Writing Down the Dream

I’ve been working on several projects through the course of this year, and I have buried myself in notebooks because I prefer to write first drafts in longhand.  That means I haven’t been blogging much. Call me old-fashioned, but when you write best at night while your dear spouse is trying to sleep, the scritch of my pencil is much less disturbing to him than the clicking of my keyboard.  Besides, it uses no electricity and requires no cords.  Imagine the freedom!pencil-and-paper-

Anyway, here’s the dream:  In the coming months, I want to be rounding out the memoir-ish book I’ve been working on and getting it to “finished.”  I plan on doing this in approximately 3 months.  What will happen to it after then, I am not sure, but I have high hopes.  I want to get it published.  That’s always the dream, right?  I want it to be a best seller!  I want it to be the book that opens the door to the writer’s life (which means I could quit my day job to be a writer full time).

In the meantime, I need to give myself some challenges in the form of exercises to get me writing on a more daily basis and in a more creative way.  Memoir is easy to do, but hard to make interesting, I think.  I am trying to be funny in this work, so I have been making fun of myself a lot.  I think I need to take it to another level, though.

So, today’s exercise is the “Three Times a Charm.”

First Time:  Write for 15 minutes about an event that happened (for me this is going to be something along the lines of a “The most embarrassing moment for me was when…” kind of event.

Second Time:  Write for another 15 minutes about the same event.  Write the event from the perspective of an outsider.  If this event involved other people, write the same interaction from their point of view (and if no one was involved, what would someone have thought if they were just watching you from a distance?).  Try to remove your internal perspective and get into the other person’s mind.  Were they mortified by what happened, as well, or were they just laughing at your buffoonery?

Third Time:  Write for a final 15 minutes about the same event.  This time, focus on the mortifying detail that made the event so embarrassing (or any detail surrounding the topic you are writing about).  Play up the suspense, leading up to that “oh no” moment.  Try to remember what you thought was going to happen and your reaction to what actually happened.  Capture that in thought-by-thought fashion.  What was the actual outcome of the whole thing, now that you have the perspective of time and distance?

Finalize:  Come back to this tomorrow and read each one.  Take the pieces you like the best and blend them together for the final episodic memory.

Good luck, y’all!

 

 

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Flashbacking

apple cratesInspiration comes from the strangest places. I often have flashbacks throughout the day to random memories and times in my life that seem to come completely out of nowhere. I let myself ponder through the things I remember about that moment before I snap back to the present and wonder, “why am I thinking about this?”  Sometimes, it’s just the meanderings of memory that take me to that day in high school when I was put in charge of entering fruit orders into the computer for the FFA fund raiser.  Not that I was one of the “jacket wearing” FFA members, but I did participate in our “field day” demonstrations by churning butter in a series of jars with a sweet, sandy-haired farm boy who was almost too shy to talk to me.  What was his name?  I don’t know.  I only remember that he liked NASCAR and blushed when I teased him about being too handsome to not have a girlfriend.  See?  Why the heck was I thinking about entering fruit orders for the FFA fundraiser?

I’ve been working more regularly on a novel this summer, but I’ve been reluctant to share my progress with friends. I have the odd preference of writing in longhand for my first drafts, which means my “second draft” happens when I enter the writing into the computer.  I’ve started the second draft process, but I can tell the writing is missing something.  I need to add to it to make the situation believable, to make the character seem more like a real person, and to move the plot along without it feeling like it’s dragging.  I have the old pang of self-doubt that strikes when I start struggling with a project, but I’m dedicated to working through it.  But how?

My character is 18.  She’s in the summer between high school and college.  And she is in the middle of dealing with a moment of intense family turmoil.  How do I bring this girl to life?  How do I tell the reader who she is without banging them on the head with a list of likes and dislikes?  And how do I do this without making the long-form fiction feel like it’s crawling at a snail’s pace?

