Over the past few weeks I’ve been such a slacker. Dust has been collecting on my laptop, and my writing inspiration has left me. No matter how long I sit down and try to get the words, nothing comes out of my fingers.
This is where writing prompts can get the juices flowing. I was recently ‘Hanging Out’ with my critique group and did the prompt, ‘Describe a Spider’. In just 10 minutes I had the start of a flash fiction or short story.
I reached out one of my long thin arms and touched the cool surface of the stucco wall. The rough texture prickled my claw. This was not a good place for me. The last time I spun a web here, the little human that screams smashed it after its mom wouldn’t give him any ice cream. I hate humans, especially little boys. There wasn’t anything nice about the bipeds and most didn’t like spiders.
Hairs on the back of my legs raised as the swish of wind from the back door swung open. I scurried up the stucco wall, and a large nub of stucco scratched my under belly. The little human that screams didn’t have a chance to catch me. I could see him coming in any directions. My posterior row of eyes didn’t miss anything.
The sun was setting and silken thread spewed from my spinneret. It felt soothing. I know my web won’t last long, which was a shame. Works of art lost forever.
Not bad, huh? I can feel the words churning and I’m slipping back into form. Happy writing and until next week.
One of my favorite things to do is to free write. It unleashes my inner creativity, and a great way to break through writer’s block. It’s not hard but you have to prep yourself.
Set a time limit for your free write. I find that 20 minutes works best. Remove yourself from all distractions and listen to the pulse around you. Release each cell of your body and roam, touch, feel and experience with your mind following close behind. Each thought, sound, and smell becomes a new discovery. It’s similar to meditation but instead of looking for inner peace, you are exploring your environment. Feel the energy and with a gentle tug inside, the words will start to gather and spill out of your fingertips.
One night sitting at the kitchen table while the house was empty, I came up with a beginning of a short story.
Lizette’s Free Write at the Kitchen Table
Sitting on a chair at the kitchen table, I watch and listen. Stillness. No, that is not true. There is movement. The clock pendulum swings back and forth. Tick, tick, tick with each arc.
The air doesn’t stir. Stuffy and stagnate. A whiff of toast lingers and reaches my nostrils. It invokes memories of my toasted tomato sandwich I had for dinner.
Humming from the refrigerator is low and constant. A cacophony of night sounds drifts in from an open window. Chirping, trilling, and clicks. Tires rolling over the road pavement from a passing car.
The lighting is low, only the light over the sink is on. I need to vacuum the floor. I need to wipe the counters.
I focus on the clock, it draws me. The rhythmic movement is soothing and hypnotizing. I feel somewhat anxious and at peace at the same time. My mind is combing through the list of things I need to do tomorrow but the ticking of the clock draws me back.
Remember not to go back and edit. I’m guilty of doing this, but somehow I restrained myself. This is what I transformed the above free write into.
The Intruder by Lizette Strait
Sitting at the kitchen table, I watched and listened. Stillness. The light over the sink cast shadows throughout the dimly lit room. De Ja Vu swept over me as the day’s events flooded my mind.
I focused on the mantle clock. Tick, tick, tick. The rhythmic movement was soothing and hypnotizing. I felt anxious and at peace at the same time. How odd.
The rustle of clothing drew me away from my thoughts. I looked down at the man lying on the floor and watched him stir. It surprised me he stayed unconscious this long. I didn’t hit him that hard, did I?
So what do you think? Would you want to turn the page to read what happens next? I hope so. Give free writing a try. It’s fun and shakes the words up when the things get a bit boring.
We have talked a lot on this blog about the thought processes behind writing. From inspiration to publishing we have discussed how different people work. Today I want to talk about a different kind of process, the actual, physical, process of sitting down to write.
Just like the mental processes this can look different for everyone. We write with different materials, in different places, wearing different clothes. Some people have specific routines they follow, others wing it. But all of this can influence our work.
I’ll start with the basic, writing materials. There are tons of different computer programs to use for writing. Among the most popular are Word, Pages, GoogleDocs, and Scrivner. But these are just a few, and just on the computer. I know people who use others tools, such as pen and paper, typewriters, and a device called a Neo. I personally like to use Microsoft Word. I know that this is kind of an old program, and for my professional life I have mostly switched to google. But for my stories I prefer to use the program that I have used for ages. There is something comfortable about it.
Places to write can be important too. They can provide inspiration or distraction. For me the best place to write is at Denny’s! That may sound strange, but the camaraderie of this group of writers has helped produce some of my best work. It also helps me focus. When I am at home I have a hard time writing because of all the distractions. I am always finding something else that I need to do. When I go to a place specifically to write it helps me cool down that part of my mind.
Clothes, food, music, and other forms of atmosphere can also influence writing. I like to be comfortable when I write and it isn’t a Sunday at Denny’s without Root Beer and Mozzarella sticks! I even know a writer who eats eggs whenever she writes a sex scene! As for music, that’s easy for me. Since there is a musical in the background of each of my novels, the soundtracks give me inspiration.
