Flash Fiction: The 22nd Coming

Thanks to Chris for today’s six word prompt: “Traveler, Cadence, Management, France, Gonads, and Turkish Chocolate Candy.

The 22nd Coming

Travelers came from all over the world; their footsteps tromped a broken cadence across the desert floor. Men from France, Germany, China, even Venezuela, all to reward him with gifts of jasmine flower garlands, leather sandals, and Turkish chocolate candies in the shape of gonads.

The management team said this would be bigger than the Pitt and Aniston break-up. Sherice squealed about his PR campaign to his agent and wouldn’t let up about the necessity of having a row of seven camels in the background of the photo shoot. If this man from Kenya was going to insist he was not only the son of God, but also the sole heir to the late George Lucas fortune, then nothing could stop them from riding his coattails all the way to the bank.

Don't Be Afraid To Be the Someone Else

Sometimes you get into ruts of who people think you are, who you think you are, and the perception of you from people who barely know you. Most of my life I've been seen as witty. I hated this for a long time until I realized how to use that sharp tongue to my advantage.
I've also been seen as serious. I was a serious child. Today I've found ways to bridge the gap between that wit, which is hilarious at times, to serious, which is highly functional in a bazillion ways.

Also, I didn't write much as a child, but now writing is my passion and career as an adult. Before I could pass myself off as a writer to friends and family, however, I had to decide to be just that. I had to make the choice to call myself a writer. I had to be someone else to everyone I knew so they would finally see me that way.

Being someone else means releasing the old stereotype of you and embracing that element you want to be.

In my stories, most of the time, if I don't include this character, I think of her. She's a bohemian gypsy with prophesy. She probably wears lots of purple and brown skirts and clinky jewelry. She's always there guiding me. She helps make choices with me. Call her a muse if you want, but when I kept brushing her off, not calling myself a writer, she kept coming back to the surface story after story.
Before I gave her the time of day, I thought I just wrote some things, some bad short stories, some good poetry, but I wasn't a "writer." And, to be honest, for as long as I thought that, no one else thought I was a "writer" either.

You cannot be afraid to be the someone else you wish to be.

I am a writer. Period. That is my stance and not everyone will "get" that. Even today, some people in my life still don't understand me or this process, but every now and then someone, family or friend, will make a statement that tells me they have owned the idea that this is who I am. Because I made the leap to be the someone else, they now see it as fact.

You shouldn't fear the creative element inside of you. Ridicule. Doubt. Uncertainty. You're going to experience those anyway, but at least you can enter each day with a tag on your shirt that reads, "Hello, I Am An Artist."

Flash Fiction: Hindsight

Thanks to Brain for today’s six word prompt: "Velociraptor, Congruent, Plight, Instantaneous, Dirge, and Foolhardy."


The dirge went on. The trumpet sighs carrying over the rain-soaked, bowed heads. Perhaps if they weren’t all so foolhardy none of this would have happened. They could have lived their whole lives never dressed in black, never having ridden in limos with purple flags attached to the hood. The same way they were congruent to going with the flow in the past, today they slosh through the mud in heels, cry out loud, say clich├ęd phrases reserved for times like these, and talk about how he’ll never be forgotten. Their plight, like the velociraptor and T-rex, was instantaneous. One minute you’re cruising, sixty maybe seventy miles per hour, singing at the top of your lungs, and the next…the car doesn’t make it around the bend. Driving on pavement or grass all feels the same at that speed.

Flash Fiction: The Political Streak

Thanks to Liz for today’s prompt: "Troy Mason is planning to streak at a political fundraiser..."

The Political Streak

Sure, there had been times when he questioned his motives, his upbringing. Hell, he thought the rest of the world might benefit from a little loosening up, but for Troy Mason, these were actions you wanted to do, not that you did. That was…until the 2008 election. Then he started thinking differently.

Today, the archway of red, white, and blue balloons led down an aisle which opened up to a podium draped with a flag. At the podium stood Governor Ficklin, unfolding lies and a toothy smile. If ever there was a man that deserved an interruption, it was Ficklin.

Troy crouched behind a “Heart of America” banner, pulled his shirt over his head, and slipped the elastic band of his sweatpants and boxers down to his ankles. In one motion, he leapt to his feet and tore off down the carpeted aisle, determined to make the evening news.

Flash Fiction Mission

Hello everyone! After a day off from writing following the craziness that is NaNoWriMo, I wanted to shift into some shorter pieces just for you. My dream would be to post all kinds of stories on the blog for you to be able to read my work, but alas, I want to sell those awesome, share-worthy stories to publishers, so I don't feel comfortable sharing publicly (and for free) what I want to sell the first printing rights to in the future.

So, I had an idea to do flash fiction for you. The flash fiction I'm thinking about is typically under 100 to 150 words and gives you enough of a story to get in and get out. The best flash fiction is, by far, Hemingway's six word story: "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn." Good, right?

I also thought that I'd like to know what you want to see. With that in mind, I'm exclusively asking only the followers/likers of my Facebook fan page (not just friends) to tell me what they want to read either in a basic summary, or in four to six keywords.

If you haven't done so yet, click "Like" to the right of this post (just above "I Tend to Write About These Things) and then head over to the page to leave a comment on the post about this saying what you want to see me tackle. I'll pick the one or three that I think I can master, write the story, and post it here on the blog for all the world to see.

All right, put your thinking cap on and give me your thoughts. (It's okay to make me work for it, so have fun.)

Day 30: Celebrating Victory

Today is the last day of the 2011 NaNoWriMo. A mere 50,000 words and you are a NaNoWriMo winner!!!!

My hope if you're reading this is that you are a NaNoVicTo.
I finished my word count goal last night and when you cross that finish line it is time to celebrate.

Do something tomorrow that has nothing to do with writing, no matter if it's a walk, a few hours with a good book, a long bath, attend a sporting event, do a major workout to get your blood pumping again, or chase stray children down the street.

Whatever it is, do it. Celebrate your success to lead you onward to more writing and editing in the future.

How will you celebrate?

Day 29: The Post-NaNo Ritual You Need to Know About

It's winner's eve today. Tomorrow is the day you've won or not, and like your mother always told you, if you tried your best then that was good enough. Today's goal is 48,333 and then you're almost finished.
If you haven't hit today's goal, then you'll want to push today so you're not toeing the line at ten minutes to midnight on the 30th. If you're like most everyone else I know that's still writing, seeing this goal met somehow fuels you through the last 1,667 words. You will become like some crazy motivated train that would be going 100 miles an hour if it wasn't for this steep hill of words and plot.

I say, climb it. What's on the other side is totally worth it.

Since I know you'll be too busy celebrating tomorrow to think of things like this, I wanted to share my post-nano rituals with you to guard yourself against yourself. (I can tell by the way you're sitting that you've lost a document or two in your day.)

1) Save a copy of your novel to a disk, USB flash drive, or cloud (frankly I don't know what these clouds are, but hey, if you do, save it there.)

2) Email a copy of the document to yourself at an Internet held account. For example, I use MS Outlook for the majority of my mail, but I don't know how to check that mail when I don't have my laptop with me, so I email my document to my less used gmail account for safe keeping. Google offers gmail for free, so there's no reason not to do something like this.

3) Print. The nerdy nerd in me who might own a Staples customer rewards card (discount card, NOT credit card) might go onto the Staples website, upload her document to be printed, and she may go to the store, pay the $15, and pick up a physical printed copy. This is a cheaper ink option for me and I don't have to babysit my printer and hand feed it paper every five to ten pages. This copy, of course, is the rough draft which needs major work, not a manuscript to be shared. This gives me a hard copy to stash, edit, and make plot notes on when I don't want to be in front of the computer, but do want to work.

4) Wine or margaritas. Self-explanatory.

There you have it. Have a great winner's eve day!

Day 25: The Beginning of the End

Well, here we are. We're doing it. We're shifting from the Middle of the story and into the End. With a word count goal of 41,666 today, you are officially in the last 10,000 words of this year's novel.

By the End of your story you should be thinking of all those loose ties you've put out there and considering the best possible climax to the story that lets your character be challenged and either succeed for fail as the story deems fit.

Writing the End is a really motivating portion of novel writing because the action and events that have taken place have all built to this point. You can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel and it only gets brighter the more words you put down on the page.

While it is invigorating, it's also bittersweet. There are only five days left of NaNoWriMo, the crazy, ridiculous adventure that comes just once a year. Savor the feelings you have about your story in these last days and give your readers the best possible climax and ending you can to leave them wanting more and loving the time they spent with you.

How do you plan to celebrate on December 1st?

Day 24: Happy Thanksgiving! Get Back to Work

It's turkey day!!! I'm traveling all over creation for the next three days, literally eating a Thanksgiving meal three days in a row including the day I'm the host and chef. Not only will I be stuffed, but also, I'll be behind in my writing if I don't get a jump on it.

