A Self-Interview Guide for the Writer

A Pen In Each Hand

By harpspeed

Over the years, I’ve been asked some interesting questions about the writing life. Attending social gatherings can be fun but they can also feel more like a job interview than a party. I personally try to avoid the subject of writing especially when in the company of strangers. Yet, sometimes the questions cannot be avoided, especially when I am introduced as “my friend, the writer.” So, get your pens out and whip up some quips for the next holiday gathering—interview yourself. Keep in mind that you never know whom you may meet at a backyard barbeque. Here are some questions to get you started. Feel free to leave a comment if you would like to share any additional writerly questions.

  • Are you a “real” writer?
  • So what exactly do you write?
  • Where can I read your work?
  • Do you have a day job?
  • Have you published anything?
  • Don’t you want to be published?
  • Does your family know you do this?
  • How do you find the time to write?
  • Where do you write?
  • Are you one of those people I see at Starbucks?
  • What’s your biggest challenge as a writer?
  • What is your creative process?
  • Do you have a good luck charm?
  • I got this great idea for a novel. Maybe you could—you know—ghostwrite it with me?
  • Do you write about people you know?
  • Can I be in your story?
  • What writers do you read?

March 2014
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. March comes in like a lion.
  2. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following words: decision, season, worst, unlike, another.
    2. Write about preparations for a storm that didn’t come.
    3. A character has a conversation with him/herself.
  3. You disconnected just before I said ____
  4. Use these words: detour, lists, memoirist, routine, suffer.
  5. There’s no time to procrastinate.
  6. Eavesdrop on people on transit; write down dialogue to use later.
  7. Change something important about a character & rewrite the scene.
  8. A dinner party where every guest has a special request.
  9. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: battered, through, sputter, silent, eaten.
    2. Fill in the blank: “I remember when you used to _____.”
    3. Write about trying to impress a mentor.
  10. Begin with: “We are excited to announce…”
  11. “It’s too late to change it. We’ll find out…”
  12. Use these animals: lizard, turtle, fish, cockroach, bird.
  13. “Where did the computer put that?”
  14. Write about a meteor shower.
  15. Write about lost medical paperwork.
  16. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following words: involved, subsequent, overall, world, point.
    2. Write about something growing from a seed.
    3. Write about something that’s too small or too large for its purpose.
  17. “Wow! The gadget is doing something!”
  18. Write about a memorable food from your childhood.
  19. Lonely in no-man’s land.
  20. Begin with: “We are building…”
  21. Invent a perfectly cromulent new word.
  22. Write about a spring snowstorm.
  23. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: gloves, eaten, built, stained, agony.
    2. Write about something that’s a clone, copy, or imitation.
    3. Fill in the blank: “We’re off to see the _____.”
  24. A recipe plays an important role in your story.
  25. Write about a guess that turns out to be wrong.
  26. Use these words: apprenticeship, journey, talismans, sanctuary, cage.
  27. “It’s not doing what you said it would.”
  28. Begin with: “I have my doubts about…”
  29. Use the disembodied voice of a GPS as a character.
  30. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following words: millions, apart, departures, promising, close.
    2. Compare two incomparable things.
    3. Something moves to the top of the list.
  31. March goes out like a lamb.

Stretch!

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

It’s spring—time to come out of hibernation and do as the bears do: stretch! This month’s challenge is to stretch outside your writing comfort zone. Here are some ideas:

  1. Use something other than words to tell a story.
  2. Learn a new skill. Choose something you want to do (not have to do).
  3. Start a daily practice in anything; use what you learn to inform your writing practice.
  4. Schedule time to write (be realistic) and keep your appointments.
  5. Buddy up with another writer; set a mutual time or word goal and keep each other accountable.
  6. Free up physical space to write. Get rid of something you don’t need/use anymore that’s cluttering up (the space that could be) your writing space.
  7. Free up mental space to write. Cross a postponed task that’s distracting you from focusing on your writing off your to-do list.
  8. Offer to read another writer’s work and give them feedback—without the expectation that they will reciprocate. Instead, see what you can learn from critiquing and apply it to your own work.
  9. Pay for a professional critique or edit of your work.
  10. Thank someone who gave you a critical review for reading your work.

