On Sex, Defining Normality, and the Wonders of Technology

I was wandering around the interwebs a few weeks ago, and came across this interesting, and rather disturbing, TED talk from Cindy Gallop. Now, it’s not new — it’s four years old — but I believe it’s at least as relevant now as it was in 2010.

Note: This video is NSFW and includes graphic sexual language. If you’re not up to listening to it, I’ll recap below.

For those who didn’t watch, what Gallop is basically saying is that young men and women (in their mid-twenties and younger) are growing up believing hard-core porn to be an accurate depiction of sex. And so young women pretend to like things that they don’t actually like (because it’s “normal”) and young men behave like… well, like male porn stars.

But let’s face it, we all know that real sex — sex based on mutual love and respect — is very rarely, if ever, like a hard-core porn film. At least, I assume it isn’t for everyone else. And if it is, then I would like to think that it’s still based on mutual enjoyment and respect.

Another point Gallop raised is the idea that parents don’t talk to children about some of the most important aspects of sex — from consent, to mutual pleasure, even to respect. She blames this on being a puritanical society, which may well be true. But I wonder if her parents talked to her about those things. Mine certainly didn’t.  And so if nothing’s changed, why has everything changed?

And that brings me to my next point.

In the same week that I saw this TED talk, I read about some other worrying situations. Children as young as 12 engaging in sexual acts far outside what any reasonable person would consider “youthful experimentation”. Twelve and thirteen year olds addicted to hard-core porn. Children as young as 10 being charged with sexual assault. Playground antics that are anything but innocent.

I’d link to some articles but, honestly, I don’t want to read them again.

Whenever these situations occur, there is one overriding response from the general public.

fault

Where were their parents?

  • What have their parents been teaching them?
  • What have their parents been letting them watch?
  • Why didn’t their parents know what they were doing?

Valid questions, certainly. But before casting judgement, I’d like to share a little story.

When I was ten years old, school was full of children giggling about new words and concepts they’d learned from older brothers, sisters, and TV shows. The word ‘sex’ had everyone blushing and giggling, even though none of us really knew what it was. Words like “penis” and “vagina” had us in paroxysms of hilarity. Lunch-times had us giggling about the idea of being *heeheehee* naked with someone else.

So one lunch time, we snuck back into the classroom and — wait for it — got out a… dictionary.

dictionary“Look up *giggle* sex,” said one girl.

And so we did.

(In case you’ve never done it, the dictionary definition of ‘sex’ is profoundly unsexy.)

And then we looked up penis. And vagina. And intercourse. And tampon. (Because clearly someone had been remiss in delineating certain facts about puberty.)

And when we’d finished, we put the dictionary away and went on our way, proudly able to tell the boys in the class that we knew all about sex. Because, you know, dictionary.

If our parents and teachers had known what we were up to, would they have demanded they remove dictionaries from the school room? Probably not. They probably did the same thing when they were children.

But the question is moot. Because our teachers and parents didn’t know. And why would they? We were at school. Using school resources. In a safe, school-based environment. Sure, we were giggling a lot, but we weren’t smuggling in magazines, or reading erotica. We were looking up information in a state-sanctioned, parent-purchased educational resource.

Fast forward to today.

Most kids don’t use dictionaries anymore.

Many children wouldn’t even know how to use one.

When they want to know what a word means, they refer to the state-sanctioned, parent-purchased educational resource that sits on their desk at school or at home.

computers

Do me a favour. Go type the word ‘sex’ into Google and see what happens.

And then tell me again how important it is for children to have access to their own laptops, tablets, and phones.

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Coming to America! (With a Little Help from my Friends)

Yes, that’s right my friends, I’m coming to America. Just like this guy:

Coming-To-America-1998

Okay, maybe not exactly like Prince Akeem, but very close. And I’ll take with me all the lessons I learned from watching the movie.

  1. If you want to meet a future Queen, you go to Queens. (duh!)
  2. New Yorkers are ready to steal everything you own at every moment. Unless you’re in a barber shop. Barber shops are super friendly.
  3. Eddie Murphy’s smile is bigger than his face.

