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“How to Write a Short Story” now available!

How to Write a Short Story coverFor a few years now, I have taught a workshop on “How to Write a Novel in 30 Days” where I share the tools and attitude necessary to write a complete novel in a month. The workshop runs sixty minutes, so it covers some broad concepts in a short amount of time, from the actual physical tools you need to write, to basic story structure, to the mindset and strategies that make the process easier.

Writing a novel assumes that you know how to write a story. It took me awhile to realize that a lot of people decide they want to start writing, and well, they have read a lot of novels, so they’ll just write one of those.

And then they try to write a novel, struggle with it (“Why won’t the characters do anything?”), and eventually give up.

(I was one of those people, and I have the awful partial first draft of a YA fantasy novel to prove it.)

It can be an incredibly frustrating process, and with so many books and videos and workshops out there, it can also be frustrating trying to find a straightforward answer to “So how the heck do you write a story?”

I know about those frustrations because I went through a lot of books, watched a lot of videos, and took a lot of courses trying to find the answer to that one question.

“How to Write a Short Story” is my attempt to help aspiring writers avoid the frustration and get to the joy of writing.

In this book, I talk about the core components of a story, regardless of length. These basics are the building blocks for all fiction. Then I discuss the nature of the ‘short story’ and how it is different from a novel (not better, not worse—just different), and then wrap up with strategies to use when you get stuck with your story. These strategies also work well with longer stories, so wannabe novelists would get helpful information from this book, as well.

Looking for a compact no-nonsense guide to writing fiction, with a heavy dose of snark on the side? Look no further!

“How to Write a Short Story” is available as an e-book and paperback at the usual online retailers.

Nanowrimo 2020 — The Wrap-Up

Reaching the end of Nanowrimo has always felt like a triumphant exulatation (think Princess Leia hugging Chewbacca at the end of Star Wars with a face-splitting grin and “We did it!”).

This year wasn’t like that. I don’t think it had anything to do with Pandemic Malaise, but maybe more with my having accomplished this before (writing a 50,000 word novel in a month) and knowing that I still have a ways to go before the novel will be finished.

Still, it is nice to know that I managed to make it through once again, even with a) pantsing the whole damn thing, and b) writing a mystery. Oh, and then there was that pandemic, and a goofy election. And I’m sure a whole bunch of other stuff.

Now what?

The short answer: keep writing. As I said in the Day 29 post, I still have probably 15-20,000 more words to go to finish the first draft. Then I will let it sit while I go tackle the other novels I wrote this year (there are three waiting on the sidelines for me to start cleaning them up for publishing).

I am also still meeting with my writing partner, and we set a deadline for later this month to each produce a ‘holiday story’. I wrote one that became Wilde & Sweet, set in the Seven Territories world (aka Old West cowboys and magic), so I’m looking for this new story to have a completely different setting, which it has: a modern-day corporate cubicle-walled office with the worst ‘team bonding’ holiday games. Now to fit in something that makes reality bend just a wee bit…

So yeah, I’ll just fit that little story in while continuing to work away at the Nano novel. While trying to publish the Seven Territories collection. That’s all.

Final thoughts

Thanks for following along on this crazy writing adventure. I hope this inspires people—maybe even reassures them—that they don’t have to know what they are writing (goodness knows I didn’t, and still don’t), and to let the Nanowrimo experience be one for playing with ideas and letting yourself get caught up in a world of your own making. Given the way this year has gone, it’s been a true escape to write about an urban fantasy-noir world with wizards and merfolk and talking cats and dive bars and tons of Star Wars references. Getting to play in that world, as frustrating at times as it can be not knowing how it will all shake out, continues to be a joy.

Notes for the Future (aka Useful Things):

  • Place Butt in Chair, alone, with no noise or distractions
  • Writemonkey FTW (i.e. distraction-free writing software)
  • HAVE A RELIABLE SYSTEM FOR STORING (and backing up) WRITING FILES
  • Never panic. Just read over what you’ve written the previous day and then write from there.
  • Especially when writing made-up worlds, and especially when writing mysteries, keep a running note of the details that come up (characters, locations, CLUES).
  • Have fun, dammit!

