Tag Archives: fiction

I’ve got the NaNoWriMo Blues…again

I probably have my priorities screwed up in this month of no shaving and writing novels and thanking veterans and giving thanks…

Because here I am again…two weeks into NaNoWriMo, completely behind the word count goals, and pining for the freedom to spend all day writing.  But, given the chance, I am still not going to steal away and write to hit a word count mark.  I end up singing the blues for the “woe is me” situation of my writing practice, because…

See, I’m what they call a “long-hander.”pen and paper

I write on paper.  Preferably with pencils, but also with pens when there is no sharpener readily handy.  I write fiction this way, because I write crap when I don’t.  There is something too easy about typing directly onto a screen.  Stream of consciousness exercises are better with a keyboard, true, just for speed, but I have a direction and characters and a world I am crafting, and to do that I, personally, need to get my hands into it.  I feel a stronger connection with my story when I am scratching it out by hand than when I am typing.  I must have some better hand/mind connection when I write this way, because I feel like what gets crafted directly into a computer is kind of…soulless*.  And forcing the soul in there after the fact is ever so much difficult for me.  Surely a creator must start with a soul, right?

*Disclaimer:  I am not saying that all people who write on computers are writing soulless stories…this only applies to me, as far as I know.  Maybe you can relate, though. Maybe?

My first draft of anything is almost always on paper first.  Transcribing my handwriting into the computer is the second draft.  And I am usually happy to share this version with my writing friends, because it has the soul of the first draft and the roundness of the second draft.  It’s my method and it works for me.  It does not work so well for NaNoWriMo, though.  Instead of trying to long-hand write 1,667 words a day, this year, I am trying to transcribe 1,667 words a day–not really true to the spirit of the challenge, but hey, it works for me.  I’ve done a pretty sizable chunk of writing over the summer–everyone in my “Sit Down, Shut Up, and Write” group sort of rolls their eyes at me and my wonky composition notebooks and collection of pencils (I need about 3 sharpened pencils to get through an hour of writing). So what if I’m retro? Does it make me a hipster to write this way?  I don’t really care what other people think of my process.  I have lived long enough trying to do this magical alchemy called to writing to know what method works best for me.

Today’s writing challenge, then, is one focused on YOUR method and finding it.writing at computer

First, pull out some paper and your favorite writing utensil and do some of your work on paper for at least 15 minutes.  Try a stream of consciousness exercise and see where it takes you.  If you are NaNoWriMo-ing, work on your next scene.  For those of you who have terrible penmanship, maybe use this time to block out the next chapter.  Consider the actions your character could take and draw a map.  The point is to just get your hands into “crafting” a piece of work rather than just keyboarding.

Second, find your favorite computer, open a freshly blank file, and try a 15 minute stream of consciousness exercise again.  You may want to pick up where you left off on the last exercise, or start anew.  If you really like what you just wrote, and want to use it, spend about 10 minutes transcribing it.  Spend the next 5 minutes adding more details.

When you are done, consider the two works you produced.  Which method *felt* better?  Which method produced better writing?  Did you like meshing the two methods into a unified piece of work?  Or did you just find paper to be a nuisance?  Did the computer “disrupt” your paper-method thinking?  Did you think about anything in a different way when you were “disconnected” from an electronic device.  Did your writing seem richer in one method or the other?

I know some (most?) of you will eschew the low-techness of longhand writing, but it’s a very green method that requires no electricity, it’s cheap, portable, and incorruptible by viruses or power outages.  On the other hand, you do have to use trees to get paper and pencils, you’ll need to find a computer someday, anyway, to produce the document for professional submissions, and you must be able to read what you wrote.  Try to stay green by using recycled products, or writing on any “left over” paper you can find.  I have a purse full of scribbled-on bill envelopes.

Use this exercise to jump start you on a writing day, or save it for later when you aren’t trying to hit a word count.  Hopefully it helps you figure out your best creativity style and aids you in your next story.

Good luck!

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Making it a Practice

Ever since I left grad school, writing fiction (my favorite kind of writing) has become a thing I do fleetingly–when I can spare the time–when I happen to be inspired–when I have run out of TV shows to watch.  Needless to say, all of my fumbling towards “being a writer” has been more like half-remembered dreams than like a vocation to which I am dedicated and committed.  You know.  Life gets in the way.

But life only gets in the way because I let it.  Because I don’t intentionally carve out time for the writing to happen.  Because I don’t have a set time to write.  Because I don’t have a dedicated space to write.  Because I don’t have a goal or a deadline.  Man, I am lame.

So.  If this business of being a writer is ever going to become something real, it’s time to make a change. And I will be following in the footsteps of many a writer who has had to do that same.

Of John Grisham’s routine (from a San Francisco Chronicle interview): “When he first started writing, Grisham says, he had “these little rituals that were silly and brutal but very important. The alarm clock would go off at 5, and I’d jump in the shower. My office was 5 minutes away. And I had to be at my desk, at my office, with the first cup of coffee, a legal pad and write the first word at 5:30, five days a week.”  His goal: to write a page every day. Sometimes that would take 10 minutes, sometimes an hour; ofttimes he would write for two hours before he had to turn to his job as a lawyer, which he never especially enjoyed.”

