I’m baaaaaaack!

You can take that title as “Honey, I’m home!” or as a scary reference to the return of a poltergeist.  Either way, I’m glad to be back and eager to share my struggles and my successes.

I’m also going to tell you from personal experience, life can indeed get in the way of goals and best intentions.  During the past year-plus, I’ve had a domino effect of physical ailments that culminated with four hospital stays, two of which were through the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  I’ve had more MRIs than I can count, had surgery, then complications.  All that is behind me now and I’m writing again.  I’m even starting to feel normal.  Yes!

For the past month or two, I’ve been dabbling at writing, but not really getting in the swing.  Then a good friend urged…okay, pushed me into doing NaNoWriMo again.  It was the best thing I could have done at the best possible time.  I didn’t “win” by writing 50,000 words during the month, but it was a personal win because I wrote almost 28,000 words and that’s more than I’d written in over a year.

If there are any who don’t know about NaNoWriMo, a link is listed on my “Resources that can minimize struggling” page.  It’s under Pages, to your right.

Despite a glut of fits and starts, abandoned ideas and good intentions, when I started NaNo on November first, I still had only the barest idea of what I was going to write.  Instead of trying to finish one of my half-finished novels, I started a new one.

I had an idea with an accompanying paragraph that had been sitting in my Story Fodder file for a couple of years.  By the time I got an actual beginning, a few characters and a direction, I realized the character my fodder idea embraced would probably start the sequel.  He was a savvy, jaded sort, and the fella who poured himself onto my digital page was naïve, but earnest.  He’ll be savvy and jaded by the end of this novel, I’m sure of it.

In order to keep my head in writer-mode, I also decided to surround myself with more writing-related situations and endeavors.  To that end, I took over the reins of a Meetup writing group.  I had attended exactly one meeting, when the organizer who had started the group had a family emergency and had to move out of state.  That has also been a good decision for me.  There will be more about writer’s groups in later posts.

My most immediate goal at this point is to finish what I’ve started, and I’ve started plenty.  I now have three novels with 25K to 53K words finished, which is a third to a half or so done.  One is young adult, and that one’s going to be first, since it’s also been in the works longest, is the least complicated, mostly because it is young adult, and has the most words to date.  Oh, and there’s also a short story that every single person who’s read it thinks should be a novel.  So make it four unfinished novels.

There.  Now my return to writing is official.  What are your short- and long-range goals and your tricks to keep writing?

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Monday’s Kick-Ass Prompt of the Week (KAPOW)

The last post had to do with dilemmas common to kids and those for whom they are the target audience.  This week’s KAPOW challenge is to write a first person piece in the voice of a child.  Pick an age from barely-able-to-talk (“Waaah, waaah, num, num, num.” won’t cut it) to eighteen years old.  The main character may be male, female or in the case of an alien, of indeterminate gender.

If you decide to write a piece for the prompt and post it to your blog, please let me know about it in a comment, or post the piece itself in a comment.  I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with.  Comments are appreciated.  Kind critique is also appreciated.

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COOKIE CURE

by C J Gorden

My cousin and I were playing house.  She’s one year younger than I am so I gave her my favorite dolly from Christmas last year.  Just because I can’t find her clothes and one eye won’t open doesn’t mean she isn’t a good dolly.  But my ugly cousin just dropped her and stared at me with her bottom lip out in that way that always means trouble.  All of a sudden she reached out and grabbed the doll I was holding, right out of my hand.  “Hey!  That’s my Barbie!  I gave you a dolly.”

She held the Barbie behind her back and smiled at me, but it wasn’t even funny.  “You play with it then,” she said.  “I get the Barbie.”

I scrunched up my face so I’d look real mean.  “That’s my Barbie.  Give her back.  I don’t want to play with you any more.”  I stepped a little closer.  I’m bigger than her.

“Girls,” Mommy said from the kitchen, “do you want to help me make cookies?”

We stared at each other and our eyes and mouths popped wide open we were so excited.  Barbie hit the floor and we raced to the kitchen to pull chairs up to the counter.

Monday’s KAPOW challenge

Last week’s post was about creating emotion in our writing.  Practice is where it’s at when learning the craft of writing.  Doesn’t matter if it’s piano lessons, Jeet Kune Do or writing – practice, practice, practice.

With that in mind, this week’s Kick-Ass Prompt of the Week is to create a situation so emotion-laden readers will feel said emotions themselves.  It doesn’t matter if it involves wedding weeping, parental angst or a pull to the dark side.  Emote, I say, emote!

As I’m learning more about what I can do with the blog pages, I’m changing my mind about what I can archive.  YAY!  Looks like I can keep submissions posted indefinitely, so I’m adding a page per month to archive submissions.  The main KAPOW page will be just for the current week’s challenge, the next week those submissions will move to that month’s archive page, so if you send me a submission it will appear on the site indefinitely.

Send submissions to me at caroljgorden@gmail.com and I’ll post them ASAP.  Write on!

 

ATTACK

by C J Gorden

She knelt in the dirt under an unrelenting August sun in the middle of what had promised to be a glorious day.  Her focus was ripped from the world around her and turned inward as she yelped and pitched forward.  She kept herself from falling into the dirt by digging clawed fingers into it, and stiffening her body.  Her worst fear had come true.  She’d been attacked!  She had to think.  What should she do?  She was paralyzed by pain, her thoughts seared as clean as ground zero at an atomic blast.  Everything went white as thought fled, replaced by numbing fear.  Paralyzed, she remained rigid, hands and knees in the dirt until the pain localized.  Her reality shifted before she could move a muscle, anger blasting crimson through the blank fear.  She could think.

