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The Moonlighting Writer http://themoonlightingwriter.com Keep your job. Live your dream. Thu, 02 Nov 2017 16:48:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.2 Can I Write a Novel? Probably, But … http://themoonlightingwriter.com/write-novel/ http://themoonlightingwriter.com/write-novel/#respond Thu, 02 Nov 2017 16:48:09 +0000 http://themoonlightingwriter.com/?p=25987 “Can I write a novel?” If you’re a writer, that’s a question you’ve probably asked yourself thousands of times, whether you’ve vocalized it or not. Whether you admit it or not. And it’s no surprise that this question keeps popping into our minds. It’s a manifestation of the sorts of doubts that creep in any […]

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“Can I write a novel?”

If you’re a writer, that’s a question you’ve probably asked yourself thousands of times, whether you’ve vocalized it or not.

Whether you admit it or not.

And it’s no surprise that this question keeps popping into our minds. It’s a manifestation of the sorts of doubts that creep in any time humans contemplate tackling big goals.

In writing, what bigger goal is there than writing a novel? For most of us, it represents the pinnacle of commitment and achievement (though that’s a shifting scale — the more you achieve the higher that peak in the distance rises).

The good news is that the answer to “Can I write a novel?” is usually “yes.”

You can write a novel … but only if you have a few items under control first.

To that end, here are the five prerequisites for writing a novel:

A Grasp of Grammar

If you can’t string two sentences together in a coherent fashion, please do yourself and the world a favor — hold off on those novel aspirations until your grammar is more polished.

Sorry to be blunt, but there are already enough poor quality novels and stories on the web and in e-books to last any of us several lifetimes. We don’t need more crap.

But that doesn’t mean you have to be a master wordsmith in order to write a novel. You don’t, and none of the world’s greatest books came out perfect in first-draft form. Whatever you write will take plenty of editing and re-working to make it as good as it can be.

Most writers are just fine in this area, but it never hurts to do a gut-check before you get too far down the road.

Just be honest from the outset about your skill level.

A Story Idea

This is a “duh” suggestion if ever there was one. Of course you have to have a story idea in order to write a novel!

But you might be surprised how many writers sit down at their keyboards expecting a novel to spring from their fingertips just because they’re ready to write a novel, even though they don’t have a solid plot idea to start with.

You don’t need to have every detail worked out, but if you don’t at least know a few of your characters, a few tension points, and a few possible endings, it’s going to be tough to get from blank first page to THE END.

A Plan

Once you have a story idea, you need to have a solid plan for executing it.

Now, some famous authors like Stephen King are celebrated for their ability to “pants” their way through novels. They sit down with some vague story idea (see above) and start writing. Their characters do some things, other stuff happens, and the author is led magically on a path that leads to a complete and enthralling story.

But most of us mere mortals get lost when we try the same sort of stunt. Our plots meander, our characters melt into each other, and the center is lost. Usually, the novel just dies.

What we need instead is a solid roadmap to take us from point to point along the way to a completed novel. That can be a simple outline, a set of story beats, or even just a page or two of written-out synopsis.

Try a few different methods, and one will click with you.

And, you’ll move through your novel much more seamlessly.

Time

Writing takes time.

And writing a novel takes a lot of time.

For instance, if you can write 1000 words an hour, you’ll have to devote 50 hours during the month of November to “win” NaNoWriMo and finish a 50,000-word novel.

That’s a healthy chunk of time, right?

More than just knowing you have to spend the time, though, you need to schedule your writing time and commit to keeping those appointments with yourself.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, you need something like two one-hour blocks each day to get it done.

If you plan to write a 100,000 novel over the next six months, you need to find 100 one-hour blocks in that half-year (again, assuming 1000 words per hour).

But if you aren’t able or willing to commandeer that time for your writing — for yourself — then you indeed cannot write a novel.

Passion

“Passion” is often used as an alibi for not finishing a novel.

“It’s a passion piece, man. It can’t be rushed!”

That’s bunk, of course, but passion itself is an absolute must if you have any hopes of writing a novel.

You have to love writing.

You have to love your topic.

You have to love your plot.

And you have to love the thrill of accomplishment that waits for you at the end of it all, when your completed novel sits staring you in the heart, coaxing you to start the next.

Then you need a PLAN!!


 

The 30-Day Novel will guide you step-by-step through the exact process I use to "win" NaNoWriMo, year after year after year.  
 

 

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How to Build a Simple and Powerful Novel Writing Planner with Trello http://themoonlightingwriter.com/trello-novel-writing-planner/ http://themoonlightingwriter.com/trello-novel-writing-planner/#respond Wed, 03 May 2017 15:40:11 +0000 http://themoonlightingwriter.com/?p=25884 The post How to Build a Simple and Powerful Novel Writing Planner with Trello appeared first on The Moonlighting Writer.

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In a poll conducted by Joe Bunting over at The Write Practice, 72% of respondents said their biggest writing problem is finishing the projects they start.

You’re probably not too surprised by that figure because I’ll bet you have at least one novel sitting around on a hard drive somewhere that you plan to finish “someday.”

But just why is it so hard to finish a book?

I mean, you have a great idea for a story, and you start off full of vim and vigor. Maybe you knock out 1000 words, or 2000 words the first day. You might swoop in for another 1000 the next, and 500 the next.

Soon enough, though, your word count dwindles to nothing. Maybe you have a twinge of guilt at first but, eventually, you just don’t write at all anymore.

Or maybe you do write, occasionally, but you’re not getting anywhere. Writing in fits and starts is leaving you unmotivated and disillusionefrustrated writerd.

You chalk it up to life — too many meetings, too much work, too many kids’ activities to attend.

But is that the real reason your novel isn’t getting done? After all, lots of people have busy lives and still manage to write a book or ten.

Maybe you really do have a harder row to hoe than most, but before you give up on your dreams of finishing your novel, you should answer one question: do you have a plan to get there?

If your answer is, “no,” then there is a good chance your lack of planning is what’s holding you back.

While you hear about famous authors like Stephen King “pantsing” their way through stacks of best-selling novels, most of us mere mortals need a roadmap to get from that first blank page to a finished manuscript.

And no one is going to build that map for us.

Luckily, you can put together your own writing plan, and you can do it quickly. If you already have a decent idea about the story you want to write, you can usually develop a blueprint for your novel in less than an hour.

Want a handy, ready-for-you version of our Trello Novel Writing Planner? Just click here for instant access to our ready-to-use template.

To get you there, we’re going to build a simple novel planner using Trello, a popular and free project management application. More on Trello in a minute, but first …

What Is a Novel Writing Planner?

Before we get too deep into how to construct your novel writing planner, we should level-set on our definition and expectations.

A novel planner is nothing more than a tool that helps you lay out the basic components of the book you intend to write, before you write it, in order to develop a roadmap that will take you from the fuzzy concept to a finished manuscript.

It can be as simple or as elaborate as you want, but for our purposes, the tool needs to meet some minimum requirements. In particular, our novel planner should …

  • be flexible enough to accommodate a variety of story structures
  • provide a mechanism to (*gasp!*) outline your novel
  • allow you to add detailed text descriptions to any part of the plan you develop
  • support drilling down from high-level concepts to granular details
  • be accessible online, from any device
  • have a scheduling component
  • be easy to learn and useplanning
  • be capable of growing and changing with your needs
  • be affordable
  • ultimately deliver an actionable roadmap that you can follow to finish your novel

Whew! That’s a heavy burden, but there are several options that are up to the task — with a little elbow grease on your part.

For instance, the Story Planner website checks a lot of these boxes and presents several different templates for you try out. The free version only lets you build one plan at a time, though, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to schedule your work once you’ve set up the plan for your novel.

You could also use free Google products to plan your novel, employing some combination of Calendar, Sheets, and Docs. It’s a very effective approach but can be daunting if you’re not keen on wiring together different applications.

You could also use Scrivener, my favorite all-around writing software and the place I land most often when planning my books. But Scrivener is not free and it’s not available on the web.

And there are any number of other options available for planning your novel, but you really would be hard-pressed to beat the combination that Trello brings to the table.

Let’s dive in …

Getting Started with Trello

If you haven’t heard of Trello, well, it’s high time you did!

Trello is a free onlitrello-logo-bluene project management application that implements the idea of Kanban.

Originally developed by Toyota, Kanban is a visual productivity system that lays out three basic lists of tasks: To Do, Doing, and Done.

Within each list, work items are represented by cards or sticky notes, which are moved from list to list as work progresses.

It’s a simple scheme that plays on human’s innate preference for visual information, and it’s yielded big benefits for Toyota and others over the years.

Trello brings that idea to the masses through the web, and it’s been used by millions of people over the last five years. Its flexibility and intuitive interface are without peer in the current landscape, and it’s just about the perfect tool for building your novel roadmap.

To get going with Trello, you first need to sign up for a free account by clicking here:

 

 

Click “Let’s Go” and fill in your information:

 

 

Now, you can create a team name if you want — teams sit at the top of the Trello hierarchy. You can also skip this step and work without a team name. If you’re not sure, just skip forward because you can always add teams later.

 

 

You also need to confirm your email address by clicking a link that Trello sent to you, but for now, you should see something like this:

 

 

Boards are the next highest level of data organization in Trello, just beneath teams. To see how boards work, either click the “Create new board …” button or click on the Welcome board:

 

 

This board has two lists: “Stuff to try (this is a list)” and “Tried it (another list).” The first list has as a series of cards, which are the basic units of work or tracking in Trello. If you click on the card with the dog face, you can read more about how cards work:

 

 

Those are the (very) basics of Trello, but we’ll cover more specific functionality in the next section when we build our novel planner.

If you’d like to see more of Trello in its glory, you can go to the source and check out this video from Trello:

 

Getting Started With Trello – help.trello.com

Building a Trello Novel Writing Planner

Now that you’re set up with Trello, it’s time to create your novel planner. For the rest of this article, I’m going to use my own first novel (Alive on Opening Day) as an example for building out a planner.

You can approach your plan in all sorts of different ways, but for this tutorial, we’ll use the 7-point story structure as our guide. If you’re not familiar with this layout, the  basic elements are:

  • Hook — the initial incident that draws your audience in
  • First Plot Point — the inciting incident that is the reason for everything else your protagonist does throughout the book
  • Pinch Point 1 — a moment in your story that hints — or spells out — the challenges that drive your characters; it forces your protagonist’s hand and drives him toward the mid-point
  • Mid-Point — the point when your protagonist takes control of his fate
  • Pinch Point 2 — something else happens to reinforce your main character’s resolve — often something unpleasant
  • Second Plot Point — you protagonist figures out what he has to do and drives forward toward resolution
  • Resolution — the wrap-up, where you tie together all the loose ends of your story

Check out J.R. Hall’s excellent series of posts starting here for a much more thorough explanation.

