Writers don’t just write for themselves, we write to be read, and with that we leave a legacy. in this episode I tell the story of two writers who left an impact on me, and invite you to think about your legacy
Today’s prompt is all about limits, but don’t worry, you don’t have to know anything about poetry and you don’t have to make this rhyme!
Write A Story In 14 Sentences
(Sometimes limits can be surprisingly freeing so if you hate this idea, try it anyway!!)
Today’s bonus prompt comes from Elise Holland, writer and editor of the 2Elizabeths online literary magazine
There are so many excellent contests available to short form writers.
Sometimes the clear-cut parameter of a deadline serves as inspiration, and
many contests are genre specific, creating a built-in, detailed prompt.
In order to provide a precise prompt, I suggest looking into submitting
your work to Nowhere Magazine’s Spring 2018 Travel
Writing Contest. Beneath the prompt, you will find my tips on how to find
writing contests, and how to use each set of submission guidelines as
Until May 31, 2018, literary travel magazine Nowhere is seeking
contest submissions from young, old, novice, and veteran writers.
Specifically, they are looking for stories with a strong sense of place.
Send your fiction, nonfiction, or essay, but be certain to specify which
genre your work falls into at the top of your manuscript. Submissions
should be kept between 800 – 5,000 words in length. The contest winner will receive $1,000 and publication in Nowhere. For further details and
to submit your work, visit the magazine’s website here.
- You can access a free database of writing contests from Poets &
Writer’s, here. For a minimal fee, you can access additional contest databases and information for writers through Writer’s Market or
- When you write for a contest, be sure to carefully read each set of
submission guidelines. Each publication will seek different stories based
on criteria such as genre, word count, and deadline. Use these criteria
dutifully to hone in on your story, and to ensure that your work is
considered by contest judges.
- Many contests will be genre-specific. For instance, the contest for Nowhere is seeking work revolving around travel. And later this
year 2 Elizabeths, the magazine I edit, will host its second annual Love & Romance Writing Contest. (Grab a copy of our submission guidelines, here.)
- Use these genre-specific contests to propel you into your work. You can
either be hyper-focused and choose to enter work only into the genre you
write, or you can choose to enter a variety of work into different
genre-specific contests, expanding your repertoire.
- I’m a firm believer that limitations breed creativity. And that’s exactly
how I would encourage you to view word count restrictions pertaining to a writing contest. It can be a fun game, squeezing an entire tale into a
limited number of words, and it’s a fantastic exercise in the economy of
- As you peruse any of the aforementioned databases, consider which
contests you might like to enter. Use these contest deadlines to help you
build your own editorial calendar.
- Many contests will be genre-specific. For instance, the contest for Nowhere is seeking work revolving around travel. And later this
- Many writing contests require participants to pay a submission fee. This
is generally intended to cover the prize which will be paid to the
winner(s), as well as to keep the publication running.
- When submitting your work there are a couple of key terms to be aware of:
simultaneous submissions and multiple submissions.
- The term simultaneous submission means that you will be
sending the same piece to several literary magazines or journals at the
same time. Most publications accept simultaneous submissions, but some do not. If a publication does not accept them, this will be stated in their guidelines.
- Should your work be selected for publication by one magazine, it is
important to notify other publications where you have submitted that piece.
This courtesy will prevent complications, and will keep you in good graces with various editors, should you wish to submit to them again in the future.
- The term multiple submission means that you are submitting multiple pieces to the same literary magazine or journal. This is generally accepted, but if it’s not, that will be specified in the submission guidelines.
- The term simultaneous submission means that you will be
About Elise Holland
Elise Holland is the editor of 2 Elizabeths, a literary magazine
focused on poetry and short fiction, with an emphasis on romance and
women’s fiction. Her work has been published inWriter’s Digest Magazine, The Writer’s Dig, and at DIY MFA. Find Holland online at 2Elizabeths.com.
Today I want to give you an overview of something that I find useful when figuring out where to start and stop a story and how to keep it on track.
It’s called the MICE Quotient and I learned about it from Mary Robinette Kowal, though it was invented by Orson Scott Card.
The letters stand for:
M – Milieu
I – Intrigue/Idea
C – Character
E – Event
Each letter tells you what type of story you’re telling.
This is largely a story about place. Usually your character arrives in a new place at the start, and most of their struggle is about them neogitating that place, learning about it, trying to escape it. The story ends when they leave that place or they fit it.
