One Simple Rule For Writing Success

Photo on 2011-01-11 at 10.36

Ever have one of those lessons that you know, but you need life to kick you in the face with again and again, because you can’t make yourself learn it otherwise?

I’m currently letting life kick me in the face with this one:

Write First. Then Let Life Happen.

It’s hard to make time for writing. It’s harder when you’re worrying about all the other things you have to do as well.

  • Do you peek at your email before you sit down to work on your current writing project?
  • Do you do a survey of all the projects you want to work on?
  • Do you check Twitter, because, c’mon each tweet is only 140 characters long?

And do you end up finding it harder and harder to start work on your actual writing?

Join me in my new pledge: Write First.

As much as I possibly can, I pledge to Write First.

The rest of life will catch up with me as soon as it possibly can, whether or not I invite it in. So when I sit down to write, I will write first, email later.

To help me with this pledge, here are some things I’m going to do

  • Plan what I’m going to work on before my next writing session begins – I don’t want to sit down and think ‘hmm, what will I work on today?’. I want to sit down, knowing that I’m working on that scene where my main character is doing this thing. Or that I’m going to take this story idea and turn it into a first draft. If I have to plan this the night before, fine. If I have to plan it while I’m driving home from a day of Real Life, that’s OK too. But I need to be ready to go as soon as I sit down.
  • I will not have any social media windows open until after I have reached my goal for the day.
  • I will not give up until I have reached my word count or project goal for the day. Even if I’m feeling stabby.

How about you? Will you join me? What will your ‘rules’ be?

Write1Sub1 – A New Short Story Writing Challenge for 2011

This week I’m bringing you news of a great new short story writing challenge from StoryADay member, Simon Kewin.

Next year Simon and his friends Milo James Fowler and Stephen V. Ramey have pledged to Write1Sub1 – that’s Write One Story and Submit One Story every week of the year (actually, Simon’s taking Christmas off, but still…). You can submit to magazines, websites, or short story contests – anywhere that takes writing seriously.

And they’re not keeping this challenge to themselves: they’re inviting everyone to kick their writing career up a notch by joining in. At the end of this year of intensive writing, you certainly should have figured out how to write a short story, don’t you think?

Here’s an interview with Simon to tell you more. Links to more short story writer’s information are at the end.

What were your inspiration and your personal motivation for this challenge?

Ray Bradbury was our original inspiration. He is supposed to have completed and submitted a short story every week for a year while establishing himself.

The idea for Write1Sub1 materialised during a comment discussion on Milo’s blog and it took off from there. The point is obviously to help our own writing : to provide a focus and an incentive, a sense of community. We’re all keen short story writers and this seemed like a great way to motivate us to write more.

What are the ‘rules’?

The idea is to write a story and submit a story every week for 2011. It doesn’t have to be the same story as obviously it can take more than a week to polish a piece! Those taking part can define “story” as they like : it could be as short as a flash or nano piece for example. It could even be a poem. Whatever works for you.

Some people like the idea but have decided to Write1Sub1 on a monthly rather than a weekly basis, which is fine. Hopefully the challenge will still be a help to them.

How do people join in?

There’s the Write1Sub1 blog to follow and there’s also a Linky there to “sign up”. We plan to do a weekly check in post on a Sunday for everyone to share their experiences of the week. We’ll do a monthly one too for those doing it that way. There is also a Twitter hashtag people can follow #Write1Sub1 and there are banners on the blog folks can download.

Where will you submit?

Good question! The people who’ve signed up write a wide variety of different things, so I suppose we’ll all have our own target markets. But we’re putting together a page of useful resources on the blog for tracking down markets, and obviously, sharing our experiences on the blog should be a great help.

How will you stay motivated (esp when the inevitable rejections come in) ?

Hopefully being part of the Write1Sub1 community will be a big help here. It’s definitely a help to know others are going through the same experiences! And of course, the thought of receiving the end-of-year “winner” banner will be a huge incentive!


Thanks, Simon!

There are so many articles in the world already about ‘how to write a short story’,  but I’m a firm member of the ‘learn to write by writing’ school or thought. (And reading, of course!). This is one project I’m not going to be able to resist, although I’ll be signing up for the monthly version (there are banners for that too, at theWrite1Sub1 site).

It should ensure that I don’t get lazy and forget how to write a short story between now and May, when StoryADay starts up again!

Useful Links and Writers’ Markets

Write1Sub1 Rules

About the guys behind Write1Sub1

Market Listings from Write1Sub1

2010 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market from Writer’s Digest (aff)

Writer’s Market listings from Writer’s Digest (subscription required. Free email newsletter)

Writers Weekly Market Listings (mostly non-fiction, but occasional fiction listings)

Make Time To Write — Because You’ll Never “Find” It.

