Posted in Writing

Finish Your Latest Writing Project Even if You Hate It


There might be times when you want to abandon your latest writing project completely.

Trust me, I’ve been there. It’s happened to me with both short stories and novels in the last ten years. You hit a certain point where you think to yourself, this thing totally sucks. This is so bad it’s not worth writing another sentence.

It just happened to me in the last month! I spent the entire summer thinking about a new short story idea, and when I finally decided how to approach it in terms of character and POV, I started writing it in mid-September.

The process was going well for awhile, but at the halfway point of the story I began giving up on it. It wasn’t going in the direction I wanted or expected. I literally stopped writing it for a whole week, which isn’t like me.

I hit a point in the story where I felt like it was better to abandon it than to go on. That the world was better off if I just never did anything with it.

The story didn’t make sense. Parts of it were confusing. I was ready to delete the file from my hard-drive, that’s how serious I was about letting it go.

But here’s the thing — no matter how you feel about it, finish the project anyway.

You can’t revise a project, can’t make it better, if you don’t finish it first. If you really hate it, fine. But finish it anyway. Pull your hair, scream, pound your fists against the desk if you must, but finish the thing as best you can.

If you don’t want to look at the project for six months or longer, again, fine. I don’t even care if you never look at it again.

But who knows — a long time from now you might want to revisit that story or novel or whatever it is. And you’ll be able to actually fix it and make it better if you finished it the first time around! If the piece is only half done? You might read it and want to continue with it, or you might not. If you don’t finish it, there’s no guarantee it will ever be completed in the future.

Two weeks ago I finally had an afternoon to resume working on my new story. It had at least another 1,000 words to go, and I really didn’t want to work on it, I’d definitely lost my enthusiasm for it, but I said to myself, Brian, you finish what you start, always. Finish the thing. You have to.

So I did. In about two hours I pounded out an ending to the story and wrote THE END at the bottom. The story itself wasn’t long, just 4200 words. I still thought it sucked big time. But the piece had a beginning, middle, and end, and that was something.

The best reason to finish the project is so that you can revise it… and eventually make it better!

I know you might not be able to see it now, but that first draft is exactly that… a first draft. It’s the best job you can do at the time.

Once you finish it, go out and celebrate. Whether you love it or hate it, just finishing the thing is always an accomplishment. Let it rest for a few days, even a few weeks if you want, and then if at all possible, go back to the project. Read it again. Read it slowly and fully to understand what might not be working.

Then take the time needed to complete a second draft, a third draft, a fourth draft. Maybe more than that. I’ve completed ten or more drafts of many of my novels and stories. You have to do what’s necessary to make your latest project the best it can be.

After I finished the first draft of my new story that I hated, I let it rest for a few days, then last week I read through it again and started work on a second draft. I still didn’t like that second draft very much.

But then I did a third draft, and that one read a little better. The story was beginning to make sense.

Then I did a fourth draft. I cut two sections. I added a little bit to the beginning and to the end. The story started to read smoother. Started to have more clarity.

You know what happened after I finished the fifth draft on Sunday? I actually came to like my story. I realized I had something kind of unique and powerful.

I still believe that first draft is a stinker. But the fifth draft? It’s surprisingly kind of good!

Yesterday I did a sixth draft, and then I read through the story one last time, looking for typos and grammar mistakes. Then I sent the story out to five literary magazines. That piece I hated a mere few weeks ago… is now officially on submission!

So don’t abandon your latest writing project, okay?

I hated my story for awhile, wanted to abandon it, but I finished it anyway, and then revised for more than a week. Now the piece is pretty good, surprisingly enough, and it’s on submission to literary magazines. Who knows. Maybe it will be published one day soon!

This is what writing is. This is what separates the successful writer from the amateur writer, I’m telling you. Not giving up. Giving your latest piece everything you have until it’s done.

I don’t care if it’s a story or a poem or a novel or an essay. Whatever it is, if you believe in that piece, and you give it your all, don’t panic if a section doesn’t work, or if you find yourself hating the project after awhile.

Keep going anyway… and finish the thing. You can fix what’s not working later. You can do ten drafts in the weeks to come if you need to.

Just finish the thing, always… and there’s no telling how much you’ll be able to achieve in your long writing life!

