Monday, May 5, 2014

It's Been A Long Time, Been A Long Time

I feel like I haven't blogged in a thousand years which equates to several months in the real world.  Given the tornado that has been my life, I am happy to report that I am back on solid ground and happy as a clam...most days.  As a writer, work has always been a wonderful thermometer in terms of diagnosing my general state of being.  Simply put, when my life is in balance, I write well and I write often.  When matters are in a disarray, new work suffers. 

As things have fallen back into place, ideas sprout randomly, and I don't always have the time or energy to turn them into full-fledged stories, so I developed a list of quick and easy ways to capture these ideas without technically sitting down and writing a story.  All of the tips and tricks utilize the growing number of websites designed to harness creativity and present the user with an accessible final product.  These nontraditional story methods are also highly useful in the classroom when trying to prod reluctant writers to craft a tale.

Pinterest - Snag pictures and generate a visual story.  It's quick, easy, and serves as a wonderful graphic outline once you are ready to put the narrative into writing.  There is also a lovely new feature allowing users to construct a Secret Board which preserves your privacy and reduces the pressure of creating something immediately worthy of the world at large.

Smash Book - These journals can be purchased at both craft and department stores (and I've found a few orphan books on super clearance at TJ Maxx!)  Click here to see one in action, but essentially it's a journal with eccentric, prepopulated design pages and a handy pen/glue stick to write and adhere all of your story ideas.  I also find that the pages themselves often inspire me.  I'm currently planning a novel and devoting one page per chapter with all sorts of artifacts and notes.

Twitter - Twitterfiction is on the rise as authors, both emerging and veteran, are tweeting stories.  (See Jennifer Egan's BlackBox here, with subscription.)  A private Twitter feed also allows you to brainstorm a story in tiny bits and pieces.  This is particularly helpful when you've got the chronology down but want to look at the story as a brief outline without the meat on the bones.  Get the Twitter app on your phone to facilitate updating ideas at the grocery store, the dentist office, or the park. - This website allows you to create a personalized soundtrack, and if we've learned anything from Nick Hornby and High Fideltiy, sometimes a top ten list can clarify and make the story.  Select songs that inspire you, slap them all together, and decide on a narrative afterwards. 
Trippy- Substitute any favorite travel site here.  All you need is a character, perhaps an old favorite who maybe hasn't fit into a story.  Send them somewhere interesting, and plan a vacation.  Exploring new territories, arranging an itinerary, and even looking for the right hotels, might spark your creative juices.  Where would be the perfect destination for a murder?  A wedding?  A suicide?  A birthday?

TheKnot - Plan a wedding, fill a registry with bizarre items, or just imagine a couple putting together their lives.  Tell the story in objects, perhaps a mismatch between two mismatched people or the perfect coupling.  This is best when describing the story of two.

Project Decor - Start with the setting rather than character.  Plan the perfect room, and as you populate it decide what sort of person lives inside.  Just the act of designing a home often unlocks hidden creativity.

Obviously there are a million other sites that would fit the bill when trying a nontraditional story construct.  Explore the internet, free youself from pen and paper, and see what you can do!   Happy writing.  

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Personal Drama Makes the Best Stories


You predict that running into the other woman will be traumatic, catastrophic, a ripping of the sandy earth beneath your feet.  You’ve studied enough Jerry Springer reruns to know that a millisecond of the meeting might prove exciting, the pulled hair and a nervous energy that drags you into actions you’ve never felt capable of before.  Your body will instinctually discern how to throw a punch, fingers curled into a fleshy puppet bent on exacting revenge.  Time will slow to a crawl while you savor every word you say, every inch of respect you reclaim. 

Except when the moment happens, nothing you expected plays out.  It is sickeningly comical how mundane the incident is.  The apartment, his apartment, smells like dust and mildewed soap.  The other woman hangs back behind a spare bedroom door, because there is no bravery or excitement present.  There is, in fact, a distinct lack of passion.  When you walk into the hiding room, you realize that you are the only passionate being present.  Everything else fades to a milky white.  You want to laugh except it will seem out of place.  Both of them deserve the silence they’ve created for themselves.  You have your daughter in your arms, and when the two of you leave there will be laughter at home.  You save your laughter for the places that deserve it.

