Tag Archives: writing

How (Not) To Write A Story in 8 Days

About a year ago, I made a decision to focus on writing novels (my real writing love) and the occasional piece of flash fiction for my blog when the Muse overtook me. The one exception is the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge.

This writing competition works in a particularly unusual (and thus exciting) way. You see… No, I’ll let them explain.

There are 3 rounds of competition.  In the 1st Round (February 7-15, 2014), writers are placed randomly in heats and are assigned a genre, subject, and character assignment.  Writers have 8 days to write an original story no longer than 2,500 words.  The judges choose a top 5 in each heat to advance to the 2nd Round (March 27-30, 2014) where writers receive new assignments, only this time they have just 3 days to write a 2,000 word (maximum) short story.  Judges choose finalists from the 2nd Round to advance to the 3rd and final round of the competition where writers are challenged to write a 1,500 word(maximum) story in just 24 hours (May 2-3, 2014).

I had a great time with the challenge last year (although I didn’t make it past the first round), and participated again this year. So for those of you who are curious about what my writing process looks like, I thought I’d share my experience of writing a 2500 story in 8 days.

Note: I do not suggest, recommend, or in any way endorse the following as a sane or reasonable method of artistic creation.

Day 1:

The genre/subject/character assignments were released on Friday night at midnight EST. Which means that over here in FutureLand I got the email at 3:00 Saturday afternoon. My assignment looked something like this:

Genre: Fantasy
Subject: A Funeral
Character: A Gambler

I emailed, messaged, texted, and otherwise contacted everyone who knew I was taking part in the challenge, and then… Well, then I went about my normal life. Time to let my subconscious spend some time working on the story details.

Day 2:

What interesting thing could happen at a funeral? Thinking… Thinking… Thinking… A heist!

Someone has to steal something from inside the coffin at a funeral!

My mind went into overdrive. A heist! I love heists! But what would be so important, so crucial that someone — a gambler, in fact — would go to great (and non-violent) lengths to steal from inside a coffin at a funeral?

And the answer was obvious.

Luck.

I would write about a gambler stealing the Luck of a Gambler from inside his coffin in the middle of his funeral.

Well. After all that thinking, I was exhausted. So I went and spent a day with a friend, watched The Newsroom, drank wine, and snacked on cheese and chocolate and other extravagances.

Day 3:

After a busy Monday, I sat down to start writing and… nothing. I got nothing. So I did some brainstorming, ate some more chocolate, and wished I wasn’t quite so tired.

Day 4:

By this evening, I knew I really had to pull out all stops and get the story written if I was going to have any chance of actually submitting it on time. It was due back by 3:00pm Sunday (Technically day 9 or an 8 day challenge… Gotta love time zones.) and I hadn’t even started yet.

Plus, when I ran into my writer-friend this morning, she was all jazzed because she’d already finished the draft of her entry.

So I sat down to write and…. I managed 300 words. And realised I was setting the story in a Wild West-inspired fantasy world. Time to do some research.

Day 5:

A crazy-busy day was topped off by the receipt of emails delivering bad news. I couldn’t even get my head into my life, let alone my story.

Day 6:

Thursday. The deadline was fast approaching, and I had a grand total of 300 words written. But I was still thinking — still letting my subconscious do its thing — so I wasn’t worried. The shape of the story was starting to reveal itself to me, and the character (who still didn’t have a name) was telling me her life story.

Day 7:

I wrote another 400 words, bringing my grand total up to 700. And in those 400 words, a whole new theme presented itself. I threw out all the plans I’d made for the ending, and turned the protagonist into someone a little less despicable, and a lot more likeable. And then I went to sleep.

Day 8:

Despite all the promises I’d made to myself that I wasn’t going to leave it until the night before the story was due to start writing it, here I was. The night before the story was due. With only 700 words written out of approximately 2500, and no energy to write. So I drank two cups of coffee, sat down on my bed, and…. fell asleep.

