Happy People-Watching Season!

During the busy holiday season (when did October-Jan become ‘the holiday season?!) we’re all overwhelmed with inboxes full of holiday greetings, people trying to sell us things, and the inevitable (endless) invitations to social events. (or a feeling of nostalgia for the days when we used to get more invitations…).

This is just a quick love-note from me to encourage you, in case you’re feeling like you’ll never have time to write on your work-in-progress again.

This is actually a great time for writers:

  • All those people getting together and interacting in ways they wouldn’t on a normal day? Fuel for your next crowd scene!
  • All those smells and tastes and sights that only come around once a year? Grab a notebook and capture the exact words that you can use later to recreate a similar scene in your fictional world (a quick trip to the bathroom can be your friend, here!)
  • All the feelings inside you, as you wait anxiously or excitedly for your celebration to begin? Pinpoint where they are happening in your body and how they manifest. Write them down and give them to a character (a great way to go beyond ‘she gasped’ and ‘his eyes widened’!)

Grab your notebook. Stay hydrated. Take breaks (get outside if you can) and try to remember: it’s all material!

Keep writing,


P. S. StoryADay’s 15th year is coming up in 2024 and I’d love to see it back on the Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers list for the anniversary, so if you’ve ever taken part or gained any inspiration from the StoryADay blog, podcast, emails or challenges you can let Writer’s Digest know here.

[Reading Room] There’s No Such Place As Bedford Falls by Joanne Harris

The Reading Room is a series of posts analyzing short stories I have read, with a writer’s eye.

This Christmas story was first published in the UK’s The Telegraph newspaper in 2007.

Opening Line

It’s six in the morning, and Santa’s on the blink.

This certainly fulfills my need for an opening line to be intriguing. (The phrase ‘on the blink’, means ‘malfunctioning’ for those not raised in the UK!)

Of course, the story very quickly delivers on the line. The Santa in question is a light-up decoration (hooray, for a double-meaning for the phrase ‘on the blink’! I’m seeing blinking lights now). Continue reading “[Reading Room] There’s No Such Place As Bedford Falls by Joanne Harris”

[Writing Prompt] It’s Time For Holiday Stories

It’s Write On Wednesday Day! (That’s really clumsy. I’m going to have to never do that again!)

Thanksgiving dinner decor
Photo by Karin Dalziel

The Nov/Dec/Jan holiday season is fast approaching. I know you don’t want to think about it, but if you’re interested in putting out a short story for the holidays, this is actually kind of last minute.

Publications have long lead times for date-specific stories, so if your holiday stories aren’t already written, now’s the time. Magazines and online pubs LOVE themed stories (Christmas stories; New Year issues; Thanksgiving horror stories!).

Or perhaps you’d like to create a story for friends and family to say thanks for all their support (or: na-na-na-na-na-na-you-see-I-wasnt-lying-around-watching-daytime-TV-all-year).

The Prompt

Write a story tied to a Nov/Dec/Jan holiday


  • You can use this to flesh out characters from a longer work in progress.
  • You can include characters from your real life.
  • You can use this as a calling card/thank you note/Christmas letter if you send holiday greetings cards
  • Mine your own memories, but don’t feel you have to write memoir. Take an incident from one of your family holidays and recast it on a steampunk airship or a city made of living bone towers or at the Tudor court.
  • Don’t feel it has to be a narrative story. One of the delights of the short story form is that it can be much more than that. Consider writing a list of holiday gifts your character has to buy, complete with passive-aggressive commentary; or a series of increasingly frantic tweets from the Thanksgiving dinner table…
  • Create a compelling character and set them in a ridiculous situation, or a ridiculous character and put them in a banal situation.

Have fun with this. Amuse yourself. Remember, nobody ever has to see this story, so you can be as cruel or as kind as you like!

[Write On Wednesday] Holiday Story

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 5.12.57 PMIf you haven’t written a story for the the Nov/Dec holiday-of-your-choice, now’s the time.