Posted in Writing

5 Ways to Develop a Killer Work Ethic as a Writer


So you want to write more and not less?

Don’t we all. We wake up every morning ready to write more, wanting to write more, but so often life gets in the way… and you get to bed that night not having written much at all.

Trust me, I’ve been there. Just this past Monday a phone call completely changed the whole trajectory of my day, and I had to make up for lost time later on.

Many people have asked me over the years how I manage to write so much, how I manage to draft one novel after another and write so many stories for Medium. Many think I have all day to work on my writing, when such is definitely not the case.

The thing is, no matter your schedule, you absolutely have the ability to create a better work ethic when it comes to your writing. In fact, you can develop a killer work ethic if you try!

Here are five things I do often that might help you in your writing journey…

1. Develop a writing schedule and stick to it.

This is the key to success as a writer. It’s figuring out a schedule for when you’re going to write and how much you’re going to write, and sticking to that schedule every single day.

As soon as you deviate from the schedule, you might deviate more in the days to come, and you might stop writing completely because essentially you’ve given yourself permission to step away from your rigid schedule.

Here’s the thing about developing a writing schedule: you need to figure one out that works best for you.

When I write my novels, I typically write 2,000 words a day every day until the first draft is done. This number is intimidating for some, so starting at 1,000 words a day or even 500 words a day might work better for you.

When I write articles for Medium, I aim for 800 to 1,000-word stories, at least three a day. This also might be too much, so aim for one new story a day, maybe at something closer to 600 to 700 words.

Your writing schedule is totally up to you, and of course feel free to push yourself harder if your current schedule is working well or pull back a little if you can’t find yourself reaching the minimum word count.

Whatever you do, stick to your schedule every day, and you will absolutely find yourself writing more.

2. Create deadlines for yourself.

Going beyond the writing schedule, you need to come up with deadlines to make your work ethic truly take off in ways you didn’t think it could.

This is especially helpful for longer writing projects. It’s not enough to simply create your daily writing schedule. You need to look far off in the future to see what possible date you might be able to reach THE END.

For example, this past summer I wrote the first draft of my twentieth novel. I started it on June 3, 2019, and I decided that day I would finish the novel on July 3, 2019.

One month to write the book, and to do that, I needed to write more than 2,000 words a day. So I actually aimed for 2,500 words a day at first, and then by week three, I was nearing or even going over 3,000 words a day. One day I even reached 4,000 words!

On July 3, I wrote the epilogue chapter and reached THE END, on the exact day I was hoping to finish the manuscript. The first draft came in at 81,000 words, about 5,000 words longer than I had hoped it’d be!

I was able to do this by coming up with a writing schedule, sticking to it, and keeping my firm deadline in mind always.

3. Plan your writing a day or even a week ahead.

This is kind of similar to developing a writing schedule and creating deadlines for yourself, but going a step further, what helps me maintain my killer work ethic is figuring out always not just what I’m writing today but also what I’m writing tomorrow, and even the next week or month.

Over the summer I figured out exactly what I wanted to work on in my fiction for the rest of 2019. That’s right — way back in August I figured out my writing projects, to the week, through December.

For example, on Monday I start the second draft of my new novel I finished over the summer, and I’ve planned on six weeks to complete it. I didn’t just randomly decide on Monday, October 14 to begin the second draft. I’ve had that date in mind since August!

I always feel more confident about my work ethic when I know what’s coming up. When I know what I’m working on tomorrow and next week. It actually gets me more excited when I have a clear idea of what’s on my writing plate next.

The absolute worst thing you can do for your work ethic is sit down at your desk in the morning without a clue what you want to work on. You’ll sit there, and you’ll sit there, and nothing will get done!

So plan ahead. Figure out what your next project is days, weeks, even months in advance.

4. Do everything you can to avoid procrastination and erase all distractions.

Another easy way to ruin your work ethic is to procrastinate. Is to focus on something else for five minutes or ten minutes or an hour or whatever that don’t do anything to help you reach your goal.

In 2019 we have so many distractions. There is just so much demanding your attention. Articles to read. Videos to watch. New television series to stream. The amount of content available to us now is insane.

You want to find pockets of your day to catch up on some of this content, of course. Don’t try to avoid it all completely, you’ll never be able to!

