Learning To Make Choices In Writing And Life

Opposites Attract
Choices: which story would you write?
Photo credit: Wayne S. Grazio


There is still time left this year to meet some of your goals. The question is which ones?

You probably had a list of projects you wanted to write this year, and there are only two possibilities now:

  1. You haven’t made the progress on the projects that you would have liked, or
  2. You blew through your projects and generated a new, longer list.

Either way you have a choice to make:where do you focus your time and creative energy for the rest of the year?

Learning To Choose

 

“Successful people make decisions quickly and change their minds slowly”

-Napoleon Hill

This certainly seem to be a trait in many of the successful people I know.

“The only bad choice, is making no choice”

-Jeff Walker

I’ve been writing long enough now that I’ve seen people come along who were just starting out when I’d been doing this for a few years, who have overtaken me. Whether it’s the success of their website, or their book publishing, they seem much further along on one or other of the paths I want to take.

I’m sure you’ve had similar experiences. But why does it happen?

Partly, it’s to do with making choices.

Like many writers I tend to over think things. I tend to get stalled by the idea that there is a perfect choice.

We could beat ourselves up about that, but the reality is, as writers we make choices all the time. We need to get comfortable with that, so that our perceptions don’t hold us back.

Everything About Writing Contains Choices

You choose

  • to sit down and write today
  • when to work
  • what project to work on
  • What decisions you character’s going to make
  • The best words to convey their actions, their feelings, their surroundings.

Every choice you make is a rejection of every other choice.

Scary!

Does The Thought of Closing Down Options Paralyze You?

As a reforming over-thinker and reluctant-decision-maker, I’m here to tell you that, the more you make choices in your writing, the better you become at it.

And in fiction, making choices is always reversible.

 

Decision + Course Correction = Win

Here’s the really important part about choices: you aren’t locked into your choices, but you must review them and adjust your course.

For example, if you decide to kill off a character in your short story, but then find they would have been useful to have around later, you have some choices to make: must you correct the mistake or can you make some other character carry the weight that would have been taken up by the character you killed?

And in your writing life: you decide you’re going to write for two hours before bed every night, but find yourself tired and depleted and unable to create anything worthwhile. Should you continue to do what you think ought to work, or should you review the results of the experiment, decide you’ve learned something useful, and try writing at another time of day?

(Hint: it’s Answer B)

We’re not sculptors, lopping off pieces of marble that ought to have been a nose or an arm. If we accidentally chop off a story arm, we just go back in and add more words!

With words, we can fix everything.

Making choices in your fiction is fantastic practice for making choices on bigger issues.

TASK: Go back to your writing today with a sense of appreciation and gratitude for the fact that your medium is the insubstantial one of words and fiction; and that by making choice in your fiction you get to become better at it.

Don’t Be Too Capricious

The art of iteration (i.e. trying things, adjusting and trying the next, tweaked version) is in trying a new thing for long enough to really tell if it’s working, before you analyze and make changes.

  • If you’re trying to write at night, commit to trying it every day for two weeks (or the equivalent thereof) and only then, make changes.
  • If you change a plot thread or a character, write a good chunk of the story after that decision point, evaluate it, and only then make decisions.

Do not make decision on the fly. Do not change your routine or your decisions every day. Give every experiment time to run, then examine it, and change one little thing, and go again.

Think of these experiments as first drafts. My first-draft version of ‘write first’ allow me to check  email before I started writing. After I had tried the experiment for a while, I got stuck. The experiment (the first draft) had run its course. The outcome: checking email derailed my fiction writing.

So I edited out ‘check email’, and gave the process another try. It went much better.

Limiting Choices

The fact that we commit to writing a story every single day in May, means there is no bargaining. There is no question of ‘am I going to write today?” No mental energy is lost on that decision. Instead we StoryADay-ers leap out of bed in a panic, thinking “WHAT am I going to write today?”

With the writing part assumed, we skip straight to making creative choices, and scanning the world for inspiration.

I advocate taking away as many choices as possible from your writing practice.

Making choices saps your willpower. If you spend your day making choices about your writing practice, by the time you sit down at the keyboard, you’re going to be pretty depleted.

Does your day go like this:

  • Get Up
  • Decide if I’ll write today
  • Decide when I’ll write today
  • Check email — to ‘clear the decks so I can write’
  • Tidy up/run a load of laundry– to ‘earn the right to write’
  • Make dinner
  • Push back my writing time for any of 1001 reasons
  • MAYBE get around to writing, and send the first half of the time allotted, trying to quiet my mind and get back into the story.

I would argue that if your day looks like this, you have depleted your will power so much that it is going to be really hard for you to make all the choices that you need to make in your story world.