EXAMPLES: The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Ever After.
A question is posed at the beginning of the story. The story ends when the mystery is solved or the question is satisfactorily answered.
EXAMPLES: Sherlock Holmes, Arrival/The Story Of Your Life
A character starts off with an internal conflict and, by the end of the story they have changed it, or rejected the idea of change, or at least understood where the problem lies.
EXAMPLES: Die Hard (Seriously, John McClane has issues at the start of that movie!), The King’s Speech.
External forces change the world at the start and drive the struggle in the middle of the story. At the end of the story the status quo has been restored or a new normal has been established.
EXAMPLES: The Hunger Games, The Parent Trap, disaster movies!
Pick a dominant thread for your story today, based on the MICE categories. Work towards the ending that fits the story type you chose.
Me? I give a workshop about this and how the first three Die Hard movies fit into different categories. Tell your favorite conference organizer to book me now!
Q. How do I start writing again after a long time?
Keep your expectations low. Don’t expect to produce a masterpiece, or even a coherent story. Continue reading “[Q & A] How To Start Writing Again”
All this to say, You Be You. You Write You. It is said in Ye Olde Hallowed Annals of Writerly Bull that Thou Shalt Write The Book of Thy Heart. Truly. Do. Because life as a professional artist is HARD. You have to delight in what you’re writing and slaving away over because there are moments when that’s all you have. Take your craft deadly seriously, but not yourself, and not necessarily your genre. Wink at it, have a total blast, revel and wallow, and be only as indulgent as your editor allows. Try to be objective, and don’t be hurt if people think your cup of tea tastes like poo. With any luck, passion, love and creativity will shine through. For my part, I can only hope the wild expanse of whatever foggy moor I’m frolicking in will bring loyal readers, who don’t mind the eerie abandon, back time and again to my dark and stormy night.
Leanna has a very good point.
Are you writing what you love?
First, some questions:
- What do you love?
- What keeps you coming back to the desk every day?
- Have you found your voice yet?
Obligatory StoryADay promo: writing a story every day for a month drives you to try new things, desperate measures, genres and voices you’ve never allowed to fly free before. Try it.
You might find your true voice and your true love lurking underneath all those stylized and ‘commercial’ things you think you ought to be writing.
That way lies fulfillment and riches (well, I can’t guarantee the riches, but I’m fairly certain they won’t come if you hate what you’re writing!)
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 [link no longer valid].
Screenwriter John August shares his work-a-day experience of becoming a professional writer. (“my general point is that you need to actively clear time in your day to write, which means giving up something.”) It’s not sexy, but it worked.
Jane Friedman talks about what it takes to make time to write.
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!
[updated 3/3/2020 with corrected and new links]
Help! I’m suffering an explosion of creativity and I can’t seem to stop myself finding time and ideas for writing!
How It All Began
One recent evening I tucked myself into my armchair, put my feet up, pulled my knitting on to my lap and settled down in the flickering black and white light coming from my television as we fired up a couple of episodes of The Twilight Zone — our nightly non-guilty pleasure.
I love The Twilight Zone. The stories are so imaginative, they’re not afraid to take a dark turn (!); they’re stylish, well-crafted and intellectually stimulating.
I’ve been telling myself that they’re great research for my own story telling efforts.
And in a way they are. They’re all about a character (often a man, aged 36, oddly enough) who needs something, lacks something, wants something. Great stuff for storytellers.
But at the end of every Season 1 episode, I keep seeing this little line of text that makes me uneasy.
“Based on the short story…”
Short Stories Are Not Screenplays
I follow a lot of working writers’ blogs, but people who are getting paid to write the equivalent of short stories now are often working in TV. The influences they cite are other TV shows and writers. I follow those links and spend hours reading about how those other writers write and find success.
But I’m not writing screenplays. I need to remind myself how to show a scene in words, not images.
So I’ve embarked on another challenge (you know how I love a challenge, right?) and I invite you to come along with me.
Following Ray Bradbury’s prescription for writers (watch it here. It’s worth the time) I’m trying to read a short story every day, especially those from the late 19th and early 20th centuries — stories with some staying-power. I’m also trying to read one essay a day (though accessible, classic essays are proving harder to find than good short stories) and one poem a day (oddly enough, though poems are shorter, I’m finding it harder to rouse myself to do this part of the program).
