Freeing The Creative Side

An Interview with StoryADay Regular Neha Mediratta

Where were you in your writing journey before your first StoryADay?

I have been exploring different ways of finish writing pieces. Beginning something is not that difficult for me, bringing it to a conclusion is.

And StoryADay May – ever since 2010 – has been helping me see that I can indeed finish what I begin!

Seeing the pool of story drafts at the end of the month is such a boost to one’s writing self. I’m truly grateful that you began this community. It is an honor to have seen you work diligently at making it what it is today. Thank you!

Where are you now?

I have finished story drafts of various sizes in various genres! It feels amazing. I couldn’t have this without signing up for StADa every year.

What do you consider your biggest writing success?

Currently, writing successes are personal milestones of leaping over technique-related obstacles.

I am slowly learning not to dread the blank page, and not to let my logical side crush my creative one by acting like a haughty school teacher.

The StADa format really helps with that because the only goal is to reach the finish and iron out story-kinks later.

Tell Us About The StoryADay Community

Oh it is so good to feel part of a warm, generous and contributive community where everyone’s focus is on helping each other with their writing processes.

Being part of it also increases accountability and in my case, it breaks me out of shyness – which is an important part of learning to share your work with people.

Thanks, Neha! It’s been wonderful having you here since the beginning!

A Solid Writing Practice

An Interview with StoryADay regular, Monique Cuillerier

Where were you in your writing journey before your first StoryADay?

My first StoryADay (in 2011, I looked it up) came a few years after I started to take my writing seriously. I had not yet had anything published.  

Where are you now?

Eight years later, I have had more than a handful of short stories published and I have a novel about ready to send to potential publishers (and am well into another).

My writing practice has greatly matured. I’m very happy about all of that.

(I also still feel very insecure about it and as if I’m not as far along as I “should” be, but that’s life.) 

What do you consider your biggest writing success?

Generally, I feel like establishing a solid writing practice is my biggest success. More particularly, I had a story published last year (Leaving, in the anthology Bikes Not Rockets) that I am really proud of, more than others. 

What has being part of this community done for your writing life?

This community has always felt supportive and welcoming. It has provided me with external accountability, which I rely on. All in all, it’s just a great place. 

You can read more from Monique at notwhereilive.ca

Finishing Made All The Difference

An Interview with Superstar, Tammy L. Breitweiser

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Where were you in your writing journey before your first StoryADay?

Before StoryADay, I was writing frequently, but missing a critical component – finishing.

Neil Gaiman has been quoted as saying, “You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” StoryADay solidified this idea for me.

Read more

[Reading Room] The Radium Room by Tony Conaway

This week I’m bringing you an interview with Tony Conaway whose story The Radium Room is in the anthology Spring Into ScFi.

We talk about his inspiration for the story, how his love of detail (he calls it “trivia”) informs his writing, and yes, we talk about homing rats… Continue reading “[Reading Room] The Radium Room by Tony Conaway”

099 – Jane Friedman & The Business of Being A Writer

Today I interview publishing industry expert Jane Friedman (www.janefriedman.com) whose new book The Business Of Being A Writer is billed as ‘the business education you never got’, for writers.

We discuss what writers should do when they want to go pro, the myth of the overnight success, the nature of ‘work’ and networking for introverts! Continue reading “099 – Jane Friedman & The Business of Being A Writer”

Write 12 Stories This Year – A Challenge From Alexis A. Hunter

Alexis A. Hunter Twitter ProfileI’ve always been impressed with how much fiction StoryADay friend and participant Alexis A. Hunter pushes out into the world: over 50 short stories in publications like Apex, Shimmer and Cricket.

In 2017, she has committed to writing a new short story every month.

That sounded like my kind of challenge, so I asked her more about it. Continue reading “Write 12 Stories This Year – A Challenge From Alexis A. Hunter”

[Writing Prompt] Interrogate A Character

InterviewToday’s writing prompt is ripped straight from my 6th Grader’s homework folder, but that doesn’t make it any less relevant. 

I’m steeped in (as well as 6th Grade homework) Lisa Cron’s fabulous latest book Story Geniusin which she makes the compelling point that you cannot begin to tell your character’s story until you know about their past.

It’s a delightfully obvious (and surprisingly overlooked) observation that ought to be front and center in every writing class. So here we go.

The Prompt

Interview a character from one of your stories. Find out as much as you can about their past and what formed the character they possess on Page One of their story. Continue reading “[Writing Prompt] Interrogate A Character”

Finish Your Book In Three Drafts — An Interview With Stuart Horwitz

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Finish Your Novel In Three Drafts: How To Write A Book, Revise A Book, and Complete A Book While You Still Love It

Every word of that title is important, so go back and read it again.

Doesn’t that sound appealing?

