Tag: writing

Sticking to a Writing Project

diary-614149_1920

I should be writing the draft for my second novel.

Instead, I just finished drafting the synopsis of a short story that has been nagging me since last week. It got me thinking about writing for its own sake, as opposed to writing for the sake of a project. Obviously, a writer can’t be successful if they can’t get sh*t done, so there is something to sticking to a thing and getting it done.

But the thing with me and projects is that every step of it is planned. I have an outline (which I deviate from all the time), a word count which I try to hit or exceed each day, and a self-imposed deadline.

With short stories or things like this that hit me randomly, there is no plan. That kind of freestyle writing is fun and liberating, though most of the time, such stories will sit in my famous bin when I’m done. Sometimes they are useful when an opportunity to contribute to an anthology presents itself and I can dust them off and edit them. But mostly they are there. Five or ten hours of my life in a file somewhere.

It all goes back to the tension between productivity and creativity – I have a ton of ideas but what do I dedicate my time to? What am I trying to accomplish? There are as many ways to manage this as individuals struggling with question. I found some great ideas in this blog post, How to Decide Which Writing Project to Focus On.

Personally, I like to get the nagging project down on paper. I do a fair bit of journaling and have notebooks full of half-ideas. For example, this morning, I handwrote eight pages of my story, in synopsis form. I’ll type it up so it’s backed up in my drive. Having worked it out of my system, if it doesn’t fit in my current project, I’ll set it aside. It might come back as a project of its own later. Or it might just sit somewhere, a bit of writing practice that went nowhere.

What I didn’t do was let it cannibalize what I have in front of me. Yeah, I wrote for a couple of hours and it might look like wasted time. But I’m still on track and, after today, I probably won’t dream about the thing like I’ve been doing for the last week. It frees up some intellectual bandwidth and I’m not anxious because I haven’t wrecked my potential manuscript by going on a tangent.

The post referenced above also discusses the value of using a calendar. I print them up from Outlook and staple them into my journal.  By having projects chunked and scheduled, you give yourself less permission to veer away from your objective because, sorry, that plot bunny is not on the schedule.

A side note on journaling: bullet journals and other kinds of creative organizational systems are nice but sometimes, they become a project unto themselves. I’m not interested in getting all fancy with what is essentially a brute tool. If you’re like me and are looking more for streamlining, below are two posts with some great suggestions on using both calendars and journals to maximize productivity:

 9 Calendar Hacks to Maximize Your Productivity

How to Boost Writing Productivity with Calendars or To-Do Lists

For those of you who like to get creative and colorful, there are some great Pinterest boards dedicated to just that.

Whatever you choose, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with chasing the bright shiny object, if that’s what your creativity demands. But being able to finish a thing is a big deal. If an idea continues to persist even after a project is complete, then you know it’s a keeper.

 

 

 

 

30-Day Social Media Detox

16273980462_de5bbb92d3_o

You can download this graphic here, courtesy of Austin Kleon.

When I set out to try to become a published writer, the first advice I recieved was to get a social media presence. Be accessible on all social media outlets. So I got everything – Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest – you name it, I have it. Then I got Hootsuite at the time and I spent hours setting up posts and graphics to post on a schedule, all with the object of being seen. By whom, I don’t know, I’d barely written anything and most definitely did not have a book to promote.

But I felt like I was doing something. I was creating an author’s platform. Woo-hoo for me!

Now, the conventional wisdom seems to have swung away from the author’s platform for fiction writers. Better to just write the book. And here I am with a bunch of social media outlets I don’t enjoy having.

Like, serioulsy, if I thought I had any future as an influencer, I would have gone ahead and done some influencing, or something. Instead, I wasted a butt-load of time doing things, none of which involved the actual writing I needed to do.

There’s also the whole generalized anxiety disorder thing. When I go on different platforms and see, not constructive dialogue, but trolls and rabble-rousers instigating on threads that otherwise have actual value, my anxiety shoots through the roof. Self-care demands that I not expose myself to things that are bad for me. I come from family who suffers from anxiety and would prefer to not have to treat it with a half-pill of Xanax each day the way my grandmother and aunts used to do.

