What I Learned About Finding Story Ideas from Julie Duffy

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Writing

Julie Duffy is a writer and the host of StoryADay May, an annual creativity challenge for short story writers. Julie has also published two books for writers, BECOMING A BETTER WRITER, and BREAKING THROUGH WRITER’S BLOCK. Julie Duffy will be talking about the creative process at Lit Loft. Follow her twitter (@storyadaymay) or find StoryADay on Facebook .

As the name suggests, StoryADay is a creative writing challenge where the goal is to write a short story–start to finish–every day for the month of May. Julie Duffy founded this challenge in 2010, around the same time that DIY MFA was starting out, and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her project build momentum from the very beginning. I participated in StoryADay in its first year, which happened to coincide with my MFA thesis deadline, so not surprisingly I failed miserably at StoryADay.

Julie did a great interview at DIY MFA last May and at one point I told Julie “you do realize that writing thirty-one unique short stories for a month is HARD. Like almost crazy hard.” But Julie answer to this challenge is surprisingly simple: creativity leads to more creativity. I couldn’t agree more.

This is why, when looking for someone to talk about creativity at Lit Loft, I knew it had to be Julie. She’s great at motivating StoryADay participants, giving them prompts to jumpstart the creative process when they become stuck. She also provides free story starters on her webpage every week, and she’s working on a new project that will help writers at home bolster their creativity and pursue their craft.

With many writers struggling to find new ideas, finding new ideas for thirty-one days in a row isn’t just admirable, it’s practically miraculous. Julie’s certainly an expert in fighting every writer’s most dreaded nemesis: Writer’s Block. We all fear that one day the creativity well will run dry, but Julie knows how to keep the fountain of ideas flowing. How? By gathering three “Story Sparks” every day.

What are Story Sparks?

They’re triggers for the imagination. Story sparks aren’t fleshed out ideas or outlines, they’re the first sparks that eventually turn into an all-out blaze. Here are some examples Julie shared with us.

  • The woman you saw at the coffee shop with the expensive scarf and broken-down shoes. Maybe you’ll write a story where she’s the main character, one day. Maybe she’ll just be a walk-on, but catch her on paper.
  • That stray thought you had while your boss was talking to you. Maybe it’ll spark a whole story. Maybe you’ll just have a character do the same thing in a story sparked by something else.
  • A reminder about the ramshackle house you pass every day but hardly ever notice. One day soon, you’re going to need a setting. This Story Spark will remind you about a thing you see every day but might not think about otherwise.

Clearly inspiration can come from anywhere, and when you’re writing thirty-one short stories a month, inspiration is crucial. Julie recommends catching three story sparks a day, to get yourself into the habit of noticing things like a writer, and finding stories everywhere.

Though many writers find writing short stories particularly challenging, Julie thrives on the exhilaration of writing about so many new things. One of her favorite things about writing is the moment when you realize where a story is going and can race downhill all the way to the end.

So, how does she find time to write so many stories?

“You don’t find time for writing. You make time for writing. Create a habit of carving out time every day for your writing life”–Julie Duffy

Once I asked Julie if she could be a literary figure, who would it be. She named Anne from Anne of Green Gables. Not surprising, given that Anne is idealistic, courageous, and when she failed she’d get right back up. These are certainly traits needed by any writer, but especially from one who writes a short story every day for thirty-one days.

I’m delighted that Julie will be speaking at Lit Loft 2013, sharing her insights about the creative process.

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Julie Duffy will be discussing creativity at LitLoft 2013
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