But enough of that.

So, I’m coming to America. To be more specific, I’m coming to Salem, Massachusetts. To be even more specific, I’m coming to Salem, Massachusetts to attend the Writer Unboxed Un-Conference from Monday November 3rd to Friday November 7th.

Now, I’ve talked about Writer Unboxed here before. I’ve mentioned the blog (Look, it’s right over there => on the blogroll!), and I’ve talked about the Facebook group. Both of which are awesome. I’ve been an active member of the FB group for a few years now, and an active participant on the blog, and so when I heard about the Un-Conference, I decided there was nothing more important in the world than for me to attend this not-a-conference-conference.

And then, you know, my life imploded and changed significantly, and I found myself a single mother, living in a caravan with two small boys, with little to no income. And I had to regretfully admit that I just couldn’t afford to goto the Salem this November. With flights, insurance, accommodation, meals, conference fees, childcare arrangements, and the need to eat actual food (rather than just dine on the writerly ambience), the price was going to run to thousands of dollars.

But put away those violins.violin

No, seriously, put them away. Because just at the point where I was feeling a bit like having a wallow in my own misery — and bemoaning the fact I live in FutureLand, rather than downtown Salem — a team of Superheroes came to the rescue.

A group of online friends — all of them women writers — decided to take matters into their own hands and do whatever it took to get me to that conference. And not just me. There were five of us in all. Five of us who desperately wanted to attend, but just couldn’t get there for financial reasons. And we all have a few things in common.

  • We’re all writers. (Obviously.)
  • We’re all women.
  • We all have small children.
  • We are all passionately involved in helping and supporting our fellow writers.
  • We all have the bestest friends in the whole entire universe.

And thus, the WriterMamas fundraiser was born.

And this is where you come in, my dear friends. You see, at the time of writing this, we’re about halfway to our fundraising goal. Halfway. Which means that, at the moment, when I board that plane in November, I’ll be thrown out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And I’m not much of a swimmer.

If I’m lucky, I’ll find an island nearby. A few days later, I’ll look like this:

castaway

Yes, beard and all. What happens on the island, stays on the island.

So if you’d like to prevent me from turning into a grizzled, mostly-naked man with nothing but a volleyball and my own psychosis for company, please jump on board the WriterMamas fundraiser.

There are four ways you can help.

1. Make a Donation

It’s pretty simple. Pop on over to the WriterMamas GiveForward page and make a donation. Even if all you can spare is $5, we would all appreciate it. I would appreciate it. I really don’t want to be stuck on a remote island, slowly turning into Tom Hanks…

Of course, you’re welcome to donate more than $5. Any and all donations are gratefully accepted.

2. Buy The Successful Author’s Toolkit

Okay, this is an absolutely awesome parcel of writer’s resources for a fantastic price. All of these products have been donated to the WriterMamas fundraiser by the authors, so 100% of the price you pay goes straight towards helping me avoid a long and lonely swim in the Pacific Ocean. The Toolkit includes:

  • “Got High Concept?” by Lori Wilde
  • “Writing Active Setting” boxed set by Mary Buckham
  • “Rock Your Writing” complete set by Cathy Yardley (including her never-before-released marketing course)
  • “Write. Publish. Repeat” by Sean Platt and Johnny Truant
  • “A Writer’s Guide to Blogging” by Dan Blank
  • “Your First 1000 Copies” by Tim Grahl (including a usually not-for-sale bonus podcast)
  • “Prowriter: Secrets of an Author Entrepreneur” course by CJ Lyons and Joanna Penn
  • “The Career Novelist” by Donald Maass
  • BONUS: 50% off Cathy Yardley’s amazing editing service on a single project
  • BONUS: Live chat or phone call with Shelley Souza, an experienced editor, to discuss the first five pages of your manuscript.

The whole package retails at well over $200 — and that’s not even taking into account the bonus offers — but it’s available as part of this fundraiser for $100. Go and read more about each of the resources here. And then buy the toolkit, either for yourself or for a deserving writer friend.