But what you need to do is push aside the distractions and procrastination during that sacred writing time by any means possible. For me, it’s turning off the Wi-Fi right before I begin my fiction writing. Or putting on some music that inspires me. Or signing out of all my social media sites before I begin.

You might think a five-minute break to watch a Youtube video isn’t much of a distraction, it’s just something to help you relax. But you know what happens after that? You click on a second video, and a third. Before you know it, a whole hour is gone, an hour you could have spent writing!

You won’t be able to avoid distractions all throughout the day, but if you have one hour, maybe two hours, to do your writing for the day, do everything you can to eliminate the distractions during that time so your work ethic can thrive.

5. Find your inspiration in other writers and creators.

Now this is a distraction you should embrace, not eliminate! Because reading the work of others that inspire you will actually do more for your work ethic than you know.

I write for at least 1–2 hours every day, seven days a week. I’ve been doing this for about a decade now. Some days this is easy for me to do. And other days it’s a whole lot harder.

What always helps keep me motivated through the hard times is finding inspiration in other writers and creators. It’s seeing the beautiful, harrowing work of others and wanting to push myself to do work just as good as them.

This is why I keep on average two to three books beside my bed. Nothing truly inspires me more to get my writing day started than 20 to 30 minutes of reading as soon as I wake up in the morning. I cherish this time of silence, this time of no screens.

I lose myself in a world for a short bit of time, and that process invites newfound creativity, newfound inspiration. It makes me want to do even better work in my writing hours to come.

Don’t waste time scrolling through social media when you first wake up. Spend more time finding writing that inspires you to write something amazing for the day. To do something that you can be proud of.

For me, reading a chapter or two of a really good book will do this always. But it might be something different for you.

Just don’t ignore the amazing writers and creators out there. Focusing on the work of others instead of the work of only yourself will actually help your work ethic improve in the weeks to come, I’m telling you!

Developing a killer work ethic won’t happen overnight. Just keep at it, and you will get there.

It took me awhile to really find my rhythm, find my groove. I struggled writing my novels in the beginning. In my twenties I was distracted so easily and days and weeks would go by with little writing from me to be seen.

But things got better. Especially when I knew I could start a long writing project… and eventually finish it.

And as the years went by I developed more and more strategies to help me get more writing done, to help find a work ethic that’s not only outstanding, but killer.

You can find that killer work ethic inside of you too. You just need to develop a writing schedule and stick to it, create deadlines for yourself, plan ahead, avoid distractions, and find inspiration wherever you can get it.

Again, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t reach the amount of words you wanted to write today, and don’t panic if you manage to miss a deadline here and there.

The important thing is to keep trying, and keep going. As long as you learn from your mistakes and never give up, eventually you will get there!

Posted in Writing

5 Cliches You Need to Avoid at the Beginning of Your Novel

In her book Writing Irresistible Kidlit, author Mary Kole says,

As you shape your beginning, it’s very important to introduce only enough backstory and conflict to make us care about the characters. If a bit of information can be saved for later without undermining our initial emotional attachment, save it.

The beginning of your novel is absolutely crucial.

It’s the part especially I fixate on the most. The part that I tear my hair out over. Because here’s the honest truth: you can write a super compelling book, but if that opening chapter bores your reader to tears, or if it lacks imagination and a hook of some kind, or if it features a common cliche, you’re in trouble.

You do not want to spend a year or longer on a novel that’s really, really great… but has a terrible first ten pages. Or mediocre even.

When I’m revising my work, I pay close attention to those first ten pages. I want them to do so much. Intrigue the reader. Excite the reader. Entice the reader to go on. Give enough backstory and conflict, but not too much.

I’ve written twenty novels since 2010. Figuring out how to begin a story is something I’ve had a lot of practice with, and I do feel like I’ve gotten better at this part of the writing process in the last few years.

But it still remains a struggle, of course. I’ve agonized over the opening chapter of my most recent novel, trying to make sure it works.

You’ll hear a lot of advice about what to do in those opening pages, but one thing we can all agree on you should avoid is opening with a cliche. With something we’ve all seen before in a hundred other books.

Mary Kole talks about many of these cliches in Writing Irresistible Kidlit. Here are five of them you should avoid at all costs!