Now, to get started building your 7-point novel planner, log in to Trello and create a new Board. I suggest just calling it the title of your book (you can change the board name later):

 

 

Your new board should look something like this:

 

 

Next, create a list where you can do your novel planning by clicking “Add a list …”,typing in your list name, and clicking “Save.” I called my list “Plot Structure”:

 

 

Now, click “Add a card …” and type in “Hook” to add a card for your story hook to your new list. Repeat for each of the other six parts of the seven-part story structure:

 

 

At this point, you have an empty shell into which you can scoop the pieces of your novel. To get started fleshing it out, click on the Hook card to bring up a dialog box. This is the “back” of the card in Trello parlance:

 

 

Your job now is simple — think about the very beginning of your story and how you plan to drag the reader into your world. Will you reveal something mysterious about your protagonist? Will he do something shocking? Will a catastrophic event change his life before we even get to know him? When you have the basic idea for you hook, jot it down in the card description area, adding in as much or as little detail as you like. I usually do this in 2-3 sentences:

 

 

Repeat this brainstorming process for the First Plot Point — what is the event that moves your character forward, the reason for the rest of your book? Write that down in a few lines:

 

Take a few minutes and write out a synopsis for each of the basic plot points. Don’t worry if you aren’t clear about where you want to go with some of them. You’ll have plenty of time to change them later on, and murkier elements usually become more solid once you start hammering out your ideas on these cards. Sometimes it helps me to start with the high points — hook, mid-point, resolution — and then filling in the rest with the events that must happen to move your story from one milepost to another.

Got your basic ideas committed to “paper”?

Great!

Now it’s time to get more specific — remember, the ultimate goal is to have a roadmap that will lead you to your finished novel, and what we have so far is a bit vague for that.

To start adding meat, go back to one of your cards, click on it, and add a checklist called Chapters. I’ll illustrate with my first plot point since it has more to work with than my hook does:

 

Read through your synopsis on the card and think about what scenes and dialogs you need to write in order to make that overview come “true” in the context of your book.

How are those scenes related?

How would you form them into chapters?

Again, this is a game of estimation, and you’ll likely make adjustments as you move along in the process of planning and writing your novel. For now, make a best guess as to how your chapters might break down to pull off this particular plot part. Here is where I ended up with for Alive on Opening Day:

 

 

Do this for each of your story parts, and you’ll have a pretty good outline of your novel that probably won’t take much more than a few minutes to make — certainly no more than half an hour.

We could stop here, and you certainly can. This list of chapter titles will get you moving better than trying to pants your way through a story.

But it’s not quite deep enough for my taste.

Instead, I like to break out each bullet point — each chapter title, that is — into a separate Trello card. One way to do this is to use the “Convert to Card” functionality underneath each checklist item, as shown below.

But don’t actually do this yet!

If you use this feature of Trello, your chapter will get its own card, but it will also disappear from your checklist. I’m pretty uptight and like to keep history and backups of everything I do, so I usually just cEW cards corresponding to the chapter titles, like so:

If you look in the background of that image, you can see that I also created a new list called “Chapters.” That’s where my chapter cards will “live,” at least to start.

You may also have noticed that I gave each card a number — corresponding to the chapter number — and a note specifying which part it belongs to (“First Plot Point”).

These are more or less personal style points, and you can take them or leave them.

In fact, I often omit the chapter number because I usually end up re-ordering them as I work through my planner. Trello makes that easy — just drag and drop to the new location.

You can also use Trello labels to group cards together.

Just click on a card and then on the “Labels” button.

 

 

From there, click on the pencil icon next to one of the colors and then enter a label title, like “Hook”:

 

 

Save your changes and then add text for the other labels you plan to use:

 

 

Finally, click the label that you want to place on your chapter card:

 

 

When you close the card, you’ll see the label, too, giving you a quick way to visually group your cards (and chapters):

 

 

Now, open up one of your cards so we can add in the secret sauce that will make writing your chapter a (relative) breeze later on.

Specifically, you’re going to write another synopsis, this one a detailed overview of your chapter. This is the last step of your drill-down, and it should be the most thorough. The idea is that, when you come back to each chapter, later on, to actually write it, your card will contain enough information to allow you to just sit down and crank out your first draft.

My chapter synopses usually run anywhere from 50 to a few hundred words. Here’s an example from Alive on Opening Day:

 

 

Do this for each of your chapters, and you’ll be ready to write your novel. Heck, you don’t even have to write your chapters in order — the next time you have a chance to write, just grab one of your cards and go to town!

Scheduling Your Writing

Of course, planning your novel doesn’t really stop with laying out your chapters, and you can’t count on finding the time to write.

In my experience, the best way to ensure you get your writing done is to schedule it just like you would any other commitment.

Trello can help you with this, too.

First, you’re going to add three more lists to your novel board: In Progress, Ready to Edit, and Done:

 

 

Now, when you’re ready to start writing a chapter, just drag its card from the Chapters list to the In Progress list and start writing.

Pretty nifty, right?

But it gets better.

Open one of your cards again and click on the Due Date button:

 

 

Select the date that you want to finish your chapter, and it shows up under the “Due Date” tag above the card description:

 

 

When you close the card, the due date displays next to a little clock icon on the card front:

 

 

Assign due dates to all your chapters, and you’ll always know at a glance what you need to be working on today … and tomorrow … and the next day.

Not only that, but Trello will send you email reminders about which chapters (cards) are due soon or, heaven forbid, overdue.

Finally, you can get a handy calendar view as a Power-Up. To activate that feature, click Power-Ups on the board menu:

 

 

Then enable the Calendar option:

 

 

Once you’ve done this, you’ll see a Calendar link toward the upper right of your board:

 

 

Click the Calendar link and you’ll see — TA-DA! — a calendar with all your due dates and tasks:

 

 

Clicking on any calendar entry will take you to the associated card:

 

 

Your Turn!

If you have been waiting for the “right time” to write your novel, you can stop waiting. There will never be a perfect period in your life for creativity — you just have to force the issue sometimes.

And if you have stopped and started your novel time and time again, then you’re probably working without a plan.

Failing to plan your writing is the single biggest obstacle to getting it done.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

You can build a plan that will guide you from that first empty page to a finished manuscript, and won’t take that long to do it if you follow the process I outlined here.

And the really cool thing is that you don’t have to use this exact process. There are no rules to building a novel planner.

Use a different story structure if you like.

Stop once you’ve outlined your story parts.

Or dig deeper than I have here and subdivide your chapters.

Be flexible and make a plan that works for you, one that you can and will follow.

No matter how you choose to lay out your story plan, though, Trello can help you do it.

You may not use Trello for all your novel plans, but it’s a great place to start and will take you much further down the road toward a completed book than you’ll ever get by pantsing alone.

Want a handy, ready-for-you version of our Trello Novel Writing Planner? Just click here for instant access to our ready-to-use template.
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6 Reasons You’re Good Enough to Be An Author After All http://themoonlightingwriter.com/good-enough-author/ http://themoonlightingwriter.com/good-enough-author/#respond Mon, 03 Apr 2017 01:17:20 +0000 http://themoonlightingwriter.com/?p=25835 The post 6 Reasons You’re Good Enough to Be An Author After All appeared first on The Moonlighting Writer.

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No matter how successful we are in other areas of life, “aspiring” writers seem to be afflicted by a chronic lack of self-esteem when it comes to our wordsmithing abilities.

A big hunk of the problem comes from the label itself — “aspiring writer.” For my money, the only aspiring writer is one who has never written anything beyond an email or a check but has the desire to do so.

That would seem to be a pretty rare creature, seeing as how essays and journaling are required parts of the primary and secondary school curriculum in most places throughout the world. By the time they’ve graduated from high school, students have written something which takes them out of the strictly “aspiring” category.

Of course, the connotation of the aspiring writer is a scribe who is indeed writing on a regular basis but can’t seem to make the kind of progress he wants. Partial novels lay in shambles on his hard drive or in his mind, rejection letters fill his mailbox, and sometimes, the words just don’t come at all.

It’s depressing, and dropping yourself into the “aspiring writer” pigeonhole enables you to bemoan your status and can eventually lead you to believe that you’re not good enough to write.

Maybe you’re just not cut out to be an author.

For the most part, and in most cases, that’s hogwash. Writing is a craft that can be honed with hard work and practice. You may never be a best-selling superstar, but you can get better — certainly good enough to drop the self-limiting “aspiring” label.

In fact, you’re probably already much more worthy of the title “author” than you think. Here are six reasons why that’s true.

 

Your Story Is Unique

 

You’ve heard it so many times throughout your life that it’s usually trite and unimpactful to say again: there’s nobody in the world just like you.

Yet, it’s true and always has been.

And when it comes to writing a story, novel, or blog post, your unique combination of DNA, experiences, beliefs, and mood make all the difference in setting your work apart from the millions of other words published every day.

Ideas are a dime a dozen and (maybe) every story has already been told, over and over and over. Despite this, we keep cranking out more books and essays at an ever-increasing rate.

Doesn’t that mean we’re just retelling the same stuff again and again? Sure it does, but there are still great new books and movies and other works of art that inspire us and land on lists of favorites every year.

How is that possible, if it’s all been done before?

Well, it’s really only the bones of the stories that are the same. Humans are awesome at nuance, and it’s the meat we bring to our tales — setting, characters, word choice, specific plot points — that make or break our version.

And those details will be different for each author, influenced heavily by his own life experiences and world views.

Who are you to say that your vantage point won’t resonate with readers? You’ve lived a life full of school and work and family and hobbies and hardships that all swirl together to form a literary color the world has never seen before.

That’s art, and it’s yours.

Why not let it shine?

 

Perfection Doesn’t Exist

 

Pick up almost any book and read it closely enough, and you’ll find some mistakes.

Robinson Crusoe shoved supplies into his pockets … when he was naked.

In Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein introduced readers to a character named Agnes. Or Alice. Depends on which page you’re on, and it flips back and forth.

And these are just a couple of examples among dozens or hundreds of famous novels with errors that you’d think would have been caught by somebody before that last person finally clicked the “Publish” button.

The thing is, humans mess up, and we do it all the time. It doesn’t matter how many times we pour over the same words trying to make them perfect, we just seem to be hardwired to overlook problems at a certain level.

Maybe our gaffe sensors just get overloaded and overworked by all the incorrectness trying to make it past them, but we miss stuff. Even the best of us miss stuff all the time.

Now, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to write the cleanest, most polished and logically consistent prose that you can, because you absolutely should. If you turn out sloppy sludge all the time, no one is going to want to read your work.

A healthy fear of releasing a novel with glaring errors is natural, and it can be good for your final product if you don’t let it consume you.

