SWAGr – September Writing and Accountability Group Check In

What people are saying about StoryADayMay 2014

You’re back! Or you’re here for the first time. Either way, good for you!

Welcome to the Serious Writers Accountability Group, where we post our goals for the coming month and ‘fess up to how much we wrote last month.

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 second Wednesday 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.)

Don’t remember what you promised to do? Check out the comments on previous SWAGr posts.

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

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Examples of Goals

  • “I’m going to write every morning from 6-7 AM.”
  • “I’ll write 250 words a day, minimum.”
  • “I’ll write 10,000 (fiction) words this month.”
  • “I’ll write one full story and revise another.”
  • “I’ll write four stories and submit one story to a publication.”
  • “I’ll outline that presentation I’ve been putting off working on, and create half of the slides.”
  • “I’ll track my time and see what’s getting in the way of my writing.”
  • “I’ll keep a journal to track my resistance to getting the work done.”

Still not convinced? Check out Melissa Hoffman’s Guest Post on what an accountability buddy can do for your writing life.

 So, what will you do this month? Leave your comment below:

(Next check-in, October 11, 2014. Tell your friends. )

SWAGr – Monthly Writing Goals & Check In

What People Are Saying About StoryADay May 2014

Welcome to the first meeting of our monthly Serious Writers Accountability Group (Acronym: SWAGr, because every insecure writer needs a little swagger, don’t you think?)

Writing is a lonely business and, as StoryADay May proves year after year, there’s nothing quite like peer pressure for helping you meet your goals.

Every month I encourage you to come here, leave a comment and tell us what your goals are for this month. Then, next month, check in, tell us how you did and what you’re going to do in the following four weeks. (It doesn’t have to be fiction. Feel free to use this group to push you in whatever creative direction you need.)

Examples of Goals

  • “I’m going to write every morning from 6-7 AM.”
  • “I’ll write 250 words a day, minimum.”
  • “I’ll write 10,000 (fiction) words this month.”
  • “I’ll write one full story and revise another.”
  • “I’ll write four stories and submit one story to a publication.”
  • “I’ll outline that presentation I’ve been putting off working on, and create half of the slides.”
  • “I’ll track my time and see what’s getting in the way of my writing.”
  • “I’ll keep a journal to track my resistance to getting the work done.”

 So, what will you do this month? Leave your comment below:

(Next check-in, Wednesday, July 9, 2014. Tell your friends. )

Help! I Missed A Day. What Do I Do?

OK, so this is Day 5 of the challenge and if you haven’t missed a day yet, the chances are strong that you will. Soon.

So here’s my advice, based on five years of May challenges, a couple of StoryADay September challenges and the writing courses I run.

Let It Go
[1. Cue the sound of my two elementary school aged boys screaming “No! Enough with the Frozen!”]

Let the unwritten stories go and write again tomorrow.

Seriously. This is not so much about turning out 31 complete stories as leaning to turn up every day, even when you feel like a failure. I encourage people never to try to catch up with days they’ve missed. That creates far too much baggage. (You can always keep writing into June if you want your 31 stories!)

Watch And Learn

The other point of a challenge like this is to try to do more than you think you can do, and to watch where it is hardest and where/when it was most fluid. Then, when you go back to your normal writing schedule you will have all these experiences in your tool kit. You’ll know that Saturday is maybe not a day to expect to get much writing done. And you’ll know that 11-midnight is prime time. Or you’ll know that it’s easier to write when you have a plan (or not).

Don’t worry too much. Just keep turning up, keep breathing and keep watching all the ways your inner demon tries to sabotage your writing life. Say ‘Huh, that’s interesting, demon. Nice try, but I’m still turning up again tomorrow”.

If we are going to write for the rest of our lives (and lets face it, we are), all we can do is keep learning!

Adjust Your Rules

Back in 2012 (my third year) I decided I was no longer going to commit to writing on Sundays. I COULD, I just didn’t HAVE to.
Between running the site and having two small children and a husband that I quite like to spend time with, something had to give. Sundays were it, for me.