So, Mr. Grisham disliked his day job, too.

And Alice Munro:  As a young author taking care of three small children, Munro learned to write in the slivers of time she had, churning out stories during children’s nap times, in between feedings, as dinners baked in the oven. It took her nearly twenty years to put together the stories for her first collection, Dance of the Happy Shades, published in 1968 when Munro was thirty-seven. (From The Atlantic)

This gives me hope and pause, alike.  I am a step mother and wife and all of the chores outside of my “day job” really add up into something like a black hole into which all of my wherewithal disappears.  But if Alice can do it, can’t we?

When I started scheming up this plan to create a daily routine, I thought back to an interview I once read in The Paris Review about Toni Morrison’s practice (forgive the long excerpt):

Writing before dawn began as a necessity–I had small children when I first began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, Mama–and that was always around five in the morning. Many years later, after I stopped working at Random House, I just stayed at home for a couple of years. I discovered things about myself I had never thought about before. At first I didn’t know when I wanted to eat, because I had always eaten when it was lunchtime or dinnertime or breakfast time. Work and the children had driven all of my habits… I didn’t know the weekday sounds of my own house; it all made me feel a little giddy.

I was involved in writing Beloved at that time–this was in 1983–and eventually I realized that I was clearer-headed, more confident and generally more intelligent in the morning. The habit of getting up early, which I had formed when the children were young, now became my choice. I am not very bright or very witty or very inventive after the sun goes down.

Recently I was talking to a writer who described something she did whenever she moved to her writing table. I don’t remember exactly what the gesture was–there is something on her desk that she touches before she hits the computer keyboard–but we began to talk about little rituals that one goes through before beginning to write. I, at first, thought I didn’t have a ritual, but then I remembered that I always get up and make a cup of coffee and watch the light come. And she said, Well, that’s a ritual. And I realized that for me this ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space I can only call nonsecular… Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transaction. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.

I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are at their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?

I found these at Daily Routines, by the way.  It is truly fascinating to see how other people work.

So many authors seem to prefer writing in the morning or mid-day, but I guess I’ve never had a place and time in my “real” life (aka outside of being a full-time student) that I had the luxury to figure out what time of day is the best for me to “make the contact” with my craft.  I’ve always had to beg, steal, and borrow from time I’ve meant to spent doing something else.  But here I am, now vowing to find time everyday to write.  In all honesty, I am not even going to try for the morning.  I am a recovering night owl and sleep has become a friend of mine.  So often, I let work spill into a post-5pm place in my world, but I don’t really have to do that on most days.  So, this week, I am shooting for 5:30 – 6:30 PM as my writing time.  It’s a nice lull in the day when my brain is still “on” but I don’t want to think about work anymore.

I predict the hard part will be pulling myself away if I get in the groove of writing.  But how about dealing with that problem when it presents itself? And if this time ends up not working for some reason, I’ll reassess.

The challenge I’m setting for myself, then, is at LEAST one hour a day, write as much as possible during this time.  I want to have the equivalent of a chapter at the end of every seven-day period (eek!).  No backing up midweek to edit.  Just writing.  I have a plan for a space in which to write, so I’ll try it out and see how it works.  If it doesn’t work, I’ll move.  My first instinct is to just grab a pencil and loose paper and lean against a tall desk and start.  I might need music.  I might need it through headphones, even.  But I’m going to give it a shot and see how it goes.  But it WILL go.  And hopefully this will be a way into the dream.

Set your own daily practice goal and give it a try.

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I Write Like WHO Now?

Okay, writerly types…maybe you’ve already run across “I Write Like” – an analyzer app that scans through some sample of writing and tells you which famous writer you write like (based on the words you use).  But if you haven’t, it’s an interesting exercise.  Go try it.  I’ll wait.

(I’ll just go grab some coffee, brb)

So, are you happy with your results?  Surprised?  Perhaps now a little fluffed up because you write like…Edgar Allan Poe, Eudora Welty, or F. Scott Fitzgerald? Hey–good for you!  It IS pretty cool to at gain a little insight regarding what kind of vocabulary you share with some of the greats (at least in part), right?

I’ll confess.  I was surprised.  And disbelieving. I didn’t recognize the first author, nor the second, but the third was James Joyce.  All three were men.  I was thinking…why are they so different?  Why are they all men?  Maybe because I specifically try to capture the unique “voice” of each character, this may be the reason for the array of authors “I write like.”  Maybe because I analyzed stories that I’ve written across several years?  Puzzling.

So, I expanded this experiment by entering big portions of seven different stories just to see if I got the same result twice. I did not.  Here are the authors this analyzer says I write like:

Harry Harrison, Cory Doctorow, James Joyce, William Gibson, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, and Kurt Vonnegut

So.  I don’t really know what to do with this.