Time
Time by Robbert van der Steeg

Acres of Internet space have already been devoted to this topic, because it’s a tough one. There are as many solutions as there are people who want to write, so there is always room for one more blog post on the topic.

In this 3-post  series, I’m going to give you some thoughts, some links and some tools, to help inspire you to find time for your writing.

 

TIME FOUND UNDER SOFA CUSHIONS!

There is a reason you never see that headline. Time is never found. Time is made, cadged, scrimped, stolen, begged, borrowed, spent.

There is always something else you could be doing. Always. The trick is, finding ways to make time for the things that really matter to you.

Make Tough Sacrifices

I’m saying this first, to get it over with because it sounds awful, but you will have to make sacrifices if you want to make writing a priority. Some of these sacrifices will be hard.

Today I turned down a walk with a friend, which I know would have been lovely. Sometimes a walk with a friend is the perfect thing to boost your creativity. But for me, this week, it would eat into the only clear time I have to Get Stuff Done. Some of that stuff is mundane, household stuff, but part of that Stuff is Writing & Writing Prep.

No matter how nice that walk would have been,  I had to say ‘no’.  Next week, I’ll budget my time differently to make sure I can say ‘yes’.

Make Easy Sacrifices

Some things will be easy to give up, or at least good for you.

Me? I overeat. When I’m stressed or bored I head for the pantry and strap on the nosebag. It uses up time and leaves me comfortably numb. But if I’m serious about my writing, I resist the nosebag, make light, healthy meals and get back to my notebook. Good for productivity and good for my heart.

An ‘hour long’  TV show is actually 42 minutes of content. The rest is commercials. Why not record your favourite shows or download them from iTunes? Even if you still watch two shows in an evening, you could carve out 36 minutes for writing just by watching it commercial-free and still get to bed at the same time.

What changes could you make, even if occasionally, to create more time for the thing you really love to do?

Accept That You Can Write In Bursts

You don’t need long swathes of time in which to write. In fact, that can be bad for productivity. As someone who has suffered prolonged bouts of enforced inactivity (lack of a work visa, looking after small children) I can tell you that more free time does not make writing easier. You just get more creative with your excuses.

Jamming in 250 words here and there on your commute — a 1000 if you’re lucky on a lunch break — keeps your writing feeling like a treat, not a chore.

Plus, it’s how most full-time writers started. Stephen King wrote after shifts at the laundromat. Scott Turow wrote bits and pieces while working as for the US Attorney’s office. Most ‘literary fiction’ writers have quite demanding schedules teaching at colleges and conferences. Even if they do get to take a semester off to finish a novel, they can hardly wait for inspiration to strike during that one precious semester.

Accept That You Can Write In Big Long Jags

If you do get the chance to write in a big binge on the weekends, go for it. Don’t feel guilty. Some people spend hours watching sports every Sunday. Do what you enjoy; what makes you a better person. Negotiate with family/friends for writing time if you have to, and write as fast as you can for as long as you can, whenever you get the chance.

Separate Your Thinking Time and Your Writing Time

On that note, don’t put off thinking about your story even if you don’t have time to sit down and write. When do get some writing time, you want the ideas to be flowing. You can think about the next plot development while you are doing any menial task (of which we all have plenty).

But do try to focus. It’s hard to stop your mind wandering off to the sequel or what you’ll do with your wealth when people are using your name where they used to use Stephen King’s. Rein it in. Focus on the next scene, the next bit of dialogue, the next plot twist. Make notes if you have to.  Better yet, commit the ideas to memory, then you’ll be turning them over and over until it’s time to write.

Then, when you do carve your 36 minutes out of the evening’s schedule, your fingers will be twitching. You’ll be ready to jump right in.

Scare Yourself Straight

If you find yourself frittering your time away on Facebook or Twitter or in front of the TV when you know you could be writing, take an excellent piece of advice from Jon Scalzi:

“Think of yourself on your deathbed saying, “well, at least I watched a lot of TV.”

Take a moment now. Picture it. Use that fertile imagination of yours.

If you aren’t already sweating, then maybe there is a whole other reason why you can’t and won’t find time to write.

And that’s OK, too. Maybe you’re really a reader, a critic, an enthusiastic conneseur of the narrative form. Join a book group or a film society and have fun with your life. Just stop beating yourself up about not finding time to write.

But if you’re a writer, make time. You’ll never “Find” It.


Am I being glib? Smug? Wrong? Have you found things that work for you? Tell me in the comments.

Writing In The Fast Lane – Interview With AdorablyAlice

As writers we’re curious. About everything. About people, technology, history, our neighbours, everything.