The T-day word count goal is 40,000. Sadly, the goal will not wait for you, so while it's nice to relax and digest, Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to practice asserting your writing self and stepping away (before, after, or during the day) to work.

While it seems cruel for NaNo to sit on top of Thanksgiving, it actually helps you. The more you see yourself as a writer that NEEDS to write, no matter the day, the more others will too. Your adoring family will kiss you on the cheeks, say, "We'll see you in an hour, dear," and then they will go on doing what they do while you do what you do.

What's your favorite part of Thanksgiving?

Day 28: Are We There Yet?

Here we are, Day 28, and the word count goal is 46,666. If you're close, but not there yet, then this is the time for final pushes. Reach down deep, grab the beating heart of the writer inside you, spike it down onto the floor, and go for the finish line.
As for me, I'm sitting at 48,119 words and I couldn't be happier. This progress leaves me especially happy considering that my first NaNo year left me writing over 10,000 words on November 30th, but by God I was finishing that sucker.

Learning from that old frustration, I'll actually hit 50K either tonight or tomorrow and that is just as great a feeling as powering through up until midnight on the 30th.

As you work, make sure you backup your story, turn on some motivational music, and get the words down on the page. This isn't the time for taking a few hours to think about the plot, this is the time to push and push hard.

Also, don't forget to validate your word count when you reach the finish line (find this under "edit your novel"), and pat yourself on the back.

Are you sailing on through or busting your butt?

Day 27: The Sprint to the Finish

Today's word goal is 45,000. Yes. When you hit this day's goal, you have only 5,000 words left to write this month.

While I know by now the pure exhaustion of NaNo is wearing you away (it sure is for me), consider the fact that you have written 45,000 words already. Forty-five thousand! Five is practically a piece of cake. You can do it. Take this last day of this last weekend of this month and rock the hell out of it.

Don't give up. Write.

This is the sprint to the finish and I challenge you to do it, no matter if you're ahead in your words or behind. This is the time for making the choice to see your story through to the end and beyond. Whether you have more plot than 50,000 words can handle or you're coming up short, hitting the 50K, validating your word count on the NaNo site, and seeing your little bar light up purple is a great feeling.

Take this day. Write. Fulfill the goal you set before November 1st.

What's keeping you going? (Coffee is an understood answer.)

Day 26: Always Choose Your Story

Day 26 brings with it a word count of 43,333 words. I ended the night just over 44K.

For the second time in NaNo this year, I ran out of time for writing and I had to choose between writing a blog post or writing on my story, and for the second time, I chose my story.

Always choose your story!

This is how you take the push of writing (working through plot problems, unruly characters, dragging scenes, forgotten items, etc.) and turn it into an outright shove.

This shove will take you from the person that types along, but stalls when things get difficult and uncertain, to the person that writes and does because it is who you are. Your novel will thank you.

So, as we head into the final stretch, are you prepared to shove?

Day 23: Writing Experience and the Only Way to Get It

I'm sitting pretty going into NaNo Day 23 with a word count goal of 38,333. I had a break through in plot which I shared yesterday and I a great writing session followed. I wrote a new scene and really felt everything working and coming together. How did I know? Experience. I've written (and read) enough bad stories and lacking scenes to know when they are bad and lacking.

For me, writing is a lot like hockey. You think it's going to be hard to skate on a thin metal blade on slippery ice, but if you understand the blade and gain experience with it, then it isn't anything more than practice and time before you're taking off on the ice. Just like there are misconceptions about writing, a skate blade is also misunderstood. The blade isn't a single, knife-like point touching the ice, but more of an upright rectangle with the middle curved upward. Because of this shape, a blade actually has two sides: the inner edge and the outer edge.

The inner edge (basic storytelling) is relatively easy. It's there, right under you, you lean in either direction, the edge gains pressure, and you spin in that direction. The only real difficulty of the inner edge is having the inner thigh strength (determination to write) to control it.

The outer edge (word choice, pacing, characters, etc.) is much more difficult. Lean too far on that outer edge without enough momentum and you're on your ass on the ice. Don't lean enough and you have no grip whatsoever. Mastering the outer edge takes practice and time, just like mastering these more difficult aspects of writing. Through these things, you start to trust yourself to move.

It's that simple: Practice + Time = Experience

Once you've gained experience, you're ready to carry the puck, check people into the boards, and throw snow in a goalie's face without even thinking about your blades because your body and mind instinctively know how to skate. You can feel it. The same happens when you write. There's a sense you have when a scene is working or not working. Experience not only gives you this sense, but also tells you why something works or doesn't.

Even if you're struggling right now, I hope you remember that anytime you are writing you're working on your experience.

Day 22: Talk it Out

Today's goal is 36,666 words and I'm going strong now that I'm over a complete plot block on my story.

When I finished writing last night, I knew exactly what scene was next, but when I looked things over this morning I thought, that's all well and good for today's writing, but I don't know what's going to happen after that. My main character, Elsbeth is somewhere around L, M, N, then there's a huge gap of ignorance and unknown, and I know what is going to happen around Y, and Z.

So I did what any respectable author who is sure of themselves 100% of the time would do. I did something else. I stepped away from the story and cleaned house to prepare for the holidays. I moved away, got distance, cleansed, etc.

This didn't exactly help. Sure, it made me less tied to the story, less invested for an hour, but I came back, sat down, and still didn't have any ideas. And then I talked it out. I told my husband everything I knew and then said, "but here's this huge gap, what do I do?" He, being a helpful and honest soul said, "I have no idea, can I get back to work now."

So I talked it out with myself, and continued to flip the situation over, look at the underside, discuss the antagonist's view point, the secondary character's views, Elsbeth's goals, and then, I knew what needed to be done: Elsbeth needed to go somewhere.

Then I talked to myself about where, what, why, how, who (that journalism class really pays for itself sometimes) and the more I processed the information aloud, the more the blanks started to fill themselves in. Now I have a sense of direction again and I know what Elsbeth will be told in the scene I write today that will push her to go to this new place.

If you're finding yourself stuck thinking about your story, then I hope you'll try just saying it out in the open and see what muses you bring to your door.

Have a tip about solving plot blocks? I'd love to hear them.

Day 21: Blah

So I started this post on Day 21, but life got away from me and seeing how this week is Thanksgiving in the US, I needed a turkey in my fridge and a few other things. The word count for this day is 35,000.
For the record, I did hit the daily goal and chose working on my novel over my blog. Sad, I know, but in the end, it really is a better choice.

Also, the fact that I wanted to label this post Day 25 speaks for itself in the exhaustion department. This is the stuff NaNo is about; if you aren't writing until you're exhausted, then you aren't really tired.

For me, seeing that we're only 15,000 words away from the end of this crazy month is also thrilling. My plan is for this novel, currently called Smoke (but that will change), is to reach around 80,000 words by the time I'm done, so NaNo is not the end of the road, but knowing I'm 50K in is a huge boost compared to the zero words I had on October 31. (Yep, that was one sentence.)

So, while I'm exhausted and excited and tired and brain dead, I'm still loving the process of NaNo and the determination and willingness that is required to get from here to there. This is why we do this, and when we're done we have something to show for our hard work.

What's been the hardest part of NaNo for you?

Day 20: The Downside of Cast Lists

Good evening, writing buddies. Today's Nano goal is 33,333 words. I love this word count for both it's simplicity and how much closer we're getting to 50K.
Over the course of this month, I've had to come to terms with a problem regarding my writing that affects all months of the year. This problem is the downside of cast lists. If you don't know what a cast list is, I'll tell you. When you have an idea in your mind of a character, you make the next leap and think of a celebrity or other famous person who would "be" this character.

For example, your main character is a young guy who jokes around all the time, dark hair, but has a serious side. I'd go Jimmy Fallon, Paul Rudd, or Donald Glover. Then you decide he's a little chubby -- switch it over to Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill. Find that part in your mind that knows their face as your character and go with it.

Once you have the entire character list picked, then, when you're writing your story you can refer back to your perception of these people for your characters and even flip through pictures of them online when you need inspiration.

The downside of this is that my celebrity cast "bad guy," who needs to be rough and gruff, also does voice work in television commercials. When I hear his commercials come on TV while writing, suddenly my vicious and torturous bad guy turns to the softy who really wants you to enjoy batteries or cars or soup.

I don't really know where I'm going with this I suppose other than to tell you to watch out for running into your cast in ways you don't want to see them. If you want the psycho crazy Angelina Jolie from Girl, Interrupted, then don't watch The Tourist where she'll be more sophisticated and glamorous.

How's that novel of yours coming? I think I'm getting slap happy from blogging every day.

Day 19: You Look Like Shit, Get Some Rest

My dear, dear, beautiful/handsome writers of the Nano Kingdom. If you're still with me (which, I'll be honest, I'm seeing less and less people writing by now) then your word count goal today is 31,666.

On days one through seven, I am the most enthusiastic writer you've ever seen. I'm giddy and excited, thrilled be working on the story I've been researching and plotting all summer and fall.