Be wary of mistakes. Do your best to correct them. Get others to look at your work before you release it.

But don’t let your fear of messing up stop you from publishing or, for Heaven’s sake, from writing.

Everyone makes mistakes, and so will you. No on-page error, though, is as grievous as never putting pen to paper in the first place.

You Can Change Anything, Anytime

 

In fact, making a mistake now is less costly than at any other time in history.

In case you haven’t noticed, we live in a digital age that has dramatically changed the way we write (and do almost everything else).

You can sit down in your living room anytime you want, open up your laptop, and crank out a few hundred words. You can publish those words to a blog or through an e-book and get them in front of thousands of people instantaneously.

You can share your thoughts and moods with family, friends, and strangers 24 hours a day through social media.

And then … you can go back and change almost any of it.

Probably the first widespread manifestation of the benefits of electronic documents was the use of word processors to create resumes. Suddenly, we had the ability to tailor our job applications for specific companies and positions with just a few keystrokes. We no longer had to retype the whole shebang to make a tiny change, and generic, stock resumes quickly faded into the dustbin.

Today, only the lamest of applicants send out the exact same resume with every application.

And if you find a mistake? Just open up the document, correct the error, and save it again. You can’t erase the memory of folks who have already seen your gaffe, but it’s easy-peasy to eradicate it for future resume writers.

Isn’t that great?

And what’s even better for us as authors is that the same principles apply to our works of fiction or blog posts. Nothing is forever, even after it’s been published.

Maybe you’ve slaved away on your novel for a year, spent another six months on editing and revisions, and hovered over the “Publish” button for so long your mouse hand cramped up. You finally got up the nerve to send your baby out into the world and, a week later, you notice something.

While reading through your published book for the tenth time, you spot it: you used “your” where you should have used “you’re.”

Oh, the humiliation. The horror. The career-ending ridicule.

Nah …

Just open up Scrivener, make the change, recompile, and upload your new version to Amazon (for example). Even if you move really slowly, that’s probably less than 15 minutes of work to correct a mistake that would have haunted you for an eternity in the monolithic print-only world.

The scenario above is a very simple example, of course, but you can apply it to almost any situation where you need to change some aspect of your work. In our digital age, nothing is permanent, including your mistakes.

You can move toward your writing goals with confidence because, when you mess up, there will always be time to recover.

 

You’re Better Than You Used to Be

 

Unless you’ve been an accomplished author in the distant past and taken a long break for some reason — injury, career, child-rearing — it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re a better writer now than you were in days gone by.

Raymond Chandler (among others) allegedly said that aspiring authors need to sling through a million words of crap before they can produce anything really worthwhile. While that advice can be extremely limiting if you view it as strictly prescriptive, there is a truth lodged in the hyperbole that will serve you well if you heed it.

In particular, the more you write, the more natural it feels and the better your prose will become, generally speaking. That’s one of the reasons I think it’s so important to write every day, no matter what.

While that has been standard writing advice for as long as I can remember, there has been some fairly heavy backlash against forcing yourself to sit down and clack away each and every day. I’ll allow that there may be a day here or there when you really don’t have time to write or when other things are more important, but those occasions should be rare.

Someone in your family dies.

Someone in your family is born.

Your job demands that you dump a massive hunk of your soul into whatever project is currently burning a hole in someone’s craw.

Those are decent reasons to skip writing, most of the time. But they don’t happen all that often, do they? The first two certainly don’t, and if the last one does, you might need to consider what your job is doing to you.

Most other reasons for skipping your daily dose of prose production are really just excuses. That’s not touchy-feely and won’t win me many points on the sympathy scale, but it’s the truth.

But by forcing yourself to write, you’re really forcing yourself to practice your craft.

You’re chipping away at your pile of crap writing so you can one day reveal the golden nuggets that lie beneath.

That’s why you’re a better writer today than you were yesterday and last week — because you’ve put in the time and worked diligently to get better.

And that’s why you’ll keep getting better and better.

 

You Can’t Not Write

 

Maybe you’ve never felt good enough to publish your work, and maybe you still don’t, despite my protestations here.

If that’s true, then why do you keep trying? Why do you sit down to write every day or, failing that, why do you think about writing and becoming an author all the time?

It sure would be a lot easier to just hang up the quill forever and resign yourself to a life of reading, with any writing you do relegated to work emails and inane Facebook posts. Right?

The reason you keep going is simple: you cannot NOT write.

Not only that, but you care about writing, and about your writing. Deep down, you see yourself as an author, whether you’re ready to say those words out loud or even admit it to yourself or not.

And how do I know that?

Because you’re here, and you’re still reading. And because I’m you, in a lot of ways.

We go to work and take out the garbage and volunteer in the community and raise our children, but we always come back to the keyboard. There are always stories fighting with each other to break free from the bounds of our brains, and we must free them.

And, when we’re telling our stories, we have to do it just so, so that anyone who might read them, someday, will experience at least a smidgen of the sweet, sickening, frightening scent they spray through the crevices of our storytellers’ souls.

Yes, we care about the tales we tell because they’re part of us.

You care about the stories you tell as much as you do your next meal.

You treasure the opportunity to write and relish the chance to make an impact on someone’s life — no matter how small — with your words.

And by the very act of being so invested in your craft, you guarantee that you’re worthy of the task. Your passion and dedication will make a difference for your readers if you’ll only give them the chance.

There’s Nothing to Lose

 

If none of my ramblings so far have convinced you that you’re good enough to be an author, let’s assume that you’re right.

Maybe you’re really not cut out to be a published author of any sort, at least not yet.

Now, what would be the worst thing that could possibly happen if you ignored that “fact” and just started writing anyway?

And, if you found a way to publish that work despite the fact that you’re not ready, what bad things could happen then?

Off the top of my head, I can think of a few less than wonderful outcomes, including:

  • You might get some negative feedback on your book or blog posts.
  • You might get rejected if you submit your work for print publication of some sort.
  • Your friends and family might read your work, and they might not like it.
  • You might “waste” your time on an endeavor you won’t ultimately pursue.

How bad are these, really, though?

Does it matter what a bunch of strangers think of your work? Ultimately it does, of course, if you’re hoping to sell books or find a gig as a writer. But right now, when you’re still testing the waters? Nope, they’re just strangers.

Does it matter if you get rejected? It’s going to hurt, but you’ve faced rejection before in various walks of life and survived just fine. And keep in mind that just about every successful author has been rejected a lot over the course of their careers.

How about bad reviews from family and friends? I won’t lie — that one stings. But it’s not catastrophic, either. Those around you love you for who you are, and if they don’t like your writing, well, that’s their opinion. Art is subjective, and you won’t please everyone all the time, even your mother. Bombing with your family is painful, but it can help you develop thick skin, too.

And I wouldn’t worry too much about wasting your time writing, either. I mean, how many hours each week do you spend watching television, horsing around on social media, or clicking through random writing websites? Any and all of those will be more of a throwaway than the time you spend writing a novel that doesn’t make the cut.

So, there is come ugliness waiting for you, without a doubt, but is it really all that bad?

When you consider that the alternative is a future full of regret, wondering if you could have written a novel if you’d just put in the time, these seem like milquetoast threats at worst.

As the old saying goes, you’ll never know if you can succeed in any endeavor unless you give it a go.

So are you worthy of calling yourself an author? Maybe you should try it out to find out.

You’ve really got nothing to lose.

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How to Unlock 1 Million Unique Story Ideas in Just 10 Minutes http://themoonlightingwriter.com/1-million-story-ideas/ http://themoonlightingwriter.com/1-million-story-ideas/#respond Thu, 30 Mar 2017 00:40:14 +0000 http://themoonlightingwriter.com/?p=25785 The post How to Unlock 1 Million Unique Story Ideas in Just 10 Minutes appeared first on The Moonlighting Writer.

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You’re writing time is precious, especially if you have a full-time career outside of writing. You can’t afford to waste a second staring at a blank screen waiting for you next story idea to come to you.

And yet, that exact scenario plays out over and over for writers everywhere. We fight to clear an hour or two from our schedules, sit down to write, and, then … nothing.

The truth is, though, writing inspiration is all around us if we only put a little effort into seeing it.

One of my favorite ways to uncover new story ideas is through the use of writing prompts.

Now, you can find writing prompts all over the web, and there are entire sites devoted to nothing but little bits of prose designed to get your author wheels turning. These nudges work great in my experience, and there is even a section of this site devoted to static writing prompts.

But when you rely on outside sources for your inspiration, there is always the chance the well will run dry when you need it most.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

In fact, in this post I’ll show you a quick and easy way to generate one million distinct writing prompts in just a few minutes of work.

I know that sounds like hyperbole, but it’s not. What’s even better is that by mastering this one technique, you’ll almost surely start to unlock mental processes that will help you see the stories lying dormant everywhere you go.

This 7-step system is simple enough that just about anyone can use it from start to finish as I present it here, but I will admit it gets a bit technical. If you’d rather skip all the nitty-gritty and just get at the final product, you can click here now and leave your email address for instant access to the Google Sheet version of The Moonlighting Writer Story Prompt Generator.

Want a handy, done-for-you version of our Story Prompt Generator? Just click here to download your copy now.

 

Now, if you’re ready to get started, the first thing we’ll do is …

 

Create a Google Sheet

 

You can probably build your writing prompt generator using any spreadsheet program you want, but Google Sheets is free and can be used on most computers and with most browsers. If you don’t have a Google account, you can get one by signing up here:

 

 

 

 

 

Once you have your account, log in and go to Google Drive:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, create a new Google Sheets document:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In your new sheet, add six column names:

  • Word #1
  • Word #2
  • Word #3
  • Character Occupation
  • Setting
  • Genre

Your sheet should look something like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before we move on, go ahead and name your document and put it in a folder you’ll remember.

Now it’s time to fill in the details …

Generate Some Random Words

 

We’re going to use a list of random words for the actual “writing prompt” part of our story idea generator. How many random words do we need in order to end up with a million distinct story ideas?

Just 30. You’ll see why in a bit, but for now, let’s grab our story seeds.

There are a lot of ways you can generate random words, but this is the internet, so we’re going to use a bit of technology. Again, there are multiple websites dedicated to all sorts of randomness, but, for this exercise, I like RandomLists’ Random Word Generator:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Change the Quantity field to 30 and hit Refresh, and you’ll have your list:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, copy-and-paste this list, 10 at a time, into the three “Word” columns in your Google Sheets document:

 

 

 

 

 

Those are our seed keywords. Next, we need to …

Find 10 Occupations

 

The next column in our spreadsheet is “Character Occupation,” so we need to find some jobs that one of our characters can hold down. You could just write out the first 10 occupations you think of, but let’s pull our list from the web.