The Results Are In
I’ve been doing this for just over a week and, as I said, I’ve been ‘suffering’ under an explosion of creativity. I’ve written one, long-for-me, 6,000 word short story and sketched out ideas for more than 50 more (yes, 5-0!) in a few different themes/genres, started my second story and written four blog posts.
And my kids are on vacation!
But I can’t seem to stop myself finding time to read and write.
I’ve rediscovered the joy of both reading and writing. I’m sneaking off, staying up late, ignoring people I love, to read — and little of it is on Facebook or Feedly or Twitter. I’m reading well-crafted fiction and non-fiction that has stood the test of time. And I’m bursting with ideas, references and imagery — I’m so full of ideas that I can’t hold them back. I simply have to write. (This is not always the case with me. I always feel better when I’m writing but I’m quite good at being lazy and grumpy instead).
Want to join me in being more creative, more productive, and more joyful? Start reading and writing today!
Oh, you knew I was going to have to do it:
Write A Scary Story For Halloween
You can take some traditionally Halloween-y elements and write about them in a spooky way, or in a funny way, or a tragic way, it’s up to you! Or you can invent some new tropes for the scary story (Hey, Stephen Moffat managed to turn harmless stone statues into one of the creepiest new monsters I’ve encountered in years!!)
- Use a Halloween object in an unusual way (perhaps a Jack o’lantern that really grins, or a haunted hayride that goes awry, or something about going around the neighborhood for treats but the kids have tricks played on them instead
- Turn an every day object or event into something spooky by explaining the ‘real’ story behind it (what’s really happening when you leave a door ajar; where the other socks all really go; why you can never find a pen when you need one…)
- Re-tell a classic ghost story but update the setting. Here are some classic ghost stories to get you started.
1. You should use the prompt in your story.
2. You must write the story in one 24 hr period – the faster the better.
3. Post the story in the comments — if you’re brave enough.
4. Find something nice to say about someone else’s story and leave a comment. Everybody needs a little support!
Share this challenge on Twitter or Facebook
Some tweets/updates you might use:
Don’t miss my Halloween short story #WriteOnWed #storyaday https://storyaday.org/wow-scary
This week’s #WriteOnWed short story prompt is all about scares #storyaday https://storyaday.org/wow-scary
Come and write with us! #WriteOnWed #storyaday https://storyaday.org/wow-scary
See my story – and write your own, today: Scary Story!! #WriteOnWed #storyaday https://storyaday.org/wow-scary
I’m often asked how I write—how, physically, do I write? Pen and paper? Computer? Portable device? Onto my blog?
This is a question you, too, should consider for yourself before you set yourself any kind of writing challenge (like, for example, writing a story a day for a month!)
How will you:
* Write whenever and wherever you get the chance?
* Keep track of everything you’ve written?
* Find a way to work that is comfortable for you?
So should you commit to writing in a notebook? ON a netbook? At your trusty (or flaky) computer?
Honestly, the answer for you (as it is for me) is probably a mixture of all of them. So here are my tips and tricks for:
* Using all the writing technology at your disposal for maximum productivity (without losing your mind)
* Keeping and retrieving your masterpieces for later editing.
Paper and Pen(cil)
The pros and cons to this are pretty straightforward.
* You can get a paper and writing implement pretty much anywhere.
You don’t need batteries, a network.
* Nothing pops up on your page to distract you.
* Editing as you write is difficult. You’re pretty much limited to crossing things out and writing in the margins. Getting to the end of a first draft before editing, should be easier than on a computer.
* You can do it pretty much anywhere (except, perhaps, in the dark.)
* Handwriting fires up areas of your brain that are associated with deep understanding and memory. It is a very different experience from typing.
* You need to have a paper and pen(cil) handy. What if you can’t find your favorite pen? Will you spend so long looking for it that you don’t write?
* Editing after the story is finished is going to require you (probably) to transcribe the story into a computer or write it all out longhand again. Not necessarily a con though, as that can help with the editing process. Definitely a con if your time is severely limited.
* Scraps of paper are easy to lose and hard to find once they’re lost. This is less the case with computer files.
Tips for Working With Pencil And Paper
* Set up a system now for retrieving your work later. Some options include:
** only using one notebook (or series of notebooks) for each project. Don’t write a little bit here and a little bit there.
