Creative Practice & Short Story Essentials Writing Workshop

alisons writers course posterAs a psychology and communications graduate and over the course of several years writing this blog I’ve developed a great interest in the techniques and psychology of motivation and creativity. As a mother of four I have personal experience of juggling a busy life with creative endeavour. I’ve had many stories published in literary journals and anthologies in Ireland (Crannóg, The Stinging Fly, New Planet Cabaret etc) and abroad (Two National Flash Fiction anthologies in UK, Deck the Halls and Eighty Nine in Australia, Literary Orphans in Chicago, and online Metazen, The View From Here etc). I’ve also been nominated for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Prize, Bridport and Fish prizes and many more shortlists. ) I’m running a morning course on June 8th in Bray, Co Wicklow to encourage and support new and newish writers on their creative practice and develop the basic techniques to write great short stories.

I’d be very grateful if you could share the details of the course with anyone you think who might enjoy it. I want the focus to be enthusiasm and developing abilities.

Creative Practice and Short Story Essentials Workshop June 8th

St Peter’s Hall, Bray, Co. Wicklow (Dublin Road, coming into Bray, turn right at the Coach Inn.)

Date, Duration, Price

June 8th 10am -1pm, 30euro

Course outline

Creativity: Tips on finding the space, time and energy to write: Aims & deadlines, motivation, writing places, marking progress and calling yourself a writer, gathering material and down time. Idea generation.
Short story essentials: Very short stories/flash fiction, longer short stories, plot, character, journey, showing, telling and dialogue. You will get a good idea of what makes a good short story, how to begin and develop a story, the importance of character, revision etc.
Practical writing exercises

You will also receive handouts on creative exercises and short story resources.



To book or for more info: Email or


(In conjunction with Down at the Gate Craft and Creativity Classes or see Head Above Water on Facebook)


31 days: Why flash fiction can change your life

This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here.

To receive all the 31 posts, sign up for email notification on the sidebar. On twitter it’s at @31HAW or @alisonwells. Hashtag  #31haw and #headabovewater.

Getting Through

What I’m trying to achieve with this series of 31 posts is to find ways for us just to get through our busy and sometimes daily lives and keep motivated and sane. For me, very short fiction – flash fiction – has allowed me to feel productive and to be productive when family circumstances have not given me the time or headspace to work on longer pieces of work and it’s been successful, as you’ll see from the post.

In the spirit of working smart this post is a slight modification of a previously published post. At the end I include an exercise/challenge to get you writing and see what can be achieved. Have a go at the prompt and add your entry to the comments tomorrow and be in with a chance for a giveaway of some books: 52FF by Marc Nash, Kettle of Fish by Ali Bacon and Clodagh Murphy’s Frisky Business.

Short bursts of work

Being a mother of four young children and lacking daily headspace, flash fiction for me has been an ideal format for exploring ideas and producing a substantial body of work in short bursts. Flash fiction can be anything from a few words up to about a thousand words when technically at that point it might be called a short short. A famous example of a six word story is Earnest Hemingway’s ‘For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn’ or there’s my own creation Wedding Dress on hanger. Fast car.

A year ago I ran a competition on my blog to write a story in just forty words. The entries were incredible.  I’ve also seen brilliant stories in the 140 characters allowed on twitter.

One of the most significant influences on my writing development over the past eighteen months has been my discovery of the Fridayflash on Twitter. A group of individuals write a piece of flash fiction up to 1000 words long, post it on their blogs, publicize the link to the work on Twitter and log it on a central website. People peer review as many of each others flash fiction stories as possible. While this review is often at a high level it’s very encouraging when you know that a particular piece has worked or that people ‘got it’. You do get a sense of which are your strongest pieces.

While you are not bound to produce a flash piece every week, the discipline of doing so, of sitting down on even on a Wednesday and Thursday and saying ‘what now?’ is very productive. I often just choose a sentence that I have jotted down in a notebook as the core of the idea or begin writing the first phrase that comes into my head and adding to it by free association.

