Pay Attention to Your Process

Here at StoryADay I talk a lot about the importance of not just starting, but also finishing your work.

Finishing (and sharing) your stories allows you to improve your craft with words, but just as importantly it helps you get to grips wiht your process as a writer.

You might wish you were the kind of writer who could get up at 5 o’clock every morning and write 2,000 words and then get on with your day. And maybe you can white-knuckle it for a week or two.

But maybe your process is different.

And would it be so terrible if you allowed yourself to start with what comes naturally and build on that?

My Customary Freak-Out

I’m preparing a new workshop and was getting discouraged about my apparent lack of progress.

I had a little freak-out as I sat down at the blank page to make myself start work on the outline.

Then I laughed.

Because the words ‘customary freak-out’ popped into my head and I remembered that this isn’t new. This is my process when i’m creating anything new, whether it’s a workshop, a story, or a whole course.

It goes like this:

  1. Come up with an awesome idea
  2. Mention it to people, who say ‘yes, please do that’.
  3. Do loads of research and get excited.
  4. Back away and look at my project only out of the corner of my eye.
  5. Berate myself for procrastinating
  6. Have a small freak-out
  7. Realize that what looked like procrastination is actually percolation and what looks like me backing away from the work is actually me backing up, so I can see the whole thing clearly.
  8. Sit down to create The Thing, and have it pour out of me in one messy-but-promising first draft.
  9. Revise and polish and get excited all over again.
  10. Deliver the thing. Have a blast. Help people.

The Upside of Knowing Your Process

Since we’ve been through this before, my brain has started to move the ‘freak out’ date further from the delivery date (thanks, brain!) so there’s more time between the messy first draft and the production copy.

But it has only done this because I’ve finished and delivered things (workshops, essays, books, articles, speeches, launches) so many times before.

You Can’t Be Someone Else

I envy people who can work on a project for an hour a day for a month, making steady progress. That doesn’t seem to produce my best work, or make me happy.

I’m reluctant to say that I can’t change that, because clearly things can change. I’m not pulling all-nighters. I’ve discovered I can work at any time of the day, not just my beloved vampire-hours. Mindset controls a lot.

But I suspect that working with, rather than against, our natural inclinations, makes for an easier route to productivity. My process isn’t all rainbows and sprinkles, but it works for me.

Finding Your Process

Your process may be different from mine (I hope it is!) It very likely is.

If you think you don’t have a process, it may be that you’re not paying attention OR that you’re not finishing and ‘shipping’ products.

There is an inherent stress in making all the decision needed to call a piece ‘finished’. There is anxiety in showing it to people. You’re raising the stakes. But raised stakes cause us to pull out all the stops. Extra effort builds muscle. The adreneline rush of promising to show your work makes you strive to do your best work.

The more often you go through the whole process of producing and sharing work, the better you will your own process.

And the sooner you can recognize your process for what it is, stop fighting and start tweaking it so that you can produce more, get more creative, and be more fulfilled.

Happy creating!

Have you noticed what your creative process is? What do you do that other people might not recognize as forward progress? Leave a comment!

SWAGr for May 2021

It’s that time again: make your writing commitments for the month with the Serious Writers’ Accountability Group

Welcome to the Serious Writers’ Accountability Group!

Post your goals for this month and let us know how you got on with last month’s goals.

I’m pretty sure I know what ONE of your goals might be this month 🙂

Serious Writers' Accountability Group

Leave a comment below telling us how you got on last month, and what you plan to do next month, then check back in on the first of each month, to see how everyone’s doing.

(It doesn’t have to be fiction. Feel free to use this group to push you in whatever creative direction you need.)

Did you live up to your commitment from last month? Don’t remember what you promised to do? Check out the comments from last month.

And don’t forget to celebrate with/encourage your fellow SWAGr-ers on their progress!

Download your SWAGr Tracking Sheet now, to keep track of your commitments this month

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Examples of Goals Set By SWAGr-ers in previous months

  • Finish first draft of story and write 3 articles for my school paper. – Courtney
  • Write on seven days this month – Clare
  • Extend my reading and to read with a ‘writers eye’- Wendy
  • write 10,000 words – Mary Lou

 So, what will you accomplish this month? Leave your comment below (use the drop-down option to subscribe to the comments and receive lovely, encouraging notifications from fellow StADa SWAGr-ers!)

