You can have a fabulously creative month of writing. And here are some tips that will ABSOLUTELY help.
(Really, I’ve been doing this since 2010, with hundreds of other writers. Sometimes twice a year. Trust us.)
You’re not going to magically find time in your schedule to write stories, so you should commit to making time.
- Skip a TV show if you have to
- Write on your commute (you can dictate stories into your phone’s voice memo app, or use a text-to-speech program, or, if you’re lucky enough to take public transport, use that time to write!)
- Negotiate with house-mates for a little extra time this month. Can they do the dishes after dinner? Can they take over another of your chores? Pull their weight a bit more? (I find this a great time of year to teach my children another house-keeping task that —I want to offload— they need in order to become functioning humans.)
- Write first, if you can. I’m not a morning person by anyone’s definition, but I have found that if I can get up and get a few words written before I start on my ‘must do’ tasks of the day, it makes my writing (and my whole day) go better! I don’t get up ridiculously early. That wouldn’t be worth my while. I do, however, resist the urge to roll over and steal an extra 15 minutes while someone else in the family is in the shower. Instead, I heave myself out of bed and write a little bit. Starting the story, first thing, lets you ruminate on it for the rest of the day.
- Write in the cracks: those moments of time when you aren’t doing something else. You don’t have to set aside an hour to write, especially if you have written your opening before you even brush your teeth. Having even as little as a character and an opening line, makes it easier to add a few lines, here and there throughout your day, any time you get a chance.
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Read Great Short Stories
Read a short story every day for a week before the challenge and, if you can, during the challenge. Not only will you learn about the form, reading so many different stories will inspire you pick up your pen.
(This works best if you real a LOT of stories. Just read a few and you might get intimidated! Odd, the way it works, but there you are!)
It can be hard to find short stories you love, so read widely. Don’t just read the collections of short stories being raved about in the big newspapers. You might enjoy them, or you might hate them. Remember, it doesn’t make you ‘bad’ reader if you don’t like the store the critics are raving about. It’s all a matter of taste.
Luckily, there is a huge amount of short fiction available online and off, now. Read classic stories by searching the Project Gutenberg Short Story Archive, sign up for Daily Science Fiction‘s emails or start your week with Electric Lit’s The Commuter, look for journals in your favourite genres, such as Clarksworld, which has a handy podcast, so you can listen to stories anytime, and Apex for Science Fiction Fans, East Of The Web for Romance and other genres, Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchock’s Mystery for Mystery. And check out ShortEdition, the home of the short story vending machine, for stories online or in your inbox. Or check out my Reading Room feature for reviews of stories I’ve enjoyed, written with a writer’s eye.
Another great source of short fiction is your favorite novelist. Increasingly, novelists are releasing short stories that feature their most popular characters. Sometimes they release a story in a journal, but often they’re released as standalone pieces or bonuses for pre-ordering a new novel. (For example, Lee Child released a short story along with this year’s new Jack Reacher novel.)
You can usually find these stories on the author’s website or their publisher’s site.
Let Your Unconscious Brain Help Out
- Set an alarm for half an hour before you normally start your bedtime routine. Stop whatever you’re doing take five minutes to read tomorrow’s prompt. Then go back to whatever you were doing
- As you get into your PJs brush your teeth and applied 14 different potions to keep you looking young and beautiful, love your mind wander into what will I write tomorrow tawdry. No pressure. Don’t think too hard. This is not a to do list or brainstorming session or a chance to outline the story. Just set your brain in the general direction and then let it plunder the topic overnight.
- When you sit down to write the next day you won’t have that awful, crushing pressure of quotes I have to come up with something right now quotes. You’ll find you feel like you’ve already started working on the story. It’ll be easier to jump into the story you’re going to write every day, if you’ve let your dreaming brain think about it overnight.
- Keep that alarm going for 31 days.
Collect Story Sparks
Story Sparks are not outlines for stories. They are simply the little snippets of life you observe and capture as your walk through your day: the funny way that woman looked at you; the outfit the little girl on the street was wearing; a turn of phrase you hadn’t heard before; the feeling of spring in the air; the random smell that wafted down the street for a moment and was gone…
These are all things that you can use to color and deepen your stories.
You might collect Story Sparks that become the spark of a whole story. The great mystery writer Barbara Mertz told me once that she got a spark for a whole murder mystery novel simply from seeing a black trash bag lying in a gutter. It wasn’t an outline, and it wasn’t a gift from the muses. It was a spark that she blew on, and fanned, and worked with, until it was big enough to fire an entire novel.
Try to collect three story sparks every day, and soon you’ll be looking at the world through a writer’s eyes!
Let It Be Bad
Remember: you’re not trying to write something brilliant. You are just trying to write a complete story.
Use Peer Pressure
Reach out to other people for help. You can find people at the StoryADay.org blog, or reach out to your own social circle. Tell them you need someone to keep you accountable, or ask them for a cheering squad, or, if you feel you need it, find people to read your stories every day, so you get some reader feedback. (Use this last one with caution. This challenge is about writing every day, not completing reader-ready stories. Other writers, or someone who loves you, are probably your best bet for these dirty-draft early readers!!)
If you’re stuck for a new idea, write a sequel to a previously-written story or rewrite it from a different perspective. A couple of the prompts in this book encourage you to do just that. It’s a useful exercise!
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