Disciplined Porch Writing – Day 6 of NaNoWriMo

This week, I’m spending a few days writing in a mostly empty house on a bluff above a lake. People have passed in this house. I walk the halls with my laptop, listening for them. But all I hear are the waves lapping on the shore.

Sounds magical, like the perfect writing spot, doesn’t it?

Actually, I’m spending time at my parents’ house while a work crew helps clear out the last of the housewares, furniture and trash. There are people working hard around me, and they make bangs and thuds, and sometimes they need to talk with me. I’m doing some work remotely for the day job on my phone, and I’m running errands to take care of house things. And amidst that, I’m writing on a giant porch overlooking a lake.

It’s magical. It’s wonderful to have stretches of time when I can write.

weirsdaleporchnanowrimoAnd it’s hard. It takes discipline to make time to write. It seems especially challenging since I’m not used to having this much time available to write. My usual writing schedule is day to day, dependent on family time, work schedules, and whether the weather is too good to miss out on a bike ride to get my body moving along with my mind.

NaNoWriMo puts out a constant stream of support and ideas during November, including prompts for writing sprints. That’s how I’ve been getting myself to focus on writing, rather than the myriad other things happening around me.  In between I can make notes of where to go next, write down any additional characters that have popped up that I want to keep track of.  And then, it’s on to the next push.

For a writing sprint, you set a timer for 15 or 20 minutes, and then write. No looking at the clock. You let the scene unfold as you go, or work on the scene you’ve planned to write next. You make it something exciting, where something important HAPPENS. It’s amazing how much you can crank out in small bit of time like that. Yesterday, I managed 800 words during a 20 minute sprint, and I had a great time writing about my main character and her bloody shovel.

Best of luck on your journey to your 50K. You can totally do this, you know, whether you’re holed up in a corner at home or looking over the water and straining to hear ghosts.  I’d love to hear how your writing is going, so leave me a comment and tell me what tricks you’re using to keep the words coming.

A Monstrous Love – 4 Days Until Halloween

In the movie Crimson Peak, Lucille Sharpe (the dark sister who holds the keys to the family manse) tells the gothic heroine, “It is a monstrous love. And it makes monsters of us all.”  Her version of love is menacing and possibly mad, as the best monsters are.

My favorite monsters pursue their victims with a deliberate and threatening drive.  In a presentation at the Florida Writers Conference, Sidney Williams posited that a monster is only frightening until you see it, and I think this is true.  You know it is there, that it will come, that it is hunting the others. The anticipation is suffocating. You squint into the darkness trying to see if you can make out its silhouette.  You wait behind the door with the gothic heroine, the original final girl, listening hard for its approach, desperately wanting to bolt, trying to hold your breath so you won’t be heard.

You want the monster to find her, so the final girl can face it and survive.  But the monster is never more threatening than right before that breathless moment.

The Power Of Writing Conferences – Recap Of #FHBF2015

I’m very glad I went to the Florida Heritage Book Festival and Writing Conference this year. I gained insight into my writing and new ideas for telling stories.

Thursday was a writing critique session. Participants submitted their first 10 pages of a work in early September, and we brought written comments for each other to the session. There were nine of us and the session leader, and most of them were memoir writers. Just three of us, myself included, had submitted fiction. Any reticence I had about not working with fiction writers dissipated when I read my group’s submissions. My fictional characters work through conflicts, interact with other characters with differing levels of success, and (hopefully) grow through their story. Memoirs are stories of the writer doing just that, sometimes in heart wrenchingly relatable ways.

I was lucky to work with such a diverse group. Our ages ranged from a high senior to a couple of self-labeled “old guys.” We came from different parts of the United States and overseas. We had many different careers and life experiences. The alchemy of the group worked. We had commonality in our backgrounds even if the particulars were different. We took different things from each others’ stories, interpreted characters’ motivations differently, and from that we discussed how these nuances made the stories more complex.

We need diverse stories because it opens us up to different experiences. But, diverse stories also show us as writers how we can touch readers in fundamental ways, even if their backgrounds are different from those described in the storyIMG_9407.

Friday was the writing conference, and something serendipitous happened during
my first session. Elizabeth Sims, a fiction and non-fiction writer, lead an exercise in a writing method she calls Stormwriting. I’ve used her method before, and darned if a horror story idea didn’t pop up. It was so distracting, I found a gorgeous corner bench to chase down the gruesome little idea through the following session. Now I just need to figure out if the main character is going to get past her little problem, or it will just get worse.