Days eight through fourteen become the meat of the meal. We separate the men from the boys, so to speak, and the strong, committed, determined ones continue onward while others perish in our dust.

By days fifteen through now, I'm honestly starting to realize the late nights writing to hit my goal are catching up with me. Day 19 has been my toughest day yet this month. I always find this kind of day somewhere in week three, maybe a little ahead, maybe a little after actual Day 19, but it's always hiding there for me.

I've come to call this day the you-look-like-shit,-get-some-rest day. We've been writing and writing, and, like hour eight into a twelve hour road trip, there's no turning back. I don't get discouraged by these days when they come, but I do think it's important to note when the word count slows to a drip. Even though I'm still enthused about my story this year, the pacing, lackluster and stagnant word choices, and stale air are quickly surrounding my motivation. Shoot, whole sentences sometimes get really, really long. I'm not coming at the story "fresh" anymore, but I have enough experience to know this is part of it, so here's what I do:

I sit down. I write.

Everything will be cleaned and polished later. Whether I'm on my third cup of coffee at nine o'clock at night doesn't really matter. As long as I'm giving my best effort and at the minimum getting the heart of the story out there, I can go back later and change the "started to run" to "ran" and the "is changing" to "changes."

Best case scenario, you aren't feeling this at all. Second best, you are and are getting over it and continuing. Worst case? You quit writing and reading anything about NaNo in week one when  you realized it was hard, in which case, you aren't reading this either.

How doin's?

Day 18: Flying High at 30,000 Words

Today's goal in NaNoLand is 30,000 words. 30,000!!!! This is an amazing feat for starting at zero only 18 days ago.

Hitting 30,000 words is a confirmation that your hard work, day after day, is not only piling up, but also turning into a massive collection. This isn't some little story idea that maybe you will write some day. This is the commitment you've made to yourself and kept.

Take a minute to acknowledge how awesome that aspect of you is and just soak up the satisfaction.

By 30,000 words, your story should be coming right along. Sometimes the pace of the story alone and the action involved and the characters' wants start to drive you to your computer or notebook each day to write more and more.

30K is also 3/5ths of the way done with this crazy whirlwind of a writing adventure you either started planning months ago, or decided to do somewhere near the end of October. These wacko commitments we make to ourselves to write novels in months and tell our friends about (or keep a secret for fear of ridicule), these are the commitments character is built on.

When you "win" with 50K, you can look back and be proud of who you chose to be in November.

What inspires you in your own writing? Leave comments below.

Day 17: Giving Your Characters a Hard Time

Day 17 and the goal for word count is 28,333. I hope you're keeping up. I slipped back by 667 words yesterday, but I'll make it up today.

By now you may be feeling like your story is getting out of hand, is playing everything just right, or you're falling in the middle. Sometimes your characters comply and sometimes they show you sides you didn't know they even had. No matter what they're doing, if you want to make your novel interesting, I hope you're giving your characters a hard time.

My daughter is doing the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program this year. She's eight and had a story she wanted to tell of a girl in the woods with her siblings. Other than that basic information, she didn't know what to do with the story. Here's what I told her:

Think about what you want your character to do. What is their goal? Know that about your main character, get familiar with them.Think of how they will acheive their goal and what they want to do about it. Then, you as the author, make it difficult for the main character to do this. This may mean the character needs to change their goals, or do something else before they can acheive their primary goal. Whatever it is, make it hard for them, but not impossible.

For example, last night my main character, Elsbeth, needed to escape from having been kidnapped. I wanted her to slip out the window. Done. There's her goal.

Instead of letting it be that easy, however, I wrote her peeking to see if the coast was clear one last time, and this time the antagonist, Hopkins, is standing in the doorway and lunges after her. She still makes her escape (that is the plot afterall), but this way there was a lot more tension, action, and drama than originally planned.

If you're thinking your plot is going blah-ville or your characters are just milling about, then it might be time to shake things up for them and make getting from A to B a rougher road.

What's the worst you've done to your characters to give them a hard time?

Day 16: Ten Ways to Avoid Writing Fatigue

Hello Naners, today's word count goal is 26,667 and we're halfway through this crazy month. This is also about the time I start to feel writing fatigue kicking in. I'm loving my story, my plot, my characters, and yet, I'm exhausted trying to keep up with it all.

Fatigue, I assure you, is normal. These are those "pushing through" times I often talk about.

So, I thought I'd give you a treat and provide ten ways to avoid writing fatigue. You can do one or all of these and then come back to your story feeling renewed and refreshed for that heavy word count.

  1. Stretch. Do yoga. Dance around your living room making a stupid sound.
  2. Read a few pages of your favorite fiction book, even if you've read it before.
  3. Play a board game with anyone.
  4. Take a long walk and rather than thinking about the story, think about what's around you or what's for dinner.
  5. Watch a sitcom or drama on TV.
  6. Take a hot shower or bath.
  7. Doodle on a sheet of paper for ten minutes.
  8. Close your eyes and just breathe deeply and slowly, adverbly. Meditation can be powerful even if for just five minutes.
  9. Snack on a fruit to take advantage of the natural sugars.
  10. Draw a picture of a pirate farting on salad. (That's an inside joke and family favorite in my house, but a challenge nonetheless.)

I hope any of these help you limber up and refocus yourself so you can crank out scene after scene without letting you or your story go stale.

Which one did you like the most? Leave comments below.

Day 15: Halfway Party

This is it folks, day 15, the official halfway mark. 25,000 words is a lot for anyone.

If you're at this milestone, you should feel fantastic to be on target for finishing NaNoWriteMo by the end of the month.

You've put aside less urgent tasks to focus on yourself and your goals and your story. You've done the thing others haven't or are struggling to prioritize. I have hopes that each of you have also felt this pulsating drive to sit down and do the work during NaNo because it needed to be done for you.

Think of Michelangelo waking up in the morning thinking,"Man, I don't want to climb that scaffolding and lie on my back with my arms in the air, but damn, this ceiling isn't going to paint itself." And so he went...and he laid on his back and he painted.

If we could all at least tap into this ideal that we do what needs to be done even when it's not easy because it is what we do, what we want, and what we're made of, then the world would be an amazing place. If you aren't up for a challenge, then what you doing trying to write anything?

As I've always said, writers aren't storytellers, we're word laborers. The beauty of NaNo is that we labor together. I think just knowing that a bazillion other people around the globe are typing in their new word counts right along with you should count for something. There's creativity zipping through the air each night and I like to think if I reached up I could touch the sparkling underbelly as it floats by.

How did you decide to do NaNo? Leave comments below (after you celebrate 25K words).

Day 14: Halfway Eve and Routines

So here we are, sitting at Halfway Eve. (I like eves a lot if you haven't noticed already.) Today's word goal is 23,333, which means tomorrow we'll be pushing past the big 25K.

Halfway through NaNoWhaMo and we're still alive.

I will state for the record that the last few weeks have been relative hell for me, so much so that I've nicknamed a new sixty-one day month in my mind called Octember where just horrible, horrible shit goes down. During times like Octember, the writing of a novel is kind of like icing on cupcakes at this point, but I'm actually finding relief in the practice and routine of it.

Normally, in ante-NaNo and post-NaNo times, I'm writing my words and working on stories and novel outlines, but the pace is my own. I come and go with fiction work like it's Momma's house and I'm home for the summer to visit friends.

NaNoWriMo tosses me, mentally, into another realm of work and drive that I don't experience during the other eleven months of the year, (I swear it's the stats meter that does it), and drops me off in this place where holding a solid routine and pushing through when I'm exhausted isn't just a smart practice, but a necessity.

I hope that by now you have found a routine that works for you which you are able to execute each day, whether it's for 1,000 words here and 1,000 there, or the whole chunk in one sitting. Whatever it is, go with it, complete your novel, and imagine how good it could feel to carry this creative routine into December and beyond.

What's your routine look like? Leave comments below.

Day 13: Pushing Beyond Problems of Your Novel Writing Experience

NaNo day 13 brings us to a goal of 21,666 words. This is nearly halfway to the finish line. If you're there with me, then take a small moment to be proud of yourself. If you're with me in spirit, then keep pushing.

I have a lot of friends in the middle of NaNoCraZo that are falling short of the word count by thousands as this point, but where they lack words, they make up for it in spirit. None of these lovely ladies are giving up. They share their deficit with the group, and then they push on. One woman in particular had zero words on Day 8, but she's writing in the morning before her children wake up and again in the evening, and is now around 14,000 words. I believe she'll make it because she's willing to do the work.

Whether your limitation is not having the stamina to hit the goal each day, or not finding enough plot elements, or unsupportive family members, or dealing with computer problems, the only option you have (if you truly want this) is to push onward and write.

Here's an example:

Mylaptopkeyboard has decided that it will onlygive me thespacebar whenitdecides Ishould have thespace bar. This notonly makes readinganythingI'm typing difficult, butalso really screws witha wordcountgoal becuase what my writingprogramis sayingI've writtenis actuallymuchlarger once I go back inand add thespaces,which takesup a lot oftime.

