“Let’s Talk About Fear”

This week, I posted “Let’s Talk About Fear” on The Children of a Lesser God Collective. You can read it here. Let me know what you think.

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Updates Five Months Later

Needless to say, I did not make it through NaNoWriMo. Not enough discipline or motivation. Very quickly after that first week, I stopped writing (on paper) altogether, although the mental writing never ends.

Through the winter I added very little to my main novel idea and wrote even less. Finally I stopped harassing myself and gave myself permission to do other things without feeling guilty. Granted, those things weren’t particularly productive, but hey, sometimes those are the things you need to do.

Now I’m staring May in the face and I’ve finally started to get the writing bug again. This time with a different story in a different world. I’ve been world building like mad in my head and even started reading several books on writing science fiction. Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Ochoa & Osier’s The Writer’s Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe if you’re interested. Card sticks with the generalities while Ocoa & Osier get much more into the details. The nagging fear that this will be another incomplete project tugs at me already. I sat down with a group of friends who are science fiction geeks and we hashed out a lot of things that I had gotten stuck on. Heaven above, who knew that everything I’d been thinking of had already been done in one way or another. Thankfully, my friends provided encouragement and were interested in my ideas. One of them had a fantastic idea when I mentioned I have a terrible time with plot. He suggested I start with short stories about side characters to get me going. That seemed simple and brilliant. I now have to develop something that has always eluded me, discipline.

Meanwhile, I’m having to search for a house in real life. I have two months before my current lease is up and the seeking has frustrated me terribly. I get irritated with my lack of writing discipline and the ever ellusive perfect house at the perfect price so I do the little kid thing. I push it all away and play video games. That’s useful, right? Nope, not at all. But entertaining nonetheless.

Halfway Through Week 1

November 4th and I’ve nothing to show for the time except a few ideas in which to take a story I’m not working on for NaNoWriMo. Nothing on paper or digits. Fantastic! What have I don’t in the mean time you ask? Well, let me tell because it’s SO fascinating. I worked a 12 hour shift and I watched the first season of Dark Matter, a SyFy tv show put out earlier this year, the first 5 episodes of Blindspot, a thriller on NBC that just started a few weeks back, and old episodes of Star Trek Deep Space Nine all while eating chips and salsa. What could be more productive that than? Netflix will be my undoing one day. Thank goodness I don’t have a subscription to Amazon Prime. I’d never get anything done.

What’s truly sad is that I have even considered raking leaves instead of writing. Raking leaves! Who does that?! Yes, I would love to go outside and gather up wet leaves instead of sitting in my pajamas putting stories on my computer, said no one ever. Yesterday morning I spent a full hour looking at hilarious pins on Pinterest, another colossal and glorious time waster. Where do people get the energy and motivation to not only write for NaNoWriMo but to write enough to win it? If you have insights, I would love to hear them.

It’s not like I ignore my stories because I don’t. I spend hours upon hours thinking about them, working at them. In fact, I spent over two hours the other day researching potato harvesters and what it takes to raise potato crops. And yes, that research has bearing on one of my stories. Did I write a single line of dialog on paper? A plot change? A character shift? Nope, not a single word. But I did take great notes on how important it is to have the right ventilation through all stages of potato harvesting.

For setting a personal goal of 833 words per day in order to reach 25,000 words in 30 days, I am spectacularly in the hole; 3332 words in the hole to be exact. And just what am I going to do to correct this deficiency? Write? Don’t be silly. I’m going on a country drive to see the fall colors. I might even take some chips and salsa.

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

How absolutely frightening. I’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo again this year, only my second year attempting this mountain of a challenge. Last year I signed up but only made it to about 12,000+ words. I don’t even remember if I wrote them all that month, some of them may have come from the scribbles in my notebook from the previous month. But I had told myself to start with that I wasn’t trying to go the traditional route with it, I had only wanted to get my novel jump started.

The Goal:  Well, this year I am still working on that same novel and have set myself the goal of twice as many words as last year which will put me at 25,000 words-ish. A modest goal know, but a huge jump for me if I manage it. At 25,000 words, that means I would have to write 833 words per day. At the time of this post, I have written less than 250 words per week for the last two months. So, nowhere to go but up, right? Write.

The Obstacles: Self doubt and procrastination. What is it about procrastination? I understand self-doubt and where it comes from but what is this horrible and frustrating thing that drags me down and makes me feel so very guilty? I have recently switched over to working at night and that has left me hours upon hours of free time and yet, Netflix, the internet, my manicure, my sleeping dog and countless other ridiculous things attract my mag-pie-like attention span. I can’t even blame it on my schedule or the repairs around the house because despite those things, I still have hours of time to crank out pages upon pages, but do I have a massive digital file of new work? Never! I do however have a much wider knowledge of documentaries and B-movies and who doesn’t strive for that.