** Designate a StoryADay notebook and carry it everywhere. Only use that blue-covered copybook from Staples that you like, for your novel.
** Using looseleaf paper can be helpful if you write in different places or like to edit on paper. You can get hold of binder-sized paper pretty much anywhere. When you get home, file your stories in one binder, and you should be able to keep track of things. This requires some discipline in promising you’ll always file the stories away but it’ll be worth it three months from now when you try to find them again!
* Find paper that is a joy to write on, if you’re that way inclined. Have a cramped notebook with lines that are too dark or too light or too far apart, and a spine that doesn’t crack open far enough, or pages that are so small that you have to turn them every couple of sentences? This is just one more way to make it easy to skip today’s writing. Make writing a physical pleasure as well as a mental one, by treating yourself to some paper that you love and will want to spend time everyday caressing.
Again, the pros and cons are fairly straightforward:
* You know where it is and how to use it (you do, don’t you?)
* You probably have a decent word processor built right in and, chances are you are very comfortable typing at a decent speed.
* Even if you can’t remember how you decided to organize your file folders last week, you can easily search your computer for errant stories.
* You can easily edit and save multiple versions.
* It is all to easy to get distracted by the Internet
* It is very easy to edit, leading to you fussing with bits you have already written and never moving forwards.
* It is tempting to play around with formatting when you’ve got a nice powerful word processor that you can use to show you exactly how your story will look when set in the format used by Glimmer Train or The New Yorker (not that I’ve ever…oh shut up!).
Tips for using a computer
* Designate a folder for all your fiction writing, another for non-fiction, another for semi-thought-out blog posts. File your work.
* Save often. Seriously I cannot stress this enough. And still you’re going to need to experience the pain of losing a masterpiece before you put this into practice. But Save OFTEN. Train your fingers to mash the ‘ctrl’ and ‘s’ buttons together every paragraph or two. You’ll be glad you did.
* Use the simplest program you can. I use IAWriter when composing (I’m using it now). Use the full-screen mode in your word processor-of-choice.
* Turn off the Internet (Unplug the LAN cable, turn the sound down, turn off wi-fi, whatever you have to do). Do nothing but write when you are writing. No checking email, Facebook or Twitter. Ever.
* Name your files sensibly. You can call them all “StADASept12 The One About The Woman And Her Garden”, “StADaSept12 The Dog In The Ditch” if you think that’s likely to help you remember which is which, and where you put them. If you are writing a series of stories about the same characters always name the file with the same character’s name “Sarah stories – fishing in the creek with Grandma” “Sarah stories – Going to the corner shop”
Using A Laptop/Netbook/iPad/Tablet
If you move around a lot and are comfortable with a mobile device (and don’t want to hand write) it probably makes a lot of sense for you to use one of these devices.
* They are with you all the time or easy to move to wherever you are.
* You don’t need good lighting.
* Battery life.
* If they are connected to the Internet you risk getting distracted.
* Comfort. Smaller keyboards and screens can make for a frustrating experience. Though I find them great for writing, less so for editing.
* Version control. If you’re using a mobile device and a desktop you run the risk of having (and working on) different versions of your story at the same time.
Tips for Using Mobile Devices
* Decide on how you are going to handle version control. If you work both on an mobile device and a desktop, consider saving all your work to Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud or some other remote location (not your computer’s hard drive). This way, you’ll open the same file on either machine. By all means periodically copy all the files to an archive folder on your machine but call it something like ‘archive’ so you don’t get confused about which file is the latest version.
* Pick programs that play well together. I tried using Scrivener on my desktop and iaWriter on my iPad and ended up spending a ridiculous amount of time trying to learn/figure out how to sync the two. (My fault, not theirs, but not something I was willing to spend the time to learn properly during a challenge!). If you have Word or Pages or Scrivener or a simple text program on both your machines, use it. You can always export them to something else when it’s time to edit and submit.
* Get a bluetooth keyboard for your tablet. Yeah, yeah, they have onscreen keyboards and hand-writing recognition and speech-recognition, but a neat little keyboard still trumps all that for most of us.
* If it works for you, consider downloading something like Dragon Dictate which will transcribe your stories. (Way back, the desktop version of this was quite good because I could train it to understand my Scottish-American mongrel accent. The iPhone app version doesn’t seem as versatile, so this doesn’t work for me).
