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!


If you want to read more like this, let me send future articles straight to your inbox:

It’s A Story, Not Just A List of Stuff That Happens

[South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone] revealed that although they brainstorm and develop individual funny scenes, the key to turning those scenes into an actual story is in making sure that each scene causes the next scene to occur.

…[they] developed a very simple litmus test for determining whether they had achieved the desired causation between scenes, by seeing whether one of two words could be inserted between each scene:

“Therefore” or “but”

via Writer Unboxed » Story Lessons from South Park.

This seems like a wonderful lesson for short story writers.

We don’t tend to think in scenes (especially in a first draft), but applying this test to your story revisions, will make the difference between it being ‘a bunch of stuff that happens’ and ‘an actual story that pulls readers from the first word to the last and leaves them daydreaming about your characters later’.

Key point: as you revise (or draft) your short story, think about everything that happens and whether each is linked by a ‘therefore’ or a ‘but’.

Read the source article for four more lessons on storytelling from South Park.

Write What You Love

All this to say, You Be You. You Write You. It is said in Ye Olde Hallowed Annals of Writerly Bull that Thou Shalt Write The Book of Thy Heart. Truly. Do. Because life as a professional artist is HARD. You have to delight in what you’re writing and slaving away over because there are moments when that’s all you have. Take your craft deadly seriously, but not yourself, and not necessarily your genre. Wink at it, have a total blast, revel and wallow, and be only as indulgent as your editor allows. Try to be objective, and don’t be hurt if people think your cup of tea tastes like poo. With any luck, passion, love and creativity will shine through. For my part, I can only hope the wild expanse of whatever foggy moor I’m frolicking in will bring loyal readers, who don’t mind the eerie abandon, back time and again to my dark and stormy night.

via Leanna Renee Hieber: I Write What I Want! (aka: Ignoring the Haters since 1764) « terribleminds: chuck wendig.

 

Leanna has a very good point.

Are you writing what you love?

First, some questions:

  • What do you love?
  • What keeps you coming back to the desk every day?
  • Have you found your voice yet?

Obligatory StoryADay promo: writing a story every day for a month drives you to try new things, desperate measures, genres and voices you’ve never allowed to fly free before. Try it.

You might find your true voice and your true love lurking underneath all those stylized and ‘commercial’ things you think you ought to be writing.

That way lies fulfillment and riches (well, I can’t guarantee the riches, but I’m fairly certain they won’t come if you hate what you’re writing!)

Join us!

On Reading for Writing – Junot Diaz

I’m old enough and experienced enough to know when I’m reading to avoid. And then you gotta get back to work. And I also know — you get old enough, you know when you’re forcing the writing, so you need to go hit the books.

via Junot Díaz Hates Writing Short Stories – NYTimes.com.

A couple of years ago I discovered Ray Bradbury’s prescription for creativity and vowed to read more short stories. Soon I was drowning in ideas. This is the second half of what Junot Diaz is talking out here.

But Diaz makes an really interesting point in the first half of the quote.

Sometimes we ‘read to avoid’.

  • We read to avoid doing the work.
  • We read to avoid starting.
  • We read to feel like we’re being productive when really we should be writing.

How do you balance the reading and writing parts of your life? What is the most productive reading you do? The least productive? Share your thoughts in the comments, below. Let’s talk about this!

The Time You Spend Waiting To Begin

Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.

via Neil Gaimans Journal.

This except comes from a compendium of New Year’s Wishes from the master of modern storytelling, and champion of creatives, Neil Gaiman.

All of the New Year’s wishes are inspirational but this one struck me particularly.

  • We struggle to find time to write.
  • We make excuses for not doing the thing we love, in case we’re not good enough.
  • We say we’ll be creative another day, just as soon as we’ve cleared out plates of these urgent (but not necessarily important) tasks.

So try.

Try to do something creative today.

Then do the same tomorrow.

It’s worth it. I promise.

Need help getting started? Breaking Writers’ Block: A StoryADay.org Guideis chock-full of 60+ suggestions for ways to get started, even on the hardest day.

Essential Guide To the Best Short Stories of 2014

If one of your resolutions for next year is to read more short stories (and it should be!), it can be hard to know where to start.
You want to cultivate a modern style, the kind of thing that reflects your voice AND the kind of stories people want to read.
The problem with a do-it-yourself reading masterclass, is that anthologies tend to contain a vast range of stories, chronologically arranged from the late 1800s to the mid 1960s. These stories have stood the test of time and are therefore considered classics, but their style can seem pretty dated.
On the other hand, you could grow old reading a random selection of the multitudinous modern short stories available online. So what’s a serious writer to do?