Once again, there are plenty of sites to help you with this, but ManyThings.org presents a nice, simple list of 53 jobs:

 

 

 

 

 

Pick 10 of these and plop them into your spreadsheet:

 

 

 

 

Next up, we …

 

Pick Some Story Settings

 

No story can happen without a solid setting, so let’s find some location-and-time combinations for our prompts.

Seventh Sanctum has all sorts of useful tools, and for this exercise, we’re going to use their Adventure Site Generator:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, take 10 of these and put them in the proper place on your spreadsheet:

 

 

 

 

We’re almost there. All we have left to do is …

Pick Some Genres

 

The genre of your story is important because it will help determine the tropes you need or want to hit as your plot unfurls.

And where would we find a list of genres? Well, we could consult any number of online resources, but we’re going straight to the source for book categories — Amazon, and specifically the Kindle Store:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choose 10 of those genres and put them in the final column on your spreadsheet:

 

 

 

 

A Million Choices

 

Great … you’ve got a spreadsheet with six columns, each containing 10 words or phrases.

So how does that help you generate story ideas? And how in the world does it give you one million distinct story ideas, as promised?

Easy — it all comes down to math!

I can hear you groaning through my WiFi, but bear with me. This is simple and powerful stuff.

You’re going to pick one word or phrase from each column of your spreadsheet and write a story that contains Word #1, Word #2, and Word #3. Furthermore, one of your characters will have the occupation you choose from Character Occupation.

Your story’s setting will come from — surprise! — the Setting column, and Genre will determine the type of story you write … horror, fantasy, romance, etc.

Easy enough. Now, here comes the math …

You have 10 words that you can pick for Word #1.

For each of those words, you have 10 choices for which Word #2 to pick.

That’s 100 ways to choose your first two words.

For each of those, you have 10 ways to pick Word #3, or 1000 total choices for your three-word combination. That’s 10 x 10 x 10 if you’re keeping score.

From there, you have 10 choices of occupation for each of your 1000 three-word combinations. We’re up to 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 = 10,000 combinations.

Ten possible settings leaves us at 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 = 100,000 total possibilities.

Finally, each of those 100,000 choices can fall into any of the 10 genres we picked, for a grand total of 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 = 106 = 1,000,000 possible combinations.

That’s a cool million story prompts, and that’s pretty heady stuff, if you ask me.

Automate It!

 

Now, you could go through and generate your own prompt each time you need a new one by picking one word or phrase from each column in your spreadsheet and then writing your story.

But that’s tedious, and it’s also not random. You bring certain biases to every choice you make, whether you realize it or not.

Luckily, it’s easy to tap into the power of randomness using Google Sheets. To do that, copy and paste the following formula into cell A12 of your Sheet:

=index(A2:A11, randbetween(1, counta(A2:A11) ) )

This basically tells Google to make the value of that cell (A12 )one of the words from the column above it, chosen at random.

Your sheet should look something like this:

 

 

 

 

Now, click in cell A12, and it will be highlighted with a blue (usually) border. In the lower right-hand corner will be a small blue square:

 

 

 

Click on that square and drag your mouse to the right to copy the formula to the other five columns:

 

 

 

And there you have your random writing prompt. In this case, the full prompt, written out, would be …

Write a satirical story about an actress in a Monstrous Shrine, using the words trick, erratic, and hope.

 

Do you have to go through this whole thing every time you want a new prompt?

Heck no!

Just open the sheet and click CTRL-R (command-R on a Mac) to generate a new combination. And if you don’t like that one, hit CTRL-R again.

You’re not stuck with the choices we’ve made here, either.

You can add or remove words, genres, occupations, and settings.

You can also add or remove columns — others that might be interesting are character name, time period, point of view, number of characters, and one or more story events.

Done for You

 

If you’ve followed along with this article and built your own Google Sheet, you’re all set with a group of 1 million story prompts that should last you a long, long time.

If, however, you’ve read through this piece but found the technical set-up to be a bit too, well, technical, don’t sweat it.

I have done all the work for you and created a completed version of the Google Sheet we built in this post for you to copy and use as your own. Just click here to leave your email address for instant access to the file.

And remember what I said above — you can and should modify this scheme to fit your own writing propensities and goals. If you only write action adventures, for example, then genre probably doesn’t make much sense as one of your columns, but weapon very well might.

Whatever frustrations you face in your writing career, running out of viable concepts shouldn’t be one of them. There are story ideas all around you, and if your muse goes into hiding, well, you can make your own inspiration — using tools like this one.

 

Want a handy, done-for-you version of our Story Prompt Generator? Just click here to download your copy now.
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5 Good Habits From Your Day Job That Will Make You A Better Writer http://themoonlightingwriter.com/habits-job-better-writer/ http://themoonlightingwriter.com/habits-job-better-writer/#respond Tue, 28 Mar 2017 12:11:33 +0000 http://themoonlightingwriter.com/?p=25781 The post 5 Good Habits From Your Day Job That Will Make You A Better Writer appeared first on The Moonlighting Writer.

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Authors who hold down full-time jobs outside of our writing activities often have a love-hate relationship with our “first” careers.

On one hand, we love what we do — hopefully, or why do it, right? — and we also enjoy the relative security that a regular gig offers.

On the other, working 40-80 hours a week and commuting back and forth makes it hard to find the time and energy to write.

As with most aspects of life, though, the line between writing and working is not quite so clear-cut, and you can use that to your advantage.

Becoming a better writer improves your communication skills, which will make you a better, more valuable employee. And going to the office every day affords you several advantages in your quest to become the best writer you can be.

In fact, your career has probably instilled in you several habits — like the five below — that you can leverage to become a better writer starting right now.

Want more tips like these? Click here for a free copy of “Get Your Butt in the Chair”, a 94-page e-book chock full of ideas to get your word count moving up NOW!

 

Scheduling Everything

It’s a hassle, isn’t it?

You have a pile of work to do at the office, but your calendar is full all the time, and co-workers are always trying to add more — more meetings, more project status check-ins, more “quick conversations” to explore new “opportunities.”

If you want to actually get anything done, you’re forced to block off time on your schedule to do it.

The projects you’re involved with are driven by big, honking shared calendars that project managers rap across your knuckles every chance they get.

You have to enter your requests for time off into a time-tracking system, or send them to your boss.

Even your day-to-day activities in the office are governed by the calendar and the clock: you have team meetings every Monday at 10 am, you leave for lunch at noon every day, and you must submit your timecard by 5 pm each Friday.

Sometimes, it seems like you’re nothing but a servant to the clock.

But, as mundane and boring as all this time accounting is, it works. Corporate culture thrives on the schedules we set, and they help us knock off milestone after milestone on the path to big, collective accomplishments.

The good news, even if it feels unwelcomed at first, is that you can leverage the calendar to make you a better, more productive writer, too.

One reason that “aspiring” authors often give for not getting very far with their writing goals is that they simply don’t have time to write. In most cases, the truth is that they haven’t really analyzed their daily schedules and taken control of the time they do have available.

For example, here are some “pockets” that many folks have available for writing, even though we’re extremely busy:

  • During breakfast
  • During lunch
  • During the daily commute (if you carpool or take mass transit)
  • In waiting rooms
  • In the stands at your kids’ soccer practice
  • At night, right before bed

I’m sure you can come up with plenty more, too.

The key is not just to identify these golden opportunities, though. You have to claim them by entering them in your calendar — I mean physically writing them onto the wall calendar by your fridge or typing them into your Google Calendar — and then telling everyone about your commitments.

These are your writing times, and no other meetings or obligations will trump them unless there is blood or huge sums of money involved.

And you shouldn’t stop with your writing windows, either.

Schedule due dates for your novels and blog posts.

Schedule time to go to the library or find new books online — you need to keep reading, always, as an author, so schedule everything involved with doing that.

Mark your calendar for anything and everything related to your writing, and you’ll probably discover that you have more time to devote to your craft than you ever imagined.

 

Multitasking

There has been a pretty heavy backlash against multitasking in recent years, and for good reason.

Long the darling of job description writers and hiring managers everywhere, multitasking is the act of performing two or more activities at the same time. The idea is that if a person can multitask effectively, then they will get more done in a day.

The key word there is “effectively” because recent studies have shown that multitasking in the moment is more or less a myth and that our brains must actually cycle through the steps necessary to work on each task every time you shift gears, no matter how frequently that is. This context switching can be exhausting and confusing, and it generally leads to worse overall performance instead of better.

So if multitasking is a bad habit of your work life, why does it appear here on a list of good habits that can help your writing?

Because, as often happens, we’ve taken a concept with great potential value and convoluted it to the point that it’s shunned by many people who might benefit from it, like writers.

The key to making multitasking work comes down to timeframes.

For instance, while a developer shouldn’t try to write two programs in the same coding session, that doesn’t mean he can’t have two projects going on simultaneously. Maybe he’ll work on one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, or alternate between them over the course of days or even weeks.

In fact, this is the natural rhythm for many businesses because the work we do often relies on input from others. If Ted is out of the office on Tuesdays and you need him to perform user acceptance testing on his project, you’ll have to work on something else those days.

This multi-pronged approach allows employees to explore multiple professional interests, and the context switching is not much of a burden. Instead, cycling between projects usually provides a welcome mental break after you’ve been banging away in one area for a while.

This is where multitasking can be a boon for writers.

If I had to bet, I’d say you have at least two or three stories or blog post ideas revving through your mind right now. So, rather than chain yourself to just one of them and do nothing else until it’s finished, why not pick a couple and alternate your writing sessions until both are completed?

Don’t try to work on them both at the same session — that’s the old, broken concept of multitasking — but do keep both projects alive at the same time.

The variety will both of them stay fresh and help stave off burnout, and I’ll bet you finish them as soon or sooner than you would have by brute-forcing through just one at a time, even when you don’t feel like it.

 

Becoming Task-Oriented

One of the biggest obstacles writers face to finishing what we start is simple overwhelm.

We sit down to write a blog post or a short story or — gasp! — a novel, full of enthusiasm, and start banging out the words. An hour or day into it, though, our minds are swimming with competing thoughts and we start to lose confidence in what we’re doing. We take a break, shake things out, and come back to our writing desks, and that’s when it happens.

We look at where we’ve been and where we still have to go and realize we’ve taken just a few steps up the mountain that stands between us and our finished work. It’s the turning point that leaves so many of our unfinished pieces gathering dust on hard drives and cloud servers.

But how many times do you leave projects unfinished at work?

I’d wager it’s not very many, because you don’t want to get fired.

It’s not just the fear of losing your job that keeps you plowing forward day after day until you hit your targets, though, is it? Business learned a long time ago that most employees are most productive when we know exactly what we need to be working on every day, and we’re even better if we have some chance of finishing our day’s work before we head home.