I’m particularly curious about other writers and how they work, what keeps them going, why they do it.

So here’s the first in a series of interviews with writers, starting with writers who took part in the StoryADay challenge last May.

AdorablyAlice was one of our most active writers during the first challenge. In this interview she gives a lot of credit for her writing success to her secret weapon: her friend and mentor: Cid (also a StoryADay veteran). I’d love it if you’d leave a comment below, picking out one thing from this interview that stood out for you: something that sounded sooooo familiar it made you smile, or something you’d like to try in your own writing life.


Before you started StoryADay how would you have described your writing life?

I used to write a lot when I was younger. Sometime after high school, I stopped. It wasn’t until NaNoWriMo 2009 that I began writing again. So between NaNo and StADa, I was still trying to find a balance between work, school, life and writing.

What made you decide to do StoryADay?

Cid. I found out about StADa through her, and because short story is my weakest point, I thought it would be a good challenge. Plus, I thought it would help me get into the habit of writing daily.

What did you expect to achieve? What did you actually achieve? What did you learn during the challenge?

I wanted to write something every day, and I wanted to get stronger at writing short stories. I did write everyday, but I think I’m still weak in writing short stories. I learned about Twitter fiction, which intrigued me, and I actually wrote a few TwitFic pieces.

How do you make time for writing?

This is a good question. And when I have an answer that doesn’t involve neglecting chores/cooking, I’ll let you know.

Why do you write? What keeps you motivated?

I am most productive on #writersdatenight (yes, I have to include the Twitter hashtag). Once a week a group of five writers (including myself) meet at McAllister’s to eat, socialize a little and write. Because the other four ladies have been writing longer than I have, I feel motivated to write a lot when I’m around them. The sound every one typing is motivating. I’ve tried other writing groups, but they’ve been more socializing than writing, so I don’t enjoy them as much. Lately, Cid has been setting goals for me. Write 5K and get a book. Write 5K and have a Glee marathon. It works. She’s awesome.

What are your aspirations?

Well, I’d love to be published and that’ s definitely a long term goal, but more short term…I’d like to finish a story. Well, I’ve finished a few, but I don’t revise. So a good aspiration would be to go back and revise…lol

Do you have a project or website you’d like to tell people about?

Well, there’s Book-Addicts. There are four of us (Cid’s one of them) and we basically review books across all genres, interview authors, have guest blog spots and book giveaways. It’s a pretty awesome place for people who are as addicted to reading as we are. www.book-addicts.com – get your fix!

I also have my personal website, www.adorablyalice.com, I keep up with how I’m doing as a writer, offering the lessons I learn as I delve into the mysterious ways of The Writer.

Thanks, Alice! (And you can read more about Alice’s experiences with her writers’ groups and productivity in this blog post – which features a fun cartoon from my own writing friend and secret mentor, Debbie Ohi.)

[And one more thing: I’d love to interview you about your writing, no matter what stage you’re at or whether or not you’ve done one of these creative challenges, so leave me a comment below if you’d be willing to chat.]

What Every Writer Ought To Know About The Writing Life

I’ve been reading Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook, which is a rollocking, inspiring come-along-with-me look over the shoulder of one of the busiest writers in British TV…Here are some excellent insights for less-experienced writers, pulled from the book:


I’ve been reading Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale, , which is a rollocking, inspiring come-along-with-me look over the shoulder of the busiest writer in British TV. The book contains correspondence (mostly email) between Davies, the show-runner of the modern Doctor Who series and Cook, a journalist. The emails are written while Davies is in the midst of dreaming up, writing and producing not just one but three concurrent TV shows. It has a breathlessness and reality that you wouldn’t get if you just sat a writer down and said,

“So, how do you write?”

I came away from the book with a sense that successful, highly-paid writers have it no easier than the rest of us, even though we daydream that they do. They still get blocked, they still have to sit down and do the work, and in fact, it might be harder for them because the stakes are higher.

Here are some of my favorite excerpts about writing so far.

On Procrastination and Blocks

I spent all day stuck, not writing, because I couldn’t work out a way for the Doctor to meet Miss Hartigan… I couldn’t work out how to do it, where to do it, when. All day, gone. Pissed off. Then I sat down to write, with no solution and… thought of it! Immediately. Obvious. Simple. If I’d started sooner…Ah, the only way to write is to write. For all my banging on about what to do if you’re really stuck on something, there’s nothing dumber than sitting there writing nothing at all. Stupid bastard job.

(My emphasis.)

Doesn’t it make you feel better to know that someone as apparently prolific and actually successful as Davies still forgets this? I know I do.

