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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The 100 Day Project Kick-off (one day late)

Over in Instagram world, there’s this lovely thing taking place.  Starting on April 6th, people all over the world have committed to doing some creative something for the next 100 days.  This #100dayproject (that’s the tag in instagram) came to life from a partnership between  Elle Luna & The Great Discontent (a quarterly print pub and online magazine).

So, I am taking part, and I think you should give it a shot, too.  I am, of course, writing.  Of course!  I’m so happy to participate in “challenges” these days, I think I must be revisiting my old competitive tendencies from grade school.  Hm.  Not sure that is a good thing.  What IS good is the fact that such challenges make me stick to something longer than I normally would.  For whatever reason.  Probably because I am a recovering “straight A” student.

Anyway…here’s how I started.

I have this book in mind.  It’s something of a memoir mash-up with a food book/humor…it’s hard to explain. Anyway, so I brainstormed 120 prompts for this book with basic ideas I intend to cover anyway.  And then I must write about one of them each night for 100 nights.  The first one was “Drastic Times.”  Then you take some sort of picture to represent your work and share it on Instagram with the #100dayproject hashtag.  This was mine.

If you get overwhelmed with big things looming over your head (like…I dunno…writing a book), this might be one way to find a pathway into that project by tackling it in small pieces.  The brainstorming step is like leaving breadcrumbs for yourself, and writing each prompt out is like following them back home.  Hopefully, if you run into a witch who wants to eat you, a fierce woodsman will come to your rescue.  Or something like that.

Good luck, y’all!

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!

Do a Little Dance, Make a Little Love

Spring is here (or right around the corner, I promise)!

And what does that mean?  It means that everything is waking up and feeling frisky!

Why not have your character(s) interact with this transition of the seasons from cold and gray to blustery and bright?  Have your most curmudgeonly character experience an awakening, an enlightening of the spirit that comes with blooming flowers and birds singing in the mornings–maybe even feeling young again?

Or have your youngest character fly a kite, dig up worms, or roll down a hill of fresh green grass.  Or have a character who is “coming of age” experience the utter gleeful hopefulness that comes with realizing the potential hijinks to be had during spring break.  And continue writing those hijinks with afore-mentioned dancing and love-making.

Of course, Spring isn’t only a time of sweet, warm weather.  If your character (or you) can’t bear too much happy, or if it just doesn’t work with your story, go for the tumult of storms, surprise snows, terrifying winds, and the possibility of floods that comes with the seasonal defrost.

The key here is capturing the experience of the season while it is happening right outside your window.  I apologize if Spring hasn’t arrived on your doorstep yet, but even just the longing for Spring can stir up that craving to “wake up” again from the cold.  To feel what it’s like to walk barefoot on freshly thawed earth.  To catch the heady fragrance of flowers in bloom.

So, take the challenge and put those desires into the hearts of your characters and see what they do with the urges of Spring!

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!

Another Ending…Writing sdrawkcaB

I have this short story I want to submit to a the Austin Chronicle short story contest.  It’s not finished.  The deadline is SOON!

So, to force myself through to that ending, here’s the exercise I’m going to try:

Writing the ending I want first and then write backwards from there.  This exercise makes the writing more like solving a logic problem, or even a maze, but sometimes taking things out of chronological order gives you the freedom to write without thinking about “how am I going to get there?”

Of course, I will need to reorder what I come up with, and I will also probably need to do some severe editing after the fact…the word limit for this contest is 2500 words.  I am usually much more verbose in my stories…5000 word limits can be a challenge for me.

Since I know I have this limit, though, I think I am going to try another writing tactic–this one from from high school…writing on index cards.  This can help solve the non-chronological problem, too, because not only will the index card put a boundary on what I am writing, it can help with the “moving things around” aspect of reorganizing.

I am looking forward to this puzzle now.  I’ll let you know how it goes!