So I was encouraged when I read about Roni Loren’s 30-Day Social Media Ban. First, because bans are definitely a thing and second, I wasn’t the only creative feeling ambivalent about the pressure of being on social media instead of doing what we (well they) do best, which is create cool stuff. If you have a chance, scroll to the end of the post and check out all of the great things Loren accomplished by not being on social media.

For the month of June, I’m going to go on a 30-Day Social Media detox. I will allow myself two exceptions – lending my promotional efforts towards a short story collection designed to raise money for cancer research, a collection that features my novelette, Mar y Sol; and this blog. If things go the way I hope, I should be super-productive. I want to draft my manuscript for the second installment of my novel series (I queried the series and submitted a manuscript – might as well keep on working while I wait). To do that, I need focus and time. I’m out of school for the summer and these two months tend to be precious in terms of carving out time for my own pursuits. This is especially true if we don’t take our annual month-long holiday to see the relatives. I’d like to make the most of these days.

We’ll have to see how I adapt to not having the dopamine high of checking my phone 80 times a day. Since keeping up a blog is another one of the habits I’d like to develop, I’ll post my progress here.

So if you guys see me out on social media doing anything other than promoting my novelette after June 1st, shout at me. I’m all about extrinsic motivation.

Other resources:

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life

Read a Book Instead (blog post by Austin Kleon)

9 Positive Benefits of Social Media Detox

 

 

 

 

Don’t throw it in the plastic bin

pen-282604_1920

I haven’t posted lately. The nice thing about being relatively unknown is there is no actual pressure to produce content because no one is waiting for you to post. Each blog post is a shout in the void and, for an anxious person like me, that works out just fine.

With that established, I’ll tell you (my nonexistent audience) what I have been up to.

I kinda-sorta finished editing my first novel. And it’s…well, it’s not what all that I want it to be.  I’m not saying that to garner sympathy of any kind or publicly flog myself with my clear and evident insecurities, of which I possess in abundance. I’m saying this because it’s a truth universally acknowledged that all first novels are kind of crappy.

That’s why I have one of those large, plastic bins next to my desk. All my middling, experimental or dissatisfying work ends up in there. Just like my first poems and short stories are all safely hidden in the bottom of that bin, to be pulled out when I want to convince myself that in all the time I’ve spent, well, being alive, there is some material evidence of my existence, beyond the launching of my DNA into the human gene pool. So I almost stuffed this bit of writing down there, too.

But there’s something in this manuscript which I believe, with more polishing, might be worth sharing. There’s also a lot to build on – I’m thinking a family saga of interconnected stories, the first four contemporary, followed by a side series of historical novels. I think I could pull it off, and if the conventional wisdom is true, the more I write, the better I will hopefully get.

Such was my optimism that I sent my manuscript, after a professional edit, and a few passes through a beta group, to one (just one) publishing company. Instead of blanketing the world with my magnum opus, I’m playing this game with myself. I want to see what happens. I might get a rejection (the most likely outcome). I might get a revise and rewrite (a solid win). Or something bigger. Who knows.

The game is simply – when I (most likely) get it back, I’ll attack it again. And send it out, this time to perhaps three publishers. Or five. Because, for once, I have something that I think might not be half-bad.

This is the part where I should add value to your lives. I enjoyed this blog post, which isn’t too old, called Know Thyself…By Writing Your First Novel.  It’s a bit abstract, in the sense that it gives you the rah-rah about writing your novel, but doesn’t actually give you the how. That’s what all those courses and craft posts and organizational strategies are for. But the article does position writing as a path to self-knowledge, which is not an entirely a bad approach, especially if you aren’t aspiring to add your voice to the great Western Canon or whatever, but you simply want to tell a story.

Just don’t be so quick to dump your stuff in your giant, plastic bin.