(Next check-in, 1st of the month. Tell your friends!)

A Recipe for Success During StoryADay

In this guest post, StoryADay Superstar Leslie Stack shares her recipe for success during the StoryADay challenge: Story Sparks

Story Sparks logs in a box
photo credit: Chris Stack

This is my fourth year participating in Julie Duffy’s StoryADay May and it has truly been instrumental in jumpstarting and refocusing my writing.

Whether it was in May or September, I found my writing grow in meaning, technique, and purpose.

Sparking Stories

One of the difficulties of this writing challenge is thinking of a fresh idea every day.

To help me with this, I use both the daily writing prompts and Julie’s Story Spark Notes.

Continue reading “A Recipe for Success During StoryADay”

[Write On Wednesday] The Not-Writing Prompt

Sometimes ‘writing’ doesn’t meant putting words on the page. Today’s prompt is designed to help you get comfortable with this reality of life as a writer.

(For more on this idea, read “Does Thinking Count As Writing?“)

"Win" illustration

The Prompt

Pick and implement a ‘tiny win’ for today, that doesn’t involve writing new words.

Tips

It’s very important to feel the reality that not everything in a writer’s life is about adding words.

These suggestions are designed to help you carve our time not just for writing, but for ‘writing’ (all the other stuff that goes with it).

Choose from one thing from this list (or make up something similar) and carve out 15-20 minutes to focus on it. Turn off all your notifications and just allow yourself to focus.

Then report back, to let us know what you did, and to celebrate!

  • Find a tiny notebook in your stash (you know you have a notebook stash!) and commit to carrying it with you every day for a week, so you can capture ideas. Start by writing down something you can see, hear, taste, touch and smell right where you are, right now.
  • Read a story by someone else and write down everything you love and hate about it.
  • Go for a walk or get some other kind of exercise that gets your blood pumping. Bonus points for getting out of your usual space. (Your brain is connected to the rest of your body. Take care of them!)
  • Write a review of a book you loved and always meant to get around to reviewing. Bonus points: write a letter to the author, if they’re still with us (you can send it to the publisher listed in their books). Connecting to the rest of the writing world builds your commitment to your craft, and reminds you that authors are just people. Hey, you’re a person! Maybe you DO have a right to write, too!
  • Ask another writer how they’re doing. This can be someone who seems to be doing “so much better” than you. (Connect on Twitter or some other social media site.) Trust me they’ll appreciate it. And again, building your connections with the greater writing world will help you feel more committed, and stop you from slinking off and saying “I could never be a real writer so I might as well not try”. Of course you can be a writer. And having connections with people in the writing world helps remind you of that.
  • Revise a short story or scene that you’ve previously written. Focus on crafting one sentence you really love, somewhere in that piece.
  • Rework a story or scene to cut it down by 10% of its word count. Be ruthless (work on a copy if you have to!). What does that do for the story and your prose?
  • Set a timer and spend 20 minutes (no more! It’s a rabbit hole!) researching publications you might want to send stories to.
  • Doodle or illustrate a story you previously write. You might draw a portrait of a main character, sketch the house they live in, or splash colors on the page to represent their personality.
  • Make a Pinterest board of interesting characters and places you can use in stories (thanks to MoniqueAC for this suggestion!). Again, set a timer, because this is meant to be a tiny win, not a new lifetime project!
  • Go on–or book–what Julia Cameron calls an Artist’s Date. What inspires you? For me it’s often music. For you, it might be art. Can you book an outing now, to an art museum, a live music concert, a play? Can you put a time on your calendar to walk in your favorite park, or call your funniest friend?

What other tiny wins can you think of? What did you try and how did it go? Leave a comment and share your ideas!

Writers: Burn Your Business Cards

‘Creative’ is not a noun…Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title, not the work.”

Austin Kleon, Keep Going

I read Chapter 3 of Kleon’s latest book this morning and it stopped me in my tracks.

Not because I didn’t know and understand what he said.

I have, after all, made a name for myself as the person who entices writers to actually write during May & September every year.

But because it made me wonder: am I actually doing the verb?

diary writing

What Do You Do All Day?