February 2014
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. Use these words: water, rain, lake, river, sea.
  2. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: strand, dissolve, ocean, boxes, casting.
    2. Use the phrase, “that was one more _____ than I was expecting.”
    3. Write about one last chance.
  3. It’s awards season! And the winner is… your MC. What happens next?
  4. “It’s horrible, but it’ll be over soon.”
  5. Today I discovered…
  6. Use the first word from each of 5 random pages of the nearest book.
  7. OH: “I blew off a date tonight–said I was sick. Really I’m just…”
  8. Write about a nonsense question.
  9. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: introduction, strength, excerpt, misused, purple.
    2. Write about a choice between three options.
    3. Write about something left behind.
  10. “It’s okay if you want to avoid me.”
  11. Include a rare animal in your story.
  12. Write about plausible deniability.
  13. I’ve decided that…
  14. Write about not celebrating a popular holiday.
  15. Take a walk on the wild side.
  16. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following words: shift, tradition, disappointing, allowed, immense
    2. Your character asks a passerby a question.
    3. Write about catching up after falling behind.
  17. Use these words: destination, fuzzy, nothing, sleep, snowing.
  18. “I got here first.”
  19. Have you read the book about…
  20. Write about an unfinished project.
  21. OH: “Remember when _____ was the most unlikable character, and now…”
  22. February 22 on which calendar?
  23. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: mine, skeleton, ranklings, which, waving.
    2. Fill in the blanks: “____ loves _____.”
    3. Write about an unpleasant aftertaste.
  24. Use these words: disintegrate, intrigue, cues, mundane, guesses.
  25. Happy birthday to…
  26. “Who are you and what did you do with the real _____?”
  27. That awkward moment when your MC is caught singing+dancing to a fave song.
  28. Sadie Hawkins day will not be held this year.

Tips for Writers with Too Many Ideas

A Pen In Each Hand

By harpspeed

Here are some tried and true tips and time management tools I use that may help ease the symptoms of Attention Deficit Writing Dilemma:

Calendars: Keep an at-a-glance monthly calendar in plain sight with all your projects recorded on the days you plan to work on them. Choose the same day each week to write out the coming week’s day-to-day writing activities, breaking down specific tasks for each project for the particular day you plan to work on them. It is advisable not to plan too far ahead. (A one-week notice is sufficient for the muses.) The calendars are comparable in importance as the outline might be to the general writer.

Sticky Notes: Keep a Post-it or two inside the cover of current books that you are reading in order to jot down ideas that come from the Book Muse. Some electronic readers have note-taking features.

The Pensieve: Keep a notebook. This is Writer’s 101. Having a pen and pad of paper close at hand to jot down those wonderful ideas that come flying at you in all weather is key to focus and feeling in control. Or if you are not the pen and paper type of writer, try using a notebook app that can be found on most smartphones. One of the worst things in a writer’s life is having a great idea and then having it drop off the radar. Notebooks are our memory keepers. (It worked for Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter novels.)

Recording Device: Speak into a recording app. This is similar to the pensieve, but for the auditory-processor writer. It is a great hands-free tool to use while walking, biking, driving, skydiving, etc.

End Goals: Set end goals. Since creating goals isn’t the issue, use highlighters to mark specific end dates on your calendars. You may want to break down your end goals into smaller increments such as chapter end goals, etc. It may also be more realistic and productive to have a floating final deadline that becomes permanent at a later date. Caution: Before you set your end goals, be generous with your time-expectation because life will get in the way. And remember to review these end goals frequently during your writing; adjust accordingly.

Writing Groups: Join a community of writers or start one. Your writing peers will keep you motivated to finish your writing projects because there will be a huge incentive for you to write particularly when you are held accountable for copy and someone else’s time. It is like having a boss (maybe several) and a boss’s expectation of proper time management (deadlines), as well. Also, belonging to more than one writing group might be keen for those writers who write in several genres. It may be easier to manage your many projects if they correspond to a particular writing group. Be advised that this added feature on your calendar may require more of your time management skill and time away from writing as you will have more meetings to attend and more bosses to encourage your output and demand feedback for their work, too.

Forums: Participate in an online forum. Your fellow Toasted Cheese writers, forum hosts, and editors would love to hear from you and/or see what you are working on. And the perks of the online forum venue is that one never has to worry about apparel or leave one’s comfort zone in order to attend.

