Once Upon A Time…

I used to write in this blog a lot…now it’s being neglected. It’s mostly neglected because I don’t have anything to say of a writing or reading nature. So what’s so special about today? I found an old notebook with a reading wishlist in it and it inspired me to talk about things that I want to read (in hopes that increasing my reading will increase my writing, both here and my creative writing pursuits).

So, what do I want to read? I don’t know. I know what the world says I should have read already (like The Help), but I don’t have many books I want to read lately. I do have a few non-fiction titles I would like to read: The Other Wes Moore, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Laying Down My Burdens. I’m currently combing through my old list for fiction books, and I may cruise back issues of BookPage to find something.

I have been working on some pieces in my long term absence. I have made progress on my Camp NaNoWriMo manuscript (aka continuing to write a crappy first draft), and I officially starting on the second short story in the Candy Apples series. So it’s not all sitting on my hands this way. This second story in the series is hard to write because I haven’t been there. It’s dark and terrifying and sad. It’s not a place one likes to dwell. It’s not difficult thinking like an adolescent again, but the subject matter gets so dark I wonder if I can see my way out sometimes. But it will be powerful fiction, the kind of fiction that may help someone else. These addiction stories are turning out to be some powerful stories. I was thinking of putting Candy Apples up as an Amazon single, but I don’t know if I want to. I  might have to make it free and then sell the series, which doesn’t sound like a plan to me. Besides, I still will have ten stories to write, so publishing it now will be a little soon. I would like to know if any of you would buy my work.

I’ll post the fiction books in my notebook up tonight, and you can tell me if they’re worth reading. In the meantime, two questions: Read any good books lately? Would you buy my book?

The Day I Realized There Really isn’t Anything New Under the Sun

For years, I’d been working on this idea intermittenly about a Southern woman wanting to write her memoirs and hiring a ghostwriter to help her. In this story, the ghostwriter ends up learning all of these things about herself, what she and the ghostwriter have in common, and it makes everything in her (the ghostwriter’s) world change. It was a novel idea, to me, in both that it hadn’t been done and it should be a novel length thing.

Does this sound remotely familiar to you? It should. This is the basic plot, though not entirely, of Donna Sutterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale. I writing the first sketches of my novel, which at the time had nothing to do with a memoir, when I was in high school. The newer,  centered around a writer version began taking shape in the fall of 2003, when I was a freshman in college. I picked up Sutterfield’s book in 2007 from the library. That’s when my literary world fell apart.

How could it be? Someone had already thought up (and written…and published) my idea! What was I going to do? I had spent years starting this story, submitting it to a writing contest at the university I attended, getting a teacher to read an excerpt for me, letting it lie fallow, coming back to it. In all of that time, I thought it was fresh and new and different, and it wasn’t.

That’s not a bad thing, though. Some things haven’t been written about because they don’t make good writing material. Some things have been written about, but not in the way you mean to write about it. As long as I don’t tell the same story, the starting point can be the same. It’s why all of the writing exercises my creative writing teacher gave us led to such varied places when we read them out loud. No two people see things exactly the same. I can still add something to the discussion.

Once I got over my disappointment, I realized Donna Sutterfield hadn’t stolen my novel. ( 🙂 ) Her novel was about a woman who worked in her father’s bookstore and an older woman with a secret she was dying to tell. It was about siblings and family pressure and identity. It was beautiful. But it wasn’t my novel. My older woman isn’t very old, and she is trying desperately to keep her own secrets while airing everyone else’s. Neither the older woman nor the younger have any siblings. Many other tensions and motivations are in play in my story. I’m not telling the same story at all.

I feel better about the story now. I know that it’s a story that still needs to be told, and get it told I shall.

Have you ever read a book that sounded like a WIP you were working on? Did you continue on with it? When did you realize, in a literary sense, that there was nothing new under the sun?

(Untitled)

Maybe you’ve noticed that there’s a little tab on the top of my blog called (Untitled). Maybe you’ve wondered what on Earth can be found under this ambiguous title. Wonder no more; I am going to tell you.

Since this is a writing and reading blog (but primarily a writing blog), I wanted to be able to share bits of my writing with you. Of course, it can’t be anything that I want to publish, as I’ve been informed publishing on a personal blog counts as first publication rights, but I wanted to write quality pieces on my blog, both to give you a sense of how I write, and to get feedback. So I created Untitled one day when a blog post  suddenly began to transform into a short creative writing piece.