If you too are working on a novel and have signed up for NaNoWriMo, add me, VirginiaGirl, to your buddy list and we’ll see if we can’t hit our goals this year. What have we got to lose? Absolutely nothing. Well, except for an overwhelming sense of  failure crashing down on us. What do we have to gain? Progress. Progress towards that elusive finished manuscript, even if we don’t manage to finish it by the end of November. And camaraderie. Because you will be attempting to pour your imagination onto paper or into digital bits the same as thousands of people around the world.

So join me or stop by to say hello. I promise I’ll say hello back. Even if I have to stop cussing at my own wayward characters to do so.

Happy Writing!

An Exercise in E’s

Ethel was standing on the street again, staring at the white elephant painted on the sign of the grocer’s shop.  Ethan looked out the window at her, wondering why that sign fascinated her so much and why her fascination fascinated him.  The sign stood at the end of the street, an alley really.  Dark and damp, it wasn’t really a place most people liked to stand but almost everyday, Ethel came to stare at the elephant.  What was she thinking?  Did the elephant mean something to her?  Did it embody some old memory?  Was it some sort of esoteric message?  Who knew?  Only Ethel knew.

Ethan stared at her brown hair and small frame.  Did she have a home?  Did she live with anyone?  Did they wonder where she was everyday at 3.30 pm as she stood in the alley in front of Charlie’s Smart Grocery?  Ethan didn’t know, and on some level, he didn’t want to know because that meant he would have to care, and, at this point, he had more than enough to care about.

He turned back to his customer who was beginning to wonder why Ethan had stopped in the middle of tattooing “So Sexy” in script on his back.  Ethan grimaced, wondering how long it would be before the guy regretted this tattoo.  Maybe the guy would be eternally proud of it, or maybe he would just come to accept it as another part of his skin, not good, not bad.  When Ethan looked up again, Ethel had left.  The street had emptied as evening snuck into the city.  A small, pungent breeze kicked up several pieces of newspaper and sent them rolling into the gutter.

I Hear Fall’s Whispers

Beautiful Burch

There are two kinds of people in this world; those who love Fall—yes, I capitalize the word Fall—and those who don’t. And from that simple statement, I’m sure you can guess which camp I fall in.

Unless you live in the Gulf states or the southwest, you have probably felt the change in the weather already. As always, my giddiness rises with every new cool morning, every breath of drying leaves, and every sight of orange and yellow pumpkins. When I left the house this morning, the thermometer read 61 degrees. SIXTY ONE degrees!! Now, instead of dreading the doors that separate me from the heat and humidity of summer in the mid-Atlantic region, I start smiling at the mere thought of getting outside.

While Fall will not officially start until next month, I can feel the change in the air, hear the new tone in the whispers of the trees, and see great flocks of birds starting their long treks south. You may not think so but September is a month of beginnings. I know, I know. The leaves are falling and your vegetable garden is winding down but hear me out. For children, or those of you with children, now is the time for a new school year. This means new clothes (whether they be homemade, from the stores, or simply hidden away in a closet), new school supplies, new teachers, and new friends. Another chance to make this school year better than the last. One of the great American sports, football began last week, bringing with it a renewal of rivalries, friendly get-togethers, and stiff competitions. Soon, brilliant and vibrant colors will adorn countless trees and plants, bringing new beauty to neighborhoods and highways. Gardeners will start planting bulbs that weave the promise of a beautiful spring into the ground with their roots. Fresh, leaf strewn breezes are even now brushing away the burning, weighted air of summer.

Fall is a steady reminder to slow down from busy vacations and summer sales pushes, full weekends and fast meals. It is a call for rest and a call for comfort. Fall whispers “snuggle into me, into the leaf piles in the yard, into big sweaters and soft scarves, and into thick quilts that keep out the world.” The smell of wood smoke overtakes the smell of exhaust and sunscreen. Chili and hot cocoa warm and satisfy, stick to your insides the way strawberry salads and kale soups never can. Carnivals and haunted houses replace the screams and thrills of water parks and summer camps.

So tell me, what do you look forward to in the Fall? The hay rides? The apple picking? The rapid slide toward the holiday season? And if you don’t like Fall, that’s okay too. But I challenge you to spend time with someone who loves Fall more than any other season. Perhaps you’ll see it in a new way.

My Beauty

Stonecrop 1 cropped

We all look for beauty. Sometimes we don’t even know what we are looking for but we search for it anyway.

The turn of a butterfly wing, the breath of a mountain, the lazy falling of snow, the laugh of a child, the absoluteness of mathematics, or the study of the microscopic world that exists all around us. We seek so much in this life. In the end it all boils down to a space where we can feel like ourselves, whoever we believe that self to be.

Blessed are those that find beauty in all things, in small things as well as the grand. Elizabeth Barrett Browning liked small books, simple words, and small things because she felt she was small while Ansel Adams settled for nothing less than entire mountains and their skies. Some look for the terrible beauty of the Himalayas or the sweeping sound of a symphony orchestra but others are content with the light of a yellow sun on their screen door or the heartiness of a well-made stew.