 

Everything’s a Metaphor

This post is one of a series of writing exercises that I’ve used, either in a writing course or on my own. Each post includes this disclaimer, a description of the exercise, and an example from my own writing. If you would like to try out the exercises on your own blog, refer to the exercise in the title and ping back to this post (if you have a WordPress blog). Or you may simply leave a link in the comment section so I and others can check out your work.

girl-1141279_1920

We experience the world through our five senses. When we write, we are limited to filtering our ideas and emotions through the mode of our bodies. That’s why abstract writing is often very difficult for us to connect to as readers. We have no way of absorbing the dimensions of those ideas through purely intellectual means (one would argue that mathematicians and philosophers are able to do this but even they avail themselves of symbols to stand in for abstractions, not unlike our use of language).

Therefore, to create immediacy and engagement when conveying abstractions such as love, justice, courage, jealousy, hatred, etc., it’s important to try to make the reader feel these ideas through their senses. One way we can do this is through the use of figurative language.

Metaphorical or figurative language is the bread and butter of poets and writers. One way to understand the use of this type of language is to remember that all figurative language is a comparison. The metaphor, simile, hyperboles, personification, synecdoche – all of these modes exist to concretize abstractions through the use of comparisons involving the senses. Mastering the use of this tool can bring power, resonance and immediacy to a scene or description in a larger work.

Exercise: Choose a concept, emotion or idea and create or revise a piece of writing that uses concrete comparisons to convey the abstraction. You may choose to use one overarching comparison or a series of related ones to convey your meaning.

Be aware that in a short writing piece, it is best to limit your use of figurative language to a central motif so that your piece is not overwhelmed by a flurry of imagery.

In “The Red Dress,” I choose to convey the limitations agoraphobia imposes on a relationship. Pay attention to the way the concept of space is manipulated as well as the persistent use of bird imagery.

The Red Dress

“It’s all so public, isn’t it? The dancing, the music, the way people touch each other,” Rachel said, her hands waving like a pair of hummingbirds searching for a place to land. They found peace when she reached across the kitchen counter to test the latch on the window above the sink.

Joshua walked very deliberately towards her, careful to not startle her with his movements. Outside of his home, he moved with careless abandon, his body free to lumber along, make noise, swing itself out in wide arcs, and stretch into space as far as he could reach. But in the home he shared with his wife, he contracted inward, careful not to move with even natural suddenness for fear she would relapse and retreat into the fortress of their bedroom again.

“Just this once, Rachel. You’ll like it. I have that striped suit I’ve never worn before,” Joshua answered. “You know, the one I bought for Marianne’s Christmas Party?”

She twitched slightly, a ripple of motion that crawled over the surface of her skin. “So many people. I wonder if I would even remember how to dance? Do you remember that one party boat we took from Manhattan?”

“I do. You could wear the red dress from that night. I’ve always liked that one.”

She moved away, fidgeting with the lock on the door leading to the garden, cocking her head to the side with quick, jerky movements to admire, as she often did, the blooms unfurling beneath the endless blue sky.

“I wouldn’t want to expose my back to the cold,” she answered, shivering as if she’d already put on the dress. He wanted to scream at her, shake her hard and tell her she was safe, that the world was not conspiring to crush her, that neither of them were worth the effort. But she’d never believe him and he’d only feel worse for making her cry. So he trailed behind her as she jimmied locks she’d sealed that morning.

“A shawl, then. Or a bolero jacket. It would keep you warm.”

She slipped her fingers behind the venetian blinds, then turned to stare at him, looking older than fear, older than a woman should ever look. Lines appeared around her eyes, crinkling the smooth skin at the corners of her lips. Her skin morphed into something pallid and sallow, provoking his pity and rage in equal measure.

“I did very much love to dance.”

SOCS – Waiting

SOC Saturday

3/23/19

I decided to participate in Linda G. Hill’s weekly Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompts. The original link for this week’s prompt can be found here if you would like to participate.  Rules of engagement are at the end of this post.

Your Friday prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday is “the last piece of mail you received.” Talk about the subject of the last piece of physical mail you received, i.e. a gas bill – talk about gas, not the bill itself. Have fun!

University of Chicago.

Brown University.

California Institute of Technology.

