stupid word prompt tricks
- 51,730 words (if poetry, lines) long
The tricks, I mean. Nothing stupid about the word prompts. Mis-aimed, perhaps, maybe less then entirely appropriate for what I'm trying to do, but certainly not stupid.
See, I remembered this morning another podcast whose every episode ends in a writing prompt: Writing Excuses with Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Taylor, Dan Wells, and Brian Sanderson. The very memorable slogan is, "Fifteen minutes, because you're in a hurry and we're not that smart." It's perfect for my roller derby commute, or will be once we move into our new practice space that's not even 15 minutes away from home. (Tonight's practice, by contrast, was an hour's drive each way.)
The latest episode featured an interview with Patty Garcia, Director of Publicity for Tor & Forge Books. Accordingly, the writing prompt for that episode, which they post in their show notes as well as announce in the podcast, was this:
Write a short essay that touches on one of your books, and that will drive interest in your book.
This was very much not the prompt for me. I mean, yes, where the resistance is, there is the strong writing, sure, but this isn't a story idea prompt. I wanted a story idea prompt, darn it.
So I turned it into a story idea prompt. I took the prompt sideways. Instead of writing an essay meant to drive interest in my book, I wrote the beginning of a story in which a teenage girl got interested in my book. The book was Iron Wheels, only in some alternate reality where it had been published early enough to have been a favorite of her mother, and written with a fourth-wall-breaking narrator who promised that there was a secret within those pages meant just for her, only for her. And that secret was, of course, that the Fae are real.
I'm realizing lately that I have countless story ideas that take place in the world of Iron Wheels. Which is awkward, because I still don't feel like I have a handle on the shape of that world. Maybe all these random sessions of freewriting that take me back there will help me figure it out. Maybe they'll even help me get Iron Wheels finished and ready to visit agents. Wouldn't that be something?
Anyway, that was my stupid writing prompt trick. Ta-da.
prompts from poughkeepsie for an all-night road trip
- 5,975 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 566 words (if poetry, lines) long
I've been playing with a new source of writing prompts this week: "News from Poughkeepsie," as presented by Mur Lafferty. This is, or at least originated as, a series of writing prompts from the brain of Jared Axelrod. I suspect--though I haven't got a citation for this--that its title comes from Harlan Ellison's famous smart-ass answer to the perennial question, "Where do you get your ideas?" At one point I think Mur was reading one at the end of each episode of her I Should Be Writing podcast. In any case, I'm currently receiving them in her weekly email that you can get if you support ISBW on Patreon. Chuck a buck Mur's way each month and you can get her weekly email too! All while knowing that you're helping to keep the podcast's metaphorical lights on!
Anyway, I've been a supporter for two weeks now, so I've received two of these emails. This week I dug up the writing prompts and used them in my freewriting. Both of them, the one from this week and the one from last, had to do with your antagonist: exercises to help you get to know your story's villain as a three-dimensional character with agency and motives of their own. And I was stuck for a moment, because I don't know who the heck is "my villain." The last few stories I've been working on haven't had villains, not exactly.
Well, "Caroline's Wake" has Caroline's murderer; I guess he's an antagonist, of sorts. But, for one thing, I don't feel like he brings the true central conflict in the story. For another, that story is out in the slush now, so there's limited use in noodling over its antagonist's human moments.
OK, so, what am I working on now? The new story, the one with the feathers. The one that I still haven't come up with a good title for. It doesn't have an antagonist. What it has is a semi-random act of the supernatural and a handful of satellite characters affected by it. Those characters aren't pitted against villains or even banal antagonists. They just have the small day-to-day conflicts that we all do. It's rather like "The Day the Sidewalks Melted" in that way. Hell, it's almost written to the same formula, if "Sidewalks" can be said to have a formula.
In the end I gave up on trying to find a way to make the prompt work for any work in progress. I just made up a new character, decided she was a villain in a story I don't know yet, and let the writing prompt help me ease my way into that story. And that was fun. I had no idea where I was going, but I kept stumbling across signposts as I fumbled my way forward through the 25 minutes. It was E. L. Doctorow's "driving a car at night" style of writing, where "You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."
