Your Writing Questions, Answered

In which I answer questions sent in by the StoryADay Community about how to overcome their writing challenges.

On this episode of The StoryADay Podcast, I discuss how to manage fear when it comes to writing, and how to overcome common struggles that writers often face.

You’ll learn why taking action is key to managing fear, and how participating in Story A Day can help with perfectionism and encourage creativity.

I also dive into the importance of having a deeper purpose for writing, and how to find motivation when it feels impossible to make time for writing.

Tune in to hear about the Story A Day Superstars Group and how it can help writers build community and celebrate their successes.

Plus, learn tips and tricks for acquiring and polishing writing skills. T

his is a must-listen episode for anyone looking to find inspiration, motivation, and guidance on their journey as a writer.


Sign up for the StoryADay Challenge

Find out more about the Superstars group

Support the podcast

Watch vvv


StADa285 StoryADay QA

 Good morning. Good evening. Good afternoon, Julie, from StoryADay here.

We are a little over a week away from StoryADay May.

[00:00:21] Survey Responses – challenges

I sent out a survey recently asking you all. About your secret dream for your writing life? I talked a little bit about that in the last episode. I also asked about people’s biggest challenge.

When it comes to writing at this moment in your life. And that’s what the first question. There was a lot of very personal heartfelt. Honesty in the answers. And there was a lot of. Similarity between what you all had to say. Everyone has their own take on it. There were certain people struggling with different areas of writing.

But, and none of it surprised me and none of it made me feel like any of you needed to quit. I think what we need to do. Is acknowledged that writing is hard. And there’s no better way to do that than to hang out with other writers because I, I. See this, I see all these answers and I’m staring at a screen of them right now.

I see all these answers and it’s all stuff I’ve heard. From other writers that I’ve been hanging out with, who are going through the process of writing.

And I’ve been hanging out with them for the past couple of decades and this stuff is. Is part of the process of writing. So let’s talk about what am I talking about? Things that I see in the survey.

[00:01:50] Writing Is Hard, M’Kay?

Making time and space to sit and write every day. Consistency of output, finishing what I’ve started. The confidence to keep making, moving forward, having the team and capacity to rate. All of these things. Are. Incredibly common among us. It’s very difficult. To take words. And create worlds.

And create interesting characters. And put them in fascinating situations that have twists and turns and can hold somebody’s interest. And we all read these wonderful books that have been published that have been through the polishing process and the revision process and the draft after draft, to get them to be

brilliant and twisty and fascinating. And much less often do we get to look at first drafts. Second drafts. Or to hear from writers who are going through that process.

It turns out that.

[00:03:06] Mythbusting

Everything we think we need to do in writing usually comes with an asterisk. Yeah, you have to write a polished draft that goes through multiple revisions. Except some of it may not. You might actually. write a great couple of scenes that stay intact all the way through the process.

Yeah, you have to write consistently, but consistently doesn’t mean every day.

It means keep coming back to it. Don’t leave a three year gap between stories that you’ve written.

[00:03:37] Fear is Managable

People who are retired or out of work will tell you that simply having space and time for your writing does not guarantee that you’re going to be able to sit down and write, because once you’ve solved the time and space issue. Then you have to deal with all the inner stuff. Am I good enough? Do I know what I’m doing? The fear of of not being good enough.

Which is by far the harder problem to solve. It is solvable. Because. Those kinds of fears. Am I good enough. Am I going to be able to, am I interesting enough? I’m going to be able to write this way or that way, these. Once you acknowledge that chatter is happening in your head. You can give it a name and that name is fear.

And once you have a name for it, you can start thinking about it. And once you start thinking about it, you look at these questions that are popping up in your head about, are you good enough? Can you do this? Can you write an eight? Eight 80,000 word novel. Can you tell an interesting story? All of these things are skills.

That you can acquire that you can build that you can polish.