On A Blog
Some people post their stories every day to a blog. They may even write them write in the blog-software window. There are some fairly big (and non-obvious) pros and cons for this one.
* You get to share your work immediately – especially good if you have a writers’ group or a bunch of dedicated readers.
* You can easily find your stories again. Even if your hard drive dies.
* There is a off-the-cuff, relatively uncrafted esthetic to blogging that might help you write with abandon every day.
* Publishing your work on a blog may cause some editors to consider the work ‘previously published’ and render it invalid for inclusion in magazines and competitions.
* Writing in the blog window leaves you at the mercy of your internet connection and the host’s servers. One blip and your whole story can be lost otherwise.
Tips For Writing On Your Blog
* Consider writing offline and then pasting the content directly into the blog window. Write in a plain text program and then pretty it up once you’re in the blog window.
* Save drafts obsessively as you work on them.
* Use your blog software to set up categories and tags for your stories. That way it’ll be really easy to find all the stories you wrote during StADa Sept ’12, or all the stories your wrote that were autobiographical, or all the fairy stories…
* Consider password-protecting or marking as ‘private’ any entries you think you might rework for submission to magazines or contests. If no-one else can see them, no-one can consider them ‘published’.
So how do YOU write? Have any tips for keeping your writing flowing?
I asked a friend the other day how her writing was going.
“I’m thinking about writing,” she replied. “Does thinking count for anything?”
Ouch. Sound familiar?
So, you know what I’m going to say, right?
Thinking…well, actually thinking DOES kind of count as writing. (There, did I surprise you? Wait for it…)
But only if you’re doing it in the right way.
(Oo, you knew there was a catch!)
Thinking Kinda Does Count…And It Really Doesn’t
- Writers need to think — We need copious amounts of thinking time. We need to daydream and imagine and ‘what if’. Happily, we can do this while attending to all those routine brain-free tasks we have to do every day: you know, the ones that keep us clothed and fed and sanitary. (If you’re an adult you know what I mean. If you’re a kid…no, if you’re a kid you won’t even be reading this. You’ll just be writing your first best-seller. Move along.)
- Beating ourselves up is not productive — unfortunately a lot of writers (especially the ones who aren’t doing any writing) spend a lot of their thinking time fretting about how they’re not writing, not good enough, a lousy person for not doing more actual writing. This is not only unproductive, it is destructive. The best way to stop this kind of thinking in its tracks is to write something — anything. (Keep reading for ideas on what you can write on a day like this)
- Capturing ideas is useful — sometimes ‘not writing’ means you’re out living. This is a wonderful thing for a writer. You need experience to be able to write anything meaningful. You need to come home and process the stuff that happened to you today, so that it’s there in your brain ready for when you need it. We need to hate people and imagine all the things we should have said to them. We need to love people and freak out when our imaginations show us what life would be like without them. We need to wonder what it would really be like if our plane crashed on a desert island: how would we wash our clothes and what plant fibers could be spun into thread to repair them?
- Thought vs. creativity — There will come a time when you need to look at your work with a critical eye, but that time is not during the initial writing phase. In fact, the less you think while you’re writing your first draft the better. Turn off that brain, move your hands and just let the words pour out.
It’s all very well for me to sit here saying this. But how do you actually move from thinking to writing?
You Must Take Action
You have to actually carve out time to sit down and write. Even if you can’t finish a whole chapter. Even if all you can manage is 100 words, 55 words, 140 characters,
DOING something (i.e. writing, crafting a story and characters) is so much better than thinking. Always.
(You may not feel great while you’re doing it, but trust me, afterwards? You’ll feel awesome.)
How To Take Action With Your Writing
It’s easy to get overwhelmed and beat yourself up because you haven’t finished your first novel yet.
- Set yourself a tiny goal and meet it. Write a twitter fiction story. Write a 55-word story. Write exactly 100 words (no more, no less). Set a deadline. Do the work. Now tell me that didn’t feel good.
- Use prompts — I know it can seem corny but grab a writing prompt and use it for your own purposes. I assigned everyone on my writing course the same prompt one day and you would have been amazed at the radically different stories that came back from 12 different people.
- Embrace the first draft — Give yourself permission to write something truly dreadful. Tell yourself no-one is going to see it. Picture a baby learning to walk: they fall down, they get up again, they fall down, they get up again, and eventually they are up more than they are down. We learn by doing. We learn by making mistakes. Write something terrible, don’t show it to anyone. Remind yourself the goal is to write something, not to write something good. Not yet.
