Writing Exercises

You are the solution

Two years ago I was browsing the internet trying to find a solution. I had hit a wall with my writing. I needed to meet other writers who knew what I was going through. I needed to meet agents and editors who could help advance my career. I needed to get inspired and motivated. A writers conference was exactly what I needed.

After researching several writer’s conferences, I realized a loan was actually what I needed. Most of them were upwards of $500. Plus, when I read the reviews people complained that the conferences were too crowded and the guests left feeling overwhelmed and even more anonymous.

That’s when it hit me.

I already had a lot of connections with the publishing world and I already knew lots of writers. What was to stop me from creating the exact conference I wanted to attend? Nothing!

So often we look for solutions outside of ourselves, ignoring our own resources and abilities. We forget that everything out there, everything that is well established and perhaps intimidating, started out as some person’s crazy idea. The only difference between a crazy idea and an established event is action and time.

Cut to the present moment. I am now gearing up for my third conference for writers. It’s small-scale (under 50 people), affordable ( $115-$160), and, most importantly, inspiring. I created exactly what I needed and I’m helping other writers in the process.

I’m not going to lie it’s been extremely difficult. I spend hours contacting potential speakers, putting together the perfect schedule, researching venues, promoting the event, preparing all the materials, and hosting. I spend countless hours on each conference and I’m still not breaking even. BUT it’s worth it when I get messages like this from former guests:

IMG_3217“This was the BEST writing workshop ever! It learned so much!”
“A fabulous, relaxing, well-organized event for inspiring, connecting and educating aspiring authors.”
“A meeting of writers and aspiring writers with meaningful speakers and opportunities to mingle and network. I felt invigorated and inspired by the day.”

Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is give what you need to others. Never underestimate the tools you already have!

***If you are a writer in the NYC area, I’d love to see you at my next conference on Saturday, June 27. Use this link for 10% off! Please share this with any writers you know. For more info, check out my website.***

Taking a break

While I’ve really enjoyed the creative pressure of coming up with a mini-story each week based on your suggested sentences, I want to concentrate on my novel, so I’m going to take a break from the series. If you would like to submit a short story (250-1000 words) in the meantime, I’d be happy to post it. Here’s a spark sentence to get you started:

If it hadn’t been a Monday, none of this would have happened.

You can also post a spark sentence in the comment section if you’d like someone to create a story from it.

Flash Fiction Friday: Moonlight Sonata

This week’s spark sentence came from Deanne M. Schultz. Make sure to check out her humorous writings after you leave a spark sentence in the comment section for next week’s flash fiction. If you’re confused, read this first.

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Man-in-ShowerThe shower water hissed down, echoing as it splashed in the tub. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata poured from the Kohler shower head, filling the bathroom with brooding tones. Patrick turned off the hot water faucet. There was no need to turn off the cold water — he never used it. He stepped out of the shower, rubbed a stiff, white towel through his hair and then wrapped it around his chest. With the music still playing, he stared at himself in the mirror and prepared himself for the long day to come. Beethoven always got him in the mood for a funeral.

His steel-blue eyes looked back at him, watching him shave, as if those eyes belonged to another person. He often caught sight of himself in the random reflection of a storefront window or a chrome-plated object  and didn’t recognize the refined man he had become. With slicked back, sandy brown hair, he was the spitting image of his father, only taller and more handsome. Patrick smiled at himself in the mirror, knowing how much that would have killed his proud father. If his father were still alive.

It was time to get ready. Patrick kissed the golden cross dangling from his chest, and moved to the bed. His pressed suit rested on top of the crisp, tucked-in sheets. He picked up the blazer, blacker than his irises without any of the sparkle, and placed it back down. What if he didn’t wear the suit today? Would that make him less qualified to bring another soul to his maker? There was no point in questioning that now. He had worn the same suit since his twentieth birthday. It was a symbol of his sacrifice and his wisdom. The others wouldn’t know how to relate to him if he went without it.

He buttoned up his black shirt, pulled up his black socks, and put the suit on. If he were to walk out now, he would look quite fashionable, if not on the dreary side, but there was still one more article he had to put on. He picked up his white collar from the chest of drawers and snapped it into place. The collar was meant to announce to the world that he had the answers, that he understood God’s will, but today that collar felt like a joke. He was no more certain of his faith than the hundreds of mourners who came to him after funerals, crying out “why?” Today he was going to sprinkle holy water on his last living relative, his younger brother, only twenty-seven years of age, and for that, no suit, no schooling, and no book could make him any more certain. All he could tell himself were the words he used so many times before but now seemed hollow: it is all part of God’s plan.