Day 9:

I woke up in the middle of the night and set my alarm for 4am, so I’d have a couple of hours of writing time before the boys woke up. And then I slept through my alarm and woke up at 7:00.

I’m not going to lie. Expletives may have been used.

I had six hours to write, edit, and submit a 2500 word story. And all I had was 700 words and an idea of the shape of the story.

I considered whether it was time to panic yet, and voted ‘no’. But I did get down to work. By 11:00am, I was 2000 words into the story, and had just got to the funeral scene. Plus, I had to pack up to take my son to dance class.

I decided that now was a good time to panic.

So I fretted while I got the boys ready to go out, and I worried while I drove 45 minutes to the dance studio, and I stressed while I kissed him goodbye. And then I jumped back in the car, and zoomed off to a nearby park so I could keep writing.

At 1:45pm, I finished the first draft. It had 3515 words. So, that’s 1000 words more than the maximum length.

I kept panicking.

Not least because it was time to pack up and drive back to the dance studio to pick up the boy. Which is what I did. Because, writing challenge or no writing challenge, being a Mum doesn’t stop.

When I arrived at the dance studio, a friend (whose daughter also dances) met me with the question: “Did you finish?”

“No,” I said. “I still have to–”

She interrupted. “How about I take your boys to my place so you can get it finished and submitted? You can catch us up.”

Best.

Friend.

Ever.

So that’s how I found myself sitting in a cafe at 2:15pm, with 45 minutes to cut 1000 words  from my story, read the formatting instructions, and get it submitted.

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard the phrase “kill your darlings”. It’s the suggestion that any piece of prose you’re too precious about should be removed. Well, in this case, I can assure you that over the next 35 minutes, I not only killed my darlings, I killed their darlings, as well as their flatmates and their pets.

I cut 1000 words from my story — most of them from the first 2000 — and made it shorter and sharper and, most importantly, valid for the competition.

I had just less than 10 minutes to get it formatted and submitted.

And that’s when my internet stopped working.

Gotcha. Not really.

No, what really happened was that I was so freaked out that I only had … checking clock … eight minutes left, that I kept clicking the wrong links, and couldn’t find the page that detailed the required font or size or format or… well, anything.

I found it, adjusted my file, and realised two things. (1) I had three minutes left until the cut-off, and (2) I needed to include a two-sentence synopsis.

Two-sentence synopsis coming right up. Boom! No time to think about how good it is. Barely time to type the words. And then…

And then a helpful waitress appeared at my table and said, “Is your coffee okay?”

“Yeah. Thanks,” I managed. And that was no easy feat, because I was trying to find the darn submit button, and had less than two minutes left.

“Oh, good,” she says. “And would you like some water?”

“No,” I snapped. And then felt immediately guilty that I wasn’t being nice to her when she’d done nothing wrong except approach me when I only had…

One minute!

I hit the submit button. My story whirred away into neverwhere.

And then I realised I’d sent the wrong file. I sent the .docx instead of the .doc.

So I sent it again. I’m 99% sure the second time was past the cut-off. And then I waited… And waited…. Worried that I’d missed out… Worried that I’d submitted too late…

Yesterday, I got an email from them.

Dear Jo Eberhardt,

This e-mail is to let you know that we have received your Short Story Challenge 2014 1st Round submission titled“Luck of the Gambler”.  You will be judged in Heat31 – Fantasy / A funeral / A gambler.  Judging will now take place and we will announce the results by 11:59PM EDT on Monday, March 24th, 2014 via e-mail and through our facebook and twitter pages.

And that, my friends, is how to write a story in 8 days.

Well, assuming you like heart palpitations, adrenaline rushes, and living life on the edge, anyway.

Do you leave your writing to the last minute, or get it done well in advance?

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2014: The Future’s So Bright…

It may be late, but never fear:
My annual goal-setting post is here!
I do this every single year —DCF 1.0
Post my aspirations here —
It always feels beyond compeer
(Not like my rhyming. Dear, oh dear!)
To know my goals and give a cheer
When my actions bring me near
To achieving something I hold dear.
I may even shed a tear.
But don’t you cry, oh reader dear.
My rhyme is done. My goals are clear.