The first time I came across Stuart Horwitz, I was struck by the way his writing instruction bridges the gap between Pantsers and Plotters, and how he provides actual processes and methods for getting from ‘wannabe writer’ to ‘someone who can polish and finish their work’.

His latest book comes out today and provides a powerful, user-friendly guide to getting work done, while LOVING what you do.

It takes you through the process of writing a book in three drafts and includes extras like PDFs and stop-motion animated videos that illustrate the lessons in the book. It’s really delightful and powerful stuff.

I had a chance to interview Stuart Horwitz about his books, his editing work and his own writing this week, and he had some great advice for us, as we work on short stories and perhaps move on to our longer, book-length projects.

Finish Your Novel In Three Drafts. Really?

JD: Why did you want to write this particular book? What problem are you trying to help writers solve?

Stuart Horwitz HeadshotSH: We only have a limited number of books in us — mostly because our time here is limited — and so it becomes a matter of figuring out what are the best books for us to work on, and how we can bring the most excitement to that work and then, how we can get through it, while we still have that energy and affection for it. (Like I say in the subtitle “while you still love it”.) And then move on to the next thing.

Time’s ticking.

And I know this very well because, little-known fact: I trained as a mortician. I walked out of there knowing for a fact that I was going to die. We all are.

Before that time comes, how about we accomplish some shit, you know? That’s all I’m saying.

JD: So how do we do that?

SH: Having a ritual while you write is crucial. There are times when it’s not possible [to fit in everything from your ritual]. We have to recognize that its value doesn’t lie within the ritual itself, it lies in its ability to bring you to a joyful state. It helps us penetrate beyond appearances and figure out why we’re doing this…what we’re doing.

And every writer has to have a process. It doesn’t have to be my process. You can get some from me, four from this other person, and make up 2 of your own and there’s your process. But if you stick to it, it will help you on the less-excited days.

PANTSER OR PLOTTER?

JD: You take a very moderate approach to the whole ‘Write by the seat of your pants’ vs ‘Outline everything’ debate. You sound terribly reasonable.

SH: We like to call it The Middle Way in Buddhism.

There’s always a reason to bend the rule and there’s always a reason to practice discipline.

KNOW WHAT DRAFT YOU’RE IN

JD: The thing that helped me immensely, every time I read your books, is the concept of “Knowing What Draft You’re In”. Can you explain that a bit?

SH: The first draft is just getting it down – The Messy Draft. The second draft is the Method Draft which is about making it make sense. The Third Draft is the Polish Draft which is about making it good.

So, when you sit down to start, it’s all First Draft.

And when you do action steps to figure out what you’re actually working with and then take the best parts up a level, it becomes the Second Draft.

And then you go through your beta-reading process, bring in outside input, and use that to get to your third draft, which is your polish draft.

And I’m talking about a real draft. I’m not talking about tweaking. Like: these five scenes are all going in trash. And: I need scenes that aren’t here yet. Adding three commas? That’s not a draft. That’s just ornamentation. That’s chasing perfection.

The secret to the three drafts is that when, during the second draft, you uncover holes and start writing that scene, remember that new scene is in its first draft. If you stare at that new piece and say, “Why aren’t you as good as everything else already?” it’s going to be madness.

Keep in mind, every time you encounter new material it’s first draft.

JD: How do you know what to work on next, in revisions?

SH: There are action steps [in his books – JD] that you can take between drafts which will reveal to you what you are working on, more clearly.

Mapping the journey we’re on at the same time that we’re on it, gets kind of dizzying/confusing.

We need a separation between the viewer and the subject matter.
I’m a big fan of grids [Here, I refer you to Stuart’s books and his website because this is a big, meaty and really useful subject – JD]

AVOIDING OVERWHELM

JD: How can a short story writer avoid overwhelm at the thought of writing a novel?

SH: I like to break it down in to writing sessions. The question is “how many writing sessions does it take”? From my own experience: I have a short story that is probably one session away from nailed and that is Number 5.

So it’s the same concept. My second book, Book Architecture Method, took 60 writing sessions.

You show up to one of those 60 sessions, you necessarily have to reduce the scope of your expectations. What am I doing today? I’m not writing a novel today. I’m writing a part of a chapter in a draft today.

I’m going to take the rest of that junk out of my mind and I’m going to sit down and write, and I’m gonna write what I was thought I was writing, and I’m going to discover new stuff, and I’m going t write stuff that isn’t good, and I’m going write stuff that is good, and I’m going to keep going, and I’m going to get to the end of this session.

When I get to the end of the session, if I’ve made progress, that’s a win.

ON WRITING WITH CONFIDENCE

JD: It’s easy as writers to judge ourselves as having failed. You idea of grids and process and ritual take the emotion out of the revision process.

