Up in the sky! It’s a bird; it’s a plane; it’s flash fiction!

Remember I had all those great monthly writing goals that were going to have me cranking out work, editing it with no headaches, and publishing my rear end off this year? Yeah. I’ve been doing pretty well with my word count but I realized that I don’t have enough finished pieces. Writing is all well and good but eventually, I have to sit down with a red pen and strive for something a little closer to finished. I missed February’s submission goal because I don’t have enough stories I feel are good enough to submit. So this month, my goal is to complete four stories! Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Except with flash fiction, it’s entirely possible!

If you’re not sure what flash fiction is, you are in good company. Up until about a year ago, I had never even heard of it. In the early 90’s I wrote a story for a book called 50 Word Fiction but after submission I never heard back so I returned to the pursuit of the longer story. Last year, in the middle of looking for publications currently taking submissions, I happened across The Lascaux Review and was intrigued by the idea of a super short story. I especially liked that they used a piece of art as inspiration for the story.

The guidelines are pretty simple, though there are differing opinions on how long a piece of flash fiction should be. They usually run anywhere from 50-1,000 words, and involve some kind of plot twist, surprise ending, or something that shocks the reader and stays with them for a while. While it can be difficult to tell a story in such few words, there are huge benefits to writing flash. As a mom of three girls 5 and under, I can sit down and sketch out an entire story in the space of an hour. Once the bare bones are there, I can come back to it over the next few days and tweak it. Usually by the end of a week, I have a story I am proud of and no one had to go without lunch to get there!

If you haven’t tried flash fiction before, you should give it a go. If you’re not sure where to start, I’ll give you a hand. Check out the prompt below and see what 300 words gets you!

Write a story that takes place over breakfast.

My Dream Job

Walking the stacks in a library, dragging your fingers across the spines – it’s hard not to feel the presence of sleeping spirits.” Robin Sloan

My first real job, if you don’t count babysitting, was as a page at the Geneva Public Library in western New York. I was 17 and spent hours pushing a squeaking cart through the reference stacks, reshelving the returns I’d brought up from the main floor. I memorized the Dewey Decimal system, I sneaked in short reads when the floor was empty, I lovingly straightened the spines of all my bound buddies. I had always loved reading, even as a kid, and this job only solidified that love even deeper. It was my favorite job. I even got to branch out into other departments, inter-library loan, main desk circulation, book binding. I’m getting all excited just remembering all the awesome things I was able to do while working there! And from the very first day, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Librarians to me are the keepers of the flame of knowledge. When I was growing up, the librarian in my local library looked like a meek little old lady, but after you spent some time with her, you realized she was Athena with a sword, a wise and wonderful repository of wisdom.” Jane Stanton Hitchcock

The dream is still there, though I’ve had to take a few breaks (kids, amiright?), and I’m looking to head back to school in the near future to pursue that end. I can’t imagine spending too much time away, especially since that job shaped me in so many ways. One of the greatest things it gave me was the desire to write. I was reading and reading and the words went deep. Suddenly, they wanted out again, only they weren’t the same, they had changed and so had I. That’s the power of words. They have minds of their own. The author sends them out, you take them in, and then they leave you and each time they mean something else. They mean what you need them to mean. They are healers and helpers and enlighteners and you can find them all in the library.

 Libraries store the energy that fuels the imagination. They open up windows to the world and inspire us to explore and achieve, and contribute to improving our quality of life. Libraries change lives for the better. Sidney Sheldon

My life was changed for the better from spending time at the library. How about you; any favorite library memories?

 

Procrastination: The Writer’s True Profession

“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.” S. King, Different Seasons

You may have noticed that today is Wednesday and that my posts usually come out on Tuesday. You are very observant. That is true. The problem is that I have been experiencing some road blocks to my word count and I’ve been avoiding telling you because then, I don’t have to admit it to myself. But, if I’m going to be honest, the going is HARD right now. I won’t call it writer’s block because I have a ton of scenarios and conversations buzzing around inside my head, I just can’t get them into any cohesive being. On top of that, I have a lot of emotions running wild because I’d left things sit for too long and am just now attempting to deal with them. In the long run, this overabundance of information and detail and character is better, because I will have more to pull from, but right now, in the thick of it and with everything else going on, I am overwhelmed. So what do I do? That’s right, you smarty pants, I procrastinate.