1. Open with a huge block paragraph of description.

This is the number one no-no. When I see a huge block paragraph of description on page one, I’ll probably start reading and give the opening chapter a chance… but I also might not.

Block paragraphs are hard on the eyes, and the agents and editors who pick up your novel likely won’t want to see them so early in your manuscript before they’ve become invested in the characters and story.

Feel free to open with a fully formed paragraph, fine. Your novel doesn’t need to open with one-sentence paragraphs to entice your reader to read further. But you should definitely think about how long is too long when it comes to the paragraphs on your first page. Is something urgent happening in them?

Or are the paragraphs all about description? Description of the setting, description of your protagonist. You have so much time to integrate description. Don’t do it in the first paragraph unless you have a very good reason to.

Be wary of description in your opening pages unless that description very much adds something crucial!

2. Open with your main character waking up.

This one is probably the most obvious, but I have totally done it before. I’ve accidentally started a novel not just once but twice with my protagonist waking up in the morning, and it wasn’t until the revision process where I realized the horrible mistake I had made.

Opening your novel with your character waking up is most often a cliche. Especially if it’s a boring moment of your character waking up in the morning after a good night’s sleep.

You want to open your novel on a unique image, a compelling moment that draws your reader into the conflict and world of your characters. Don’t ruin what might otherwise be a great novel by opening with a cliche like this one.

It might seem like the easy way into your story, but almost 100% of the time, it’s just an excuse to shoot yourself in the foot long before you’re even started writing Chapter 2.

3. Open in the middle of an action scene.

Now this one can work in specific circumstances, but you have to be really careful with it.

I tried doing this on a recent YA thriller, and I thought it worked great, a big hook happening in the opening sentence that drew you into an extremely intense car chase that lasted the first seven pages of the novel.

After having that opening chapter workshopped during my MFA, and after having my literary agent look at it, I soon realized that opening in a scary action scene didn’t ultimately work because my readers didn’t yet care about the characters.

My characters didn’t get a real introduction of any kind until Chapter 2, and that element annoyed not just some, but all of my readers. They recognized what I was trying to do by starting right with the action, but everyone suggested opening on a quieter moment before the mayhem would be a better way to go.

Now the car chase begins in Chapter 4 of the novel, and the first three chapters deal with the characters first. And upon re-reading the book recently, I realized how crucial it was to make you care about the two main characters before the action begins.

You can certainly experiment opening with action in your novel. You want to start with conflict as early as possible, that’s for sure.

Just keep in mind that if the reader doesn’t yet care about your protagonist, you might be better served to open on a quieter moment, not halfway through a chase scene.

4. Open with lots of dialogue.

This is kind of similar to opening with action because in some regard you think you’re hooking the reader in by using dialogue. It might be colorful dialogue, striking dialogue.

It might be back-and-forth banter that makes you laugh out loud! Or grit your teeth in anticipation!

But here’s the problem with having dialogue be the first thing your readers see — they don’t know who the characters are yet. Just like with action, opening with dialogue is tricky because the reader’s not going to be invested in the conversation due to a lack of investment in any characters.

I think one line of dialogue, followed immediately by action, can potentially be a solid way to start a novel. One line of dialogue that strikes a mood, or that shows off the voice of your main character, and then going right into a few short paragraphs of conflict and tension that reveals who your protagonist is. That might work great, actually.

But when a reader is thrown into the middle of a conversation, two or more people talking back and forth where there’s not a clue indication of who’s talking or who these characters even are, that reader might put the book down before it’s ever had a chance to begin.

5. Open with a dream.

Again, the ultimate cliche. And this one is the worst because you might draw your reader into your novel for a page or two or three, and then as soon as you reveal that opening tension was just your protagonist’s dream, you will likely alienate 95% or more of your readers.

Even worse, once the reader is annoyed by discovering those awesome opening pages were a dream, then the reader is annoyed a second time by reading about your protagonist waking up in bed from that dream and going about his or her morning!

So in effect you’re making two fatal mistakes here — opening with a dream and opening with your main character waking up.

I wrote a novel in recent years about a teenager who suffers from night terrors, and I initially thought a perfect way to open that novel was to drop the reader in the middle of one of that character’s night terrors, only for the reader to discover halfway through Chapter 1 that it was all just a dream.

