Tag Archives: Writing craft

What I learned from posting a story a week for an entire year

So, I meant to write up and post these thoughts last year. Really. I did. I have longhand notes and everything. Then, well?

2021.

I may be a year late, but I think what I learned still stands the test of twelve months. I hope you think so too.

In November 2019, I conceived of the idea of posting a story a week for an entire year. With the upcoming presidential election in the US, I knew it would be rough going. I wanted to do something kind; I wanted a distraction; I wanted something to focus on other than the news. I even called the challenge The (Love) Stories for 2020 to remind me of my aim for love, compassion, and kindness.

Then, of course, 2020 actually happened. Oh, my sweet summer child—you had no idea, did you?

I’m not the sort of writer who could write and post a short story a week for an entire year. That’s not how I’m wired. (If you’re wired that way, more power to you; I am brimming with envy.)

That being said, I thought I’d share the things that helped me get through this challenge. I offer them up in hopes they might be useful.

Party like it’s 1999: Focus on what you love and what’s fun, what you’d do even if you never got any recognition or payment. This is essentially the dance like no one’s watching advice. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it does for me.

Plan like it’s 2020: If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that things happen. Things will continue to happen. They may be external things well beyond our control, like elections and pandemics. They may be other things, like graduations and weddings, all the joyful things in life. Peer into your crystal ball as far as you can and plan accordingly, which brings me to…

Scheduling is your new best friend: I blog on WordPress, but I imagine most platforms have a draft and scheduling function. Scheduling posts several weeks in advance gave me breathing room. It allowed me to work on new and not-quite-there-yet stories.

Inventory on hand: Related to scheduling is having a fair amount of inventory on hand. Again, I’m not a fast writer. I might be able to write a story a week, but I’m not sure I could write a story a week that’s ready for prime time, so to speak. Also? In April 2020, I got Covid. Between inventory on hand and scheduling, I continued the challenge until my body and brain were back online.

It will take more time than you think it will: Always. Trust me on this one.

The takeaway:

A challenge like this is a way to create and/or preserve a body of work. The content is evergreen and can have more than one use. When you own the rights to your work, you can do any number of things with it.

There are those external rewards, such as blog traffic, SEO, comments, and finding new readers. But for me, the results went far beyond the external.  

I loved discovering what resonated with readers. Some of my “just for me” stories resonated so strongly with others that it helped me trust my inner voice a bit more, which spilled over into Season Four of Coffee and Ghosts. I’m not sure I would’ve written that without completing this challenge first.

I loved spending time with my own voice, rediscovering patterns and themes in my own writing.

In a world that’s always so loud, both online and off, it’s easy to miss what’s surprising and unique about your own voice. My 2020 challenge helped me reconnect with that.

So, what are you waiting for? Go forth and concoct your own challenge. But remember:

Always plan like it’s 2020 (or 2021).

But party like it’s 1999.

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Weekly writing check-in: Stuck in the middle with me

I may have mentioned that I have a time travel series idea that’s been knocking around inside my head for about … four years now.

I never claimed to be a fast writer.

Or thinker, as the case may be. I pondered season four of Coffee and Ghosts for a good four years before I sat down to (seriously) write it. True, I did do a trial run in 2020, but I jettisoned it because … 2020.

When I tried again this year, it only took me six months to write 100,000 words. That’s not a bad pace, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The entire story includes pondering and note-taking and letting it all simmer.

Instead of being frustrated by this, I’ve decided to embrace it and make it fun. Because it’s not changing. How do I know this? I’ve tried. Oh, how I’ve tried. I have learned that I’m not one of those zippy writers who can write a book a month.

I’ve attempted to adhere to the pithy writing advice of Don’t think, write.

Guess what? It doesn’t work for me. What I get is a mess of a draft or a story that’s anemic.

I also don’t outline. I take lots of notes, create a framework or a roadmap, but I don’t go beyond that, either. And yes, I’ve tried to meticulously outline as well. When I do that, I overcomplicate the story.