Let other people recommend stories to you.

I’ve trawled the end-of-year roundups and found a number of recommendations for your further reading. Most of these are stories from this century, with a few must-read classics sprinkled in here and there. Names that kept cropping up on list after list: B. J. Novak, Lorrie Moore, Lydia Davis, Elizabeth McCracken, Phil Klay, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro.
Treat yourself to a volume or two, or trot off down to your local library to look for some of these titles.

Powell’s Short List 2014

Powell’s audaciously posted a “best of” list in time for Short Story Month in May this year (N.B. Did we make May the month for short stories? I don’t remember anyone calling it that before we started this crazy thing in 2010. Pat yourselves on the backs, StoryADay-nauts! I think we created a Thing!)
NOT a list of the best short story collections this year, it is however a list of excellent short story collections from the century so far:

The Guardian’s Ill-Defined “Best” List

Not sure what the category here is —  I suspect it’s the editors’ favorites list, rather than a true ‘best of’ — but I’m betting there are some collections (and authors) you might have missed in this British-based list.

Paris Review’s Prize Winning Stories of The Year

Two stories are in the Best American Short Story Anthology this year and nine were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Read some at the Paris Review site.

The Independent’s Best Stories of the Year

Another list from a British newspaper. Includes Hilary Mantel’s controversial “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher”, some Margaret Atwood and a collection by Tom Barbash, a fave of mine.

The Huffington Post’s 10 Best Short Stories You’ve Never Read

Take the HuffPo challenge. Have you read them? I felt quite smug when I discovered I had read the first one on their list…then I looked at the rest of them. Ahem…

Electric Literature’s Best Short Story Collections of 2014

25 recommended story collections from Donald Antrim to Lorrie Moore with some names that didn’t hit any other lists I saw.

Readers’ Digest 8 of the Best

RD recommended these eight collections in the spring (another shout out for May as Short Story Month!). Some familiar names on this one…

BookTrust Recommendations From Short Story Authors

BookTrust asked prize-winning writers to pick THEIR favorite collections. Seems sensible…
Also, check out BookTrust’s online library of short stories here:

Longreads Best of the Year

A subjective list of the best short stories of the year. As good a place as any to start 😉

The Quivering Pen Great Big Roundup

A fine list of short story collections from David Abrams. Compiled in June, it contains some interesting titles.

Hugo Award Nominees 2014

If all that up there is wa-ay too much literary fiction for you, how about taking a look at the Hugo Award nominees of the year for some speculative fiction-y goodness?

Stacked’s Young Adult Short Story Recommendations

Doesn’t it seem like YA would be a great category for short fiction? Well, Stacked has a list of some YA short story collections from the past few years.

Fantastic Stories of the Imagination’s Short Genre Fiction Recommendations for 2014

Finally! A collection that includes Speculative and horror short stories. Only four stories in this list, but they are different enough to be worth checking out.

More Genre Fiction from Jonathan Strahan

This list is way out of date, but worth looking at just because genre gets so little respect in the other lists. All titles are from the first decade of the 21st century. Good additional recommendations in the comments section.

Jason Sanford’s Sci-Fi Picks for 2014

An author and reader picks his best bets for next year’s awards lists.
Then of course, there is always the Best American Short Stories annual anthology, The Best British Short Stories 2014, and I highly recommend the Selected Shorts podcast as a way to have new and notable short stories read to you by great actors, wherever you are.
Side note: apparently Brits take the short story much more seriously than folks anywhere else in the English-speaking parts of the planet. Prizes, end-of-year round ups, they dominate them!
Lets all don fake-British accents (except for me, of course who still has a semi-authentic one) and cheer the patron saints of the short story: the good folk of the UK!
So, what short stories have you read this year that you’d recommend? Share in the comments!

Nov 2014 – Best Of The Web For Short Story Writers

Best Of The Web

Need a little inspiration? Here are the Top Ten articles and blogs posts I’ve found over the past month, to help you power through writing problems, get more creative and hone your craft.