The beauty of flash fiction is that you can let yourself go with any idea and take it as far as your imagination allows. What appears is often quirky and original. What I also love about flash fiction (and short stories too) is the way I can take an interesting news, science, nature, history or anecdotal item and explore my fascination within the story. The world is a wonderous place and it’s wonders deserve to be told. For me wordplay is very important, juxtaposing words that sound alike or using the same or similar words to create a theme as I did in a story that in tongue-in-cheek manner name Flash. I used the word ‘flash’ to conjur up the ideas of lightning, the aurora, epilepsy, a father fixing the flashing on his house, the idea of time going too fast for two teenagers that were parting.

A body of work

My forays into flash through the discipline of FridayFlash have been invaluable. Without it, I never would have produced the body of work that I have, many of the stories would never have been written. One of the pieces that I wrote off the cuff for my weekly flash fiction peer review was accepted by the well respected literary magazine Crannog. Many of the flash pieces seem to have a special quality to them, they give rise to interesting and unique characters who sometimes beg for another appearance, so much so that I decided to write and have just completed a book of interlinking flash called Flashes of Sadness and Light, interrelated stories of different characters, and scenes that crossover between stories. We catch glimpses of the teenagers Emily and Eddie from Flash much later in life in different circumstances in Sideways. The story about the boy Barry in Close Encounters with Goldfish explains why the adult Barry in Origami Flamingos behaves the way he does.

An art and a discipline

The beauty of the inherent word limits in flash is that its a fantastic training ground for editing down to the very essence of a story, to make every word work and work hard, maybe even double time. Words can do their work twice. If you put a knife on the kitchen table it describes a scene and possibly the fraught relationship of the protagonists. Ever verb must just say what it has to say, so someone strides instead of walks, or slams instead of closes.

One of my favourite short story collections is Tania Hershman’s The White Road and other stories. What I find enthralling about her work in particular is her ability to draw a character so vividly in sometimes extremely short pieces. Indeed flash fiction often is character as story, your description of a person hints at the nature of their current position and relationships and their possible future.

In terms of audience flash fiction is popular and becoming more so, it is easily and quickly consumed and shared. There are many sites where you can post, submit or read flash fiction, FictionautMetazen and Smokelong Quarterly being just three.

Achieveable deadlines

Whether or not you do it with the challenge of a weekly deadline such as in the FridayFlash system or whether you just set yourself a challenge of writing a flash of 40, 250, 500 or 1000 words it is an exercise well worth doing. If you don’t have much time, it may be a good thing, just go for it, get the words on the page, be playful and experimental and you may be surprised at the results. If you haven’t already realised, I’m a little bit, or maybe a lot in love with flash fiction and I know you won’t regret it if you give it a try.

Creative Exercise and Competition

One of the most optimistic and energetic things you can do is create something spontaneously. So here’s my challenge to you.

I’ve just opened the lovely book I’m reading (The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey) and taken a line “The woods were silent, not even the twitter of a bird”.

What I want you to do is write a short fiction of either 31 or 131 words using the idea this generates in you, but not including those words. You can be as left field as you like, the more innovative the better. Jot down your responses and post in TOMORROWS competition entry post. Please share this post and the competition with your pals.

31 Days: How walking & running make you creative

This series of articles running through January will explore ways of keeping our head above water in physical, mental, emotional and creative areas. There will be creative challenges, competitions and giveaways. For the full background see here.

Walking & Running

New Years Day is a traditional day for getting out and shaking off the inertia of the Christmas season. So on our first day of exploring 31 ways to keep your head above water I’m going to talk about walking and running.

Of course many of us start out in the new year with good intentions to walk more or take up an activity like running. We know we need that regular exercise to be healthier and to guard against some hereditary illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. We know that exercise produces serotonin and helps us feel happier and sleep better.

Exercise and Creativity

Exercise can directly affect creativity. According to this Newsweek article

‘Almost every dimension of cognition improves from 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, and creativity is no exception. The type of exercise doesn’t matter, and the boost lasts for at least two hours afterward.’

The article does go on to stipulate though that you need to be physically fit to get the benefit of this energy boost, if you are out of shape then exercising will make you tired.