And the thing about fear as the bravest people in the world will tell you. Is that it doesn’t go away. You just get better at managing how much power it has over you and the way to manage that power that it has over you. Is by taking action and doing a thing. So if you’re feeling fear,

The best thing to do is just to write anyway. It won’t be as bad as you thought and the , next time you feel that fear, you will know that you can push through it. And the more you do that, the less of a hold fear. Has over you.

So if you are. Avoiding your writing for some reason, if you are sitting down at your desk and then stepping away to do something more easy, clean the kitchen or do the laundry or make a meal. These are things that you know how to do. So they are easier, even if they’re not more enjoyable, they might be, but I don’t know who you are. If you enjoy cleaning the kitchen

more than you enjoyed writing. The point is. That. If you don’t know why you’re getting up and running away from your desk. Whenever you want to sit down and write it’s possibly fear-based. So call it that and then have a look inside and see what those fears are. Are they about. You’re afraid that you’re going to write a boring story. Okay.

Then write a boring story and then go and figure out how to make it more interesting. Don’t wait for it to come out perfectly, and be interesting on the first shot. Write some characters don’t put them in a setting, ask them some questions. What do you want and why can’t you, why don’t you have it already? And then start listening to what.

What comes out of your brain as you write, and you have to be writing for those answers to appear.

And once you’ve written your boring story, you’ll discover that the world did not end. And you get to write more stories or you get to revise this story. But nothing permanent happened. And if you feel like nothing happened in your story, then you go and you read some articles or a book about story structure, or how to add tension to a story or how to inject conflict into a story.

And you go and ask other writers, how do you do this? I had an example of this the other day. I’m writing. I’m writing a romance. I got a little stuck and I talked to a friend of mine who specializes in romance.

And I told her the story and I told her what was happening and how I’d set it all up. And she immediately asked me one question that made me realize what my story was lacking. And it was just, she just has that skill in her toolbox that she understands that genres so well that as I was fumbling through telling her my story, she realized there was a huge piece missing.

And she asked me where’s this piece. And I said, I haven’t written it into the story. And she went well, start there and it was just a very low key question from her because she understood. The skill she has these tools. And she asked. The right question.

 If you have fear about not being good enough, It might just be a lack of skills. You just don’t know if you have the skills you need, in which case you get to pursue the skills, you got to go find them. You get to ask people questions and say how do you do this? And if you’re hanging out with other writers, you’ve got a wealth of people to do that with. The good news for you is that the internet is full of writers who are very happy to talk about their process. So there’s tons of interviews and there’s tons of classes you can take. There’s tons of groups you can join to find other writers.

Even if you’re introverted. Joining a group and being with other people who are pursuing this difficult thing. Has been transformational for me. And for, I think a number of people. In the story of the superstars, which is opening up again soon. So keep an eye on your emails for that.

So if you have time and space to write and you’re running up against that fear there. There are some things that you can do to help yourself keep moving.

[00:09:09] Finding Time

 I think one of the things that we all have to do, and this will. Address those of you who said that you have. Trouble finding or making time to right now, there are genuinely lives out there that are very busy.

And especially those of you with young children or people, other people that you’re looking after or demanding jobs, or maybe three demanding jobs. Making time is tricky.

For some of us that is less tricky. But for all of us. The thing that will make it more compelling. For us to make time for a writing. Is to manage the motivation question. This was another one that I saw coming up for people was that they were struggling with finding the motivation to write, keeping the momentum going.

All of these kinds of words, cropping up in the survey. And the most powerful thing. I have. Discovered in this area. Is to think of other people.

To remove yourself from the equation a little bit. And weight more heavily the people who will be impacted by your story. And you can think about when you were a kid. And you read that book that just made you feel seen, that entertained you when you were down, that. Just moved you. And this doesn’t have to be when you were a kid, it could be last week.

If you think about that. And if you can keep your thoughts, cause I know you’ve got your thoughts, recent mailer minute. That’s why you’re a writer. You’re very creative. You’re very imaginative. I knew tend. I am speaking for myself. When you start thinking, doing this thought exercise.