That is really frustrating! But, I push forward. I whine to my husband about how old my computer is and then I, to quote my sister, put my big girl panties on and deal with it. I write anyway, and then I backtrack to the beginning of that day's work and I add spaces, one at a time.

If you want to have a finished first draft (aka: rough draft) by the end of this month, then you will muster the strength and desire to push through anything.

What have you pushed through to keep your novel going? Leave comments below.

Day 12: How to Prioritize Your Writing and Writing Time

Hey, guys. Sorry I can't do a new blog post tonight. I need to write.

Today's goal is 20,000 and I'd want to get there.

See how I did that?

Day 11: Sometimes Life Happens

Today is Day 11. We should be sitting pretty at 18,333 words, and sometimes...life happens...even in the middle of novel writing.

I'll summarize my day: Wake up, cold house, broken furnace, furnace repairmen, talk about cats, giant furnace bill, charge it, child comes home, "Let's go to my school tonight and watch a movie," no school -- pizza delivery and stay home, deal?, deal, pizza, yeah, phone call, your child won a contest but you forgot a form, no problem -- email or mail?, bring it to your house?, in car multiplication tables times 4, find a dark house in the dark, old man falls over backward in street, eeeeeeerrrttttt!, form to lady, yeah, congrats, thanks, Barnes and Noble, the books are gone and there are toys everywhere, WTF, mommy my throat hurts, sa-what?, home, heat = good, ugh, still need to write.

This, the above and aforementioned BS, is the shit that happens when you're trying to write a novel.

These are not roadblocks.

These are obstacles.

Go around them.

Sit down.



The world doesn't care if you're writing a novel or not. That's not the world's job. It's your job. Like the classic parenting advice: If you wait for the right time to write a novel, then you'll never do it.

How's your BS going and how are you keeping it from interrupting your writing?

Day 10: The End of the Story's Beginning

All right, NaNers, today's word count goal is 16,666 words. That's a big chunk of change. That also means we're a third of the way into our novel projects.

The first third, for those who are into basic storytelling diagrams equals The Beginning of your story. By now a reader should be able to identify the main character(s), know what it is they are trying to achieve, know where they are, and be rooting for them to succeed in their goal.

This also means by today (or yesterday, or tomorrow, roughly), your story should be taking a turn into the realm of The Middle. You should be starting to see some heavy action or plot twists going on, some momentum should be building toward something, and your main character(s) should be starting to see either flaws in their plan or be hitting road blocks which are preventing them from reaching their goals.

The Middle is the sweet spot of a lot of novels. If the world you've created and the characters you're writing are interesting and intriguing, then a reader can truly fall in love with your work in this area of Middle. A reader will go along for the ride, take the twists and turns, and be excited when they have time to stay up at night turning the pages, hitting the end of a chapter, and continuing to read even though they're exhausted and have to work in the morning. The Middle is purely captivating.

So, if you're finding yourself still in Introductionland, then I'm telling you now to turn the corner and start letting heavier action take place. If you think the reader still needs to know X, Y, Z before you move forward, then you'd better learn to sprinkle that information in with the action or your reader is going to get bored from exposition without tension, or drama, or shifts in the story.

The good news: you're the author of this story. If there aren't twists or tension in the near future for your story by now, then it's your job to create them.

What's been the biggest surprise in  your story so far?

Day 9: Turn Your Writing Struggle into Your Strength

It's Day 9 in NaNoVille and today's goal is 15,000 words. This is a great milestone and I hope you eat a big bowl of ice cream and do a little hip shaking kind of dance in the shower if you've made it this far. 15,000 words is awesome!
This can also be a little scary as plots start to crumble and you start to feel a little less than sure about what it is you're tyring to do in November. I urge you to keep going. NaNo is more than just word count. Sure, word count is the core goal of the month, but there's more to this whirlwind than just the words.

This month NaNo is also teaching you about motivation, perseverance, digging deep, and finishing what you start. You're learning to value your writing time, to carve out space for it, and you're gaining the experience of seeing what writing a full first draft is like (whether you've done it before or not, each novel is different).

Turn your struggle into your strength.

Write with abandon.

Don't judge your story. Don't judge your work. Don't focus on any other version of your story (the plot in your head or in the imaginary future finished bestseller) other than the one you are creating right now.

If your story's not working, then make something happen. No rule says you're stuck sitting in a dirty apartment eating old pizza with your main character listening to their thoughts. This is fiction. Make something happen. Challenge your characters, your setting, the tension between characters. As my sister says, "It's your baby, you rock it."

What was your 15K celebration?

Day 8: Your Novel is Dough

Day 8 brings with it a word count goal of 13,333. I haven't touched my novel yet today, but if this counts (and I think it does), I did think about my novel at three in the morning last night when I couldn't sleep for about an hour. I was trying to dig deeper into my antagonist's motivations to get a better sense of his goals. You have to dig deep like this during the first draft as well as during revisions. It's how you cook the story into something great.

Then, I was talking with my mother earlier today about this whole NaNoWhyMe and had an epiphany about first drafts. Because I'm not stingy with epiphanies, I thought I would share it with you as well.

If you're getting frustrated with the fluffiness or blandness of your first draft novel right about now, then there's something you need to remember: your first draft is dough and that's what it is supposed to be.

You're in the process of adding ingredients (flour, milk, sugar, salt, eggs)[characters, plot, action, pacing] and mixing them together. The only possible thing you're going to get when you do this is dough. It's mushy, sticky, doesn't have any set shape, and doesn't taste very good. Expect this. Embrace it.

A finished novel, one you have spent time revising (not just line editing) and reworking into a good story, now that is bread. Bread is the deliciousness others can sink their teeth into and really chew. If you make good enough bread, it will also nourish and fill your readers, and leave them wanting more.

In short, don't get discouraged if your first draft is doughy. There is a lot going on there. The ingredients are blending, liquid and dried parts are becoming a homogeneous mixture, and the dough is rising. These are all things you want to have happen in November. That is the point of NaNoWriMo or any other first draft process. Go with it. Later on you can punch the dough down, knead it, and bake it into an edible loaf.

What's the hardest part of writing  your NaNo first draft for you so far?

Day 7: Week 2 Eve (and I'm a little crazy)

By midnight tonight your word count should be soaring at or above 11667. I'm running out of steam around 11,383...how freaking sad is that. It's not the story, it's me. Let this be a lesson to all NaNonians out there, don't get a cold and change the clocks back at the same time, it will really mess with you.

But, aha, this is about you. You are 1) fantastic, 2) clearly a selective reader to choose such a blog as this, and 3) hopefully not sick and changing your clock.

Wait, this is about NaNoWhoZat. This is about Day 7 and what all that means for writers like us when we're on Day 7. It's kind of like this, "oh my gosh, I've written so much. Can't I have a break? Please? But, I'm sick and I had to change the clock. Please. How can it only be 9:30 at night? It clearly feels like 10:30. Wait. What day is it? Etc., etc., etc."

The important, inspirational thing is down here (I wrote this part earlier thinking I would write the intro after a refreshing I'm-too-tired-to-write nap):

At this point in NaNo you are on the verge. You are getting ready to fall off the edge of "Maybe-someday" and into "Now." Now is the time and place where you are actually writing a novel.

This isn't a pipe dream. This isn't the thing you say to co-workers that you want to achieve in the future. This is you, here and now, in the thick moment of writing a novel.

Week 2 is a special time in NaNo whether this is your first year or not. This is when the meat of the story starts to really stew and fall off the bone. You are seeing your characters and commitment through and should be proud of that.

While I'm not making any promises it will be easy, because it certainly won't, I do promise that you will feel something unlatch inside of you this week that makes you sit up a little straighter and appreciate yourself as a real writer. I hope you feel this moment, but if you don't, trust me, it happened.

What's your problem? Leave comments, sick remedies, and funny words below.

Day 6: Milestone Celebrations

Hello, little Wrimos, this is a day to make a small celebration in honor of yourself. By midnight tonight, provided you're writing 1667 words every day, you should see your odometer of words roll over 10,000.

I am siting at 9325 after having written 700some words this morning and cannot wait. I've already bought a celebratory bottle of Dr. Pepper (one of my few vices and cheaper than my favorite wine) and plan to chill tonight before the rush of a new work week hits me in the morning.

While this small, meager amount of 10,000 words is only a fifth of the way to finished, if you don't celebrate the milestones as you pass them, you might not appreciate the journey you're on with your novel and your writing. If you overlook 10K, shrug your shoulders, and move on, then what's the point? Each 10,000 should give you pause and encourage you to continue forward, whether it's the first 10,000 or 110,000.

Sure, you might just want to tell your story, or have hopes to publish your novel and have it become a bestseller, but the road to a finished novel is paved in actual words, not wants.