3. Buy cool Writer Unboxed merchandise

This fundraiser has inspired some of the most amazing people to dive in and help. And so you can buy cool caps and t-shirts, and all the profit goes back to making sure I don’t have to spend the next two months practicing my breaststroke.

Check out these great baseball caps, available for a limited time for $30.

Or, if you’re not into baseball caps, you can pick up a limited edition Writer Unboxed t-shirt for only $23. Don’t they look amazing?

 4. Spread the Word

Seriously, tell everyone. Share this blog post. Share the individual links. Tweet them, FB them, G+ them, Pinterest them, scrawl them on bathroom walls, do whatever the cool kids are doing with links these days. Go crazy and tell your friends in person. Sky-write it. Shout it from the rooftops.

If you’re not interested in writing books or merchandise, and you can’t or don’t want to donate, that’s okay. You can still help just by clicking a few buttons. Spread the word.

Any other ideas?

And if you’ve got any other fundraising ideas, hit me up in the comments.

I am ever so grateful to the original organisers of the WriterMamas fundraiser, to all the other people who’ve come on board in the last few weeks and turned this dream into an almost-reality, and to everyone who has already donated, purchased, and shared the love. Without friends like you, the world would be a darker place.

And with that little piece of nostalgia, how can you do anything else but help?

I assure you, you’ll make me smile even bigger than Eddie Murphy. And that’s no small task.

eddie murphy

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Filed under Random Stuff, Writing

The Writing Process Blog Hop

Writing Process Blog HopYes, that’s right, I’ve been nomated to take part in the Writing Process Blog Hop.

My dear friend Denise Falvo taggd me a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been intimated by the idea of writing this ever since. Denise didn’t just answer a few questions, she wove a story around her Muse and her blog and her writing style, and only then answered a few questions.

After much deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that there’s no way I can compete with that. So, instead, I shall simply do it my way.

My friend Denise, perpetrator of blog hops.

The gorgeous Denise, perpetrator of blog hops.

Oh, but before we start, why don’t you pop on over and read her post here? Go on, you know you want to see what all the fuss is about. It’s okay. I’ll wait.

Alrighty, shall we continue?

Great.

So, here’s how this thing works. I’m going to answer a few questions about my writing process, and then I’m going to tag a few other people to answer the same questions on their blog. And, eventually, every writer in the whole entire world will have shared their writing process, and then the sky will boil and the sea will burn and the streets will run with the tears of writers demanding: Why?! Why did we reveal all our secrets? Now anyone can write a best-seller!

Ahem.

Sorry. Got a little carried away there. Perhaps I should just get started.

What am I currently working on?

As I said in my last blog post, I’m working on a whole lot of stuff right now. I’m writing short stories every week (I have a number out on submissions to magazines, and am happily collecting rejection slips on my way to world domination.), I’ve just started writing a Brand New Shiny Story, and I’m seventeen shakes of a lamb’s tail away from finishing the final revisions on my comic paranormal novel: The Clock Struck Twelve.

And it’s The Clock Struck Twelve I want to tell you about today.

Twelve is the perfect vampire’s Head Minion. He lisps. He limps. He serves his master in all things. But when his master develops a disturbing pop culture fetish, Twelve has to choose between doing what he’s told, and doing what he’s always done.

A good minion follows instructions. A good minion maintains the status quo. And breaking either of those rules will result in Twelve losing his job, if not his life.

With his master’s arch-nemesis on the attack, and a rival minion determined to topple Twelve from the top spot, Twelve will need to draw on all his minion training to navigate his way through this minefield. And he’ll have to do it quickly.

Because things are about to get… sparkly.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The Clock Struk Twelve is a bit of an odd duck, in that although I class it as “comic paranormal”, that’s a sub-genre classification I made up on one lazy Sunday afternoon.

The story is based in a world within part separate from our own world. There are pop culture references and in-jokes scattered through the story — some more subtle than others — and I have a secret hope that one day I will receive a fan letter from someone saying:

OMG! I’ve read The Clock Struck Twelve fifteen times, and I only just realised that you totally referenced The Princess Bride in that scene on page 239!* I’m so in love with this book! I keep laughing so hard I fall off my chair!

omg vampires

Why do I write what I write?

