creative writing

Exciting News!

Do you ever have one of those months where everything finally comes together? I hope you do, because it feels fantastic. After a lot of hard work, I have some great news to share:

  1. I have a new website for my Writers Work conference series, and I’ve added a writer’s retreat feature! I used the logo you guys chose. Check it out and let me know what you think.
  2. I sent out my first query letter for my novel!
  3. I submitted a short story to The New Yorker and The Missouri Review.
  4. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY…discounted tickets are now available for the next Writers Work Conference 9/20/14 in Times Sq. NY! Have lunch with an agent, hear about authors’ experiences of getting published, meet approachable editors and publishers who want to share the inside scoop with you, and connect with other writers. It’s going to be an amazing day
2014-03-23 15.58.18

Ahhh the joy of getting sh*t done!

Flash Fiction Friday: Juniper plays nice

Thank you to Eda who provided the great first line of this short story.  Don’t forget to leave a sentence for the next short story in the comment section of this post (if you’re confused, read this post first).

___

best kids mittens

Juniper knew it was time to go home but she couldn’t find her left mitten. She knew it was her left mitten because her mother had embroidered a big fat L right on the top just in case all the other kids in school didn’t already know that she was a little, well, different. Words didn’t come naturally to her. She was good, however, at smiling and nodding, which her teachers always mistook as a sign of comprehension. Her report cards would read, “sweet, shy girl. Very polite. Could use some more socialization.”

She found the mitten in the back of the classroom. A piece of paper was stuck to it with pink chewing gum. Juniper pulled the paper off, watching the moist gum stretch until it reached its breaking point. Written in cursive, which was the day’s lesson, “L is for losers.” Juniper stared at the words, trying to understand the loops and swirls, but then crumpled the paper into a tight ball. She knew it couldn’t be a nice message.

It was already too late to catch the bus, she would need to walk the mile and a half back home. Her cheeks turned red the instant she walked outside. It was long after Halloween, but Thanksgiving seemed like an eternity away. The leaves had all fallen already, and the empty branches stood up against the gray sky like creepy witch fingers. She stared at the trees, amazed that they could be the same ones that looked so playful and green in the summertime.

“Hey, Juniper, are you talking to the trees again?” a voice called out.

Juniper turned to her right to find Astrid playing in her front yard. She was one of the cool kids who lived right across the school. Astrid wore her golden hair in a perfect french braid every day, which made Juniper all too aware of her own tangled, black hair.

Juniper ignored her classmate and walked on.

“Hey!” Astrid called out again. “I’m talking to you, loser.”

Juniper turned around in time for the blow-up ball, which Astrid had thrown, to hit her square in the nose. Her face burned, and something hot seeped from her nose. She touched her mitten to her face, and saw blood.

Astrid gave her a cute smile and a shrug. “Sorry,” she sang out.

At first the cracking sound was soft, but it grew to a thunderous roar as a large branch of the maple tree in Astrid’s yard crashed to the ground, crushing Astrid underneath its weight. Juniper was already walking away. She hadn’t’t looked back when she heard the branch falling, but she did say, “sorry,” under her breath. After all, she was a very polite little girl.

Portrait of a Young Writer as a Young Woman

Writing is  a lot like drawing. As I learn the craft of creative writing, I find that I’m going through the same learning curve I went through with drawing.

Here’s a visual demonstration of what I’m talking about:

2014-01-06 10.26.01

This is how I used to start a drawing before I learned the proper technique. Yes, it’s a pretty eye but it exists in a vacuum. I tend to start my writing the same way: I have an idea for a scene and I develop that scene without thinking about the whole story.

I

As I continue drawing and shading it becomes obvious that the features are disproportionate. Like in my writing, I mistakenly thought if I kept working hard, it would come together eventually; however, if the basic structure isn’t working, all the shading and detail in the world won’t make it better.

2014-01-06 11.30.34

Coming close to the end, the eyes are asymmetrical, the proportions are all wrong and there’s no life in the face. Besides for it being quirky, it doesn’t say anything. This is the point where I start to get fed up with my writing because I’ve been working so hard but it’s not coming together.