So there you have it, my process. While I certainly occasionally write in other places and ways, this is what works best for me. What is your favorite way to write?
In the literary world today, book reviews are ever so important. Authors use the book review to build a following, and readers to find something new. Without them, the inundation of new novels that flood the internet daily makes things difficult.
A book review is not just a brief synopsis, but a chance to open a critical lens into the story. What did you think about the story? Did it compel you to turn the page and keep on reading? Were you satisfied at the end and would you read another book by the same author? These are just a few questions a reader should think about when writing a review.
I was recently combing Amazon searching for my next best read and found, The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. Amazon readers rated it 4.7 out of 5 stars. A rating like that caught my eye. And I wasn’t disappointed.
The book was well written and affected me in many ways. It’s so much more than a dog book, but having the story told through the eyes of a dog elevated the read into the stratosphere. Life after death, hope, and the importance of paying attention to life’s details resonated throughout the story. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone but a box of Kleenex should be within reach.
So the next time you finish a book, leave a review. The author and your fellow reader will appreciate it.
Book signings. They are one of the sweet benefits of an author’s life. While we write, we seclude ourselves away from the world with only our characters for company. However, after publication we welcome the public to come.
And the 518 Publishing Company savored a sweet last weekend with their first book signing at the ‘Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza’. Our premier anthology, ‘Dark & Bitter’ was front and center and was well received. Four of the 518 authors read excerpts from their stories, welcomed readers, and signed copies of the book. It was such a crush.
But no matter how much you plan and prepare for an event, there is always something that would work better. For instance, the flow of customers coming into the book store was not to our advantage. Even though we were right in front by the door, people would come in look at what we were doing, then keep going. Customers had to be invited into the book signing. Not that it was a bad thing, but the 518 staff had to be diligent. Maybe a big sign by the door inviting people to come sit and listen to the stories would help. I guess it’s a lesson learned.
All and all, it was a smashing success and we like to thank the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza for hosting us. And if you missed it, no worries, there are many in the future.
I like to keep a lot of different writing goals going at the same time. Last year I had eight, and this year I've tried to narrow it down to the most important five. In fact two of those goals are six month goals, so it's only four at a time, and the big goal is to fully edit the novel I wrote for NaNo last year.
It's been taking up all of my writing time for the last three months and I've made some great progress. But I went to check in with my goals I realized that I hadn't been writing any flash fiction.
So this weekend I sat my butt down in a chair with a pen and paper and wrote three pieces of flash fiction. I could feel the cogs starting up again, parts of my brain getting oiled and used for the first time in too many months. But then, it all started to click. The words flowed and I ended the day thinking, "This is what I've been missing. Writing my heart out and not worrying about an outline or the next scene or even the next chapter."
I didn't mean to get into a writer's block, I was simply too focused on a goal I considered more important for my writing career at the time. Now that I see what it was I'm glad to get out of it. Writing is in my blood, and writing every day is my meditation, and if I don't switch gears occasionally I forget that.
In the last few weeks I have had a series of disasters. I managed to break to cars in the same week I got a $46 paycheck! I also came unbelievable close to losing something very important, my novel.
I let my husband borrow my lap top for a few days to work from home during a snow storm. The lap top was also doing a major hardware update. In the middle of this update he called to me from the other room. The screen had frozen. The machine wouldn’t do anything, not even turn off. I began to panic.
Not only do I use this computer for work, but all of novels and stories are saved on it. In the first second of panic I realized that my latest work, one new novel, one edited novel, and my updated encyclopedia, were not backed up! I was terrified that al of this work was gone.
Thankfully I was able to get the computer working again. The first thing I did was e-mail my work to myself. I will never again forget to back up my stories, they are too important to lose.
Let my story serve as a reminder to you. No matter what way you choose to do it. Whether you use e-mail, a flash drive, google drive, a hard copy, anything. DO NOT FORGET TO BACK UP YOUR WORK. I was lucky, but not everyone is, and I know no one wants to lose their stories.
A Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry. It has 17 beats, 3 lines with 5 beats in the 1st and 3rd lines and 7 beats in the middle. It's the only type of poetry I have any success writing. They are quick and easy for anyone to dabble in, even me.
Here are a few examples on the Japanese Haiku.
It’s a cold Super Bowl weekend, and I’m staying warm with a cup of coffee and chatting with my good friend Shannon Yseult. I met Shannon at a local write-in a few years ago, and we have traveled the road to publication together. Her story, Over-Extraction, is featured in the 518 Publishing Company LLC’s premier anthology, Dark & Bitter. The short story is a fast-paced alternate thriller, and a great read.
“Shannon, the fans of the 518 want to hear about the Dark & Bitter authors, and I’m glad you had time to be interviewed,” I said.
“I’m happy to do it. You know I always enjoy a cup of coffee, and chat about writing,” Shannon said.
“Excellent. How did you get into writing, and when did you realize you wanted to be an author?”
