Writing inspiration: 52 dates for writers


Writing inspiration: 52 dates for writers

52 Dates for Writers: Book Review

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I have been reading Claire Wingfield‘s 52 Dates for Writers on The Pigeonhole. I promised a review so here it is.

Below is my review as it appears on Goodreads:

52 dates for writers will give you fresh ideas to help a novel or short story in need of inspiration. Each date is designed to get you out of the house to hone your observational skills or give you a new perspective on some aspect of your story. Once you return from your date then there are suggestions of ways to incorporate new ideas into you book. Some dates might help you write a new scene, or encourage you to rewrite your story from different perspectives to help you get to know both your story and your characters.

The genius of this apparently simple book is that it gives you the perfect excuse to leave your desk and have some fun, whilst still feeling like you’re being productive and working on your book. And of course, the chance to more closely observe the real world can only be beneficial to making the fictional world of the story you are writing come to life.

The book also contains some useful tips for editing and maintaining a writing habit.

Of course, not every idea will be useful for whatever you are working on, but there are so many great ideas that you can keep coming back whenever you’re feeling stuck on how to proceed in your writing.

And one final point, although most of the writing exercises are aimed at someone with a manuscript in progress and at fiction writers, you could just as much easily use the dates to spark a new project or to work on a non-fiction piece.

My experiences with the dates

I already wrote about the Graveyard visit, that didn’t quite work out as hoped. The second date I tried out and from which I did manage to generate some writing from, was #34 to visit my favourite coffee shop. It may actually say cafe, but it’s all the same.

In truth, I don’t have a favourite coffee shop, or cafe, but I do spend an inexcusable amount of time (and money) in Starbucks. I was once kicked out of a Japanese chain coffee shop (Dotour) for staying for more than an hour. So now I stick with SB because no one cares if you stay there all day. If you order coffee the receipt allows you to order the same drink again for just ¥100. Which is their subtle way of saying don’t stay forever without ordering a second drink. But no one is checking.

So, the book is arranged into dates designed to help you to focus on the various areas of craft  in your novel. This particular date was about mastering Point of View. The task was to write a description of the coffee shop before you go and then add to it once you get there. It is then suggested that you rewrite the description from the POV of two different characters from your novel or short story.

When I tried to remember what it looked like and other details before I left home, I couldn’t remember all that much. Just the arrangement of the tables and the general layout. Details like the colour of the floor or the paintings on the wall were impossible to recall.

And when I wrote from the characters’ POV I found the actual description wasn’t that important. I was interested in how the characters reacted to the surroundings, and why they were there. Perhaps people go to Starbucks to escape the everyday world and to read or study uninterrupted. Most are not paying attention to what the place looks like.

I’m not actually working on a novel (yet) so I ended up creating new characters for the task. I did try to write about the character from a short story I’m working on. But it didn’t happen. I found myself channeling my EFL teaching days instead. Starbucks in Japan is somewhere a lot of foreigners hang out, even those who would not do so in their home country. So rather than sticking closely to the brief as described in the book, I let my imagination have free reign.

And, although the dates have specific suggestions about what to do and which area of your manuscript to focus on, there’s no reason not to just allow inspiration to take you where it will. No one’s checking after all. So even though at first I felt like the dates weren’t relevant for me as I didn’t have a novel I am working on, that really wasn’t the case at all.

(I totally forgot to take a photo on my writer’s date, so I’m using a stock image from pixabay.)

The next step?

All of which has got me thinking about writing a longer piece than I have done so far. A.k.a., a novel, but I’m trying not to say that word out loud, in case it gets scared and runs away. NaNoWriMo is rapidly approaching. And I keep running into articles with tips about how to prepare. Like this one.

Last November I’d just started writing again. I gave it a shot and wrote some garbage about all the things that were bothering me as a new mum. I haven’t read it back, but I’m sure it was one big rant. I think I managed about 5000 words. I had no clear plan of what I wanted to achieve.

But this year I have made massive progress on developing a regular writing habit. I actually have one! And a hiatus over the summer notwithstanding, I have been consistently blogging for almost a year now.

So I’m wondering if I start planning now, is NaNoWriMo a realistic aim for me? Or is this one of those “wait until the kid is in pre-school” things?

Is anyone else doing it this year?

If you’ve done it in the past, do you have any tips to make it a successful experience?


Writing Bubble


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  • I really like the sound of this book. Sometimes it’s good to take a step away from an manuscript you’re working on and do some exercises involving the characters. And what better excuse to go to your local coffee shop! I haven’t done coffee shop writing at all this year, but it was a regular thing up until then. I will definitely doing Nano and I meet up with a group every Monday and Friday morning at my local Cafe Nero. I haven’t started planning yet, but I know roughly what I want to do.

    • I find I get distracted a little too easily at a coffee shop. My desk at home is set up for minimal distractions, and I definitely do more work there.
      I’m off to check out if there are any local NaNo meetups. Might be a good way to meet some new people, but they may not be that accommodating to my lively toddler.