Because when I write, those are the words that flow through me.

Look, I didn’t have the greatest childhood in the world. I didn’t have the greatest teen years in the world. I didn’t even have the greatest twenties in the world. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that as long as you can laugh, everything will be okay.

As long as there are bad puns and clever references and the satirisation of pop culture icons, everything will be okay.

Besides, you can lay down an awful lot more hard truths in a frothy comedy than you can in an earnest drama. At least, you can lay down an awful lot more hard truths before the reader closes the book, puts it on a table, and backs away slowly.

How does my individual writing process work?

Okay, if I tell you this, you have to promise not to tell. It will be our little secret, okay?

pinkyPinky promise?

Okay then.

Are you sitting comfortably?

The first secret to my writing process is… Soup. I must eat soup. And not just any soup. This soup must be the colour of sunshine after a storm, with the texture of an eary morning cuddle, and the strength of a mother’s love. It must taste of autumn nights and starlight, be as warm as a dragon’s heartbeat, and as creamy as a unicorn’s mane.

And when this soup has been prepared under the light of a blue moon, I drink it up, and then the words begin to flow. Stories pour forth from my soupified mind and spill on to my keyboard in a mess of wild abandon. (Leaving me to clean up after them, I might add.) Once done, I give them a good vacuum to tidy them up and make them respectable, and send them out into the world.

Alternately, I could tell you that my writing process is pretty much like anyone else’s. It involves a hell of a lot of hard work, focus, dedication, commitment, time, frustration, inspiration, luck, research, revision, and vodka.

So let’s stick with the soup. Mmkay?

And the nominees are…

Okay, here’s where I run into problems. You see, I’ve been out of the blogging circuit for so long, I don’t actually know who amongst my loyal (and patient) readers has already done this blog hop, who would like to do this blog hop, and who honestly couldn’t think of anything worse, thankyouverymuch.

So if you’d like to join the fun and post your own Writing Process Blog Hop post, hit me up in the comments or via the contact page, and I’ll hit the edit key and add you here with an introduction and a link.

Any questions about my writing process? Want to tell me about yours?

* I don’t really reference The Princess Bride on page 239. I do reference it. But you’ll have to find out where for yourself.

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I Still Aten’t Dead

*tumbleweed rolls*

So, hi. *waves*

It’s been so long since I blogged, it took me fifteen minutes of trial and error to remember my password. To all the people still hanging around to read this: Thank you! If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just put down this oversized cardboard sign…

I aten't dead

It’s been a busy full months full of busyness. Between parenting, writing, and learning how to cope with the changing seasons in a largely outdoor living arrangement, there’s been little enough time for life. But I’m back, and I shall endeavour to remain back for the foreseeable future.

So, how are things going? Funny you should ask. (I’m going to assume someone asks, and I’m not just shouting into the void.)

I’ve been busily writing-writing-writing, and loving it.

I’ve almost finished the final round of revisions on Clock Struck Twelve. (Stay tuned, I’ll be posting about my writing process for that manuscript over the next few days.) It’s been a long journey, and every time I think I’m finished, I come up with something new to add. But this time — this time — I’m sure I’m about done and ready to start querying.

I also started a Facebook group dedicated to writing short stories. Ray Bradbury famously said:

Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.

And so, the group Bradbury’s 52 was formed. Each week we have a series of prompts (a character, a location, an item), and members write a short story based on those prompts. We’re up to the 11th challenge this week, and it’s a lot of fun. If you’re interested in stretching your short story writing muscles, come along and join us.

Once uponFinally, I’ve started writing a new story. I estimate it will be about 75,000 words when completed, and I”m at the 4000 word mark at the moment. Early days, but my characters have taken on a life of their own, and I’m excited to see where they end up.

In other, non-writing-related news, my children are growing.

That is all.

Okay, that’s not all.