My good friend Tonia has a theme for this year. #BeBravein2014

Being brave is something I always aspire to — sometimes I succeed more than others. But just knowing that out there in the world, there are other people doing their best to be brave is a beautiful thing.

In the spirit of being brave, here are my goals for 2014.

CST

I am really pleased with this novel. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written. The manuscript is with beta readers at the moment, and I’m eagerly anticipating their feedback. My goal is to sell this book in 2014. But, since there are so many elements to that goal that I can’t control, let me be more specific in the actions I will take.

  1. I will edit and make revisions based on beta reader’s feedback.
  2. I will write the query letter of all query letters.
  3. I will query agents with all the tenacity of a puppy chasing a milkbone.
  4. When I (inevitably) have a moment of despair, I will remember Tonia’s theme and I will #BeBravein2014.

Unnamed Novel

I’m 500 words into my first draft with this as-yet-unnamed WIP. I love it already. (Don’t worry, the Honeymoon period will come to an end soon, I’m certain.) I’ve started it at the same time I started CST last year, and so I’m confident that, even if I have major life upsets this year, I can have it finished by 31st Dec , 2014. Specific goals and deadlines? I’m glad you asked.

  1. I will work on the first draft one hour a day, and have the draft finished by 30th June.
  2. I will give it a break, and then do a read-through and first revision.
  3. If necessary, I’ll do another round of revisions.
  4. I will send it to beta readers by 1st of January, 2015. (Even if, like 2013, it means working my fingers off until almost midnight New Year’s Eve!)
  5. When I (inevitably) feel like I’m not up to the task up completing this in time, I will remember Tonia’s theme and #BeBravein2014.

TNT #1

It’s over a year since I’ve looked at this manuscript. In that time, I’ve found my true voice, I’ve learned a LOT about who I am, what I write, and what I want the story’s focus to be. I love this story. It’s a story that spilled out of my heart and soul, bringing with it my joy in fairy tales, and my belief that stories can change the world.

This year, I want to get back to TNT #1.

So while I’m giving my Unnamed Novel time to marinate, I will start rewriting this story. I’m not going to give myself specific deadlines at the moment — it depends on too many other factors — but I’ll revisit and set them when I do my mid-year goal-setting post. Also, I’ll #BeBravein2014. (Are you picking up the common thread here?)

Other Exciting Things

I have a lot of other non-writing related projects happening at the moment, and a lot of my attention will be focused towards those. I’m in the process of starting two separate (and unrelated) businesses — one on my own, and one as part of a partnership. I’m also doing various other bits and pieces of freelance work, and trying to focus on the more visceral, physical work of gardening, home improvement, and learning how to be a country-dweller.

Plus, of course, I have two beautiful boys who take up a vast majority of my time and my heart.

DSCN0796131022 - Max

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014 is going to be a great year. I can feel it in my fingers (and feel it in my toes).

What are your plans/goals for 2014? (Link to a goal-setting post if you’ve got one!)

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To Plot or Not to Plot: That is the Question

 

To plot or not to plot: that is the question:
Whether tis better for the story to first
Plan the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to cast your hero into a sea of troubles
Unplanned and unprepared? To plot; to pants;
To choose. And by choosing to cast yourself
Into heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That writers are heir to, ’tis a common dilemma
Faced by all who write. To plot; to pants;
To try; perchance to fail: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that plot or lack, what thoughts may come
To throw you off your story’s course
And give you pause; there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long planning;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of prose,
The long hours spent, the hardships borne,
The pangs of ignored loves, the dinner’s delay,
The disregard of hygiene and the coffee,
The quiet toll the life of writing takes,
When you yourself could better your story tell
With a plan in place? But if with a plot,
You grunt and sweat under a weary fear,
And the dread of something planned to death,
And prefer the undiscover’d country from whose bourn
All magic springs, and find the mystery will,
Make you love your story better than any other
Then write of things your plan speaks not of.
Thus overthinking does make cowards of us all;
And the best answer to the question
Is hidden in the first of your thoughts.
Plot or Pants as you think is best.