 It’s very common to think about. Oh, I want to create something like that, that, that moves someone and then respond to oh, but. Oh, but oh, . I have to write it all, but I have to finish it, or, but I’m not good at this, or, but I have to figure out how to get it published and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But that stuff is a different skill set. That is managing the business of being a writer professionally.

And you have to learn to put these things in silos and move that one over there. Let’s not think about that today. What we’re thinking about today is really. Thinking about your. Ideal reader. And.

Feel the love. For that ideal reader.

I know, it’s motivating to think about, getting checks from publishing houses and production companies and all of that kind of stuff. That’s great. That’s fine. That’s motivating. That gets you excited. Go for it. But it doesn’t tend to last as much because we’re all sensible people and we’re aware that there’s a certain amount of luck involved in there.

And you can’t guarantee that’s going to happen. You can guarantee that you can write something that will move someone. And if you have that, someone in mind, even a a theoretical person or somebody real from your life. It may be somebody who’s departed from your life already. And focusing on doing your best work

and trying to move that person, trying to reach that person, trying to help that person.

We’re pretty altruistic. I think. Most of us. And the idea of helping someone else is a really good way. to. Get over. A lack of confidence in ourselves.

If I was standing in front of you, and I cut my hand and I was bleeding and holding it out to you. I don’t think any of you would go, oh, I don’t really know what to do, but I’ll just, you just stand there with your hand bleeding. No, you’d grab a paper towel and you’d. Hand it to me and save, I don’t know, put pressure on it because , you know, that much.

And I don’t think anybody who’s listening to this, wouldn’t do that for me.

You don’t need to know how to do things perfectly, to be able to help people, touch people, move people, see people. If that helps you. Shift, focus from your shortcomings as a writer. To your aspiration. To help someone else. If that is motivating to you. Then hang on to that one.

And once you have that kind of motivation, whichever one you choose that really. Grabs you and moves you. Once you have that motivation in your mind.

You will. Find it harder to not find the time to write. So if you’re struggling to make time to write.

Keep in mind that deeper purpose that you have for writing. And you will find yourself much more motivated to cram little bits of writing into the little bits of time you can find. And two. Carve out pieces of time. Elsewhere.

[00:14:11] Overwhelm

 We do have big dreams. And a lot of answers from people who have this big dream of publishing a novel. Getting the movie deal, but. They are. New mothers or. Have elderly parents to look after. And so the whole big goal of writing or finishing the novel, or this is also for people who’ve lost momentum and are one person said, which I think is brilliant.

When I’ve lost momentum on a project, getting started again feels like standing at the base of Everest in flip-flops. Tell me that’s not a writer.

Overwhelm. It’s really common. And. This will not be news to you, but the idea of chunking things down, making them manageable, doing what you can today and not worrying about the whole project,

is really the only way to get anything done. If you are feeling like you’re not being consistent enough or that you don’t have enough time, that you can’t imagine rating. 80,000 words on one project, you don’t have to. Not today. You have to write the next scene. Or you have to think about the next scene.

Maybe map out the next scene, what does it need to achieve? Who’s going to be in it. Where are they going to be standing relative to each other? Maybe that’s all you can do today. But that means that when you sit down tomorrow, you’ll have that roadmap and you’ll be able to maybe write. 500 words, 300 words of that scene.

We tend to be very ambitious, which is good, but we also tend to be ambitious, which is bad. Because we want to write 2000 words every day and we want to finish a story every day. Now I’m going to encourage you to do that during May , but that’s not a sustainable goal for the rest of your life. And that’s part of the reason.

That I do story a day, because I want you to understand that some days you’re going to fail and some days you’re going to write badly and some days you’re not going to finish and you just get up and keep going the next day. And then at the end of a month, Look what you did. You wrote all of these words, all of these stories or partial stories and you weren’t perfect.

And. You still produced a bunch of stuff and you had fun.

You know what I’m going to say next perfectionism. Whether or not you think of yourself as a perfectionist. I certainly don’t think of myself as a perfectionist and yet. Perfectionism creeps in. We have to battle it.