      • We have a nano group that has included a baby, so you never know!

  • I love the sound of this book, adding it to my wish-list 🙂 I only ever write short fiction, but I’d love some inspiration to get me going again after my summer break! I’m not doing Nano, and never have done, the ‘novel’ word scares me too… Good luck if you decide to take the plunge x

    • I’m going to start planning and working on plot and characters and see how I feel come November. Novel is a big scary word. Short fiction is much more manageable and I’m considering given flash fiction a try which would be even fewer words!

  • You’ve piqued my interest, I’m going to take a look at this book -52 dates for writers next time I’m in Waterstones. I often write notes in coffee shops towards my writing but I’ve never taken my iPad to my favourite coffee shop and sat down to write and the idea is really appealing! Thanks for sharing. #Whatimwriting

    • I believe the book is kindle only and is only 4 quid. I wonder how many people in Devon write in the local coffee shop? I can’t imagine doing it back home in Hampshire, but it Japan it feels totally natural. But I definitely recommend it. You get company (kind of) and it’s always good to get out of the house sometimes.

  • maddy@writingbubble

    This book sounds great! I think it’s easy to get stuck in a rut when you’re working from home so the idea of going out to different places and doing different creative exercises while you’re there is a good one.I’ve not done Nano but I’ve done the Camp version a couple of times (where you set your own word limit). I do think it helps to keep you focussed on your goal. I loved entering in my daily word count and seeing the graph go upwards – it’s the little things!Give it a go, you’ve got nothing to lose! Thanks for linking to #WhatImWriting

  • Yes, I think I looked into the Camp version earlier this year but it wasn’t the right timing for me to work on anything new. I think I need something that will just help me get words on a page, where the goal is just the numbers and I don’t have to worry about the content. My perfectionism always gets in the way of just writing as much as possible.

  • This book sounds great, I love the idea of writers dates, but without a push, like ‘the artists way’ (and even then it didn’t happen much), they can be rather elusive. But when I did manage them, they provided a great resource for writing. The other thing I have found useful is to think about something or somewhere in an almost meditative way and try to get into the memory that I have of it and flesh it out. That has turned up some writing opportunities. I know what you mean about mentioning the ‘novel’ word…nanowrimo is not for me at this stage with my writing – even with the littlest in nursery my time doesn’t seem to extend! Good luck if you give it a go. Xx

    • I signed up, but I’m still uncommitted to the idea. I know I need something to help me write more quickly. I agonize over each word and take forever to get to a thousand. But I don’t want to set myself up for something I can’t realistically complete.
      Thanks for your comment.

  • I downloaded a copy of this book when you wrote about it before – I haven’t actually got round to dipping into it yet though, I really must! I haven’t yet attempted NaNo – and to be honest I think I’d be hard pressed to find the time to write 50,000 words in one month (at least 50,000 words I liked anyway!). I actually set out to do it back when I was on maternity leave and waiting for Arthur to arrive. I had a rough plan for my first novel, and thought that would be enough to write it. As it happened too much of my time was sucked away with desperately trying to get the builders out of the house before the baby came (a whole other story) and my brain just wasn’t up to it. But what I did achieve was a detailed plan, with character studies and a chapter by chapter breakdown of the plot – which meant that a few months later when I was out of the worst of the newborn baby haze I was able to sit and write a first draft. I managed about 600 words a day I think but by the following Easter I did actually have a novel… And whilst I didn’t actually ‘win’ at NaNo I wouldn’t have written my novel without it! xx

    • I’ve started working on a plan for my novel over the weekend. I am still not sure about 50,000 words though. I do think getting out 50,000 words of total crap much actually help me get closer to where I need to be, though.

      I am planning my novel but, I am not a planner. Even with short stories, I have an idea of where something is going and make rough notes, but it’s only when I write that I actually know where the story will go. I end up ignoring my initial plan and having to rewrite bits because I’ve changed important details half way through.So I don’t know it planning will help or turn out to be a waste of time. I signed up to an email “novel plotting course” for free though, so I’m just going to work through that anyway.

      The only time I have stuck to a plan was for my MA thesis (in Applied Linguistics) but an academic research paper doesn’t have much room for deviation. But it did help me write it more smoothly.

      I suspect 500-1000 words a day is the most I can realistically manage. So perhaps if I set myself a goal of 25,000 then anything I manage over that will be a bonus.

      Can you tell I’m trying to talk myself into this?

      Oh and I hate the idea of “winning” at NaNo. You don’t win anything! Or lose if you don’t get to 50,000. We’re not kids, it feels a bit patronising to me!

  • This book is on my wish list… not only for my writing habits but also to get some me-time into the mix too. personally, nano is not achievable at the moment but I intend to give it a bash one day. #WhatImWriting

    • Definitely recommend the book. Helped me to look at the writing process from a different perspective and get some fresh ideas.