I want to call bullshit.  Because I was expecting Alice Munro, or Barbara Kingsolver, or I dunno…at least one woman of seven stories since I, too, am a woman, and I write about them (kindly), and in their voices.  I was wondering if this analyzer is just a misogynist that doesn’t even have females as a possible match for language.  So, of course, I did a little web research, and it seems over on HuffPo it has been reported that even Margaret Atwood writes like Stephen King and just entering the word “not” 20 times comes up with Jane Austen.  So, you *could* get Jane Austen, I guess if you are into using “not” a lot.

What does this mean?  Nothing, really–it’s just code deciphering code by some man-made algorithms. I hope it doesn’t mean that I am hopelessly impacted by the “male gaze” of this society.  Because that’s just gross and hurts my teeth.  Maybe the men above write like women?  Maybe I’m just edgy or used “mud” or “star” or “please” once too often.

But, you know…still go try the analyzer and see what happens.  See if it causes you to reconsider anything about your writing style, or maybe just your own opinion of your writing style.

Personally, I feel like the challenge has been thrown down to see if I *can* write like one of my favorites.  From Flannery to Papa, the gauntlet has been thrown down!

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Finders Keepers

I’ve been dreaming up some writing exercises and trying to suss out which one I want to post first.  And then it dawned on me…what last happened in my own life to make me pick up a pen with a sense of urgency?

It was a found object.  I literally found a ring in the gutter on one of my night-time walks around the neighborhood.  It’s engraved inside and out, and seems to have once been cherished by someone…so what was it doing in the gutter?

I put a lot of internet snooping into finding the owners of the names engraved inside the ring.  As luck would have it, the combination of these two fairly unique names resulted in a couple who no longer seem to be together.  Which is sad, of course… I found a picture of them together.  They might have been high school sweethearts.  It seems that their paths diverged at least four years ago, though.

And then I began to wonder how this ring came to be in the gutter of my neighborhood some four years after these folks parted ways.

So.  I began to write.

It seems like the perfect exercise to me.  What would you do if you found such an item?  What IS the story?  Or, bring your own found object to the exercise and use it as a jumping off place into a new story, or as a character building exercise by writing from the point of view of one of your characters…what would s/he do with a found ring? A found…key, pocketwatch, shoe, sweatshirt, pen?…It can be anything!  OR have one of your characters be the one who lost, threw away, or intentionally left behind this object of curiosity.

So many possibilities!  I might start this exercise over again to go into another story already in the works.  Hm…exciting!

Good luck!

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Church of the Palomino is FREE???

Well, yes, sort of.  IF you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, you can download my short story, Church of the Palomino, for absolutely free!

I know.  It’s hard to believe.

And you know what, if you aren’t an Amazon Prime subscriber, you can download it for only $1.29.  I mean, that’s less than a trip to Starbucks!  That’s cheaper than a Coke from the vending machine at work!  And at 28 pages (pretty hefty for a short story, right?), that’s just 4.6 cents a page!  Such a great deal.

Also, don’t be put off by the whole “Kindle” thing.  You can easily download a reader for your smart phone, tablet, or pc.

AND, if you happen to be friends with other Kindle readers you can lend the story to them for free, too.

Come on.  You know you want to.  Everybody loves a stripper!

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Into the Madness…Publishing

This publishing business is a whirl of maddening “do this” and “don’t do that” nonsense.  And part of me wants to print out a list of the “to do’s” and check them off one by one.  Everyday.  Twice a day, if I have to.

But part of me is…wanting to get on with it.  Back to writing.  Back to doing the work with the words.

I WISH that my story becomes a hit!  I wish that someone reads it and says, “Huh, that story about the stripper and the old guy wasn’t what I was expecting at all!  And it was still really entertaining!  I’m going to recommend this to my friends!”  And they do!  Hooray!  Readers!

Ahem.

So, now that the wishing is done and sent into this electronic ether along with my story, I am content to let them go.  Baby birds from the nest!  Baby turtles to the sea!

Oh, who am I kidding?  I will, without a doubt, check in on my story at least daily and send up wishes like confetti while I am taking a “stretch break” from writing the next thing.  I can *say* I don’t care about my Amazon sales rank, but that would be a pitiful lie.  Pitiful indeed.

So, I cannot promise that I will stop trying to plug my story when the irresistible urge arises, but I’m going to try.  Scout’s honor.

 

 

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Church of the Palomino

So, I wrote this short story.  Church of the Palomino.

church of the palomino cover

Here’s the brief description: 

A widower finds solace at The Palomino. Or thinks he does. The object of his worship is an exotic dancer. Circumstances draw them together one fateful night, but things don’t turn out as expected.
 

It is complete with three endings and an homage to Flannery O’Connor.

You can, as of today, buy it from Amazon for a measly $1.29!  What a great deal, right?! 

You can’t blame me for a little self-promo…I hope you read it and enjoy it.  More stories are in the works…perhaps a continuation of this story?  Stranger things have happened…

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