year I heard of a contest that called for exactly this: a story with a title longer than the body of the story. In this case you may find yourself playing with the premise of a story for a while before you begin to compose the finished article.

You may need to get up and pace around or go for a long walk, or, if you happen to read this at the start of the day, mull over it all day before you sit down to write. Sometimes that’s how writing goes.

The title you end up with will probably do the work that’s usually done by the opening paragraphs of a more traditional story: establishing the setting, the tone, the character, their desire and the obstacle to that desire.

The story itself will probably take the form of an ‘answer’ to the puzzle you set up in the story. I’d aim for a title that uses up 2/3 of the total word count, and a ‘story’ that is no more than 1/3 of the words. Here are some examples of short stories pretty long titles, but I think we could take similar ideas and expand them in interesting ways.

My Last Attempt to Explain to You What Happened to the Lion Tamer – Brendan Matthews

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven – Sherman Alexie

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love – Raymond Carver

These are novels, but I hope they’ll give you a sense of what I’m looking for today:

No Matter How Much You Promise to Cook or Pay the Rent You Blew It Cauze Bill Bailey Ain’t Never Coming Home Again; A Symphonic Novel – Edgardo Vega Yunqué

Or how about this well-known novel that are rarely given its full title?

The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery – Charles Dickens

And my absolute favorite:

The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates – Daniel Defoe

Could you write a title like that and a quick one-sentence riposte as the body of the story?

One of my favorite things about short stories is their ability to defy expectations.

See what you can do with this challenge today. Leave a comment and let us know know how you got on. Was this faster than usual? Slower? Fun? Annoying? Join the discussion!

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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Word List | StoryADay 2024 Day 6

This is such a ridiculous prompt you can’t possible ‘fail’

The Prompt

Write a word story containing each of these 10 words

Why
Misery
Consternation
Pallor
Orchestra
Forgive
Paper
Entry
First
Grandmother

Things To Consider

I expect many people reading this prompt to have a viscerally negative reaction. “How am I supposed to write anything good with a list of random words?!”

Answer: you’re not.

Today’s prompt is an exercise in coming to your desk, writing something awkward and keeping going away.

There will be many, many days as a writer when you need to write a scene or a story that just isn’t flowing the way you want to.

The ability to keep writing anyway is an essential skill. We all need to practice allowing the first draft to be janky, awkward, a little bit ugly…and finishing it anyway.

It’s easy to say, but harder to do. So today, I’m intentionally setting the bar low. Of course you’re not expected to write a masterpiece with a collection of words I plucked randomly from a book (“The Art of the Short Story”, Dana Gioia & R. S. Gwynn, Pearson Longman, 2006, in case you’re interested).

If you’re not entirely sure how to use a particular word, let one of your characters use (or misuse) it.

Their use of that word—or how they react to being corrected—can more effectively show us the character than any explanatory note from a narrator’s voice. Remember words can be used in metaphorical ways, not just literally.

If you are resisting this prompt, make doubly-sure to give this one a try. In my experience, the prompts people resist are the ones they learn the most from. Sometimes they even end up with stories they love!

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!

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Like You, But Not | StoryADay 2024 Day 5

Starting with yourself is a short-cut to character-building

The Prompt

Use the Short Story Framework to help you write a story about a person who lives a life quite like yours but does not behave the way you do

Things To Consider

I hope you kept your copy of the Short Story Framework handy after yesterday’s prompt because we’re going to use it again today, to prove to you that, though it is a framework, it doesn’t have to produce formulaic stories.

Start with a character who lives a life like yours because it will take you less time to invent the surroundings of the story, this way.

Choose a situation that might enrage, frustrate, or delight you.

Give it to a character who seems like you, at first glance, but who reacts in ways you suspect you never would.

This can be an opportunity for you to be delightfully naughty or admirably honorable.

Make sure to disguise yourself a little bit, in case you ever show the story to anyone 😉 Use the short story framework and really dig into the ‘and because of that’ portions, making sure your character reacts in ways that you would not or could not.

What possibilities does that open up? What will be the consequences for your character?

On Keeping The Story Short

Along a highway near my house, some enterprising homeowner once planted a stand of bamboo to shield their yard from the traffic roaring by.

Sadly, nobody had warned the homeowner about bamboo’s insanely aggressive spreading habit.

Now a huge swath of the highway is bordered by a fragile forest of waving stems that ‘escaped’ from the original yard. The bamboo wreaks havoc on the traffic patterns every time Pennsylvania’s harsh winters flatten portions of it with wind storms or heavy snow.