Where do you find your beauty? In the wide open skies of the plains? In your backyard? In the mirror? Do you struggle to find beauty or does it surround you every moment? Is your beauty someone else’s ugliness? That’s ok. No one can or should tell you what beautiful is.

I find beauty in the whisper of swaying trees, the hum of insects in tall grasses, the exciement of my dogs as they clamor for dinner, and in the hard won life of my kitchen garden. And whenever I feel stumped for a topic on which to write, I let the memories of these things sink into my soul. Inevitably ideas will flow.

Tell me about your beauty and where you find it.

Social Media and Authorship

Today I attended a Self-Publishing workshop put on by a local writer, Tracee Garner (you can find her at Teegarner.com). In addition to her workshop, I’ve been doing a lot of research on writing, editing, writing contests, and publishing. The one thread that gets mentioned at any of these how-to’s, conferences, workshops, and websites is the importance of social media. In fact, many people harp of this idea of staying connected on multiple platforms to the point that you want to run screaming from the room, “Isn’t there anything else to know?!”

As always, there’s plenty to know about writing. Otherwise there wouldn’t be miles of books on the subject in every college bookstore, online bookseller, or large bookshop. But, if you, like me, one day hope to publish and have your scribblings read by other people–well, people other than your mother, father, family and friends–then you have to take social media into consideration.

Now, I’m fairly new to this social media game. I only just signed up for Twitter a few weeks ago and I’m still not sure how to use it to its best advantage, but I recognize the importance of building an audience if I hope to earn any traction with my stories (and I do mean earn, by the way). And social media is a great way to follow your heroes and see what they’re up to, how they use the platform to benefit their goals.

However, using all of these connections within connections baffles me. Google+, WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, RSS Feeds, and more. How do they all fit together? How does one ever hope to maintain coherent understanding and maintenance of so many platforms? And yet, people do. Daily. Hourly. It has gotten to the point, that in order to stay relevant among a target audience authors have to have webpages, twitter feeds, Facebook profiles, audio books, e-books, blogs, and more. These are all ways the modern reader connects with an author and his or her stories before they, if they, pick up a physical book.

The struggle I have is how do I connect? How does an unknown writer with no published material to her name begin to branch out? How do these thousands of bloggers gain enough steam in the beginning to earn readership in the thousands and hundreds of thousands?

How would you do it? And if you’re one of those amazing people who has achieved success in the digital world, how did you do it?

That’s My Story and I’m sticking–wait, I’m not sticking to it?

Last weekend, I attended a meeting of a local sci-fi/fantasy writer’s group. They’re a great group of writers, each with their own keen sense of humor and beautiful imagination. I had submitted the first six pages of my current novel to see what they group thought of it. They had some great ideas for minor problems I knew about, but one writer had a fantastic idea. The only issue with the fantastic idea is that I would have to re-work the plot of my first seventy pages. Basically, everything after this first six pages…

I am not so foolish as to think that my initial writing is glorious and should be left alone. But how does someone go about tossing such a huge chunk of your story? It is something I’m sure writers get used to but this first time is going to hurt.

I had a creative writing professor tell my class once that if you craft a perfect sentence, paragraph, or essay, one that surpasses everything you’ve every written, a sentence that makes you stop and stare and smile, then you should throw it out. Initially I balked at the idea. If it’s so perfect, why on earth should you throw it out? However, a year later I had to write a research paper for another course and found myself staring at a cleverly crafted sentence that caused me to throw my chest out with pride. But, as I re-read the passage for basic edits, I slowly came to realize that the sentence didn’t fit with the rest of the work. It stood out. With a heaving sigh, I saved the sentence in a separate document and started again. On a final read-through, I silently saluted my professor and her hard-won wisdom.

This seems to be the same sort of situation but on a much larger scale. It’s daunting, and I can see why editors have such trouble with stubborn authors. It can’t be that bad! This section can’t be that out of place. If you delete this, then the rest of the story doesn’t work! And so on. Granted, this is a first draft, and there are strong and intelligent reasons why I should follow my fellow writing group member’s advice. That tiny creative child inside of me is kicking her feet in outrage though. Perhaps I will find a new path for my characters, a better one that will move faster and with more precision, two things I have struggled with so far.

Have you ever had to deal with major edits or deletions? Have you ever read back over a substantial piece of work and decided to chuck the entirety and start again? How difficult was that for you?

I’ll let you know how bad it goes for me and how far I let my creative child throw that tantrum.

Happy Writing!

About

I’m a woman living on the east coast with her dogs and her family. I struggle to write and to learn how best to write. When I’m not working at my full time job (so boring), I play video games, corral my fast-growing indoor plant collection, read novels, and agonize over craft projects. Amidst all of these activities, my dogs vie for my attention and cuddle whenever possible.

To get in touch with me, you can email mleighdunham@gmail.com.