Patrick left his apartment, bible in hand, and walked down to the cemetery. It was a crisp fall day with barren tree branches gray in the horizon. It was a good day as any for a funeral. He hummed Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and tried to think if it as any other day.

Flash Fiction Friday: On A Planet Far Far Away

I’m currently in Wallace, Idaho, and I’m getting spotty internet service and no phone reception – good thing I did my blog homework ahead of time . A special thanks to Tricia for supplying the spark sentence for this week’s flash fiction. Please leave a sentence in the comment section below (if you’re confused, read this first).

space

We met under strange and unusual circumstances. The year was 2131. It was my first time orbiting the outer galaxy, and I had to admit I was homesick and a little nauseous. Everyone warns you about anti-gravity, but no one tells you the claustrophobia’s what really gets you. By the sixth month I was ready to punch a hole through the space station wall. The vacuum of space seemed rather appealing.

It was the tenth year of a ceasefire with planet Roswell. We had gotten off to a rocky start; Apparently alien’s don’t like their planet to be photographed, and we don’t like to be shot at when we’re trying to collect intelligence. We were set for an all out galactic war, but fortunately  Commander Tromps  was able to sign a treaty with Captain E.T. , as we liked to call him, and we were allowed to continue observing as long as we didn’t cross the threshold line, 1,000  miles above their atmosphere. Just the right distance for us to continue collecting data.

That’s where I came in. I had developed a new lens that could get a much better focus than any of the digital crap they were producing.  We would be spending 2 earth years hovering over planet Roswell, taking pictures for the folks at NASA. 

It was day 248 of the mission. Half the crew was on leave and the other half was repairing a broken satellite off site. Just me and 450 tons of solar-resistant titanium. Not that 450 tons means anything in space. I was realigning the orbital conductors of my telephoto lens when I saw a flash of light. Not your normal star-flare but the reflection of light off a metallic surface. It was then that I knew they were using stealth orbiters to observe us under the radar. Those sons of bitches were breaking the treaty.  I made a call back to ground control but all I got was static. Those little martians were intercepting the radio waves.

All of a sudden, a digitized translator voice on the overhead speaker announced, “Permission to board.”

What was I to do? I had no contact with my superiors and no military training. Before I could answer the entire station jolted and I was thrown against the wall. Everything went black. When I came to, pieces of equipment floated all around me like a dream. I busied myself putting everything back into the Velcro locked containers, but all the while I knew they were there. Our station was compromised.

I made my way through the blindingly white corridor to the command station. There was a big red button, under a plexiglass box which required a 16 digit pin to access. We all had to recite the pin over one hundred times, backwards and forward before being allowed on board. That big red button would set off the three nuclear bombs we had on board. I wasn’t going to go down softly. I may just be a photographer, but nobody boards my station and gets away with it.

The first time I entered the code my fingers trembled so much I botched it and had to start over. I was half way through with the pin when I heard the unmistakable sound of a drill. The aliens were cutting through the safety lock door of the command center, 4 bonded sheets of supposedly-impenetrable tungsten alloy. I was so distracted I forgot where I was in the code. Sweat dripping in my eyes, bile bubbling up in the back of my throat, I said a prayer and started over with the code.

Just then I heard it. The tiniest little meow, like the one my childhood cat used when he was hungry. As I turned my head I gasped, “Mr. Sparkles?”

There he was, dressed in his perfect black and white tuxedo, my little furball.  Mr. Sparkles died 20 years ago, but sure enough he was floating right towards me. My parents always told me he went to live on a farm far far away. I knew they were lying, but I never expected him to be living on a planet far far away. When he got close enough he licked my nose with his rough tongue and then nuzzled his face against my chin. A troop of cats and dogs  floated in after him. 

Back in 2052, when President Goldberg reinstated the space exploration mission he said our goal was to find the resources that had been depleted on planet earth. I had no idea I’d be the one to find that resource. All the love and comfort I had as child was back in my arms, purring. Strange and unusual circumstances indeed.

My Journey Out West and Within

The beautiful mountains of Montana!

I’m getting ready to head over to Idaho and Montana to do some research for the novel I’m writing. I’m excited for the adventure, but most of all I’m proud to be taking my writing this seriously.