  1. Jungle Red Writers: Literary Agent Paula Munier on PLOT PERFECT – How NOT to get sunk by plot problems.
  2. The 12 Best Hashtags for Writers – Marcy Kennedy – Don’t let social media overwhelm you. Bookmark this useful article today.
  3. My First Author/Illustrator Skype Visit: What I Learned, What I’d Do Differently Next Time – Inkygirl: Guide For Kidlit/YA Writers & Artists – via @inkyelbows – Great insight for whenever you are doing outreach/marketing (esp if you write for kids).
  4. Rewriting: The Middle Way – Charlotte Rains Dixon – A quick and liberating second look at rewriting.
  5. Character Driven-Flash Fiction « Flash Fiction Chronicles – Especially for short story writers: Yes, you CAN have great characters in short fiction, and here’s how!
  6. 4 Ways to Improve Plot/Climax in Your Writing | WritersDigest.com – Superb, though-provoking article. Aimed at novelists but useful for short story writers, too. Just miniaturize everything he says 😉
  7. Writer as Coder: The Iterative Way to Write a Book : zenhabits – An interesting take on writing as a collaborative process: you and the readers, in it together.
  8. Writer Unboxed » Losing One’s Marbles – No More Excuses!
  9. Where my freelance writing clients come from – Want to make a little money writing? It’s not easy but with determination and focus you can do it. The Urban Muse shares a look behind the curtain.
  10. When Your Plate is Too Full : zenhabits – No simple answers here, but effective ones.

Have you read any good posts recently? Share them in the comments.

Best Of The Web for Short Story Writers April 2014

Writing by Night
Writing by Night by bluelectric, Creative Commons License

Every month or so I bring you my favorite links from around the web, that touch on creativity, productivity and writing (from the perspective of a short story writer. I tend to stay away from articles on novel structure, ‘getting an agent’ and other publishing-related questions. We’re here to write, right?)

Here are my favorites from my past month of studying this craft: Continue reading “Best Of The Web for Short Story Writers April 2014”

Best Of The Web For Short Story Writers March 2014

That author is a thousand books to a thousand persons.
Before and After: Do a Little Work, Every Single Day. « The Happiness Project
http://gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2014/01/before-and-after-do-a-little-work-every-single-day/

Guest blogger Caroline McGraw talks to Gretchen about how working a little every day can make big scary tasks (writing a completed work) less scary and less hard.

Tips for Young Writers | Elizabeth Spann Craig
http://elizabethspanncraig.com/1627/tips-young-writers/

This guest post by Aidyl Ewoh could just as easily be called “Tips For Writers”. Great stuff here from “Surround yourself with positive people” to “Consistency trumps quantity” to “Read a lot” and “Find a writing community”… This blogger is singing my song!

Tales from the Den of Chaos: Belief and Possibility
http://www.denofchaos.com/2014/01/belief-and-possibility.html

A rumination on the magic of the “New Year”, which we writers can apply at any point in the calendar:
“…human belief is an incredibly powerful thing. When we believe something is possible, no matter how enormous a task it may be, if we really believe we can do it…we will. As long as we do not succumb to doubt, as long as we are willing to keep getting up after we’ve taken a fall, as long as we see these failures not as hard-stops but rather as learning how not to do that totally possible thing – we will do it.”

Flash Fiction Chronicles’ Favorite Short Fiction list 2013
http://www.everydayfiction.com/flashfictionblog/an-ffc-list-in-honor-of-short-story-month-2013/

Yup, I’m late discovering this post, but if you’re looking for something to read (or for places to send your own fiction) this is a great starting point.

3 Writing Tips You Can Steal From Animators
http://thewritepractice.com/animator-tips/

Three great tips here. Not the usual rehashing of story structure tips or character tips or how to make your dialogue sound real. Instead, this article talks about three great ways to actually make the writing happen.

flax-golden tales: simple steps « erin’s emporium of discount dreams & well-worn wonders
http://erinmorgenstern.com/2014/01/flax-golden-tales-simple-steps/

This is both a short story and an admonition to other artists, from Erin Morgenstern, author of the wildly successful novel The Night Circus. Read it slowly, then follow her advice!

When You’re Feeling Self-Doubt & a Lack of Motivation : zenhabits
http://zenhabits.net/down/

Not writing advice but great living advice that will help you get back to your writing on a day when you’re not sure you’re really a writer. (Hint: you are. Use the steps in this article to get yourself back to a place where you can be)

Action Reveals Character – Books & Such Literary Management : Books & Such Literary Management
http://www.booksandsuch.com/blog/action-reveals-character/

“In real life, it’s not what a person says that shows us who they are, it’s what they do…” Lovely short article on how to make your characters reveal themselves with subtlety.

It Takes The Time It Takes « terribleminds: chuck wendig
http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/01/20/it-takes-the-time-it-takes/

Chuck Wendig talks about his 20-year-long overnight success, and gives hope to the most impatient among us.