Then came the a-ha moment!  With a flashback, of course.  OF COURSE!  Why haven’t I thought of flashbacking (which may or may not be a “real” word) before now?  She is not far away from being in high school, so I have to tap into my own “yesteryear” memories to remember the angst of being that age again, being in the midst of a major life transition, and how to deal with complicated relationships between siblings and parents and grandparents.  But, she is not me, so I must invent a past for her.  I *can* use my own mental wanderings to populate her past, though.
woman-jumping-out-of-window
I remember when I was a little kid, I really thought I was a badass.  It was a freer, more dangerous time, I guess, in retrospect.  I played in half-constructed homes as new portions of my neighborhood were developed.  One of those houses was a two-story house–a rarity in the land of one-story ranch-style homes.  During an intense game of chase with two boys who were older than me (boys who kept calling me a “baby” and a “girl” like it was a slur and not just a fact of genetics), I jumped from the second-story window of the newly framed house, daring them to follow me.  They did not.  I remember laughing at the looks on their faces.  They were looking down at me from the window, stunned that I had jumped from so high.  I was all of 5 and fearless and had legs made of rubber.  Ah, how sweet was that victory!  I decided to give my character the same sense of “I’ll show you” daring.

 

Exercise:

Take 10-15 minutes to write down one of your childhood memories.  Try to remember as much as you can, especially sensory memories and the way you felt, emotionally.  After you’ve captured the essence of that memory, use the same “feeling” to write a new scene for your character.  You can frame it as a flashback to your character’s childhood, or not.  Maybe you have a character who is a child, so it could happen in “real time.”  Maybe you’re character has a child.  It can be translated in so many ways.  Maybe it will inspire a piece of non-fiction.  Maybe you won’t want to change the scene at all–you know how us writers are–always stealing from real life to tell our stories.  That’s what they mean when they say, “write what you know,” right?

Happy writing!

Taking Your Art Seriously

I write. I am a “writer.” I am, however, not what I would call an “author.” The distinction in my mind is the difference between being published and not being published. Authors are published. Writers write.

I have a good many friends who are authors, though, and if I am being honest with myself…I am jealous of their success. I am truly, truly happy for them, but I confess that I am also covetous of their ability to win the acceptance and approval of whatever powers that be that decide: “YES! You! This work you have produced–it is publication worthy!” Huzzah for them. Sincerely.

AND I know I have no room for grousing about feeling jealous or depressed about my own lack of authorhood BECAUSE it’s my own fault. I haven’t *really* tried to become published in the traditional way since I left grad school. If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know that I put a short story on Amazon (about a year ago) to be sold like a Kindle “single.” For 99 cents. And of all the people I know who know I did this…let’s say something like 100 people (a low estimate)…7 of them dared to spend less than $1 on a story I wrote. And these are people I know. It’s demoralizing.

So yeah. Boo hoo. Pity party for me. In all honesty, I wrote a supremely snarky “nobody loves me” blog about the whole debacle, but wisely decided not to post it. Although, in retrospect, it’s pretty damn funny. I mean, if you like snark.

But now that party is over. I am just done wallowing. Because I decided, “If I don’t take my own art seriously, who will?” Self-publishing is one route to take, but just plopping something down on Amazon isn’t going to turn me into an author because I wish it to be so. It’s time to go back to the basics of becoming an author and go about it in a different way.

First, obviously, is writing.

Second, just as obviously, is attempting to become published by TRYING to become published. There is no wishing in publishing, dear self.

Third, is to return to my old methods that allowed me to gain insight and growth as a writer…by reaching out to my friends who are/were writers and get them to share work with me. And if they won’t/can’t, then it’s time to find a new group of writers to bounce ideas off of, and to serve as a voice of reason when I want to put a sasquatch in my short story. Or maybe they will say that sasquatch should stay. You just never know.

And I’m going to take this little gem from my cousin. She is a painter, and recently she quoted a friend of hers who said, “art is an equation; the more you put in, the more you get out.” Such a simple adage, but a good one to remember.

So. Here goes. Taking my art seriously.

Starting Up Again – Time to Write

Hey all!

