Writers: Burn Your Business Cards

‘Creative’ is not a noun…Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title, not the work.”

Austin Kleon, Keep Going

I read Chapter 3 of Kleon’s latest book this morning and it stopped me in my tracks.

Not because I didn’t know and understand what he said.

I have, after all, made a name for myself as the person who entices writers to actually write during May & September every year.

But because it made me wonder: am I actually doing the verb?

diary writing

What Do You Do All Day?

Continue reading “Writers: Burn Your Business Cards”

Get The Results You Want, For Your Writing

picture of a winner's medal

Get the free Get Results Worksheet,
and catch all the ideas this post gives you

Let’s be honest: fame and fortune would be nice, but it’s not really the reason we write, is it?

We write because we need to. It should be enough but sometimes we want more. This post will lead you through three ways to get yourself closer to your image of ‘writing success’. Continue reading “Get The Results You Want, For Your Writing”

How To Set Exciting Writing Goals for Next Year — And Actually Meet Them, This Time!

This time next year, you could be staring at a list of achievements that are directly related to the goals that matter to you…

Listen to the podcast episode that goes along with this post:

The Allure of the Fresh Start

I love the idea of a fresh start, don’t you?

It doesn’t matter when it happens (New Year, the first day of spring, the start of a new academic year), I’m always ready with my list of “this time it’ll be different” resolutions.

  • This time I’ll get my assignments done ahead of time!
  • This time I’ll write every day, even if I don’t feel inspired!
  • This time I’ll floss three times a day!

    And What Happens Next?

    You know what I’m going to say, don’t you?

    I’m excited to follow through on my plans for about three days.

    Then I start to force myself to stick to the new regime.

    Then I start to miss a day here or there…

    …and suddenly it’s June and I’m flipping through my journal and I find that massive, guilt-inducing list of Things I’m Going To Do Differently This Year, and my shoulders slump, and I spend the next three weeks in a slump, wondering why I can’t get anything done.

    Sound familiar?

Continue reading “How To Set Exciting Writing Goals for Next Year — And Actually Meet Them, This Time!”

Beyond Word Count – Other Ways To Log Your Writing Progress

I’ve made a case for logging your word count to keep yourself accountable, to give yourself a pat on the back, to encourage consistency and good writing habits.

But it doesn’t have to be word count.

WHEN WORD COUNTS HELP

Setting a word count goal makes sense if you’re working on a novel and want it finished by X date.

It also makes sense if you want to become a faster writer.

WHAT IF THAT DOESN’T WORK FOR YOU?

It might not make sense to set a word count goal  if you’re still struggling to create a writing habit. Or if you’re writing flash fiction.

And what if you’re int he editing (or marketing) phase of a project, but still want to feel productive?

In these cases, you might want to to track the number of days on which you worked, to see how your writing practice is becoming part of your life.

HOW TO LOG YOUR DAYS

Set a goal for the number of days a week that you will Write Something (or Work on Project X).

  • Make a new column in your StoryADay Writing Log. Call it “Days Worked”
  • Any day when you work, just type “YES” or a “+” in that new column.
  • If you want to get fancy — set up conditional formatting to turn the cell green when it finds that text in the field).

If you like to keep your logs in a more tangible form:

At the end of the month, step back and gaze at the ‘heat map’ of your work progress. Hopefully there’ll be enough ’stickered’ days to make you smile. If not, make a commitment now to do better next month.

KEEPING YOUR GOALS REALISTIC

If you can make an unbroken chain of those days that’s great. But bewarE! Setting so high a bar can backfire. What happens the first time life gets in the way and you miss a day? You feel terrible. You get demotivated. You quit.

Rather, I’d suggest setting a goal to write on a certain number of days a week.

WHAT TO DO WITH THE INFORMATION

At the end of the month, look back at your log see how much you achieved and if any patterns emerge (are weekends good or bad for you? Do you write more when you’ve had more sleep? When the kids are in school?). You can see where you might make changes or improvements.

NO GUILT

Again, try to not use the log as a weapon to bludgeon yourself with guilt. Use it to analyze and study (and to face) what’s really going on.  Try to increase your goal a little from what you actually achieved this month (not some abstract and possible unrealistic ‘ideal’).

Whatever type of log you choose, use it to keep yourself accountable, spur positive changes, and reinforce good work habits.

Because all of these things get you closer to where you want to be: writing.

Are you logging your writing days or word count? What methods do you use, and how do you use it to help you progress? Share in the comments, below!

