Tag Archives: writing

Yeah, But When I Do It…

 

Photo by Flickr user Nicola Preti

Photo by Flickr user Nicola Preti

It’s been a difficult weekend in Australian politics, so please excuse the short post. I’m just dropping in to let you know that I’m over at Writer Unboxed today talking about breaking the rules to explore your creativity.

But When I Do It, It’s Really Stylish

I grew up on 80s British comedy. (Which possibly explains everything you ever need to know about my writing style.) Yes, Minister taught me about politics. Blackadder taught me about history. Are You Being Served? taught me about… well, lots of things. And Red Dwarf taught me about science fiction.

In fact, Red Dwarf taught me a lot of lessons, and one of the ones I come back to time and time again is from the most feminist episode I’ve ever seen in any TV show ever: ‘Parallel Universe’.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of watching Red Dwarf, the two main characters are Arnold Rimmer, a socially awkward, sexually repressed hologram, and Dave Lister, a slobbish, easygoing lad’s lad whose skills include drinking lager and eating vindaloo spicy enough to melt through plastic. In ‘Parallel Universe’, they’re accidentally transported to a parallel dimension where everything is the same… except that women are the dominant gender. There, they meet their female equivalents who, obviously, try to get them into bed.  <read more>

Head on over and have a read — and don’t miss the comments. Unlike pretty much everywhere else on the internet, the comments on Writer Unboxed just enhance the reading process.

 

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Random Thoughts

A few months ago, I promised I wasn’t going to disappear from the blogosphere. Well. Technically, I haven’t. In that I’m posting right now. (That counts, right?) Life is way busier this year than expected, and I’ve had a few ups and downs that I won’t go into now. But rest assured that I’m still alive, still writing, still parenting, and still being my generally awesome self.

Oh, and still writing my newsletter. (Did you sign up?)

But for now, I give you some random thoughts that have been going through my head lately.

1. If a vampire transforms into a bat, what happens to all that extra mass? I mean, it’s either going to be a really, really big bat, or it’s going to be a normal-sized bat that weighs as much as an average human, and therefore can’t actually fly. I’m not sure which option is more comical.

I just... can't... get airborne...

I just… can’t… get airborne…

2. I’ve just started advertising to run a 6 month long writing course for beginning writers, designed to take students from “I have an idea” to “The End”. It’s super exciting, and I’m hoping to have at least half a dozen people sign up. Putting the course together meant spending a lot of time thinking back to those early days in my own writing journey, and making a list of everything I wish I’d learned right at the start. It was interesting to note that, of all the writing classes and creative writing workshops and library-run writing events I attended as a beginning writer, few (if any) of them touched on the elements of novel writing that I really needed to know.

3. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to spend a day living like a sitcom character? Never saying goodbye or hello; not engaging in small talk unless it somehow moves the story forward; never having to wait in line for anything unless doing so allows for a not-small-talk conversation; skipping effortlessly from scene to scene without having to live through the commutes, inanities, and boring bits in between; and, most importantly, having a soundtrack announce your arrival in every important locale.

4. We recently adopted a new dog to join our family, which has been an adventure all in itself. She’s a 4 1/2-year-old Ridgeback x Boxer, and is absolutely beautiful. Her name is Ninja. And she’s scared of the dark. (I’ll leave you to have your own little giggle at the irony of that.) I’ve never had two dogs before, and I have learned many valuable things. Such as, it’s impossible to get angry at one of them without both of them sulking, and fitting two dogs and two children (and myself) into a 5 seater sedan for a six hour journey is…. interesting.

My four children. A couple of them just have two extra feet.

My four children. A couple of them just have two extra feet.

5. Writing for Writer Unboxed is infinitely more stress-inducing than I expected it to be. Before I write my post each month, I find myself falling into a pit of Imposter Syndrome and struggling to get out. But stress is good for the soul, right? (If not the heart.) My recent post was about using profanity in writing. You can read it here.