But in this case I stopped myself before I even went there because it’s not a good idea to open a novel with a dream. Avoid, avoid, avoid!

These are just a few of the beginning cliches you should avoid.

There are plenty more of them, of course. Like not starting with a conflict. Like starting with too much world building. Like starting with too many characters. Like starting with too much backstory, as Mary Kole talks about.

Finding the right way and right place to start your novel comes with lots and lots of practice as a writer. You write enough fiction and you read enough books and watch enough movies and you start to understand the kinds of opening that work well, and that don’t work at all.

Just keep in the back of your mind that the opening ten pages, and yes, even the very first page, are crucial to the success of your novel, there’s no way around it.

So take some extra time to think about how you’re going to start it. You’ll be much better off in the long run!

Posted in Writing

3 Quotes by Dave Eggers to Make You a Better Writer


Dave Eggers (born in 1970) is the celebrated writer of such books as A Hologram for a King, The Circle, and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

Here are some fantastic quotes from Eggers to inspire you about writing!

1. I need deadlines, just like everybody else. I need daily or weekly deadlines to get stuff done, or I continue to do things and not go off on a year of unproductivity.

I’ve been saying this to other aspiring writers from day one. It’s simply essential that you set deadlines for yourself, whether they’re made up or not. Most of my deadlines are made up, actually. I have deadlines for certain things, like when it comes to the classes I teach, but when it comes to my novels and short stories, there’s almost never a deadline of any kind, unless there’s a literary journal I want to send a story to that has a deadline coming up. And so what do I do? I. Make. Them. Up.

Deadlines are important because they make you more productive. They force you to get things done. When you have no deadline for your latest writing project, you’ll find yourself working on the project just here and there, and you know what? It will never get done. You’ll tinker away on it for awhile, but if nobody’s expecting it, if there’s no deadline you’ve at least made up in your head, what’s the rush in actually completing it, right?

So come up with a deadline of some kind. Pick four Fridays from now, and stick to a word count every day. It can be just 250 words or 500 words or whatever. Just stick to it, and make sure you reach that deadline in a few weeks time, yes, even if it’s made up. You want to create ways to write more, not less, and, even more important, finish things.

2. If you want to write about people, you can make it up. But if you spend time talking to someone and examining what it is you want to write about, you discover a level of detail that you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.

One of the great things about writing fiction is that you truly can just make it all up. When it comes to the plots you design, the characters you create, there’s nothing necessarily you have to pull from the people in your life or the people you walk by in the street. You can do whatever you want, of course.

But Eggers is right in that if you just make it all up from your imagination, there won’t be that level of detail that’s typically necessary for a fictional character to become a full-fledged human being on the page. You absolutely do want to study people closely, talk to lots and lots of people, develop an ear for dialogue for what others are saying around you.

The level of detail you get across in your fiction will ultimately make you stand out from other writers. Detail when it comes to your characters but also your setting, your action, the way you set up each and every scene.

3. I’ll always be working on five things at once, usually with those documents open at the same time because if I get stuck somewhere I’ll jump over to something else. That’s how my head has always worked.

There’s this myth I’ve heard from other writers that it’s best to focus on one thing at a time. To not start another project until the one you’re working on now has been completed. There is some truth to that, I guess. I used to have a friend who would work on five projects at once… but never finish anything. It’s one thing to be working on five projects at once forever and ever, each manuscript getting close to the end but never actually reaching it.

But as long as you commit to finishing everything you begin, it’s absolutely worth your time to work on more than one project at once. I’m always in various stages of different writing projects, both novels and short stories. And often I’ll be working on two of them, possibly three, on any given day. Right now I’m revising my new middle grade novel and writing a new short story. I do a little bit of both every day, and this coming Friday both will be finished!

What’s up next? On Monday I start revising my new young adult novel I finished the first draft of last summer, at the same time I start writing another new story that’s been percolating in my mind recently. I’ll be working on both every day, and I’m able to handle that workload because I’ve been doing it for so long.

So don’t ever feel like you can only focus on one of your writing projects at a time and not move onto the next one until you finish the last one. Feel free to work on two projects or more at the same time… as long as you commit to finishing them all. As long as you keep the progress going, feel free to work on as many of them as you want!