- Get an accountability buddy — life comes at us fast. If you’re like me, there’s nobody knocking down your door to hand you a living wage for your fiction yet. It’s easy to let writing slip into the background and — whoosh! — a month has gone by without a single word written. By finding someone to keep you honest, you give yourself the kind of deadlines that you need. You don’t even have to swap writing samples. Just make sure you find someone who will stay on your case and not be too nice to you!
- So yes, think. Think about your writing. Think about your characters. Think about what you’ll do when you’ve reached your goals.But most of all, keep writing.
What one thing will you commit to writing this week? How will you make it happen?
Leave your commitment below, & I will be your accountability buddy for this week (I will personally check up on you on Wed June 22!)
This week marks the 98th anniversary of the birth of blues great Muddy Waters.
This week write a story on the theme of one of his greatest hits:
This tweet and the article it links to got me all riled up on Sunday[1. With all due respect to Colleen Lindsay who is an extremely generous tweeter and knowledgeable publishing person who you should totally be following.And I do sympathise with her points, from her perspective.]
Now the thread goes on to make some valid points, from the point of view of a publishing insider. The article she links to however, gets my hackles right up and I call for a rallying cry of:
“Yah boo sucks to you! I’ll write any damned thing I want”
And so should you!
The Problem With New York[2. Not the whole city, obviously. Just the centralized publishing industry part of it]
The publishing machine exists for a reason (to help authors distribute their work to the masses). For some authors that still works just fine.
For the vast majority of writers, however, the publishing machine is broken. They don’t have a big audience, so they don’t fit the economic model.
The problem comes when publishing insiders forget that the limitations of their system are exactly that: economic.
If something is deemed ‘unpublishable’ it does not mean that,
- That people aren’t interested in it,
- That it’s bad,
- That you shouldn’t write it
It might mean that,
- Not enough people are interested in it to justify a huge print run, distribution deals and a massive marketing campaign.
- You won’t sell very many copies. (Although you may. You never know.)
- It will be intensely interesting to a tiny number of people, who are easily identifiable because they a, live in the place you’re writing about or b, join associations of other-people-who-do-similar-pastimes, etc.
My problem with “Oo, the peons shouldn’t write their stories” articles [3. Apart from the short-sightedness, a lack of awareness of subaltern studies school of historical research and the insufferably smug arrogance, obviously] is that they are destructive to the very soul of humanity.
I’m not exaggerating here.
We are a story-telling people. It’s how we make sense of our lives and our world. It’s what separates us from the brute beasts. It is an essential part of our nature.
- Think about the friend who makes you laugh the most. What is she doing? Telling stories — stories with pacing and suspense and great twists.
- Think about the most boring person you know. What does she do? Tell stories — terrible, unending, pointless, rambling stories.
Sometimes we make up stories about our origins and pass them on to our progeny. Sometimes we write beautiful epics that explain the human condition. Sometimes we unwittingly preserve a way of life that is destined to die out and be forgotten, except for our stories about it.
What does it do when some arbitrary gatekeeper says, “No, the story of your life growing up in Hicksville with a quirky family isn’t important enough to be published. Don’t even waste your time writing it down.”?
What arrogance! What utter idiocy!
Take Back Your Stories
We’ve been trained by a couple of generations of TV, music labels, and yes, publishers, to believe that we little people aren’t qualified to tell stories, make music or entertain our friends.
- Homer [4. or the composite historical phenomenon that has come to us in the stories handed down] kept people spell-bound around the fire with tales of Ulysses and his epic journey.
- Jane Austen catalogued a lifestyle long since extinct but nonetheless fascinating to us all these years later.
- My grandparents hosted get-togethers where my grandmother played the piano for sing-a-longs, my grandfather told uproarious lies and everyone had a great time.
What do we do? We watch pre-packaged, fake ‘reality’; we listen only to homogenous music on stations that only play one style of music, and we read only the stories that an intellectual elite has chosen for the universality of their appeal.
There’s Room For Everyone At The Digital Inn
There is nothing wrong with best-sellers, nothing at all. I love me some pulpy paperback mystery and sci-fi, and I read the big ‘literary’ hits whenever I can stomach them.
The problem I have with the top-down model of publishing (whether books or music or art) is that it stifles the creative lives of ordinary, gloriously creative people. Because that’s what we are, us humans. Endlessly creative and passionate and social animals.