Practice: Keep in practice. You know what they say about practice… If you would like to test this theory out on a small scale, why not try writing an article, a poem, a story or, perhaps, a review for Toasted Cheese? The journal is quarterly, which allows for a generous amount of time and space to write something truly wonderful—a professional and published piece that you can share with all your family, your friends, and your colleagues who may not even know that you are a writer. The editors at Toasted Cheese will support you with advice and encouragement along your journey, cheering when you submit.

*

Note: These A Pen In Each Hand exercises can be used individually or together, depending on need. There are no instructions on frequency. However, they each contain one important feature not mentioned in their descriptions: Consistency. They must become habits in order for the writer to extract their benefits. For when a writer is constant in habit, whether it is keeping to a strict calendar or schedule, being prepared for inspiration to strike, or regularly attending a writing group, that writer becomes a constant-writer who writes consistently and as direct result, produces finished copy continuously.

January 2014
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. Waking up hungover with a chipper partner.
  2. You’ll find the interpreter in the lighthouse near the border.
  3. How many shopping days til Christmas?
  4. Green hills, black water, blue light.
  5. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: crepe, ocean, excerpt, o’clock, floors.
    2. Write about going through the motions when they’re not necessary.
    3. Use the phrase, “Counting us both, that is.”
  6. In his cell, the carver thinks of his family.
  7. Not a comfortable chair in the house.
  8. “Please stop talking about the death of the _____.”
  9. What year is it, again?
  10. The cellist spreads the map across the table.
  11. Write about a security check.
  12. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following words: ridiculous, rescue, articulate, companion, manage
    2. Use the phrase “It’s a little late for that.”
    3. Write about a swapping of stories.
  13. Your character has a milestone birthday.
  14. Use these words: coast, jungle, beach, garden, rock.
  15. An unexpected discovery sidetracks plans.
  16. Something (not a dog) is barking.
  17. Last day together before…
  18. In the architect’s path, an undiscovered bomb waits.
  19. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: bookish, stars, overhead, mouth, eating.
  20. Use these animals: monkey, alligator, dragon, hound, elephant.
  21. A difference in dialect confuses the conversation.
  22. The ringmaster’s diaries dwell too much on his ruined knees.
  23. Counting by sevens.
  24. “You know, the one with the _____ tattoo.”
  25. “Annie? Get your gun.”
  26. Missed chat? Get today’s prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following words: memorable, impossible, revived, reason, honestly.
    2. Write about using a gadget for some unintended purpose.
    3. Something doesn’t sound like it normally does.
  27. An antique kitchen gadget, no longer useful.
  28. I take lessons from the singer in the castle.
  29. Making decisions by committee
  30. Write about these characters: Dorian, Justine, Ptolemy, Annabel.
  31. An unorthodox living situation.

Write Whimsical Horror (and more exercises)

A Pen In Each Hand

By Baker

  1. Try to write “whimsical horror,” as defined in our interview with Mercedes M. Yardley. If you need help with horror writing check out “Imaginable Horror.”
  2. Write or read magical realism (defined in our Writer’s Glossary series). If a storyline stumps you, create a character or setting inspired by magical realism that you might use in a different story.
  3. In our interview, Mercedes talked about belonging to more than one writing group. Join or create a writing group online or in real life. Toasted Cheese’s writing community is always looking for new voices. Bring some friends!
  4. Write without knowing where your story or poem is going.
  5. Write quickly, in bursts as long or short as you have time for, without rethinking or rewriting as you go.

