Thinking about Contests.

Lately, I’ve been considering submissions more seriously. I think my writing has finally reached a point where I’m willing to believe the rest of the world might not find it utterly repulsive. Huzzah for my self-esteem. One of the main questions I’ve been mulling over is whether or not to enter contests. I did a bit of research on the subject (by googling “writing contests vs. standard submission.” So scholarly, I know), and came up with a few pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Lots of potential prize money. (Another rousing huzzah.)
  • Publication. Duh.
  • Getting your work into the hands of VIP readers.
  • Notice from agents.
  • A confidence boost if you win (or even make it into the semifinals, as I can attest from personal experience).
  • Anonymity allows for democracy.
  • Extra motivation to do good work.
  • And last, but most definitely not least: Deadlines. Need I say more?

Cons:

  • Entry fees. But as far as I can see, as long as they aren’t exorbitant, they’re probably worth it. The choice is up to you. Plus, there are plenty of perfectly reputable free writing contests.
  • Can tie up your work for months. I mean, you don’t want to risk missing out on prize money if your work is accepted elsewhere, right? This might be a problem if you’re submitting a lot, but for me… not really an issue yet.
  • Plenty of scams. But you know what? It’s just a matter of doing your research and asking the right questions.

You know what? Those are the only cons I can think of. And they all have work-arounds. So. In my case, at least, it seems like contests might be a good way to go, at least for now. After all, I’ve got nothing to lose, right?

 

If anybody out there has more thoughts or experience on writing contests, by all means let me know. I’m still a leetle baby with this whole thing.

Tiny Stories.

Hey guys! A whole week has gone by, and I’m still breathing. In fact, I discovered a new exercise that I can totally do, even when times are rough.

Write hundred-word stories. Come on, even at our worst, we can write a hundred words, right? Or if that’s too much, try fifty. The exact word count isn’t that important, the point is more just to give yourself an achievable goal so that you can feel like you’ve accomplished something. Write just one a day, and who knows? You might be able to write yourself out of your slump sooner than you imagined. At worst, you’ll have a ton of little sketches that you can potentially expand on later.

I’ve been doing that this week, and I think it’s going okay. The nice thing is, they don’t even have to be finished stories. They can be little slices of life that can lead your thoughts down new paths. It will still work.

So that’s really all I have to say today. If you’re struggling with your writing for whatever reason (depression, life intrusions, or just too danged busy), give yourself a tiny word count and go for it.

TTFN.

Breathing through the Meltdown.

When I was little, I would occasionally  have meltdowns. As did most of us, I’m guessing. One of the things I remember most distinctly is how my mom would stand calmly in front of me and simply say “Breathe.”

Of course, I didn’t really appreciate that at the time. My thoughts were usually something along the lines of “What are you talking about, breathe? I’m busy melting down here, and breathing is NOT a priority. Sobbing is.”

I was like four years old, okay? Don’t judge.

Nearly twenty-two years have passed since that time, and I’m proud to announce that I now handle meltdowns like a pro.

Sometimes.

At other times, not so much.

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Now maybe nobody has noticed, but over the last couple of weeks my blog posts have (subtly or not so subtly) been little rah-rah pep talks that amount to “I’m not experiencing writer’s block. No, no, of course not. It’s just a little momentary hiccup. I’ll be fine.” Meanwhile my brain has been screaming “You’re not fine!”

Ugh. I’m not fine. The writing has been going slowly and steadily down the tube for close to a month. It started with an inability to figure out endings (what else is new), then progressed to an inability to move things beyond the little anonymous conversations that take place on one of the tracks in my brain. Now it’s reached a point where even my little brain-dwelling babblers have shut up. I haven’t even picked up my notebook in four days.

Normally when inspiration is on a low ebb, I use it as time to revise the junk I wrote when inspiration was happening. Not this time. I’m terrified to even open my last NaNovel, because just the thought of seeing the trash I’m capable of churning out when I have a deadline has me wanting to burst into tears. Hello, four-year-old self, I didn’t know you were still in there.

But this morning, I suddenly remembered how my mom tried to counsel me through the meltdowns all those years ago, and I think I might be okay. In this case, “breathing” means reminding myself that even if I haven’t been writing, I’ve been doing a lot of good productive reading, which can teach just as much as doing the actual work. Also, it’s a reminder that even writing one measly paragraph is progress. If I can feel myself REALLY spiraling out of control, breathing means turning my brain off completely, like doing ballet barre work that forces me to focus all my attention on tiny nuances of motion and stillness.

Listening to something soothing also helps.

We all know that allowing ourselves to have full-on meltdowns never leads to anything productive, even if the meltdown is in reaction to the fact that NOTHING ELSE is leading to anything productive. Panicking has never saved anybody. So I’m allowing myself (forcing myself) to breathe, and reminding myself that life is like Bolognese.