Total novel writing time: 2825 minutes (47 hours)

Total novel word count (by Nov. 30): 50,372 words

Nanowrimo 2020 — Days 27-30

Day 27

And now comes the final push. With the end in sight (or at least the 50,000 word count goal), I sat down and went to work. Had my highest word count day yet at 5000 words (yes, exactly 5000), and that felt good.

90″ 1866, 40″ 1303, 70″ 1831 (200″ 5000 words)

Day 28

I didn’t know where to start with the new chapter, even with my very rough outline. Maybe Hemingway was on to something with his advice: “The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next.

25″ 770 words

Day 29

The end was clearly in sight with less than 4000 words to hit the 50,000 word goal. So I just kept going at it, putting more words down, moving the story forward. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have word count goals for motivation (just 3000 words to go, now 2500…), as opposed to a ‘just keep plugging away until it’s done’.

So I reached 50,000 words (woo hoo!) and ‘won’ Nanowrimo with a mostly pantsed mystery novel. It feels good to reach the goal (50,000 words in a month), but the novel isn’t finished—I probably have another ten chapters or so to go, which means 15,000-20,000 words, and then there will be the cleaning/fleshing out scenes, so my best guess is it will end up around 80,000 total words for a finished publishable novel.

I’m making good progress and the story is coming along. It is not a difficult pace to keep up, especially if I didn’t have full-time work happening at the same time, and I’m not even getting into a discussion about the chaos that the pandemic is wreaking on my life (mostly reflected in the ever-fluctuating full-time work schedule), or the lack of house projects and cleaning that I’ve done. Although I have to say that the house stuff could be more related to the pandemic than Nanowrimo. And I realized that it’s all too easy to blame the pandemic for everything, when at the same time the pandemic also made some writing-life aspects easier (not having a 2.5 hour commute some days certainly bolstered my available time or writing).

80″ 1784, 75″ 1775 (155″ 3559 words)

Day 30

With the Nanowrimo goal hit and my “Winner!” certificate downloaded, I spent the rest of the usual writing time revisiting where I’m at with the next publishing project (a collection of the “Seven Territories” stories in print and ebook with an awesome cover!) and researching potential writing software.

This month showed me (at times rather painfully) that I need to change my process, especially when dealing with novels that have multiple subplots, and especially especially when dealing with mysteries (all those clues!). So of course I had to dive down multiple rabbit holes researching different options for software that make my life easier. Would the time have been better put to actually writing? I honestly don’t know. I’m just hoping that if I can get a process sorted out that is reliable and works for me, then I can start moving forward, and maybe even make the writing happen faster.

0″ for 0 words, but a fair bit of research (2 hours, and not counted towards Nano time)

TOTALS: 2825″ (47 hours) and 50,372 words

Nanowrimo 2020 — Days 25-26

Day 25

Time to start catching up. In years past I could do a 7000 word day (which was fantastic for catching up on word count), but I’m finding that I’m writing a lot cleaner these days. This means fewer words (a 4000 word day is a major catch up day), but those words are contributing to more of a final product than the slapdash ye olde 7000 word days. With experience (age?), I have learned that I would rather write a little slower and cleaner than write at the speed of keyboard sound, because writing cleaner means a lot less work when preparing the story for publishing.

So once I could get my Butt in Chair, I started getting on with the writing. Finally broke 40,000 words and getting closer to Nanowrimo par. Woo hoo!

20″ 152, 10″ 306, 30″ 778, 35″ 554, 25″ 528, 20″ 563, 15″ 554, 20″ 567 (3 hours & 4102 words)

Day 26

Happy Thanksgiving! I took today off from proper writing, although I did spend an hour while watching the National Dog Show thinking about the story and sorting out timelines and figuring out the pieces to the plot puzzle, like what scenes I need to write and when/where to drop in some clues. I ended up breaking out some index cards and writing down plot points on them and then rearranging them on the timeline to get a visual idea of how this all plays out.