This is fine. If you decide not to write EVERY day in May that’s cool.

BUT do try to assess your progress on a week to week basis rather than waking up each day and thinking “I wonder if I should write today”. (You should).

Stop now and see how your first five days (which include a weekend) have gone. Decide what you’ll commit to for the next seven days.

Of course, I thoroughly encourage you to write an actual StoryADay unless the thought of it is making you truly miserable. If you’re miserable, change the rules. But keep writing.

So, how’s it going? What are you learning? What tips do you have?

A Month Of Writing Prompts – The eBook!

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A Month Of Writing Prompts 2014


Writing a story a day for a month is a crazy endeavour, but one that hundreds of writers have signed up for every May since 2010. During month of courageous creativity, writers learn how to write every day (not ‘someday’), how to craft a story, how to write in different forms, how to fail and dust themselves off, and write again.
Are you ready to join them?
The StoryADay Month of Writing Prompts book shares the daily writing prompts for StoryADay May 2014: 31 writing prompts, meditations, lessons and pep talks to accompany on your journey to becoming a more prolific, creative and fulfilled writer.
Use these prompts during the StoryADay challenge, or any time you need a creativity boost.


Where Do You Write?

“…I only have to turn up at my coworking space 10 times a month to make it cheaper than a coffeeshop…and here I don’t have to ask a stranger to guard my gadgets while I run to the loo… “and other, cheaper ways to carve out a writing space

Over at my personal blog today I wrote about my love for the coworking space I rent in my town. I jokingly call the old industrial building my ‘writer’s garret’ and my post was called “Everybody Needs A Garret”.

Which got me thinking. While it’s important to be able to write everywhere and any time and in long or short increments, it is incredibly powerful to have a space or a routine that helps you focus on your writing.

Where Do You Do Your Best Writing?

Some people, like me, have the luxury of time, a hip hometown and a little extra moolah, and can rent cheap, shared office space as a writing garrett.

Other people carve out space in a disused closet or the space under the stairs, jam headphones on their ears and pound away at the keys there.

Some people write in bed, on buses, in libraries and coffee shops.

If you haven’t set up your own writing space yet, experiment with some of these ideas until you find out what works for you.

Your Own Writing Space – Some Tips

If you want to try out having a writing space here are some tips:

  • Search your local area for a coworking space or a writers’ collective with desk space for rent. You might be surprised at how much flexibility you can find for relatively little cost (I worked it out. If I spend a morning working at a coffee shop I’ll buy a fancy coffee and probably a breakfast sandwich or something for lunch, to assuage my guilt at hogging one of their tables all morning. I might buy a bottle of water or a second coffee too. That’s probably $10-14 per trip. I only have to turn up at my coworking space 10 times a month to match that…and here I don’t have to ask a stranger to guard my gadgets while I run to the loo.)
  • Office Nook In The MorningCarve out a space in your home. It can be as little as an under-used corner of the kitchen, under the stairs, below an awkwardly sloped ceiling, in the space between two doorways. Pick up a cheap desk or, if you want a standing desk, pop this lap desk on top of a sideboard/buffet and call it your ‘desk’. (This really cuts down on the amount of space you need, as there is no chair to worry about). Maybe order an lightweight room divider screen that you can set up around yourself while you work and fold up when you’re finished. Get a desk lamp to illuminate (and focus) your little corner. Let everyone know that, when you’re in your writing space, this is Writing Time and tell them how long they have to leave you alone before they are allowed to have their next emergency. [2. It will probably take a long time and some persistence before this lesson kicks in at all, even with other adults.]
  • Carve out an Aural Writing Room by picking up a decent pair of big, obvious over-the-ear headphones [3. Make them big and obvious to signal to the world that you are Not Available] and a White Noise or ambient sounds generator (White Noise is ok, but I really like the Study app for iOS, which has soothing spa-like music and birdsong that is supposed to make you smarter).
  • 20140312-112836.jpgRemember, a Writing Garrett isn’t an office. You don’t have to have filing cabinets and lots of shelves [4. You already have books all over your house, don’t you?]. I keep my essential writing supplies for the major current projects together in a backpack. I grab that, and go – whether my writing space for the day is the Garrett or ‘back under the covers’.