So, throw yourself a tiny party today (after you hit the big 10K, of course), take a long bath, drink some wine or soda you normally deprive yourself of, eat the rest of the Halloween candy, or dance a gig in the middle of your house while yodeling. I might even hula hoop today! Whatever it is, have fun with it, enjoy the moment, and then get back to work on that story tomorrow.

How will you celebrate the milestone?

Day 5: Weekend Frenzy

Today's NaNo word count goal is 8333. I'm up to 7104 so far, but I haven't written yet today, so expect that number to come up as I take Elsbeth, my main character, to jail and torture her. Seriously.

If you're an experienced WriMo, you'll be Writing More than the minimum 1667 words per day this weekend. The weekend, for most of us, is prime time to take advantage of "non-work" days and crank out your story in large quantities.

If you can manage it, adding excess words now will do a few things for you.
  1. You'll be that much further ahead in your plot outline (if you made one) than anticipated for Days 5 and 6.
  2. You'll have wiggle room for days where you just come up short in the motivation or words department. This may or may not be a day you're stuffed with turkey, for those in the US.
  3. You can sleep sounder at nigh during the week.
  4. Bragging rights, duh.
  5. You'll not only amaze yourself that you beat the word count goal, but also you can use the sense of accomplishment to fuel your writing over the next few days.
Now, on the off chance that you don't live in a cave by yourself with a pile of dried bear meat, a coffee maker, and an internet connection and actually have to have a real life, then don't (DON'T) beat yourself up if you don't get ahead of the game over the weekend. The daily recommended minimum is 1667 to hit your 50K in one month. Going beyond that is strickly for your own sense of pride and the unleashing of in-your-face-isms.

Truth or dare: How many times have you thought about hanging it up and writing something else in November?

Day 4: The Devil is Shaking Up Your Story

Today's NaNo word count goal is 6666. {The Omen anyone?}

It's 9pm (Eastern time) and I have written nothing yet.

Zero. Words. Period.

I don't have to tell you that feels awful. Fear not! I'm going to get my word count in as soon as my child is lying in her bed.

By around Day 4 any weaknesses in the foundation of your story might start shaking things up. This is normal and to be expected. Demonic possession is the name of the NaNo game. Seriously, this shaky ground can actually be because of many things up to and including: low self-confidence, a weak story, boring characters, a lack of tension, excess description, too little action, etc.

The good news is that ALL of this is fixable with time and perseverance. (Two out of four written scenes for me are less than stellar. I make a note, something like, "where's the f-ing action?" and move on. I'll amp things up during the second draft.)

I urge you to also keep going. This first week is the introduction to the school of hard knocks. This is the week when all of the drop-outs drop out. Keep going. If you don't push through to the other side now, then you'll never know if you are capable of pushing through Week 2 or the horrors that make up Week 3. Seriously. Horrors. Not kidding here. Horrors.

What ways are you finding make writing through NaNo easier? [Coffee/wine/water and music are helping me out.]

Day 3: NaNo Brings It

By day 3 your word count should be rocking at 5000+ words. I hit my target around 5200something. How are you holding up?
I'll be honest, NaNo tried to throw me a curve ball in Day 3, but I still met the word goal. The curve ball involved my being exhausted and the time already being late at night. For the record, my brain fries easily at night, but rather than being a well rested NaNoLoSer in the morning, I stayed up to get my story on the page. By "get" I mean "extract." It was downright painful to work. Even though I knew exactly where the story was headed and I was enthused about writing this scene, my mind and my fingers were having none of it.

Sentences started to look at lot like this: Elsbethw aited in hte roomunti lthe moon slide out from behind the cloudes,

Me writing late at night is the equivalent of driving drunk through a crowded mall. Bad shit is just going to happen. The beauty of NaNoWriMo, however, is that these horribly typed words, tense slips of verbs, and bad punctuation don't matter. I'll edit the sucker later. What matters is that we know Elsbeth is waiting for the moon in her room. Done. I can fix my dead-brain-typing issues in December.

If you've having trouble with things like this, I urge you to keep going and worry about editing later. So long as the story is flowing/extracted, you're still going to get a first draft of a novel written.

Is your story still headed where you thought it would be going? I'd love to hear about it.

Day 2: Great, Gross Things That Need Names

It's NaNo day 2 and your word count goal by today is 3,333. Are you there yet? I hit 3726 and my brain has shut down.

For me, the best part/surprise of the day was a scene I wrote about a crazy, old woman hysterically chanting and doing freaky witchy things. When I wrote about her, I actually sat there cringing and pulling my face away from the computer, and yet, I couldn't stop typing this scene.

It was truly fantastic. I was so fully engaged in the process that this nasty, leaf spitting woman was actually getting to me.

I don't know if you've had these experiences in your writing before, but I hope you have. If you haven't, I hope you have one this year, this month. They don't come around often, but when they are there, they are bitter and delicious at the same time.

We need a name for moments like these. Thoughts?

Day 1: A NaNoWriMo Cautionary Tale

Today is day one of NaNoWriMo and I have a bit of advice for those just starting their novels (newbies and experienced WriMos).

First, your word count for today should hit at least 1666 if you're planning on writing every day. At the moment of writing this, I'm hitting 1255 words right now with my first plotted "day 1" scene complete. (Once my child goes to bed, the remaining words will take care of themselves.)

Second, don't pad your novel with unnecessary words just for the sake of jacking up your word count. To my mind, this word inflation is a rookie mistake. If you pad your words now with fillers (over the top descriptions, excess dialogue, adverbs) just to watch the NaNo meter grow and to flex in front of your writer friends and scream, "Yeah, baby," then after November you'll be crying as you painstakingly go back into the word-bloated, thin-storied novel and try to trim the fat.

While I know you want to see productivity this month, I caution you that productivity in the form of hard editing later on isn't actually a climb upward, but more of a sideways trail. You'll do much better for yourself and your novel to take your time, choose the correct words for the job, and create a better story the first time around. This will also prove a valuable skill when you write the first drafts of other projects which don't take place during NaNoWriMo when word count isn't the goal.

I'd love to hear how your NaNo experience is going. Leave comments below.

Don't Let the Wish Grow Cold

Well, here we are, sitting around, twiddling our thumbs, and waiting for midnight to come for the official start of this year's NaNoWriMo. (If you aren't part of this, but want to make the attempt at writing a novel in a month, it's not too late to sign up at the NaNoWriMo website.)
As with NaNo and any other creative endeavor, a little encouragement goes a long way.

If at all possible, surround yourself with the types of people (family, friends, online acquaintances) that support you. In my experience, even knowing one person is watching your back and wants you to succeed can be a stronger fuel than 100 naysayers you want to prove wrong.

There will always be those who "caution" you against falling flat on your face. These people are quite frankly afraid to see you succeed because trying so hard at something non-standard isn't their bag. I don't know of any artist who hasn't had to overcome some "friendly advice" of people who aren't interested in trying harder than the average.

If you're going to make your dream a reality and you're going to do crazy, off the wall things, like write a novel in a month or make the declaration to achieve something no one else around you has done, then be prepared to shed from your creative living space the "helpful warnings" as well as those who speak them.

When you look back on this month of November, or back on any project you set out to do, you want to see yourself as the person who did. The person who gave their all and completed the task. If you're starting out with NaNo for the first time this year, or if you've tried before and didn't "win," then know that I think this is your year. This is your year to sit back on December 1st and say, "Hot damn, I did it," and glow with an inner light you may not be familiar with.

If you have no one else in your life to support you, know that I support you. Know that you can do this. Be determined to achieve your goals. As the Evil Queen instructs Snow White before biting the apple, "Don't let the wish grow cold."

How are You with Zombies?

In two days it's Halloween and I'm dying (hehe) to talk zombies. I often have projects that I'm currently working on or revising, and then I have projects that are my "back burner" pieces. Without saying too much about the back burner stuff (mostly because I don't want to jinx myself) I have a small book I'm gathering info for that is about zombies.

Now, to be fair, you can't really write anything about zombies until you've established an ideology about them and have some ground rules for how you believe they operate. To me, a zombie wants your brains, flesh, blood and they might groan a lot. That's the basic zombie.

If you read enough zombie tales, however, you learn the rules are more complex. Zombies can't live/exist where it's cold because they would freeze. Zombies can live/exist underwater since they don't require air. Some zombies move fast, some zombies move slow. Some zombies hear very well, while it seems others don't hear a thing, etc.

So, I thought I'd ask you for your thoughts on zombies. If you can't think of anything about them specifically, then tell me what would scare you about them. What's the worst situation to be in? Is a fast or slow zombie scarier? If you were at home and the zombies were gathering outside, what's the first thing you would do?

15 Ways to Make the Most of Snippets of Writing Time

I often wait for that moment when I have the chance to work on fiction. You know the moment, when it's quiet, when I'm fully engaged, when I don't have errands to run? These moments don't come on their own unless you make time for them intentionally. However, there are a million little times that could be better spent and some of us are failing to see them as writing opportunities.