In fact, that’s why the whole field of project management exists — to give individuals the direction they need on a regular basis to contribute maximally to the overall goals of a concerted effort to do big and important things. For most of us, most of the time, the heartbeat of this process boils down to having clear tasks on which to focus.

To get the most from your writing efforts, you need to take the same approach to your own projects. You don’t have to develop complex project schedules or huge, intricate spreadsheets, but you should strive to break down each of your big goals into tasks, ideally ones that can be completed in a day’s worth of your writing time.

Some examples of task-level breakdowns include:

  • Outlining your next novel
  • Writing the rough draft of a chapter in your novel
  • Writing the rough draft of a short story
  • Writing a blog post
  • Writing part of an “ultimate guide” blog post
  • Compiling your book and/or publishing it to KDP

You get the idea, right? Smash those mountains in front of you into boulders that you can conquer with laser focus, and your writing productivity will soar.

 

Prioritizing

Hand-in-hand with developing a task-oriented mindset is the ability to properly prioritize your projects and tasks.

For instance, if you’ve broken down your next novel into a set of tasks that you plan to knock off over the next few months, you need to decide where to start. Your task list might consist of the following steps, somewhat randomly ordered:

  • Write your rough draft
  • Create your cover
  • Create a Facebook page for your book
  • Write chapter beats (synopses) for your book
  • Publish your book to Kindle and Smashwords
  • Email your list about your book

You could start wherever you like on this list, but what’s really the most important thing to do first in order to eventually finish your book and make it all it can be?

For most of us mere mortals, I would suggest that a quick outline is a vital first step to proving to yourself that your story has enough meat for you to pull it off. After that, you could move on to story beats — where you flesh out the ideas for each chapter — and then write your first draft, chapter by chapter.

Once all of that is done, you’ll have some clay to work with, and you can carve in the final details through editing and re-working any parts that need it.

But what if you start with the promotional activities instead? You might spend a day or a week building a Facebook page and trying to boost your Twitter following, but guess what? That will be a day (or seven) that you haven’t spent writing, and your blistering-hot story idea likely will have lost some of its luster in your mind.

Maybe you’ll get to writing it soon but, hey, you had a great new idea in the meantime, didn’t you? Maybe that’s the one you’ll finally finish.

If you don’t learn how to prioritize, it probably won’t be.

 

Delivering

There is a concept that’s especially prevalent in software development called “gold plating,” and it’s the bane of project managers everywhere.

Gold plating basically means continuing to add features or make “improvements” to a product beyond the point when the specifications agreed upon with the client have been met. Developers often couch this behavior as a way to give the customer something extra and thereby enhancing the relationship between the two parties.

That sounds great and may be true in some cases, but in my experience, the real motivation for gold plating in most cases is an underlying fear of delivery. As long as you’re writing code and developing new functionality, you’re “safe” because the software is all yours. The moment you push it out to your clients, all its warts are exposed for the world — or at least a small part of the world — to see and gripe about.

Left unchecked, gold plating can keep a perfectly good product from seeing the light of day for months or longer, no matter what the motivation for the lagniappe.

That’s why good project managers need to have enough technical chops that they can smell the BS of gold plating when the development cycle begins to drag out longer than expected.

They know that the most important thing they can do for their clients and their employers is to deliver high-quality software, built to spec, on time, and within budget. They know what’s good enough to allow your company to fulfill one obligation completely and move on to the next without wasting time and brain power.

My own nose for gold plating is fairly well-developed, and I’ve noticed something interesting over the last few years: software developers have nothing on writers when it comes to fear of delivery.

Some of us will do almost anything to avoid publishing our books, blog posts, and short stories. I mean, do you really need to send your novel out for a fifth round of editing or add yet another section to your 4000-word post before they’re ready for the world to see? Will that extra effort and time make any difference in your readers’ satisfaction with your work?

And, more importantly, if you do add another layer of gold plating, will that be enough, or will you look for yet another round of improvements? Will you ever pull the trigger?

If you’ve been sitting on a finished book or monster blog post for longer than you want to admit, it’s time to turn that baby loose and move on. Become a delivery machine who publishes again and again and again.

Otherwise, you may still be slathering on the gold until you die.

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How to Build Powerful Rituals that Make You a Better Writer http://themoonlightingwriter.com/how-to-build-powerful-rituals-that-make-you-a-better-writer/ http://themoonlightingwriter.com/how-to-build-powerful-rituals-that-make-you-a-better-writer/#respond Mon, 27 Feb 2017 22:54:01 +0000 http://themoonlightingwriter.com/?p=25691 The post How to Build Powerful Rituals that Make You a Better Writer appeared first on The Moonlighting Writer.

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Are you happy with your current writing rituals? Do they empower you to be the best, most productive author you can be, or are they slowing you down?

Now, I get that you may not think you even have any writing rituals. For many, the word conjures images of religious ceremonies or cloaked figures gathered around a fire in some dark, remote setting.

The fact is, though, that rituals have driven human behavior for thousands of years and affect all areas of life, from meals to work to sports.

And, yes, even your writing.

At its simplest, a ritual is a set of repeatable procedures that help achieve a certain result. More than just a routine or recipe, ritual includes social and stylistic elements that cue you in to what’s about to happen and set the tone for the event.

As an example, consider what happens when you go out to eat. You get dressed, hop in your car, chitchat on the drive, check in at the restaurant, get seated by your server, order appetizers, talk some more, and then finally get down to the business of eating. By the time your food arrives, you’re ready to tear into it because all the signals of the evening have prepared you for the main course.

The same is true for your writing.

Maybe you build up to a writing session by brewing coffee or walking to your basement office. When you sit down, you might click on a favorite album or reach for a pair of ear plugs. You open your writing software, adjust your clothing, get the lighting just right, type a certain way, work on particular parts of a project.

That’s all part of your ritual.

And, if you want to wring the most from your writing time, you need to tune your rituals to ensure they’re setting the stage for productive work, both in each session and over the long term.

Michael Hyatt recently published an article on rituals in which he ran down the characteristics of what he calls “optimized rituals”:

  • Rituals add predictability to your performance in any endeavor.
  • Rituals allow you focus on your goals for the day without dwelling on the mechanical details.
  • Rituals provide a safe framework from which to experiment and improve.
  • Rituals give you peace of mind and confidence because you know what you’ll be doing for their duration.

Do these sound like attributes that could benefit your writing?

If so, read on, because you can unlock the power of rituals, starting from where you are today. All it takes is a reasoned, systematic approach that you can repeat again and again.

And that’s just what the set of steps below gives you — a roadmap to improved writing rituals.

Consider it your ritual for building better rituals.

Bonus: Free Excel or Google Sheets template to help you build writing rituals that will make you a more productive author. Just click here to download your copy now.

Write Down Your Goals

You won’t get anywhere in life if you don’t know where you’re goingoalsg.

When you travel, that means having a destination in mind and a map with mileposts that shows you how to get there. You might have elaborate rituals around packing, the layout of your cockpit, and pitstops, but none of that will matter if you don’t have a targeted landing place.

Similarly, when it comes to writing, you must have a solid set of goals in front of you or your ritual won’t mean a thing.

In general, your goals should be SMART — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timebound. You want targets that are detailed enough that you’ll know when you hit them, will help you further your writing career and can be achieved within a reasonable amount of time.

That said, it’s also a good idea to have different levels of goals, say for the short, medium, and long terms.

For example, your long-term goal might be to make a full-time living from your writing, while a medium-term goal that would help you move toward that overarching target would be to publish two novels this year.

You could break this down further to come up with short-term goals of writing three chapters this week and finishing a rough draft for one of your books this month.

As with taking a trip, no ritual in the world can save you if you don’t have strong goals. As you’ll see below, though, the marriage of goals and ritual can keep you on track like nothing else.

It all starts with your goals, though, so go write them down if you haven’t already.

Bonus: Free Excel or Google Sheets template to help you build writing rituals that will make you a more productive author. Just click here to download your copy now.

 

Catalog Your Current Writing Activities

The only way to make improvements in any area of life is to start where you are now and get better from there. But in order to do that, catalogyou have to develop a clear picture of your current situation.

When it comes to using rituals to become a better writer, you have to figure out what your routine already involves.

Think you don’t have a current writing ritual? It may not be obvious to you, and you may never have thought about it in those terms, but if you write, you already have a ritual.

In order to figure out what that is, all you need to do is write a little more.

Specifically, you need to write down everything that you do pertaining to writing for, say, the next week. Include times, activities, and the goal or goals you’re trying to accomplish with each.

For instance, here is how my early Monday morning unfolded last week, including only writing-related activities:

  • 5:45 am — checked email while my oatmeal cooked; goal: interact with readers and address any issues
  • 6 am — outlined article on unusual websites for finding story ideas while I ate my oatmeal; goal: write at least one long-form post per week
  • 6:15 – 6:45 am — wrote first four sections of “unusual websites” post while I drank coffee; goal: write at least one long-form post per week
  • 6:45 am — saved all open documents and left for work

I do something similar to this every morning, and it’s become the first part of my writing ritual: prepare food and for the day, do research and eat breakfast, write and drink coffee, wrap up and prepare for work.

Bonus: Free Excel or Google Sheets template to help you build writing rituals that will make you a more productive author. Just click here to download your copy now.

 

Find Ways to Track Progress Toward Your Goals

Once you have your current writing ritual pegged, you need to figure out how effective it is in moving you toward your goals. This can be tricky to measure, but doing so is the only real way you can evaluate which pieces of your ritual are keepers and which ones need to rulerbe swapped out for something else.

Here are some example metrics you can use around the activities in your rituals:

  • Emails processed — read and acted upon in some way — per minute
  • Words written per minute
  • Time required to outline book chapter or post section
  • Words edited per minute
  • Social media posts scheduled per minute

You get the gist.

Now, I realize that you won’t be processing multiple emails or scheduling hundreds of social media posts per minute, but the idea is to come up with numbers you can track and improve upon. So, if you spend 15 minutes on email and get through five messages, you’ve done .33 per minute. If later on, you’ve adjusted your ritual and can move through those same five messages in five minutes, you’re up to 1 per minute.

That’s real progress, which is what you’re after.

If the specific activities in your ritual tend to bounce around from day to day or week to week, you can look at more coarse metrics.

For instance, if you have multiple writing projects going but only one block of time available per day, you might want to look at chapters written or blog published per week.

In general, though, the more specifically you can tie the activities of your rituals to your goals, the more easily you can fine-tune for better results.

Bonus: Free Excel or Google Sheets template to help you build writing rituals that will make you a more productive author. Just click here to download your copy now.

 

Keep the Most Productive Parts of Your Existing Ritual

Now that you know what you’re doing and how well each part is working, it’s time to make some decisions.

productivityHere’s how …

Read through your rituals and the list of activities that describe them. Which ones are delivering the type of bang you want from them?