Ten things you can write in ten minutes or less – Time to Write
http://timetowrite.blogs.com/weblog/2014/01/ten-things-you-can-write-in-ten-minutes-or-less.html

What to write when you don’t have time to write 😉

Strategy of Loophole-Spotting #3: the Tomorrow Loophole. « The Happiness Project
http://www.gretchenrubin.com/happiness_project/2014/01/strategy-of-loophole-spotting-3-the-tomorrow-loophole/

Do you put off until tomorrow what could be done today?

Write Until You Die
http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2014/01/write-until-you-die.html

James Scott Bell advocates never giving up on creativity, and offers some suggestions on how to do that! (Includes an adorable picture of Herman Wouk)

What Does 2 Billion Book Sales Look Like?: InfoGraphic | Lovereading UK
http://visual.ly/what-does-2-billion-book-sales-look

This is just awesome. Go and look.

Best Of The Web for Short Story Writers – November 2013 Edition

Every so often I post lists like this (like a real, old-fashioned ‘weblog’) of recommended reading from around the web, especially curated for short story writers. Here’s the latest. You can read more like this here.

Write Every Day

http://www.salon.com/2013/11/25/nicholson_bakers_best_advice_writers_must_write_every_day/

Nicholson Baker says you should write every day
(And provides a few ways you can cheat and still succeed!)

 

Four Reasons To Write The Hell Out of What’s Left Of 2013

http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/four-reasons-to-write-the-hell-out-of-whats-left-of-2013/

by Ploughshares Literary Magazine

A funny-serious look at productivity in December (and why not to wait for Jan 1)

 

It’s Alive! When Your Hibernating Story Wakes Up

http://www.everydayfiction.com/flashfictionblog/its-alive-when-your-hibernating-story-wakes-up/

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar …because flash stories don’t prey on your mind the way a novel would, writing them is refreshing rather than exhausting…

 

Finding Focus

http://zenhabits.net/finding-focus/

By Leo Babauta Do you ever have one of those days when you just can’t seem to find focus? When you fritter away your time on nothingnesses, distractions, wandering without really doing something important? Or one of those weeks?

 

Shared Storytelling Challenge

http://isawlightningfall.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/shared-storytelling-advent-ghosts-2013.html

by Loren Eaten

Advent Ghosts seeks to recreate the classic British tradition of swapping spooky stories at Yuletide. However, instead of penning longer pieces, we post bite-sized pieces of flash fiction for everyone to enjoy. It’s an open call for anyone interested, so why not join us?  December 20 is Ghost Day!

 

From Novels to Shorts and back again

http://womagwriter.blogspot.com/2013/11/guest-post-sam-tonge-from-novels-to.html

by Sam Tonge. How writing short stories after writing novels helped her become a better (more marketable) writer.

 

The Rule of Three

http://thewritepractice.com/the-rule-of-three/

Part of storytelling is creating something memorable… One of the most effective ways to enforce memory is through repetition, and so one of the most common storytelling techniques was born: the Rule of Three.

 

What Every Writer Must Know About “Hero Fact”

http://storyfix.com/what-every-writer-must-know-about-hero-fact

A guest post by Jennifer Blanchard In my work as a writing coach, I come across a lot of stories where the hero isn’t being heroic. Either the hero is being saved by someone else or there’s not enough conflict to force the hero to actually step up and earn the title.

 

Secrets of The Phantom Tollbooth: Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer on Creativity, Anxiety, and Failure

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/10/04/the-phantom-tollbooth-documentary/

“Failure is a process … you have to fail over and over and over again to get anything that’s worthwhile.”

 

A Little Bit of Me In All My Stories

http://womagwriter.blogspot.com/2013/09/guest-post-lynne-hackles.html

by Lynne Hackles – When someone asked Lynn for her secret ingredient, she told them…

 

Peruvian Writers Face Off in Lucha Libro

http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/peruvian-writers-face-off-in-lucha-libro_b78563

Could you write a story in five minutes? In front of a live audience? While wearing a mask?

 

The Big List Counts 1,500+ Literary Magazines

http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/the-big-list-counts-1500-literary-magazines_b78692

Looking for the ideal place to publish your writing? Check out The Big List, a collection of 1,500+ links to literary journals around the world.

 

 Don’t Apologize For Wanting To Be Paid, Flannery O’Connor Didn’t

(But that doesn’t necessarily mean expecting to be paid while you’re still learning your craft)

 

 For writers having a hard time

http://timetowrite.blogs.com/weblog/2013/10/for-writers-and-other-creative-people-having-a-hard-time.html

“Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what…