And all of the fears, that she would be prettier or exotic, disappear and you understand that she isn’t even a person.  Rather she’s the physical embodiment of all the ugliness your soon to be ex-husband was hiding in the corners of his body, beneath his pillow at night right after he whispered I love you.  She is tangled vines and drooping intentions wearing a smirk that could be blown away with a cool puff of breath.  One word whispers behind your ears as you turn and descend a staircase actually carrying you upward.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Writing Prompts Just Because

I never blog enough.  (No, that's definitively not the prompt...although if it works for you, go to town.)  But after two requests to post something new, I realized that even if a few people get something out of my blog, I should make a dedicated effort to write at least once a week.  Today's an insanity day - yoga, whirlwind trip to Philly, serving on a new writing committee, meditation, dog walk/cardio/dog spazzing at squirrels - all before 5 p.m., so rather than try and be witty or deep, I'll post my top ten favorite writing prompts all stolen from places that probably stole them from other places.  I keep these in my writing toolbox on the days that I run dry.

1) Stick a kleptomaniac smack dab in the center of a packed crowd and see what he or she takes.

2) Create a character who hates a holiday and make them live through it.  (Opt for the holidays less traveled - Valentine's Day is too easy.)

3) Think Warm Bodies and craft a creature who defies the norm (a girl scout who refuses to sell cookies, a doctor who takes lives, a poet who can't spell.  You get the idea.)

4) Chronicle a day in the life of a secret admirer who falls out of love right when the crush falls in.

5) Screw with your character's brain.  Make him or her go colorblind or lose the ability to count.

6) Have siblings fight!  It's been done, but if done right, it can always work again and play with ages.

7) Take your favorite song and find a gorgeous line.  Write it at the top and bottom of the page.  Fill in the blank space.

8) Frankenstein the following words into a story: arithmetic, gypsy, typewriter, cinnamon, concrete. (Any five random words NOT of your selection will work.  Pester creative friends for suggestions.)

9) Take your favorite vintage character and make a modern version.  Use a new name and all that good stuff, but he or she should have the same traits and flaws as the original.

10) Start your story with 'I need you.'  This is my favorite, and while I've never actually kept this first line, it brings about the best results.


Saturday, August 24, 2013

My Cup Runneth Over...

With coffee.  And other things, but lately I've rekindled an already pretty strong love affair with Starbucks despite all of the posts about their questionable 'loaded gun in store' policy.  The socially conscious part of my brain is rioting while the biochemical need I have for their coffee is sated twice a day.  But that's not really the cup I want to talk about.  Instead, it's the professional one.

Around my birthday (in the 30's, no specifics!) in June, I decided that my writing career had become stagnant.  I was still attending conferences and working on novels and stories, but a timeline was lacking.  A missing urgency.  Instead it felt like projects were completed at random, and my work was suffering.  So I turned to good old-fashioned goal setting and made a list.  A list I didn't share with anyone, a list that felt both reasonable and ambitious, but a list nonetheless.  At the time I told myself I should be writing and it was a procrastination tactic, nothing more.  

But lo and behold it worked.

Two of my short stories were accepted for online journals.  "Encounters In the Park" can be found here, thanks to Literary Orphans.  And yes, that is absolutely my silhouette behind the story. (If you follow the link, you'll see why this statement is utterly untrue and vaguely hysterical.)  And flash fiction originally written for one of NPR's Three-Minute Fiction will show up in the Toasted Cheese Literary Journal next month.

Pair this with an acceptance to Lesley University's Creative Writing MFA program and a fantastic agent reviewing my YA novel as we speak, and I couldn't be happier with the summer's writing progress.  And I am one thousand percent certain that without those defined goals, none of that would have happened.

In part this post allows me to put the results into writing as a testament of what a few months of hard work can really do, but it's also a reminder of just how important the goal setting and planning are.  I fight this thought often, because writing has always been such an intimate, organic process for me.  Even forcing myself to write every day no matter my mood or the inspiration has been tough, but the lists and strategic thinking helped perform wonders with my writing routine, too.

My recommendation, perhaps a terribly obvious one, is as follows.  Think specifically about what you want to get out of writing.  Are you working towards a book?  Do you plan on publishing short stories as a hobby, or do you hope to teach/mentor other writers or just find your own mentor to move out of the amateur writing world?  Of course it's FINE to say 'I want to be a writer.'  But there are many different journeys implied by that statement, many exciting paths to pursue.  Defining that journey can only make it richer, and your success rate will skyrocket.  Break each goal into steps, translate those steps to an action calendar, and hit all of your checkpoints.  Hold yourself accountable.  I'm the first to admit that first and foremost you must be a good writer to get anywhere (except Stephenie Meyer, she's an anomaly), but once you've grown into your writing shoes, goal setting will take you to that next step.  