In my case, I might ask … Am I  getting through all the email messages I need to when I include that 15-minute block to start the day? Am I cranking out enough words while I sip my morning coffee to justify not using that time for something else?

These are somewhat subject evaluations, but you can make them more objective by comparing across different contexts. For instance, I also like to work on blog posts at night before I go to bed, but I sometimes write fiction in one or both of these time slots — morning and night.

So what I can do is observe my productivity in both activities across both periods. As it turns out, I tend to write more words of fiction earlier in the day than later, so when I have two projects underway, I’ll target stories and novels in the morning and blogging at night.

That’s a simple example, and you’ll have to do some comparative shopping to figure out what’s really working for you. The answers may only become apparent over time, but keep working, tracking, and evaluating, and the trends will become more evident.

Bonus: Free Excel or Google Sheets template to help you build writing rituals that will make you a more productive author. Just click here to download your copy now.

 

Find the Courage to Cut Non-Productive Parts

It’s easy to hold onto your most treasured activities, especially when they’re delivering results. But it’s really hard to let go of something when it’s become part of your ritual.

One of the most important things you can do to get the most out of your writing time, though, is to jettison anything and everything that is not effective for you. And you need to take action the instant you discover a weakness in your approach.

I mean, you’ve only got so much time left, right? It’s a hard and ugly truth, but a truth nonetheless. Can you really afford to waste your precious minutes doing things that aren’t helping you achieve your goals?

I know I can’t.

As a case in point, I “bit” hard on the social media lure a couple of years ago and built an hour or more of posting to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and other outlets into my daily writing routines.

I thought I had to cover all these bases to reach my readers because that’s what so many “experts” told me in their blogs and podcasts.

After a few months of fighting to find the time to do all this posting and networking, I managed to build a few hundred followers on each of the platforms. That was great, but all those connections accounted for next to nothing in the way of new readers for my fiction. Finally, feeling burned out and frustrated, I stopped.

Eventually, I came back to social media in a more limited fashion and focused on building a really targeted following on just a couple of platforms. Most importantly, I dramatically scaled back my “social” ritual and now spend no more than 15 minutes a day there — usually less.

And what do I do with that “extra” time? I write more! Novel idea, I know, but one it took me awhile to grasp.

It all comes down to employing the Pareto Principle in everything you do — find that 20% of your work that delivers 80% of your results and cut everything else as close to the bone as possible.

Then, with your newfound time, double-down on the big-bang 20% and also …

Bonus: Free Excel or Google Sheets template to help you build writing rituals that will make you a more productive author. Just click here to download your copy now.

 

Don’t Be Afraid to Try New Things

You’ll never get better at anything if you keep doing the same old thing every day.  There is power in ritual and routine, but that doesn’t mean your ritual can’t or shouldn’t evolve over time.

Once you have identified the activities that are working best for you right now, it makes a lot of sense to devote even more time to them. That’s what I did with my actual fiction writing in the example above.try new things

But you don’t have to spend all of your new surplus in the same place, and you shouldn’t. Instead, when you manage to free up a little time by cutting the fat from your routine, use at least some of it to explore new additions that might make you even better.

Here are some examples you might try:

  • Write something in a genre you’ve always wanted to tackle.
  • Try writing short stories if you have previously focused on novels only.
  • Enter some writing contests to expand your readership and your portfolio.
  • Try shuffling the pieces of your morning ritual in relation to each other.
  • Swap some activities from your morning ritual and your evening ritual.
  • Examine the practices of your favorite authors and try out parts of their writing rituals.

When you adopt one of these changes, make sure you can tie it to your goals and make sure it’s measurable.

For instance, if you write mainly horror but want to try a western novel, what goal will that help you accomplish? And how will you know if it’s worthwhile after the fact?

This applies loosely to my situation, and the goal writing a western might help me achieve is to increase my overall reader base by 100 readers in a month (hypothetically). This would be pretty easy to track because a month after publication I can check to see if I’ve sold 100 copies or given away 100 copies in exchange for email addresses.

If not, I probably wouldn’t write another western in the short term. If I do hit my goals, though, I might consider inserting western writing into my ritual on a permanent basis.

Bonus: Free Excel or Google Sheets template to help you build writing rituals that will make you a more productive author. Just click here to download your copy now.

 

Always Push the Margins

Building solid rituals can go a long way toward helping you get more writing done each day without having to put a lot of mental energy into the process every time.

marginsOnce you learn your ritual, it’s there, ready for you to use whenever you’re ready. It’s a proven formula for success, however you define that.

But you shouldn’t be satisfied to just repeat the same old routine over and over, either. There is always room for improvement, and you should be on the lookout for ideas that can beef up your routines and make them more productive.

Don’t tweak for the sake of tweaking — that can be a time sink and rob you of precious writing time.

But do continue to measure, evaluate, and adjust your rituals.

Becoming the best writer you can be is a lifelong learning experience, and your rituals provide the framework to allow you to experiment while producing your best and most prolific work.

Nurture your rituals, and they’ll reward you handsomely.

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How to Exploit 25 Unusual Websites for Awesome Story Ideas http://themoonlightingwriter.com/unusual-websites-story-ideas/ http://themoonlightingwriter.com/unusual-websites-story-ideas/#respond Wed, 22 Feb 2017 23:29:01 +0000 http://themoonlightingwriter.com/?p=25653 The post How to Exploit 25 Unusual Websites for Awesome Story Ideas appeared first on The Moonlighting Writer.

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Most of the time, the hardest part about writing is finding the discipline to sit down at your keyboard and actually, you know, write. There are a thousand distractions and a million excuses that keep our word counts low.

But sometimes, the hardest part about writing is knowing what to write. Maybe you have time set aside to tackle a new story or book but your idea well has run dry.

When that happens, you can wait for your muse to show up and risk wasting your precious writing moments, or you can go find your next spurt of inspiration.

Thankfully, we live in the age of instant information, and the next great concept is just a few keystrokes away.

You might not always find your ideas where you’d expect, though.

In fact, there are tons of websites out there that may not seem inspirational at first blush but which are story-building gold mines if you give them a chance.

Here, then, are 25 unexpected websites for finding your next great story idea.

Bonus: Free PDF guide to writing a great story, featuring advice from nearly 100 expert authors. Just click here to download your copy now.

Alltop

Alltop is a blog directory that includes entries covering just about any broad topic you can think of. The real beauty of this site, though, is that it slaps you in the face with gobs of headlines the moment you hit the front page:

 

Alltop Front Page

 

And if none of those do it for you, you can browse or search your way into more detailed niches, with each page delivering dozens of idea-laden post titles:

 

Alltop Paranormal

 

You could spend all day picking through the information that Alltop delivers to your screen, and I’ve written a guide to help you get the most from this cool tool.

Alltop is pretty self-explanatory, though, and it should yield plenty of stellar story concepts with just a few clicks.

 

Want a PDF guide to using Alltop for generating story ideas? Just click here to download your copy now.

Answer the Public

If you really want to geek out and generate copious ideas at the same time, then Answer the Public is hard to beat.

Now, that may not seem to be the case when you first land on the site and are greeted by this, um, chipper gentleman:
Answer the Public Results - top

 

But type in your search term, pick your country, and click “GET QUESTIONS,” and the fun begins:

 

Answer the Public Results - top

 

That results header tells you that there are 160 “questions” for the search term “ghost.” To see what that means, scroll down the page a bit until you see this:

 

 

Answer the Public Results - wheel

 

Each of those spokes around the center hub of “ghost” leads to a set of questions that Google and YouTube searchers are asking about your topic. Some interesting entries that caught my eye:

  • when ghost hunting gone wrong
  • when ghost drive cars
  • which ghost was carrying a torch
  • where ghost come from

The grammar may not be perfect, but the phrases are evocative.

Scroll down some more and you’ll find the preposition wheel:

 

Answer the Public Results - preposition

 

In this case, combining “ghost” with various prepositions provides another 139 ideas. Among them are:

  • ghost for sale
  • ghost without legs
  • ghost with yellow eyes
  • ghost vs fairy

Again, plenty of story fodder among these.

Finally, the bottom of the page is the mother lode — 1027 search terms formed by combining “ghost” with other words, presented in alphabetical order:
Answer the Public Results - alphabetical

 

 

If “ghost of girlfriends past” doesn’t get your spooky synapses firing, well … you’re just not trying, I’m afraid!

 

Book Title Generator

At some point in the journey of your next story, you’re going to have to name the thing. If you’re stuck for an idea, why not turn the usual protocol on its head and start with your title?

Book Title Generator lets you do just that by providing you with 48 random word fragments suitable for use as a story title. Here is an example of what you see when you go to the page:

 

Book Title Generator

 

If you don’t like those, click “MORE” to get another set.

Not only does Book Title Generator spit out great title ideas that can spark your imagination, it also makes use of one my favorite power tools for writing — randomness.

No matter how hard you try to think of new ideas, your mind always tends to track into the same narrow lanes it’s driven before. That’s why the shuffle feature of MP3 players can be great for discovering new music, and it’s why random generators are awesome for leading you to new reaches of your fiction.

It’s a theme we’ll see again and again.

Cube Monkey Random Quote Generator

That didn’t take long, did it?

The Cube Monkey Random Quote Generator does just what its name says — generates random quotes for your consumption and noodling.

Just be forewarned that the page will be pretty empty when you first arrive:

 

Cube Monkey Random Quote Generator

 

That’s easy enough to fix, though. Select the number of quotes you want to see and click the “Generate Quotes” button:

 

Cube Monkey Random Quote Generator - with quotes

 

You can refresh the list as many times as it takes to find inspiration, and you can also pick different categories. Just keep randomizing until you find your story idea.

 

ExplainThatStuff Random Article

ExplainThatStuff is a site heavy on science and technology but dedicated to presenting that heady information in a way that the Average Joe can “get” without getting bogged down in stuffy language or esoteric jargon.

Here’s what the front page looks like:
ExplainThatStuff Front Page

 

You can get some good ideas from the homepage or by clicking into the most read articles, but what I really like here is (surprise!) the “Random article” link:

 

ExplainThatStuff Random Article

 

I see “steam engines,” and my mind immediately races to scenes from the old west. If the choo-choos don’t do it for you, just randomize again.

You can also go directly to a random article at ExplainThatStuff by hitting their randomizer page.

 

Google Search

Google Search? Don’t you already have to have an idea to get anything useful from Google Search?

Well, sort of, but it can be pretty broad.