Now here’s a second drawing using better technique:

2014-01-06 11.35.57

First I mapped out the general structure of the face just like creating an outline for a story. It’s much easier to make changes at this stage because it’s just simple lines.

2014-01-06 11.42.02

Then I started mapping out the highlights and shadows just like mapping out the tension and turning points in a story.

2014-01-06 11.49.02

I started adding the features, but realized that the eyes were too small. Since I hadn’t spent much time on the shape it was easy to erase them and make them bigger. In my old approach toward writing, it was hard to delete scenes that weren’t working because I spent so much time on them, but if I had mapped out the scenes first, I would have known right away what was working and what needed to be deleted.

2014-01-06 12.00.29

I took an eraser and focused on the highlights. In writing this would be similar to the editing process; figuring out what’s significant and taking out the parts that cloud the plot.

2014-01-06 12.08.52

In the end, notice how the second technique has much more depth, style, and nuance. It’ not perfect but it’s interesting and has a lot more life than the drawing on the right. I used to resist outlining, but now I realize that it allows for more creativity and style. ALSO, the second drawing took only a quarter of the time the first drawing took.

Follow up on 750

A few weeks ago I wrote about a great technique that helped me get through writer’s block.

  • Make an attainable goal of writing 750 words every day. If you’re not a writer you can set a goal of spending 30 minutes on whatever your creative endeavor is.
  • It doesn’t matter what you’re working on. The important thing is that you get into the habit of doing it.
  • Now the key is to find a buddy to email everyday when you’re done. Don’t email your writing, just the word “done” to let them know that you’re sticking to it.

This feeling of accountability was really helpful for me because I like having a deadline. I found that it was easier for me to blog than to work on my creative writing because blogging is public, and my creative writing is private. People would notice if I stop blogging, but no one would notice if I stopped working on a short story.

Most people do not have it in them to be their own boss. We need assignments, deadlines, and reviews. But with creative work, you need to be the talent and the management.

Since I started this process I have written over 70 pages. At first it was extremely challenging to write 750 words (approximately 3 pages), but now I’m so used to blocking out that time each day that I end up writing over 2000 words a day on average now. I’m working on two projects and both of them were intimidating concepts, but I figured I might as well get started on them, because I had to write about something.

I’m so glad I started using this technique, and I hope it can serve you as well 🙂 If you don’t have a friend to do this with, you can use this website.

I’m still writing

While it may seem that my writing bug has died down, nothing can be further from the truth! Since writing the post Women aren’t that bad, I have been a writing fiend. Nothing motivates you more than righteous frustration! I have been working on my creative writing. More specifically my short story called The Island of Trees, a tale of a superficially ‘enlightened’ woman  confronting actual sacrifice.  I will be sharing the first half of my story with my writer’s group this Saturday. If you are a creative writer I highly recommend starting or joining a writer’s group. We share our writing, as well as our cooking and our favorite books. Not only does it take you out of the isolation of writing, but it motivates you to keep writing because you don’t want to show up empty handed. We’ve been meeting weekly for almost three years, and although we took a break this summer, I’m excited to get back into the regular groove. Here’s an excerpt of The Island of Trees  just to let you in on what I’m working on.

            Alma St. Clair made a point to be ahead of all the latest enlightenment trends. She mastered downward facing dog before Madonna discovered yoga. She was a locavore when green was just a color and not a lifestyle. She didn’t eat tofu – too much estrogen. She didn’t use plastic – too many carcinogens. She didn’t eat uncooked vegetables after sunset – something to do with her Ayurveda constitution. When people asked her what religion she believed in she smiled as if she heard something amusing and said, “I don’t believe in organized religions, but I’m very spiritual.” Her favorite i-phone app was the one that sent her a new Hindu deity everyday with a little description. She loved to slip those long complicated names into her conversations, regardless of whether or not she was pronouncing them right, or remembered their traits correctly. It’s not like her friends knew any better. They would simply say, “Oh, Alma, how do you know so much?” She would chuckle and reply with, “Well as Gandhi said, ‘A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.’” No one ever told her that that was Shakespeare and not Gandhi, but who’s keeping track?