December 2013
Daily Writing Prompts

A Pen In Each Hand

  1. Get today’s Sunday brunch prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: pin shape shake silent public.
    2. Write about reading lips.
    3. Sometimes no response is the right response.
  2. Write about a calendar not synchronized with the civil one.
  3. Use these words: thug, chapter seven, mainstream, sailing, circumnavigation.
  4. Write about comfort food.
  5. A character who shares a name with a month or a day of the week.
  6. “A date that will live in infamy.”
  7. Use one of your hobbies as a metaphor for writing.
  8. Get today’s Sunday brunch prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: white, talk, hid, desperate, cotton.
    2. Write about living with a tree.
    3. Use the phrase “It doubles every hour.”
  9. Eating all the food in the house while pulling an all-nighter.
  10. Ingredient substitution in a recipe.
  11. Use these words: porcupines, arboreal, anthropomorphized, robots, denizen.
  12. Write about a remarkable number.
  13. Use one of your given names as a character’s family name.
  14. “Who should I ask about this?”
  15. Get today’s Sunday brunch prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: children, things, lunar, observe, street.
    2. Write about a late-night phone call.
    3. Use the phrase “My muscles remember.”
  16. Write about missing something obvious.
  17. Make a list. Check it twice
  18. Write about magical pigs.
  19. A character who’s a self-proclaimed social media expert.
  20. “Why do I have to remember this number?”
  21. Use these words: spoonful, oyster, cookbook, cashews, serrated.
  22. Get today’s Sunday brunch prompts at Twitter.
    1. Use the following five words: color, earth, geranium, moaning, sweep.
    2. Write about life events intruding on plans.
    3. Use the phrase “Ho, ho, ho.”
  23. A long-distance relationship.
  24. How many ______ does it take to put together a bicycle?
  25. A character participates in the Christmas Bird Count.
  26. Write about a small animal and some empty boxes.
  27. A second set of eyes.
  28. Write about getting a date for a New Years Eve party.
  29. Get today’s Sunday brunch prompts at Twitter.
  30. On the 6th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:
  31. A book that contains a secret.

A Pen in Each Hand: 2013 Recap

We know you love our calendar of daily writing prompts, but did you know every month we publish a new writing exercise to accompany each Absolute Blank article? Check out this year’s exercises below—or peruse the archives for more writing inspiration.

  1. Play Writer’s Excuse Bingo
  2. Ready, Set, Write an Article!
  3. A Story Only You Can Tell
  4. Writers Group Drama!
  5. For Kids: Make a Book, Tell a Story!
  6. The Honest Feedback Challenge
  7. Time Management for Writers
  8. Break the Rules
  9. Transferable Skills
  10. Opening Lines
  11. How Alien is that Alien Culture?
  12. Quandaries and Insights

Quandaries and Insights

A Pen In Each Hand

By harpspeed

Toasted Cheese
Candle-Ends Forum
December 2013

Dear Writers,

     Below is a list of films in a variety of genres—biography, comedy, drama, mystery, thriller, horror, etc.—that are about writers or about writing in general where a writer is the star. Curious. It seems that writers are a favorite protagonist in books and films. Why is this? We do have a natural curiosity that may lend itself to the darker genres such as crime dramas, mystery, thrillers, and horror like in the book and film version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, where we see the rise of the “curious” female detective—and the typewriter, as well!

     Still, curiosity isn’t always a good thing. It often “kills the cat” and sometimes tries to knock off the all-too-curious writer, too. Such is the case in the book and film version of Stephen King’s Misery, a psychological horror story about a romance writer and his dead darling. It’s a story that one might also consider a cautionary tale to writers about how the stories we write belong to our readers, too.

     Writers, indeed, do have a different way of looking out at the world. We have a special lens that is unique to us. Perhaps that is another reason for our protagonist popularity. Writers possess that acute sense of humor and wit that also transfers quite nicely into drama and comedy alike—as in a certain Will Farrell movie on my list.

     Do you have a favorite film about the writing life? If so, think about using it as inspiration for a future Absolute Blank article. Your own quandaries and insights can come to light from the big screen.

     Do you know of any films that didn’t make my list? Visit the Candle-Ends forum and tell us your film recommendations on the subject of writing. Do let us know if a book inspired the film. Some of the best stories were read before they were scenes. (Pun intended!)

     In the meantime, if you find yourself home sick or stuck indoors on a rainy day, park yourself in your favorite chair, with your favorite mug, a bowl of comfort, and the remote, and start streaming… then be sure to tell us about it.

Kindest Regards,
Harpspeed

Harpspeed’s Favorite Writerly Films
In No Particular Order :

  • Finding Forrester (2000)
  • Capote (2005)
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
  • The Hours (2002)
  • Adaptation (2002)
  • Wonder Boys (2000)
  • Misery (1990)
  • Deconstructing Harry (1997)
  • Almost Famous (2000)
  • The Ghost Writer (2010)
  • Finding Neverland (2004)
  • Freedom Writers (2007)
  • Miss Potter (2006)
  • Factotum (2005)
  • Becoming Jane (2007)
  • Julie and Julia (2009)
  • Secret Window (2004)
  • Ruby Sparks (2012)
  • The Words (2012)
  • Being Flynn (2012)
  • The Man from Elysian Fields (2001)
  • Stranger than Fiction (2006)
  • Inkheart (2008)