The Starbucks obsession, of course, is optional.

Good luck writing!  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Little Talks

It's a little blog about little opportunities to write just a little bit.
The world of Flash Fiction is exploding and giving way to shorter mediums.  Some may pooh-pooh the abbreviated works, but I think it's a wonderful way to exercise your writing chops.  Below find brief descriptions and links to some unique opportunities to publish it...just a little bit.  (Corny reference to a 90's dance song, I know. :-)

Join Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a host of other cronies to draw a little picture, write a few words, and post/record your creation.  Also check out The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, where they collected the best of the best and published them.

Six-Word Memoirs 

You must be living under a rock if you haven't heard about Hemingway's baby shoes tale or the magazine that turned stringing together six brilliant words into a genre.  Smith Magazine provides prompts and encourages a community to participate in developing six-word narratives and memoirs.

Three-Minute Fiction

In three minutes or less, what can you do?  NPR hosts a contest that recognizes a fair amount of folks.  Follow the prompt and your small story (read under three minutes) may end up on the radio or the website.  Their FB page also offers an interesting community of authors who give kudos and critiques. 


This monthly literary magazine finds its home on a postcard, containing only 150 words or less.  The competition is steep, but the medium is pretty innovative.

Safety Pin Review

Speaking of innovative mediums, how about someone wearing your story on a patch on their back?  I love this idea and tried it with my creative writing class.  Stories should be compelling and distracting.  Why not send them out into the world to grab unsuspecting victims, maybe even those who don't like to read!?

One Sentence

"True stories, told in one sentence."  Pick the most interesting moment in your life and describe is so the reader believes it's that important, too!

There are a slew of other little opportunities out there.  Feel free to add your own finds as a comment.  Most importantly, write write write!

Friday, July 12, 2013

For the Love of the Sport

Except I am miserable at sports.  (Those of you who shared in the torture of high school gym with me can probably attest to this fact.)  So perhaps for the love of the game might have been a more appropriate title for this blog entry.  And for me the game has always been and will always be writing.

And after years of one foot in and one foot out, I'm making changes to put more energy into my writing career because without its presence in my life, everything else falls a little flat.  Of course this renewed dedication comes at a cost.  Laundry will take longer to get done or may walk itself into the washer on its own.  (Matthew's tennis socks, I'm speaking directly to you!)  And of course don't forget Mother's Guilt.  Yes my children will only be young once (read Leah Ferguson's sublime blog post about letting children go here), but then again I only get to be young once, too!  Or the fear of failure, a tremendous black shadow that literally climbs into my lungs and chokes me until I shut down the laptop, because I don't just want to write anything.  I want to write good things.  Meaningful things.  I recognize the buzz I feel in the pit of my stomach when I read an incredible line.  I tell folks about it.  I copy it in the corner of a planner or journal to savor because my life changes with the words.  There is an infinitesimal but important shift in my brain. All because an author wrote something good.

And to move forward in this dream that started when I wrote "The Cat and the Quilt" in first grade, I need a game plan.

Step One: Apply to several strong MFA programs.  (One has already written back, so no matter what I'm going somewhere. :-)

Step Two: Write more deeply.  I want to be a better writer.  I want to learn the craft as well as I humanly can, and to do this, I have to push myself out of the genres I tend to live in.  Explore new territories.  Read more variety.  Stretch myself.

Step Three: Advertise.  Not self-advertise so much, but if I announce my intentions to the big wide world, they have to happen, right?

Step Four: Take advantage of mentors.  I know so many phenomenal writers and professionals who often offer help, but there's always a reason I say no.  I'm busy.  I'm scared my work won't measure up.  I'm intimidated.  Nope, no more.

Step Five: Remember the endgame.  I write to write to write.  I do not write because I think I'll be the next JK Rowling or plan to see my face on a poster at B and N.  (I'm not saying those things wouldn't be cool. :-)  But the writing should always be the focus.  Often at writing conferences folks are hung up on social media, marketing, and self-publishing without a solid piece of writing or desire to learn the craft.  