SH: Self judgement is a very complex phenomenon and has many many faces. There may be a reason why that never really goes away: a tension exists where our need to constantly slay that dragon helps us bring forth our best work, or brings us to our edge. But the nagging, griping voices in our heads are, for the most part, not contributing to the forward motion.

You have to believe in yourself first. That is probably the hardest thing about writing. It’s probably one of the harder things about living, so practice in one helps with the other.

ON FINISHING

JD: I stress finishing stories during StoryADay. Your books are all about helping writers finish books. Why do you think so many writers never finish their projects?

SH: There are a lot of reasons why people don’t finish. [Sometimes] there’s some pretty deep psychological stuff going on. Somewhere there was a message that was encoded that ‘you are not good enough’.

Then the people who didn’t get that message, and who actually suck a lot worse with you, are filling up the airwaves with what they did. And now we’re having to read ten books by them before we get one book by you.

The fact is if you have 10 people who are reading what you have to say you can write something great. you can even write something great if one person is listening to you.

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Finish Your Novel In Three Drafts: How To Write A Book, Revise A Book, and Complete A Book While You Still Love It

This book is a fabulous introduction to Stuart Horwitz’s method for writing and revising works of any length, and I can’t recommend it enough. Pick up a copy today.

How Reading Short Stories Made Jacob Tomsky A Better Writer

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 7.31.05 PMAre you familiar with the Short Story Thursdays emails?

Every week for almost five years, Jacob Tomsky has been researching and sending a short story to an email list of rabid readers. He doesn’t write the stories (he’s a best-selling memoir writer and budding novelist), but he does curate them.

Driven by his mood, he plucks a story that speaks to him from the vast slush pile of Public Domain works, and sends it to thousands of his Internet friends.  Not only that, but Tomsky writes a passionate (and often expletive-laden) exhortation to readers as to why they should read this week’s story. If Tomsky’s ‘dispatches’ are the amuse-bouche of Short Story Thursdays, the stories are the meat.

Since he’s been doing this for four years, he must always really loved short stories, right?

“I actually hated short stories for a really, really long time. Maybe I still kind of do,” he laughs.  “I don’t buy short story books, I never did. I was never a fan. I love novels. That’s what I like to read and that’s what I like to write.”

How It All Started

So here’s how it all started: Tomsky had a full time job he hated, in a hotel.

Bored, he began printing out short stories from the web – using company paper and company toner– because it “would look like I was working, like I was just reviewing documents or something.”

When a similarly-bored bellman asked him what he was reading, Tomsky stumbled onto something that has kept him sending out his dispatches weekly, years after breaking free of the job he hated.

“This was not a man that you would consider being a lover of literature at all and he read it and said ‘what’s next?’” Tomksy said. “I really got joy not only out of the minor escape it gives you from work, but also the fact that I was exposing people to short stories that had never even considered it before.

“People were talking about literature and that was very exciting for me as a long time lover and a writer of literature. I was able to get people to read these short stories, [people] that had never read before.”

Why short stories? Well, apart from their utility as a good cover at work, Tomsky points out,

“Everything’s shortening, our attention spans are dropping. I don’t think it’s even a bad thing. Twitter’s 140 characters, Vine videos are 6 seconds. Everything is so short and people’s attention spans are rapid fire.”

Short stories seem like the perfect way to get people reading, “…and I pick really short ones. Really short. So it’s just something people can read on the train and not feel like they’re having to trudge through it.”

The Beauty of the Short Story

Because he’s posting stories mostly from public domain, Tomsky is rediscovering some older writers, some who have been largely forgotten.

“This week’s story,” he says, about a recent Dispatch, “is making people cry. I’ve had six people email me already and say this story made them cry… I couldn’t even find out any information abou this author. The fact that I get to breathe life into these forgotten authors is wonderful.”

Another advantage of reading older works is, “some of this langauge is just amazing. It’s not even antiquated, we just don’t speak like this. Some of these words have fallen out of favor. Phrases and just the tone of language has changed so much. To get to read something …that’s so different from any other sentence you’ll read in the rest of the week, has been wonderful.”

Of course, the short story form has evolved a lot since its invention, and many of the stories Tomsky finds irritate readers because they aren’t subtle or don’t  have the emotional impact of modern stories. And, a frustration for Tomsky is that the public domain collection is ‘a sea of white males’.

Still, Tomsky sees a a benefit to reading these stories week after week. “There’s been some great writing…and it’s kind of great to see what we expected from short stories in the past. Those were pure entertainment in the past. It wasn’t entertainment that was vying for attention with any other form of entertainment, you were just happy to be reading anything.”

He adds, “There have been some stories I’ve read on public domain that I think are better than anything I’ve read publishing now.”

Benefits As A Writer

Although the New York Times called Tomsky’s whose memoir is titled “Heads In Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality” ‘an effervescent writer’, he wasn’t writing humor before SST.

