A Springboard for Short Story Success – Interview with Alexis A. Hunter

StoryADay regular Alexis A. Hunter stopped by the blog to chat about her writing journey over the past few years, and how she’s used StoryADay to help push her beyond her fears. Over the past few years more than 50 of her stories have been published!

StADa: When did you first participate in StoryADay May?

AAH: 2011 was the first year I participated in StoryADay May.  I heard about this awesome challenge about three or four days into the month and so wrote extra stories to catch up.  I have since then participated in the challenge for a total of four years.  It’s been so eye-opening and rewarding!

StADa: Tell us a little about your successes in the past few years.

AAH: The writing journey works differently for different people; my journey has been a bit slow, but always steady.  I’ve made some good headway, breaking into markets I’ve always wanted to be published in.  This year I’ve had stories published in Shimmer, Flash Fiction Online, and Fantastic Stories of the Imagination.  I’ll have a story out in Apex this fall.  It’s really exciting and I don’t think I’d be here (or at least it would have taken me longer to get here) if it weren’t for the StoryADay challenge.

StADa: How have you used StoryADay to help fuel your writing?

AAH: StoryADay taught me things I might not have learned otherwise.  When I first sat down to start writing seriously about five years ago, I was perpetually full of dread about writer’s block.  I had suffered extreme bouts of it before.  Every time I finished a story, I questioned and worried and fretted over whether or not I’d be able to finish another one.

StoryADay taught me that I could do so and that I could do so consistently if I only tried hard enough.  It showed me that if I thought long enough on any given prompt, my mind would rise to the challenge.  It was so…liberating!

I’ve since then used the challenge to fuel my writing by providing a large stock of stories to edit and submit throughout the year. Of course, there are a lot of duds throughout the month of May, but there are also a handful of pretty good stories that I wouldn’t have come up with otherwise.

StADa: What advice do you have for someone thinking about embarking on the challenge or longing to boost their creativity?

AAH: To those thinking about embarking on the StoryADay challenge, I recommend a bit of prep before May 1st hits.  I like to do two things in particular to get ready: 1.) Gather prompts.

I love using the prompts provided by storyaday.org, but I also love combining them with picture prompts.  I keep a Pinterest board of photo prompts, which I add to all year long.  2.) Pick some specific target markets.

Last year, I collected a list of (mostly) themed deadlines for magazines I wanted to get into.  Stuff like an anthology about pirates or magical cats.  The themed nature of those deadlines helped spark stories and having a set market to send the stories to, in turn, kept me on the ball in June and July–editing the stories and getting them sent out instead of letting them languish in an abandoned file.

To those longing to boost their creativity–get into writing prompts! Especially photo prompts, if your mind works well with them.  There is so much amazing art out there that I find especially inspiring.  Prompts are a good way to push you out of your comfort zone.  Try writing a genre you’ve never written before–even if it’s scary.

The result might not be so good, but it will stretch you in a way that writing in your normal groove won’t.  Oh, and try StoryADay if you can!

StADa: What’s next for you?

AAH: Well, May is nearing, so I’m staring down the barrel of another StoryADay challenge.  I hope to participate again this year, even if I don’t hit the 31 story goal like I normally do.  I’m also knee-deep in editing a YA Science-Fantasy novel, which I hope to one day do something with.  But in the meantime, I just keep focusing on writing better and better short stories.  That’s where my heart is really at.

Thanks, Alexis and all the best for your future success!

 

Alexis A. Hunter revels in the endless possibilities of speculative fiction.  Over fifty of her short stories have appeared recently in Shimmer, Cricket Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, and more.  To learn more, visit www.alexisahunter.com.

Turning Off That Pesky Editor – An Interview with Marian Allen

Marian Allen headshot
Marian Allen

Today we’re taking tips from Marian Allen, author, publisher and repeat-StoryADay-participant.

StADa: When did you first participate in StoryADay May?

MA: I heard about StoryADayMay in 2013. I did 2013 and 2014 and I’m looking forward to 2015. ~cracks knuckles~

StADa: Tell us a little about your successes in the past few years.

MA: The first year, I posted this:

People sometimes ask where writers get their ideas. Listen: Getting the ideas is the easy part. Ideas fall like the gentle rain from heav’n upon the place beneath. It’s hooking an idea up with plot, theme, characters, setting, dialog, point of view, language, length, tone, and all the other things that turn an idea into a story that writing is all about.

So I have a big fat folder filled with false starts, snippets remembered from dreams, overheard conversations, random thoughts, and all sorts of “bits”. I plan to reach into that folder and grab a handful of “seeds” and make stories out of them.