6. I’m turning 39 in a few months, and have reached that point where I look in the mirror and realise I’m older than my parents. That is, I’m older than (or the same age as) my parents were when I moved out of home, which is the way I always imagine them in my mind’s eye. It’s sobering and scary. When my parents were my age, they seemed to have everything figured out. They owned a house, they’d settled in a town they wanted to live in for the rest of their lives, they were financially stable, and happy in themselves and their lives. Sure, they’ve changed jobs and moved towns and bought and sold multiple houses since then, but they’ve always seemed to be “together”. So when I look in the mirror and realise I’m their age, and I own next-to-nothing, have no life plan, my finances are a jumbled mess, and I alternate between feeling like an Awesome Harbinger of Awesome and a lowly imposter with no real world skills, it leaves me feeling like I’m failing at life.

7. And then I remember that I’ve got two wonderful, sweet, caring, frustrating, healthy, energetic children, two loving dogs, a roof over my head, creativity running through my veins, and the best friends a girl could ask for, and I remind myself that one person’s “together” is another person’s “trapped”; that one person’s “haphazard jumbled mess” is another person’s “creative connected life”. And then I feel better. (With thanks to my BFF Pauline for reminding me of this when the voices in my head get a little too persistent.)

I hope you’re enjoying your haphazard jumbled mess, or your togetherness, or whatever brand of living you prefer. In parting, I leave you with the words of my four-year-old son last night.

Make my shadow stop copying me!

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WU UnCon: A Conference of Connection

WU UnConIt’s ten days since I arrived back in Australia after attending the Writer Unboxed UnConference in Salem. Ten long days, and I’m only now posting about it. Why? Because if I’d posted sooner, my whole post would have consisted of a disjointed list of unrelated adjectives interspersed with exclamation marks and the occasional unsubstantiated claim that the UnCon changed my life.

But now, ten days later, I feel I’m ready. I’m ready to say that it was a phenomenal, transformational, life-changing, brain-expanding, emotionally-charged hot-pot of creative energy and connection, built around a series of inspiring, enlightening, and incisive workshops.

Or something like that..

Actually, I’ve pondered long and hard about how to share the experience of Salem with you. And as I’ve pondered, I’ve consolidated the things I learned in a deeper and more meaningful way. And thus, I’m ready to share.

I could tell you about the amazing workshops I did — particularly Lisa Cron’s “Wired for Story”, Donald Maass’s “Writing 21st Century Fiction” and John Vorhaus’s “The Comic Toolbox” — and the ways those workshops have improved my writing and expanded my thinking.

But I won’t.

UnCon Group 2I could tell you about the deep connection I felt with the other writers I met there, many of whom I knew as icons and names online, and the long-lasting bonds that formed during those five days.

But I won’t.

I could tell you about the dinner we had as a memorial to Lisa Threadgill, my dear, dear friend who passed away earlier this year, and how laughing and crying with other people who felt her loss so keenly reopened old wounds and yet helped them heal so much cleaner.

But I won’t.

I could tell you about hanging out in a bar at 1:00am on the first evening with a group of people I’d only just met, drinking picklebacks (the most revolting shot I’ve ever tried), and then asking the bartender for his shirt.

But I won’t.

I could tell you about the Poker Cabin, and how it felt to be playing poker of an evening after a long day of brain-expanding workshops and conversation, and the surreal feeling of sitting next to an inspirational (and possibly super-human) NY literary agent as I confidently bluffed my way to a winning hand.

But I won’t.

UnCon GroupI could tell you about sitting at dinner on Friday night, after the UnCon was technically over, and collaboratively building a back-story for our surly waitress using all the techniques we’d learned from Don Maass during the full-day workshop we’d just attended.

But I won’t.

I could tell you about Bob Stewart.

And I will.

Before the UnCon, I knew WriterBob Stewart as a name and an icon on the Writer Unboxed FB page. We interacted once or twice, in an oblique way, and I admired his dedication and persistence, but I didn’t know much about him. As the time for the UnCon grew closer, I learned more about him. He was much older (75, I later learned), and had some health issues. He was an accomplished playwright, journalist, and novelist. And, above all that, he was funny and kind and a good and genuine human being.