I put this together as an answer to the question “Should I plot or not?” when it was recently asked by a new writer in the Writer Unboxed Facebook group. After spending so much time getting it right, it seemed a shame to let it vanish into the interwebz as a comment on someone else’s post. So here it is, recorded for posterity. I hope you enjoyed it.

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The Slow Accumulation of Words

Notebook

There are many times I feel like I’m not getting anywhere with my writing. Or, to be more specific, that I’m not getting anywhere fast enough. Like writing a novel is some kind of race, and I’m forever having to stop to tie my shoe.

This feeling came over me a couple of days ago. I’ve been struggling lately. Three and a half weeks of school holidays meant I was exhausted by the end of the day, falling into bed with a grateful thought to the teachers who somehow manage to entertain and teach 21 six-year-olds every single day without, apparently, resorting to alcohol.

Then school started and I fell sick. For eight days.

Then six-year-old Big Brother developed a crazy high fever and was sick for four days.

And through all this, my writing suffered. I’d sit down at night, for my hour of creative time, and I’d have nothing. I was too drained to think, let alone create interesting and comical scenes for an increasingly complex story.

At the end of July, I missed my monthly writing goal by almost 10,000 words. And all those feelings of insecurity and guilt and why-do-I-do-this-anyway-ness crept over me like a thick, woolly blanket. Comfortable and familiar and stifling.

So I took a deep breath, and looked back over the my writing calendar.

You see, at the end of every day I feel in a calendar with how many words I wrote for the day, how many words I’ve written for the month so far, and my updated daily word count goal. It looks something like this:

Calendar

At first glance, it looks pretty dismal. The green highlights are the days I hit my target. There’s not a lot of them some months. 

But then I got to thinking. And to adding. And to working out some stats.

And suddenly, the world didn’t seem quite so bleak.

In the last six months, from the 1st of January to the 31st of July, I have written a total of 103,000 new words.

Over a hundred thousand words.

That astounds me.

And some more stats:

  • On average, I’ve written 5 out of every 7 days.
  • I’ve written an average of 670 words per writing day.
  • Those words have been written on a combination of two novel manuscripts (one finished, one >< close to being finished), and a short story.

Over the last six months, I’ve really developed my style and my voice, and I’ve turned writing from something I want to do, into something I do do. Plus, I’ve discovered a secret love of outlines. (Shhh!)

And do you know what the most amazing thing about all that is?

I’ve done it all in one hour a day.

 

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No Escape: A Poem

She waits.
In the silence of her room
And the silence of her mind
She waits for that which comes.

Like nightfall.
Inevitable, irrevocable
Insidiously innate
It creeps over her.

A curse.
It slides through her mind
It steals over her flesh
Destroying all it finds.

The end.
With unrepenting doom
It sinuously slithers
Closer – ever closer.

I yearn.
To take away this baneful curse
To save her from its pain
And see her free from harm.

Helpless.
Powerless to change her world,
Powerless to stand in the way,
Of all that she fears.

We wait.
There is no defence,
There is no escape,
From time.

Hourglass

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The Mid-Year Goalpost

Goalpost

I love goals. I’ve mentioned this before. I grew up in a family where setting goals was as commonplace as brushing teeth and complaining about siblings. So I’ve developed something of a tradition here on my blog. In January, I set my goals. In July I revisit them.

That’s a bit misleading, though. I’m actually re-evaluating my goals on a weekly and monthly basis. Because goals are living things, better set in silly string rather than concrete.

Nonetheless, tradition is as tradition does. Here’s how I’m tracking with the goals I set in January.

TNT#1

Achievement unlocked!

I had set a goal to complete the first draft this by March 1st. I actually typed ‘The End’ on February 1st.

I also set a goal to do a once-over revision by May 1st. I actually completed it on Marsh 14th.

Moving forward, my goal is to finish revisions on this novel by October 1st, and have a query letter ready to go by November 1st.