That's the best kind of writing, when there's a surprise at the end of every sentence that tells you how to write the next sentence. It's what I love about first drafts.
the secret trap behind the job description of full time writer
- 744 words (if poetry, lines) long
It's not a secret because no one tells it, mind you. Everyone tells it, to every writer who ever contemplates quitting their day job. No, it's a secret because it is rarely believed until it is experienced. To put it broadly, it is the secret no one can know until they learn it for themselves. And then, if they're me, they need to relearn it countless times.
Here is that secret: The phrase "I've got plenty of time" is a lie.
It makes sense. It seems obvious. But somehow I keep falling for the lie. I say to myself, "Look at this long beautiful Tuesday stretching out in front of me, with nowhere to be and nothing to do except my own things!" I tell myself, "I'll have a pleasantly lazy working day. Plenty of time to get all my tasks done, even if I take long breaks between them. Plenty of time, even if I sleep late. Plenty of time!"
It's such a seductive lie. How nice it would be, a work day with no urgency to it! Why, it wouldn't even feel like work. It would make the work feel like play. No stress, just playing with words at a leisurely pace all the day long.
But the very lack of urgency has a tendency to result in no work at all.
This is why it's so important for me to make a schedule at the beginning of the day, and affix the scheduled items to scheduled times--or at the very least, work out how long each item will take. "Plenty of time" is in fact a finite amount of time. Remaining aware of that helps put the urgency back into the work day.
Also, I'm not allowed to read books early in the morning anymore. I have a distressing tendency not to put a book down until I've finished reading it, even if it contains real howlers about my hometown.
I did manage to spend a half hour polishing up this week's planned Friday Fictionette release. I'm really rather pleased with it. Tickled, even. When I first approached the writing prompt that it sprang from, I groaned, thinking, "This is twee and embarrassing and likely to be No Fun At All." Then I did it anyway, and, surprise! it was exceedingly fun.
And that's the secret to writing prompts, which, again, no one may know until they learn it for themselves (and they may need to relearn it on occasion): The greater the resistance, the greater the potential. There is fun and interesting stuff on the other side of the "Do I have to?" wall. Go get them.
you should be sitting down for this, and also not in the middle of dinner
So you know that moment when you're out in the field picking relleno-type chili peppers, and you go to pick a great big red one--huge, like two inches wide at the shoulder and a foot long from stem to tip--and you ready your clippers, and you grab that sucker, and it turns out that the dang thing is rotten, and one of your fingers just sinks right through the skin into the putrid soup inside? And then the whole thing disintegrates and drips all over your hand and your pants and your shoes? And it stinks to high heaven, and you realize you just aren't hungry anymore?
You know that moment?
Well, honestly, for your sake, I hope the answer is "no."
I now know that moment. And there is no unknowing it.
On the bright side, we picked upwards of 300 pounds of huge, ripe, red chilis this morning, and they weren't rotten. And my appetite returned in time to sample one. It was delicious.
have camera, will create Friday Fictionette cover art
- 1,141 words (if poetry, lines) long
One of these days, I'll publish my Friday Fictionette somewhat earlier in the day. Like, maybe while it's still light out. This ten-at-night business is silly.
In any case, it's up now. You can read an excerpt right here on this blog, over at Wattpad, or in my Patreon activity stream. You can read the Fictionette in its entirety by becoming a Patron at the suggested minimum pledge level of $1/month. As a reminder, Patrons get to see a new one of these every first through fourth Friday, and one of those four will become free for non-Patrons to read at the end of the month.
"While the Sun Still Shines" went through almost as heavy a revision process as last week's Fictionette. I wanted to give it more shape than just "Oh, good Lord, Katie's whining again, make it stop." And I kind of wish I'd done this back when I was trying to get "The Impact of Snowflakes" out the door. I chose these characters to write a slice-of-life scene about in hopes that I'd get to know them better, but it wasn't until I revised the scene this week that I realized that, gosh, Ashley's kind of being a jerk here. It's not two patient, stoic characters against one whiny one; it's one patient character and one fun-loving character together against one easily irritated narrator throwing a bit of a tantrum.
This would have been a useful insight to have before submitting the short story. Well. Revisions may yet happen. The story's fate in its current slush pile has yet to be determined.