“I had three novels pior to that and none of them had a joke in it,” he says. “It wasn’t until I started ShortStoryThursdays that I started with the humor.  I think that really primed me for when I had to write a funny book about the hotel world.  I was totally ready because I had been practising.”

Another, unexpected benefit of writing to a group of strangers every week was a surge of confidence in himself as a writer, that came simply from turning up week after week.

“It took out the whole ‘bullshit inspiration’ crap. You just have to sit down and write no matter what. You kind of trust that…there’ll be quality in there.”

Even In The Middle of An Ocean

No-one’s better at coming up with excuses than writers (it stands to reason: we’re creative!). But Tomsky even kept up his weekly dispatches during a four-month stay in South Africa AND during a ten-day crossing of the Atlantic on a freighter from Liverpool to Philadelphia.

“So I told [everyone] I’d be missing a week,” but in reality he queued up a post and had a friend hit ‘send’. “Then, when I was in the middle of the ocean, it just dropped on them,” he laughs.

Track Your Progress

Another tip for boosting your confidence as a writer is to keep track of how much work you’re doing.

While working that hotel job that he hated, Tomsky started tracking his progress.

“I was like, I’m putting 50 hours a week into a job that I hate, that’s going nowhere. How much time am I putting into my art? So I used to clock myself and tape the papers up on my wall. That was very helpful.”

“It’s such a weird, ‘spooky art’. Any way that you can normalize it and bring it into some kind of standard reality, it’s helpful. And if that’s clocking it—like you would yoru time at work—that at least gives you a feeling of progress. Feelings of progress are extremely rare in this art.”

Just Write

So is he cured of the writer’s enemy: doubt? Tomsky gives a qualified ‘no’.

“It still happens every week. Every Thursday I’m like, f*ck I don’t know if I can write anything good, but I do it consistently, and somewhere in my head that helps me …Looking back on a rather successful string of SST dispatches really does give me the courage just to sit down.

“Definitely more writers should do that,” he says, equating writing practise with the benefits of going to the gym. “I always tell people tha—and not just to bring up the fact that I’m going to the gym! The more you do it, the easier it becomes and the better you get at it. It’s not even magic it’s just straight up practice.”

 

Two of Jacob Tomsky’s favorite short stories in the public domain:

Arabesque The Mouse by A. E. Coppard

The Inconsiderate Waiter by J.M. Barrie

 

Thanks, Jacob!

 

To sign up for a new short story in your inbox every week email: shutyourlazymouthandread@shortstorythursdays.com

And check back here during May 2015 for Jacob Tomsk’s Guest Writing Prompt!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conquering A Creative Slump – An Interview with Author Sarah Cain

Today we’re taking tips from Sarah Cain, a repeat-StoryADay-participant, whose debut novel The Eighth Circle will be published by Crooked Lane Books in January 2016.

StADa: When did you first participate in StoryADay?

SC: My first StoryADay was in May 2013.  I wasn’t really much of a short fiction writer, but I thought it seemed like a great creative challenge.

StADa: How did StoryADay affect your writing?

SC: I had written a novel and had queried agents to a chorus of rejections and was feeling in a real creative slump. I was working on another novel, but wasn’t happy with the progress. So when the StoryADay challenge came up I thought I could manage to write short pieces for a month, and it would be a change. Give me a chance to get some creative energy flowing, which it did. I had great fun with it, and now write quite a lot of flash fiction.

StADa: What advice do you have for writers thinking about jumping in to StoryADay May?

SC: I think writers should just approach it with the spirit of adventure. It’s a challenge, but great fun. Plus you always have wonderful prompts which writers can follow or not. There’s something very satisfying about finishing a piece of fiction and saying, “Ta da! I did it.” And once you get through the month, you’ll have thirty-one (or however many) stories that you can polish up and submit. Or just put them out on your blog. That’s amazing.

StADa: How’s your writing going now?

SC: Happily, I did find an agent and my novel, The Eighth Circle, a noir thriller, did find a home. It will be published in January 2016 by Crooked Lane Books. Sometimes you just need a spark to get everything moving. I’m now working on a sequel to that novel, and I will be doing StoryADay May this year.

Sarah Cain wrote her first story as a precocious five-year old. She graduated from Smith College with a degree in English and went on to write speeches, ad copy, and videos. Her short fiction has appeared in Unclaimed Baggage, Voices of the Main Line Writers and FlashDogs, An Anthology, and she’s a regular at Flash!Friday where she’s won two first place awards, and her debut novel, The Eighth Circle, will be published by Crooked Lane Books in January 2016. You can find her on Twitter @SarahCain78 and in the StoryADay community @sarahc.

Thanks, Sarah! Looking forward to seeing The Eighth Circle  on bookstore shelves next year!!