For instance, let’s say I know I want to write something about ghosts. I can just start with that simple query and see what shakes loose:

 

Ghosts Google Search Above Fold

 

Nothing too exciting there, though you do get a glimpse of a few provocative images above the fold. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the search results, though, and things start to get interesting:

 

Google Searches Related to Ghosts

 

Google’s “related searches” can be a great place to find concepts you may not have considered on your own, and in this case, my hackles are tweaked by the idea of ghosts in other countries. Let’s click on “ghost in india”:

 

Google Search Ghosts in India

 

Now those results are a little juicier! I think I could craft a story from some of those pictures, for sure. Finally, let’s check out the related searches at the bottom of this page:

 

Google Searches Related to Ghosts in India

 

The phrases are getting longer and more detailed, meaning there’s a better chance something will “click” for your storytelling imagination. For me, “real ghost videos in india cctv” is creepy as all get-out, and I have a river of scary story ideas rushing through my brain. I think I’ll have to go write one of them!

 

The Idiomatic

Google defines idiom as:

a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g., rain cats and dogs, see the light ).

Idioms are great for generating story ideas because you can play off both their literal meanings — what would happen if it really rained cats and dogs? — and their figurative meanings — what sorts of things might happen in a torrential rainstorm?

The Idiomatic takes this one step further by mashing up many of the idioms we all know and love (or hate) to produce new, sometimes goofy sentences:

 

 

The Idiomatic

 

If you don’t like the hand you’re dealt, click on it to get another — yes — random helping of idiom soup.

 

 

Indeed

You can’t really glean story ideas from a jobs website, can you?

Well, you’re a writer, so you can pick up story ideas just about anywhere. Sites like Indeed make it pretty easy, though.

There’s not too much inspiring about the front page …

 

Indeed Front Page

… but type in a “what” or a “where” and things change. Here is what got when I used “texas” as my where:

 

Indeed Jobs

 

How can you use these listings to come up with story ideas?

Easy … imagine the person who might fill each of these roles. What would he look like? How would he act? How old is he? Is he a she?

Really get to know your fictitious job applicant and then figure out what might be happening in his life that makes him remarkable. We’re all interesting in the right light, and your job is to draw out the unique story of that meter reader or CPS investigator.

 

 

Linkbait Title Generator

Linkbait has gotten a bad name (for good reasons), but Content Row’s Linkbait Title Generator is unapologetic in life’s purpose — to build clickable headlines around the keywords you provide. As with the Portent tool further down this list, that blog-focused mission shouldn’t keep you from mining this gem for story ideas.

Just go to the Linkbait Title Generator page and enter your keyword:

 

Linkbait Title Generator

 

Plenty of good ideas here if you’re willing to stretch your imagination a bit. Some that spring to mind for me include:

  • A news reporter who is actually a ghost
  • Intimacy between ghosts and the living
  • “Using” a ghost to accomplish everyday tasks
  • Ghosts who actually suck the life out of you

Jeepers!

 

Online Dating Ipsum

We’ve all seen those blocks of (mostly) nonsensical Latin text that start with lorem ipsum. They can be found on new WordPress blogs, templates of all sorts, and anywhere else when some text is needed for aesthetic purposes but where the meaning of those words doesn’t matter.

Lauren Hallden noticed that most online “profiles are just word soup anyway” and combined that thought with the lorem ipsum scheme to produce the Online Dating Ipsum:

 

Online Dating Ipsum

 

To get the goods here, just pick your options — number of paragraphs and either jabber or crazy sauce — and then “Get it over with”:

 

Online Dating Ipsum Results

 

Now, admittedly, there is a bunch of gobbledygook in the results, but there are usually some provocative nuggets in there, too. In this particular example, story-prompting phrases that stand out to me are:

  • Easy-going … women I’ve met rock climbing …
  • Vampire Weekend
  • Glass half-full tattoos
  • Tacos making lasagna from scratch
  • Parallel parking amazing women

This is not your average inspirational fare, but then, that’s the whole point, isn’t it? To bust out of your rut?

 

Pinterest

Like Pixabay (below), Pinterest is largely a visual platform. What sets Pinterest apart, though, are its thriving community and the customized experiences you can build on the platform over time.

Even just visiting the front page will unleash a flood of potential story ideas:

 

Pinterest Front

 

But, of course, you can also search:

 

Pinterest Ghost Search

 

Or, you could look for Boards related to your search:

 

Pinterest Ghost Board Search

 

And, if you follow those boards, you’ll see updates to them as you interact with your account in the future.

In addition to being a rich source of inspiring images, Pinterest is also home to an ardent community of writers, many of whom host boards devoted to writing prompts, writing craft & tips, and other word-related topics.

 

Pixabay

If you prefer flat-out visual inspiration, then you can choose from the many picture sites on the web. One of my favorites is Pixabay:

 

Pixabay

 

Type in a search term, like “ghost,” and you’re instantly rewarded with a barrage of related images:

 

Pixabay Ghost

 

Of course, you could just use the Explore feature

 

Pixabay Menu

 

to generate more or less random pictorial writing prompts:

 

Pixabay Editors Choice

 

Maybe the best part is that Pixabay is jammed packed with images you can use freely in your own work if you want. (Just check the license terms to be sure you have the rights you need.)

Portent’s Content Idea Generator

Another tool ostensibly made for bloggers, Portent’s Content Idea Generator is super simple to use. Just navigate to the page:

 

Portent's Content Idea Generator

 

… then enter your keyword and click the arrow:

 

Portent's Content Idea Generator Result

 

… and, well, that’s it.

Now, to be sure, you’re going to get some clickbait-type titles, but they can still jog loose good story ideas. For instance, in this case, I was dealt, “12 Facts About Ghosts That’ll Keep You Up at Night.”

How about a fictional story detailing how a scientist accidentally stumbles onto the truth about ghosts? Or maybe a humor piece from a ghost’s POV, dishing out straight dope on the afterlife?

They sound like winners to me!

Random Bible Verse

This one may be controversial, but you can’t deny that it’s unexpected, right?

And really, no matter your religious affiliation or whether you’re religious at all, the truth is that The Bible contains some of the greatest stories ever written (even if the writing itself is a bit difficult). Why ignore such a valuable repository of writing ideas?

To get your first Bible verse, just head over to the DailyVerses site:

 

Random Bible Verses

 

Darkness, prisoners, poor, brokenhearted — plenty of story fodder here.

And this is yet another site that harnesses the power of random: if you don’t like your blurb, just “Show another verse!”.

 

Random Word Generator

One of my favorite forms of writing prompt is taking a random list of words and crafting them into a story. The Random Word Generator from RandomLists is a great way to come up with these seed words:

 

Random Word Generator

 

Just pick a few words — I like using 3 most of the time — and go to town.

 

Reddit

Everyone knows that Reddit is “The Front Page of the Internet,” but have you ever viewed that feed of interesting stories through your author’s lens? Here’s what the “hot” tab looked like when I opened up Reddit today:

 

Reddit Front Page

 

There are some intriguing ideas here, even above the fold:

  • The achievement of an impossible dream
  • Time travel and/or wormholes
  • Tickle sharks (!)
  • Places in our own houses we’ve never seen
  • Time-lapsed photos spanning nearly 40 years

Awesome stuff, and you can always find more ideas by digging through the various Subreddits.  One of my favorite ways to do that is to use the “random subreddit” link at the bottom of the front page:
Reddit Random Button

 

Here’s what that got me:

 

Reddit Sports are Fun

 

So, yeah, “Sports Are Fun,” and so are some of the stories in this Subreddit. If they don’t inspire you, though, the RANDOM feature is still available to you, at the top of the page:

 

Reddit Random Top

 

Just click it to find your next Subreddit and, hopefully, your next bit of inspiration.

 

 

Seventh Sanctum – Writing Prompt Generator

Sometimes, nothing will get your creative juices flowing like a good, old-fashioned writing prompt. The Seventh Sanctum Writing Prompt Generator takes that basic idea and combines it with the power of random numbers and the accessibility of the Internet to give you a huge array of potential story ideas.

It all starts by navigating the Writing Prompt Generator page:

 

Seventh Sanctum Writing Prompt Generator

 

If you don’t like the prompts you’re dealt the first time, just hit “Generate More Prompts” until your muse shows up.

 

Soovle

Soovle takes the idea of Google’s related searches and expands it to include a host of other search engines and sites: Wikipedia, Answers.com, Netflix, YouTube, The Weather Channel, bing, Yahoo!, Buy.com, ebay, and Amazon.com at last check.

The front page has a place for your search term plus empty results panes for each of the sites it supports:

 

Soovle

 

To see something more beefy, start typing your term and watch those empty panes fill in:

 

Soovle Search Results

 

It’s interesting to note that the Google results here are slightly different than Google’s own related searches, which is a good thing. The more variety the better as far as generating story ideas is concerned.

Note that if you click the Soovle button, you’ll be transported to the results page of whichever search engine is at the top of your Soovle search page. You can adjust that order by clicking on a search engine icon under the search box to move it to the top or by pressing the right arrow key on your keyboard

 

Story Shack Writing Prompt Generator

The Story Shack Writing Prompt Generator is another tool that combines old-time story prompts with modern web concepts.

Presenting a slick, clean design, the Writing Prompt Generator invites you to “Generate” a new prompt through a big green banner at the top of the page:

 

Story Shack Writing Prompt Generator

 

When  you click that button, the gear turns for a few seconds, and then the Generator gives you a complete set of story parameters:

 

Story Shack Writing Prompt Generator Result

 

As you can see, you get a target word count, a genre, a protagonist, an object or material, and a prompting sentence.

So, unlike other similar tools, Story Shack provides both the raw material — the prompt — and some context against which to write. It’s a powerful concoction that can rocket you from no idea at all to the middle of your story-crafting process within seconds.

 

StumbleUpon

When it comes to random resources on the Internet, it’s hard to beat StumbleUpon. Bringing you random bits of goodness — through randomly selected web pages — is its entire reason for being.

To get started, navigate to StumbleUpon.com and see what pops up. Here is what I got today:

 

StumbleUpon

 

This is pretty much in my wheelhouse, and that’s no accident because StumbleUpon remembers where you’ve been and lets you add categories that are important to you. Unfortunately, once you’ve been bounced to a page, you have to reload StumbleUpon to get to another page.

The way around this problem is to use the StumbleUpon Chrome add-on. Once you’ve added this utility, you’ll get a StumbleUpon toolbar at the top of each page:

 

 

StumbleUpon Add-On

 

 

From there, you can control your settings, give thumbs up or down to the page you’re currently viewing, and “stumble” to another page.

Just be careful, because Stumbling is extremely addictive and you might find your hours dripping away in obscure corners of the web you never even knew existed.

 

Twitter

Twitter may seem like an odd choice as a source of writing inspiration, but hear me out.

While it’s true that social media in general has developed a well-deserved reputation for sucking us dry of our precious time and of exposing buffoonery throughout society, that does not mean it is completely without merit.