Continue reading “Writers: Burn Your Business Cards”

Why Can’t You Write That Story?

dyslexia
Sometimes its hard to write.

Even when you want to.

Even when you’ve started a story.

Maybe your story wanders off the point and you get lost in the mushy middle. Or maybe your story immediately wants to become a novel. Perhaps you get interrupted and lose your mojo.

I’d love to hear from you. What happened last time you started a story and didn’t finish? What stalled you last time you sat down to write and couldn’t.

Leave a comment here and let’s get a discussion going about what goes wrong and what we can do about that.

 

How To Write A StoryADay – Tips For Success

How To Write A StoryADay For A Month

I. Use the site during the StoryADay May challenge, to find prompts and to find community (either in the blog post comments or in the community forums. (Come back on April 25 to get access, or get on the mailing list now!)

It can be fun to go online and chat with other people about how they use each day’s prompt.

II. If May doesn’t work for you, bookmark this site and use the prompts for a personal month of short story writing at any time of the year, whenever your schedule allows. Simply come back and look up the prompts, write your stories,. I recommend telling a few friends what you’re doing to help with the accountability part.

III. For your best chance at success,  get together with your In Real Life writing group and go through the challenge together.

The Rules Of The Challenge

Q. Do I have to write 31 stories in 31 days?

A. No. Since the StoryADay May challenge began in 2010 I have always said: make your own rules. For some people, the challenge of writing a story every day is the thing that excites them the most and helps them to embrace the challenge. For other people it’s unrealistic. Those writers simply decide how many days this month they’re going to write.

The key is to make your own rules and then stick to them. Some years, for example, I take Sundays off.

Q. Do I have to complete the stories in a day?

A. Yes. This is the only place where I am quite strict. There is a power in finishing a story and so I encourage you to push through to the end of your story every day.

This does not mean writing a brilliant draft.

Sometimes you have to cheat. You can write “[something clever happens here]” and then sketch out a resolution and final paragraph if that’s what it takes to get used to the end of the story. Doing this at least teaches you to keep the mood to keep the story moving towards a place of resolution.

Q. What do I do if I miss a day?

A. Move on. Don’t try to catch up. Don’t try to beat yourself up. Do try to figure out what went wrong. Did you want time? Did you get lost in the muddy middle? Did you leave your writing until the last moment and then freeze? Spend a couple of minutes figuring out what wrong and then try to accept it, learn from it and move on. This is not a failure. This is you becoming a dedicated writer. As long as you keep coming back to the page, you’re not failing.

Q. Do I have to post my stories online?

Absolutely not. You don’t have to show them to anyone. This is a safe space, a sandbox, a place for you to play with learning about writing stories. You have the freedom here to be bad. In fact some days I’m going to tell you to go over the top, straight into parody, write whatever you want to have rough. You should feel free to write whatever you need to write to learn your craft without fear of anyone over your shoulder.

Q. Then how do I stay accountable?

Make your challenge public. Either take part in the challenge at storyaday.org during May and September where you can post in the victory dance group or in the blog comments of the prompt itself. The community will congratulate you!

Or tell your friends. Promise to email or tweet or Facebook or Instagram every day as soon as you finish writing. Knowing that people are waiting for that post will keep you honest.

Q. What length should the stories be?

A. If you’re writing a fresh story every day, you’re probably going to be writing very short stories. Some people can bang out 3,000 word stories every day, but in my experience, they are rare. Most people write between 100 and 1200 word stories — flash fiction. You could decide to write a 140-character, Twitter-length story every day, and still be writing a story a day. (Me? Some years I comment to a 100 word story every day).

Just as long as you have a beginning, a middle and an end (not necessarily in that order, and, in a super-short story, one of those can be “off-stage” or implied); a character; a sense that something is happening or changing (even for an instant), then you have a story!

Q. Do you have any other books or courses that can help me well I learned to write stories?

A. Yes, I’m so glad you asked. You can find more books of writing prompts, along with workshops and e-books about finding time to write, becoming a better writer, publishing short story collections yourself, in the StoryADay Shop.

**Q. How can I find it more about StoryADay?

A. Sign up for updates

Q. Any other tips for story of the success?

Yes, come back to the site often. Listen to the Podcast, and sign up for updates.

 

Get The Results You Want, For Your Writing

picture of a winner's medal

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”

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”