Do you have a space where you write? Post a comment (or share a picture) below.

Writing Through The Holidays

ChristmasWritingPic

You’re busy. Or you’re sad. Or you’re conflicted. Or over scheduled. Or delirious with excitement.

Whatever the holidays mean to you, this time of year can be a killer for your writing productivity.

Depending on what you’re working on, that can be OK. Or perhaps you will need to continue to carve out some serious work time even though the 12 Tribes of HisFamilyAndYours are descending on you, daily.

Here are some encouraging words from me to you, on how to keep your inner writer and your outer productive-member-of-society happy together at the year’s end.

What Do You Need?

We’re used to asking what our characters need, but for once, let’s look at what YOU need, as a writer.

If You’re In The Middle Of A Project

If you have an ongoing project like a long short story, a story you’ve just started or a novel, you really will have to make time every day to write. The good news is you don’t have to do much. Even 250 words a day will keep your head in the project and your characters in your head. The even better news is that getting back to your imaginary world for even this little time every day, will be an incredible mood booster. Sneak off to a spare room for 30 minutes, come out smiling (and get the extended family talking about what on earth you keep in there!).

If You’re Between Projects

If you don’t have an ongoing project, my best advice for you is: don’t worry.

  • Don’t worry about trying to craft stories when you’re temporarily overwhelmed with commitments.
  • Don’t worry about writing stories when you have people you enjoy hanging out with.
  • Do keep a notebook or your smartphone nearby and make notes. Capture moments, turns of phrase, jaw-droppingly inappropriate comments by in-laws (note: you may have to excuse yourself and run to the bathroom so people don’t know you’re writing about them). Use this time of enforced activity and sociability to capture all these things and call them Story Sparks.
  • Don’t worry about what these Story Sparks might or might not turn into, just yet. Write them down. Keep them safe.

Keep Yourself Sane By Journalling

We write because we need to get the voices out of our heads, or because we need to know how we feel about things.

Just because you don’t have time to craft short stories over the holidays, don’t let that drive you insane.

Take a pretty notebook with you (keep it safe) and your favorite pen, and just write. At the start or end of the day, or in any stolen moment, write about your day.

  • Write about what pisses you off.
  • Write about what delights you.
  • Write about what scares you.
  • Let your handwriting reflect your mood. Write tiny letters or huge scrawls or in jagged, stabby motions.
  • Try to write at least one sentence in there that uses some of your writerly skills, but mostly, just let the voices out.

You don’t need ever look at this journal again (though it might be useful to drag it out in July when you are both thinking of writing holiday stories for submission to winter holiday markets and making your own Christmas plans for next year!)

Here’s wishing you a peaceful and fruitful holiday season. I hope you get some rest, and manage to keep your inner writer healthy, wealthy and raring to go in the New Year.

How Was Your Writing Year?

Worksheet Alert! I have a new, free worksheet for you! Take a few minutes to look back at what you’ve done this year. Spend a little time patting yourself on the back on this new worksheet for those of us who like lists but aren’t linear thinkers…[read more]

Worksheet Alert! I have a new, free worksheet for you!

We all love the New Year: the retrospectives, the ‘where are they now’s, the ghoul pools, the feeling of starting afresh and of possibilities.

Well, the end of the year is nigh and it’s time to take a look at your writing life. And I have a printable worksheet to help you do just that.

 

Introducing The StoryADay.org “My Writing Year” Quick Planner

It’s a one-page, 8.5″x11″ printable form without any straight lines — perfect for those of us who like lists but aren’t linear.

(If you’re not using a US printer and paper, you’ll need to check the ‘resize to fit page’ box in your printer options, but it should work out OK.)

Take a few minutes to look back at what you’ve done this year. Spend a little time patting yourself on the back as well as taking note of opportunities missed, or where you could do better next year. Capture where you were and how far you’ve come. Scribble down a few plans for next year.