In a blink she straightened and slapped a rigid hand on her own thigh hard enough to leave a livid, raised handprint just below her shorts.  Before she moved her hand, she took in a wheezing, explosive breath, and slapped herself again.  After a second shaky inhale, she bent her head and peeked under her hand.  The bee was still there, stuck to her leg by its stinger.  Mechanically she plucked it off and scraped the stinger out with her thumbnail like she’d been taught.  “He is never,” she ground out through clenched teeth, “going to do that again.”

The advisability of specificity

Writing is comprised of words that can elicit numberless responses.  Conveying boredom is good, creating it in the reader, not so good.  One thing to strive for is specificity.  In other words, don’t be vague.  Many years ago my job was to conduct surveys, everything from store questionnaires about coffee can labels to door-to-door questions about magazine ads.  What I learned from that job has been invaluable ever since.  I learned to recognize and not settle for vague words.  If the survey subject said something was “nice” I asked them in what way it was nice.  If they said something made them feel good, I asked in what way it made them feel good.

For example “wonderful,” “lovely” and “depression” are vague words.  They convey states of mind, but not in a way that elicits a picture or an emotion.  They’re descriptive, but not evocative.  Whenever I asked someone to be more specific they invariably replied with a phrase or a simile.  “It wasn’t just wonderful, it made me forget where I was and unable to keep the smile off my face.  It made my body thrum and my mind sing.”  “It wasn’t just lovely it made a jewel-toned sunrise over the desert pale by comparison.  Her face was so lovely she made my knees weak and left me tongue-tied.”  “The middle of a newly formed glassy-sided depression the size of a football field made me feel like I was standing in a cereal bowl waiting to drown in Paul Bunyan’s Breakfast of Champions and milk.  This in turn created in me a depression that felt like the lights had been dimmed and I was standing on the lip of a bottomless chasm that was sucking me over the edge.”

Another way to evoke a response is by involving the senses.  So it smelled bad.  Did it make you wrinkle your nose and clap your hand over it? (touch) Was it acrid like burned hair? (smell)  Did it stick to the back of your tongue like rotting swamp grass? (taste)  Did it remind you of the hiss you heard the last time you smelled it? (hearing) Was it so strong you could almost see the fumes hanging in the air like misty tendrils of death? (sight)

I recently read Hush by Cherry Adair.  One of her descriptive phrases (of which she has plenty) made me laugh out loud – in the literal way, not the LOL way:  “Acadia’s gaze skittered away like spit on a griddle.”  That description brought several senses popping into my head.  I loved it!

What are some examples of specificity from your writing or from something you’ve read?

Routine versus flexibility

I’m about to fess up to my hugest struggle.  This blog is all about my personal struggles regarding writing, so here it is:  The word “routine” is anathema to my psyche.  I can’t seem to apply anything resembling patterns to the act of living my life.  I can’t bring myself to go to bed until I get one more thing done, whether it’s a blog post, some more character development on the outline that’s consuming my thoughts, a couple of paragraphs on a new story idea, correspondence I just remembered I have to get done tonight or a quick load of laundry.  The house is relatively quiet, except for the kitten who has to chase that bottle cap across the floor right now.  He’s obviously a kindred spirit.

On the other hand, one of the qualities I love about myself is that I’m eminently flexible.  I can change my plans (rough and undeveloped as they are) at a moment’s notice.  I can also drop a preconceived opinion and embrace a better one as soon as I realize the error of my ways.  That psyche I mentioned before is always casting about for something new to wrap itself around.  Then I delve into the novel idea until it makes sense and maybe I can even incorporate it into a story.

Eventually, I realize the dryer isn’t tumbling any more, I look at the clock at the bottom of my computer screen and uh-oh – I lost a surprising amount of time – laundry and sleep time.  So some days I make do with two to five hours of sleep.  I really do best with seven to eight, but I can handle shorting myself for a day or two.  When it catches up with me, I have to sleep ten or twelve hours to catch up.

Trying to utilize both of these concepts at the same time are like having a boxing match in my head.  In one corner we have Routine, a fighter who applies unrelenting logic and is a pedantic scrapper.  In the other corner is Flexibility, an innovative, unpredictable brawler.  Who wins?  Me, when they have that initial friendly handshake.  Then they start going at each other.  At the bell, they’re each suffering from wounds of frustration and guilt.

My husband’s middle name should have been “Routine.”  His motto is “Change is bad.”  Add to that a daughter, son-in-law in residence with two granddaughters aged one and three and it’s clear my need to periodically sleep the morning away is not conducive to interrelational harmony.

How this relates to my writing, is I have no set time to write except when everybody goes to bed, but that is not really my most creative time.  I worked at a weekly newspaper several years ago as a reporter.  I found the end of the day was not the best time for me to try to write a story.  It was like pulling teeth.  If I slept even two hours on Deadline Eve, I could write the story at five o’clock A.M. with no trouble at all.

This is a situation I always struggle with – I tend to easily be a night owl, but night-time is not when I’m the most productive creatively.  For me, early morning is when I think best.  Having a job where I work mid-afternoon until as late as midnight doesn’t help either.  I work from home, so when I’m done, I’m still wound up.  What’s a body to do?

When is the best time for you to be productively creative, and how do you carve that time for yourself out of your schedule?  What conundrums do you face?

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