Does anybody else out there have good “breathing” tactics? I’d love to hear them.

Malignant Rigidities.

You know that feeling you get when you’re sitting with a blank notebook, a sudden urge to write? I don’t have it.

With apologies to Captain Jack Sparrow, this misquote exactly summed up my state of being over the past few days. It wasn’t writer’s block exactly. I knew what I should have been doing, and I knew how it needed to be done, essentially. But there I was, teetering on the edge, staring down into the abyss, and I was overcome by a dangerous mix of not wanting to mess up, believing I needed to know where I was heading before I could begin, and all sorts of silly rules and regulations I made up in my mind about how to go about putting words on paper.

I told myself these attitudes were silly, and that I should have been over all this nonsense by now. That, of course, didn’t help any, and I found myself reading prose poetry this morning instead of writing; completely bound up and unable to take the plunge.

And then in came an excerpt of Kora in Hell, by William Carlos Williams, to save the day. A single quote stopped me in my tracks.

“Having once taken the plunge the situation that preceded it becomes obsolete which a moment before was alive with malignant rigidities.”

Malignant rigidities. What a phrase. It goes beyond fears to get at all the other things that can keep us rooted to the spot, not experiencing the joy of free creation.

It reminded me of the experience of zip-lining; the seeming impossibility of ever leaving the platform, and then the exhilarating freedom of “why not?” as soon as you do.

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And it’s true, isn’t it? As soon as we take the plunge, all of those silly things cease to have any power.

I wish there were more that I could share about this, like how to identify our own personal malignant rigidities, or how to go about digging them out of our lives permanently, but I don’t have any of that figured out yet. If I ever do, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, isn’t it good to know how easy they are to vanquish?

Don’t Ignore Your Facets.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m deep in a writing project, I can tend to forget about everything else. And not only when I’m actually doing the work of writing, but all the time. There are times when this should probably be a problem, like when I forget to keep up with basic laundry and bathroom cleaning and such, but I forget to even consider it a problem. And then there are other times when it’s really a problem, and I can feel little bits of myself shriveling up and falling off.

And that’s not good.

Most recently, the shriveling-bit has been my visual artist self. I’ve been ignoring my need to create beautiful things for quite a while, and it wasn’t until last week that I began to notice that my soul was whimpering. In fact, when I went to fix the problem, I discovered that by all rights it should have been shrieking, because I was so enmeshed in the writing side of me that I. Couldn’t. Remember. How. To. Draw.

I’m not even joking. I just sat staring at my pencil like…

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Fortunately, by that time I had awakened to the magnitude of the problem, so I persevered. If drawing wasn’t going to happen, maybe cutting up bits of paper and gluing them down would.

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I think it turned out okay, don’t you?

Since then, I’ve decided to embark on a series of collages, in order to give myself a solid goal that I can’t ignore. Now all I have to do is make sure the visual artist side doesn’t squeeze out the writer side. But this blog and my writer’s group should take care of that.

Basically what I’m trying to say is that it’s important to stay balanced. Even if you’re in the middle of something major, don’t let yourself become so obsessive that you neglect other parts of yourself.

Because we’re all magnificently multi-faceted beings that should be allowed to flourish. No shriveling.

Back to the Basics.

Well, I’ve finished my writing class, and I’m feeling both accomplished and bereft. I learned way (way way) more than I anticipated, which should just teach me not to underestimate the importance of beginner-level classes.

Hey. That just gave me the theme I needed for today’s post. I kid you not, I was just rambling and hoping an idea would come to me, because I didn’t have a plan in place.

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But now I have one: Don’t be afraid to go back to the basics. Mikhail Baryshnikov, one of the greatest dancers in history, never stopped taking beginner classes, because he knew that there was always something to be learned from them.

I think we often get carried away by progress, ever reaching for new heights. There is nothing wrong with that. We should always be striving to grow in any field of endeavor. However, in that quest, we often leave the basics behind.

Bad idea.

There is a reason we always start a new study with the basics, and it isn’t because they are easy. It’s because they are the foundation, the cornerstone on which everything else is built. And it doesn’t do to neglect the foundation, does it? Dizzying heights aren’t so much fun if the cornerstone is crumbly.

Do you get my drift? Good. Don’t forget to keep your basics game strong. No matter what you are practicing.

Goal Setting for the Planning Impaired.

Okay, I’m back. We’ve been having computer issues, and the ongoing attempt to fix them has included lots and lots of huge update downloads and turning the reins over to distant techies. Oof. Here’s hoping the problems get solved soon.

At any rate, I have the chance to blog now, so I’m taking it! Carpe diem, people.