To create cover art for this Fictionette, I scoured Flickr for photos having to do with Mount Sanitas. Most of what I found were copyrighted, "all rights reserved." The few that were released under Creative Commons licenses also specified that commercial use was prohibited. That left one gorgeous photo of Boulder as taken from a Mt. Sanitas trail overlook--but it wasn't quite what I wanted.
Heck with that. I'm a capable person in possession of a functional camera. I went and took a photo myself.
Then I finished the brief walk up to the stone shelter on the cultural resource trail, and I sat inside the shelter in the cool of the stones and I did my morning pages. It was my first time visiting the structure in years. I wondered why that was. I think the previous time I was there, I climbed on top of the shelter (like you're not supposed to do) and watched a meteor shower--again, that was several years ago. It's a nice place. The hike to get there from 4th and Valley View Drive is short but steep, a pretty respectable workout for only 15 minutes.
I was surprised to see new residential lots marked out and new houses going up in an area centered on of 4th and Dewey. There's also a brand new stairway giving access to the trailhead from within what's now the construction zone.
Anyway--click the links, enjoy the view, see you on Monday!
soon to reappear upon the hundred-word stage
- 100 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 100 words (if poetry, lines) long
Good news in the email today: Two more of my drabbles will be appearing at SpeckLit in the very near future! One'll be showing up in early November, and the other in late December. I'm very pleased. Out of the batch of five that I submitted this time around, I'm proudest of these two. So I'm just really pleased and delighted that you'll get to read them at SpeckLit.
(SpeckLit is organized blog-style, with a tag for each author. If you want to pull up all drabbles by a particular author, you click on their tag. For instance, here's mine.)
And that's all the news I've got for you today, since I kind of totally flubbed it as a work day, and that's not something the day can recover from at eleven-thirty at night even when it isn't scrimmage night. There was an off-season low turnout, too, so everyone rotated through all the positions and stayed on the track for at least two jams out of every three. It was a fantastic scrimmage, though. We made it work. We really worked our endurance. I think I jammed pretty darn well for a blocker.
John got to learn the scorekeeper job today. John coming with me to scrimmage is becoming a regular thing. I love it. I love how he's getting to know everyone in the league better, and how they're getting to know him, and they love having him there and he loves being there. Then we had a great post-scrimmage "post-mortem" conversation that started over beer and burgers and continued the whole way home. I love that too.
Tomorrow, as always, is another day, and one that stretches free and clear of external obligations from eight in the morning until one at night. Plenty of time to make up for today. Tomorrow is also a Friday, and I do enjoy my Fridays these days. So, really, I can't complain.
story production engines firing on all four cylinders
I finished the exploratory draft of the new story today. It's still got no title, but that's OK. That'll come during revision. More troubling is that it clocks in at 3,380 words. That's more than double the cut-off called for in the submission guidelines. It's even more than double what the draft was at yesterday, when I figured I was about halfway through.
Such an occasion calls for introspection, or at least evaluation. Which is to say: Can this really be cut down to 1,400 words?
The part of my brain arguing for YES points out that there is, as I observed yesterday, a lot of cruft to be culled. Several things get said over and over again and also redundantly, and many things get said that need not be said at all. For instance: It is less important to remark on Rosalind's Sunday exception to her morning routine of reading the entire newspaper, back to front, than it is to mention that she no longer bothers reading the obituaries. It is less important (for the sake of the story, anyway) to voice Elaine's disapproval of the labels "homeless" or "transient," given her permanent residence under a particular tree in the park, than it is to capture the voice of her tree asking her to be its new dryad.
The theory that YES-brain espouses is this: Now that I've met all the characters in this story and gotten to know their backgrounds, I'm well equipped to trim their surrounding exposition down to those few phrases that best crystallize who they are and what's at stake for them.
NO-brain is more pessimistic, as you might expect. There's too much going on here, says NO-brain. This story needs at least 2,500 words for the reader to have any clue what's going on. Don't sell your characters short!
On the other hand, NO-brain is also bringing some optimism to the table. It points out that as easily as this story idea arose from my freewriting sessions, just as easily might another that's more apt for the submissions call. YES-brain concedes the point, but counters that, this being the case, there's no harm in making the revision attempt here. I've made such good progress while still nearly two weeks to deadline remain, that there will be time to pan for more gold in my Daily Idea .scrivx should this story remain stubbornly above the maximum word count. And then I'll have two brand new stories to shop around!