Finding The Confidence To Write

I was astounded to run across the following line from this seemingly-somewhat-arrogant writer, written the night before a meeting to lay out a new series’ story ideas with other writers and production staff.

Oh god. I am dreading it. I feel out of my depth.

(Now bear in mind that Davies has been working in TV, very successfully, since the 1980s. He has created and written around 10 original TV productions,before he even got to the mammoth 5-series of Doctor Who and its two spin-offs. )

Most of the correspondence in this book is florid, energetic, conversational. This staccato yelp really leapt out at me. It seemed both true and familiar. Only Davies has a contract and a budget and a huge staff of people relying on him for their employment so he can’t scurry away from his fears and just stop writing.

On why we write (and why it is so hard):

…truth, in writing, is the only important thing. That’s what it’s for. The whole time, every day, all these pages, all my life, means sitting here looking for something – some line, some insight, some microsecond – that makes me think: yes. Yes, that’s true. That’s real. I recognize that. I know it. That’s all I’m after! It might be a truth discovered ten million times before by other people, but that doesn’t matter. If you discover it for yourself, then that makes everything worthwhile. No wonder writing is such hard work! You’re strip mining your own head, every day, searching for this stuff – and then those moments of revelation are like a godsend.

The discovery of a truth like that doesn’t come along often, though every other moment is spent working towards it.

It’s so worth it, when it happens. Oh my word. Gold dust. It feels like vindication.

I think I’m going to tape this one up above my desk.


 

Writers: Daydream Your Way To Success

On Writing

You want to write, and yet you find yourself reading other people’s writing, putting off writing, talking about writing, reading about writing… even writing about writing, but not actually writing.

Why Aren’t You Writing?

Writers have vivid imaginations, but we’re not always good at pointing them in the right direction. Instead of imagining what our characters eat for breakfast (or who they eat it with), we fritter away our creative energy on ourselves, our imaginary future careers and our disproportionate fears:

  • Fear of failure (“What if my writing is no good?”),
  • Fear of other people’s opinions (“What if my non-writer friends think I’m stuck-up? Pretentious? Ridiculous? Selfish?”)
  • Fear of success (“What if I am successful once and people expect me to do it again? What if I can’t? What if I can but it feels too much like work?”)

Daydreaming is what we do, though (Einstein called it ‘thought experiements’. Doesn’t that sound nice?)

So let’s take that skill and use it to propel you into a state where you can’t wait to do some actual, honest-to-goodness writing!

Think about your current project. The one that gives you butterflies in your stomach when you think about it. The ambitious one you really want to start but are stalling over.

What Are Your Goals?

  • Are you writing to prove to yourself that you can finish a piece in this style (a novel, a poem, a play, a short story?).
  • Are you trying to develop your style?
  • Are you trying to make one little girl in her bedroom feel the way you felt the first time you read “A Wrinkle In Time”?
  • Are you trying to win the Newberry Award?

(Hint the latter one is an outcome, not a goal. Shelve it and focus on finding what you love).

What Will Happen If You Succeed?

What will happen? How will you feel? Will you be more or less confident? What will you be able to do next?

Take a moment and be honest with yourself. Grab a pen and write down the answer to those questions. Now look at what you wrote and think about what you didn’t dare write.

For those results, isn’t it worth taking the risk?

Now go! Get writing!

If you’d like some free tools to help you explore these ideas more fully, sign up for the Story A Day Creativity Lab: a low-frequency mailing list containing workbooks and practical exercises to get you closer to your writing goals.

Daily Prompt – May 28: The Storm

Daily Prompt Logo I’m sitting here enjoying a raging thunderstorm. The sun is sinking pinkly under the edge of the storm and the ragged flashes and sheets of lightning are so much more thrilling than any season finale on TV. The thunder sounds like kettledrums.

And so, to the prompt:

Write a story featuring a storm

It can be figurative or literal, but it must be stormy!

Go!

Daily Prompt – May 22: Hobbies

Write A Story That Features A Hobby/Activity You Have Tried

Write A Story That Features A Hobby/Activity You Have Tried

The only rule in today’s prompt is that the hobby may not be “writing”.

I have my own special reasons for this — namely: that, as an adult, I cringe every time I see a book where the main character is any type of writer. It seems to betray a lack of imagination. (Of course I’ll make an exception when re-reading books by LM Alcott or LM Montgomery or some other beloved writers whose initials are not “LM”, but for today the rule stands).

The hobby does not have to be anything you have done recently or frequently. It could be basket-weaving or finger-painting. But it should be something of which you have real-world experience and so can describe in minute detail if you need to.

Go!

10 Days To Go

OK, so ten days to go and we’re all at various stages of “success” and we’re all still turning up.

