Wednesday, January 5, 2011

An Interview With Julie Duffy of StoryADay

StoryADay is a writing scheme along similar lines to Write1Sub1, although it runs for just a single month (May). Julie Duffy, who runs StoryADay (and who has signed up for Write1Sub1 too), kindly agreed to be interviewed by Simon about her experiences from StoryADay in 2010. It's inspring stuff for anyone taking part - or thinking of taking part - in Write1Sub1.

Q. Can you explain a bit about StoryADay and what the challenge involves?

A. Quite simply, the StoryADay challenge is to write (and finish) one short story every day in May.

The next question, of course, is usually 'why?'

I was getting frustrated with my inability to make time for writing and finish the stories I did start. I was losing confidence in my ability to write stories at all. I figured a big, audacious goal -- made public -- might help. Apparently I wasn't alone ;)

I reasoned that if we wrote stories every day for a month we would all end up with at least a handful that had potential. That would be a handful of decent stories we didn't have 31 days earlier. And surely, by writing and finishing a story every day I could learn something about the craft and restore my confidence in my ability to write a complete story.

I set out loose rules: "Write and finish one story every day" and invited people to join me. Hundreds did. I was amazed at how much enthusiasm there was for such a silly scheme!

Q. How do people get involved if they want to take the plunge with StoryADay in 2011?

A. I'll be running StoryADay again in May 2011. Check out the site and join the mailing list. I send out updates and interviews from time to time (not more than once a week). I'll be opening up the site again
for new registrations in the New Year. People on the mailing list will be the first to hear about it.

You can also follow me on Twitter via @storyadaymay and check the hashtag #storyaday; or become a fan on Facebook.

There is a kind of social network at the site too that you'll be able to join and post to. (I'm upgrading that at the moment to make sure it runs just as smoothly this year).

Q. Writing a story every day for a month is pretty intense (I speak from experience!) How do you define "story"? Do story outlines or rough drafts count, for example?

I define a story as something with a beginning a middle and an end. Some people can do that in 140 characters (although I found that could take almost as long as writing 1,200 words!). Some people wrote
thousands of words a day.

Rough drafts definitely count, because nobody could write a totally-crafted story every day for a month, I don't think. But I do urge people to make it as complete as possible every day. Finish the story.

I know some folk who decided to use Story A Day to create outlines or generate ideas. My sense is that few of those people stuck with it. They certainly weren't vocal in the forums or on Twitter. The people
who got the most out of Story A Day were the ones who attempted full stories of whatever length. They were the ones whooping with joy every day as they finished. It feels so good to be able to post those three
little words: "Finished today's story".

The rules are loose though,and no-one's going to be kicked out for deciding that they'll only write on weekdays, or that they only want to write outlines. The point of the exercise is to kickstart your
creativity and prove that you can make your writing a priority without waiting for the stars to align and your life to become 'perfect'. Make your own rules and do your best to stick to them.

Q. StoryADay had a very active community of writers last time round. How important was that to the scheme?

I think the community aspect was huge.

People didn't spend a lot of time chit-chatting in the forums, but they would drop by to post updates - good and bad. Going to the site and seeing all those updates was inspiring.  And everyone was soooo

If you came to the even site once and posted that you had finished a story or were struggling, people jumped in with congratulations, encouragement, and support. And if you came more often, you ended up with a bunch of new friends who understand this writing urge that the 'norms' in your life really don't. ;)

We had participants from all around the globe. It kept me honest to wake up every morning and see 'finished!" posts from people in New Zealand and Australia and my native Britain, before I'd even had my
first cup of coffee here in Pennsylvania.

Some people posted their stories at the site or on their own blogs. All of the feedback that I saw was always of the 'constructive criticism' type. I think everyone understood that this was an exercise in creativity and that everything was a first draft. Some people posted none of their stories publicly, but wrote every day

Q. Do you have any advice to anyone thinking of taking the plunge with either Write1Sub1 or StoryADay (or both)?

Finish. Finish every story. Even if it's dragging and you hate it, learning how to work through that and get to to the good bit is all part of the craft. Just starting stories will never get you anywhere. Learning how to craft your ideas into finished stories is what it's all about.

Write fast and allow your first draft to stink. Better to edit down a completed draft than agonize over every word and never actually write anything. The only way to learn how to write is to write.

Take a day here and there to 'carbo-load' on other people's short stories. Get an anthology and read, read, read. Watch great TV episodes (which are often like short stories).

Start with character. Don't start with a theme and try to shoehorn plot and characters into it. Your story will be tedious (IMHO!)

Capture ideas before you sit down to write. Your writing time is probably limited, so carry a notebook or a smart phone and capture ideas all day. Write a list of topics that enrage you: the things that find you ranting at the TV or radio; the topics that you get into arguments about. Think of characters you know, that you've seen on the street or at work who stay in your memory. Think about a person from history who sticks in your head. What is that person's story? Think of an incident 15 years ago that still makes you squirm. What's the story there? Write down your ideas when they are fresh.

Mull over your ideas while you're doing tedious daily chores (turn off the radio in the car and think instead. Think while you're folding laundry or washing dishes.) Do any of your ideas excite you? If an idea starts to seem like it'd be 'worthy' or a slog, ditch it. Writing about things you care about is what will make your writing sing.

Try out different styles. You might think you're a comic writer and discover you do tragedy really, really well.

Try writing different ways. Longhand, on your laptop, dictate. I was running short on time one day and 'wrote' my story for that day by dictating it into my phone while walking to pick my kids up from school. It had a different style. It was an interesting experiment.

Don't try to do too much in one story. One moment in a person's life can fill a whole short story. You can hint at the backstory as the action moves on, by the main character's reactions, but you don't need
to unravel it all. Let the readers make some discoveries for themselves.

Remember: this is not serious. No-one is going to die if your story sucks. Just write it and see what happens. If it is terrible, well, there's always tomorrow!

* * *

So there we go. Thanks Julie! Having taken part in StoryADay last year myself, I can certainly confirm it was an invaluable spur to the writing process. I came out with quite a few stories that wouldn't have been written otherwise. Now I only have to decide whether to attempt StoryADay as well as Write1Sub1!

Julie has also written a Creative Challenge Workbook to help people decide whether to take part in a scheme like Write1Sub1 and to give them tools for succeeding if they do. It's a free download available here. Highly recommended.

Julie concludes with this final thought :

I really believe challenges like StoryADay and Write1Sub1 help us see ourselves as 'real' writers. Not would-be authors. Real, working writers with less of the romantic glamour, and more of the craft and satisfaction.

Couldn't have put it better!


  1. Yes I agree and it would be very intense, but I guess if you paced yourself so that the stories didn't have to be too long it is achieveable. Very thought-provoking idea as they say the best writers write for at least 10 mins a day. I made myself stay offline during the day today and I got a lot more written. Hoorah! Thanks for the interview. :O)

  2. Great interview--I enjoyed it a lot! (StoryADay sounds intense... rather like Write1Sub1, I suppose, but I've been fascinated following how that is going for people.)

  3. Excellent advice, especially: "The only way to learn how to write is to write."

    Good luck with the challenge.

  4. StoryADay is intense - I did it myself last year - but I was really glad I did it and stuck at it.

  5. Madeleine: "I made myself stay offline during the day today and I got a lot more written. Hoorah!" I'm noticing a direct correlation there with my own writing...

  6. An inspiring interview - thank you!