I’ve been discussing goal setting with my resident poet lately. As in, really lately. As in, today. I’m horrible at goal setting. It always seems completely arbitrary to me. Like, “I wanna get published before I turn thirty.” What the actual heck. There is no possible way of guaranteeing that. Unless you self publish, but oh lawrdy that idea does not appeal to me. If you’re cool with it, then more power to ya. Not for this girl.

Anyways, that was a rabbit track.

Goal setting. Now, it may come easily to you, and if so, congratulations, this post is clearly not something you need to read, because I’m going back to the super basics. The ABCs, in fact. That’s because I am a complete infant in the ways of reasonable goal setting. In fact, this is literally me:

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Okay, so that’s not literally me. But it’s literally me. You know what I’m saying. Moving on.

The resident poet gave me the three things that a good goal has to be:

  • It must be measurable. Because otherwise it’s not even a goal. Duh. Even I understand that.
  • It must not depend on anyone but you. So “I wanna get published” isn’t a good goal, because somebody else has to decide to publish you. Decide that you’re going to submit to three journals per month, instead. Or whatever.
  • It must go beyond what you have already achieved. Awwwww, so you mean I can’t just set a goal to do something I already know is possible? Shucks.

Because in the end, goals are about progress. You have to stretch yourself in order to make progress; you must be able to measure your progress, or else how do you know when to celebrate or ramp up the pressure; and your progress can’t be dependent on other people.

So yeah. Super basic, and probably really rambling and clear as mud. But this is a blog about my process of becoming a writer, and sometimes it’s not tidy. It’s not tidy in my own mind yet, but I wanted to get it down somewhere to help lock it all in my mind.

Welp, that’s what I’ve got for you today.

TTFN.

 

Spaghetti Bolognese and Other Things which Require Stewing.

So if you’ve taken a gander at my Twitter feed recently, you will have noticed that I’m a klutz. I grabbed the handle of a pan that had just been taken out of a 350 degree oven. Hey, that pan usually just sits on top of the stove, okay? The handle isn’t usually hot.

Besides, I was writing. Maybe that should be the theme of today’s post… never try to write while simultaneously making dinner.

But I digress…

Anyways, what I set out to write about was how weirdly parallel cooking fancy noodles and writing stories can be. So here goes.

I don’t know if anybody else out there has noticed, but a certain slice of the internet has been losing its composure over Spaghetti Bolognese… Whether or not celery should be added, how much butter equals a “generous knob,” and WHY ON EARTH WOULD IT EVER BE EATEN WITHOUT SPAGHETTI???

At any rate, I had gotten a package of ground beef out of the freezer early in the day, with absolutely no plans, because that chef thing is not my thing. Usually I’m the brown-the-beef-and-dump-some-tomato-sauce-over-it-and-call-it-good type. But gosh, that just sounded so boring. And here was the internet being all hilarious and everything, so I figured, meh, why not throw my hat into the ring?

I interpreted the recipe as best I could, and let me tell you… Best Bolognese Ever. Possibly I’m biased, because it’s the only proper Bolognese I’ve ever tried. That’s beside the point, however. The thing that really made the difference was shoving it into the oven and letting it sit for a while. If any of you cook, you’ll know what a difference that makes, but it was kind of revelatory for me. Basically, everything mixes together and comes out tasting marvelous.

Okay, this isn’t actually turning into a food blog, I promise. I’m getting to the point now, which is that writing can be the same way. We’d all like to be those people who can sit down at a desk (or curl up in a cozy chair, or get in bed, or stretch out on the floor…) and pluck stories out of thin air. Maybe some of us are like that. Lucky dogs. I’m sure not. Yesterday, I was supposed to plan out the first draft of a short story for my writing class. I sat down at the computer like a good little writer, and… absolutely nothing. Zilch. Nada.

Typical.

So I spent some time on social media, because any writer will tell you that’s what most of their time is spent doing, and therefore it must be a good inspiration boost, right? Absolutely nothing. Zilch. Nada.

Finally, I went to YouTube and watched makeup tutorials, because at this point why the heck shouldn’t I? It’s not like I was getting anything done. Yes, I was having an attitude. Yes, watching makeup tutorials is what I do when I’m having an attitude.

So, long story short, at about 12:30 AM, when, okay, I should not have still been awake, my brain came knocking on my forehead like, “Hey, here’s a couple of ideas! Would not a pair of these have bred? Yes, being kept together and put to use.”*

About an hour later, I had my storyline. Along with a random snip of conversation for some other day, and several ideas for blog posts. Including this dandy of a thought:

Writing is like Bolognese: sometimes it just needs to stew for a bit.