It’s getting harder though, isn’t it? …

(Wow, it seems like no time at all I was posting that headline in my promo efforts for the yet-to-born Story A Day challenge!)

OK, so ten days to go and we’re all at various stages of “success” and we’re all still turning up.

It’s getting harder though, isn’t it? Finding a whole new story every day drains the well pretty quickly. We need to work on staying encouraged, finding new ideas, new angles, and remembering what inspires us to write.

@CidWrites wrote this really helpful self-pep-talk that I certainly benefitted from reading (so thanks, Cid)
(and then she went on to write a really fun and intriguing story that day)

@AdorablyAlice wrote a great blog post on writing during slumps, that I’m sure you’ll find something of use in.

@dorlamoorehouse has an upbeat, celebratory post here that makes me grin and think: I want some of that!

Don’t forget these posts from the Story A Day Blog archives:

Finding Ideas For Stories

Finding Time (and Ways) To Write

StADa participants’ Feedback After Week 1

and the Resources page which includes links to sources of Inspiration, Prompts, Productivity Tools and Tips from Great Writers.

If it helps, why not take a few minutes to read other people’s stories right here at Story A Day. OK, you might get intimidated, but on the other hand, you might just get inspired.

Onward!

Daily Prompt – May 21: Rewrite In The Style Of…Pt III

Today, rewrite a story you have written before, but this time as a dramatic monologue.
Taking a look at the story from another angle is a challenge in itself. Then add the challenge of making the dialogue seem real and you can really have fun with this…

Daily Prompt LogoThis is the thirdin a series of prompts that will encourage you to choose a story to write several different ways. You could choose a fairy story or a tale you’ve already told right here during Story A Day May. Each day I’ll give you a style to write in. You can reuse the same character, plot, timing, whatever works as you import your story into the new style. Feel free to ditch characters, change their names, switch out the endings, whatever makes sense.

Today, rewrite a story you have written before, but this time as a dramatic monologue.

Taking a look at the story from another angle is a challenge in itself. Then add the challenge of making the dialogue seem real and you can really have fun with this.

(NB, the character who is ‘monologuing’, to borrow a phrase, doesn’t have to be the original story’s hero. It could be someone who was walking by and saw the action; a minor character in the action; anyone really).
Go!

(PS Did I mention? Day TWENTY! And you’re still here? Awesome, dude!)

Daily Prompt – May 20: Write In The Style of…Pt.II

Write (or Rewrite) A Story In The Style Of Your Favorite Dead Writer

This is the second in a series of prompts that will encourage you to choose a story to write several different ways. You could choose a fairy story or a tale you’ve already told right here during Story A Day May. Each day I’ll give you a style to write in. You can reuse the same character, plot, timing, whatever works as you import your story into the new style. Feel free to ditch characters, change their names, switch out the endings, whatever makes sense.

Write (or Rewrite) A Story In The Style Of Your Favorite Dead Writer

I’m tempted to suggest Dickens, but maybe you’re more of an Austin or Bronte fan. Or maybe one of those Russians. Or further back? Chaucer, anyone? Shakespeare? Douglas Adams? (Nope, still too soon. Sob!)

Go!

Daily Prompt – May 19: Write In The Style of…Pt. I

Write (or Rewrite) A Story In The Style Of A TV Show You Know And Love

This is the first of a series of prompts that will encourage you to choose a story to write several different ways. You could choose a fairy story or a tale you’ve already told right here during Story A Day May. Each day I’ll give you a style to write in. You can reuse the same character, plot, timing, whatever works as you import your story into the new style. Feel free to ditch characters, change their names, switch out the endings, whatever makes sense.

Write (or Rewrite) A Story In The Style Of A TV Show You Know And Love

I’m not going to limit you, because I know I wouldn’t have a clue what to do if you told me to write in the style of a CSI show, but a more gentle mystery might work for me. Or maybe it’ll be sci-fi, daytime soap, or rip-roaring Melrose Place evening soap. Reality show? Sitcom? Adult cartoon? What do you watch and love?

Go!

Daily Prompt – May 18: The Lie

Write About A Lie

Oooo, the lie. We’ve all done it. We do it all the time, even though we know we shouldn’t. Sometimes we get away with them and other times they come back to bite us in the most spectacular fashion.

Write About A Lie

Is it a tiny one? A whopper? Does no-one find out about it? Does that mean your character really ‘gets away with it’? Does it spiral out of control and become a Fawlty Towers episode?

GO!

Daily Prompt – May 16: Middle

In honour of today being the middle of the month of May, the middle of our challenge, today’s prompt is:
Middle

In honour of today being the middle of the month of May, the middle of our challenge, today’s prompt is:

Middle

Do with that whatever you will.