Step Six: ENJOY.  I get to live a writer's life, along with my other insanely fun careers (teacher, wife, and mother).  Being a writer makes all my other jobs that much richer, and I'm thrilled that I discovered it in my life so long ago.  

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Writing Hurts...Literally

Summer is a time for relaxation, rejuvenation, and intense physical therapy!?  After a visit to the masseuse who referred me to the chiropractor who referred me to the back specialist, I'll be visiting a PT guru two to three times a week for a few months to beat two vertebrae back into line with the rest of my spine.  It's nothing dire, and summer offers me time to heal, but I have to admit I panicked when the thought of contorting like a pretzel rather than leisurely reading and writing all summer presented itself.  (Trust me, I'm getting to writing.  This isn't just a ranting session.)

My big question throughout the labyrinth of doctor visits and consultations was why.  Why had my spine decided to run zigzag?  Why were my shoulders permanently rolled forward?  Why did it hurt to hold onto a door frame and lean forward to stretch muscles that had decidedly clenched shut?

Simple.  I'm a writer. 

I hunch.  I lean.  I lurch.  My body is often curled fetal position style over my lovely laptop.  And when I'm editing, it's even worse.  I'll take a printed manuscript and lie on one side, crushing that shoulder, too involved in making red marks to consider comfort.  And this doesn't even address the reading, because inevitably writers are readers.  We crane our necks over the next best seller, often so lost in a new world that we don't necessarily stay in touch with our own bodies.  And this is all done in a sitting, sedentary position.

Each of the specialists peppered me with suggestions to improve my day to day physicality.  And at first I distinctly rolled my eyes.  Several times.  The advice ranged from a standing desk to reading nearly upside-down with arms extended backwards.  (Exactly who holds the book, then?)  And the lists grew.  At one point I started to tear up a little, because writing is supposed to be my absolute Zen space when I stop worrying about the rest of the world and focus solely on the story.  When did my achy body elbow into the equation?

And then I remembered something an incredibly wise friend mentioned.  He had been struggling with a phenomenal writing project but faced a multitude of rejections.  The author loved his antagonist and could not deal with changing him based on the same suggestion by critique partners and agents alike.  Until one day he snapped and came to the following conclusion.

"I was being an ass, when all I had to do was take a very deep breath, and fix the problem."

Long story short, I'm following the specialists' lists.  Across the board.  I am listening to my body as I write, and (gulp - swallowing the pride here), the writing is better.  So are my back and my neck, obviously.  If I don't feel well, inside and out, top to bottom, the writing is congested and not my best.  Duh!  

And I've taken a miserably long time to share a few useful tricks and tips to help keep the body as cozy as the mind while you're writing.  Pick and choose what makes sense, as long as you keep writing.  

*A standing desk!  (See my homemade ridiculous version below, since I can't actually build anything, but it works like a charm.)  When you write standing up there is a sense of urgency and purpose, and your tailbone is oh so happy to be up and wiggly.

*Yoga every thirty minutes.  NO MATTER WHAT.  Pick a simple, three-step routine but be consistent and focus on the areas of your body that tighten up during the writing process.

*Food every two hours.  Good foods, that is.  Your blood sugar stays regular, and it fights inflammation. 

*SLOWLY sip water every ten minutes.  It's not just hydrating, but it also forces the body and mind to shift for a second.  I've been infusing my own water, and it is so tasty.

*Put fresh flowers on your desk.  This isn't for physicality so much as a pleasant little jolt to the senses.  Good smells and good oxygen nearby.

*Meditate before and after writing.  Just for a minute or two to start you in the right direction and remember at the end where you've been.  This is also a nice time to notice if any part of your body feels out of whack.

*Write when your body is fresh.  All of you fellow mommies probably put work first (and even if you're a SAHM, you're still working!), then take care of the kids, and then finally write when your body has maybe two ounces of strength left.  One of the my critique buddies from SCBWI writes every morning from 5 to 7 no matter what, and she has three kids and a part-time job.  (And she's writing a ten billion word fantasy novel.  If she can do it, we can do it.) 

Take care of yourself as a writer.  Writing should feel good, body and soul.  If it doesn't, go back to the drawing board.  We may not all have the time or resources to go adventure with Natalie Goldberg on one of her writing retreats, but we can create a comfortable and inspiring spot for writing in our everyday lives.