April - May 2017
In April I decided to treat myself to a quiet writing weekend in the woods. I booked a small cottage on someone’s farm through AirBnB. On the train, I came across a brilliant article, written by Tim Urban from Wait But Why, “Neuralink and the Brain’s Magical Future”. Infatuated with the story, the idea of a brain extension that would make us part AI didn't leave me. I couldn't finish the story on the train, it was extensive but incredible. After I settled myself in the cottage I finished reading it, ideas whizzing. I put an idea on a list in Notes app on my iPhone, about a dystopian future in which we humans have lost touch with our humanity and became part AI.
The weekend was great and very productive. I took some walks in the woods, read and wrote. At that time I was working on – what in the future would hopefully become – a novel. I finished a whole chapter that weekend. In addition, I started writing what would be my second short story.
At night in the cottage, as I lay down in bed, the idea of humans becoming connected to AI still hadn't left me. I envisioned a little girl visiting the Zoo with her parents. But there was something peculiar about this Zoo. It didn’t only cage animals. It caged humans too. And the visitors were an advanced human species called Humai. These Humai people were connected to electronic brain extensions. The family who visited the Sapien Zoo, as I would later call it, would come there to learn about their ancestry, and hopefully learn more about their own humanity.
Starting a list of ideas
After that weekend I was completely consumed by this second story. I put writing the novel on hold to focus on this short story. And while I was finishing the Sapien Zoo, the idea of the next story popped up. Naturally, I wanted to start right away, but I first had to finish the Sapien Zoo. (Read it here).
Halfway through May, I was going through my list of ideas for writing my next short story. Plenty of ideas, however I could not pick one, for I wanted to start writing stories about them all. I could start writing six more stories about other sins than greed alone (my first story “The Money Tree” is about greed)! That’s when I started to take my list of story ideas seriously.
Ever since writing the Money Tree, the idea of launching a website on which I publish one short story every month became more realistic. I started planning it out. Ideally, I wanted to launch my first story mid September. That left me with about four more months to prepare everything and most importantly, to write. I wanted to finish writing 5-6 stories before launch. That way I had a stack of stories and needn’t worry if I couldn’t finish a story every month or if I was busy with work or other commitments. Also, it allowed me some time to figure out how to build a website, to read and learn more about writing and (self) publishing, and marketing my future work. But more on those topics in future blogs.
“The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order.” — Umberto Eco, renowned Italian author
Structuring your writing ideas
For now, let’s focus on listing your story ideas. It could be for short stories, like I did, but it is also necessary to structure your ideas for a novel, non-fiction work, blogs posts, anything. I love making lists (it is a weird trait, but I think it is great).
I keep a note in my Notes app in which I type out all ideas I have. They can be concrete story ideas, lists of subjects I want to write about, morals, pieces of dialogue or sentences that pop up in my mind. In this list I have the following structure:
Top ideas: in the top section are the most important ideas, about things I learned in terms of writing/editing/to do’s, and ideas about the story I am currently working on.
In the next part, I keep ideas that excite me the most or spelled out plots for an upcoming story.
Then come the sentences or pieces of dialogue that pop up in my mind, they wouldn't necessarily belong to particular story or subject, but I always go through this when I start a new story to see if something might fit.
The most exciting part comes now, a list of story ideas, with parts of plotting, characters, morals, and other ideas (my list would cover 4+ years of stories, providing I publish one every month). Usually when I write down these ideas, I also come up with a story title.
Now comes a smaller list of subjects I want to write about, but without concrete story ideas.
The last part deals with technicalities about my site, ideas to grow and expand and marketing.
(Yes, I know, I made a list about making lists. Pun fully intended.)
“List, list, O, list!” ― William Shakespeare, in Hamlet
I add to this list almost daily. Whenever I read something, watch a film, series, TED talk, documentary, ideas always pop up. Especially when I am in the middle of writing a story about a particular subject. It’s like I have an antenna for useful information about that subject in whatever I encounter.
Every once in a while I cut and paste ideas from my Notes app to different Evernote files. There is a file for the marketing ideas, a to do file per month, a file to summarize what I learn and encounter about writing and publishing, goals for the website and one I use as a back up of the Notes file.