Posted in Film

‘Ad Astra’ Looked More Compelling When It Starred Sandra Bullock


I’ve sure been getting tired in recent years of the constant sequels and reboots.

Aren’t you? All the remakes and reimaginings that seem to come out of Hollywood every single week now, sometimes two a week! It’s rare in this day and age to get anything out of the studio system that’s remotely original, and when something does break through, like last week’s Hustlers, it’s practically a miracle.

Just this past summer we got a new John Wick, a new Aladdin, a new Godzilla, a new X-Men, a new Men in Black, a new Toy Story, a new Spider-Man, a new Lion King, a new Fast & Furious, a new Angry Birds, a new Gerald Butler movie where something falls.

And it’s not difficult to see why. Many of these movies do exceedingly well at the box office, even the middling efforts seeing big profits in international markets. Sure, there’s your occasional disaster like X-Men: Dark Phoenix, but look at Aladdin, Lion King, Toy Story (pretty much anything Disney gets a hold of) and you’ll see box office receipts in the billions. It’s hard to expect Hollywood to churn out anything but known properties when you see incredible numbers like that.

Even in September, typically a month where few major properties are released, you currently have the blockbuster It: Chapter Two in theaters, and just this weekend saw two films released that have what the box office prognosticators call pre-awareness — a new Rambo (part five, for those of you keeping track) and a Downton Abbey movie, which just became Focus Feature’s biggest opening weekend of all time.

And then there’s a third film that just came out in wide release.

The kind of big-budget studio film that comes around every once in awhile, and that’s Ad Astra, starring Brad Pitt and directed by James Gray (The Lost City of Z). It’s an $80 million dollar movie not based on anything. It’s not an adaptation of a book, it’s not an update of an old TV show or something. It’s something brand new, and just that detail makes it somewhat exciting.

So what is the studio selling this movie on? Solid reviews (currently 81% on Rotten Tomatoes), and Brad Pitt, of course, who just gave one of his all-time great performances in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. He’s having something of a moment right now, and why not support him in one more acclaimed film this year?

I do want to go out and support Ad Astra this weekend… and yet there’s something holding me back, and that’s the third element the studio is selling this movie on: the incredibly thrilling space epicness of it all that you must see not on just any screen, but on an IMAX screen! I’m actually lucky to have an IMAX screen ten minutes from my house, and they’re playing Ad Astra this weekend. I guess I could shell out the fifteen bucks if I wanted to.

But what’s stopping me is that the space element of this film in all of Ad Astra’s advertising makes it look exactly like all the other space films we’ve had of late. We’re getting about one a year now, it seems, the space epic becoming its own mini-genre.

Last year was First Man. In 2017 we got Life. In 2016 there was Passengers. In 2015, The Martian. In 2014, Interstellar. Some of these films are better than others, and trust me, I saw them all. But the problem I’ve had with some of these giant space films is that they offer little in the way of surprise and awe, particularly since the most striking one of all arrived to theaters first.

Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, which was released in 2013 and went on to win seven Academy Awards.

That was the one to see on the biggest screen you could find… because there had never been a movie like it in decades, since maybe Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which came out in 1968. It was as visually impressive as a space film had been in a long while, and it presented a vision wholly original and emotionally rich.

One other feature Gravity had? Sandra Bullock. A giant $100 million dollar budget resting on what is mostly a movie about one person, and it earned $723 million at the worldwide box office. So many actors had been up for the role of Dr. Ryan Stone. Angelina Jolie was almost about to do it at one point, and others considered were Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman (who has her own space film coming out next month, Lucy in the Sky).

Gravity was able to marry the fantastic visuals and almost non-stop suspense with a compelling lead performance of an actress at the top of her game. We all wanted to go on that journey with Sandra Bullock into the great unknown.. but do we necessarily want to experience something similar six years later with Brad Pitt? Every ad I’ve seen is promoting Ad Astra just like Gravity, and I can’t care enough for someone like Brad Pitt stranded in outer space as I was able to care for Sandra Bullock.

I don’t know if studios have more original dramatic thrillers set in space scheduled to come out in 2020, 2021, and beyond, but unfortunately these kinds of films are starting to become just as tired as every other overdone genre, sequel, or remake. Maybe it’s time to give these space movies a rest for a while. Maybe it’s time for some blockbuster original stories to be set, once again, on planet Earth.