No, not everything that people put out into the world is my cup of tea.
Yes, there is a lot more dross to sort through these days.
But it’s also a lot more likely than ever before that I’m going to find something fascinating to read, on a topic of my choosing, by asking around online and getting recommendations from people with similar tastes.
And One Final, Not-Insignificant Point
This flowering of creativity and distribution is going to be an absolute gold mine for anthropologists in the future.
As someone with an MA in History, I am incredibly excited about the breadth of primary sources we are leaving to future historians[5. Part of my Masters’ research was on the travel journals of explorers to the New World in the 1500s. Some of my other research invoved the shopping lists of Ventian guilds and what they could tell us about what was going on in the city and the world at the time. I’m betting the people who wrote those documents never imagined they’d be considered important by scholars 400 years into the future] Imagine if everyone in the Bronze Age had had a handy, dry cave wall where they could have documented their daily deeds. How much more would we know about our ancestors than we do now from a few scratchings in Lascaux and the occasional stomach-pumping of a frozen ice-mummy?
So go. Write your memoirs. Make them as detailed as you like. Make them as vivid as you can. And don’t listen to anyone who tells you it’s all been said before. Because it hasn’t.
Not by you.
And your story deserves to be written.
Acres of Internet space have already been devoted to this topic, because it’s a tough one. There are as many solutions as there are people who want to write, so there is always room for one more blog post on the topic.
In this 3-post series, I’m going to give you some thoughts, some links and some tools, to help inspire you to find time for your writing.
TIME FOUND UNDER SOFA CUSHIONS!
There is a reason you never see that headline. Time is never found. Time is made, cadged, scrimped, stolen, begged, borrowed, spent.
There is always something else you could be doing. Always. The trick is, finding ways to make time for the things that really matter to you.
Make Tough Sacrifices
I’m saying this first, to get it over with because it sounds awful, but you will have to make sacrifices if you want to make writing a priority. Some of these sacrifices will be hard.
Today I turned down a walk with a friend, which I know would have been lovely. Sometimes a walk with a friend is the perfect thing to boost your creativity. But for me, this week, it would eat into the only clear time I have to Get Stuff Done. Some of that stuff is mundane, household stuff, but part of that Stuff is Writing & Writing Prep.
No matter how nice that walk would have been, I had to say ‘no’. Next week, I’ll budget my time differently to make sure I can say ‘yes’.
Make Easy Sacrifices
Some things will be easy to give up, or at least good for you.
Me? I overeat. When I’m stressed or bored I head for the pantry and strap on the nosebag. It uses up time and leaves me comfortably numb. But if I’m serious about my writing, I resist the nosebag, make light, healthy meals and get back to my notebook. Good for productivity and good for my heart.
An ‘hour long’ TV show is actually 42 minutes of content. The rest is commercials. Why not record your favourite shows or download them from iTunes? Even if you still watch two shows in an evening, you could carve out 36 minutes for writing just by watching it commercial-free and still get to bed at the same time.
What changes could you make, even if occasionally, to create more time for the thing you really love to do?
Accept That You Can Write In Bursts
You don’t need long swathes of time in which to write. In fact, that can be bad for productivity. As someone who has suffered prolonged bouts of enforced inactivity (lack of a work visa, looking after small children) I can tell you that more free time does not make writing easier. You just get more creative with your excuses.
Jamming in 250 words here and there on your commute — a 1000 if you’re lucky on a lunch break — keeps your writing feeling like a treat, not a chore.
Plus, it’s how most full-time writers started. Stephen King wrote after shifts at the laundromat. Scott Turow wrote bits and pieces while working as for the US Attorney’s office. Most ‘literary fiction’ writers have quite demanding schedules teaching at colleges and conferences. Even if they do get to take a semester off to finish a novel, they can hardly wait for inspiration to strike during that one precious semester.
Accept That You Can Write In Big Long Jags
If you do get the chance to write in a big binge on the weekends, go for it. Don’t feel guilty. Some people spend hours watching sports every Sunday. Do what you enjoy; what makes you a better person. Negotiate with family/friends for writing time if you have to, and write as fast as you can for as long as you can, whenever you get the chance.