The Prompt

Write a Christmas/Other Religiously-Affiliated Seasonal Story, a Thanksgiving Story, or a New Year Story To Include With Your Seasonal Greetings Cards.


  • Write a short piece that you could include with your holiday cards instead of the dreaded ‘family update’ letter.
  • Think about a few of your friends and what kind of story they’d appreciate (make it your most fun/twisted/dearest friends)
  • Keep the story to about 500 words, so it fits on one side of a printed page.
  • You don’t have to actually send the story, just imagine delighting these particular people, as you write.
  • Feel free to send it to them, with a note saying you were thinking of them.
  • You could do a parody of a traditional seasonal story, or a parody of the family update letter.
  • You could write a sweet, sentimental seasonal story, or a dark piece especially for the friend who you know hates the holidays (especially useful as cathartic therapy when you’ve been out trying to shop in the holiday crowds!)
  • You can post it as your holiday greeting on Facebook or your blog.
  • Get creative. Let loose.


P.S. I collected a few of my holiday stories into a little ebook collection. You could try this too!

[Write On Wednesday] Christmas Redux

It’s the perfect time to write a Christmas/New Year/Winter story!

Don’t believe me? Take a lesson from the wily Dutch.

Everybody knows that the time to plant spring bulbs is in the autumn and yet every spring I receive multiple catalogues from dutch tulip and daffodil distributors. Six months after (or before) I should (have) plant(ed) their products. What lunacy is this?

The bulb marketers know that in spring I’m experiencing floral beauty and regretting not having planted more bulbs last year. It’s all fresh. I can see where I could put this Red Matador and that Orange Empress to fill a scraggy gap in my flower beds. I am full of good intentions about next year.

And, in January, is that not how you feel? As you pack away the holiday decorations, are you not full of regret over the things not done? The gifts unsought? The cards unsent? Is the memory of your brother-in-law’s annual jokes about your dessert not fresh in your memory?

Indeed. So now is the perfect time to write a story set in the season we have just endured enjoyed.

The Prompt

Write A December/Jan Holiday Story[1. No, I’m not conducting a War on Christmas. I, myself, celebrate Christmas. I just feel it’s polite to acknowledge the other 68% of humanity. It has less punch than “write a Christmas story”, I grant you. But if that’s the price for doing unto others, then I’m willing to pay it here in my blog…]


  • Think back over this past season and watch for strong emotions that pop up. What are they related to? Regrets? Vows of ‘never again’? Longing for next year’s repeat? Write those things down.
  • Think of moments that stood out for you. Why? What was the emotional resonance?
  • Think of a character you can put in a seasonal story who wants something. It can be something that is in tune with the message of the season or at odds with it, but they must feel strongly about it.
  • Now go about messing with their day. Put obstacles in their path. Put obnoxious visitors underfoot. Burn the turkey. Send in the ghosts of Christmas to settle their hash. Whatever works for your story…


There. Now you have a story ready to post on your blog/submit to a seasonal publication in early autumn/send out with your Christmas cards next Black Friday (you are going to send Christmas cards next year, aren’t you? Unlike this year? I know, I know, it’ll be our little secret…)

Now, excuse me while I check my mailbox for the Breck’s Bulb Catalogue…



(Do you send out a holiday story in seasonal cards to your friends? Make a note now on your calendar to do this next year!)

[Writing Prompt] A Holiday Story

And yes, I do mean the winter/Christmas/Thanksgiving/Hannukka/Samhain/Diwali/Hogmanay/New Year/Kwanzaa/Chinese New Year/Solstice/Saturnalia/Festivus November/December/January type of holiday.

If you ever think of submitting your stories to literary magazines, contests, anthologies, or other publications, you need to know two things:

  1. They are often themed and holiday stories are always popular,
  2. Your story needs to be written, edited, submitted, selected, corrected, and green lit, month in advance of the actual holiday.

Write your December stories now. Time’s running out.