Well known author Haruki Murakami is also known for being a serious runner. He has completed a 64 mile ultramarathon. While this article reviewing his book What I talk about when I talk about running says that he is contradictory when talking about the relationship between running and his creativity and ideas, he admits to transferring ideas while running into this novels. For Murakami running might be something that adds to the stamina of this prolific author.

I spoke to writer friend Tamsin (@dandeliongirl) on twitter who runs regularly and asked her how running feeds into her creativity.

‘I often think of ideas while I’m running. It’s very good if I have a tangled plot line. I have time to totally focus on it. No distractions.  I run through woods and cross country so I’ll distract myself with thinking of ways to describe what I see. Try and work out how to capture it. Those are my small stones.’

Tamsin describes here how the process of running can clear the mind and help her work out problem areas in her writing such as plot tangles. Attending a talk by writer John Boyne, he explained how the entire plot for his recent novel The Absolutist was elucidated during an hours walk. Tamsin told me that running was a stress relief and gave her greater energy for life and writing.

Flow and inspiration

My own experience is with walking rather than running but I have consistently found that I come up with plot ideas, characters, titles and snippets of text while even on a short walk. (I take my phone with me, which has a notebook for jotting down ideas!) Activities like walking, sports, crafts etc can lead to an experience of flow: complete energetic immersion in a task, an effortless attention that has been shown to correlate highly with scientific and artistic creativity and helps with incubation (the process where disparate ideas come together to form a new leap or idea with a particular project.)

Recently I read this wonderful riff from Karen Rivers on how walking and writing might be intertwined. She says she’d call it nanowalkmo! I hope it will inspire you.

Persistence and habit

Writing is often a slog. We find it hard to start, it’s not all we want to do. Like regular walking or running we need to make it a habit, to build it into a regime that we can build on over time. We may have a ‘bad run’ but similarly we’ll reap later benefits from that initial effort. Like my marathon running relation, we may sometimes hit a wall but need to find ways to fight through it. Being physically fit will also help us keep up our stamina to complete longer projects.

My walk today

Earlier I went on what I hope will be a daily walk. This one was with my mother who is visiting for Christmas. We headed for the seafront in Bray (I’m lucky enough to live by the sea) and discovered that the New Years Day swim was on. Many hardy folk were taking a swim in the chilly sea for charity, a great example of people doing something different, challenging and of which they could be proud. (Sounds like writing a novel, that leap of faith into a chilly sea!) Later on the walk we found an art exhibition of beautiful Van Gogh like paintings of the local area. So today’s walk was one of new experiences rather than ideas, but, as all writers know, experiences are often stored up and show up later in stories.

Walking, Running and You

  • Can you share with us how walking, running or other sports has contributed to your writing?
  • Do you get ideas while you exercise or do you phase out completely?
  • Does it give you more energy?
  • Are you making plans for exercising more?
  • And for those that do exercise regularly, how did you get yourself in the regular habit of running or walking and how do you keep motivated day after day? (I really want to know this!)

If you want to make sure to receive all the 31 ways to keep your Head above Water posts, sign up for email notification on the sidebar. I’ve also set up a twitter account specially for this. It’s @31HAW (the more obvious handles were taken!) Otherwise I’m at @alisonwells. I’ll also hashtag on twitter mainly under #31haw and #headabovewater.

31 Ways to Keep your Head above Water

CillrialaigdawnGOOD INTENTIONS

Jan 1st 2013. We get out of bed and we want to do things better this year even though we might just slide back into the old ways, we’re starting with resolve and a heightened optimism. As we stare out the window and think, yes, i should get out there we know that we need to galvanise that wish into something more focussed. Our minds are wimps really, they need goals and encouragement and a kick up the…

As I writer I’m well aware of the swings between enthusiasm and doubt, as a parent of young children, one of whom has aspergers, I know about trying, about joys, failures, frustrations, exhaustion, delight, about getting up from setbacks over and over and keeping going. Across the world the recession has hit families badly and here in Ireland a harsh budget will bring massive trials and difficulties to already stretched people.

When I started this blog Head above Water meant mainly being able to juggle the demands of at that time, a very young family while finding headspace to write. Now I want to broaden that to incorporate the range of demands people find themselves under.

Note: As this series goes on I’ll add the 31 links to this post so you can access all other posts from here, so you’ll get the full 31 by the end of January.