I posted a new creative non-fiction piece there today, which brings the total up to a whopping two pieces. I would love to hear your thoughts on them, should you feel like reading them. I will update as often as I have something to add, or if there seems to be a demand. It should be noted most of the pieces there, as with most of the posts on the blog, are first drafts, written in one sitting on the day of publication, and not polished or finished products. I will indicate whether it is otherwise on the piece.

Again, I hope that you read (and comment) on the pieces I share. Thanks!

Rusty Water

Habitat For Humanity volunteers constructing a...

I'm Building Me a Home... Image via Wikipedia

During my lunch hour yesterday, I pulled out a couple sheets of lined paper. I wanted to write something during my lunch hour, so I pulled out the digital recorder and played the first thing that came up.I listened to a recording of possible chapters for the memoir I’m finally beginning to work on. While nothing really stood out to me, I decided to make some notes, then try to recall details about that particular time. For some reason I decided to write part of the “Building a House” chapter.

I began detailing the fact that when I moved back to Michigan, Habitat for Humanity was building a house across the street from me, next door to my half-great uncle (another long story). I meandered into my previous experiences with Habitat for Humanity, and ended up at my aborted Spring Break trip to Slidell, Louisiana to rebuild houses after Hurricane Katrina my junior year.

All of a sudden, I had a flood of images to work with and all of these different directions to go in. My pen was moving faster and my mind had found a groove. The various lunchtime noises around me–a microwave running, another microwave beeping, Contessa on MSNBC, chatter amongst my coworkers–began to fade as I fell deeper and deeper into the writing. When I looked up, I was alone except for a co-worker checking Facebook on her phone with a bored expression.

This is what I learned about writing: you could say writing is like riding a bicycle or starting your car on a cold morning. You never really forget how to ride a bike. If you let your car warm up a bit, it runs the same as always. But what I would say is that writing is like a faucet that hasn’t been turned on in a long time in an old home. There’s still good water there, warmed and ready to be used, you just have to turn the tap on. When you do, some of the water will come out brown from rust and unusable, but if you let it run long enough, it will clear.

I’ve been writing nothing but blog posts (and plenty of them) for weeks, and I must admit my other writing skills are still a bit rusty. The goal is to continue to let it flow until it’s clear again. Some of what I write will be disjointed, littered with sloppy transitions and poor word choices. Some of it will be so bad I’ll question if there’s anything usuable in me. But the point is to continue until the writing is fluid and life giving again.

I keep seeing this quote on my twitter feed exhorting me  not to worry about writing well; just write. I’ve always had a problem with crappy first drafts, but I’m trying to take that advice. The longer I keep writing, the cleaner the writing will be. I can clean up the mess later.

I have no idea how I’m going to get back from Slidell to Michigan, nor from Christian college students building homes on Spring Break to college students building Habitat homes into the bitter cold of late autumn. I have no idea how I’m going to “build” this literary “house” either. But what I do know is that I’ll try to enjoy the journey, and that brick by brick I’ll build the literary powerhouse I want to be.

How do you get back in the creative swing of things? How do/did you come back to writing after a hiatus? Any tips or suggestions?

The Bad Beginnings Blues

Pictograms of Olympic sports - Tug of war. Thi...

This is what I've been doing all weekend... Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been engaged in a tug of war with my brain. There’s an idea lurking in there that I have one end of, while the other end is tucked into one of those little squiggly lines on my brains surface. I try to pull it out, but my brain is not letting it go. It won’t allow me to fully realize this idea I have in my head, an idea I know will be epic, if I can just get it out

Let’s back up to the beginning of this tale. I accepted a challenge from Cordelia to write more often and actually finish some projects this year. I was excited at the prospect of having someone to bounce ideas off of, to proofread my work, to tell me whether or not a piece needed to be reworked for the eightieth time, to tell me when something is crap and should be flushed down the toilet. I even had a solid story to start with.

I didn’t think the story needed much tweaking, only, the story I was telling didn’t seem finished. The thing’s I wanted to tell didn’t fit the story I had, though, because of the focus. After mulling this over a bit, I came up with an amazing idea. One that would fix my little dilemma, but create a slew of others.

The story I’m referring to is Candy Apples. Candy Apples is one woman’s struggle with a specific kind of addiction. She is in a support group with other individuals, two of which she interacts with regularly. The problem was, as I reader, I wanted to know more about these other women. The glimpses of them I saw in this story were so compelling, I had to know their stories. But this wasn’t their stories. Through several days of thinking and plotting, I came to the conclusion each woman needed her own story. They were strong enough to stand on their own. If the stories unfolded in such a way, I could even share certain events in Candy Apples from their perspective.