Sometimes I turn around and wonder how it is that the little baby I held in my arms, who locked his beautiful dark eyes with mine and grabbed hold of my heart in both hands, could possibly be seven years old — and looking me right in the eye while he argues that he really, really and truly, really needs a new Lego set, and he’s got a whole list of ones he’s wishing for, and if I don’t let him buy one with his pocket money right now — right now! — then I am officially the worst mother in the whole entire universe.

And when his little brother, a respectable three-year-old looks me in the eye while actively choosing to ignore every word that comes out of my mouth, I fondly remember the days when he couldn’t actually move at faster than a crawl, and I could make him smile with little more than a cuddle.

And then Master Three walks up to me out of the blue, puts his beautiful (and probably dirty) hand on my cheek and tells me he loves me. And Master Seven gives me an earnest smile and says, “It’s okay, Mummy, I’ll make us lunch today. You can keep writing your story.” And I realise that growing up is a beautiful and wonderful thing.

And it would be even more beautiful and wonderful if they could do it without arguing every freaking five minutes.

*deep breath*

All is well in my little corner of the world. The sun and the wind and the rain challenge me, and the stars look down on me at night. And all ahead of me is vast open fields of happiness ready to be explored.

So, what’s been going on in your life?

Five points to Gryffindor* if you can name the book the title of this post comes from.

*Or the House of your choosing if Gryffindor** isn’t to your liking.

** Gryffindor forever!

 

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Filed under Opinion, Writing

The Myth of the Helpless Female

Barbie WorldOne of my neighbours, a 60-something country guy named Paul, came over recently to say hi and offer me some firewood. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I’d been fixing my lawnmower.

“You need any help?” he asked.

“Nah. I just had to replace the starter cord. I’m putting it back together now.”

“Huh,” he said, looking impressed. “You’re not one of the usual useless females, are you?”

I muttered something along the lines of: “I can usually figure out how to do things… I don’t like useless people…” But I was flabbergasted as to how I was supposed to respond to his comment.

I’m pretty sure — no, I’m positive — that he meant it as a compliment. But it doesn’t feel right to say thank you for being essentially told that I’m not like most women, because I’m not “useless”.

This is not the first conversation I’ve had with someone about repairing the lawnmower (which, incidentally, is not actually mine — it’s one I borrowed from a friend). My other neighbour, an almost-deaf man in his late 60s with a heart of gold and the gender-bias of someone from the 1950s, laughed when he saw me working on the mower. The conversation went something like this:

Him: What are you doing?

Me: Fixing the mower.

Him: *laughs* You?

Me: Yes…

Him: *smiling patronisingly* What’s wrong with it?

Me: The starter cord broke. I was just replacing it.

Him: Well, what you’ve got to do is–

Me: It’s alright. I’ve done it.

Him: You?

Me: Yes.

Him: …. Maybe you should have a look at my car. *laughs and walks off*

Which leads me to believe, of course, that fixing a lawnmower is somehow related to having a penis.

Either that, or there is a large subset of the community that believes that to be the case.

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to go on a lovely bushwalk through a mountain-top rainforest with a close friend and her three children. Halfway through the walk, her six-year-old daughter started limping and pretending her foot was sore. “She’s copying her book,” my friend explained.

So, it turns out that there’s this book — it may or may not be part of the Barbie franchise of sparkly pink merchandise — and the story invokves a group of girls going for a bushwalk. One of them goes off on her own and wanders into a cave. But don’t worry — she doesn’t get lost. She sprains her ankle and has to be rescued.

Yes, she sprains her ankle.

Honestly, I thought we were past the days of helpless female victims spraining their ankles and having to be rescued. But apparently not. Apparently, this is still what we’re teaching our girl-children.

Girls have weak ankles. Girls need to be rescued. Girls can’t look after themselves.

I had a conversation with a friend of a friend last week, actually. An incredibly talented, creative, intelligent woman who pretended not to understand cell phone plans, because it’s easier to appear stupid and helpless than to argue with her husband — and that way, she gets what she wants, and he feels happy and superior, and everyone wins.

Well, everyone wins assuming she’s happy for her husband to believe she’s helpless.