If only someone had told the original homeowner to plant their bamboo in a sunken concrete tub that woud have contained the ravenous rhizomes and stopped the spread!

Likewise, stories we intend to write as short stories have a strong tendency to want to grow into novels. The best way to keep this from happening is to set some firm boundaries around your story idea.

Here are some boundaries that may stop your story from turning into yet another novel-in-progress

  • * Limit the central incident of the story to one moment in one day in the life of one particular character
  • * Limit the number of characters who appear ‘on screen’ or who need their relationships to the main characters explained. Two or three characters who appear in the story are plenty.
  • * Limit the number of locations your story occurs in. The more locations you include, the more description you need, and the longer the story will need to be, and the more distracted the reader will become (remember, short story readers assume every detail is important. If you introduce five locations they will begin to become overwhelmed)
  • * Choose your details like a minimalist. Choose few, but very specific objects, smells, tastes and sights. Oddly, the more specific you are about a couple of details, the more realistic the story feels (yes, even if it’s happening in an alternate, futuristic, universe!)

Did you have fun with your story?

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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Write with us during May or go at your own pace.

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2024 Day 4 Check in with Julie

“What’s the point of writing another story, today?”

In which I discuss the importance of daily writing practice, sharing my own inner resistance to this challenge (yes, even after all these years) and how I ultimately find joy and fulfillment in the writing…and you can too!

Follow along with all the check ins by subscribing here

The 40-Minute Story | StoryADay 2024 Day 4

Write like the wind, friends!

The Prompt

Write a story that begins with a character buying tickets at a ticket booth

Things To Consider

Is it really possible to write a short story in 40 minutes?

Yes!

It might not be a fully-drafted short story. It might not be a good short story. Or it might (I’ve certainly seen people turn out a draft that flowed beautifully and needed minimal tweaks to fix. Sometimes racing to the end is exactly what a brain needs!).

However, the point of today’s story is to teach you to push through the messy middle and get to the end, and appreciate how that process makes all the different in your sense of achievement, and your ability to revise the story later.

Here’s how to structure your 40 minutes

  • Use the Short Story Formula to help you brainstorm.
  • Set a timer!
  • Spend 5 minutes, using the Short Story Framework. Brainstorm ONLY up to the FIRST “and because of this. Who is your character. What do they want from the ticket booth and is that part of their desire or just something they’re doing while they plan the next part of their story? Where and when is this taking place? What is keeping them from today’s greatest desire? (Remember, their greatest desire really can be ‘a glass of water’ or ‘comfortable shoes”. It doesn’t have to be something life-changing!)
  • Spend 5 minutes writing the set up you just mapped out. You should have reached the first ‘and because of that’ and allowed them to DO something. • Now turn to the next ‘and because of that’. As you were writing the first part, you likely started to have ideas about what this might contain. Make some quick notes and then…
  • Spend 25 minutes writing two more complications (“And because of thats”). Remember, everything grows out of character and the logical consequences of the actions they take. Are they making it easier or harder to get to their goal? Are they going consistently in one direction or taking two steps forward and one step back? • During this time you’ll start to have an idea of endings. Pick the one that sounds the most fun to you (fun can be ‘horrific/depressing’!)
  • At some point during this 25 minutes your writing will begin to flow and you’ll start to understand what this story wants to be. It won’t be perfect yet, but you can make notes about these insights and come back to them, later. • At the end of that 25 minutes, set a timer for 5 more minutes and write your climax and resolution. (You may have to type ‘[transition to ending]’ and move along, if you’re running out of time and haven’t written everything you wanted to write.
  • Tips for the ending: Do you want it to be a happy ending or a sad ending? If the character achieves their goal, it might be a sad ending, but not necessarily. If the character desired something that was wrong for them, and doesn’t achieve it, that could be a happy ending!
  • Make sure there is a moment in the story where the character makes a big choice that exemplifies the change that they’re making through this story.
  • Spend 5 minutes wrapping up the story in a sentence or two, then spend the final 5 minutes thinking about your opening and ending lines. Do they feel like they belong to the same story? Can you tweak them now to hint at the theme?
  • Then take the rest of the day off! Seriously, it’s really important to celebrate reaching the end of your story and letting yourself off the hook for the rest of the day. You can, of course, work on other creative writing projects if you wish, but sometimes it’s worth savoring the win for a while. You know you’re coming back tomorrow, right?

Most importantly of all: if you are starting the challenge today, or have ‘missed’ a day, DO NOT GO BACK AND ATTEMPT TO CATCH UP, today. If you have written a story today, you are winning. Enjoy it.