You don’t have to be consistent in a way that doesn’t feel right for you. You don’t have to finish everything. You don’t have to write a good story.

You don’t have to have a perfect writing practice. You don’t have to have a perfect system, for getting your stories out to market. You just have to keep coming back. And B. Optimistic and hope filled about it.

[00:17:14] Want More Julie?

 There’s so much more and I’ll be coming back to these questions on your responses. In future episodes.

I’m always really touched when people contact me after I released these podcasts and tell me that I said just what they needed to hear. Inspired them to keep going, something like that. But it’s not magic. The reason I know what’s going on in your head is because I spend a lot of time with writers.

These kinds of questions come up in our StoryADay Superstars group, which is a group that gets together monthly for Hangouts to talk through issues like this. But also during the week, we have lots of writing dates where we get together and we actually hold each other accountable. Actually sit and write together on zoom calls.

And in the breaks in those calls, these kinds of questions come up as well. And we talk about them. You’re able to, if you’re in that group, you’re able to ask me very specific questions about your writing and the particular project you’re working on. And I, and the other writers in the group are able to ask you very specific questions about what exactly is going on, where the problem arises.

What, what is stalling you? What particular, you know, character issues are you having that kind of thing? So as well as the workshops that we do together really the benefit of. Being in the Superstars group, which is, as I have mentioned, opening up again soon. Is that you get. Basically more me.

You get more eyes on your specific problems. You don’t have to listen to me talking about these generic writer problems. You actually get. Coached on your specific. Issues. And. You get to celebrate with people who understand. The nuances of the writing life. So, if you are interested in. Finding a group like that in getting more access to me to get my eyes on your particular writing practice.

Come over to story Get yourself on my mailing list by putting your name in one of those sign up boxes. And I will email you this week to let you know more. About how you get into this group, which is like being at the best writers conference or workshop, but all year round.

Remember StoryADay May start soon so make sure you’re signed up for that. at

[00:19:45] Support the podcast

And finally a remainder that know you can support this podcast, if you would like to, which some people have asked me about and to do that, you go to, and you can make a one-time or recurring donation to keep the show going. And I really appreciate your support. That’s it from me this week. Happy writing. And I’ll see you again soon.

[Writing Prompt] Day 9 – Character Desires Are Key

Knowing what a character wants, tells us what’s at stake in the story. Conflict between the character’s desire and their circumstances will keep your reader hooked.

The Prompt

Establish, within the first couple of sentences, your character’s desire. Put them in a situation that conflicts with that desire. Tell us how it works out.


It’s important for a reader to know what your character wants.

Once they know what your character wants, is afraid of, would never do, or desperately wants to do, the reader knows WHY they’re reading this story. That will keep them reading.

Keep it simple. In a short story, you can only examine one of your character’s desire.

Scaling Mount Motivation – The Kiva Way

Everest & Lhotse by James C Farmer, on Flickr
Everest & Lhotse by James C Farmer, on Flickr

Do you ever struggle with motivation? Lord knows, I do. [1. Let’s face facts: I’m the kind of person who needed to launch an annual month-long, world-wide challenge to get me back to writing short stories!]

It’s October. The mornings are dark. The novelty of the kids being back at school has turned into the grind of early breakfasts and fights over homework. I’m having trouble writing new words, or sticking to a healthy eating plan. Frankly, even the breakfast dishes are looking like a bit like Mount Everest right now…and I feel just as likely to conquer either.

(OK, this is the strangest opening I’ve ever written to a pep talk. Let’s hope things pick up from here, eh?)

How To Move Forward?

So: bad week.

But this morning I got an email that changed my perspective.

A few years ago, a friend sent me a $25 gift certificate for (Bear with me.)

If you don’t know: Kiva is a micro-lending program that works with people all over the world, to help fund their businesses and entrepreneurial ideas. You choose and person and project and contribute towards their goal. They pay you back gradually.