That worked. The next year, I went around the house and took pictures of random things, like a globe, a box with a scene on the top, a bowl of rocks, a statue of two giraffes – really random. Those were my prompts.

I always do posts about cats on Caturday – I mean Saturday, or my cats post for me, so my Saturday stories always featured cats. On Sample Sunday, my stories were always about Holly Jahangiri because. Just because. Holly is a real person [A Matter of Perspective ], but twice she won contests I ran to have her name in a story, so now I write stories about her all the time.

StADa: How have you used StoryADay to help fuel your writing?

MA: I tend to write slllllllowwwwwwwwlllllyyyyyyyy, hammering out each word and sentence of a scene. StoryADay is even better than NaNoWriMo at making me turn off that pesky editor. I have to grab an idea and run with it. Knowing that I can do that keeps me from getting too bogged down in polishing when I ought to be knocking together a rough framework. Besides, it’s invigorating to just haul off and write a little story. Telling stories is fun!

StADa: What advice do you have for someone thinking about embarking on the challenge or longing to boost their creativity?

MA: Don’t pre-write. Don’t overthink. Don’t feel bad if it doesn’t work for you. Nothing is for everyone. Give it a try, though; turn off the editor and just let those inventive juices flow. Have fun with it. Think of the StoryADay stories as word doodles.

StADa: What’s next for you?

MA: I have a couple of novels I need to revise for reissue and many novels roughed out or unfinished. I’m putting together a couple more short story collections (including some from past Mays). I’m one of three partners in Per Bastet Publications, so there’s that to keep up with. Book signings. Family. Cats. Much to do!

But first – fun with StoryADay May!

Marian Allen writes science fiction, fantasy, mystery, humor, horror, mainstream, and anything else she can wrestle into fixed form. Her latest books are the SAGE fantasy trilogy, her science fiction comedy of bad manners SIDESHOW IN THE CENTER RING, and her YA/NA paranormal suspense A DEAD GUY AT THE SUMMERHOUSE, all from Per Bastet Publications. She blogs daily at Marian Allen, Author Lady. Every. Single. Day.

Finding Fuel And Focus – An Interview with Cecilia Clark

StADa: When did you first participate in StoryADay?
I don’t remember exactly when I joined a Story A Day but it was likely close to the start of 2014. In 2013 I had begun exploring what was available in the wide world to support and encourage my new career direction as a writer and when I gave notice at my day job in December 2013 StoryADay was one of the important tools I used to keep me focussed as I took the scary, exciting, long overdue and challenging path.

StADa:  Tell us a little about your success.
I had put aside my youthful dreams of being a published writer and paid artist when my first child came along and then life kind of got in the way and my dreams slipped way back into the dust covered depths of the internal storage of my mind.

When a life changing pivotal moment arose I finally embraced my inner creative and launched myself whole heartedly into becoming my dream.

I completed my first NaNoWriMo in November 2013, working a full time job, raising teens and participating in three other challenges as well, I managed to produce 104000 words, 36 pieces of art (SkaSaMo) and 41 picture book ideas (PiBoIsMo).

Then I joined social media groups for writing and art, paid subscriptions to organisations dedicated to supporting writers and artists and I looked for opportunities to challenge myself to write stories and then find homes for my stories.

Since my first camp Nano in April 2013 I have written and had published more than fifty pieces of fiction ranging from 500 word competition pieces and ezine contributions to 30k short stories and novellas. I have completed two novels 60k and 80k+ and begun five more novels. I have produced several hundred pieces of art and actually have a growing body of dedicated followers to my blog.

StADa:  How have you used StoryADay to help fuel your writing?
At first I was lucky if I wrote 200 words a day so I needed fuel for story ideas and some form of prod to keep me focussed. StoryADay provided me with a lot of good ideas for generating flash fiction. StoryADay has a great deal to offer in terms of prompts and advice and I found this to be terrific for churning up the creative juices, especially when I have been stuck.

StADa:  What advice do you have for someone thinking about embarking on the challenge or longing to boost their creativity?

There are so many opportunities and I have found the creative community is a generous and supportive one world wide.

Use what you find out there and make it fit in your life. Whatever time you can dedicate to your dream there is bound to be someone out there with just the right bit of advice for you at a price you can afford. There is a lot of free information- find it and share it.

Set aside fifteen minutes a day and write.

Thinking about your story counts as writing but at some point you need to transfer the words from your head to the page or you will lose them.

Keep a note book handy and jot down ideas, snippets of conversations you overhear, interesting thoughts.