Last year I was hesitant about spending $300 on a writing course, now I’m spending twice that just on the rental car for this trip. Someone, and I can’t remember who, once said, “show me your calendar and your bank account and I’ll tell you what’s important to you.” I got to a point where I realized that I wanted to be a writing but I wasn’t backing up that claim with time or money. Not only is this trip going to help crystallize the details of my novel, it is a symbolic gesture of my commitment to the craft; a honeymoon for me and my writer-self.

I can’t wait to share more about it in upcoming posts. Wish me luck!

Writing the Subway

nyc_subway_map

The New York City Subway System can be a hotbed for the worst of humanity. Here are two stories that always come to mind:

I was making my way down a crowded stairway to get to the subway. Foot traffic was excruciatingly slow because a woman was struggling to carry her bulky stroller down the stairs. A man pushed past me, and I figured he was rushing to help the woman with her stroller, but instead he ran past her and yelled, “if you make me miss this subway, I’ll kill you and your f***ing baby.” To this day I wonder where he was going to warrant such hostility.

Another time,  a homeless man asked a guy for spare change. The guy didn’t have any cash so he kindly offered up his Chinese takeout. The homeless man took the food and threw it against the subway wall. Greasy, stir-fried rice flew everywhere. Then he pinned the man up against the wall and yelled in his face, “Do I look desperate to you?” I was picking rice out of my purse for weeks afterward.

Oh the stories I could tell.

I love NYC but I oftentimes consider moving far far away after every sweaty, dehumanizing, sardine can-like commute. But, as a writer, I cannot deny the invaluable observational opportunities it provides (wow say that 10 times fast).

nyc_subway_13_2006_07_23

A few days ago I did a fun little writing exercise. I had a 90 minute commute ahead of me so I  took my journal and pen instead of a book. I picked a random stranger at each subway stop and wrote down as much about them as possible.  With over 25 stops I really got to hone my observational skills.  The subway ride flew by, and I was a better writer for it.

Here was my favorite observation:

A man sits across from me.  Slumped in his seat, his legs spread wide and his knees pointing toward the ceiling. He wears light jeans, ragged at the hem, a black knitted hat and a zipped up, navy blue parka. Three black plastic bags rest on the floor between his feet.

With sausage-like fingers he wrestles with a small, colorful, plastic wrapped object. He furrows his brow and sighs, bringing the wrapper to his mouth. He bites the corner off and spits it on the floor. His face glows and he smiles wide when he looks inside the newly opened package.

He dips his finger inside the package and pulls out a candy ring with a shiny red sucker. He places the ring on the very tip of his index finger, as far down as it will go. Licking his lips, he opens his mouth to reveal a glistening pink tongue. He takes the candy jewel in his mouth and closes his eyes for a long time.

I probably wouldn’t have noticed that bizarre little moment if I had my head buried in a book as I usually do. The next time you’re stuck doing something you really don’t like, see if there’s a way of turning it into a constructive exercise.

Where there is smoke there are bees? Part II

*warning, don’t scroll down if you have a weak stomach*

After the train evacuation, we were eager to relax in the pool and watch fireworks, but the next few days were real work. I had invited my writers’ group to my parents house for a mini writers’ retreat. It’s really easy to set up a retreat.  Here’s an example of our schedule:

9-10: Yoga. Fortunately one of our members is a yoga instructor, but if you don’t have this in your group you can do gentle stretches, or take a walk outside.

10-10:30: Breakfast

10:30-11: A prompt from The Writer’s Toolbox. After writing for fifteen minutes, we passed our computers to the person to our left to read it out loud. It was incredible to hear the diversity of stories we were able to come up with using the same prompt. It was also refreshing to hear someone else reading your work.

11-1: Working on our stories with a 5 minute break in the middle to stretch.

1-2: lunch and discussion about work.

2-3: Art time: We designed the covers of our future novels. I loved doing this because not only is it fun and motivating, I realized a major theme in my story that I never picked up on until I was drawing it. Sometimes all you need is to take a new approach!

3-6: A longer writing block.

6-7:30 : discussion of problem areas in our novels.

7:30-9: Dinner. (We didn’t have a chance to do this, but I thought it would be fun for each writer to prepare a meal that their main character would eat. Knowing what your character eats gives you surprising insight.)


9-11: A rousing game of Cards Against Humanity played with my parents. It was priceless to hear my dad ask, “now what the heck is queefing?”