WriterBobOn the Saturday before the UnCon was due to start, he was bitten by his cat. Due to other health complications, the bite got infected, and he ended up in hospital. The first thing he did was message Therese Walsh to find out if it was okay if he arrived at the UnCon a little late. Which, of course, it was. He checked himself out of hospital early, and flew to Salem, and arrived on Tuesday afternoon.

I spoke to Bob briefly. Just enough to say hello, and I was glad he could make it. But he was there — real, and solid, and not just an icon and a name. He participated in groups, and stayed for evening sessions. And Wednesday evening, after everything was winding down, he complained about feeling a little funny, returned to his room, and passed away.

We found out on Thursday.

I wasn’t having a great day on Thursday. I finished the day with an amazing session that hit me like a brick wall and made me question the validity of everything I’d ever written in my life. Then, mired in self-doubt, I found myself flicking through the memorial book that had been created for Lisa Threadgill. A book that was full of my words. A book that brought all the grief and pain I’d felt at her passing back to the surface. And so there I was, weeping in the lobby of the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, when Therese approached and told me about Bob.

WriterBob Stewart. A man who spent his last days exactly where he wanted to be — with a community of writers he’d only known online, in a beautiful little hotel in Salem.

And so I found myself, on that Thursday evening, telling the other attendees that our evening plan had changed. That instead of a discussion of craft, we would be sharing a toast for Bob, and hearing some of the pages from his latest work. And as I told them, I found myself breaking the news of his passing over and over and over.

Some people cried. Others told me stories. One person looked like she was going to faint. Another told me that he’d lost a number of family members recently, and then excused himself to find somewhere private to sit and reflect. And through it all, I hugged and comforted and listened and was present.

UnCon Group 3But once the toast was said, once the memorial was underway, I couldn’t be present any longer. To coin my own phrase, my heart was a new helium balloon floating through a cactus forest. The slightest brush — skin against skin, mind against mind — would break me. I had too much grief, too much emotion, coursing through my body. I had to escape. And so I fled the room. Quietly. Hoping not to be noticed.

But I was.

John Vorhaus*  — a man equally funny and wise — saw me going and followed me out. He rejected my claims that I was ‘fine, just fine’, and he sat with me, and we talked. We talked about loss and grief and self-doubt and pain and all manner of things. We talked until my skin no longer felt electrified, until I no longer felt I was going to explode, until I felt grounded again. And during that talk, during that conversation, he said a phrase that resonated with me both then and now, and defines the UnCon experience for me.

“Cherish your emotions’.

When JV said it, he was referring to the grief and shock I was feeling — that we were all feeling — in the wake of Bob’s death. But it means so much more to me.

he entire UnCon for me.

Cherish your emotions.

Think about it for a minute. How often do we truly cherish our emotions? Conversely, how often do we feel shame or guilt about our emotions? How often do we attempt to hide them/ To wall them away, or move on from them, or pretend they’re not there? What would happen if we truly cherished our emotions — accepted them, not as being bad or good but just as being. How would that feel?

UnCon Group 4How would that inform our writing?

How would that inform our lives?

Cherish your emotions.

It ties in to what Lisa Cron said about specificity and back-story. It mirrors Donald Maass’s talk of finding emotional resonance between our lives and our character’s experiences. It touches on Meg Rosoff’s discussions of voice. But, more than that, it is a model, a mantra, for life.

And so when I think about Salem, and about WriterBob and Lisa Threadgill, and about the close connections I forged, and the games of poker I played, and the fun and hi-jinks I was part of, and the way I got lost every freaking time I walked out of that hotel building, I think of that phrase.

Cherish your emotions.

And when it all gets too much for me, when the homesickness for an event that lasted only five days and yet a lifetime threatens to overwhelm me, I take a deep breath and cherish my emotions. And then I write.

* JV has a new book coming out. I’ve read it. It’s brilliant. And you should totally go and buy it right now. Tell him Jo sent you.

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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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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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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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