Category Archives: Write

My Latest Book – Writing Prompts 2014

In the last episode, I talked about how I was writing a months’ worth of blog posts AND an ebook at the same time (using WordPress and Scrivener).

Today I’m coming with an update: the book is ready!



Scrivener Report

I did enjoy putting the book together with Scrivener and I discovered that it has a really powerful ‘compile’ feature that outputs all kinds of ebook formats (including the .mobi format I wanted for Kindle).

However, in the end I was (gasp!) up against a time crunch and wanted to Get It Done! I didn’t have time to play around (more than four or five times) with the Compile function to try to get it all right, and then to figure out how to attach the cover image and…

Since I’ve made Kindle ebooks before by creating a Word document, converting it to “.htm” and uploading that, that’s what I did this time. I used Scrivener’s compile feature to give me a Word file that I then formatted the way I wanted it (minimal formatting, just using styles and page breaks) and then converted to HTML.

I will, I swear, learn to use the very cool Scrivener functionality for that at some point.

The Cover

Kindle covers should be 1563 pixels on the shortest side and 2500 pixels on the longest side. I’ve made a few before and have a kind of template set up, so I opened up Photoshop Elements and made my adjustments, then saved it as a .jpg. Boom!

Kindle eBooks

Did you know it’s free to upload a Kindle eBook to Amazon?

I always assume people know that, but really, why would you? So now you do. It’s free. I set the price and Amazon takes between 30-65% of the list price, depending on the royalty structure I choose and the territory it’s being sold in. Compared to traditional publishing deals this is pretty sweet (except I don’t have a team of professionals to help me out, nor an advance. I also don’t have to wait for anyone’s permission to ‘get published’ though and I have access to a massive, well-oiled selling machine that will handle most of the technical stuff for me, so I call it a deal).

It’s perfect for someone like me, who is using ebooks as an educational resource for my blog readers.

There’s more to tell on this ebook project — including pricing, promotions and results, but I’ll save that for another day.

How I’m Creating A Book As I Blog

I’m gearing up for the StoryADay May challenge for 2014 and writing a new ebook as I go along. How? I’ll show you (cue: John Hammond whisper)

For the past few years, at the urging of challenge participants, I’ve provided writing prompts every day during StoryADay May. Every year I vow to be ahead of the game and write them all out before May starts. Usually I get a couple of weeks in and then spend the latter part of May scrambling to catch up.

Last year I did a thing where — again, prompted by participants — I put out a week’s worth of prompts ahead of time, so people could plan their writing week. That was a bit better than my usual scramble, but I still did a lot of the work during May.

This year I have resolved to not only have the full months’ worth of prompts available before May begins but to release them as an ebook that I can charge money for. (Money is a lovely carrot that I dangle in front of myself to make LazyMe follow through on some of my good intentions. I’m not hugely motivated by money, but since I’m planning on putting in all this work, it’d be nice if I could get a little summin-summin to help pay the for web-hosting costs, the domain registration or my upcoming photo session with Nathan Fillion at Comicon – swoon…)

The Process

Here’s what I’m doing.

Step 1: Mindmap

I have a mind map of all the topics for each week (OK, most of them). Doing this first helps me set themes for each week, see what I’m doing, what I’m missing and what I shouldn’t spend time writing about on Day 1 (because I know I’m going to cover it on Day 4).


Step 2: Write The Post

I have a template in place for prompts, which I’m using as a framework for each post.

Writing Prompt screenshot


It goes: preamble (sometimes), The Prompt, Tips, “Go!” along with possibly a reminder to comment or post in the community.

Once I’ve written the meat of the post I’ll take some time to schedule the post for the appropriate day (posting just after midnight) and I’ll add it to the /inspiration/daily-prompt/may-2014 category so that my Mailchimp’s RSS-to-Campaign feature will pick it up and send it out to all the people who have signed up to receive prompts by email. Nifty!

If I’m really smart I’ll remember to add tags (‘writing prompt’ and something context driven) so I can find and link to them again in future when I am writing similar prompts but want to give my audience more options.

I might even find an appropriate Creative-Commons photo on Flickr to illustrate the post AND write an SEO-keyword-laden excerpt. In the interests of getting an ebook out, however, I’m not doing that on this pass. (None of that stuff will go in the ebook and it’s all stuff I can do in the last few days before the challenge when my brain is fried and we’re taking the inevitable roadtrip/having visitors/enjoying Easter/whatever-the-hell-else April/May can throw at me this year.)

What I really want to do is get to the next step.

Step 3 – Scrivener

After having finally watched some videos on how to use Scrivener properly, it seems to me the perfect vehicle for putting together a non-fiction book, even if I can’t make it work for fiction. So I’m using it for that, with the expectation that, at the end of the writing phase I’ll be able to quickly go through each file and make sure I’ve been consistent in format. Then I can add introductions to each week and maybe some introductory/conclusion material, and then use the built-in ‘compile’ feature to turn out a nicely-formatted ebook for quick upload to Amazon, Smashwords and my site.