Get your free copy now!

 

If you discover any surprising truths or want to share anything you put down, leave a comment here.

Get a free 17-page creativity workbook when you sign up for more articles like this



Let Me Bust Your Writing Excuses

The last two blog posts were all about what to do when you don’t feeeeeeel like writing (wah!)

This time I’m on a mission.

karate boy breaking boards

Post your biggest writing excuses below (‘not enough time’, ‘my inner editor won’t shut up’, ‘my ideas aren’t original’, ‘my kids are eating me alive!’) and I’ll let my inner drill sergeant loose on them.

 

Ready to have your go-to writing excuse busted? Post them now:

 

I Don’t Feel Like Writing – Part II

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Last week we talked about the importance of writing even when you don’t feel like it. Well, enough theory. This week I bring you seven practical strategies for making it happen.

Goals, rewards and accountability buddies form part of the big picture in this scheme. They are sensible parts of your writing’s career plan. But as for the actual “starting writing” part? That’s when you need to be a bit more tricksy.

Try some of these tricks to shake loose the “sensible”, lose the “logical” and get your brain into that devil-may-care creative zone you need for writing.

1. Give Yourself Enough Time

I’ve always loved a deadline — as long as it came with a sleepless night between the two of us. But sit down to write knowing I have to have something completed in an hour?! That’s enough to induce a mammoth case of writer’s block (aka panic). Comedian John Cleese talks about this in this fabulous video on creativity (it’s long, but worth watching). He recommends no less than 90 minutes as a window for creative work, asserting that your brain will try to sabotage you for at least the first half hour…It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it does point out the necessity of allowing more time than you might otherwise plan, for creative ventures.

2. Letter To a Friend

If you’re really having trouble knowing how to get into your story, put all thoughts of readers, editors and publishing out of your head. Instead start writing a letter to your best friend, explaining what this story is going to be about. Write it as if you were describing something that had really happened. You don’t need to finish the letter (or mail it) because the act of writing it out will help you find a way into the actual story, and start writing.

3. Switch Up Your Writing Method

If you usually write on a computer, try turning on the microphone and dictating your story instead (you can transcribe it later). If you usually dictate stories, grab a good pen and some nice paper and write a few paragraphs. If you habitually write on paper, pull up a keyboard. Just the act of writing in a different physical way forces your brain to fire in different ways. You may find yourself “writing” in a different style than usual, or you may simply jump start your writing day. (This will feel awkward. That’s kind of the point. Try it.)

4. Stand Up

Sitting down is not a natural attitude, in evolutionary terms. Humans are made to be upright, to be walking around. So stand up for a while. Pace the floor, muttering like a mad person about the plot point that has you foxed. If you can swing it, put a plank across the arms of a treadmill and balance your laptop on it (I recommend walking very, very slowly until you get the hang of this). Either way, regular movement-breaks help you write by getting your blood pumping and letting your mind wander. Creativity requires thinking-time as well as working-time.

5. Write Nonsense

Some days getting started feels like torture. It feels like a physical impossibility. Put your pen on the paper, put your fingers on the keyboard and just talk. Talk about anything. How hard this is, how much you hate it, what sounds you are hearing outside your window, the feeling of your hair sticking to your neck in the summer heat, anything. Eventually you will relax (and get sick of the navel-gazing, self-absorbed, pity-kitty you have become and start writing the damned story).

6. Outline one scene

Every story has scenes. The bit where we walk in to the characters’ lives. The bit where they are forced to make a decision. The bit when they have a big fight. Take one scene and outline it. Promise yourself that you’ll write this one scene today even if you don’t manage anything else. Figure out who is in the scene, where it takes place, what the characters want, why they can’t have it (yet) and what function the scene plays in the overall scheme of the story (is it a set-up scene? Does it contain the inciting incident? Is it the climax?). Don’t worry about how you’ll write the rest of the story. Outline this one scene. Then write it.