How I Used Word Count Tracking To Write 100,000 Words

How I used the StoryADay Word Count Logging tool to write 100,000 words last year, and why you should be logging your progress too!

Do you log your word count?

I’ve been logging my word count (on and off) for the past couple of years. Last year, without really trying too hard, I managed to write 100,000 words of fiction. That was the end of one novel, several short stories (a couple published) and the first half of a second novel.

If I’m so productive, why bother logging my word count, you say?

Come closer and let me whisper into your ear…I’m productive because of the word count log.

Here are four ways  logging my progress helped me meet my goals: Continue reading “How I Used Word Count Tracking To Write 100,000 Words”

Anchoring Habits For A More Productive Writing Life

To create a regular writing habit (and stick to it), try scheduling it immediately after something you already do regularly…

There is a very helpful technique for creating new habits, known as ‘anchoring'[1. I didn’t make this up. It’s being studied by Dr BJ Fogg, a human-behaviour scientist at Stanford University].

Anchor In Sand image
Photo by: Plbmak

The idea is this: you don’t think about brushing your teeth before you go to bed at night, or showering when you get up. It’s just something you do.

If you want to create a new habit (and stick to it), try doing it immediately after something you already do by rote.

So, if you want to remember to floss your teeth, say you’ll do it after your morning tooth scrub. If you want to brainstorm ideas for stories, say you’ll do it as soon as you’ve poured your first cup of coffee.

Choosing Your Anchor

Your anchor has to be something that works for you, specifically. Continue reading “Anchoring Habits For A More Productive Writing Life”

Brainstorming & Outlining for People Who Hate Outlines

We have to tell stories to unriddle the world - Alan GarnerThis post is for people who are having trouble getting past the exciting beginning of their story and into (and through) the mushy middle. It works for novelists and short story writers.

Beyond The Beginning

Starting a story can be hard. But once you get started, the excitement carries you through some initial world-building, character-developement and scene setting. Then what?

Then, you get stuck, going around in circles, with your characters doing stuff, but not really going anywhere (either literally or plot-wise).

This is the perfect time to outline the next part of your story and start thinking about where you want to go from here. If you hate the thought of  outlining, think of it as brainstorming. You do this in your head, if you’re a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants), but sometimes it can be helpful to catch some of your ideas on paper.

Brainstorming (Not Outlining)

If you’re not a natural outliner, don’t go crazy with this. You know you’re going to write something that captures your interest and throw out the outline, or maybe a new character will do something unexpected and interesting. So don’t outline. Just brainstorm a few questions like:

  • What is my character’s main desire?
  • What is stopping her from getting to that desire?
  • What does a ‘victory’ look like, in story terms and for my character?
  • How can I make things worse for her?
  • How can I make things even worse for her?
  • Who does she need to ally with to help her reach her ‘victory’?
  • Who/what is the antagonist and what does it/they want?

Even if you’re not a fan of outlining, keeping these questions (and the answers you discover) in mind as you write, will help keep your enthusiasm high for your story.

Revisit these questions every few writing sessions, or after every couple of scenes. Map out what needs to happen next to advance your character’s journey. Let future ideas dance around the back of your brain.

Then add another scene to your story.

More Resources

I’m posting these with the caveat that you should use as few of these as possible and ONLY when you are absolutely, dead stuck. Do not think these will help you if you aren’t actually writing. You must be writing your story for these resources to make any meaningful contribution.

Worksheets

Jill Williamson has a fabulous resource page full of everything from Novel Brainstorming Worksheet and one for short stories, to scene planning worksheets (one and two POVs), to character archetypes, genres & subgenres, even a worksheet for thinking about your characters’ hobbies!

Larry Brooks has a one-page checklist to help you plot out your novel. I find this one a little overwhelming, but if you take it step by step (i.e. write  your way to a point when you’re stuck, then consult his list to see what you need to think about for the next quarter of your story) it might be more manageable. You can also find his Character Checklist here.

Books To Get You Unstuck

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is one of three books they’ve written (along with the Negative Trait Thesaurus and the Positive Trait Thesaurus) that can help you if your characters are feeling flat.

Book Architecture: How to Plot and Outline Without Using a Formula by Stuart Horwitz. Can’t recommend this enough. It takes a fresh look at how to keep your plot interesting, by examining through-lines of themes and imagery and character traits rather than focusing on the old ‘Plot point I”, “Plot point II” “Dark Night Of The Soul” structure, which I find really unhelpful. This book, on the other hand, make small explosions go off in my brain. If you’re resistant to the idea of outlining, this might be the book to help you keep your story on track, nevertheless.