It strikes me that it’s a self-perpetuating cycle of women pretending to be helpless, which makes men treat women like they’re helpless, and so women pretend to be helpless… So much so that it’s seen as somehow aberrant for a woman to fix her own lawnmower. Or understand a cell phone plan. Or go exploring on her own and discover a rare type of fungi before being found, sprain-free, by her friends.

In fact, some of the “best” relationship advice I was ever given was about how to keep the man in my life happy. “Sometimes,” I was told, “you just have to let them open the olive jar.”

The idea being that in order for a man to feel happy in a relationship, the woman needs to ask him to help her do “manly” jobs, even though she’s perfectly capable of doing them for herself. You know, things like fixing broken things, and mowing the lawn, and lifting anything heavier than a saucepan…

I tried it. It worked. But eventually, I found myself asking:

What kind of relationship is this?

Is this the kind of relationship I want?

What am I teaching my children?

I have no interest in perpetuating the Myth of the Helpless Female.

And so when Paul, my always-helpful neighbour, told me I wasn’t like the “usual useless female”, I didn’t quite know how to respond. Should I be flattered? Angry? Grateful? Before I’d really worked out my emotions, he said, “My wife, God rest her, I loved her. But she was useless. She couldn’t do anything.”

And I felt sad. Because chances are, he never got to see the real her. He never got to see how useful and capable and intelligent she was, because she was too busy spraining her ankles and handing him jars of olives.

Just like she was taught.

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How (Not) To Write A Story in 8 Days

About a year ago, I made a decision to focus on writing novels (my real writing love) and the occasional piece of flash fiction for my blog when the Muse overtook me. The one exception is the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge.

This writing competition works in a particularly unusual (and thus exciting) way. You see… No, I’ll let them explain.

There are 3 rounds of competition.  In the 1st Round (February 7-15, 2014), writers are placed randomly in heats and are assigned a genre, subject, and character assignment.  Writers have 8 days to write an original story no longer than 2,500 words.  The judges choose a top 5 in each heat to advance to the 2nd Round (March 27-30, 2014) where writers receive new assignments, only this time they have just 3 days to write a 2,000 word (maximum) short story.  Judges choose finalists from the 2nd Round to advance to the 3rd and final round of the competition where writers are challenged to write a 1,500 word(maximum) story in just 24 hours (May 2-3, 2014).

I had a great time with the challenge last year (although I didn’t make it past the first round), and participated again this year. So for those of you who are curious about what my writing process looks like, I thought I’d share my experience of writing a 2500 story in 8 days.

Note: I do not suggest, recommend, or in any way endorse the following as a sane or reasonable method of artistic creation.

Day 1:

The genre/subject/character assignments were released on Friday night at midnight EST. Which means that over here in FutureLand I got the email at 3:00 Saturday afternoon. My assignment looked something like this:

Genre: Fantasy
Subject: A Funeral
Character: A Gambler

I emailed, messaged, texted, and otherwise contacted everyone who knew I was taking part in the challenge, and then… Well, then I went about my normal life. Time to let my subconscious spend some time working on the story details.

Day 2:

What interesting thing could happen at a funeral? Thinking… Thinking… Thinking… A heist!

Someone has to steal something from inside the coffin at a funeral!

My mind went into overdrive. A heist! I love heists! But what would be so important, so crucial that someone — a gambler, in fact — would go to great (and non-violent) lengths to steal from inside a coffin at a funeral?

And the answer was obvious.

Luck.

I would write about a gambler stealing the Luck of a Gambler from inside his coffin in the middle of his funeral.

Well. After all that thinking, I was exhausted. So I went and spent a day with a friend, watched The Newsroom, drank wine, and snacked on cheese and chocolate and other extravagances.

Day 3:

After a busy Monday, I sat down to start writing and… nothing. I got nothing. So I did some brainstorming, ate some more chocolate, and wished I wasn’t quite so tired.