If you live near Florida, I recommend you attend the Florida Heritage Book Festival and Writing Conference next year.  And join a writing critique session if you are working on something – the feedback will show aspects of your story to you in new and different ways.

Camp NaNoWriMo – Mosquitoes

Welcome to Day 20 of Camp NaNoWriMo!  How does your camp look?  Is your tent still dry?  Provisions well stocked?  Any interesting interactions with wildlife?

I’ve been putting all my writing energy into focusing on my novel, editing and adding scenes to improve its structure.  That’s resulted in me wandering off in the woods a bit, posting fewer blog posts and slapping away the mosquitoes of real life distractions.  I knew this would be different from the creative push of writing a first draft, but I did not expect how it would push my brain to work so differently and how much I would learn from the process.

Focusing solely on the novel is hard at times.  Real life has many distractions, but it also provides so much inspiration.  I see places I want to photograph; I think of poems and scenes for short stories that are hanging in the wings.  I’m  jotting down ideas when they come – the other morning I spent my #5amwritersclub time to write a scene for a short story because I woke up thinking about it and didn’t want to lose it.  But I’m pushing myself to always turn my focus back to the novel.

This focus is tightening the structure of my story more, which is a cool thing to experience.  I see gaps now that I’m reading some sections fresh after several months.   When I read a well-crafted story, there’s a thrill to how the characters and story elements move together.  My goal is to stitch my seams together so well that they don’t show.

Camp NaNoWriMo – Lurking in the Woods

Welcome Campers and lurkers!  Day 8 of Camp NaNoWriMo and the day is full of activities.

As I’ve posted before, I’m editing and adding to my draft novel for Camp NaNoWriMo.  Most of the story is set in Florida woods next to a blackwater river.  It’s a setting I can see vividly in my mind – lush growth and dark water – and it’s a place I have great affection for.  And it feels delightfully full of living and dead things, as all the best wild areas do.

So as I work on it during Camp NaNoWriMo, I am doubly tickled that the novel has all sorts of camp-related activities: walking in the woods, swimming, eating outside, the vague dread that the river, or perhaps your relative, wants to do you harm.

And campers.  I am very lucky to be part of a cabin of smart, funny writers who post each day to share support and talk about writing.  I found my cabin by responding to a Twitter post by an author (and publisher) I follow.  Having folks to ask about formatting internal monologue and reminisce about 1980’s horror movies had made the experience even more fulfilling and productive and November’s NaNoWriMo was.

1980’s horror movies: also fond of happening in the woods.  Near the river.  *insert evil laugh here*

Camp NaNoWriMo Day 3 – Editing, Writing, Editing, Writing

So far, Camp NaNoWriMo is rocking along for me.  I’m working on editing my novel from November’s NaNoWriMo.  I’ve never edited something this long before.  I’ve printed it out so I can scribble on it.novel 1st draft - 1

Yep, this stack of paper isn’t imposing at all.

The great thing I’ve found is that I’ve had enough time away from the story (having just added bits and pieces since November) that I can scratch through the text freely.  The naively unexpected thing I’ve found is that reading through it makes me see gaping holes that I want to fill with more writing.

That’s good, right?  I’m going with good and letting myself write in those missing details or change exposition to dialogue, rather than limiting myself to cutting things.  I have read that some writers focus their editing that way, limiting it to pruning and making notes for parts to add after they are done.  But I’m writing as the inspiration comes, at least for now.  This is a big learning experience of me.

In a future post, I’ll talk about how I found my cabin mates for Camp NaNoWriMo and how much interacting with them is adding to the experience.

Happy camping!

Insights From My First Short Story Contest (II)

I’m continuing with my post about entering my first short story contest, and I’m sharing happy news. I attended the Lake County Bookfest last week, where they announced that my short story will be published in an electronic compilation along with eleven others. Though I wasn’t chosen as a winner or honorable mention in the short story contest, I’m very excited that my story will be included in the collection, and I have a couple more insights to share about the experience.