Jeff Goins suggests not writing a lot, but writing often and believes 30 minutes a day is more valuable than a 5 hour stretch once a week. I agree. So, what do you do with those small chunks of time when you may or may not feel immediately in a "writing mode" but you have the sliver of time to write?

If you're at a total loss for ideas, here are fifteen ways to make the most of your snippets of writing time:

Gearing Up For NaNoWriMo 2011

It's the end of October and that can mean only one thing: NaNo is coming.

For those of you who don't know the NaNoWriMo challenge is to write 50,000 words (that's a lot) in the month of November. You "win" the challenge if you hit that goal and you instantly feel equal exhaustion and invigoration at the same time on December 1st. This is my fourth year doing NaNo (I've "won" each time) and I've never been more prepared with a plot and outline than this year.

While I'm normally the mainstream/literary fiction girl, this year I'm leaning into fantasy. The novel, currently titled "Smoke," involves magic, witchcraft, warlocks, curses, love, longing, demons, burning at the stake, and an ancient cat. My hope is that the book is fantasy but reads well even for those who don't normally read about witches or vampires or zombies. (Don't we all love a good zombie?)

If you're doing NaNo, feel free to "buddy" me. I'm under the username "mtelsch" and I'll be writing everyday.

Writing in the Shadow of Depression

I'm going to be brutally honest right now, and not just because I have "something to say," but because I think this needs to be shared aloud.

Last week was pretty shitty for me. I had a bazillion deadlines. I was a giant grouch with a worry addiction. I lost sleep, my appetite, and my sense of self. I went through the wringer and it sucked, plain and simple, suckola, suckaroo, blah, blah, blah. I kept all of this between myself, my husband, and my sister.

I don't want sympathy, a shoulder, or even a lying consolation saying everything is okay.

Don't give me those things.

As writers we have these weeks. They come. They go.

I'm a writer who knows I have suffered in the past (and probably will suffer in the future) with clinical severe depression brought on from traumatic experiences I'll probably never share publicly. Depression is...well...depression. I can recognize that beast's shadow and I can see him coming from a mile away.

Looking Forward to Rejections

So this isn't my official, official Wednesday post, but I wanted to share that I just submitted a guest post for an amazing writing blog I'll tell you all about later. (See how I'm using delayed gratification as a story telling device? I actually just don't want to jinx myself and suddenly be seen as a failure to all of you, but hey, I'm human, so there you go.)
Back to the post! This guest post is about using your rejections as a measure of your success and how your rejections are actually being good to you.

I'm excited about this post in particular because I think there are too many could-have-been writers out there that quit before they really got started and hopefully this will keep some more of us good guys in the ring fighting. I hope you have your rejections ready when I do the "big reveal" to tell you where to read the entire piece. As my daughter used to say when she was little, "so cited!"

Desire to Be the Wind and Write Like a Storm

The subject of how others view you came up the other day. The word someone said about me was "industrious." After I said, "Huh?" she explained that I'm always in the thick of it, writing, submitting, working.

My reply was something along the lines of, "My God, it feels like I'm a scattered mess inside most of the time." I make lists of projects and ideas on slips of paper or spreadsheets just to get them out of my head to keep the mental clutter down. I also have a horrible memory ever since my daughter was born, so writing things down is crucial to juggling multiple projects and plots.

Then it occurred to me that my friend sees the whole, fully formed tornado of me during times when I feel like the wind, tossing tree limbs around and riping roofs off houses in random order. I have learned, however, that as a creative person you have to desire to be the wind and here's why:

The Best Writing Program for All Writers

The world of computer gadgets, programs, and apps is HUGE right now with no signs of slowing down. For writers this means keeping up with trends and streamlining our process under the pressure to crank out bestsellers (we hope) at an alarming rate. “Publish or be forgotten!” the world yells in our faces, and we yell back, “Give me a program to make this easier.”

There are beta products, programs that store research information beside your text, templates that make navigating novels simplified, and meters (God, how I love a good chart) to tell us if we’ve hit our word count for the day, week, or month. But how do we know which program is the best? And what is a good program for a beginning writer or a bestselling author?

The 15 Rules of The Writer’s Code

Just so we're all perfectly clear exactly what is expected of us now that we've decided to be writers.

  1. Don't plagiarize.
  2. Read more than you write.
  3. Read outside your genre.
  4. Make time to write.
  5. Hold yourself accountable for writing.
  6. Be honest with yourself about your writing strengths and weaknesses.
  7. Be honest with others about their writing strengths and weaknesses (if asked).
  8. Provide fair feedback in critiques to receive fair feedback.
  9. Be objective about your work.
  10. Edit your work (more than once) and be willing to make (huge) changes.
  11. Know your voice.
  12. Trust your instincts.
  13. Give back to the writing community.
  14. Don't complain about following your dream.
  15. Support and encourage yourself as much as others.

What rules would you include? Leave your Writer’s Code rules in the comments section below.

Reaching Down Deep to Find Your Motivation

My husband, who is also a writer, has no problem with self-motivation. He wakes, he works, he creates. I on the other hand, need to "get my pilot light lit," as I call it. I need to get up and stand kindling together in a tee pee shape, stuff wads of newspaper inside, and strike wet matches until the fire begins to burn. When the usable material finally catches I'm ready to fuel a bonfire of ideas, stories, essays, novels, non-fiction articles, you name it -- let's burn.

Unfortunately, there are those times when the burning desire to write doesn't make an appearance no matter how much you drag that match across the surface of the box. It needs to be coaxed out of hiding, like a scared cat from a drainage pipe. Try as you may, nothing seems to get Point A (your ass) to Point B (your project). This is when you need to reach down deep.

The All Important "Platform"

The buzz around Ye Ol' Water Cooler these days is "platform." This is a word that's been floating around for a while now in the writing and social media communities, and while I kind of shield my eyes from these things (knowing damn well I shouldn't), it is vitally important if you have any hopes of showing the world who you are. Want to get started?

Reading Notes: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

If there is ever a life or death debate about "world building" in writing it can be resolved with The Night Circus. I've never read a book so rich and full with visual elements without going overboard with description. The feel and texture of this circus and the people involved are spectacular and solid. Thanks to Erin Morgenstern's ability to sprinkle visual information, rather than layer it, the world of The Night Circus comes alive and everything else about the story is enhanced because of it.

The magical element of The Night Circus is captivating and fresh with each trick and new creation and I can picture hundreds of "dreamers" lined up in their red scarves to buy a sequel book or movie ticket. Morgenstern also succeeds beautifully in setting the tale across years and bringing the timelines together expertly at the end. The story is active and present without growing intense, making for a great, quick read even for those who might say they don't read that much.

(Disclaimer: As always, my Reading Notes are reserved for bringing to light and pointing out the strengths and positive aspects of books and their authors. While I have negative opinions, sometimes strong ones, I won't be sharing the negatives of other writers’ published work here because it’s not productive and I'm not in the business of looking like an asshole or burning bridges.)

You're Not Alone, But You Do Have to Work There

It occurred to me how solitary writing is (not a new concept by any means) and how much this can lead to the idea that we're all floating around out here, alone, typing up stories by ourselves.

You should just know: you're not alone.

No, I can't write your shit for you, and you can't write my shit for me, and a critique group can't make something work that isn't working, BUT you're a part of a collection of other alone people who work like you, and that should mean something.

Other writers all over the world sit around: alone. We think up stories by ourselves and draw them out of the air on our own.

(Don't confuse alone with lonely.)

I like to think when I'm by myself typing away that aside from the characters which keep me company during these hours, that there are a lot of other writers also committing themselves to this alone time. As I'm writing and chipping away at a plot, so are a hundred or thousand other writers in that same moment and we're actively creating something in the world that didn't exist before.

We're not alone at all even though we write in different cities, states, or continents, but this is our office; an office for one.

So, when your hair is ripped out and the coffee cup is empty save for the sticky residue ring along the inside, and you can't force characters to move that aren't meant to walk, while we're not there with you, we're all here for you. We're all here -- writing.

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

How to Know Your Work is Ready for Submission

When it comes down to being a writer, if you aren't wholly in it for the joy and pain of fiction, there is inevitably a time when you must submit your work. Whether to a publication, an agent, or a publisher, your writing, your flesh and blood final draft versions of stories that fell out of your head, have to leave the nest and you have to watch from the front door and see if they have wings. But how do you know your stories, novels, essays, poems are ready?

Mistake #124 Not Following Your Heart

I'm a fairly regular reader to the blog What Not To Do As a Writer written by the ever talented and sailor-mouthed Lisa Kilian. On her blog she lists all of the possible mistakes a writer can/could/will make, some of which we've all learned by experience. Lisa's blog has been one of the few voices on the internet to speak to other writers and admit that on some days: it all sucks, and on other days: you suck.