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


If you enjoyed the brainstorming exercises today, get more like this when you:

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100 Words – Inanimate Object | StoryADay 2024 Day 3

A story about stuff

If you’re getting stuck, consider getting the StoryADay Challenge Handbook It comes with warm-up and brainstorming exercises for each day and each prompt.

The Prompt

Tell a story of an inanimate object in 100 words

Things To Consider

You may want to anthropomorphize the object, giving it a personality and desires and a level of agency that makes sense for your story OR how about telling a story about why it’s important in the life of a character — or more than one character?

(Top tip: if you have a novel on the go, or other stories you have written before, use this as a chance to deepen an existing character’s backstory.

Why do they care about this object and what can it tell you as you write more stories about them?

These details don’t need to turn up in your 100 word story, but probably will inform your future writing.)

100 word stories are a great chance to practice ‘show, don’t tell’, the art of putting the reader in a scene and not over-explaining. Drop us right into the situation and hint at either the problem or the resolution.

Remember: the more specific a detail, the more realistic and universal a story seems. Odd, but true.

A story this small may be easiest to write by describing one moment, but I bet some of you are going to greet that suggestion with a cocked eyebrow and an ‘oh-ho, watch me tell a four-century story in 100 words’. Good for you. I can’t wait to read it 🙂

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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Write with us during May or go at your own pace.

Access immediately. (Will stay online as long as I’m running StoryADay!)

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Two Characters Duke It Out | StoryADay 2024 Day 2

Limit your characters to maximize your chances of finishing a sthort story today

The Prompt

Limit your story to two characters. Each wants the same thing, but for different reasons

Things To Consider

Have you ever sat a a dinner table and listened to two relatives argue, only to discover, when you listen carefully, that they’re actually arguing the same point, just from marginally different angles?

(In my experience this happens with fathers and sons a lot. They agree on the big points but nitpick the expression of them to death, until everyone else slinks away from the dinner table and hangs out with mom and her box of wine, in the kitchen).

In this moment of what seems like deep divisions in our politics, if you dig deeper you mostly find that humans want the same things, they just differ about how to get there: we want to feel safe, to have love in our lives, to have some degree of autonomy, to do rewarding work, to make a difference.

But writing a story about such lofty ideas is not terribly compelling, so let’s bring this down to a more mundane level. Perhaps your characters both want a healthy meal but are bickering about whether that means a deep-fried, but vegetarian meal or one that includes grilled meat and seared vegetables.

As they walk and talk and try to pick a restaurant, their conversation might reveal other, deeper problems—or joys—in their relationship. Perhaps your characters are trying to break out of a locked room they’re stuck in.

Both have strong opinions about the best way to do that. This could be a simple puzzle (how will they escape?) or, again, you could reveal more about each character and their relationship to each other, based on the options each puts forward or in the way they physically approach the eventual escape.

I’m asking you to write this story with two characters for a couple of reasons

  1. If you only have one character in a story it can become very passive, with lots of internal though and very little action, which makes it hard to engage a reader and make them care….unless your character has a strong and quirky voice (and we’ll be talking about that later this month);
  2. The energy of a story is conflict. This can be conflict between what a character wants and what they are currently qualified to achieve, but when you introduce a second character you have many more types of conflict available to explore.

Plus, when you have characters interacting physically and verbally, you have built-in action to keep the reader interested and feeling like this is a thing that actually happened, in an actual physical space, and not simply an intellectual exercise or essay that they’re reading.

Other things to think about:

Don’t give us too much backstory. Short stories often work best when grounded in the moment, with only hints about the larger world the characters inhabit.

Give them one problem to deal with or bicker over, and then end the story. Remember, you’re coming back tomorrow to write again, right?

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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Get the Challenge Handbook, with helper videos, audio and text PLUS daily warm ups and brainstorming exercises designed to jumpstart your writing, daily.

Write with us during May or go at your own pace.

Access immediately. (Will stay online as long as I’m running StoryADay!)

Only $31 during the challenge. Price increases to $97 on June 1, 2024

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The Five Sentence Story | StoryADay 2024 Day 1

You CAN write a story in five sentences. Really!

The Prompt

Tell a story in Five Sentences from an idea you’ve been saving up for when you’re ‘ready’

Things To Consider

I know you’re probably raring to go, ready to write your brilliant, 4,000 New Yorker story that will guarantee your place in the literary pantheon for generations to come…so allow me to reset your expectations just a tad.