I should have just stuck to writing, because everything was going great, but then I just had to have some relaxation. On the last day, we decided to spend some time out by the pool.

2013-07-07 17.20.07

The day after the sting.

The second I opened the door to go outside, a hornet flew into my face and stung me below my left eyebrow. Within an hour my eye swelled shut. The pain was intense, but I tried to ignore it. I have an Epipen because I’m allergic to ants (what?!?! who’s allergic to ants?), but since the swelling was localized, I didn’t use it. The swelling went down by nighttime…

And then I woke up at 6am because it felt like there was a burning potato shoved under my eyelid. My eye had swelled up even worse. I called my doctor and left a message on the emergency line. Mike went out to get me benadryl. By the time the on-call doctor called me back, my eye felt like it weighed 200 pounds. The doctor told me to go to the ER. I asked him if I could just take the benadryl, and he said absolutely not. After waiting at the ER for two hours, and giving them all my hard-earned money, the ER doctor told me to take benadryl! Aghh I hate our medical system.

2013-07-07 22.23.21

After two days: At this point I could open my eye slightly, but I sounded drunk when I talked because my lips and jaw were so swollen.

It took four full days for the swelling to go down. I have to admit it was really depressing. I was taking double doses of benadryl, so I was sleeping every other hour, and I couldn’t really talk because my jaw had swelled up, and I was really scared that there would be some permanent damage. I guess this is what happens when a city girl spends time outdoor. On Monday I tried to write my mini memoir, but after an hour of typing I don’t think I stumbled on a single real word.

Now that I’m all back to normal, I would have to say I’d do it all over again. That’s right, the train evacuation and bee sting were nothing compared to the fun, and engaging weekend I had with my writer friends.

I’m really grateful to my parents who hosted us. If you’re not so fortunate to have parents close enough to visit, but far enough to make it feel like a real getaway, I suggest splitting the cost of a cabin rental with your friends. There are cabins in the Catskills that rent for under $150 a night.

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After 5 days, I’m  still a little puffy but I only have a little scab under my eyebrow.

If you don’t have a writers’ group, or a group of friends that have a similar creative goal, I would suggest going on Meetup to find a group. Having friends to motivate and inspire me in my writing goals has made the difference between wanting to be writer, and actually sticking with it through the highs and lows. Writing can be a lonely endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be 🙂

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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.

The magic of 750

If you were to hack into my email account you’d find something very strange. For the past three weeks my fiance has been sending me a blank email with the subject line: done. I respond with the word ditto. You would have no idea that this simple exchange has helped me to write over 20 pages about Albert Einstein and has helped Mike create music.

Three weeks ago Mike and I were kvetching about how hard it is to motivate ourselves to be creatively productive – even though that’s the one thing we really want to do. We realized that one of the challenges is that it really doesn’t matter if we don’t produce. The world won’t stop turning, no one’s going to yell at us, and we’re not going to get an F on our report card. The only one who cares is ourselves, and when we don’t work on our creative endeavors it leads to guilt, and then doubt, and then we sit and wonder if we really want to be writers/ composers/ artists at all. It’s too hard to rely on intrinsic motivation. What we needed was some gentle external motivation.

That’s when I remembered an article I read in O magazine months ago. A writer made a pact with her friend that she would write 750 words a day, and when she was done, she would email her friend the word: done. She didn’t share the writing, just the simple fact that it was done. I didn’t think highly of the process when I read the article, but when Mike and I were trying to think of a way to motivate each other this came to mind.

Mike, who wants to compose music, said he would spend at least 30 minutes a day on it. I said I would write at least 750 words. We promised that we would each send each other an email when we were done.

I cannot tell you how much this has helped me. I had a very ambitious idea for a story, and I was too intimidated to start it. The first morning I checked my email and saw Mike’s done, I gritted my teeth and started writing. I had no idea what to write so I started writing about the character in my head. It’s been like this every day. When I get his email I reluctantly open my word document, but after about 200 words I’m totally engrossed. I usually end up writing far more than 750 words, but I still feel just as accomplished when I do the bare minimum – those are the days that I really didn’t feel like writing, so it means even more to me that I actually did it.

It’s a very small unit of work, but when done consistently it builds up quickly. The great thing about this tip is that you can do it with anyone since you’re really not asking them to do anything except receive an email from you once a day. If you start doing this, let me know how it goes!