When it comes to generating new story ideas, in fact, Twitter in particular can be a Godsend. There are a lot of ways you can mine the secret story sauce from among a sea of Tweets, but one of the best and easiest is to simply dive into a few specific hashtags.

For instance …

#WritingPrompt

Twitter Writing Prompt

#WritingPrompts

Twitter Story Ideas

 

 

#StoryIdeas

Twitter Writing Prompts

I’m sure you can find others, too, but just these three hashtags will keep you in the story-writing clover for years.

Ubersuggest

Ubersuggest takes a keyword you supply and “suggests” related words and phrases based on Google’s autocomplete and “related searches” functionality. Ubersuggest is generally thought of as a tool for bloggers in search of article ideas, but you can also use it to help generate story ideas. To get started, navigate to the Ubersuggest homepage:

 

 

Ubersuggest

 

 

Then, type in an idea keyword, like “ghost”:

 

 

Ubersuggest Search Results

 

 

… and scroll through the results until you see something that sparks your imagination:
Ubersuggest Results Scrolled

Ghost fish? Ghost brothers? Ghost bikes? Oh, yeah!

And, if you like, you can click into each term to perform a Google search, dive into Google Trends, or expand your results based on the clicked keyword.

If that’s still not enough for you, Ubersuggest holds one, final uber cool feature. Word clouds (second tab of search results):

 

 

Ubersuggest Search Results Word Cloud

 

The Useless Web

The Useless Web takes StumbleUpon’s basic premise — delivering you to a random website — and ups the ante by delivering you to a random useless website. It says as much right there in its name and on its minimalist front page:

The Useless Web

Click PLEASE, and you’re transported somewhere strange and mysterious, and maybe useless:

 

Bury Me With My Money

 

In this case,  I could definitely come up with a story based on, “Bury me with my money,” but you may not always be so lucky. If not, just go back to The Useless Web — which is still open in your original browser tab, unlike StumbleUpon, and PLEASE yourself again.

Wikipedia

As you are undoubtedly aware, Wikipedia contains an almost unfathomable amount of content, all curated by us, the citizens of the World Wide Web.

What you may not have considered is just how valuable Wikipedia can be to authors looking for their next story idea. There are so many nooks and crannies for you to poke around that you should never run out of story ideas. In fact, I like Wikipedia as a muse so much that I put together a complete guide for milking ideas from this crowdsourced giant.

But if I were to pick just one way to use Wikipedia to find your next story idea, it would be the “Random article” feature. To get there, first go to the Wikipedia homepage:

 

Wikipedia Search

 

Then enter anything into the search box and click on a result.

 

Wikipedia Ghost

 

Once you’re on a page, you’ll find the “Random article” link in the upper left-hand corner.

 

Wikipedia Random Article

 

 

Click that, and you’re off to the races:

 

Wikipedia Josef Matej Navratil

 

As with the other random generators on this list, you can click again and again until you find what you’re looking for.

And, if you don’t want to go through the front door, you can just hit the random-article generator directly here.

 

Want a handy PDF guide to using Wikipedia for generating story ideas? Just click here to download your copy now.

WritingExercises Random Image Generator

The Random Image Generator from WritingExercises does exactly what you would expect — delivers random images:

 

Writing Exercises Random Image Generator

 

To get a new shot of inspiration, just click “New Image.”

I can’t think of a better way to close out our bag of story idea generators than with this gem that combines two of the most powerful tools for inspiring creative thought — images and randomness.

Now … find your idea and then go write!

 

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Daily Writing Prompt #40 http://themoonlightingwriter.com/daily-writing-prompt-40/ http://themoonlightingwriter.com/daily-writing-prompt-40/#respond Mon, 20 Feb 2017 16:58:05 +0000 http://themoonlightingwriter.com/?p=25449 The post Daily Writing Prompt #40 appeared first on The Moonlighting Writer.

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On Mother’s Day, your mother tells you that she’s actually your twin sister. What happens next?

scary woman with bonnet in graveyard

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Daily Writing Prompt #39 http://themoonlightingwriter.com/daily-writing-prompt-39/ http://themoonlightingwriter.com/daily-writing-prompt-39/#respond Sun, 19 Feb 2017 11:58:02 +0000 http://themoonlightingwriter.com/?p=25448 The post Daily Writing Prompt #39 appeared first on The Moonlighting Writer.

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Halfway through your Thanksgiving meal it becomes quite apparent that you and your wife have different definitions of, “having guests for dinner.”

scary woman with bonnet in graveyard

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How to Uncover Amazing Story Ideas with Alltop http://themoonlightingwriter.com/how-to-uncover-amazing-story-ideas-with-alltop/ http://themoonlightingwriter.com/how-to-uncover-amazing-story-ideas-with-alltop/#respond Sat, 18 Feb 2017 14:38:00 +0000 http://themoonlightingwriter.com/?p=25608 The post How to Uncover Amazing Story Ideas with Alltop appeared first on The Moonlighting Writer.

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The internet is an awesome place for writers — not only can we commiserate with each other and share our tales with readers, but the inspiration for our next great story is always just a few clicks away.

My article on Wikipedia, for instance, details how you can use the giant crowd-sourced information site to generate an almost endless supply of story ideas.

And, if you’re looking for inspiration that’s a little more in-your-face than what Wikipedia provides, the web has you covered, too.

Alltop is a comprehensive directory of blogs, spanning topics from sports to cooking to the paranormal to military history.

Want a handy PDF version of this guide? Just click here to download your copy now.

And, as you’ll see, Alltop lays out information from these blogs in a way that makes it dirt-simple to browse through and pick off story ideas like you’re plucking grapes from a vine.

And it all begins on the …

 

Front Page

Unlike Wikipedia, Alltop hits you with a rush of ideas right up front.

When you navigate  to the Alltop homepage, you’ll see something like this:

 

Those are the headlines from most recent five posts from each of the “featured” blogs in Alltop’s stable.

When I scan through this list of titles, the story ideas come rushing at me:

  • A man quits his job for an unusual reason. What happens next?
  • A strange bet causes one man to develop a photo-eating fetish.
  • Business mogul’s odd quest to tunnel to the center of the earth.
  • A successful woman who regrets her career choice takes on a new adventure — space exploration.
  • Factories that operate under the surface of the earth are producing unfathomable new tech.

The headlines change all the time, too, so if you don’t see something that stirs inspiration on your first visit, come back later and try again.

Search

Maybe you’re really not interested in Alltop’s recommendations. Maybe you have a shadow of an idea and just need some help fleshing it out.

In that case, Alltop’s search function can help you out.

In keeping with my penchant for horror stories, I typed “ghost” in the search box.

 

 

Here is how Alltop rewarded my curiosity:

 

Alltop Ghost Search

 

Those are category listings, and some of them may seem a bit strange given my search term. For what I have in mind, though, Halloween, History, Literature, and Supernatural and Paranormal are the standouts. I clicked on Supernatural and Paranormal to reveal:

 

 

The “Most Popular Stories” are the ones from this category that have been accessed the most by other Alltop visitors. Below that are the most recent 5 stories for each of the blogs that Alltop has categorized as Supernatural and Paranormal. Scroll down, and you’ll see more:

 

 

Not all of these are directly related to ghosts, but they are all creepy in some way.

Based on this list, I could write for months about:

  • A ghost city that appears each night and disappears in the morning.
  • The ghost of a Civil War casualty who shows up onstage at a theater built near the battlefield where he died.
  • The comet beyond our solar system where human souls go after we die.
  • Snow-covered structures that appear in winter and seem to influence political events.
  • A pop singer with the power of telekinesis.

And there are more blogs below what you see here.

And, the list of articles will change if you come back later.

And, you can click into any of the blogs to dig deeper into their archives.

Hundreds of story-worthy articles related to your keyword, all at your fingertips. Pretty nifty.

AND … if you need a bit more detail without clicking into a story, just hover over the link and Alltop will give you a nudge:

 

 

Each of these descriptions is liable to have multiple story ideas embedded in them, so don’t be afraid to “helicopter” to drum up some inspiration.

 

Topics

If you don’t have any idea for your story and nothing on the Alltop front page strikes your fancy, you can always browse through the categories of blogs indexed on the site.

When you click on the Topics menu heading, you’ll see this:

 

At the top are broad-based topics that will expand to more specific ideas the deeper you go. For instance, click on People, and you see:

 

Alltop People Category

 

If you’ve read this far, it probably won’t surprise you that Freemasonry jumped out at me. When I click that one, I once again see the glory of ready-made writing prompts:

 

Hints about secret societies, underground pacts, mysterious rituals, and general intrigue abound in these headlines. Easy pickings when it comes to generating a new story idea.

Of course, you can always drill into the categories by letter:

 

 

Choosing “A” gives us:
Alltop A Topics

 

From here, you can just click into the individual topics as before until you strike story gold.

 

Holy Kaw!

If you prefer to get your story stimulation through visual means, then you might like the Holy Kaw! feature of Alltop, which the site bills as “All the topics that interest us.” When you click the Holy Kaw! tab, you’ll see something like this:

 

 

Scroll down, and you’ll get even more in-your-face options:

 

Alltop Holy Kaw!

 

From videos and pictures to headlines and blurbs, Holy Kaw! is full of ideas that span all sorts of subject matter. And inspiring? How does, “Baby chases tiger up Mount Everest but stops short when goblin springs out from behind signpost,” sound?

Well, yeah, it’s cheesy, but that’s more a function of my personality than the source material. The point is, Holy Kaw! is another font of story ideas that you shouldn’t ignore, especially if you’re stuck.

 

MyAlltop

Finally, once you’ve spent some time on Alltop, you might want to customize your experience using the MyAlltop feature.

MyAlltop lets you collect the blogs you like — the ones that fire off your story-idea synapses on a regular basis — and present them all in one place.

To access MyAlltop, you first need to setup an account:

 

MyAlltop Create Account

 

Once you do that and log in for the first time, you’ll see an empty MyAlltop canvas:

 

MyAlltop Logged In

 

To start filling up your page, go back and find the blogs you want to keep track of. You can use any of the methods we talked about above — search, browse, Holy Kaw! — and then just click the “+” sign at the upper right of each blog listing:

 

Alltop Add Blog

 

I went back and grabbed some of those titillating blogs, and others, and this is what I have on my MyAlltop page:

 

MyAlltop Populated

 

Now, whenever I need fresh inspiration from a source I know will deliver, all I have to do is go to MyAlltop.

 

Conclusion

The Internet can be a noisy and confusing place sometimes, but it’s an absolute goldmine for writers — that’s especially true if you’re stuck for ideas.

And, when it comes to finding inspiration for your next story, there are few sites that offer a more diverse and accessible array of concepts than Alltop.

Spend a few minutes browsing through the titles on the giant blog directory, and you’ll have more story ideas than you can write in a year.

Happy treasure hunting!

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