This month-long challenge is about reminding yourself that you are a writer, that writing matters to you, and that you can write whenever you want…and that writing is fun! All it takes, to tell a story is five sentences.

Don’t believe me? Try it.

Here’s what you need:

  • A character with a desire
  • A setting, in time or place
  • An obstacle to the character’s desire
  • An action taken by the character that brings them closer to or further from that desire
  • An outcome. And yes, you can do this in five sentences.

(NB. They can be long sentences, and you don’t have to use one sentence for each item. In the following example, I use one sentence to cover setting, character and desire, and use the spare sentence to fill out the action)

When the casting directors for The Bachelor came to town, Cindy really wanted to give it a go, “Not to get a husband, or anything…Just to have a few laughs, maybe meet some more women my own age…” {SETTING, CHARACTER, DESIRE]

“Don’t be ridiculous,” her step-mother snapped, as she squeezed both of Cindy’s step sisters into too-tight, too-short dresses and screamed at the neighbor’s 13 year old son to come over and cut off the wifi so Cindy wouldn’t be distracted from her chores by shopping for suitable audition outfits online. [OBSTACLE]

As the Uber bearing her family pulled away, Cindy sighed and resigned herself to watching online updates—she was sure she’d be able to find some on Instagram after she had reset the wifi—but before she could do any of that, their neighbor Mrs Pharey appeared at the front door, thrust a blue-silk jumpsuit into her hands and scurried away again, shouting behind her, “Remember to book your Uber home for before the surge pricing kicks in!”

Giggling, Cindy changed into the jumpsuit and sped off to the convention center where she was promptly eliminated in the first round of the auditions. [ACTION]

On the long walk back to the main doors, she struck up a really interesting conversation with Jenny, the show’s story editor who told her she was looking for an apprentice if Cindy was interested, and that she should consider coming back to California with them, which she did, but not before making time to return the blue jumpsuit to Mrs Pharey, because Cindy wanted to start her ‘happily ever after’ on the right foot. [OUTCOME]

Now you try it.

The reasons I’m asking you to use your Big Idea, the one you’ve been saving, is A, to take away some of your magical thinking around it. and B, I want you to always be using your best ideas.

Don’t worry that you’ll run out.

More ideas are coming. Better ideas. More exciting ideas. Ideas better-attuned to the person you are in the moment you sit down to use them.

The more ideas you use the more ideas you generate. Don’t be afraid to use them and (in case that is freaking you out…)  You can always use it again later, when whatever you’re waiting for (time? Talent? Magical fairy dust?) comes along.

Artists ‘repurpose’ their own ideas all the time. Don’t worry about it!

In fact, ‘don’t worry about it’, could be our motto this month, so we might as well adopt it here, on Day 1!

Remember, do your best to finish the story today, no matter how messy the middle is. We’re not aiming for perfection, just for completion.

Everything can be fixed in the edit. (Or abandoned. Abandoned is fine, too. You can always write more stories!)

Leave a comment and let us know what you wrote about and how it felt. (As a reminder, I don’t tend to recommend posting your stories in the comments here, except very rarely and here’s why. Treat your writing this month as your own secret pleasure, but do share with us how it’s going.)

Leave a comment and let us know how it went!


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Write with us during May or go at your own pace.

Access immediately. (Will stay online as long as I’m running StoryADay!)

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Efficient Writing Warm Ups

In which I talk about the dangers of free-writing, morning pages, and journaling…

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Just Released: Save Time with the StoryADay Challenge Handbook

Ever have one of those days where you want to write, but get to your desk and…nothing?

Well, I created StoryADay May for you (and me).

And this year I have a fantastic new way for you to gain all the benefits of StoryADay: but spend less time wondering what to write: The StoryADay Challenge Handbook.

With daily warm-ups and brainstorming sessions, this new StoryADay experience will propel you into your writing day and let you get to the fun stuff (the writing) no matter how busy you are.

StoryADay Handbook

Whether you’re planning to write a StoryADay in May or just want to be able to show up at your desk any day, write, and walk away feeling like you’ve flexed your writing muscles, improved your grasp on the craft, and created something real.

​ I built the StoryADay Challenge Handbook so you can get more out of this year’s writing prompts, in May…or any time you want to write.

(And this one is specially designed for the introverted writers who aren’t interested in writing sprints or hangouts or really anything other than getting words on the page and growing their skills.)

I’ve taken everything I’ve learned over the past 15 years about short stories, writing, writers, and prompts, and put it together in this brand-new offering. I think you’re going to love it (and the special 15th Anniversary discount….it’s like nothing you’ve seen from me since 2018!).