Method: it’s pretty clunky, but I’m writing each prompt in the WordPress window, adding scheduling and tags and then  cutting and pasting each day’s text from the blog into Scrivener. It’s working for me, for now.

scrivener screenshot

I’m really only posting this here so that, if I try to do this again,  I’ll have some record of how I did it, but if you’re reading this and you’re not Future-Me, then I hope it helps you with your own “Blog To Book” project!


The Many Faces of The Writing Life

It is 12:37 AM. I should not be here. I should be tucked up in bed, ready to get up at an ungodly hour tomorrow and do this all again.

But at least I’m sitting here feeling satisfied (and not a little smug).

Today I had a great writing day.

It wasn’t great fiction writing day, but I was working all day on the many other things writers have to do.

  • By 9:30 I had done a grueling workout (thanks, Joe!) and was BIC (butt in chair) reading lots of other people’s opinions on Flash Fiction. (I’m writing a series on the form and need to interview lots of people. I like to be able to ask intelligent questions, so that means lots of reading).
  • I sent out several interviews-by-email to people who have already said ‘yes’ to my request, and gave the a deadline because I know what writers are like…
  • I organized my calendar.
  • I rescued my poor, ravaged website from the edge of disaster. (This has been a month of torture so you’ll forgive me if I consider the six or so hours I spent wrangling it into shape this evening, time well spent). Not only did I get it working properly again, but I redesigned it to make it easier for the incoming class of StoryADay-ers to figure out where all the good stuff is and what they heck they’re doing there anyway.

Check it out:
StoryADay Facelift

What Does All This Have To Do With Writing?

Well, no, none of this is putting words into my novel or short stories. But all of it helps me to build by network and community.

It’s a lonely business being a writer.

Most of the time I’m absolutely fine with that (and frankly, most days I could do with a little more loneliness!). But there are days when your evil inner voices start telling you this writing lark is just a waste of time and money and that you should stop kidding yourself. That’s when it’s a great idea to have built a community of like-minded individuals who are, hopefully, having a better day than you and who either a, boost you up or b, need something from you (something in the writing line). Helping other writers, or being helped by them, is a wonderful way to remember that you’re not entirely crazy. It’s also a great way of guilting people into reading your work and usually they find something in it that’s better than you thought it was.

So hey. No fiction words added to the works in progress, but a very satisfying day clearing the decks for when I do manage to work on the fiction tomorrow.

And that’s what a writer does, some days (and nights).

Speaking of which, goodnight.

Everybody Needs A Garrett

I’m working in my garrett today.


I highly recommend seeking out some cheap co-working office space to rent if you are trying to take your writing seriously and have the means. I also recommend biting the bullet and taking as little stuff with you as you can get away with. There have been days when I haven’t come here because I’d “need” all the notes I’ve been gathering for four years about the novel-in-progress, or because I think I *might* want to work on admin tasks that really call for the big computer, or, or or…

What happens, when I actually get here, is that I pick a task (a short story or a blog post series or the novel or some outreach to potential interview subjects) and I work on that thing. Until it’s done. Or until I run out of time.

Can you imagine?

I focus on one task.

And can you guess what happens next?


Stuff happens. I achieve things. Word counts grow. Ideas are put into practice. Progress is made.


So the family might not get a lovingly slow-cooked dinner tonight (“Oh, squirrel! I could make keema in the slow-cooker. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about dinner later, only I don’t have beef, so I’ll just run to the shop and buy that and mix all the spices and put the keema on before I start writing and oh! ‘Nother Squirrel! I could whip all the sheets off the beds and put them in the washer before I go, so that they’ll be ready to go in the dryer when I get back. Look at me! I’m so efficient! That’ll leave me lots of guilt-free time to write. But before I do any of that, let me email the tax lady, find the tax documents and call the doctor, just to clear those things off my to-do list so that I can have a guilt-free time to write. And squirrel! Wait, how did it get to be 2:44pm and why are my children coming home soon?”)

Instead I am at my paid-for-and-potentially-peopled-by-other-working-folks garrett, thinking about how much I pay per minute to be here (not really) and how I should really be thinking about doing something writing related if only so that, should someone else ask me what I’m working on, I can smile and be honest.

And yes, this blog counts. It’s my warm-up writing, my Morning Pages.

Now, back to the long-overdue novel-in-progress.

The Parents’ School Morning Lament

Sometimes you just have to write a thing down, so here, in all it’s audio glory, is my Parents’ School Morning Lament, recorded and mixed for you, this morning.

Screen Shot 2014-01-15 at 12.14.06 PM

Sound familiar? Leave me a comment!


If you’d like to know when I release new fiction (like this!), you can subscribe for free.