What strikes me here is how very natural it was to go from "The deadline's imminent and I've absolutely nothing to send!" to "Well, what came out of my timed writing sessions lately?" That didn't used to happen as readily. But now that I've begun the Friday Fictionettes offerings, it's happening every week at the very least. Every Friday, I'm looking at the past week's scribblings and deciding which of them I'll polish up, stick some cover art on, and upload to my creation stream during the corresponding week of the following month. It only makes sense that this mental process would fire up in response to the need for new story material in additional contexts.
This was one of my sneaky self-improvement goals with Friday Fictionettes. The headliner goals were, firstly, to get more of my stuff out where y'all could read it, and more frequently; and, secondly, to potentially earn a little spare change doing so. But behind the scenes I was also hoping to see some improvement in my larger Story Production Process. I wanted to get in some regular practice making that transition from "just a wisp of an idea that I'm noodling on" to "fully fledged and publishable story." I wanted to see that process go more smoothly and happen more often.
With the current story, I'm seeing evidence that this is happening. And I'm delighted.
creating monsters: on the page and on the track
- 1,557 words (if poetry, lines) long
The submission guidelines call for a maximum word length of 1400. I wrote 1557 words of rough draft today and I'm only halfway through. Not even halfway through. I'm a little worried, I won't lie. But I know that today's words were, well, wordy. It's exploratory draft that I'm writing, figuring out who my characters are by talking to myself about them. Most of these words will remain off-stage, as it were, in the final draft. So I'm not a lot worried about it. Just a little.
There's a central theme that's surfacing: the idea of deciding what means the most to you, what's worth fighting for even when it's easiest to move on and let go. What metaphorical hill you choose to metaphorically die on, and then following through with that decision. I like it when central themes arise. They give me a goal to steer by. But they also scare me half to death. Like, this story has literary aspirations. Do I really need this kind of pressure?
In other news: The handywork on the doors is done. What remains is all stuff John and I can do ourselves: take them down, stain them, install door pulls. And then of course there's the painting, cleaning, re-staining, and other improvements we needed to do, like, yesterday. Maybe some of it will get done tomorrow. I don't have derby tomorrow evening, so there's a whole bunch of time and energy free to put toward other causes.
I did have derby tonight. A mixed roster of All Stars and Bombshells (our league's A and B teams) went down to Denver to scrimmage against the Denver Roller Dolls' brand new C team, the Standbys. The idea was to help them practice and prepare for their bout this weekend, but they weren't the only ones who got a good workout, let me tell you. I'm so tired, I'm just empty. I used it all up, y'all. That was a damn good scrimmage.
It was also John's debut as a bench coach. Everyone seemed really glad to have him. Our team coach was especially glad because John's stepping up to the task freed her up to just be the team coach (the coach who faces the track and tells the skaters in play what to do) rather than try to be that and a bench coach (the coach who tells the skaters on the bench who's going to go out on the track next) at the same time. Which is a hell of a lot for a single coach to take on. I know this, because just doing the bench coach job had John as mentally exhausted as I was physically.
He described it to a friend thusly: "Yes, it was fun. It's the kind of fun you have when you almost crash into a ten-car pile-up, and you're all, YAY! I didn't crash!"
He was not so exhausted, mind you, that he didn't come home and immediately fire up an archived bout on WFTDA.tv to watch.
My friends, we have created a monster. And I'm so in love with this monster I can't even begin to tell you.
rewriting my relationship with deadlines starts now
- 0 words (if poetry, lines) long
- 4,400 words (if poetry, lines) long
Until about 2 PM today I was under the impression that the deadline on submissions to An Alphabet of Embers, edited by the most excellent Rose Lemberg, was September 15. That is, today. Which misconception gave me two specific thoughts:
First, that it was a darn good thing I'd begun holding myself to a freewriting session every day, and not just every workday. I added it to my HabitRPG dailies and everything. So Saturday, grumbling but dutiful, I did it. For a writing prompt, I recalled a moment earlier in the day when a feather had floated past the window and I'd thought, "What if that was only the first?" Like, what if, just behind that feather, at any moment, there would come a huge cloud of feathers, like ten down pillows' worth, just billowing along from east to west. Why would that be? What would cause a sudden explosion of feathers, and what effect would it have on the neighborhood? So that's what I wrote about for 25 minutes.