Then my mind ventured on and came up with a frame work for the other stories, which led to the realization other stories, and a little research, were needed. All of this was falling together and working out seemlessly. I ended up starting to examine one of these women’s stories, where I wanted to start, where it fit in my framework, what symbols and motifs would be important, etc. Finally, I was ready to start writing.

Only nothing came out.

This never happens to me.

I usually have spectacular first lines of my stories that start right in the thick of things and really set the tone for the story. This is especially true of Candy Apples. In the creative writing class I was in when I wrote it, one thing everyone agreed on was how awesome that opening line was. But somewhere along the way, I’ve seemed to have lost my first line mojo. I blame it on planning.

I’ve talked about what part of a story I get first here. It’s usually one of two things–a character or an opening line. Rarely is it a plot or a scenario. I’ve also talked about planning ahead versus going with the flow. I usually go with the flow and plan where necessary. This time, I had a strong character, already established in another story. This time, I’ve plotted out many of the important plot points and I know where I want to end the story. This time, I can’t think of an opening line to save my life.

The opening line has to grab the reader’s attention. It has to be interesting and intriguing, yet subtle and alluring. It has to invite you to read more without giving the game away. It has to seduce. In short, it has to work. This is especially true in a short story, as you only have so much time to establish a scenario and characters before you have to get things rolling.

I’m at a crisis point, a major stumbling block, very early in this story. Could it be I’ve lost my first line mojo for good? Does anyone have any tried and true techniques for crafting opening lines? Do you know of any good articles I can read on the subject? How can I wrest this opening line from the slimy recesses of my brain-squiggles?

Feeding the Beast

Creative writing class-fine arts center (40269...

My name is Copywrite1985, and I can't stop expanding on my stories... Image via Wikipedia

“How’s your writing going?” My dad asks me. I’m trolling Books A Million, my third book related stop of the day. I’ve already been to the public library to get my library card, as well as to the used book shop in the quaint little downtown area I finally got a little time to explore. I still haven’t found the book club book that I’m looking for, but I’ve found a lot of other books that I find equally enticing.

“I’ve been busy with my blog–the content and learning about hosting my own site,” I respond, surveying thick computer books with a critical eye. I’m looking for a book on Java, which, my boyfriend has explained to me, is completely different from Java Script. Who knew? It’s a birthday present for the boyfriend; I hope he likes it. I want to show that I’m interested in helping him progress as a person, that I actually am listening when he goes into tech speak.

“I have to buckle down and work on my book. I don’t know when it’s coming out now,” my dad laments. He was shooting for a Valentine’s Day release, as his book centers on relationships. I’ve recently introduced him to the wonders of Smashwords, a program I myself haven’t had the opportunity to use, but is highly recommended for self-publishing. “Everytime I get close to finishing, there’s something else. The book keeps changing at the eleventh hour.”

I know how that feels. You think you know where you’re going, then all of a sudden, there’s a detour. Has this ever happened to you? You’ve thought you were done with a story, then you go back to revise and find yourself going in another direction entirely?

I have a short story that I wrote for a creative writing class. Our teacher required us to make a large revision (we had to change/refine at least fifty percent of the story, I believe. These were significant changes, not merely proofreading and adding a sentence). I don’t write that way. Usually, when I finish writing, aside from proofreading and revisions for clarity and style, it’s done. So I wasn’t excited about having to change my story.

After taking into account some of the things that people in class pointed out weren’t working, I see an entirely different angle that makes one character’s agreement to even meet for the climactic moment more believable. I add in backstory on another character that explains a bit of her brass attitude.

The revisions go well and my teacher asks me if I considered publication for it. I put the story away for a while, intending to give it one more fresh look before I sent it out for possible publication. When I pulled it out again, I found even more areas to expand upon, more places where I wanted the writing to be more concise. I wanted to concisely reveal more detail/personality of a supporting character. I’ll just tweak a bit here. I handed in the story revision in the Spring semester of 2008; the story has been sent to zero publications.

I’m having a bit of trouble letting go. I know that this isn’t all of the story, that other short stories may follow with the focus being characters that are supporting characters in the current narrative, maybe, but I can’t seem to get this story out of my hands and into the hands of publishers.

How do you know when a story is “done”? How do you force yourself to declare it a finished product and begin the (possibly) long process of trying to get it published? Someone help me let go, already!