Fortune favors the brave:
For the first time in a long time, I was shy about having strangers read what I wrote. I write at work all the time. I have participated in writing groups and enjoyed sharing my writing.  So, I was surprised by how nervous I felt about submitting. It came at the very end, when I’d mostly finished editing and only felt like I needed to proof the story. Then I picked it up and suddenly had lost all perspective. I couldn’t tell whether it flowed well, or whether emotions and motivations were clear. I could blame this on being unexpectedly rushed, but it was more than that. I cared about submitting a good story, and I had to go on faith that it worked as well as I’d thought it had previously. Then, I proofed it, checked the submission guidelines again, and submitted.

Trying is the opposite of failing:
Ok, I knew this one. It’s a central tenet of my value system. I was short-listed, but I didn’t get the reward of that private meeting. I did get written critiques from the judges, though, and these were very insightful. I’m pleased that my story was selected for the electronic compilation, but I’m even more proud that I entered the contest at all.  Despite being nervous, despite feeling stressed and having to scramble at the end, I made the time and put my story out there for review. It won’t be the last time, but it was the first time.

Tell me about your experiences with entering writing contests. Do you have any insights or realizations to share?  Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Insights From My First Short Story Contest (I)

I’m taking a break today from poetry and spooky shorts to share my recent experience with entering a short story contest. This was the first short story that I’d submitted to a contest, and I went into the experience thinking it was a good way to push myself to do something new, to take the next step. Now that the results are in, I realize I’ve learned more than I expected, and I thought you may enjoy my insights.

Plan to submit as early as possible:
I’d worked out most of my story edits well before the story deadline and put it away to simmer a bit. A few more things came to me and I’d planned to make final edits the week before the deadline. However, life threw some surprises at me that week. Suddenly it was the last day the contest was open, and I was driving out of town to take care of some unexpected personal business. When I got back, I holed up in a coffee shop for the last crucial hours. The whole thing ran way too late for my own comfort. Despite all my planning, I submitted nearly at the end. I don’t want that frantic experience again.

Be ready for unexpected emotions:
My last minute scramble made me realize that I was surprisingly emotionally invested in the contest. I didn’t care about winning, but the finalists won an individual meeting with an agent and published author. I was hoping to have that meeting. I was hoping for the validation of being chosen, being good enough, to warrant such a meeting.  And I was hoping to get objective, professional feedback on my writing.  The agent and author work in the genre I write, and so I was especially excited for that.

I’ll finish this up in an upcoming post. Tell me about your experiences with entering writing contests. Do you have any insights or realizations to share?  Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Spring

SPRING
by Victoria Nations

She stood on her hands and spun
so her dress
swirled
in a wide circle.

The sky above her filled with
green skirts and
grey crinolines,
the lace sweeping her legs as
they spread
and bent
to keep steady.

Her hands
gripped the ground for balance.

Her feet
wiggled with joy.

Frankenerin

FRANKENERIN
by Victoria Nations

The girl smiled at me from the wall, and even before I saw that her mouth was stitched closed, she was in my arms. She was doll-like, with a sweet, open smile and black button eyes. A burgundy bouffant made her skin seem all the more pale. Her scars were barely noticeable.

Her mouth had been shut for her, and here the stitches were real, made from thick, black thread.

An artist named Chicho had written a love letter on the back of her canvas, naming her Frankenerin. He had drawn a heart and written, “Don’t remove the smile.”

The thrift store clerk rang me up, glancing between Erin and me. She slipped a bag over the painting and laid her face down.

“Better you than me, sugar.”

Erin moved to our new house, but she never selected a room and stayed in the garage instead. She oversaw house repairs and weekend chores, always smiling her encouragement.

I couldn’t remove her stitches. I mean, it looked like I could – it was just tape and thread. But I didn’t. Maybe Chicho had spoken metaphorically, and maybe he hadn’t.  Who am I to doubt what he knew?

ErinI didn’t want anything to happen to that smile.

After a year, it was time for Erin to live somewhere else, somewhere she would want to move inside and settle on a wall that suited her. I propped her up on a bright red chair at the yard sale.

Erin didn’t sell at the sale.

And I had to move her off the chair before someone would buy it. They said they would move her, but they just kept standing there looking nonplussed until I did it.

Erin left in the backseat of a friend’s car.  My friend promised she knew a good home for her, though it definitely won’t be with her. Erin sat staring out the side window as my friend drove away.  She seemed delighted to be traveling again.