Find out more here

If you’re longing to get to your desk more often, and feel more fulfilled when you walk away, check out the brand-new StoryADay Challenge Handbook

Keep writing,

Julie

P. S. Yes, the writing prompts will still be coming to your inbox for free, if you’ve signed up. The Handbook adds video, audio, an ebook collection, and daily warm ups and brainstorming exercises designed to propel you into your writing, whether you’re taking the StoryADay May Challenge, or simply want to use it throughout the year to jumpstart your writing day. Grab your copy now

StoryADay Q&A

Q. Are you ready for StoryADay May?

A. You don’t have to be ready. Just make sure you’re ​on the list to receive the daily prompts​, decide how many days you want to write, and show up.

(A.2. You may want to warn the people you live with you’ll be writing more and vegging on the sofa less in May. You may want to finish up editing that other project you have on the go, to clear your brain for new ideas…but these are optional extras. Really, just have to show up!)

What are YOU doing to get ‘ready for StoryADay May’. Leave a comment (and the answer ‘nothing at all’ is a valid answer!)

Keep writing,

Julie

P. S. Me? I’m neck-deep in writing prompts and soooo excited to show you what I’ve been up to. I have a new way for you to interact with the challenge this year and I think you’re going to love it. Details soon…

Mastering Flash Fiction – with Windy Lynn Harris

In which Windy Lynn Harris shares her genius about how and why to write Flash Fiction

1:16 Flash art comes organically when being open.

6:58 Flash fiction: creative, short, under 500 words.

12:28 Be specific in short flash fiction writing.

13:05 Editing is essential for shorter pieces.

17:37 Essential aspect of storytelling, representing a moment.

19:32 Facing fear, mystery, and self-discovery.

23:27 Enjoy working on soliloquies and rants in writing.

26:56 Background, training influence the form of writing.

29:13 Accessing your authentic voice is essential.

33:08 Writers adapting to shorter work during pandemic.

36:51 Creativity can flourish without lofty goals.

41:05 Distraction in the world, set timer, create.

43:12 First book on writing short stories.

46:12 Strategic shorts can boost writing career prospects.

49:43 Writing needs community for support, progress, success.

54:27 Exciting prompts for daily creative writing in May.

Transcript available here

Other Ways To Increase Your Joy Around Writing

Download the Short Story Framework:

Take the 3-Day Challenge

Sign up for the StoryAWeek Newsletter

Take the I, WRITER Course

https://stada.me/iwriternow

Join the Superstars Group

https://storyaday.org/superstars

Coaching with Julie

Sign up for StoryADay May 2024:

Shake Up Your Writing

In which I tell you the rules for StoryADay May 2024

ntrigued by the StoryADay Challenge but intimidated? Don’t be! In this episode I explain all the rules including the most important rule: Make Your Own Rules!

Sign up at https://storyaday.org/signup

00:00 History of the StoryADay Challenge

01:30 4. Give Yourself Permission To Have Fun

06:14 StoryADay May Rules

06:31 1. Make Your Own Rules

11:20 2. Don’t Try To Catch Up

12:12 3. Don’t Post Your Stories Online (Or Do)

13:30 4. Give Yourself Permission To Have Fun

14:47 5. Seek Out The Right Support At The Right Time

17:11 6. Dance Your Victory Dance, Every Day

19:56 7. Use the Prompts (Or Don’t)

21:43 Summary of the “Rules”

22:52 How To Sign Up

23:03 What To Expect from This Year’s Prompts

28:22 The importance of Community

Other Ways To Increase Your Joy Around Writing

Download the Short Story Framework:

Take the 3-Day Challenge

Sign up for the StoryAWeek Newsletter

Take the I, WRITER Course

https://stada.me/iwriternow

Join the Superstars Group

https://storyaday.org/superstars

Coaching with Julie

Don’t Let Unfinished Stories Hold You Back: Try This Technique

Do you ever start a story only to get stuck, and find yourself either abandoning it or wondering if it’s really a story at all? First of all: welcome. This means you are a writer. This frustrating phenomenon strikes us all, especially when we are just starting out or just starting to come back to our writing seriously. This doesn’t mean you “aren’t meant to be a writer”. It just means there are some strategies you haven’t discovered–or fully-integrated–yet. This week I have a technique for…

Do you ever start a story only to get stuck, and find yourself either abandoning it or wondering if it’s really a story at all?

First of all: welcome. This means you are a writer.

This frustrating phenomenon strikes us all, especially when we are just starting out or just starting to come back to our writing seriously.