Novel B CST

I set a goal to complete this first draft by the end of 2013. Really, that was a generous time period. I knew that even when I set it. And considering I’m 2/3 of the way through it, I’m revising my goals for this novel to:

  • Finish first draft by 1st September.
  • Finish revisions by 1st November.
  • Have query letter written by 1st December.

Novel C

Because… why not? I have three ideas that I really want to write, as well as the sequels to TNT. So come the end of the year, I will have decided what I’m writing next and got to work. Really, my only official goal is to have an outline done by December 31st. But I’ll be thrilled if I’ve started writing it as well. (Comic dystopian? YA Urban fantasy? Paranormal Thriller? Or something I haven’t yet dreamed up…. Only time will tell.)

TNT#2 and #3

I’ve got the stories mapped out in my head, so my goal is to have the outlines written for both by November 1st. It never hurts to be prepared.

Flash Fiction

I set a target to write and share 12 flash fiction stories, and so far I’ve done none. As you may have noticed, I haven’t been blogging as often. This is partly because Life has thrown me some curve balls, and I don’t have as much time as I expected, and partly because my main focus is on novel writing. So I’ve officially removed this goal from my 2013 plans.

Short Stories

My goal was to submit six short stories to contests and/or fiction markets. As with above, my priorities have changed. I have submitted one, and have plans for another. But I don’t anticipate any more than that. So consider my goal down-graded to two.

Reading

I was going to read 75 books. I was. And then… life. So I’ve only read 20 books at this stage. I’m revising back down to 50 books for the year, and that will be a stretch target.

Overall

What a great year so far! I’m loving my novel writing, and can’t wait to get stuck into writing every day. I’m part of a great writing community on Facebook (seriously, if you’re not part of Writer Unboxed, you have no idea what you’re missing out on!) and have made amazing, supportive, and encouraging friends and colleagues through both WU and a second, more intimate writing community.

I said in January that this is the year I’m moving from “enthusiastic amateur” to “professional writer”, and I feel well and truly on the way there.

How are you tracking with your goals?

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Resistance is Futile: A Poem about Writing

“You don’t have to write,” I whispered to me.
“There’s dishes to wash and stuff on TV,
Books to be read, chores to be done,
You could even, perhaps, go out and have fun.”

“You don’t have to write,” I said with a smile.
“Just lay your head down and rest for a while.
The clock keeps on ticking, the day’s getting late,
Too late to be writing, too late to create.”

“You don’t have to write,” I said once again.
“There’s always tomorrow. Why don’t you write then?”
“I’m going to write,” me said with a smile.
“I’ll write every day, if just for a while.”

“The writing of words is ingrained in my blood.
Too long without writing, my soul turns to mud.
I’m going to write. Now get out of my way.”
“But wait!” I shrieked. “Must you start it today?”

“Tomorrow’s a good day for getting things started!
If you start it tomorrow, we’ll both be clear-hearted!”
But me interrupted, “I know you’re afraid.
You’re afraid, for a start, that we’ll never get paid.”

“You’re afraid that our writing will suck really bad.
You’re afraid that our story is complex and sad.
You’re afraid that our hero is secretly lame.
And there’s millions of others exactly the same.”

“You’re afraid that our plot is one clichéd mess.
You’re afraid that the romance is tragic at best.
You’re afraid that they’ll laugh when they read what we wrote.
Afraid that we’ll finish. Afraid that we won’t.”

“You’re afraid of what’s next when the novel’s complete.
You’re afraid to be published. Afraid to compete.
You’re afraid of which publishing pathway to choose.
Afraid that you’re secretly destined to lose.”

“You’re afraid of so much. I hear you. I do.
But I’m going to write. And that much is true.”
“Yes, but not now!” I screamed. “Not just yet!”
“There’s something important you must not forget!”

“Enough!” me yelled. “Now you leave me be.
Your procrastinating is not for me.
Your lame excuses are just a sham.
Resistance is futile. I’m writing. Scram.”

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