Separate Your Thinking Time and Your Writing Time
On that note, don’t put off thinking about your story even if you don’t have time to sit down and write. When do get some writing time, you want the ideas to be flowing. You can think about the next plot development while you are doing any menial task (of which we all have plenty).
But do try to focus. It’s hard to stop your mind wandering off to the sequel or what you’ll do with your wealth when people are using your name where they used to use Stephen King’s. Rein it in. Focus on the next scene, the next bit of dialogue, the next plot twist. Make notes if you have to. Better yet, commit the ideas to memory, then you’ll be turning them over and over until it’s time to write.
Then, when you do carve your 36 minutes out of the evening’s schedule, your fingers will be twitching. You’ll be ready to jump right in.
Scare Yourself Straight
If you find yourself frittering your time away on Facebook or Twitter or in front of the TV when you know you could be writing, take an excellent piece of advice from Jon Scalzi:
“Think of yourself on your deathbed saying, “well, at least I watched a lot of TV.”
Take a moment now. Picture it. Use that fertile imagination of yours.
If you aren’t already sweating, then maybe there is a whole other reason why you can’t and won’t find time to write.
And that’s OK, too. Maybe you’re really a reader, a critic, an enthusiastic conneseur of the narrative form. Join a book group or a film society and have fun with your life. Just stop beating yourself up about not finding time to write.
But if you’re a writer, make time. You’ll never “Find” It.
Am I being glib? Smug? Wrong? Have you found things that work for you? Tell me in the comments.
Writing and taking care of small children are two not-entirely-compatible aims in my life, how about you?
Take today: I got up early, started to write… The kids started to ask me for things and I started saying, ‘In a minute,” and “hold on” and “Just ‘shhhhh’ a minute, would you?”
I was getting frustrated with them, they were getting frustrated with me, and no-one was getting what they needed.
Something had to give. So I came up with a technique that has been working out really well…
So it’s the summer holidays here in the US and that means fun with the kiddies for we stay-at-home parents.
Which is all great, of course, but sometimes you still want (NEED!) to get some writing done. It can be incredibly frustrating to try to write and take care of a family, especially if you have small children at home with you all day. But it can be done.
I know some people can get up early or stay up extra late, or write while their spouse watches sports. That’s not me. Or if it is, everyone else wakes up early too!
Take today: I got up early, started to write, got all inspired and came up with tons of great ideas. The kids got up and started to ask me for things and I started saying, ‘In a minute,” and “hold on” and worst of all “Just ‘shhhhh’ a minute, would you?”
Oh, the guilt. I was getting frustrated with them, they were getting frustrated with me, and no-one was happy.
Something had to give. So I came up with a method, that has been working out well.
Getting Stuff Done With Little Kids In The House
My sons are 5 and 7 so they can’t be left alone (or together) for too long. They can, however, be set up on different floors of the house (or different rooms if you don’t have floors) with whatever toy/activity has captured their attention recently.
Today, for us, that means the eldest has a project making his own versions of Pokemon cards, while the 5 year-old makes a massive messHot Wheels track in the basement.
They both inevitably needed help, sometimes at the same time, (leading to more ‘just a minute’s and frustration). Finally I struck a deal with them.
I took the time-out clock (a kitchen timer) and set it for 10 minutes. They agreed to leave me alone until the timer rang so that I could get some writing done. When the timer rings, I go and check on each of them and ask if I can help or see what they have been doing.
I get what I want (writing time) and they get what they want (an attentive, engaged parent).
Then, depending on how things are going, I negotiate another 10 minutes.
KEYS TO MAKING THIS WORK
-Pick a time of day when the kids’ energy levels are right (that might be ‘high’ or ‘low’ depending on their personalities. When you know they can concentrate on their favorite activity for a while, pounce!
-Work to an outline. I’m not sure that trying to do any brainstorming or really creative work could happen in 10 minute bursts, but writing a paragraph or two of a piece that I had already outlined worked brilliantly.
-Stretch the sessions to more than 10 minutes if it is safe or makes sense or if you find the kids can handle it.
-Sit where you can hear them (I’m in the dining room, and they are in rooms with doors open, where I can hear frustrated whining winding up or, worse, suspicious silences)
-Be willing to stop after two or three sessions. You can’t push this too far. Try to remember that they’ll be out of your hair entirely one day (if you do your job right) and that even these long summer days will be over sooner than you expect. Take some time to enjoy the kids — secure in the knowledge that at least you got a few things accomplished today.