This doesn’t mean you “aren’t meant to be a writer”. It just means there are some strategies you haven’t discovered–or fully-integrated–yet.

This week I have a technique for you, that will help you turn fragments, vignettes, and “I’m not really sure what this is”-se into actual stories.

Go to the lesson >>>

Try out the technique, using the writing prompt I provide, to feel te difference it makes to your Story Sparks.

Then leave a comment to share what you learned. I can’t wait to hear from you!

Keep writing,

Julie

P. S. If you want more of the nitty-gritty, ‘how to craft a story’ techniques like this, consider taking the 3-Day Challenge, which guides you through the art of writing great openings, middles, and ends, all in easy-to-consume lessons.



What We Crave

“In a digital world saturated with technicolor brilliance and filtered, unobtainable beauty, modern humans seem unmoored and at sea. We crave stories to tell us who we are.” – Min Jin Lee, Best American Short Stories 2023

When I first logged on to the Internet in 1993, I was thrilled by the possibilities of connection.

When, some time later, I clicked on my first hyperlink (on a page that gloried under the catchy address of something like “74.6.143.25”) I distinctly remember thinking,

“This is exactly how I want life to operate,”

and, at the same time,

“I am in sooooo much trouble.”

Picture me, hunched in front of a mushroom-colored 14-inch monitor, clicking and reading, and clicking and reading, and leaping down the rabbit hole

We Were Warned

That first hyperlink was the start of something that changed the world and I was there for it.

But it turns out I was Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s hat, summoning a wave I couldn’t control.

I was the old woman with the magic porridge pot.

I was King Midas.

We all were.

(It’s 1999, and the distractions have only got shinier! Like my cheeks!)
  • The Sorcerer’s Apprentice thought he wanted power. What he really needed was control.
  • The old woman with the magic porridge pot thought she wanted an endless supply of food. What she needed was ‘enough’.
  • We thought we wanted endless facts, exposure to more people, more ideas. What we need is the wisdom that comes from enough knowledge.

The stories tried to warn us.

Writers Have A Head Start

Yes, we get distracted by the glossy online world sometimes, but writers really do have a huge advantage over other mortals.

We go out of our way to make time to create worlds and characters who wrestle with big human questions:

  • What if I break the rules, just this once?
  • What if I had everything I ever lacked?
  • What if they won’t love me?
  • What’s beyond the fence at the end of the garden?

Believe it or not, most people are rushing through their days NOT staring into space and thinking about these things.

But when they do have time to unwind, they all want to do it with stories: in books, on screens, in song.

Because stories — not facts, not reels, not personality quizzes — tell us who we are.

Your Turn

Make some time for your writing in the next three days.

Use this prompt if you need a nudge.

And please believe me when I say

“You are a writer. Stories are what make us human. Stories keep us safe. Stories show us how to be human. Stories are the way we learn. No matter how ‘big’ or ‘small’ your stories and your subject matter, your stories matter.”

storyaday graphic divider

What’s your biggest distraction from your writing? How did you last conquer it. Leave a comment!

Shake Up Your Writing

In which I get excited about a project again…

In this on-the-road episode, I come to you fresh from a conference, full of new energy and ideas, and I encourage you to find ways to shake up YOUR practice.

LINKS

Critique Week

Other Ways To Increase Your Joy Around Writing

Download the Short Story Framework:

Take the 3-Day Challenge

Sign up for the StoryAWeek Newsletter

Take the I, WRITER Course

https://stada.me/iwriternow

Join the Superstars Group

https://storyaday.org/superstars

Coaching with Julie

The Art of Improving (with groundhogs)

In which I give you a writing prompt and talk about the perils of success beyond your wildest hopes


What do groundhogs have to do with getting better at skills? So much. Listen…

LINKS: Friday Freebie

Other Ways To Increase Your Joy Around Writing

Download the Short Story Framework:

Take the 3-Day Challenge

Sign up for the StoryAWeek Newsletter

Take the I, WRITER Course

https://stada.me/iwriternow

Join the Superstars Group

https://storyaday.org/superstars

Coaching with Julie

Fiction Matters

In which I try to persuade you not to persuade anyone this way…

In which I talk about Mary Oliver and the power of words to lift us out of the everyday.
I also invite you to take part in the January Challenge, a five-day exercise that will make you more decisive around your fiction and every aspect of your writing life.
Sign up here: https://storyaday.org/jan-challenge

Transcript

Good morning. Good evening. Good afternoon, Julie from story a day here.