From what I can tell, this will definitely NOT be a 50,000 word novel when complete. More likely 65,000 at least. We shall see as the story gets ever more complicated…

60″ 0 words

TOTALS SO FAR: 2330″ (38.8 hours) & 41,043

Nanowrimo 2020 — Days 22-24

Day 22

Woke up with all sorts of thoughts and ideas for the novel, and then spent hours writing notes to myself and did some more thinking (I didn’t track the amount of time this took, but it was hours). Did write at the end of the day so I could continue the writing streak (such as it is).

20″ 522

Day 23

All right, time to go back to the beginning and start fixing things so that the story is starting to gel and come together. Went back and cleaned chapters 1 through 10. Note to self: putter, and keep breathing.

20″ 32, 15″ 84, 15″ 17, 20″ 86, 10″ 39, 10″ 11, 10″ 13, 5″ 10, 10″ 39, 30″ 141, 10″ 28 (165″ 500)

Day 24

And the cleaning continues. Got through chapters 11 through 13, and then started having to write new chapters to fill in gaps (I think I wrote the first third of the novel, and part of the final third, so this is filling in the middle third). Overall, it is slow going, but it feels solid.

25″ 240, 25″ 245, 20″ 170, 15″ 41, 10″ 212, 30″ 819 (125″ & 1727)

TOTALS SO FAR: 2090″ (34.8 hours) &  36,941 words

Nanowrimo 2020 — Days 20-21

Day 20

Slogging through. I have no idea where to go with this, what Genie (main character) should do, and I don’t think she knows either. So I stayed in her head and body, and kept writing. Discovered some more backstory on her and Ben (the ex-fiance), and created more problems for her, the poor girl. Now I’ve got her licking her wounds back at home—need to have a mirror moment here, and a real one.

40″ 430, 20″ 533, 65″ 1363, 60″ 1500 (3 hours & 3828 words)

Day 21

It just seemed like a good time to have a disturbing dream for our heroine. And for her to start getting some clues to solve the various mysteries.

20″ 158, 15″ 0 (story thinking), 75″ 1714, 35″ 1000, 10″ 131 (155″ & 3027 words)

TOTALS SO FAR: 1800″ (30 hours) & 34, 194 words

Nanowrimo 2020 — Days 18-19

Day 18

OMG I SUCK AND I AM THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD. ARGGHHHH.

Once I got that out of my system (after avoiding writing all damn day), I put Butt in Chair and started writing. Finally.

20″258, 40″ 1229, 20″ 526, 12″ 381, 45″ 1197 (140″ & 3591 words)

Day 19

And another Evernote blurp. I only got 25 minutes in and 451 words, AND YET they may have been eviscerated by Evernote. Part of what bothered me about that was that those were all the words I had for the day, so if they were gone, then I had a Day with No Words. I spent an hour-plus fretting and generally freaking out at the realization that ALL of my works in progress are in Evernote. WHAT IF they all disappeared from Evernote? I would be seriously screwed. So I realized that I need to come up with a better plan for the works in progress, because I can’t keep going through this. I can’t even think about losing all those novels and short stories. I have a ton of stuff to publish, and it could all so easily go fwoomp. F*#^.

Kudos go to my personal SysAdmin who bent Evernote to his will and got its database optimized, all while I sat curled up in a fetal position, my eyes wide and my lungs wheezing. Thank you, my love.

tldr: Back everything TF up, people. And in something/somewhere you can trust.

It is almost enough to have me printing everything out. Poor trees.

25″ 451

TOTALS SO FAR: 1465″ (24.4 hours) & 27,339 words <over half way there!>

Nanowrimo 2020 — Days 13-17

Day 13

Not getting as much time to write as I would like, so I had to settle for thirty minutes today. Still, I got nearly a thousand words in, so I’ll take it.

30″ 905

Day 14

Just got word at the day job that thanks to the Governor’s 2-week “Freeze” order, my work schedule is going to change. Rampant chaos and uncertainty. Might as well write.

20″ 600, 30″ 1032, 20″ 638 (70″ 2270)

Day 15

Still bumbling through this novel. I have to keep reminding myself to just keep sitting and keep writing. And when that fails, to write the next sentence, and let the characters think things through on the page.