Don’t give yourself a hard time if you don’t write. When you decide the time is right to write you will dedicate the time and effort to it that you give your other day job (that includes parenting). Remember that some of the best writers in the world did not start their writing careers until they had raised their kids and filled their memories with incredible experiences to draw on.

It takes a long time to become an overnight success and the money doesn’t roll in quickly but don’t give up because your story could change the world or even just one persons life so write it. Oh and writing 104000 words in a month while doing all those other things is stupid crazy and caused me to strain my eyes to the point of needing reading glasses, plus swollen ankles, a sore back and no housework done for a month.

It was worth it and I learned to be a little less obsessed and a bit more level headed. The most I have written in a month since then is 56k.

StADa:  What’s next for you?
I have been working on prioritising my online time and increasing my actual writing time. It is way too easy to spend too much time in social media groups to the detriment of the word count. I joined a class to learn how to plan my novels more efficiently. I am attending conferences this year for Romance writers, SCBWI(kids books) and finding writers festivals to attend.

After having 30 anthology pieces published I am no longer submitting to small press as most small press pay nothing and I want to be paid for my work. I intend finishing at least two novels this year.

I have had a brief break from my art due to moving house and intend making art daily once we settle in again. My goal is to have my first full length novel under contract this year.

Cecilia A. Clark is a writer and an artist. She has been a chef, disability carer, teacher, farm worker, foster parent and props master plus so much more. She has volunteered for dozens of organisations, had children, coached public speaking and lived. She is curious. Shecan be found online at her blog, Goodreads, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

I’m exhausted just reading all that. Good luck, Cecilia! I expect to see your novel under contract soon! – Julie

You’re A Writer, It’s What You Do – An Interview With Author James Scott Bell

This week we have an exclusive interview at StoryADay.org with James Scott Bell, the #1 bestselling author of the writing book Plot & Structure, and thrillers like Deceived, Try Dying, Watch Your Back, One More Lie and many more.

He stopped by StoryADay.org to talk about the importance of writing routines and practice — a topic dear to our hearts, and the subject of his book Writing Fiction for All You’re Worth: Strategies and Techniques for Taking Your Fiction to the Next Level.

StADa: Do you consider it important for aspiring writers to have a regular writing routine?

JSB: Boy, do I. In fact, that is the single most important piece of advice I ever got, and I’m glad I got it at the beginning. I do a weekly quota of words and break that down into 6 days (I usually take Sunday off from writing, to recharge my batteries). I keep track of all the new words I write and usually work on two projects or more during any given day. If I happen to miss my daily count I know I can make it up on other days.

The really nice thing is that, at some point, you look up and you have a completed book. It’s done. You did it. It’s a tremendous feeling. Then you have something to edit. And you just keep doing that, over and over again.

StADa:  One look online tells you that there is a lot of competition out there. How can a writer keep his/her motivation up, without becoming discouraged by or envious of other writers who seem to be doing ‘better’?

JSB: There are lots of ways for writers to make themselves miserable. Comparison is one surefire method. Because there is ALWAYS someone else doing better than you are. Always. You don’t even realize that there are lots of people not doing as well as you, either. But either view is wrong. It doesn’t help you to compare with someone selling more, and it doesn’t help you to feel superior to someone who isn’t.

Enough writers, like Ann Lamott and Elizabeth Berg, have written about envy and the like to know that it can sneak up on a writer. If it does you should immediately get lost in your own project. Get to the keyboard. Write your heart out. Soon enough you’ll be into that and the other stuff fades away.

Also, remember this is just one aspect of life. There is a lot more to living well than selling books. First, figure out how to live well. Then write.

StADa: It’s easy to ‘publish’ a work quickly today. What advice would you give the StoryADay community about what to do with the 31 first drafts they’re going to end up with on June 1?

JSB: Congratulations! A first draft is wonderful thing to have. It means a completed work, and that’s always a good thing. Robert A. Heinlein, the famous science fiction writer, once said there are two rules for writing:

  1. 1. You must write
  2. 2. You must finish what you write

Also, don’t think that a finished draft is ready to go out without a strong revision strategy. I wrote a whole book, Revision & Self-Editing, to help writers think that through in a systematic way. It’s important to know what you’re doing at every stage.

I’d also add, be working on your next book. And thinking up ideas for the one after that. And keep this up as long as you live.

You’re a writer, after all. It’s what you do.

 

000OOOooo


Thanks, Jim!

