Day 3 – Target Practice

How can you know you’re successful, if you haven’t defined ‘success’?

Stephen King didn’t become “Stephen King” overnight. He did it step by step, and at each step he refused to quit, for some reason.

Often we are tempted to quit because we aren’t seeing the results we thought we would, fast enough (“I thought I’d have an agent by now”, “I thought I’d be published by now”, “I thought I’d be able to leave my day-job, by now.”)

Some of the end goals you have for your writing, today, might be true and reasonable and motivating for you.

But consider that some of them are rooted in other people’s expectations. And usually in the expectations of people who are not writers and have a very sketchy picture of how the words ‘writer’ and ‘success’ can fit together.

There are so many different ways to ‘be a writer’ – and to be successful as a writer – that it’s vital for each of us to define what ‘being a writer’ looks like for us, for now, and to be willing to revise that at each stage.

Before you can build a writing practice, or even successfully write a story, it’s helpful to figure out what ‘success’ looks like for you, for now….so that you know if you’re hitting the target.

Today’s task is to define success for yourself.

Grab your notebook and let’s go through this exercise together.

Set a timer for 3 minutes and move to the next question after each. Keep going even when you think you can’t answer the next question.

Write down your current biggest, most outlandish wish for your writing life and what does your life look like when you achieve it?

(feel free to think about money, fame, impact on others, and what your daily life would look like in that Best of All Possible Worlds). Go nuts with this.

E.g. create a fictional world that has a series of best-selling novels, a movie franchise and a line of tie-in action figures. I go to movie premieres in borrowed diamonds. My family compound is nestled by the woods at the bottom of a mountain, on a river that leads to the sea, but is also conveniently located for big city cultural events. I write in the mornings and spend afternoons walking the hills with my favorite humans, then do some more writing in the evenings before sleeping soundly and breakfasting on eggs from my free-range chickens (that someone else looks after). Fans write to me and tell me I changed their lives for the better.

What is a smaller success than this, that might lead to your Best of All possible Worlds goal? And what does your life look like?

e.g. Write the first book in my story world, putting all my current craft skills into play, and learning a few more along the way. Have trusted first-readers who give me excellent feedback, and are clamoring to be on my ‘street team’ and help promote it when the book comes out.  My life is pretty hectic, doing everything I had to do before, and deal with publishing and promoting a book, but I’m learning a ton and I have a team of great people around me. It’s exhilarating, and a little exhausting.

What is a smaller success than this? And what does your life look like?

E.g. write some and complete some short stories set in my fictional world, to help me build the craft skills I need to build compelling characters and hold the reader enthralled all the way through. I’m spending a significant amount of my free time on my writing, mostly writing, but also taking classes from writers/teachers I admire and leveling up my skills. I don’t spend as much time on Twitter, doomscrolling or watching dumb TV anymore. My other creative hobbies are being neglected, but I had to pick a lane. I chose writing and I can feel myself making progress. It’s quietly satisfying.

What is a smaller goal than that? And what does your life look like?

E.g. write a single story and complete it. It is hard for me to give myself permission to take time for myself, consistently, but I’ve noticed that when I stopped asking for permission and simply gave it to myself, it wasn’t that big a deal to anyone else. When I have done my writing, I am tired but  somehow refreshed and relaxed. I am definitely more fun to be with after I’ve played with my imaginary friends. The people I live with are starting to notice, and even occasionally say,  ‘do you want some writing time?’ I have decided not to be insulted by that!

What does a smaller success than that look like? And how is your day?

E.g. I brainstormed an idea for at least part of a new story, and I put it somewhere I will be sure to find it again. It’s a step in the right direction and something I can work on tomorrow, or next time I need a story idea. I didn’t write 2000 words of deathless prose, but I showed up for my writing and played in a serious way. The rest of my day goes great. Somehow decisions seem easier, my day job is less annoying, and I’m able to give some energy to other people when they need me…without resenting it!

What does a smaller success than that look like? And how is your day?

E.g. I captured three story sparks. It didn’t seem like ‘writing’, but it unleashed my creativity and made the mundane stuff I had to do today a little more fun. Running errands and folding laundry is a lot more fun when I keep imagining backstories for everything from the supermarket cashier to the towels! Someone told me I made them smile because I looked like I was having a good day. 

Phew!

(You can stop your timer now!)