You may also like: My House Is Empty – A Song Of Praise


Oh, what an emotional roller coaster I do live on.
Woke up cranky. Have decided the only possible cure is to work on a writing project.
Wish me luck.

The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

…may well still be the light of an oncoming train, BUT at least there is some light now.

I’ve been wrestling with a novel on and off for three years (mostly off, if I’m honest, because I have a lot on my plate and short stories are so much easier to wrangle), but I keep coming back to it. It’s messy and ugly but every time I look at it, I have several moments where I go “Oh, I LIKE that!” and it makes me want to finish the damned thing.

The remarkable thing I’ve learned in the past three years is that the mess and ugliness is kind of essential. I actually sort of love it, mess and all. I can see potential in the ugliness. And I every time I come back to it, I get closer to solving the puzzle of how to get to the end.

There is a hugely messy part round about what will probably be the climax, that has, until now, tripped me up every time I come back to the book. I keep thinking “I’ve lost my way with this character.” But today — banging away at the problem — I had another couple of ‘aha’ moments that have got me excited about moving on past the point that has had me stuck. In fact, I’m prepared to throw away tens of thousands of words, too do that very thing. And the closer I get to the end, the more clearly I can see what I need to revise/add/change at the start. Instead of being depressing, the thought of throwing out old words is now exciting, because I can see what needs to go in their place. Maybe.

But anyway, it’s good.

I’m experimenting with writing out of order. I feel the need to write a scene that features two minor characters doing something important, even though I know other scenes will have to go in earlier in the book to make this scene make sense, but I don’t feel the need to write them first. Is this shocking, readers? Does it seem like cheating? Well, guess what? I’m betting every writer does it!

OK, so that’s my morning’s work. What have you done today, so far?

Flash Fiction Frenzy

As well as finishing up my Christmas Ornaments Flash Fiction collection and releasing it as an ebook collection, I’ve been writing other flash fiction, mostly inspired by the weekly Duotrope emails. These emails contain lists of active short story markets and upcoming deadlines for contests and anthologies.

Duotrope logoIn September, as I was sitting down to write one happy, happy school morning, I found a contest with a deadline of December 16, looking for Flash Fiction Suites. They defined this as a collection of pieces, no more than 1000 words each, which were related and contributed to a whole greater than the sum of the parts.

This really appealed to me.

So I took one of my earlier short pieces as the inspiration and started writing other pieces, each from the perspective of one of the characters mentioned in the first.

I liked it. So I then hemmed and hawed about whether to submit it to the contest or do something with it myself. I tried to be disciplined and keep it for the contest. I distracted myself with other stories (ultimately the Christmas series) and almost forgot to submit the Flash Fiction Suite to the contest (deadline today).

This weekend I remembered, and submitted, with a heavy heart (it’s so hard to put your work out there for something as specific as a contest or publication, knowing that it is 80% about luck or personal taste as to whether your piece will be picked).

While I was looking up the details of that contest, I noticed another contest for flash fiction — this time it was for a 250 word sci-fi/fantasy/horror/dark/weird Christmas story, again with a deadline of today. “I can do that”, says my brain, and settles down to ponder.

Yesterday I sketched out some ideas for where this story might happen and who might appear in it. This morning I researched the history of the Santa Claus story, as well as his appearance in popular culture throughout the years. Then I wrote, and wrote and wrote and wrote. Then I typed and cut and cut and tweaked and cut and tweaked and cut until I had something that I think has enough elements of my original idea to make it clear what’s going on, but doesn’t scrimp on the word count when it comes to style or the opportunity to make a joke.

I’m not sure it’s 100% clear to someone who doesn’t live in my head, but I hope that it’s a fun enough little time-travel romp that someone with one foot in the sci-fi world and another in pop culture, would enjoy it. Four hours’ work for 250 words. (Fascinating stat.)

After much tweaking, I fired up the old email box to send it off, and lo! There was an email from the judges of the FIRST contest, saying they like my Flash Fiction Suite and it’s a finalist, to be published at their site!


The response started “Julie Duffy, Strong work…” so I assumed that was going to be followed by a ‘but…”. It wasn’t. Woo-hoo!

It’s an online market that claims to pay pro-semipro rates. Not that it’s going to make me rich but I think it says something about the publication. A publication that pays its writers is one I’d be happy to put on my writing resume.

Stay tuned for the big announcement when my story goes live.


I Need A Routine

Sliding DoorsThere was a moment, this morning, that was like that moment in the move Sliding Doors.

Had I gone one way, I would now be ensconced in my writing garrett, churning out words. As it was, I went the other way. And while I am now well-fed and have managed to con my sister into buying me German wool, I have not actually made any progress on my creative writing. Dangit.

So, having publicly shamed myself, I should probably put my socks on and get me to my garrett.

Wish me luck.