Go!

Daily Prompt – May 15: Amusement Parks

I’m spending the day at an amusement park with the kiddies.

I love watching all the different people and types, from the loud, dramatic teens, to the young parents, the kid-free couples, the grandparents, the happy ones, the cranky ones…it’s great fodder .

Write a story set at an Amusement park

It’s a setting ripe for drama, mystery, horror, poetry, action, joy and sorrow.

Go!

Daily Prompt – May 14: Skylab

Write a story using space or sci-fi elements

On this day in 1973, the US launched the orbital space station Skylab.

Write A Story With  Space/Science Fiction Elements

Even if you’re not a big fan of science fiction, this doesn’t have to be a difficult assignment. Sci-Fi isn’t all about techno-babble or rockets.

Two of my favourite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation are:

1, Captain Picard is left on a planet, by a malevolent force, with the captain of a ship from a culture that communicates so strangely not even Star Trek’s wonderful translators can handle it. They are in peril and must work together. Gradually Picard figures out that the alien captain’s language is based on metaphors, but he doesn’t share the same culture so how can he find metaphors with which to communicate? It’s basically a stranded-on-an-island, must-work-together-to-escape-peril story, all about linguistics. In space.

2, Someone from Starfleet wants to take the sentient andriod Data back to HQ and take him apart to figure out how he works, for the greater good of the service (a fleet of Datas? We’d be unstoppable, Great!). Picard demands a tribunal at which he attempts to prove that Data is an individual not merely a piece of equipment. A wrinkle? Picard’s second in command and Data’s buddy, Riker, must act as prosector, and try to prove that his friend is merely a machine. This one is called “Measure of a Man” and is a long, fascinating philosophical argument about what it means to be human. Set on a spaceship.

Another example: the movie Moon, which came out last year. It is a psychological thriller set on the moon. It uses a sci-fi setting  to create an isolation you couldn’t realistically create in a story set on our planet these days. And it uses some sci-fi tricks to mess with the hero’s mind and throw obstacles in his path, and none of it is extraneous.

What kind of story could you write, that uses as space or futuristic setting? A mystery? A romance? A morality play?

Daily Prompt – May 11: Irving Berlin

Write a song inspired a song.

Another birth anniversary from the Golden Age of US popular culture: Irving Berlin.

Born Israel Baline in New York in 1888, Berlin was a prolific songwriter, penning some of the most well-known songs ever, from White Christmas to Blue Skies and God Bless America.

While a lot of his songs lyrics were saccharine-sweet, being written for shows, they were all clever and often deceptively simple. My favourite Irving Berlin songs are the ones where he lets a tinge of sadness or regret into them (What’ll I Do? is an example of a both a seemingly simple lyric and real, poignant emotion).

With A Song In Your Heart

(OK, that was Rogers and Hart, but let’s not pick nits)

Write a story inspired by a song. I’m going to suggest this verse (that’s the bit they usually don’t tack onto popular recordings of standards) from the Irving Berlin song Remember:

One little kiss,

A moment of bliss,

Then hours of deep regret.

One little smile,

And after a while,

A longing to forget.

One little heratache

Left as a token,

One little plaything,

Carelessly broken.

But you can pick another lyric if you want to.

Daily Prompt – May 10: Dancing Cheek To Cheek

Today is the birth anniversary of Fred Astaire!

Today is the birth anniversary of Fred Astaire!
Hollywood - Fred Astaire
He was born in 1899 in Omaha, Nebraska and his real name was Friedrich Emanuel Austerlitz. His father was born in Austria, to Jewish parents who had converted to Catholicism. His mother dreamed of escaping their humdrum life by making stars of her children. Fred Astaire started out as a child stage star, singing and dancing in a vaudeville act with his sister, Adele, orchestrated by his mother and promoted by his father. Astaire went on to Hollywood and was eventually voted the Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute.

He strikes me as a ‘type’ that many would see as the ‘ideal’ American: son of nobodies who grows up to be loved and lauded.

Write a Rags To Riches Story

Inspired by the life of Friedrich Austerlitz, write the story of a mythical (American?)  hero. You can idealize the hero or reveal the flaws and the chinks in the armour, it’s up to you.

Daily Prompt – May 9: A Thousand Words

Write A Story Inspired By A Picture

If a picture says a thousand words that should save us some time, right?

Write A Story Inspired By A Picture

This could be a piece of art that you love, or you can go to the ‘Explore’ page of Flickr.com and start poking about until you find a picture that speaks to you. (Do this quickly. Allow yourself no more than five minutes to find a picture. Choose the first one that stands out to you).