Posted in Writing

You Can Write Your Short Story with Just 200 Words a Day


Thinking about writing a new short story but never have the time?

Trust me, I’ve been there. I spend a lot of time there, actually.

I don’t write as many short stories as I should. I’ve been seriously writing fiction for nearly ten years now, and I’ve managed to write twenty novels. Twenty novels in less than a decade. I wrote my first book in April / May of 2010, and I finished the first draft of my twentieth book in July of 2019. I’ve been a writing machine for a long, long time.

But you know what’s a little crazy to me? In the past decade I haven’t even written twenty short stories. Since 2010 I’ve written about fifteen or so, half of which have been published in online and paperback literary journals, the other half of which are still in various stages of the submission process.

There’s a lot I want to accomplish in my second decade of writing beginning in 2020, and that starts with writing fewer novels and writing lots more short stories. I absolutely think there’s tremendous value in short stories, even though they probably won’t make you a lot of money.

Something I love about short stories is the ability to experiment.

Try a new genre. Try a new kind of character. Take a chance on something absurd or unusual. It’s a short story after all, not a novel. It’s not going to take six months or a year to write and revise. If it fails, it fails. And if it succeeds, then fantastic!

My latest completed short story ‘Walter’ was accepted for publication in the literary journal Bosque for their forthcoming issue in November. Better yet, the editors chose me as their discovery of 2019, and because of this designation they are sending me a nice little check in the mail!

‘Walter’ was something I didn’t think I had the time to write. I was busy revising two different novels and beginning to outline my new novel project for the summer. I wasn’t really thinking about short stories, but I had an encounter with a person in Portland, Oregon, that became the nugget for a story, and I simply had to do it.

So I blocked out a single week to write it… and I wrote it fast. 800 words a day for five days, and by that Friday in April I had a 4,000-word short story. The piece went through four revisions after that, eventually topping out at around 3,500 words before it went on submission.

You can absolutely write a short story like that. You can write a story any way you want! But you know what’s another way to write and complete a short story?

Write your new short story with just 200 words a day!

I’ve never actually written a novel with just 200 words a day, I could never do it like that, but I can certainly write a new story with 200 words a day. In fact, I’m doing so right now!

Over the summer I got a nugget for a new story idea, but I kept pushing it back because I wanted to focus on my novel projects. Finally about two weeks ago I figured out how I wanted to tell the story, what POV, what main character, but I still didn’t know when I was going to do it. I just started a new revision of my middle grade novel, after all, and then in early October I’m moving right into the second draft of my summer novel project. I don’t want to block out a week anymore for a new story.

So you know what I’m doing instead? Working on both five days a week! Revising a chapter of my novel, and writing the new short story. Approaching both at the same time might seem intimidating. It actually was for me at first.

But you know what makes me do both with ease? Writing just 200 words a day of the story, of course! It takes me 10 minutes in the morning. 20 at the most. 20 minutes or less for my new fiction writing of the day.

It’s so easy, you guys. Any of you can do it. All you need is 10 to 20 minutes a day!

On Monday, September 9 I began writing my latest story. I wrote the opening paragraph. Then on Tuesday I wrote another couple paragraphs, another couple sentences. On Friday afternoon I crossed the 1,000-word mark. This morning? I hit 1,600 words!

Like with ‘Walter,’ I plan for the first draft of this new story to be about 4,000 words. That means I’ll finish it on or around Friday, October 4. After that day, I will have a new completed story!

This process of writing my newest short story has inspired me to try writing six new stories a year.

I wrote one new short story in 2017, one new short story in 2018, and up until a week ago, I figured I was only writing one new short story in 2019.

But now I’ll have a second, and I already have an idea for a third which I’ll begin writing in mid-October.

I sort of lost focus on short stories for awhile, instead totally consumed by novel writing and revising. But as I move into my second decade as a serious fiction writer, I want to return to the short story form and give it lots more attention.

Who knows… maybe one day I’ll have enough good stuff for a story collection to be published!

Just remember, if you like me are itching to get back into short story writing, you don’t need to block out a week or longer to write the story, and you don’t need to block out entire days either.