 


*Geez Louise, I thought I was going to make it through a whole blog post without any Shakespeare references. I’m incorrigible. It’s from Twelfth Night, in case you were wondering. And they’re talking about coins.

Constructive People Watching.

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I am a people watcher. I’m guessing many writers are. People (in the abstract) are endlessly fascinating to me. Their mannerisms, what they are eating, reading, saying… are they listening to music? Are they animated in their conversation? Are they watching ME?

Every time I see people (which, let’s face it, isn’t very often. My house is surrounded by very tall trees), I end up with a mind filled with faces. But I’m not always very good at harnessing those impressions and making them work for me. So I’ve decided to try something new. If I’m people watching, I need to ask myself two questions: “Why?” and “What if…?”

For instance, hey, there’s a girl wearing red lipstick. Why? Is she meeting someone? What if she’s wearing it specifically so that she will look pretty, but also to discourage any kissing? (I know if I were a guy, I’d think twice about kissing red lips…)

 

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Remember this moment from To Catch a Thief? Where she shuts the door in his face (Ice cold, like a total boss) and he turns around with her lipstick all over his mouth? Yeah, that’s what I always think of. I was trying to find a gif of that moment, because Cary Grant is hilarious, but I guess people are more interested in the kiss itself… I wonder why???

 

And there you have it. Plus, it will be extra motivation to carry my notebook around with me, a habit I’m still a bit dodgy with.

So anyways, just a quick declaration of intent. Now I have to actually do it. I’ll report back after I’ve tried it a few times, and let you all know if it’s working.

TTFN.

 

Rewriting the Heck out of Stuff.

As you’ve probably guessed from the title, I’m doing a lot of rewriting these days…

There’s my NaNovel from last November, which is slowly and rather unsurely making its way toward becoming a decent second draft. And then there is my Future Learn class, “Start Writing Fiction,” which I wrote about last week. One of the first week’s exercises was to write a short character sketch based on the physical appearance of someone we encountered within the last few days. Well, easy peasy, I thought to myself. I can do that like falling off a log. So I dashed one off about a guy I had noticed while I was out swing dancing the weekend before.

Well.

Since then, after reading various excerpts from really good writers, I have been challenged to rewrite that one little character sketch three more times, deepening it and trying new techniques every time.

I only saw the guy once, and we never interacted with each other! What is this madness?Impossible!

But the Red Queen tells us to always believe six impossible things before breakfast.

I have done it. And it’s teaching me a lot about how to access my imagination, let alone how to write decent characterizations.

I’m not really sure how to boil this lesson down into a pithy  thesis statement, but I know it’s an important lesson, especially right now, when I’m slowly chewing my way through a much longer project. It’s good to see what I can accomplish with a bit of elbow grease.

 


In case anybody is interested, here is the first draft of my swing-dancer character sketch:

Early in the evening, the young man danced to almost every song, and never with the same partner twice. He was easy to spot out on the floor, with his red plaid shirt and bright blonde hair, shaved close on the sides but long and side-swept on top.

Halfway through the night, however, he stopped dancing and sat on the side, slouching back in his chair or leaning forward, elbows propped on his black skinny jeans-clad knees. Sometimes one hand would go up to finger the large white ear-gauges he wore, or to adjust his glasses. Occasionally he would pull his iPhone out of his pocket and send a message, but mostly he just watched the dancers, a vaguely melancholy expression on his face. He didn’t leave until the last song ended.

And here’s where it stands now:

He slumped back in his chair, watching the dancers with vacant eyes. Screw this, he thought. I shouldn’t have come. She’s not going to show up. Just another power play, and you fell for it. Again. He raised a hand to touch his ear gauges. They’d started hurting again. Stop it! She’s probably stuck in traffic. Anyway, you didn’t have to get here so early. You’re so obvious.

Benny Goodman’s trumpet blared, and bright skirts swirled past his eyes as the lights dimmed. A creepy feeling crawled up his back. What if she saw me dancing earlier? No that’s stupid. She’s not here. He pushed up his glasses and leaned forward to pull his iPhone out of the back pocket of his jeans.

“You coming? Otherwise I’ll probably head home.” He pressed send and leaned back again. Anyway why shouldn’t I dance without her? I’ve been coming here longer than she has. But those creepy silences…I wish she’d just scream, or throw stuff. Well, I’ll wait a few more songs. Maybe she’s in traffic.

Quite a difference, eh? I’ve put it through several different permutations, including switching to a first-person narrative observation where I come in as a character, because somehow that made it easier to include more details of physical appearance without sounding like a laundry list. When I switched into the character’s own POV, however, I found that physical description went almost entirely out the window, because people just don’t list off their own attributes like that. Unless they’re fashion/beauty bloggers, anyway.