This week she posted that she's "going rogue" and no longer going to update her site anymore, although nothing will be taken down. Her life and dreams are leading her in another direction and I think I'd like to tip my hat to her and say, in tribute, that Mistake #124 should be Not Following Your Heart.

Remembering What This Writing Thing is All About

I just wanted to share something with you real quick and I'm not even going to count it as my "weekly" (I use this term loosely) post. I really like author Ann Patchett, especially "The Patron Saint of Liars." Her stories work for me and her style of writing resonates with me most of the time. A few days ago I happened to see in my library's catalog that she had a non-fiction book called "What Now?" which is a commencement speech she gave.

Creating a Story Outline

I'm currently working on an idea for a new novel which I plan to write in November. While I'm not scribbling any words on the page until November first, a la NaNoWriMo, I am rigorously plotting the tale and doing research on my subject matter ahead of time so I know what to write when the time comes.

I like to write as a mix of planned plotting (outlines) and discovery writing. I may know what's going to happen next in a general sense, but the details come during the writing of the scene. I might know what one character will say, for sure, 100%, and will have written the quote down on a scrap of paper, but I might not know what the other character's reaction will be, not entirely anyway.

Changing the Endings of Stories

A few months ago I submitted a short story to my critique group. A sorrowful tale, really, about a simple man alone in his house waiting for his family to return home. While everyone agreed they liked the story and successfully pointed and laughed as they ripped out my had-s, was-s, started to-s, and look-s, the majority of the group also pointed my attention to a plot element I placed in the center of the story. This detail, they said, held my ending. But how could that be, obviously it showed itself in the center of the story?

The 5 Question Test: Are you are writer, or aren't you?

Recently, I've had the honor to see how far I have come as a writer and I have to say, it's really trippy.

In a few separate occasions I had conversations with other writers who were either beginners or writers who've been at this game longer than I, but are apparently a touch more resistant to change. In each of these situations it occurred to me that I have come so far since my early days of writing horrible slop (and thinking it could be huge), that I probably would shred my old self to bits in a workshop with everything I've learned over time and with experience. (To be clear, even in my old college workshop days I loved being told what was wrong with my writing because it felt like progress.)

Your Literary Shelf Life

I have an assignment for you. One that takes you away from the screen you're in front of right now (you know, the box where your friends are?) and sends you out into the world. Don't worry this won't be hard and I'll even ease you, calm your nerves, pat your little head while I tell you a story about me. If you want a story about someone else, so somewhere else. Right?

But this is about me and you, mostly me, but also mostly you. I'm worried about my literary shelf life and I don't know that you've even thought about yours. Now, that's not to say I think I'm tough shit or anything, and I'm not talking about those 15 minutes of fame everyone else has. I'm talking about your works' actual, physical, and very real life on the shelf.

Writing on the Road

I'm just a few days away from a beautiful vacation that is long overdue. We're going to one of my most favorite spots in the world for the standard rest and relaxation where we play outside, eat, read, chat, swim in the ocean, play board games, do art, and cook together as a family and I love this time. There also is no phone, television, or Internet. In my opinion, this is the stuff dreams are made of.

A Story of Revision

I have this little story that only a handful of people have read. All in all, everyone agrees there's something good going on here, but I couldn't seem to put my finger on what wasn't working. The character was solid, a little narrative heavy, but only one guy is seen in the story, so I let that slide. I just didn't have a sense of where to take this ball of 90% and turn it into 100%. So, then I submitted it to my critique group. Like a white flag going up in a war zone, they spotted the issue and immediately everyone in the group recognized the problem. I had the story's beginning, middle, end, but I had jumbled it up and a portion I felt was middle material, they unanimously agreed belonged as the hook at the end.

Finding "It" Again

So, here I am and I really want to make excuses for why I haven't posted anything in what feels like forever, but I'm not going to make excuses. I should probably also come up with one excuse for why I tend to start blog sentences with words like "so" or "well," but I won't do that either. Like an ever curling and crashing wave, life sometimes pulls you away from the beaches of writing and sometimes washes you ashore to be stranded in your own mind -- caught up in characters and plots and dialogue and descriptions -- and I find you have to go with the flow [cliche, I know] and not fight it.

My Cat Can Help Your Writing

I have a cat. Her name is Azriel. Probably fifty percent of the time when she's sleeping she wants to be under a blanket. If I'm in the bed, she's under the covers sleeping between my knees. If I'm on the couch she's either under the covers on my lap or under the blanket on the cushion next to me using my leg as a pillow. It is very cute and I'm not even one of those "puppies and kitties and baby owls are cute" kind of girls. She's also the softest cat in the universe, but that's another story that involves rabbit jealousy and resentment.

Reading Notes: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Just a quick note to say that 1) I'm alive and writing, and 2) I finally finished Water for Elephants after a month or two of not having time to read and then waiting for my purchased copy to come in the mail after the library copy had to go back.

Here are my notes: it was amazing!!!
Here are the extended notes:

Remembering the Basics

The Friedrich Agency recently posted an article listing the writing advice they gave to an aspiring 13 year old boy. I think this is a great list to remember the basics of what it is we writers are supposed to be doing -- reading other authors and keeping ourselves well rounded. It's short, sweet, and to the point. Have a look for yourself.

Writing Anyway

The past two weeks have been unusually rough for a whole host of reasons I won't go into which include not getting any actual fiction written. Right now my biggest challenge is submitting my novel Reading Glasses chapter by chapter to my writing group. I love them. They tell you when it works and when it doesn't. And when 60% of the group said they didn't care for the main character, I had to sit up straight in my chair and take it, full force in the face that this protagonist wasn't likable enough. So, back to the drawing board I went to remold this woman into someone the reader will want to follow into the depths of hell, otherwise when she goes there the reader might think she deserves it (which isn't my intention).

Here's the tricky bit and the part you don't learn about in any writing class. You can get trapped in the in between of knowing what isn't working and where you want to be, but feel powerless to climb out of the muck of writing quicksand on your own. Like any brainiac with an eye for distractors I made a scene chart for Reading Glasses -- a new one. I plotted each point of tension, each building of drama, and each climactic point I could. I rewrote the entire first chapter and changed how the qualities of my main character were being portrayed while still carrying the basic plot of the story. Instead of a bitch, she was more gracious. Instead of always getting the last word, I made her stumble because of what she said. 

And then I shut down. I stared at my chart of what was supposed to happen next and then I stared at it some more. I was frozen. Trapped in the what should or shouldn't happen to my character next. I had to get away from my own mind and I had to do it quick if I was ever going to write another thing again. All the while my husband is saying I should work on another project all together, which of course, makes me think that's a good idea instead of facing my fears and writing my way out of my character problem.

Well, I finally just told my brain to shut up and I got to work. It wasn't fantastic, but it was progress. I had about enough energy to pop the cork off the writing wine, but as I write this, I have yet to actually tip the bottle and get the good stuff to pour out. The fact that the new writing wasn't that good doesn't scare me anywhere near as much as not writing at all, so I'll take the dry rotted cork any day. I hope you're able to do the same and take the bad writing as a good sign that the good writing isn't far away. When you can do that, it's a step in the right direction.

Dips and Spinning and Demons, Oh My!

I'll say it. Today was a vicious day. What started so small and unassuming turned into this festering puss ball of unfinished work and distractions. I had about 15 projects on my desk (meaning my laptop since my desk is my lap these days) and only about three or four items had been completed by lunch time. This is not progress. I plugged away, pushed, shoved, bribed, all of the above, and when we sat down for dinner it felt like I had gotten nowhere.

That's when I realized I kept taking dips. Dipping into one project, moving away, and dipping into another. Have you ever done this? Are we crazy? I was working in small bites round and round, but never getting any one thing really pushed in the right direction. My sister and I call this spinning -- you have all this momentum and movement, yet you're not actually moving forward.  If this one day was bad, it would be okay, but that seems to have been the theme for the week and no one let me in on it. Suckaroo.  

*Not actual demon.
It's like I was distracting myself, "oh, shiny," and going back to the document from an hour earlier only to leap frog over to something else ten minutes later. Like I was being possessed by some writing demon that didn't approve of final drafts or rereading pieces to edit them. Perhaps this demon needs to be named for the times when I do this, or perhaps he deserves to go nameless through the room as it makes messes of my work. Oh, wait! Let me open a new document and we can make a list to name him... Suggestions?

7 Ways to Make Inspiration Come to You

As a writer, what inspires you? Is it a great book you just finished reading? Did you sit at the park and "people watch" during your lunch break and get some ideas there? Were you meditating on margaritas to set the inner writer free? It's always interesting where different authors get their ideas. Some get more ideas the more they write, while others draw a blank in front of the page but excel after taking a jog to get the creative juices flowing.

I know I tend to find inspiration in examining life and relationships. I think about how people relate to each other, how they talk to each other, whether or not they touch, etc. If I want an idea for a story sometimes I think about or go to public places, the mall, the movie theater, the park. Sometimes just being alone and engaging in the five senses will spark some creativity. Other times I hear some bit of dialogue or read a line and a couple of paired words really grab me and that prompt is enough to build a story around.