All you need to do is find 10 to 20 minutes to write 200 words a day… and there’s no telling how many stories you’ll be able to write in a given year!

Posted in Writing

3 Quotes by Brian De Palma to Make You a Better Writer


Brian De Palma (born in 1940) is an incredible filmmaker, one of my all-time favorites. He has given us such classic films as Carrie, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Scarface, and The Untouchables, among many others.

Here are some fantastic quotes about creativity he has shared throughout the years!

1. “You’ve got to remind yourself all the time that you’re being measured against the fashions of the day, and if your work truly has any kind of staying power, well, people will be talking about it in 20, 30 years.”

All we have is today. It’s all that’s really guaranteed. We get up, eat breakfast, brush our teeth, get to work. We writers hopefully have at least a little bit of creative time at some point throughout the day. Thirty minutes. Maybe an hour or two. Maybe more than that if we’re lucky. And we put some new words down to see if they’ll eventually make an impact.

Something I think about when it comes to Brian De Palma’s movies is that so many of them were flops upon their release and yet today are considered classics. Look at Sisters. Look at Phantom of the Paradise. Look at Blow Out. Films that have fans all throughout the world and yet upon their initial release didn’t receive much attention critically or financially.

But he kept going anyway. He kept making the movies he wanted to make when he wanted to make them. Some of them worked, some of them didn’t. But he’s been an artist in the world of film for about fifty years now, and what a rich variety of movies he’s given us. He was often measured against the fashions of the day, the bigger movies, the more popular movies. But much of what he created stands the test of time 30 or more years later.

Such is the same when it comes to your writing career. You should never write what’s popular in order to be a success, in order to sell something. Write the stories you want to read, that are unique to you, that offer your voice to thousands of potential readers out there. Write incredible work that won’t be forgotten two years from now but instead will stand the test of time!

2. “I’ve been obsessed with this kind of visual storytelling for quite a while, and I try to create material that allows me to explore it.”

Brian De Palma has very famously been compared to Alfred Hitchcock, and you can definitely see the Master of Suspense’s influence on DePalma when it comes to Sisters, Carrie, Obsession, Dressed to Kill, and Blow Out. He’s a very visual filmmaker. He writes scenes often that allow him to explore a kind of visual storytelling that can be awe-inspiring.

Something that you should constantly be thinking about when it comes to your fiction writing or screenwriting is how you can write a scene with as little dialogue as possible. How can you convey what the characters are thinking without having them just say what they’re thinking to a secondary character? How can you visualize a scene in a novel without much dialogue but also without explaining too much, without paragraph after paragraph of interiority, without two pages straight of description of the setting. How can you visualize a scene in an effective way… without being verbose?

It’s a tricky prospect, isn’t it? To write a visual scene with little dialogue and little description and little interiority. To focus on images, emotion, conflict. To find just the right amount of words to bring across visual storytelling to the reader that will excite and surprise and tantalize.

Allow yourself to explore the visual side of your storytelling, the same way De Palma does in his films.

3. “I have swum against the stream all my life. It’s not something I feel uncomfortable with. Is it difficult? Is it unpleasant? You bet.”

Brian De Palma came of age as a filmmaker in the 1970s along with the other masters of the decade like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and many others, and yet he’s the least known of this group and by far the most underrated. Many young film fans today will probably know who Spielberg and Lucas are, but very few will be familiar with the name De Palma.

And it’s because he went against the stream all his life. Sure, he made some financially successful films. Sure, he made some major studio films like The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible. But I would argue that 75% of the films he made were not super popular upon their initial release, and he never fully broke out as a major director figure like those other four.

De Palma has definitely swum against the stream. He’s rarely had a filmmaking experience that was easy from beginning to end, where everything worked out. He often found the filmmaking process difficult and unpleasant, but no matter how many problems he faced in his creative life, his not doing what was expected of him, his not following the stream, allowed for his unique and spectacular output of the last fifty years.

So do what De Palma did. Swim against the stream. Share your voice with the world in a way that feels right to you and not necessarily anyone else. If you put your heart into your work, if you give us 100% every single time, your work will find a home, will find fans all around the world.

Explore new themes. Take huge chances. Do anything you think you might be incapable of.

And the success will follow!