My final question

Do you need to reach that Best of All Possible World goals before you can feel successful? Can you build a writing practice that improves your life and the lives of people around you, with a few tiny, starter goals?

Tomorrow I’m going to give you one more, really fun exercise to do, to get you jazzed for writing, before we start work on the One Story you’re going to write this month, on Day 6.

Bingo!

Right-click to save me. Make sure you set your printer to print this at original size, not full-page!

Here’s your next Bingo Piece. Download the pic, print it out and paste it onto your bingo sheet. Then share a picture of it on social media with #storyadaybingo

You don’t have to do all the tasks on the day they’re assigned, so paste your tokens on the gameboard on whatever day you get to it!

Leave a comment: what was the tiniest step you came up with? How would it feel if you could have a little of the feeling that evoked, every day? Would it lead to bigger and better things?

Day 2 – A Solid Support

I’m continuing to ease you in to this challenge with tiny tasks, and today’s is to download The Short Story Framework and file it away in your dedicated StoryADay workspace. 

(You did set one up, didn’t you?)

Why Use The Framework?

Of course there is no single way to write a short story, and no single ‘correct’ form of what a short story should look like.

(They’re subversive little things, and that’s why I love them)

There is, however, a simple framework that will support a particular type of short story: a traditional, narrative short story with one protagonist and a couple of supporting characters.

It’s a solid scaffolding that allows you to focus on the aesthetics of the thing: the characters, the description, the theme…

We’re going to be working with this framework later this week so today’s task is:

Download The Short Story Framework

…and put it in your dedicated StoryADay workspace.

Then bring it out again, because I want you to read through the framework.

Don’t write anything yet (I mean, you can. I can’t stop you…) but instead think about stories you already know and how they fit into this framework.

(Good models are the Star Wars movies, and episodic TV that tells a single story each week)

The framework isn’t something I invented. It’s what I reverse-engineered from millennia of western storytelling (and other people’s attempts to deconstruct it).

It will serve you well, to get from “Idea” to “The end” this month, without taking too long to get into the real story; without wandering off into a messy middle that never wants to let you leave it; and without wondering if you’ve really reached ‘the end’.

Bingo!

make sure you set your printer to print this at original size, not full-page!

Here’s your next Bingo Piece. Download the pic, print it out and paste it onto your bingo sheet. Then share a picture of it on social media with #storyadaybingo

You don’t have to do all the tasks in order, so paste your tokens on the gameboard on whatever day you get to it!

Leave a comment:

  • Were you able to recognize the structure as you thought through stories you knew? Did it feel familiar and comfortable?
  • I mentioned a few common pitfalls that derail people’s short story efforts. (Taking too long to get to the real story; wandering around lost in the middle; not knowing how to end.) What’s your biggest enemy, when trying to write (and finish) a short story?
  • Bonus question: Do you tend to resist structure or love it? (Don’t worry if you don’t like outlining. That’s not what we’re going to be doing with this).

Day 1 – The Spark

We’re starting this challenge gently.

There’s a lot that goes into writing a story so we’re not going to rush into things.

Later this week I’ll start helping you brainstorm the story you’re going to work on this month, but today, it’s all about ideas.

Start Gathering Story Sparks 

Story Sparks are my term for all those little ‘huh!’ moments that make your writer brain curious. 

They’re not as big as a ‘story idea’, they’re just those moments or questions that make an impact on you.

Today I’d like you to write down 3 Story Sparks, as you go through your day.

Here’s a foldable booklet for people who’d like something to carry around with them. Print this “full bleed” and use these instructions to fold your booklet.

Pop it in your pocket or your bag, and carry it with you.

Story Sparks you might catch

  • The exact sound made by the creaky floorboard by your bed
  • The smell of the air outside
  • A line from an overheard conversation
  • A description of an old house you pass
  • A line from a song
  • A stray memory

Bonus points if you include some sensory details or one really descriptive word that will bring the moment rushing back when you look over your Sparks.

I recommend you collect 3 sparks every day for a whole week and see what it does for your creativity. (You can read more about this, here. And here’s how one veteran StoryADay writer uses her Story Sparks booklets.)

Bingo Piece

Right-click to save me. Make sure you set your printer to print this at original size, not full-page!