“When I was in third grade one of the librarians was encouraging us to write stories. Even at that age I was into mysteries like 'Nate the Great', so I wrote about 'The Mystery of Witch Island'. I don't remember the story that well, but I do remember being SUPREMELY proud of my final product. I read it, and reread it, to everyone who would sit down with me for five minutes.
Once I got my own computer in eighth grade, I realized that there was this thing called 'fanfiction' and I was all over that. I wrote myself into a number of series, and while the writing was terrible I enjoyed every second of it. By the end of high school I realized that I could write my own characters AND my own stories and started to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The first year I wrote and agonized over the perfect 1,779 words in a story about dragons, and never got any farther. Since then I've written something for NaNoWriMo each year and have successfully completed it a handful of times now.
Despite the trials and tribulations natural to a writer's life I've been interested in some form of writing since I learned to read. That proud moment of showing everyone my third grade book still sings in my heart as I continue my writer’s journey,” Shannon said.
“Wow, third grade. It was much later that I got interested in writing. Who is your favorite author? What is your favorite book?” I said.
“This has been changing quite a bit recently. At the moment Michael J. Sullivan with his series Riyria Revelations is at the top of my list. Patrick Rothfuss and his book 'The Name of the Wind' is a close second. 'The Mote in God's Eye' is also a huge favorite of mine, and I can't see it leaving my favorites list ever. If you're looking for a less well known then I highly recommend Wen Spencer, particularly her book 'Tinker',” Shannon said.
“I’ve read ‘The Name of the Wind.’ It was excellent. I’ll have to check out the others. I’m always looking for the next best read. What genre/genres do you write?”
“Science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, and YA. It sounds weird when listing them all in a row, particularly ending with YA. The natural follow up question is why, and the irony of the simple answer isn't lost on me; I'm a complicated person. My ideas don't fit into a single genre mold, and I don't force them into one. I take the idea and test drive it in different genres in my mind before choosing the one that I think will give the best story and go from there,” Shannon said.
“I’m with you about writing different genres. Crossing boundaries and not staying in a small box is paramount to a well-rounded person. How would you describe your daily writing routine?” I said.
“The most consistent part of it is going to writers group on Sunday's at Denny's. Being around so many fellow writer friends is an inspirational pleasure. Right now I'm in the thralls of editing the novel I wrote in November 2017 for NaNoWriMo (another consistent part of my writing life). So I'm taking each week to focus on a different part of the story (plot, character, etc). Next I'll put together a game plan for fixing the story and then I'll go about editing it. Basically, I'm doing a daily editing routine right now, but I'll get back to writing for NaNoWriMo 2018!” Shannon said.
“Yes, staying connecting with the writing community is important to any author. Friendships are formed, and are a support system through the many trials in life. What is your writing Kryptonite?”
“Reading a good story! Also if I'm writing along and know that something is fundamentally wrong with the story. If I have a good outline this doesn't happen as much, but for those times I'm pantsing it's like throwing on the emergency breaks,” Shannon said.
“I hear you. A good story is definitely a distraction. Where do you get your ideas?” I said.
“All over the place!
Sometimes I'm reading about a new scientific discovery and think 'what if'.
Sometimes I'm talking about a specific genre/writing style/etc, realize that I haven't written anything in that format, and challenge myself to do so.
Sometimes I use a random word generator, or random plot generator, or random religion generator, until the sparks of ideas colliding take over.”
“Generators are great. Many writers use them to inspire when the ideas dry up. How long did it take you to write the story 'Over-Extraction'?” I said.
“It didn't take me long to write the first draft, once the ideas fly writing can be quick. However, the amount of time I spent editing it was quite a lot,” Shannon said.
“Yeah, editing can be long and sometimes painful. Well Shannon, I like to thank you for your time and I look forward to your next story.”
Two years ago this month the idea of the 518 Publishing Company ignited a spark in the eyes of four women. During the process of creating the small press, we encountered a few struggles. First, getting everyone on the same page took a bit, though that wasn’t a big issue. All of us wanted the same thing, to help local writers realize a goal of seeing their words in print.
Secondly, and probably the biggest hurdle was setting up the LLC. Paperwork, filing, and taxes were just short of a nightmare. The formal LLC letter from the state didn’t come promptly. But after many calls and a good chase, we were finally legal.
Setting up financials was difficult and we had to be creative. With only a few dollars in the bank, the funds wouldn’t cover the cost to publish a book. We needed a professional editor and a book cover. The 518 is not a vanity press. We don’t expect an author to pay for editing and book covers. So what do we do? Kickstarter of course.
Many people use the crowdfunding tool to help fund an idea. Friends, family, and a few unknowns backed us. Dark & Bitter was published, and a few writers became first-time published authors.
And this is why we are here. Every Sunday local writers in the 518 meet at Denny’s to write. Some weeks there may be only a few, and other times as many as thirty. Last Sunday was the deadline to submit for 518’s next publication. A fellow writer felt our push, and they will be published in the upcoming anthology, Exploits of the Adirondacks. It feels good to know that one more person will see their name in print and become a published author.
Check out our ‘Submit to Us’ page. You could be next featured author in our third anthology.