This morning I got an email about my two most recent loans. Chin, in Cambodia, is a 61 year old mother of five. She’s using her loan to build a latrine for her family because her house has none [2. If that’s not enough to make me stop and count my blessings, I really AM a lost cause!]. Her first repayment came in this morning.


Do you see what I got?


All she paid to me was a measly $1.04.

But she’ll keep paying my $1.04 regularly until she has paid off the entire $25 that was my portion of the loan.

Her total loan amount is $750. That must seem like a Mount Everest of a number (or at least Phnom Aural). But she’s paying just under $32 every month for 26 months to pay all her funders. By paying that small amount ($1.04 of which comes to me) she will pay off all her debts.  Dollar by dollar, she’ll get there.

Are You Paying Your Creative Debts?

Think of all the ways we borrow from our creative lives. We put off writing to do laundry, to do our day jobs, to be nice to our family and friends, to give to charity, to do anything but invest in our art.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem worth coming back to the desk if we can’t give ourselves a big payday. It doesn’t seem worth it when we’re only adding a couple of hundred words at a time, or writing our Morning Pages.

But if we just follow Chin’s example and keep chipping away, day after day, month after month, we will achieve the impossible. Chin will pay off her $750 loan. We will create a life that includes our art. We may even create some art that touches other people.

What could you do today if you didn’t have to finish $750’s worth of writing all at once?

  • What if you only had to write $1.04’s worth of it?
  • Could you manage that much?
  • And could you come back and write $1.04’s worth tomorrow? And the day after that? And do the same next week?
  • Even on your worst day you could manage that, couldn’t you?

Incidentally, my loans? Look at the default & delinquency rates:


Women living hard lives in Peru, Cambodia, Mexico and US have all committed to investing in bettering their lives. And they have not quit. They have never even shown up late.

Take a tiny bite out of your creative debt today

  • Write a Drabble (100 word story)
  • Write a haiku
  • Read a short story (check out the Tuesday Reading Room series for some suggestions)
  • Sketch out the ending to a story you’ve left hanging
  • Write a sensuous description of something in the world of one of your unfinished stories (how does it smell, taste, feel, make your character feel?)
  • Write three pages of stream-of-consciousness blah-blah, to warm up your writing muscles (rip up the pages when you’re finished)
  • Take the plunge and submit that finished story to a contest or publication (who cares if it doesn’t win? All judgement is subjective, but you gain something valuable simply by putting it out there!)

Let me know what you did — or plan to do — in the comments. Heaven knows I’ll need the inspiration next time I hit a slump!

What If I Don’t Feel Like Writing?

You love to write, right?

Except when you don’t.

2006_05.28 Isaac tantrum

What’s a writer to do on those days when your inner writer is being a cranky toddler, plumping it’s big fat bottom down on the floor, screwing up its face and wailing,

“I dun wanna wri-i-ite!”

Today I bring some tough parenting love for your inner child-writer. Next week: seven practical strategies to jump-start your writing on the days when even The Mommy Voice won’t cut it.

Tough It Out

D’ya think the dairy farmer always leaps out of bed before dawn, whistling and praising the winter wind that whips away his breath on the way to the byre? Nope, but you need milk for your coffee, so he drags himself out of bed.

Readers, no, the world needs your stories, so get your fingers on the keyboard.

But Julie, you say, writing is a creative pursuit! How can I be expected to turn out something wonderful if writing feels like work?

In answer I say: how will you turn out something wonderful if you aren’t sitting down every day and learning how to get through the reluctance, the fear, the slog? You don’t have to write something wonderful every. You do, however, have to write. Whether you feel like it or not.

Do whatever it takes to get yourself past the reluctance and into that happy place where the words flow. Stay in your chair until you are happy to be there. Your readers will thank you.


If you are not writing for a steady paycheck and legions of crazed fans, you need another reward structure.

It IS hard to start and finish a story. It IS hard to face the revision process. You DO deserve a reward for putting in the effort – beyond the satisfaction of knowing you did it.

So, set up some incentives for yourself. Be generous, but canny. Your rewards should enhance your creativity rather than take the edge off.