Here’s your first Bingo Piece. Download the pic, print it out and paste it onto your bingo sheet. Then share a picture of it on social media with #storyadaybingo

I know, 31 days of this is going to be a lot of wasted paper, but you can use the scraps as book marks, places to catch story sparks, opportunities for origami…and more

Or you can use your fave image editing software to add layers to this image.

But I think rewarding yourself every day with a bit of scissors-and-glue hands-on crafting, is a much better idea!

Come back and leave a comment letting us know one of your Story Sparks from today.

Day 0 of the StoryADay Challenge

Are you excited (nervous?) about StoryADay May? I have an invitation that might help settle you into your writing chair.

I know it’s last minute, but if you’re around, I’d like to invite you to join me live on Saturday, April 30 for some writing and  Q&A

Live With Julie – Saturday, April 30

When: 9:30-11 AM (Eastern US)
Where: Zoom (link will be emailed an hour before the meeting)

Over the next month I’m going to be sending you lots of prompts, to help develop your writing practice.

But for any of that to matter, you have to really believe that you can be a writer and can fit it into your life.

I’d like to invite you to start that process tomorrow morning. 

If you can, I’d love for you to join me on Zoom  for a Q&A session, and stay for a writing sprint, where you’ll have a chance to stretch your writing muscles, and get warmed up before May starts.

You can work on your Creative Challenge Workbook or your Story Prompts, even your Short Story Framework brainstorming, or you can read some inspiring short stories or work on your first, warm-up story.

Q&A will start at 9:30 AM (Eastern US) CHECK YOUR TIME, and we’ll get down to some quiet writing, in community. (If you’ve never been to a Zoom writing sprint, you’ll be amazed how productive you can be, writing quietly in the presence of others!)

You don’ t have to stay for the whole thing. Come and go as you please.

I’ll send another email tomorrow morning around 8:30 AM with the link.

Until then…here’s a little gift for you. Save this picture, cut it out, stick it to your notebook or your laptop, because you are, an official StoryADay Writer! Congrats!

Leave a comment and let me know if you’ll be there

Keep up with all the Classic Challenge Posts Here

Fun Size Challenge – Day 0

(You weren’t expecting a Day 0, were you?!)

Two quick things for you today before the challenge gets rolling: A bonus task and an invitation to join me live on Saturday, April 30 for some writing and  Q&A.


to find all the fun-size prompts click here

Your First Fun Task

I promised to make the fun-size challenge low-commitment and I will, and I am starting early for a good reason:

I’ve discovered that the busier I get as a writer, the more important it is for me to know where I put stuff. 

Set Up Your Workspace

Today, I’m going to encourage you to take a moment to set up a digital folder or a notebook (physical or digital), or a three-ring binder, where you can keep all your materials related to StoryADay’s Fun-Size Challenge

It might not seem important now, but a month from  now, when you are in a completely different place as a writer, you are going to thank Past-You for being kind and making it easy for you to find all the moments of brilliance and insight you racked up.

You might have re-wired your brain so thoroughly that you can’t even imagine where Past-You would have put that amazing idea you had when you were on a walk…

So make a home for your StoryADay Fun-Size materials today.

(I’d love it if you would send me a picture or a screenshot of your folder/binder/notebook, all ready to go)

Snap a picture with your phone and email it to julie at storyaday dot com and you might see it pop up on the site!

Live with Julie – Saturday, April 30

Over the next month I’m going to be sending you lots of tasks, to help develop your writing practice.

But for any of that to matter, you have to really believe that you can be a writer and can fit it into your life.

I’d like to invite you to start that process tomorrow morning. 

If you can, I’d love for you to join me on Zoom  for a Q&A session, and stay for a writing sprint, where you’ll have a chance to stretch your writing muscles, and get warmed up before May starts.

Q&A will start at 9:30 AM (Eastern US) CHECK YOUR TIME, and we’ll get down to some quiet writing, in community. (If you’ve never been to a Zoom writing sprint, you’ll be amazed how productive you can be, writing quietly in the presence of others!)

I’ll send another email tomorrow morning around 8:30 AM with the link.

Until then…here’s a little gift for you. Save this picture, cut it out, stick it to your notebook or your laptop, because you are, an official StoryADay Writer! Congrats!

Right-click to save

Leave a comment letting me know if you’ll be there

Keep up with all the Fun-Size Challenge Posts Here

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