James Scott Bell has been called a writer of “heart-whamming” fiction (Publisher’s Weekly) “a master of suspense” (Library Journal) and a fresh voice in the “territory of Hammett and Chandler.” (Booklist).A former trial lawyer, Jim now writes and speaks full time. He lives in Los Angeles. He blogs every Sunday at The Kill Zone.

Becoming A “Real” Writer – Interview With Heather Muir

Heather MuirAnother inspiring interview, this time with Heather Muir, a StoryADay alumnus who made it to 31 stories and then went off to Writer’s Camp and is working on her YA novel now.

Heather says she used StoryADay to help her “make the transition from student writer to ‘Real’ writer”. Yay!

Before you started StoryADay how would you have described your writing life?

Very sporadic. Just before StoryADay started, I had graduated with a B.A. in English with a creative writing emphasis. I only wrote for deadlines in class and I occasionally wrote something on my pet project, a fantasy novel I started when I was 16 that has been reincarnated so many times I don’t know what it is anymore. I needed a challenge.

What made you decide to do StoryADay?

A few weeks before StoryADay started, I had been accepted into Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp that would start at the end of June. I knew I needed to pump up my writing muscles as much as I could before the camp and StoryADay seemed like the answer.

What did you expect to achieve? What did you actually achieve? What did you learn during the challenge?

By the time I had heard about StoryADay, May was only two days away. My goal was to write a story every day as well as come up with the story idea every day. I wanted to test my ability to come up with stories quickly and from anything and everything.

I did write a story every day. I wrote a total of 10,987 words. On a few days my stories were only a few sentences long. Some I look back on and say “What was I thinking?” Only a handful of the stories are worth keeping and working on. One of them has spawned into an idea for a middlegrade book that I am in love with. Another is going to be incorporated into the motivations of the evil queen in a retelling of a fairy tale I want to work on.

What I learned from the challenge was that I could write everyday. It was hard certainly. But it really helped me make the transition from student writer to “real” writer. I no longer had school to fall back on, giving me deadlines. StoryADay was a great way to get that deadline and prove to myself that I was a serious writer.

How do you make time for writing?

Making time for writing is easy when you don’t have a social life and you are a bit of an insomniac. 🙂 I work at a 24-hour pharmacy so I never have a consistent time to write. Usually I try to write in the time before or after work. It’s never more than an hour or two but it is enough to stay consistent.

Why do you write? What keeps you motivated?

I write because I love stories. I was the kid who loved read-a-thons and going to the library. I write because I have to. I have tried to stop. I tried to start pharmacy school, to upgrade from technician to pharmacist but I could not get the story ideas out of my head. They haunt me until I write them down. And I also learned I could never be a pharmacist because I would hate my job. I don’t even want to hate my job. I want to live the dream and create for a living.

As far as motivation, I keep in contact with other writers. I have a writing group. I attend local conferences. I listen to a great podcast, Writing Excuses. I read a lot of books and remember how much those stories mean to me, how they have changed who I am. Now it’s almost unthinkable to not write.

The desire to create is too strong to ignore.

What’s Next?

As I said, I attended OSC’s Literary Bootcamp and returned triumphant. I’m now working on a YA novel about ghosts that I started at the camp. I hope to have a full draft finished in the next 6-8 months (judging by my pace so far). I have two other novel ideas on the back burner (one of them that came from story a day) as my next projects when the current novel is being submitted.

I hope StoryADay continues to be a success. It was very helpful to me though I don’t think I’ll participate again, now that I’m working on larger projects. It is perfect for the writer who lacks the courage to write and needs that support. StoryADay helped me. I hope it helps others.

Thanks Heather!

[And one more thing: I’d love to interview you about your writing, no matter what stage you’re at or whether or not you’ve done one of these creative challenges, so leave me a comment below if you’d be willing to chat.]

Writing In The Fast Lane – Interview With AdorablyAlice

As writers we’re curious. About everything. About people, technology, history, our neighbours, everything.

I’m particularly curious about other writers and how they work, what keeps them going, why they do it.

So here’s the first in a series of interviews with writers, starting with writers who took part in the StoryADay challenge last May.

AdorablyAlice was one of our most active writers during the first challenge. In this interview she gives a lot of credit for her writing success to her secret weapon: her friend and mentor: Cid (also a StoryADay veteran). I’d love it if you’d leave a comment below, picking out one thing from this interview that stood out for you: something that sounded sooooo familiar it made you smile, or something you’d like to try in your own writing life.


Before you started StoryADay how would you have described your writing life?