Million Dollar Outlines (Million Dollar Writing Series) by Dave Farland. Unashamedly commercial in outlook, this book is stuffed with examples (mostly from the movie world) of what makes a compelling story, what readers are looking for (even down to age and gender breakdowns) and leaves you feeling totally convinced that anyone with a modicum of talent and the will to persist, can do this and maybe even make a living at it. Why not you? Hoo-ah! Also stuffed with practical advice on how to make YOUR story sing.

Write Your Novel From The Middle: A New Approach for Plotters, Pantsers and Everyone in Between by James Scott Bell. I found this very encouraging, particularly his insight into what the ‘midpoint’ of the novel really is, and the kind of moment you can write for your protagonist that crystallizes both the midpoint and what comes next.

Motivation for Creative People: How to Stay Creative While Gaining Money, Fame, and Reputation by Mark McGuinness. This book won’t tell you how to write a novel, but it will help you think about all the ways your poxy brain is holding you back, and how to make it work for you, instead. This is not your average ‘rah-rah, tell yourself you can do it’ book. McGuinness uses everyday examples and his background as a coach to show you how different types of motivation work on you. Grounded in academic studies, this is a chatty, accessible and inspiring look at how you can free yourself to create.

Other Resources

The Snowflake Method – From Randy Ingermanson, this is another wonderfully logical way to avoid the whole inverted-triangle, unhelpful story structure plotting that drives me crazy. It helps you focus on the key points of the story you want to tell (which you’ll discover while going through his exercises). It has the added bonus of creating your story summary and proto-marketing materials before you’ve even written it (which is the part most people say they hate even more than writing the thing in the first place).

This works even if you’ve started your novel. I was stuck at the half way point of a novel I’d been tinkering with for years, when I came across this method. Spent a few hours following Randy’s advice and pounded out the second half of the novel in a couple of weeks!

 

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 Kiva.org. (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.

KivaLoan10-14

Do you see what I got?

$1.04

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:

KivaDelinquency

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!

Best Of The Web for Short Story Writers April 2014

Writing by Night
Writing by Night by bluelectric, Creative Commons License

Every month or so I bring you my favorite links from around the web, that touch on creativity, productivity and writing (from the perspective of a short story writer. I tend to stay away from articles on novel structure, ‘getting an agent’ and other publishing-related questions. We’re here to write, right?)

Here are my favorites from my past month of studying this craft: Continue reading “Best Of The Web for Short Story Writers April 2014”

Making Time To Write – Success Stories

I find it useful to read case studies from people who have actually WRITTEN books (and possibly had them published and worked on a sequel). Theory is all very well, but hearing from someone who has actually done it? Much more inspiring. They also tend to be more passionate, less forgiving and much, much more practical.

Here are a bunch of articles from working writers who answer the second-most-asked question they hear. [1. The first, of course, being “where do you get your ideas?”]

Jon Scalzi is a speculative fiction writer, Hugo award winner and creative consultant on the SyFy Network’s Stargate: Universe. He wrote an energetic answer to the time question which includes this choice paragraph,

There are lots of things I think I’d like to do, and yet if I don’t actually make the time and effort to do them, they don’t get done. This is why I don’t have an acting career, or am a musician — because as much as I’d like those, I somehow stubbornly don’t actually do the things I need to do in order to achieve them. So I guess in really fundamental way I don’t want them, otherwise I’d make the time. C’est la vie.

Jackie Kessler has written 12 novels (not all of them published, but hey, that’s a lot of writing time) and refuses to apologize for taking time to write.

Screenwriter John August shares his work-a-day experience of becoming a professional writer. It’s not sexy, but it worked.

Chip Scanlan talks about writing in small chunks, lowering your standards, rejecting the Soup Nazi.

And to finish things off for today:

Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn (@creativepenn on Twitter) shares this personal story, which debunks the ‘if I only had time’ myth a bit:

I once decided that I needed time to write my book. I had some money from the sale of my house, took 3 months off and tried to write every day. It didn’t work. I didn’t have anything to show for it, and went back to work disheartened at my inability to write. It was 4 years until I actually decided to try again.

Then I wrote “How to Enjoy Your Job” in 9 months of evenings, weekends and days off while working fulltime.”.

You can find the time – you just need to re-prioritise!