Is your mind still blank? Here are seven other suggestions that might provide a spark you can turn into a fire.

1. Watch a film, read a book, or listen to a CD that puts you in the mood for writing or sets the tone for the writing you need to do. I find there are some stories that have a soundtrack and listening to a specific CD while I work on them adds to the experience. 

2. Take a walk. Think about writing as you stroll down the street. This is a great way to work out plot holes, dialogue issues, or character backstories.

3. Take a walk. Don't think about writing at all. Be present in the moment to observe the sounds of running water or birds, the look of sunlight filtering through trees, or even the smell of the earth under fallen leaves.

4. "Business lunch." Take yourself out to eat alone or with a writer friend. Giving yourself a break from the computer or pen and paper and shutting to doors on your writer's mindset can often give you the freedom to let new information in that the internal editor wasn't allowing.

5. Free write like no one is watching. Open a new document or pull out a scrap piece of paper and write as fast as you can all the horrible things you can't write into your current story. If you're working on a romance novel, then quickly zip out a 500 word scene of someone stumbling in on a murder in progress. Write high-tech science fiction? Give yourself a 300 word description of an open meadow at sunrise.

6. Keep a journal. Often writing about the thoughts in your head and sorting through them can release that part of you that has been trying to be inspired but couldn't under all the clutter in your mind. Whether you write in a journal every day or only when you need to sort out plot points and characters, a lot can be uncovered in the process.

7. Exercise. Sitting still for hours on end can be exhausting, but while your brain is working a mile a minute, your legs, back, arms, heart, and core are in reality just sitting around going unused. Regular exercise can push your body and turn off your brain for a while. More than likely this will also improve your sleep. (See how I assume you're not getting enough sleep? Most of us aren't.)

Wherever you find your muse the important thing to remember is to keep writing whether they find you today or not. There will be days without inspiration but that doesn't mean it won't come to you. Once you realize where to find your inspiration, remember to go back to that place often to make the inspiration come to you.

Now it's your turn. Share where you find your inspiration in the comments section.

Confessions: Small Complaint about the Kindle

My dad gave me a Kindle for Christmas. I love it. It made me want to cry just opening it because it's something that I've considered getting, but would never buy for myself. With a child you stop thinking anything over about $25 is worthy of your own wants, so it wouldn't have ever happened. Since then I've downloaded a bazillion free titles and even a couple of games my daughter and I can play together. I've also been checking out a few samples of books that I'm not sure I want to read. A sample gives you the first however many pages of a book without purchase (like standing in the bookstore)--enough to wet your whistle or turn you off entirely from buying the book.

Well, I was thinking about Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. I've read other stuff by Hurston, but wasn't sure about getting this one since I would have to pay for it. So, I downloaded the sample with introduction by Edwidge Danticat (who I also enjoy as an author). Here's the problem: 100% of the sample is the introduction! I'd like to think someone at the wheel could make it so samples were the actual text of the story and not the first physical pages of the book, but I know that ship sailed with computer automation in control of just about everything these days.

I'm not mad, just disappointed. It's no secret Amazon has had some questionable issues in the past like selling pedophile how-to books and allowing authors to post 43 positive reviews of their own books to boost their star rating, but this is disappointing on a different front. If I went into an ice cream shop and wanted a sample they wouldn't show me the cone, they would give me some of the ice cream. Likewise, I don't want to sample an introduction to a literary work, I want to sample the actual work. Granted, this is the first sample where this has been a problem, but something tells me it won't be the last...

Critique Groups: The Writing Mirror You Need

I applied and was accepted into a writing critique group last week thanks to some amazing information from a very inspiring writer. I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am for this group and how remarkable they are at picking apart a story or chapter and guiding the rebuilding process.

To be clear, this isn't my first writing group. I was a part of several workshops through both undergrad and grad school, and knew what I liked and what I didn't. My problem over the last few years has been trying to find a group of writers that wanted to publish and who were tough with their critiques. If you ever want to get better at your writing, then you need a set of people that are willing to tell you when you're holding back, writing crap, or blowing the reader away with crisp dialogue or realistic description.

This is where a critique group can be amazing, because a writing group is the equivalent of holding up a mirror to your writing. You're going to see your own errors in other members' stories, you're going to get called on it when you haven't given something your all, and your going to, as a consequence of it all, keep plot, character, voice, and other aspects of story in the forefront of your mind as you work.

If you feel like you're writing in a vacuum and don't know if your story is really coming across the way you think it is, then it might just be time to start looking for a group that will be that mirror or reality.  

How Editing Will Make You a Better First Draft Writer

Author Anne Lamott says in her book "Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life" that you have to understand you're going to write "shitty first drafts." It's as inevitable as the sun rising or spilling something on your shirt right before a big presentation. You will also, because of those horrible first drafts, have to revise your writing. Revision is a necessity and anyone who thinks publishable work happens on the first draft level has a lot to learn about writing or is kidding themselves.

The process of revision can be grouped into at least two categories which will require more than two passes over your manuscript. The two categories are as follows: edit for story and edit for clarity. Edit for story sounds deceptively simple, but what it requires is looking over this thing you have created and deciding what is worthy of staying and what desperately needs to get kicked out. This can include changing characters, filling plot holes, killing off characters, changing scene locations, pushing the story forward in places where it drags, or adding more emotional pull or impact to your characters as well as a slew of other things. Your gut and good writing friends can tell you what's wrong with the story and then your job is to fix it.

After you have edited for story and deleted pages, paragraphs, even continents from your manuscript you should know without a doubt what is staying in. Then you can edit for clarity. This involves the painful task of line editing your work as best introduced by Aimee L. Salter in her Self-Editing series as seek and destroy missions. You search your story for unnecessary words, poor grammar, verb tense inconsistencies, etc., all of which will tighten your work for clarity and make the story more clear and accessible for the reader.

Now, that's a lot of work, you say, and it is. A lot of work which can take days, weeks, months, and even years with the right or wrong author and the right or wrong story. Taking all of this into consideration, wouldn't it just be easier if you wrote a better first draft? It's true, revision makes you realize how much you want to be a better first drafter. If you aren't challenging yourself with revisions, then you can't possibly grow as a writer. My father told me once that life is the opposite of school: you take the test and then you learn the lesson. This also applies to writing since revision work can teach you more about fresh, first draft writing than actually doing the first draft writing can.

For example, if you realize through the revision process that you use the word "just" too much and every time you turn around you've put "just" in the dialogue, the exposition, descriptions, and so on, I guarantee you're going to quit writing "just" so damn much on the next story you write because you're sick of seeing the thing and having to delete or replace it a million times. My problem, as you can see by the beginning of this paragraph, is using run on sentences. My new job, therefore, in first draft writing is to write shorter, precise, more direct sentences.

I promise you if you put on your armor and go into battle with your manuscript to fix both story and clarity you will become a better first draft writer because you will be made aware of what you're doing. Man is programmed to learn from mistakes, so take this opportunity to use the lengthy, tedious, yet rewarding revision process as your teacher for how to conscientiously construct a better first draft.

The Word of the Day: Tighten

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, step right up and meet the most sensational beast the world has ever seen. A remarkable feat, magical and mysterious. I give you a human being that can turn into a puddle. That's right, a puddle. As she stands before you, looking very solid and able to challenge gravity, at any moment she can transform into a gelatinous liquid mass sliding around on the floor with no real sense of direction.

Okay, okay. You'll have to forgive the introduction here. I've been reading Water for Elephants and I'm feeling a little circus-y. I've also been revising the novel Reading Glasses (or so it is called until I can find it a new name) that has great, great potential and apparently a lot of excess fat. Somehow, portions of this excess didn't stand out to me as much in previous revisions and now it's like I can't not see the problem. So, the word of the day around my writing world is: tighten.

Lee Martin has something to say to you...

...and I couldn't have said it better myself. No really. I couldn't.
This is some great advice for writers! Never forget we remember characters not plots.

Writer's Re-Treat: Baked Apples

I've been busting my butt today at the computer and I thought it was time for a break so I threw a few ingredients together for a writing treat. It turned out so well I thought I'd share it with you. You've worked hard, right? You've written pages upon pages for your big project. You deserve a break, yes, you do.

The baked apples are a perfect little reward for good writing that is great on cold nights with a cup of coffee or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Toss it together, throw it in the oven, get back to writing and in 20 minutes you have a great writer's re-treat.

*Don't make this recipe if you aren't writing or you'll be stricken with guilt.

Preheat oven to 375F.
Grease a loaf pan.
Chop two Granny Smith apples and put in the pan.
In a bowl, crush a cup of corn flakes (or other cereal) and mix with two tablespoons sugar and a half teaspoon cinnamon.
Sprinkle the mix over your apples. Set pats of butter (two tablespoons total) over the mix.
Put in oven uncovered and bake for 20 minutes.