40″ 1018, 20″ 522 (60″ 1540)

Day 16

In conversation with my short story writing partner, we talked about ‘writing as therapy’. I think there is something definitely to that, although I’m not sure what writing about talking cats, occult PIs, and Finnish pastries says about me.

Today’s writing was all about Genie and her ex-fiance, and it was surprisingly easy to write, but oh so painful with the ex upset about Genie lying to him, and Genie feeling a ton of guilt and shame. Conflict is a terrible and beautiful thing.

20″ 500, 30″ 1080, 30″ 1059, 10″ 400 (90″ 3039)

Day 17

Felt very stuck because I had no idea where the story was going (still don’t, for that matter), and Genie! The poor girl has her heart broken into a zillion little pieces, and is making no headway on her cases, so now what? Eventually, with the encouragement and support of my in-person Muse, I sat down and wrote, letting Genie think her way through her situation. Spoiler alert: she ends up at the public library!

15″ 89, 15″ 177, 20″ 20, 25″ 591, 10″ 250, 10″ 274 (95″ 1401)

TOTALS SO FAR: 1300″ (21.7 hours) & 23,297 words

Nanowrimo 2020 — Days 11-12

Day 11

My goal for today was 4000 words, and I hit it. It helps to have 3 (or 4?) story threads: the main case to solve, the ticking clock (pay the debt by Friday or consequences), and now police have called in our heroine on a new case. I just keep chugging away at it. Lots of cleaning up of earlier chapters, filling in description and details, then taking a run at moving the story forward. Conflict between characters is always good, especially when they are friends. Keep putting Butt in Chair, keep writing, keep telling myself that it can be awful and it doesn’t matter because no one has to ever see it. Keep amusing self.

30″ 327, 45″ 675, 20″ 154, 10″ 49, 10″ 132, 5″ 60, 25″ 146, 30″ 568, 30″ 753, 40″ 609, 40″ 729 (280″ 4202 words)

Day 12

One of the things I emphasize in my “How to Write a Novel in 30 Days” presentation is to back everything up. It doesn’t matter how—cloud, USB drive, emails to yourself, photographs, photocopies, handwritten copies. Just back it up to something that is reliable so in case SHTF, you will still have what you have written.

I live in Evernote. It backs up to a cloud. I thought I was safe.

I was wrong.

The good news is that I only lost a hundred-ish words (they weren’t the bestest words ever, but they were decent and I regret their loss). The bad news is that I lost a good chunk of my faith in Evernote, and I realized that perhaps I need to change how I do things.

Nevermind that this is the way I have been doing this writing thing for years.

<sigh>

So my blissful trust has been smudged and I now look over my proverbial backup shoulder constantly. Which sucks.

Managed to get an hour of writing in, even after dealing with Evernote issues, and more importantly got more words in the story. Exciting news: heroine under suspicion regarding the new police case. Doh!

10″ 31 (lost), 10″ 98 (lost), 40″ 1137

TOTALS SO FAR: 955″ & 14,142 words

Nanowrimo 2020 — Days 9-10

Day 9

I have no idea what I’m doing, but I just keep writing words. I keep cycling back through previous chapters and then forge ahead with new chapters. Not dizzy at all. Ha.

60″ 411

50″ 1406

15″ 326

Day 10

Ugh. I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing and that this is pointless. I should be writing adventure/romance, not ‘mystery’ which I don’t feel in my bones. Maybe this would be easier if the story wasn’t about a cold case. Maybe. Is writing this novel stretching me? Oh, hell yes. Is it fun? Not really, although I love the talking cat [spoiler]. Does it have to be publishable? No. Does it have to be done so I can move on and get over my ‘mystery genre’ writing hang-ups? YES.

Maybe if I think about it like some of the urban fantasy novels I love that have at the heart of them a mystery, wrapped with strong strands of romance and friendships—then maybe I can make this work. Maybe.

40″ 449

10″ 127

5″ 44

40″ 1038

TOTALS SO FAR: 615″ & 8674 words

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