Write a story connected to that picture. Keep the picture in mind as you go through your story. Always bring it back to the impulse that made you choose the image.

If you can, provide a link to the picture that inspired your story (even if you’re not posting your stories online I’d love to see what images and ideas people get from this).

Go!

Daily Prompt – May 8: 55 Fiction

It is possible to write a story in 55 words

A lot of people aim to write Flash Fiction because they think it’s going to be quicker than writing a longer story. Don’t they know their Blaise Pascal? (“”I have made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it shorter.”)

55 Fiction

It is possible to write a good story in 55 words (the title isn’t part of  the word-count, but must not exceed seven words), but it’s not necessarily a quick thing.

Still, Saturdays tend to have more ‘running around’ time than ‘sitting at a desk time’ for many of us, and that might equal ‘thinking time’ if we’re lucky.

So grab your idea right now. Then, while you’re folding laundry, or taking the kids to soccer, think about how you can deliver a punch in 55 words. Think about which elements of your story you can strip away to cut it down to 55 words. What is essential in your story?

Week 1 – Story A Day So Far

Thanks to everyone who responded to my questions about how your week is going. I’ve collected some of the responses…

We’ve made it to Day 7! Congrats to everyone who has written anything, or still plans to! And thanks to everyone who responded to my questions about how your week is going. I’ve collected some of the responses below.

When I had this idea to write A Story A Day, back in March, I knew I was going to need a crew to keep me honest, because I knew it would be hard. My non-writer friends a families gave me that ‘uh-huh!’ look and said things like “that’s ambitious”.

With the help of a few people like Debbie, Carol, Robert and Eden, and the Twitterati, word spread rapidly and I discovered that there are tons of writers out there just as hungry for an excuse to focus on their writing as I was. Tons of people who took “That’s ambitious” and made it a cheer, not a groan.

So now, I have — according to my Story A Day Dashboard — 77 new friends, who are all serious enough about their writing to want to do this challenge. Not everyone is writing every single day and not everyone is finishing a story every day they start one, but everyone is serious about their writing and that is such an inspiration to me.  (Sorry, I’m gushing)

FEEDBACK

Story length:

The shortest story people are laying claim to is 25 words. The longest is over 3000

Tips for keeping going:

@mapelba says  “As Ann Lamott said–butt in chair. It helps to listen or read an interview with a favorite author sometimes. Oh, and I’ve given up a lot of TV. That helps.”

@Cidwrites says: “The excitement of my friends who are doing this helps a lot!”

@KristenRudd says: “My trick so far is to mull my story all day, while I’m doing whatever it is I do. I think about the directions it could go, but I mostly think about how to open it. Then, when I can finally sit down after the kids are in bed, the dishes are washed, and I’ve done everything else that needs doing, I’m excited about the story that’s been buzzing all day. If I have the opener, I can sit down and just WRITE (That said, neither story went where I had planned. Characters kept popping in and announcing themselves, changing the story). Who knows if this will hold up – we’ll see! Ask us again in two weeks!

“My other trick was to sign up my kid. I have too much pride to be outdone by a seven-year-old, so I’lm guaranteed to write every day.” (I love this one!)

@Wendolin says: “I keep going because every day I wake up and the first thing I think about is . . . what will I end up with today? I go about my morning chores thinking about possibilities. I make this challenge the focus of my day, and though I have many other things to do, I keep the story in the back of my miind, cogitating, adding and subtracting, until at last, I just have to sit down and start writing, no matter how much laundry there is in the hamper.”

Thanks everyone! Keep writing!

Daily Prompt – May 7: Steal An Opening

Getting started can be a huge obstacle to overcome…so cheat!

Getting started can be a huge obstacle to overcome. Faced with the prospect of having to start a new story every day we can start second-guessing our ideas, our style, our ability…All of this makes getting started even harder.

So cheat.

Steal An Opening

Go to your bookshelf and pull down a book you admire. Look at the first paragraph. How does it start? Is it a description of a place? Does something dramatic happen? Does someone talk?

Look at the structure of the opening and use it for your own stories (this is how apprentices have always learned, they copy their masters’ work, and gradually find their own style). Copy your master-writer’s structure, but insert your own details.

For example, I pulled Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea off the shelf. Its opening sentence is,

The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-wracked North-East sea, is a land famous for wizards.

(Isn’t that a great sentence?)

My story might begin,

The Arcologie Sando, a huge fractured semi-dome that rose up from the rock-strewn desert floor, was famous for producing arcolonists.

OK, hers is still better, but borrowing from the master, gave me a way in to my story.

Go to your bookshelf and steal an opening line from the best. Make it your own, and see where it leads you.

Go!