Day 4:

By this evening, I knew I really had to pull out all stops and get the story written if I was going to have any chance of actually submitting it on time. It was due back by 3:00pm Sunday (Technically day 9 or an 8 day challenge… Gotta love time zones.) and I hadn’t even started yet.

Plus, when I ran into my writer-friend this morning, she was all jazzed because she’d already finished the draft of her entry.

So I sat down to write and…. I managed 300 words. And realised I was setting the story in a Wild West-inspired fantasy world. Time to do some research.

Day 5:

A crazy-busy day was topped off by the receipt of emails delivering bad news. I couldn’t even get my head into my life, let alone my story.

Day 6:

Thursday. The deadline was fast approaching, and I had a grand total of 300 words written. But I was still thinking — still letting my subconscious do its thing — so I wasn’t worried. The shape of the story was starting to reveal itself to me, and the character (who still didn’t have a name) was telling me her life story.

Day 7:

I wrote another 400 words, bringing my grand total up to 700. And in those 400 words, a whole new theme presented itself. I threw out all the plans I’d made for the ending, and turned the protagonist into someone a little less despicable, and a lot more likeable. And then I went to sleep.

Day 8:

Despite all the promises I’d made to myself that I wasn’t going to leave it until the night before the story was due to start writing it, here I was. The night before the story was due. With only 700 words written out of approximately 2500, and no energy to write. So I drank two cups of coffee, sat down on my bed, and…. fell asleep.

Day 9:

I woke up in the middle of the night and set my alarm for 4am, so I’d have a couple of hours of writing time before the boys woke up. And then I slept through my alarm and woke up at 7:00.

I’m not going to lie. Expletives may have been used.

I had six hours to write, edit, and submit a 2500 word story. And all I had was 700 words and an idea of the shape of the story.

I considered whether it was time to panic yet, and voted ‘no’. But I did get down to work. By 11:00am, I was 2000 words into the story, and had just got to the funeral scene. Plus, I had to pack up to take my son to dance class.

I decided that now was a good time to panic.

So I fretted while I got the boys ready to go out, and I worried while I drove 45 minutes to the dance studio, and I stressed while I kissed him goodbye. And then I jumped back in the car, and zoomed off to a nearby park so I could keep writing.

At 1:45pm, I finished the first draft. It had 3515 words. So, that’s 1000 words more than the maximum length.

I kept panicking.

Not least because it was time to pack up and drive back to the dance studio to pick up the boy. Which is what I did. Because, writing challenge or no writing challenge, being a Mum doesn’t stop.

When I arrived at the dance studio, a friend (whose daughter also dances) met me with the question: “Did you finish?”

“No,” I said. “I still have to–“

She interrupted. “How about I take your boys to my place so you can get it finished and submitted? You can catch us up.”

Best.

Friend.

Ever.

So that’s how I found myself sitting in a cafe at 2:15pm, with 45 minutes to cut 1000 words  from my story, read the formatting instructions, and get it submitted.

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard the phrase “kill your darlings”. It’s the suggestion that any piece of prose you’re too precious about should be removed. Well, in this case, I can assure you that over the next 35 minutes, I not only killed my darlings, I killed their darlings, as well as their flatmates and their pets.

I cut 1000 words from my story — most of them from the first 2000 — and made it shorter and sharper and, most importantly, valid for the competition.

I had just less than 10 minutes to get it formatted and submitted.

And that’s when my internet stopped working.

Gotcha. Not really.

No, what really happened was that I was so freaked out that I only had … checking clock … eight minutes left, that I kept clicking the wrong links, and couldn’t find the page that detailed the required font or size or format or… well, anything.

I found it, adjusted my file, and realised two things. (1) I had three minutes left until the cut-off, and (2) I needed to include a two-sentence synopsis.

Two-sentence synopsis coming right up. Boom! No time to think about how good it is. Barely time to type the words. And then…

And then a helpful waitress appeared at my table and said, “Is your coffee okay?”

“Yeah. Thanks,” I managed. And that was no easy feat, because I was trying to find the darn submit button, and had less than two minutes left.

“Oh, good,” she says. “And would you like some water?”