The Prompt

Write A Story Tied To A Holiday That Takes Place In November/December/January/February


  • Evoke the sights, smells, sounds and emotions you associate with that holiday.
  • Put on some appropriate holiday music to get you in the mood.
  • Go beyond the obvious idea for the story associated with your chosen holiday. No saccharine tales of redemption or bitter humbug retellings of A Christmas Carol, for us!
  • Make the characters stronger than the trappings of the holiday.
  • Write the story for someone who has never participated in your holiday traditions. Show them what it’s like to be you at Christmas/Hanukkah/Hogmanay/Groundhog Day.

Need more tips? Here’s a podcast episode that talks you through it:


Which holiday did you choose? What did you do to get in the mood? Do you think you’ll revise and submit this story to a publication? Tell us in the comments or join the conversation in the comments

[Write On Wednesday] Family Drama

Oh families. The source of so many off the stories we whisper to friends, but are afraid to commit to paper for fear of offending anyone. Today’s prompt encourages you to dig into that vast repository of family stories for a ‘cheap’ way to find a plot.

The Prompt
Write a story about a stranger at a family gathering.

Think about a family gathering you’ve been to (yours or someone else’s) – preferably one where one of your most colorful relatives was on great form.
What would that look like to a stranger? (Uncle Bob’s new girlfriend or the lonely new neighbor someone invited as a nice gesture)
Take that real-life story as a jumping-off point.
Decide on a protagonist: is it your stranger or the person who invited them? Think about the protagonist’s history. What’s in their past that’s going to make this situation especially hilarious or poignant or tragic? (You don’t have to explain this in the story, but if you know about it, you’ll be able to make this character richer as you write.)
Pick one tiny incident — someone storms out, someone smashes a plate in frustration, someone swears inappropriately. Illustrate the moment and/or the ripples around the room after it happens. (Remember, this is a short story. You can’t tell too much.)
Concentrate on making the reader feel something: make me cringe with embarrassment, make me love the old grandpa, make me feel your protagonist’s regret when he misses a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to say what he really feels…


Writing Through The Holidays


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.

[Writing Prompt] Seasonal Stories

Every year at this time I stumble on holiday-themed stories wherever I look: Christmas mysteries, Hannukah radio anthologies, contests themed on New Year’s. Collection after collection after anthology on seasonal stories. And why?…

Every year at this time I stumble on holiday-themed stories wherever I look: Christmas mysteries, Hannukah radio anthologies, contests themed on New Year’s. Collection after collection after anthology on seasonal stories. And why? Because they make great perennial gifts that publishers and authors can wheel out every year at the same time.

christmas tree recycling dropoff 3
Of course, with the lead-time involved in publishing, if you want to have a hope of submitting a story to a themed anthology, you need to have it ready 6 months to a year before the occasion. So this is the perfect time to write.

The Prompt

Write a Themed Story For The Season


  • Pick Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, New Year’s or any other seasonal trope (“The First Snowman of Winter”?), whatever means the most to you.
  • Write it now and put a reminder in your online calendar telling yourself in June to start revising and submitting the story!
  • If you’re a self-publisher, plan to give the story away or release it annually
  • If you’re impatient and can’t imagine waiting a year to do something with a seasonal story, start writing your summer beach story or your Halloween spooky story now. (You’re probably cutting it fine for Valentine’s…)
  • Use all the stories you’ve accumulated in real life THIS holiday season to fuel your story: the good, the bad and the monumentally irritating!

The Rules:

1. You should use the prompt in your story.

2. You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.

3. Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.

4. Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!

Optional Extras:

Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook

Some tweets/updates you might use:

This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is very seasonal #storyaday https://storyaday.org/wow-seasonal

Come and write with us! #WriteOnWed #storyaday https://storyaday.org/wow-seasonal

See my story – and write your own, today: seasonal stories! #WriteOnWed #storyaday https://storyaday.org/wow-seasonal

Don’t miss my seasonal story #WriteOnWed #storyaday https://storyaday.org/wow-seasonal