Think about Mark Zuckerberg and his omnipresent grey hoodies, or Obama wearing the same blue suit (or multiples thereof) almost every day of his presidency. These people have so many choices to make in the day, the last thing they want to do is waste energy on choosing an outfit.

You have so many choices to make in your story world, the last thing you want to do is worry about reinventing your writing routine every day.

Protect Your Bubble

Now, I know not everyone can write first thing in the morning (it’s extremely rare day when I can truly sit down to write without having to deal with other people’s needs first).

But what you can do, is create a protected bubble of time that is for writing. In order to do that, make a deal with yourself that you will write at a specific time every day (or plan ahead for a weeks’ worth of writing days if your schedule is unpredictable).

And then stick to it.

This removes the self-talk about whether you’ll write today, wether you deserve your writing time, and all the bargaining we do with ourselves to ‘buy’ writing time.

My Current Practice

I have tried to make it, recently, an absolute that I write fiction first thing in the morning. I’ve tried to make it an absolute that I don’t look at email, Twitter, Facebook, or talk to any more people than absolutely necessary, before meet my fiction word count.

The more that has become a habit, the more my fiction output has grown, and the more my output has grown, the more creative breakthroughs I’ve had and, the better my writing has become.

Find Your Routine

You may find that you can write best at the end of the day, when everyone has gone to bed and you will have no choices except the ones in your story world.

Just decide when you’ll write, and stick to it for a couple of weeks. Decide if it’s working. Tweak. Try again. Keep writing!

DON’T BE AFRAID OF ROUTINE

I know we creative types often resist routine and commitment and structure because we’ve been sold this vision of the crazy creative.

We’ve come to believe that routine and structure stifle creativity and innovation, but in fact, routine in your working practices can actually free you up to be more creative in your work.

“Clarity and decisiveness come from the willingness to slow down, to listen to and to look at what’s happening.”

-Pema Chodron

We can’t build the creative space we need if we’re cramming our writing time into the space between all the will-I/won’t-I choices we put in front of our commitment to our writing.

Learning to get better at making choices and sticking with them is a powerful tool both in your stories, in your writing life, and in your life in general.

(Lesson #357 in how writing makes us better people!)

HOW TO GET BETTER AT MAKING CHOICES

Make your choices boldly. Stick to your commitments for a period of time. But remember that, as in writing, you can edit your choices later.

What will you choose to work on between now and the end of the year in your writing life? Something in your writing practice? A particular written project? Leave a comment

Mastering The Magic of Opening Lines

Get the full report here

Opening lines are hard to write because they have to do so much:

Ask the story question; establish the voice; set the tone of the story; establish the scene

What Opening Lines Must Do:

  • Set up the main question the reader is going to be asking all the way through
  • Establish the voice of the protagonist/narrator
  • Set the tone
  • Ground the reader in a time or place

That’s why I advocate writing the first lines last—or at least tweaking them after you’ve finished the story, when you know what it’s about.

So, how do you make your first line reflect all these things?

Let’s look at some examples.  Continue reading “Mastering The Magic of Opening Lines”

Writing Flash Fiction Gems – Small, Precious, and Slower Than You’d Think

What Is Flash Fiction?

There are, of course, as many definitions of Flash Fiction as there are writers.

Flash Fiction image

Continue reading “Writing Flash Fiction Gems – Small, Precious, and Slower Than You’d Think”

Let’s Talk About Flash Fiction

In which I encourage you to write Flash Fiction and tell you about an upcoming online workshop.

Flash Fiction chat, April 10, 2017

Posted by Story A Day on Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The online workshop will happen on April 22, 2017 from 4 PM until late.

There are 10 tickets for full workshop participants (writing exercise, critique and discussion) and 40 reduced-price tickets for audience-only attendees.

Sign up now

Get The Results You Want, For Your Writing

picture of a winner's medal

Get the free Get Results Worksheet,
and catch all the ideas this post gives you

Let’s be honest: fame and fortune would be nice, but it’s not really the reason we write, is it?

We write because we need to. It should be enough but sometimes we want more. This post will lead you through three ways to get yourself closer to your image of ‘writing success’. Continue reading “Get The Results You Want, For Your Writing”

The Best of StoryADay for January 2017

Happy January!

This month’s theme has been ‘Practice’ (as in setting up and maintaining a healthy writing practice).

Here’s what you might have missed:

Podcast

The January 2017 episodes covered:

Stay Excited About Your Writing This Year

Continue reading “The Best of StoryADay for January 2017”

SWAGr Tracking Worksheet – Your Key To Accountability and Productivity

Every month we get together to declare our intentions for the month in the SWAGr post’s comments.