I’m going to be inviting you today to join me next week in a free mini challenge that’s going to set you up for the year ahead for the life ahead. And it’s, it’s a challenge that helps you get back in the groove with your writing helps you stay on track.

I’ll send you five tiny little lessons over the week and you’ll build a tool that will help you in your writing everyday.

Sign up right now and, and we’ll go from there.

Fiction Matters

But I wanted to. Read you something today that I wrote, this week. In case you are wavering in your commitment to your fiction, in your courage around your fiction, in case the world is beating you down and telling you that fiction doesn’t matter and you should be doing more important things.

I don’t think there’s much more. Important work than

stimulating peoples imaginations, giving them hope. Giving them a respite from the world. So here’s what I wrote one morning this week.

When it seems. Like everything in the world is terrible. How can I possibly justify writing about. Or playing with my imaginary friends. When there’s so much news to catch up on to care about. So many causes to champion. Persecuted groups to try and save. How can I possibly find the time and energy for creative acts?

It’s a real question.

But we creative people must be courageous enough to try.

Because we can write beautiful, inspiring. Terrifying. Hopeful things. That lift people out of their everyday experiences and show them how they are part of something bigger than themselves. Not everyone can do this. But you can.

This morning, I read an essay by the poet, Mary Oliver. In which she talked about Walt Whitman as if he really was her friend although I don’t think they ever met. She only met him on the page. She took him everywhere with her and he lifted her when times were difficult.

And I thought about all the times and places where I’ve heard Mary Oliver’s poems quoted, on social media, at business conferences. Poetry is possibly the most exalted and derided. Form of writing that there is: how are you ever going to make money from poetry? Nobody makes money from poetry.

And yet poetry reaches us in a way that sermons and lectures and essays can’t do.

I thought about the pause, the hush in the room, the sense of respite that her words provide.

In March of 2020, what did everyone reach for, to lift themselves out of the fear and uncertainty that the news was dishing up to us? Art. Stories. Stories made up by writers. Stories brought to life by actors. Stories sung by musicians. Wordless music shared from makeshift kitchen stages.

Humans can be rational creatures, but we don’t thrive on logic alone. So today, please, step away from the real world and create something true. Something that reminds me, that takes me into a moment of being human that I couldn’t experience otherwise.

Tell me about the sunrise over Martian mountains, or the houses where you live.

Show me a morning glory flower, unfurling.

Give me a moment of true connection between two characters when one finally learns the care, or terrify me as another character stands to lose everything that matters to them.

The world can overwhelm us and the only way to cope is to avoid or to shut down our feelings. So please write something that reminds me to feel. Remains me to fear. Reminds me to hope. Reminds me to love.

I realize the irony of delivering a kind of persuasive essay and then telling you that fiction is a much better way to persuade anyone of anything. And yet I’m doing it.

I think your teachers misled you. I don’t think persuasive essays should be called that they should be called. Informative essays. Because they don’t change hearts. Emotion persuades. And there is no better way to convey emotion, even though I’m doing it in an essay, than through the arts.

There’s no easier way to create empathy for others than by making me care for your characters.

So no, writing fiction is not an irresponsible use of your time, during difficult teams or any other times in the world.

It is necessary. It’s generous. It’s healing.

It’s a gift.

Thank you for writing.

Other Ways To Increase Your Joy Around Writing

Download the Short Story Framework:

Take the 3-Day Challenge

Sign up for the StoryAWeek Newsletter

Take the I, WRITER Course

https://stada.me/iwriternow

Join the Superstars Group

https://storyaday.org/superstars

Coaching with Julie

When Writing Feels Hard…

In which I’ve got blisters on my fingers…

In this episode I discuss the concept of discomfort in the journey of pursuing creative endeavors and explore the different types of discomfort, such as striving to reach one’s ambitions versus worrying about not having what it takes. I encourage listeners to embrace discomfort as a sign of growth and progress, and suggest a solid-gold way to make that less grim. I also invite you to the Story A Day Superstars, a supportive community for writers, and announce upcoming writing challenges and courses. Plus: a writing tip about making characters sound more realistic.

0:00 StADa133 When Writing Feels Hard

00:31 On Discomfort

13:02 StoryADay Support

14:37 My Annual Theme

16:11 Writing Tip on Character Voice

LINKS:

StoryADay Superstars: https://storyaday.org/superstars

Other Ways To Increase Your Joy Around Writing

Download the Short Story Framework:

Take the 3-Day Challenge

Sign up for the StoryAWeek Newsletter

Take the I, WRITER Course

https://stada.me/iwriternow

Join the Superstars Group

https://storyaday.org/superstars

Coaching with Julie

Nope, Writing Is Never Going To Get Easier

(…not if you’re doing it right. Sorry!)

