writing exercise

Sculpting with 3,000 words

When I got back from Idaho, I knew I needed to rewrite my entire story. I had spent six months writing different versions of the story and then seven months writing the complete first draft of the version I liked best. The last thing I wanted was to start over again and drag out the process another six or seven months.

To top it off, I was finding it really difficult to switch gears from researcher mode to writer mode. In Idaho, I was listening and collecting information. At home I needed to actually synthesize that information and produce something with it. I was intimidated by all the work I had ahead of me.

Michelangelo, sculptor of The David and painter of The Sistene Chapel,  helped me through my resistance.  He famously said, “Every block of stone has a sculpture inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” I began to look at my story like a sculptor would look at a block of marble. First I needed to find the body of my story, Hack away at the general parts, then carve away the details, and, lastly, polish it off. Thinking of my story in this way gave me the permission to be rough with my writing, accepting that the refining would come later.

Michelangelo also said, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” For over a year now, when I’m in writing mode I require myself to write 750 words a day. At first this was difficult, but as time went by it became a breeze. When I decided to get serious about completing a draft after my Idaho trip, I raised my goal to 1,500 words a day. Again, this was difficult but it wasn’t impossible. I thought about what would be impossible, and raised my goal to 3,000 a day.

For the last 25 days I’ve been writing 3,000 words a day, and I’m proud to say I have completed a great first draft! I am exhausted after writing that much, but it’s a great feeling. I have never pushed myself so hard in writing. I learned that when my goal was 750 words, I would always get stuck after 250 words but once I pushed past that, the rest was a breeze. When I bumped my goal up to 1,500 words, I got stuck after 750 words and then the rest was a breeze. When I pumped my goal up to 3,000 words, I’d get stuck at 1,000 words and then the rest was a breeze. The point is, you are capable of pushing past what you think is your limit, and the more you push past that limit, the higher that limit becomes.

Now I am going back into each scene and refining the writing: more setting descriptions, consistent character voice, and developed arcs for all the major characters. After that I will go back in and polish it up: fix grammar and spelling errors, and make sure every word is exactly the one I want.

What is your goal? I want you to double it. While it’s important to create goals that you can obtain consistently, it’s also important to push yourself to see how far you can go. How else will you know what you’re capable of?Surprise yourself!

Flash Fiction Friday: Where to Begin

A special thanks to Mike for suggesting the spark sentence for this week’s flash fiction. Don’t forget to leave a sentence in the comment section of this post for next week’s flash fiction (if you’re confused, click here).

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journalist

The local paper called Harry and asked if he would participate in a “unique human interest piece” they were doing. He was picked at random, along with 19 other subscribers.

The reporter showed up 10 am on the dot. It was Harry’s first interaction with a reporter and he secretly hoped the man would be wearing a tan trench coat and fedora with a little press card tucked in the ribbon. He had to hide his disappointment when he opened the door to a young man in jeans and one of those baggy plaid shirts all the young men seemed to own. He hadn’t bothered to shave or comb his hair. This must be the look, Harry figured.

Harry offered coffee but the reporter smiled and lifted up his own cup of Starbucks. He sat down on the couch and took out an iPad from his backpack. Since when did adults use backpacks, Harry thought to himself while taking a seat in his favorite mustard, yellow recliner. The reporter looked at him and then ran his hands down his thighs. Harry did the same.

“So,” the reporter started.

Harry thought of all the possible questions he might be asked. What was it like to fight in Vietnam? How did it feel to outlive the love of his life?  What was retirement like? What wisdom did he have to share after 82 years on this planet?

“Did my assistant tell you anything about the piece we’re doing?” the young man asked.

Harry was surprised a man who couldn’t bother to shave had an assistant. In his 40 years as an electrician he never had an assistant. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “Can I offer you some coffee?” As soon as he said it he realized he already asked. The reporter held up his own coffee again with a polite smile. Harry feared the reporter would dismiss him as senile.

“The piece is called, A life in Tweets. We’re asking older people, like yourself, to summarize your life in a 140 characters.”

“140 characters? My whole life?” Harry covered his mouth and coughed. He didn’t know if he should be humored or insulted.

“It doesn’t have to be 140. That’s just the maximum.”

He didn’t know where to begin. Harry stared at the young man, and wondered if even his brief life could be summarized in so few words. He ran his fingers down the corners of his open mouth and then rested his hand on his chest. “I think you better go,” Harry said.

The reporter furrowed his brow. “Did I say something wrong?”

“This whole piece is wrong,” Harry said, pushing himself up from his chair. “I’m sorry you had to come all the way out here for nothing.” He moved to the door.

The reporter returned his iPad to the backpack. He stood up and swooped the bag over his shoulder in one swift move. “Seriously, I didn’t mean to offend you. We just thought this would be a fun little piece. Our research shows that younger readers stay more engaged with this brief format. We had to think of a way to compete with social media.”

Harry opened the door. “Either you care about something or you don’t. 140 characters is just an excuse to say you paid attention when all you did was take a glance.”

The reporter stood by the couch. “I’m just doing my job. We need to keep people interested.”

“Try writing a real story.”

The reporter looked as if he was going to cry. Harry couldn’t believe the boy was already out of high school and even college. Harry had pointed a gun at strangers when he was the same age as this reporter. Was this how he looked before he went off to war?

“Maybe,” the reporter paused to chew on the inside of his cheek. “We can do a full interview, and I’ll see what my editor thinks of it.”

Harry tapped the side of the door. He ran his tongue along the inside of his mouth.

“I can’t make any promises that it will get published, though,” the reporter added.

Harry shut the door and moved back to his seat. “Ok, where do we begin?”