Halfway There; or, What I’ve Learned from 182 Little Stories

In January I set myself the task of writing 365 100-word short stories. Today marks six months down — or, 182 days down. The halfway mark! Three cheers!

Part of me has decided that I’m really, really dumb for attempting this.

Part of me has decided that I’ve done well for doing this.

Mostly, I’m learning quite a few things. Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Get ’em done early and often. I decided pretty early that I was not going to write one story a day — life gets in the way too often so consistency would become an issue. But I would write stories ahead of time to leave some editing/designing breathing room. The best way to do this is with a backlog, because catching up is a bitch. So, if you’re thinking about doing this…plan ahead.
  • 365 stories is exactly that. 365 separate stories. Writing these things is not like saying “I’ll just write 36,500 words.” (Which I totally believed at the beginning of this project — so I told myself Easy Peasy. Ha! Silly me.) It’s much more creatively draining than I was anticipating. Each little piece is its own thing and requires its own inspiration moment. I’ve learned that, even if something is short, it is self-contained and belongs to itself — that’s something to respect as far as time and energy goes.
  • Writing prompts are your friends. Subject matter can get repetitive…even with writing prompts…but having a different brain asking you different questions is a good thing. On days when you’re tired, when you have no juice left, when you are just staring at a blank page, it’s nice to have ideas coming from somewhere.  
  • It really is okay to suck. My only goal with writing these was to see if I could write these. I told myself at the beginning: “It’s okay for them to suck. You just have to write them.” But, like most writers, I didn’t want to suck. I wanted each one to be a tiny gem of awesomeness. However, typos snuck in. Subject matter became dry. Some of them are preachy. There are magical stories which are good…but there are some stinkers in there. And I HATE that but I must charge ahead. Damn the consequences.
  • If you’re stuck: put a box around it. Sometimes, as writers, we get in our own way. We sit and try to force magic to happen. A good way to get around that is to set clear boundaries for what you’re working on. I already have a word count. If I add in a prompt, then I’m adding another boundary. I also really like to add a time limit. Seven minutes gets me around 175-200 words of a story that I can cut down. The prompt takes the pressure off my brain cells, the word count gives me a goal, and the time limit helps me not worry about sucking. 
  • Create some accountability. By posting these stories on this blog and on my Facebook page, I’ve told my friends and family that I’m working to accomplish something. It keeps me honest. 
If you’ve been following these stories, thank you so much. I hope that your projects are going well. 
Happy writing!!!

New Year, New Mentors: Tana French

Welcome 2016!!

New years are for new starts and I’m gonna kick of 2016 with a brand new batch o’mentors.

First up, we have Tana French!

Tana French is one of my very favorite authors. Based in Dublin, Ireland, French trained as a professional actor at Trinity College. She’s worked in theatre, film, and voiceover. She’s well-traveled. But, most of all, she’s a spectacular writer.

Her books are all based around the Dublin Murder Squad. No, that’s not a squad of murderers…though that would be interesting too….It’s the squad of detectives who solve homicides in Dublin. There’s plenty of murder, darkness, and angst to be found in her books.

However, if her novels were just mysteries, I don’t know if I would be as interested in these stories. Instead, the murders/mysteries tend to serve as triggers for the internal struggles of whichever detective French is focused on in a particular novel. She creates real people dealing with some troubling circumstances…which the main characters themselves are often responsible for.

Plus, in a feat that’s verrrrrrrrrrrrrrry difficult to pull off, French manages to make each book in the series stand alone. There’s no need to read any of the series in order. Every story is complete within itself. The fact that you recognize characters and get different perspectives on those characters is just a delightful bonus.

I’ve read every one of her books:

  
 

There’s lots to admire here and there’ll be a lot more of Tana French talk coming at you.

If you haven’t read her yet. Please, do yourself a favor and grab any one of these.

As for the rest of 2016, the mentor line-up is as follows:
(Every Tuesday and Friday)

Tana French: January — March
Robert Louis Stevenson: April — June
Sarah Ruhl: July — September
Cormac McCarthy: October — December

So, it’s a packed year. Hoping for lots of good conversation!!

Bedtime Stories

As soon as I saw this call for submissions, I thought of how perfectly it fit with our conversation with Alameddine.  Wicked East Press is currently collecting submissions for not one, but three anthologies featuring bedtime stories.  Check it out.  The deadline is June 30th.

Happy Writing!

Experiment

It’s very fitting that, in a month where we’re talking about an experimental author, I find a call for submissions from Blood Orange Review where the theme is Experiment.  The part I think is cool about the prompts is, “We have purposefully chosen themes that can be interpreted in many ways, so if you think you have something that fits, send it to us. We look forward to reading your work!”  So, they’re pretty open to whatever direction you take the prompt in, which gives you a lot of freedom.

The deadline is June 2nd, so get those words flowing.  Happy writing!

Underwater Inspiration

Underwater New York wants you to write a piece in 500 words or less that is inspired by one of the items on their list. Here’s the call for submissions. The list is definitely an eclectic assortment of items and I’m sure you can find at least one that gets your writer brain ticking.

Click on over to the list, check out some of the pictures, and get writing. The deadline is May 1st.

Happy Writing!

Short and Sweet

“Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.” – Blaise Pascal

Or, translated, it means, “I made this letter long, because I did not have time to make it short.”