I regularly talk to writers who confess to me that they’re not sure they’re ‘meant to be a writer’ because they find it hard.

So, should they quit?

So Wrong For So Long

When I started taking my physical health seriously (ahem, in my 40s) I found out that I had completely misunderstood what ‘getting fit’ meant.

I had always thought that, with enough practice, exercise was supposed to get easier. When it didn’t, I got discouraged and quit. Over and over again.

Eventually I started working with a trainer whereupon it dawned on me (at an embarrassingly glacial pace) that this was never going to be easy…and that was the point.

As I got stronger, my trainer would fist-bumped me…and then increase the weights.

Some training days are easier than others, but if I’m doing it right, they’re always a bit hard…and weirdly rewarding.

And occasionally, I pick up one of the ‘baby weights’ I started with, and marvel at how far I’ve come.

What It Looks Like To “Do Your Best”

Being a writer means always wanting to do your best.

And that is hard.

It’s always going to be hard because, every day, your ‘best’ exists at the limit of your abilities.

Some days may feel easier than other days. But mostly, if you’re doing the best you can on that day, it’ll be a bit hard.

And weirdly rewarding.

And when, occasionally, you look back and see how far you’ve come from those first ‘baby stories’ you wrote, it will be marvelous.

Keep writing,

Julie

P. S. And don’t forget that, as with physical training, sometimes the best thing you can do is to take an intentional ‘rest and recharge’ day…

Through A Portal…

A writing prompt from the archives, to prove that originality is not something you should worry about!

…to the archives

When I talk to new writers they are often concerned that their ideas aren’t ‘original enough’.

Of course, the more we write and the more we hang out with other writers, the more obvious it becomes that originality comes from you, not from the idea.

Ideas are everywhere.

Nobody will ever treat an idea in exactly the same way you will, so you can stop worrying about ‘being original’ right now. You ARE original. You can’t help it.

And to prove that, I’m sending you to a popular guest writing prompt from 2020, from author, podcaster and puppeteer, Mary Robinette Kowal.

So far, this prompt has sparked two very different stories that have been published and a whole novel that is still in progress…and those are just the ones I’ve heard about.

What can you do with this prompt, this week?

Keep writing 

Julie

P. S. If you’d like more in-depth writing prompts, weekly, complete with a writing lesson and a jolt of inspiration from me, consider the StoryAWeek newsletter

The Tiniest Thing You Can Do For Your Writing

How can you take advantage of the New Year energy without becoming overwhelmed? Read on…

Happy New Year!

If you set some writing goals for this year, why not take advantage of that New Year energy and figure out:

What’s the tiniest thing you can do, today, to support your image of yourself as the kind of person who take your writing seriously?

Could you:

  • Read a story you wrote last year and find a sentence you enjoyed?
  • Capture three story sparks today?
  • Write in your journal about why you love to write?
  • Read a story someone else wrote?
  • Write a sentence, a paragraph or a scene?
  • Put some time on your calendar to write, next week?

Pick something tiny and do it for yourself today, with joy.

Keep writing,

Julie

P. S. My Superstars group hosted a writing sprint at 8:30 this morning. (I slept through it. That was NOT the tiniest writing success I could manage today…),but it was a GREAT way to start a new year and a new day. We’ll be doing it again tomorrow. Join us?

What Are You Turning Towards, this New Year?

In which I, rather unexpectedly, talk about dog training…

Are you setting goals for outcomes or simply turning towards your writing more?

Here are some ways I can help

Download the Short Story Framework:

Take the 3-Day Challenge

Sign up for the StoryAWeek Newsletter

Take the I, WRITER Course

https://stada.me/iwriternow

Join the Superstars Group

https://storyaday.org/superstars

Coaching with Julie

CHAPTERS

[00:00:00] Intro

[00:00:32] Where Are You Headed?

[00:03:16] Turning Towards Your Writing, Consistently

[00:05:12] Goals or GPS?

[00:06:26] More Successes

[00:12:02] No More Negative Voices

[00:13:54] Ways To Get Support from StoryADaym

[00:14:25] Short Story Framework

[00:14:35] The 3-Day Challenge

[00:15:51] StoryAWeek Newsletter

[00:18:50] I, WRITER Course

[00:19:39] January 5-Day Challenge

[00:20:18] StoryADay Superstars

[00:21:51] Coaching

[00:23:19] Wrap up