I used to write a lot when I was younger. Sometime after high school, I stopped. It wasn’t until NaNoWriMo 2009 that I began writing again. So between NaNo and StADa, I was still trying to find a balance between work, school, life and writing.

What made you decide to do StoryADay?

Cid. I found out about StADa through her, and because short story is my weakest point, I thought it would be a good challenge. Plus, I thought it would help me get into the habit of writing daily.

What did you expect to achieve? What did you actually achieve? What did you learn during the challenge?

I wanted to write something every day, and I wanted to get stronger at writing short stories. I did write everyday, but I think I’m still weak in writing short stories. I learned about Twitter fiction, which intrigued me, and I actually wrote a few TwitFic pieces.

How do you make time for writing?

This is a good question. And when I have an answer that doesn’t involve neglecting chores/cooking, I’ll let you know.

Why do you write? What keeps you motivated?

I am most productive on #writersdatenight (yes, I have to include the Twitter hashtag). Once a week a group of five writers (including myself) meet at McAllister’s to eat, socialize a little and write. Because the other four ladies have been writing longer than I have, I feel motivated to write a lot when I’m around them. The sound every one typing is motivating. I’ve tried other writing groups, but they’ve been more socializing than writing, so I don’t enjoy them as much. Lately, Cid has been setting goals for me. Write 5K and get a book. Write 5K and have a Glee marathon. It works. She’s awesome.

What are your aspirations?

Well, I’d love to be published and that’ s definitely a long term goal, but more short term…I’d like to finish a story. Well, I’ve finished a few, but I don’t revise. So a good aspiration would be to go back and revise…lol

Do you have a project or website you’d like to tell people about?

Well, there’s Book-Addicts. There are four of us (Cid’s one of them) and we basically review books across all genres, interview authors, have guest blog spots and book giveaways. It’s a pretty awesome place for people who are as addicted to reading as we are. www.book-addicts.com – get your fix!

I also have my personal website, www.adorablyalice.com, I keep up with how I’m doing as a writer, offering the lessons I learn as I delve into the mysterious ways of The Writer.

Thanks, Alice! (And you can read more about Alice’s experiences with her writers’ groups and productivity in this blog post – which features a fun cartoon from my own writing friend and secret mentor, Debbie Ohi.)

[And one more thing: I’d love to interview you about your writing, no matter what stage you’re at or whether or not you’ve done one of these creative challenges, so leave me a comment below if you’d be willing to chat.]

An Interview NaBloPoMo Creator, Eden Kennedy

National Blog Posting MonthIn 2006 Eden Kennedy, of fussy.org, inspired by National Novel Writing Month started her own ‘month’: National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). For those of us who can’t possibly hope to carve out the time to writ a novel in a month, NaBloPoMo was a great alternative: commit to posting something every day, and see what happened.

I tried it and was pleasantly surprised to come away with both new friends and an increased sense of creativity, as I viewed my world in terms of potential creative writing opportunities.

Now, NaBloPoMo is a year-round event, with hundreds of people posting daily.

NaBloPoMo was a big inspiration for StoryADay.org, so I emailed Eden to ask her a few questions:

How long has NaBloPoMo been running?

[EDEN] I started it in November of 2006, running it off my own site, fussy.org. It was basically just a blogroll and a list of prizes people kept donating for me to hand out to random people who managed to post every day that month. A lot of people liked it because it was an alternative to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), where you write like 6,000 words a day. I, like many others, failed at my NaNo attempt, so it’s like we started a little underachievers club by doing NaBloPoMo. I moved everything over to nablopomo.com in November 2007 so it could become more of a social network, and thousands of new people signed up, to my surprise. Eventually so many people were asking if I could make more events throughout the year, and not just in November, that I decided to just go monthly.

Do you participate every month?

[EDEN] I only participate in November. It’s the original month, and still the month we get the most traffic for, two or three thousand people. The rest of the year we get maybe 400 or 500 people each month.

What have other writers told you they get out of it?

[EDEN] A real sense of satisfaction at having come up with something to say thirty days in a row. Sometimes you have to dig deep to find the will to write something that’s actually worth reading, and not just phone it in or post a YouTube video or something. For most people, one month is enough, but there are several die-hards who go on to post every day for a year or more.

Any tips for keeping going in the middle of the month when the enthusiasm wanes?

[EDEN] Photos. Posting a photo can either be a great writing prompt, because readers will be interested in whatever the story behind it is, or else it can stand by itself as a post and give you the day off. Nothing wrong with that!


Thanks, Eden!

Interesting point about the photos. Who says your Story A Day story couldn’t be a comic strip, a photo essay, a particularly evocative picture?