As I drifted off to sleep Saturday night, the results of that timed session came back to me and started to sound a lot like a possible story.
Second, I thought that it was also a good thing I'd taken today off from the farm. There was a good chance I'd wake up this morning in Colorado Springs, having spent Sunday afternoon in the Pikes Peak Derby Dames' Cutthroat Derby Tournament, a four-team, three-bout mix-up. Even if we did drive home Sunday night, I anticipated being absolutely wiped and needing to recover. (And yes, indeed, I did.) Which also meant I'd have all today to write this brand-new story and send it along.
But then I checked the call for submissions and saw that the deadline was indeed September 30. And that gave me a couple of thoughts:
First: "Hooray! That means I don't have to work on it today." Monday isn't typically a writing day, see. (Although it is now a freewriting day. Which I did without grumbling.)
Second: "Looks like I'll be postponing 'Hook' until this thing is done, then. Yay! I mean... Darn."
So now I get a chance to work on this whole "relationship with deadlines" thing. Remember that bookmark? The one that says, "It got better from here"? This week I got to make good on that.
a little light comedy with your fictionette
- 852 words (if poetry, lines) long
Despite the aforementioned difficulties, I think I'm getting better at this. Which is to say, getting all the fictionette things revised, posted, and settled still took longer than it should have (I seriously need to simplify the system), but it was my content writing gigs and not my freewriting or my short story revision that paid the price for it. Priorities! I might possibly have a few.
And for a story-like object that had me in fits all week, it didn't turn out all that bad.
Favorite place this week to revise stories: Over a huge steaming bowl of pho at the neighborhood restaurant. I'm told there are better pho restaurants in Boulder, but this is the one I can walk to, and I think it's yummy. The artwork on the walls is kind of creepy, though.
Least favorite place this week to revise stories: On the BV bus, heading from Boulder to Denver, and realizing that the person sitting next to me is actively and unabashedly reading my work in progress over my shoulder. That is in blatant contradiction of public transportation etiquette, y'all. Don't do that shit.
Not counting for the purpose of Amtrak departures and arrivals, I hadn't been down to LoDo in ages. The occasion for this trip was having heard that the Sklar Brothers would be performing at Comedy Works in Larimer Square this weekend, and thinking, "Why not?" So I went. And they were pretty darn funny, so I was glad I did. The opening acts weren't too bad, either. Stand-up comedy can be a bit of a minefield for me, as exemplified by Jackie Kashian's pin-pointedly accurate summary of the jokes that male comedians tell about their wives. When I'm listening to the comedy channel on the radio, and I hear a comedian start in on his wife, or how it was censorship when a venue wouldn't let him use his favorite ethnic/gender/ableist slur, or how violence against women can be perfectly justified, amiright guys, that's my cue to change the channel for a while, because they ain't going nowhere good from there.
I'm happy to report that tonight's show didn't go there. It occasionally went to places from which you could see it, and once or twice it brought out a copy of the map and pointed to key landmarks, but it didn't actually go there, you know? So I left reasonably happy.
Before I left, I randomly ran into a derby skater in the crowd. Well, I assumed she was a skater. She could have been a fan. Anyway, she had on a High City Derby Divas hoodie, so I said hello. I introduced myself by skate name and league and I asked her whether she'd be at the Pikes Peak Derby Dames mix-up on Sunday. I may have been a bit too enthusiastic. I didn't actually say "OMG YOU'RE DERBY I'M DERBY TOO IT'S A SMALL DAMN DERBY WORLD ISN'T IT DERBYYYYYY!!!!!" but mmmmaybe I came across that way? The interaction went all unexpectedly awkward. At least I had enough self-restraint to keep it short.
For a few hours before and a few hours after the show, I worked on the aforementioned Friday Fictionette stuff over at Leela's European Cafe. They're on 15th between Champa and Stout, they're open 24 hours, they have wifi and comfy seating and a nice variety of music, and they serve really tasty hot chocolate. Also beer and cocktails. Heck with coworking--I want to spend my working day at Leela's. Well, sometimes, anyway. Their late night crowd is really interesting.
In conclusion: I should go down to Denver more. There's enjoyable stuff down there.