Day 1: How writing & running help you get creative  Day 2: Finding the space & time to create

Day 3: Why flash fiction can change your life Day 4: Flash fiction creative writing challenge

Day 5: Incubation and how to find your novel’s Eureka moment Day 6: Inspiration and Daily Practice

Day 7: Writing Goals: How to achieve them and what if you can’t

Day 7a: Creative Flash Fiction Comp Winners Day 8: Celebrating the creativity of David Bowie

Day 9: Stop or HALT, have a day off and Smile! Day 10 Guest Post: Photography – taking up a new creative pursuit

Day 11: Photo Write Prompt Comp Day 12: Finding Wordfire

Day 13: Saying Thank You Day 14: Sad Thinking and How to turn it round

Day 15: Say what you want to be Day 16: Thinking about others

Day 17: Guest Post: Derek Flynn: When is a poem not a poem

Day 18: Five Fives for Inspiring the Mind  Day 18a: Photo Write Prompt Results

Day 19: I’m not here  Day 20: Questions of Flow in Writing

Day 21: Fiona Melrose: Poetry performed alchemy on my prose

Day 22: Reasons to Live, Reasons To Love, Reasons to Write

Day 23: What’s important to you Day 24: Using your writing creatively for financial resiliance

Day 25: Bowie WritePrompt & Gerry O’ Donnell Story  Day 26: The benefits of laughter

Day 27: Claire King: How do you keep the joy in writing?

Day 28: Take Heart

Day 29: Guest Post Eliza Green: Why Self-Publishing can be good for Debut Authors

Day 30: The Benefits of Creative Pursuits: Feltmaking and more

Day 31: When writing is at the heart of us we will not let it go


The dictionary definition of keeping head above water says:

1. Lit. to keep from drowning when swimming or floating. I was so tired I could hardly keep my head above water.
2. . Fig. to manage to survive, especially financially. We have so little money that we can hardly keep our heads above water. It’s hard to keep your head above water on this much money.
3. Fig. to keep up with one’s work. It’s all I can do to keep my head above water with the work I have. I can’t take on any more. We have so many orders that we can hardly keep our heads above water.
These definitions cover the physical, financial and organizational challenges we face. But there are also emotional and creative aspects.
So what I want to do in these 31 days of January is to explore ways of keeping our heads above water in all the areas above. I want to talk about keeping ourselves mentally and physically able, to enhance our creativity and to deal with financial issues as well. These are all things that have been covered here to some extent but this will be a more focussed and practical approach, using real examples and including fun activities and challenges. Alternatively we can have a long nap till February comes.
There’ll be an at least weekly creative challenge, some of these will be competitions for prizes. We’ll also have various other fun challenges and exercises. Every post will be interactive and allow people to share their experiences good, bad or indifferent of what we’ve been doing.
I’m not a guru. I don’t have all the answers. I want to know what works for you, what you’ve tried and if we suggest something new here I want you to tell me if it worked or if it didn’t and if the idea sucked. I am also very open to suggestions as to areas to explore. My background is psychology and communications so while I might lean in those directions I’d be glad to be drawn to other ways of looking at things.
For anyone who has done the Nanowrimo writing challenge (or any other) or Weightwatchers or anything of that ilk, what really gets us going is the camaraderie, the sense of charting our progress alongside others, comparing our ups and downs, so I’m hoping to get a good sense of community here. If you like what’s happening, share with friends and always comment and reply to what others are sharing.
If you want to make sure to receive all the 31 ways to keep your Head above Water posts, sign up for email notification on the sidebar. This is my general blog notification but if you get fed up of me after 31 days you can unsubscribe! I’ve also set up a twitter account specially for this. It’s @31HAW (the more obvious handles were taken!) Otherwise I’m at @alisonwells. I’ll also hashtag on twitter mainly under #31haw and #headabovewater. I’m on facebook as Alison Wells but if we move to anything specific will let you know!
Posts will commence later today with a walking/running post. So my first challenge to you is to go for a vigourous walk today and come back later and answer some questions about how it worked for you creatively and energetically. We’ll also see how walking goals work & if there’s any point!