Daily Prompt – May 6: Field Day

Field Day

Write a story set at a school sports day/field day or other special event where parents turn up and the worlds of home and school collide.

Today I’m off to supervise hordes of screaming children at Field Day at the kids’ school. (It’s what my school would have called “Sports Day”, with sack races and obstacle course and suchlike, except I don’t remember my parents ever having to help out).

In honour of my noble sacrifice, today’s prompt is:
Primary school children, sports day

Field Day

Write a story set at a school sports day/field day or other special event where parents turn up and the worlds of home and school collide.

Work from your own memory of school or your experiences as a parent/aunt/grandparent/child-free-friend, whatever you have.

Surely there are a few opportunities for conflict and resolution among the sack races and the potato-and-spoon contests!

Daily Prompt – May 5: Cinco de Mayo!

Write a story based on an incident at a cultural festival.

It’s Cinco de Mayo, which people in the Americas know as an excuse for a party, thanks to immigrants from the Mexican state Puebla (according to Wikipedia it  “commemorates the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862,”

Mostly now it’s an excuse to don over-sized sombreros and drink Corona. But it brings us to today’s prompt:

Festivals

It’s hard to grow up anywhere without attending some kind of cultural festival, whether it’s the English village fete, a religious festival (St Anthony’s Feast in the North End of Boston, for example) , or a nationality-based one (a Burns’ Supper in Scotland, St Patrick’s Day in the US).

Write a story based on an incident at a cultural festival. Add details from the activities, colours and smells of the festival to make your story real.

Daily Prompt – May 3: Gadget Lust

Write a Story Featuring A High-Tech Gadget

I love my gadgets.

But even if you’re not a gadget freak, an early-adopter, a lover of all things tech, you can’t really escape the stuff.

So today’s prompt is

Write a Story Featuring A High-Tech Gadget

It could be a cell phone that accidentally redials, and gets the owner in big trouble.

It could be an iPad, a Kindle, a GPS unit.

Maybe the hero of the story hates technology. Maybe she loves it.

OK? Go!

Daily Prompt – May 2: Obituaries

…Obituaries are wonderful sources of lifestories, character sketches, intriguing stories.

I know, kind of morbid for a spring day, but obituaries are wonderful sources of lifestories, character sketches, intriguing stories.

I like to think of stealing from the obituaries less as grave-robbing and more as creating a tribute to a life lived. So, today:

  • Go to Obituaries.com (yes, it exists!). Pick an obscure newspaper, Ignore the celebrities. ‘
  • Try to find the most ordinary person, or the person with the most detail. Think about what it might have been to live their life, know them, encounter them once.
  • Write a story based on one incident in your person’s life, including at least one detail your learned in their obit.

[Could you write about Bonnie and a great-grandchild on their first trout-fishing afternoon together? Would it be a perfect moment? A farce? A dramatic turning point? What did the river look like, sound like? What did she notice?]

Go!

Daily Prompt – May 1: Wikipedia Newest Articles

Today’s prompt: go to the Newest Articles section of the front page of Wikipedia…

 

Today, go to the Newest Articles section of the front page of Wikipedia.

  • Choose one. Scan the titles, stop at the first one that grabs you and click. Don’t second-guess yourself.
  • Read the article. As you read, look for some detail or phrase or idea that strikes you.
  • Write your story. Don’t try to retell the story as it was told in the article. Focus on the idea or detail that caught your imagination. Turn that into a story.

GO!

Story A Day: 2 Days To Go!

AKA: What Was I Thinking?!

OK, I”m a little nervous. Two days until we begin this journey of writing a story a day.

But it’s a good nervous. It’s an energetic nervous. I’m like a stallion in the gate, ready for the off. Quivering a little.

Already I’m noticing benefits from this Story A Day project…

starting gate

Photo by:letsbook / Permission:CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

AKA: What Was I Thinking?!

OK, I”m a little nervous. Two days until we begin this journey of writing a story a day.

But it’s a good nervous. It’s an energetic nervous. I’m like a stallion in the gate, ready for the off. Quivering a little.

Already I’m noticing benefits from this Story A Day project:

I’m looking at the world in a different way: looking at everything as a story idea, noticing details, smelling things, wondering how I would describe situations, feelings, people, objects.

I’m connecting with other writers.

I’m blogging about writing and making it a priority.

This might get tough around May 13 or so, but I’m ready. I’ve got my family and friends primed to nag me about my writing, I’ve got a little black book of ideas. I have some backup strategies for days when it’s tough (keep watching this blog and your inbox for those strategies as the month rolls along).

What about you? Are you making preparations? Are you winging it? What do you do when you need to write but get stuck? Are you excited?

Let me know!