Maybe it seems a bit of an odd structure to you, but it works for me. I prefer the Notes app over Evernote, because it synchronizes faster and better on all your (Apple) devices. Sometimes with Evernote I have issues with this and end up with half sentences or Evernote copies everything twice – but with differences. Therefore, the Notes app is for quick ideas and storage, and Evernote is for structuring everything I have written down in the Notes app.
I read a lot about other authors as well, and what habits and tools they use. If you’re interested in that, I recommend the website writingroutines.com or the book Daily Rituals. Many use notepads with a pen. I can’t imagine doing that. The advantages about the Notes app and Evernote is that I have them with me wherever I am. I can quickly copy/paste and move information around, send it around or even copy it into a word document. Usually, when I start a story, I copy all the ideas I have gathered from Notes and Evernote in a word file and then I start.
So, let’s start building lists with your ideas. Write down what inspires you. Choose topics that you’re excited about, that (literally) keep you up at night. Topics you want to teach your (future) children about. Soon you’ll find you get ideas from everything. From a situation you encountered at the grocery store, to a newspaper article, to a great film. And then when you lie down at night and review your day, you’ll find yourself depriving yourself of sleep by getting your phone again to write down a plot twist for a story you’re working on, or a paragraph of beautiful sounding sentences.
Sharpening ideas for a writing website
During May, I thought more about launching my own website. Naturally, since I like lists so much, I set out a detailed plan of steps to take every month to get me to reach the deadline of launching my first story in September. In coming blogs I'll explore the following stages further. These ideas for the website and what has now become turnerstories.com include:
Coming up with a website name: it’s plain and simple, my Dutch surname translates to “Turner”, and automatically you get a connection to pageturner ;-).
Claim the url through a domain name website, like: godaddy.com.
Publishing one story every month.
Accompanied by an illustration: as explained in the previous blog I initially wanted to do that myself, luckily I came to my senses and asked Jonat to do this instead.
Making a website: I have zero programming skills, but I do have a lot of experience with website backend services. For my own website, I wanted to keep things as simple as possible, so I chose a template by Squarespace. I highly recommend them, it works so easy and intuitive.
Marketing ideas: who will read my stories when I go live? How do I reach them? I will write a full post about this.
Monetizing ideas for the future: the dream is to support myself with only writing and become a full-time writer. I realize this will take some time, but that’s ok. The first ideas to monetize on my writing is through a PayPal donate button, Amazon affiliate links, publishing ebooks and selling the artwork of the illustrations together with Jonat. However, most of these ideas I still need to execute.
Social media: there are quite some platforms out there, but which one works best? I decided to set up a Facebook page, Instagram account, and Twitter account. Then comes the challenge: which one will you devote most of your time to? Facebook will take a while I think, Instagram works great since you can follow avid readers and writers to connect with, same goes for Twitter.
Ebook: I decided to publish three volumes of collections of my stories each year and ending with a complete yearly overview. The last one I’d like to publish in print too. The first one is already available, check it out here.
Contests: I did a lot of research into short story contests. There are so many! However, you have to look carefully for which ones you’re eligible. Requirements vary, sometimes it is regional, or you have to have a specific nationality, some have word limits, some require you not to have published your stories online. I entered a Glimmertrain contest (they have about 6-10 contests per year. Also Boulevard magazine has an exciting one.
How to set your writing goals
Now that we’ve covered listing and structuring your writing ideas, and even delved into planning your website for a bit, let’s explore one more topic: setting your writing goals. Most of you have a job I would assume (just like me) and want to write in your free time. I highly recommend it! But you have to make some sacrifices in terms of free time, time spend with loved ones, time watching Netflix.
Make your writing goals realistic and align them with your current lifestyle and workload. They should be set high enough to challenge yourself. Also, you need to set a date to each goal and make them specific.
Write 400 words a day
Get up 30 minutes earlier to write (those 400 words)
Finish a first draft of a 4,000 word story or chapter by X date (technically that could be done in 10 days)
In terms of marketing: reach out to 15 blogs that are connected to the subject you write about, these can be blogs with messages that empower you. Talk about similarities and what you have to offer
What are your best tips and tricks for structuring your writing ideas and setting your writing goals?
Disclaimer: some links in the text above refer to Amazon. Those are affiliate links and if you would buy something, I receive a small commission. Feel free to choose another retailer or not use the link. I incorporated it, because I need to even out the costs of hosting my site and I don’t want advertisements on the site ☺.