Examples of creativity-enhancing rewards:

  • -a call to a like-minded friend,
  • -a new notebook,
  • -some guilt-free time contemplating a thing of beauty,
  • -a walk in the woods

Stodgy, counterproductive “rewards”:

  • -a half-pint of ice cream,
  • -two hours flipping through the channels,
  • -a free-flowing bitch-session about how hard it is to be a writer.



Yes, goals. Set regular goals and meet them.

Any or all of the following – especially when you pair them with the accountability of telling a more-bossy friend about them – can help you break through the barriers on a day when you just don’t want to write:

-a daily word count or ’scene goal’. Commit to write X number of words or complete scenes every day. You will progress, even if you end up revising heavily later.
-a weekly goal can make the whole ’goal’ thing less stressful than a daily goal. Struggling on Tuesday? Make up for it on Wednesday, Thursday AND Friday.
-write down mid-term and long-term goals: “finish three stories this month”, “revise and submit stories to ten markets by October”, “self-publish a story collection in 2013”.

Refer to your list as you sit down to work. Remind yourself it’s not just about the slog or the word-count: you have goals for your writing.

And if one of your goals is “support myself through my writing, full-time” then it’s even more important that you figure out, now, how to write even when you don’t feel like it.

Next week: seven specific techniques for getting yourself in the mood to write even when your inner child-writer is saying “I dun wanna!”.

Then, let me bust your writing excuses. No more excuses!


So tell me, what do YOU do when you don’t feel like writing?

Week 1 – Story A Day So Far

Thanks to everyone who responded to my questions about how your week is going. I’ve collected some of the responses…

We’ve made it to Day 7! Congrats to everyone who has written anything, or still plans to! And thanks to everyone who responded to my questions about how your week is going. I’ve collected some of the responses below.

When I had this idea to write A Story A Day, back in March, I knew I was going to need a crew to keep me honest, because I knew it would be hard. My non-writer friends a families gave me that ‘uh-huh!’ look and said things like “that’s ambitious”.

With the help of a few people like Debbie, Carol, Robert and Eden, and the Twitterati, word spread rapidly and I discovered that there are tons of writers out there just as hungry for an excuse to focus on their writing as I was. Tons of people who took “That’s ambitious” and made it a cheer, not a groan.

So now, I have — according to my Story A Day Dashboard — 77 new friends, who are all serious enough about their writing to want to do this challenge. Not everyone is writing every single day and not everyone is finishing a story every day they start one, but everyone is serious about their writing and that is such an inspiration to me.  (Sorry, I’m gushing)


Story length:

The shortest story people are laying claim to is 25 words. The longest is over 3000

Tips for keeping going:

@mapelba says  “As Ann Lamott said–butt in chair. It helps to listen or read an interview with a favorite author sometimes. Oh, and I’ve given up a lot of TV. That helps.”

@Cidwrites says: “The excitement of my friends who are doing this helps a lot!”

@KristenRudd says: “My trick so far is to mull my story all day, while I’m doing whatever it is I do. I think about the directions it could go, but I mostly think about how to open it. Then, when I can finally sit down after the kids are in bed, the dishes are washed, and I’ve done everything else that needs doing, I’m excited about the story that’s been buzzing all day. If I have the opener, I can sit down and just WRITE (That said, neither story went where I had planned. Characters kept popping in and announcing themselves, changing the story). Who knows if this will hold up – we’ll see! Ask us again in two weeks!

“My other trick was to sign up my kid. I have too much pride to be outdone by a seven-year-old, so I’lm guaranteed to write every day.” (I love this one!)

@Wendolin says: “I keep going because every day I wake up and the first thing I think about is . . . what will I end up with today? I go about my morning chores thinking about possibilities. I make this challenge the focus of my day, and though I have many other things to do, I keep the story in the back of my miind, cogitating, adding and subtracting, until at last, I just have to sit down and start writing, no matter how much laundry there is in the hamper.”

Thanks everyone! Keep writing!