A perfect introduction to this week’s prompt. I recently found The Postcard Press, which is a fun flash fiction (or short poetry) concept. The press publishes in postcard format and you’re strictly limited on how long your piece can be, because, well, it has to fit on a postcard. We’re talking about Terry Pratchett’s marvelous, wacky fantasy, and The Postcard Press has a call for submissions about magic. Submissions are due by the end of May.

Check out submission details at their website and get cranking on your magic.

Happy Writing!

Let’s Get Visual!

Art and literature go together like sarcasm and teenagers, so this week, I bring you a call for submissions for the Make Believe Anthology. – Click on the link to see submission details and your inspirational artwork.

My favorite part of the call for submissions is this requirement: “However, as it so very obviously looks like Red Riding Hood, we will accept no Red Riding Hood stories. Your story must be unique an not a rewrite of the famed, old tale.”

Got it? Good.

Due date is April 11!

Happy Writing!

Dieselpunk

With George R. R. Martin, we talked a lot about world building and genre-blending. What better send off than Twit Publishing’s call for Dieselpunk submissions?

“What is Dieselpunk? Dieselpunk is a re-imagining of the diesel-era (the post-World War I era to the early 1950s). It’s gangsters, bootleggers, swing, Mexican revolutionaries, Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde, U-Boats, the Depression, the end of the Wild West, Bolshevik agents, greasers, zeppelins, jazz, art-deco, roadsters, hobos (anything that fits into this era of time along with cross-genres), and the Red Scare. It is the beginning of mechanization of the military and the beginning of the mechanization of the factory.”

Come on, how fun is that? Mobsters and wizards, bootleg potions… the list goes on. This weekend, I challenge you to step up to Twit Publishing’s challenge. The deadline is April 30th, so you’d better get started today.

Happy Writing!

Character Twist

In honor of George R. R. Martin’s complicated characters, this week’s writing prompt is all about character twist. One of the my favorite characters that I love to hate is Jamie Lannister. He starts off as a total creeper and then you see a few more things that really make your skin crawl. I mean, total ick factor, people. But, then, Martin reveals the real motivation for the killing that earned Jamie the nickname Kingslayer and it turns out that Jamie has one or two redeeming qualities after all. Martin likes to muddy the waters, and it makes for fabulous reading. “Good” characters do bad things and “Bad” characters do good things.

This weekend, you should try to do the same. Take a character you’ve created, either one of your heroes, or one of your villains. Next, you’re going to write a scene where your character does something that contradicts that archetype. Your hero betrays a friend. Your villain performs an act of self-sacrifice for the benefit of an innocent. Or, whatever else you can think of that would be suitable.

Keep in mind, that the trickiest part of this kind of exercise is writing it convincingly. It’s not going to do you any good unless your reader believes the act is sincere and authentic to that character. Dig deep on this one.

Happy Writing!

Ready, Set, Leap

This week’s Saturday pages is all about figurative language and taking leaps. I’m also going to offer you different levels to try your hand at – depending on whether you a lighter writing exercise or if you’re game for some heavier lifting. The most important thing about today’s exercise is that you shut up your inner critic and just write. Embrace the process. Hesitations are bad for big leaps.

One writer who ties in with Neil Gaiman is Terry Pratchett. Pratchett’s on the mentor docket, so stay tuned, we’ll be talking more about him later this year. I mention Pratchett in this post because I’m reminded of a comparison he made in one of his books which I have remembered, literally, for years. Because, when you write that Lord Vetinari, the city’s ruling official, is like “a carnivorous flamingo,” that’s memorable.

So, go get your jumping shoes on and let’s do this.

Level 1
Pick something to describe. It can be a person, an object, a feeling, or anything else you might be tempted to tack an adverb to. Feel free to use something in a piece you’re working on, or take a look around the room you’re in right now and do a little “eenie, meanie, minie, mo”.

Take out a blank page. Number it 1-20. Stretch your writing (or typing) fingers and, as fast as you can, write 20 metaphors and/or similes about your subject. Aim for the far-fetched, the odd, the unusual. Don’t over think it. Don’t pause. Keep your fingers moving.

Once you’ve written 20, take a look at your list. Find the comparisons that you’ve seen before and cross them off. Likewise, take off any that are too literal, too easy. Next, cross off the ones that fall flat. What are you left with? The most awesome comparisons you’ve ever written about that apple.

Level 2
Now that you’ve got your list narrowed down to your best material, pick the comparison that seems the most far-fetched. Flip to a new page and write your comparison at the top. Your job is to take your oddball comparison and turn it into an extended metaphor. Now that you have something like, “Life is like a box of pickled sardines,” at the top of your page, you’re going to write a paragraph that really fleshes your comparison out.

Think of every possible point of intersection between the two things you’re comparing and write those down. If you were Terry Pratchett, you’d be describing how a carnivorous flamingo walks, how it sounds, how it looks at you with pink, beady eyes that see right into your soul. Like Level 1, the key here is write fast and write a lot. That thought that just flashed through your mind that made you think, “No, that’s too silly to write down”? Write it down.

Once you’ve filled as much of the page as you can, take a breath and look over what you’ve done. Right now, you probably have one of your most original descriptions. How cool is that?

Level 3
Now I challenge you to take your figurative language leap and build a short story, or maybe a poem, around it.

Happy writing!