I graduated from high school with the family expectation that I would become a secretary. I wouldn’t need a FAFSA. What use were those AP classes anyway, my grandfather (step-grandfather; it’s important to make the distinction) used to ask while I slaved away, happily, as it were, on my AP Lit essay. I mean, the world was going to end anyway. Best to save your energy preparing for the second coming of Christ.

But I graduated and Jesus never came.

I had my first boyfriend and Jesus never came.

I grew bored and disconsolate in my job as a medical billing clerk. Still, Jesus never came.

Finally, I figured out that Jesus was like my junior high school prom date, who never knocked on my bedroom window to pick me up. I made it to the dance anyway. I climbed out of the window, just as I had planned and hitched a ride with my neighbor’s son, who would do anything for a couple of bucks to buy a dime bag. He even shared a toke with me before I stumbled into the high school gym, all self-righteous and defiant in a purple dress the size of church bell and proceeded to have me a good time. (Turns out my poor date had had a car accident and, this being the time before cell phones and me being the kind of girl who couldn’t give her home phone away, I didn’t find out what happened until half way through YMCA).

Back to those letters. I eventually went to community college. Then I went to state college. Waiting for damnation to rain on my head. That never came, either.

Those college letters are for my daughter.

She isn’t waiting for Jesus. Or damnation. Or a jilted date.

She won’t have to climb out a window to have a good time.

 

Here are the rules:

1. Your post must be stream of consciousness writing, meaning no editing (typos can be fixed), and minimal planning on what you’re going to write.

2. Your post can be as long or as short as you want it to be. One sentence – one thousand words. Fact, fiction, poetry – it doesn’t matter. Just let the words carry you along until you’re ready to stop.

3. I will post the prompt here on my blog every Friday, along with a reminder for you to join in. The prompt will be one random thing, but it will not be a subject. For instance, I will not say “Write about dogs”; the prompt will be more like, “Make your first sentence a question,” “Begin with the word ‘The,’” or will simply be a single word to get you started.

4. Ping back! It’s important, so that I and other people can come and read your post! For example, in your post you can write “This post is part of SoCS:” and then copy and paste the URL found in your address bar at the top of this post into yours.  Your link will show up in my comments for everyone to see. The most recent pingbacks will be found at the top. NOTE: Pingbacks only work from WordPress sites. If you’re self-hosted or are participating from another host, such as Blogger, please leave a link to your post in the comments below.

5. Read at least one other person’s blog who has linked back their post. Even better, read all of them! If you’re the first person to link back, you can check back later or go to the previous week by following my category, “Stream of Consciousness Saturday,” which you’ll find below the “Like” button on my post.

6. Copy and paste the rules (if you’d like to) in your post. The more people who join in, the more new bloggers you’ll meet and the bigger your community will get!

7. As a suggestion, tag your post “SoCS” and/or “#SoCS” for more exposure and more views.

8. Have fun!

Reinventing the Myths

This post represents the first in a series of writing exercises that I’ve used, either in a writing course or on my own. Each post includes this disclaimer, a description of the exercise, and an example from my own writing. If you would like to try out the exercises on your own blog, refer to the exercise in the title and ping back to this post (if you have a WordPress blog). Or you may simply leave a link in the comment section so I and others can check out your work. Please feel free to comment on mine, also.

persephone-1397228_1920

I took a flash fiction course some years ago with the venerable Barbara Henning (check out her bio over at the Poetry Foundation). One thing flash fiction teaches you is the importance of focus, something I confess to struggling with in my own work. If you know even a little about me, I tend to range far in wide in terms of subject and genre, both in my reading and writing. This is great in terms of providing multiple perspectives on subject matter and form, as well as learning the value of versatility.

But even in a long work of fiction, focusing on what a character is saying or doing, providing a strong sense of place, or slowing down action during a critical scene so the reader receives the full impact of that narrative moment is an important skill to develop.

In the interest of respecting the sanctity of Henning’s coursework, I offer a variation of the exercise, as well as the resulting flash fiction piece. If you are interested in using this prompt or would like me to read and share your work, please take a glance at the disclaimer above for instructions on how to bring your writing to my attention.