“No,” I snapped. And then felt immediately guilty that I wasn’t being nice to her when she’d done nothing wrong except approach me when I only had…

One minute!

I hit the submit button. My story whirred away into neverwhere.

And then I realised I’d sent the wrong file. I sent the .docx instead of the .doc.

So I sent it again. I’m 99% sure the second time was past the cut-off. And then I waited… And waited…. Worried that I’d missed out… Worried that I’d submitted too late…

Yesterday, I got an email from them.

Dear Jo Eberhardt,

This e-mail is to let you know that we have received your Short Story Challenge 2014 1st Round submission titled“Luck of the Gambler”.  You will be judged in Heat31 – Fantasy / A funeral / A gambler.  Judging will now take place and we will announce the results by 11:59PM EDT on Monday, March 24th, 2014 via e-mail and through our facebook and twitter pages.

And that, my friends, is how to write a story in 8 days.

Well, assuming you like heart palpitations, adrenaline rushes, and living life on the edge, anyway.

Do you leave your writing to the last minute, or get it done well in advance?

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It’s My Birthday, It’s Not All About You

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When I was growing up, there were a few things that were constants when it came to birthdays. No matter where in the world we were living, who we were with, or what the weather was like, my birthday was all about me.

I got presents.

I got attention.

I got a cake.

I got to choose what we had for dinner.

Really, isn’t that what birthdays are all about? Celebrating the birth of someone? Giving them just one day a year where it really, truly is all about them?

So it came as a huge shock when, a few years ago, I discovered that there are people out there who don’t think the same way. 

I first came across this phenomenon in a toy shop of all places. The lady in line in front of me was buying a series of toys. “Its my daughter’s birthday,” she explained to the cashier. Then she looked at the mountain of presents she was buying and said, “But, of course, I always give a little something to my other children so they don’t feel left out. It gets quite expensive when you have seven kids.”

Um, yeah. It would.

Judging by the number of toys she was buying, all seven of them were getting an equal number of gifts — obviously so no one felt “left out”. I imagine that having to do that seven times a year was pretty financially draining. I was a little horrified by the concept, but figured she was an anomaly — that I would be unlikely to ever run across another person who thought siblings should get presents on someone’s birthday.

I was wrong.

It happened first on Master Six’s birthday (he was only turning five at the time). Someone brought along a present for Master Three and said, “I didn’t want him to feel left out.”

“It’s fine!” I said. “He doesn’t need a present. It’s not his birthday.”

But it kept happening. Apparently there are more than a few people in the world who think that children are incapable of understanding that they get presents on their birthday, not on their brother’s birthday.

This, to me, reeks of the same kind of silliness that results in “medals for everyone!” and “prizes for everyone!” Imagine, if you will, a world where children never learn that sometimes, just sometimes, the world does not revolve around them. Imagine, if you will, a world where a fully grown adult says, “But it’s your birthday! I gave you a present. Why didn’t you give me a present? I feel really left out…”

It’s crazy.

But what, exactly, do you think it teaches children to believe about themselves and the world when you make a fuss of them on someone else’s special day, just in case they feel left out?

And what does it teach the Birthday Boy (or Girl)?

I can tell you that, as a child, I watched my brother and sister get fussed over on their birthday, and I was thrilled for them. Because it was their special day. And because, in a few months time, it would be my special day, and I would get all the attention for myself.

I want my children to grow up knowing that they get rewarded because they have done something special, or because we’re celebrating their special achievement or day. I don’t want my children to grow up knowing that they get rewarded because someone else has done something  worthy of celebration. I don’t want my children to grow up with the expectation that they will be rewarded because someone else has done something worthy of celebration.

That’s just crazytalk.

So I’ve made a decision. I’ve told people it’s not necessary to bring a sibling-present on birthdays. I’ve asked people not to bring a sibling-present on birthday. So from now on, whenever one of my children is given a gift on their brother’s birthday “so they don’t feel left out”, I’m going to take that gift away. They can have it back on their own birthday.

You know, the day that is all about them.

What do you think about presents to stop siblings feeling left out?

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Filed under Life With Kids