7. Visualize Success

This is the most hippy, nebulous piece of advice I will give and its a bit more ’big picture’ than the other techniques here, but used in conjunction with them it can be extremely powerful. We are a product of our beliefs about ourselves, so let’s make sure we spend some time on the positive ones. Yes, writing is hard. No, we’re not big successes yet. So why do we do this to ourselves? What do we want? Answer this question then spend some time imagining how it will feel when you get there. Use those anticipated good feelings to propel you towards your goal.

Your goal might be as grand as seeing yourself doing book signings and readers to adoring fans. Or it might be as simple as remembering the thrill you always feel when you finish a piece.

And remember, you’re a writer. It is your job to imagine things all the time. If MBA candidates and captains of industry can use this technique, how much more successful will you, a writer, be?

What techniques do you use to jump start your work on a day when you don’t feel like writing?

 

Need more help jump-starting your writing day? Check out the ebook: The StoryADay.org Guide To Breaking Writers’ Block

What If I Don’t Feel Like Writing?

You love to write, right?

Except when you don’t.

2006_05.28 Isaac tantrum

What’s a writer to do on those days when your inner writer is being a cranky toddler, plumping it’s big fat bottom down on the floor, screwing up its face and wailing,

“I dun wanna wri-i-ite!”

Today I bring some tough parenting love for your inner child-writer. Next week: seven practical strategies to jump-start your writing on the days when even The Mommy Voice won’t cut it.

Tough It Out

D’ya think the dairy farmer always leaps out of bed before dawn, whistling and praising the winter wind that whips away his breath on the way to the byre? Nope, but you need milk for your coffee, so he drags himself out of bed.

Readers, no, the world needs your stories, so get your fingers on the keyboard.

But Julie, you say, writing is a creative pursuit! How can I be expected to turn out something wonderful if writing feels like work?

In answer I say: how will you turn out something wonderful if you aren’t sitting down every day and learning how to get through the reluctance, the fear, the slog? You don’t have to write something wonderful every. You do, however, have to write. Whether you feel like it or not.

Do whatever it takes to get yourself past the reluctance and into that happy place where the words flow. Stay in your chair until you are happy to be there. Your readers will thank you.

Rewards

If you are not writing for a steady paycheck and legions of crazed fans, you need another reward structure.

It IS hard to start and finish a story. It IS hard to face the revision process. You DO deserve a reward for putting in the effort – beyond the satisfaction of knowing you did it.

So, set up some incentives for yourself. Be generous, but canny. Your rewards should enhance your creativity rather than take the edge off.

Examples of creativity-enhancing rewards:

  • -a call to a like-minded friend,
  • -a new notebook,
  • -some guilt-free time contemplating a thing of beauty,
  • -a walk in the woods

Stodgy, counterproductive “rewards”:

  • -a half-pint of ice cream,
  • -two hours flipping through the channels,
  • -a free-flowing bitch-session about how hard it is to be a writer.

 

Goals

Yes, goals. Set regular goals and meet them.

Any or all of the following – especially when you pair them with the accountability of telling a more-bossy friend about them – can help you break through the barriers on a day when you just don’t want to write:

-a daily word count or ’scene goal’. Commit to write X number of words or complete scenes every day. You will progress, even if you end up revising heavily later.
-a weekly goal can make the whole ’goal’ thing less stressful than a daily goal. Struggling on Tuesday? Make up for it on Wednesday, Thursday AND Friday.
-write down mid-term and long-term goals: “finish three stories this month”, “revise and submit stories to ten markets by October”, “self-publish a story collection in 2013”.

Refer to your list as you sit down to work. Remind yourself it’s not just about the slog or the word-count: you have goals for your writing.

And if one of your goals is “support myself through my writing, full-time” then it’s even more important that you figure out, now, how to write even when you don’t feel like it.

Next week: seven specific techniques for getting yourself in the mood to write even when your inner child-writer is saying “I dun wanna!”.

Then, let me bust your writing excuses. No more excuses!

 

So tell me, what do YOU do when you don’t feel like writing?