Exercise: Using an image, character, or plot from a myth (religious or otherwise), create or reinvent a story in a modern context. Write in any form you like (poetry, flash fiction, short story). Note: flash fiction word counts are traditionally anywhere from 50 words (microfiction) all the way up to 2000 words. I leave it to your muse to decide what you come up with.

The Fruit Stand

737 Words

The fruit stand on Market Street opens at seven o’clock every Wednesday and Saturday in springtime. Percy loves nothing more than her fresh fruit. Well, fresh fruit and rest. She doesn’t understand how these modern people get by on so little sleep. It keeps them busy in the Underworld – don’t mortals know how dangerous it is to go around on only five hours of sleep each night? Just watching them scurry about is downright exhausting. There’s no sense of beauty in all that hecticness. They wear their fatigue like medals of honor, their deprivations as things to be proud of.

An image bursts into her mind. Apples. Percy is in an epic mood and apples fit the bill. Apples are big in the modern world. In ancient times, the preferred fruit of minstrels and storytellers was the pomegranate, or at least, that was the fruit assigned to her legend. But here, where everything appears to function upside down and backwards, the unglamorous, common apple stands for all kinds of things – wisdom, sexual pleasure, forbidden desires. The apple is everywhere, in multiple iterations. She’s discovered during all the infinite years of her existence that when people repeat an idea enough times, it gains the substance of credibility. Like the monotheism. Say it enough times and soon, entire civilizations end up jumping on the same band wagon.

Percy shrugs to no one in particular, apples on her mind again. The air is heavy with the smell of fructose and an underlying fragrance of rot so typical of all things mortal. She picks up a medium-sized, brown paper bag and puts two of the swollen, red fruit inside. An old farmer with deep, wrinkled jowls approaches like a coil of frigid air from the depths of a crypt.

“$3.00 a pound,” he offers.

“$3.00? You sell them as if you created them! $1.98. They’re in season.”

“They’re always in season, ma’am. And they’re organic.”

“Hmph,” she says, peering at the man with knowing eyes. “There are trace pesticides in the skin of this apple. And anyway, if these were really organic, they wouldn’t be in season all year-round. Still, I have sympathy for your paltry existence. I’ll take them for $2.00.”

The fruit seller wrinkles his nose at her. “Sympathy? Look, lady, I’m just trying to make a living here. What do you know about fruit anyway?”

Percy leans in, giving him a glimpse of her true form, if only for an instant – a field of spring wilting and blossoming under a benighted sky that is continuously rent open like the stone doors of a mausoleum. She reveals her rapacious husband, her howling, over-bearing mother, the conniving innocence that won her a throne. How good it feels to be herself.

“I, more than anyone in all of existence, understand the importance of taking in fruit.” She straightens, satisfied at the look in the old man’s cataract-glazed eyes, terror burbling beneath like volcanoes ready to erupt. “There, there,” she says, the hard tone of her voice now soft and lilting. She pats the old man’s hand, the skin the color of dirty, grey marble. He jerks back at her touch, crossing himself as he steps away from her.

“H-How…b-b-bout…y-y-you take…them…th-there apples…?”

“Why, I think I just might.” She picks up the bag, pulling out one of the objects in question, and folds the lip down to keep the remaining contents from spilling out. “Everybody’s just crazy about apples, aren’t they? Apple pie, apple juice, apple fritters…apples, apples, apples.” She stuffs the bag in her giant purse. “But I can appreciate why people love them. That’s how my husband seduced me, you know. With fruit, I mean,” she says cheerily, taking a perverse pleasure in the way the man tries to shrink into invisibility behind the stall. “I was young and my mother was all wrath but I knew what I was doing.” She slings the bag over her shoulder. “Things aren’t ever the way people say they are.”

She stands solemnly before the old, trembling gentleman, as if ready to salute him. “If I like them, I’ll be sure to come back.”

She turns in the direction she came from and takes a greedy bite of the crisp fruit, ignoring the chemical tang, savoring its delectable sweetness, the binds to the wretched, dying earth tightening with each drop of sticky juice.

ST