I got married! Woo hoo! So glad THAT’s over…

SO…now it’s time to start writing again. I don’t know what it is about winter and colder weather and holiday vibes that make my brain go crazy with ideas, but here they are again. It’s like a cocktail party in my head what with all of these characters bouncing around and trying to tell their stories over each other.

So, I’ve devised a plan. A writing exercise based on this cocktail party idea. I really just want a way to tease out the characters, make them less like an amorphous, cacophonous crowd, and more like solid individuals.

First: Name each character with a full name (and if you are so inspired, explain why this person is this person, a la “Her mom and dad had met at the Starlight Diner, and so, logically named their firstborn child after the waitress who served them: Cleo.”)

Second: What is your character drinking at this cocktail party, if anything? Cleo likes Jack & Coke.

Third: What is the character wearing…party attire or “regular” clothes? Just make the clothing true to the character’s style or lack thereof.

Fourth: What would your character be doing at this party? Hiding in a corner, laughing the loudest, earnestly discussing the Superbowl prospects of her favorite team, getting drunk for drunk’s sake…?

And now that you have all of this fodder, try to focus in on these characters in pairs. They can be from different stories, even, but let them have a conversation. What would they talk about? What would the character share about his/her life with a person from a different story? What would they say about their own stories?

I am really excited to do this one! I can hear the glasses clinking and the smokers heading outside, and the one who MUST tell the story of the trip they took to Africa, and the one who is rustling through the coats…

Cheers! And good luck!

Church of the Palomino

So here it is.  I apologize to those of you who read both of my blogs, but today is the day.  The Church of the Palomino…the short story I worked to build on this blog…has gone “live” on Amazon as a Kindle single.  Here is the cover:
church of the palomino cover
 
I am nearly peeing my pants with excitement!  After all that time and effort, I have finally put my writing out to the world for everyone to see.  And while it is exciting, it is also nerve-wracking and sort of scary.  Just a wee bit.
 
So, here is 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.”
 
And it even includes three endings and an homage to Flannery O’Connor.  For just $1.29, how can you resist?  You can’t!
 
I hope you give it a read and share it with your friends. By the way, you do not need a Kindle to read Kindle downloads.  You can read on your iPhone, iPad, or PC.  Convenient AND paperless!
 
Now, though, it is time to work on the next story…a writer’s job  is never done.

The Vocation

I started this blog because my stepson challenged me to.  Because I want to be a writer when I want to grow up.  Because I feel as if writing is my true life’s vocation.  And by vocation, I mean:  I can’t not do it.  I am miserable when I don’t do it.  When I write, something inside of me unlocks and I am able to be myself.  My “real” self.

I have, largely, felt as if my hands are tied by the reality of life.  I have, though, dreamed the craziest of dreams telling me I must…that I have no choice, if I want to live a fulfilling life.  I dreamed last night that my hands were dripping what felt like blood, but when I looked down…it was words, dripping from my fingers on to the floor, where they lay there in a puddle, like alphabet soup.

When morning rolls around, and I have to get dressed to go sit at a desk, and do other people’s work, I have to damn up those words and stories and keep them at bay until I have time.  When the end of the work day comes, I am frazzled, and stressed out, and tired.  And then there is dinner to make, kids’ sporting events, dogs to walk, exercise to do, dishes to wash, floors to sweep…and then I really ought to go to sleep.  And then, my mind whirs out these ideas and notions and stories–things I would really like to explore on paper, research and write about, and I make a mental note and finally fall asleep.  And then it starts over again.

I want to know…how do I make this dream life my real life?  I remember Toni Morrison saying that she had to make time to write…that she had to carve it out for herself or it would never happen.  In an interview from the Paris Review (1993), she said, “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.”  {If you have read my blog, you know this does not work for me…I am not a morning person.}  But then, she says this:

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 transition. 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 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 know that I have to carve out the time for my writing life.  I know that I am going to have to prioritize and carve the time from the day for this act of creativity, because no one else is going to, because no one else needs to.  It’s not their vocation…it’s mine.

Have you designed your perfect place, found your perfect time?  I’m taking this as my task today.  To schedule it and make it known.  To steal it, if I can.  To listen to the calling.  To write.