But when the month rolls around to the 20th or so, it can be a bit hard to remember what you committed to doing this month.

Sign up here to receive a handy-dandy worksheet you can download and print out every month, when you make your writing goals.

Swagr Tracker screenshot

Write 12 Stories This Year – A Challenge From Alexis A. Hunter

Alexis A. Hunter Twitter ProfileI’ve always been impressed with how much fiction StoryADay friend and participant Alexis A. Hunter pushes out into the world: over 50 short stories in publications like Apex, Shimmer and Cricket.

In 2017, she has committed to writing a new short story every month.

That sounded like my kind of challenge, so I asked her more about it. Continue reading “Write 12 Stories This Year – A Challenge From Alexis A. Hunter”

Stay Excited About Your Writing This Year

To stick to our good intentions and create good writing practices, we have to stay excited about our writing. Meeting a word count goal or an hours-in-chair goal isn’t always enough of an incentive to break through our resistance to sitting down and creating something out of nothing, every day.

So, in this article, I’m offering you some alternative ways to get yourself jazzed about your writing practice.

'I'm Excited'
Photo: Stuart Dootson

Of course, being me, I’m going to recommend you incorporate short stories into your writing practice, but you can use these ideas even when you’re working on a scene in a longer work.

I’m going to show you how you can stay excited about your writing practice by:

  • Understanding the purpose of your story and how it affects the final form,
  • Experimenting with new formats and new ideas,
  • Focusing on your audience (but not too much)

I’m also going to give you one foolproof way to make sure you finish your stories, every time.

And then I’m going to invite you to make a very specific commitment to your writing this year—if it seems right for you—one with built-in accountability and support.

Take A Break

Continue reading “Stay Excited About Your Writing This Year”

Make It Better – Best of The Web for Short Story Writers, Oct 2016

This month’s theme here at StoryADay is: Make It Better.

Here’s some recommended reading from around the web on various aspects of making your writing life better.

MAKING YOUR WRITING BETTER

Here are three articles on how you can make your writing better to read, easier to sell, and impossible to put down.

Confessions of A Slush Pile reader – really useful article on why one reader rejected stories from a publication (even if your’e not submitting stories to publications, this is a great list of ‘what will put your reader to sleep’ and help you improve your writing)

Hunting Down Story Goals Plot holes are deadly to your story, but just as deadly are the other ‘holes’ that you might not be thinking about. This article tells you what they are and offers up a handy, printable template for keeping track of the important details. This might be overkill for short-short stories, but could be really useful for longer short stories, novellas and definitely for those of you working on novels.

It’s A Story, Not Just A List of What HappensIn which I offer up some writing advice gleaned from watching an interview with Trey Parker and Matt Stone — of South Park fame, among other things. [quick read]

THE WRITING LIFE

All writing is not created equal, argues James Scott Bell, while Ruthanne Reid shares advice for not quitting even when you can’t write.

The Five Modes of A Writer’s Life James Scott Bell talks about the five types of writing day you might have (from the inspired ‘flow’ state, to the solid reliable quotas of the “pro”). This is an encouraging article to help you make your commitment to your writing better: understanding that every day is not going to be blissful, really helps you stick to your priorities!

3 Steps to Writing When Life Goes NutsWe all have them: weeks (months?) when life gets away from us and writing seems impossible. This encouraging article from Ruthanne Reid commiserates, then gives you some concrete steps to take, to keep your writing life alive.

REVISION WITHOUT TEARS

Two tools to help you revise without drowning in a vat of your own words (and tears).

The 7DayStory – This email course, that I created with Gabriela Pereira of DIYMFA, takes you through the process of writing, REVISING and releasing a short story in seven days. It’s free and, if you’re looking for a methodical way to work through the revision process, pay particular attention to days 3–6

Climbing Mount Revision, One Step At A Time – The guest post that began the 7DayStory process, by Gabriela Pereira of DIYMFA.com

BETTER CRITIQUE GROUPS

Critique is a funny thing. If you get lucky, you find a great group and you’re all mature and experienced. If you’re not so lucky, you get newbies or jerks. If you’re thinking of starting a group (or want to make yours better) start by showing them this video: Professor Puppet’s Writing Critique instructions.

This short, funny video by my buddy Gary Zenker, is a great introduction for anyone new to critique, or who needs a refresher Air this video at the start of your group, to set the ground rules in an entertaining way!

How To Ask For — And Act On — FeedbackIf you have other writers willing to read and critique your work it can be really valuable. Here’s are some of the right, and the wrong ways, to deal with feedback.

I hope these evergreen articles will help you Make It Better this month and in the future.

Do you have any tips for things that have made your writing or your writing life better? Share in the comments!


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