So here I am, plotters to the left of me, pantsers to the right, stuck in the middle with me.

Only now, I’m owning it.

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Weekly writing check-in: before you start that prequel

There’s a terrific article over on Tor.com this week: Is There Such a Thing as a Necessary Prequel?

The comments are worth a read too. Yes, I know. Generally speaking, you shouldn’t read the comments. The ones at Tor.com are thoughtful and insightful.

This is a timely thing for writers to think about. So often, the advice gets tossed around to “write a prequel” as a loss leader or a reader magnet for a newsletter. But … should you?

I tend to fall into the “no” camp. Honestly, if those events in the prequel were important and compelling, I would’ve started the story there. Likewise, I have similar feelings about sequels. This may surprise you since I’m working on Coffee and Ghosts Season Four.

However, I’ve been thinking about it for nearly three years now. Not just: is there a plot and new things to explore in the C&G world? But also: can the characters still change and grow?

I’m hoping the answer is yes to both those questions. Even though the series is meant to be fun and light, it’s not necessarily a light undertaking.

And speaking of which, after the last two weeks on a writing tear, I’ve slowed down. I’m pondering some worldbuilding questions that not only affect this episode but the rest of season four.

So this week was spent pondering questions with lots of longhand notes.

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2020 Recommended Reading

As we wind our way toward the waning days of 2020, I thought I’d scroll through the 98 books I’ve read (so far) this year to see what I could see.

What did I see? A handful that really stood out. Mind you, if I finish a book, that means it was entertaining and did everything a book should do. But there were definitely some four and five-star reads this year.

That being said, these are my four and five-star reads. There’s a very good chance they are someone else’s one-star reads. That’s the way entertainment works.

Without further ado, here are the  books:

Fiction

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

Code Name Hélène by Ariel Lawhon

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott

Miss Graham’s Cold War Cookbook by Celia Rees

Network Effect: A Murderbot Novel by Martha Wells

You’re sensing a trend, aren’t you, right up until that last title. My pleasure reading definitely skews historical/fantastical, plus I have a thing for spies.

I absolutely love the Murderbot series of books, and I highly recommend them (and reading them in order). In fact, I reread the first four in preparation for Network Effect (and I’ll reread all of them next year when book six is out).

One of the points of view in The Secrets We Kept is in first person plural, that of the typists. Really, it made the book (well, for me, at least). I absolutely plan on writing a story in first person plural one of these days and inflicting it on unsuspecting slush readers everywhere.

Nonfiction

A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears) by Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling

Come for the bears, stay for what really must become a Coen Brothers movie.

True or False: A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News by Cindy L. Otis

Young adult nonfiction, but really all that means is the prose is lively and accessible (rather than dull and serious and self-important). For middle school on up, especially for adults who forgot that they learned about yellow journalism in high school.

For Writers

The Heroine’s Journey: For Writers, Readers, and Fans of Pop Culture by Gail Carriger

From the description:

This is an excellent reference guide for genre fiction authors seeking to improve their craft or for readers and pop culture enthusiasts interested in understanding their own taste. It is the perfect counterpoint to The Hero with a Thousand Faces not to mention Save the Cat, Women Who Run With The Wolves, and The Breakout Novelist.

If you’ve been stymied by all the usual suspects when it comes to writing advice, seriously give this book a try. I can’t tell you how many oh, so that’s why moments I had while reading this.

QuitBooks for Writers series by Becca Syme

I read Dear Writer, Are You In Writer’s Block? this year but I recommend all of Becca’s books in the series. Granted, they are probably more useful if you have a passing familiarity with CliftonStrengths, but I still think you can get a lot out of them even if you don’t.

Standout short story (that you can read for free)

Little Free Library (over at Tor.com)

A wonderful little story. You can also buy a copy for your e-reader (links at the bottom of the story post).

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