You might be thinking (I can tell you’re a thinker) “What’s the big deal? Why the struggle? Why not just write down all the things and go from there?” And in a way, you’re right. I do need to get it all down, even if it’s jumbled, just so I have it. But there is something about writing that is so much more than “just writing.” I know that sounds really weird but there is a part of me that goes into each line, each phrase, each paragraph. And I’m overwhelmed. Which means the writing is overwhelmed; hence the abundance of information that just won’t jive together. My sentences are stilted and hesitating as I try to say just enough to express a feeling without giving away the motivation. There isn’t that flow that comes when your mind and heart are working together. It’s just words on a page, and that isn’t ever what I want.

So I have to convince myself to keep going, to keep writing, to continue through the brainstorm even though the new idea just negated the three days of outlining I’ve already done, to let the characters bumble around and try out their new disguises until everyone is comfortable and ready to go on. Because fiction is truth. It’s truer than most anything in the world and it has the power to change how we see ourselves. That is why I face the days of just getting the words on the page, that’s why I keep going when I want to give up, that’s why I tell you what is really going on. So I can craft a truth that resonates with us, separately but together.

Dealing with Rejection

Ok, let’s be honest, no one in the history of ever likes dealing with rejection. It’s not just about publication, it’s something so much more personal and painful. As artists, we pour ourselves into everything we do and getting a rejection letter feels like failure because it isn’t just a story or a poem or a painting, it’s us. We are being rejected. And that is hard. It’s hard to realize that the publishers aren’t actually rejecting us, just the work. And maybe not even forever. I’ve gotten multiple rejections which encouraged me to submit again, after polishing my work. In fact, when I got my first rejection letter it had a little note at the bottom that said,

We can tell that you are really excited about your stories but they feel rushed. Take some time to create some depth and please submit again.

I couldn’t see the good in that little note (though I’ve been told that any additional notes added to rejections are really great things). All I could do was close the computer and walk away with tears in my eyes because I had really thought that collection of short stories was the best I could do. I shelved the stories and left them for all of last year. When I pulled them out last month and read through them, I instantly knew what that editor meant. He was right. They were rushed. So now, I work on pacing. Adding in more details, slowing down, taking my time. It’s not a race to the finish. It’s about the feeling of the story.

In case you think this means I’ve come to terms with rejection, I haven’t. It still hurts each and every time I get an email or a postcard. But there are some super positive things that come out of rejection and those are the things I will choose to focus on.

1. I wrote something through to completion. It might not have been perfect, maybe it needs some tweaking, but I finished it.

2. I put myself out there. I took this living, breathing, meaningful brain baby and I sent it out into the world to see if it could stand on its own two feet. So it couldn’t, that isn’t the point. The point is that I risked, and that is a huge success.

3. I didn’t stop because I was rejected. I can’t let a rejection keep me from writing because I have to write. It’s what makes me happy so I’m going to keep trying until I get it right.

The next time you’re facing that rejection letter, remind yourself that you finished something, and sent it bravely into the world. Remind yourself that you are courageous and a damn good writer…and then write some more!

Retrospective: January

January was a pretty good month, all told. I set the bar by instituting a lot of new practices that I intend to make habits. I came up with three monthly goals for this year and I am happy to say that I completed the majority of them. That might seem like a silly thing to be bragging about but the reality is, I am a mom first and being a mom means that I am in high demand during almost all twenty-four hours of a given day. The fact that I completed any of my goals is a miracle and I am really proud of that. In addition, I am a perfectionist and so continuing to stick with the goals I had written out, even while not getting it right every single day, is HUGE for me. That is probably the biggest win of all.

In January I wrote 6,500 words, submitted two poems for publication, submitted two short stories for editing/review, read 1/4 of The Writing Life, developed one short story idea and two novel ideas, with the help of my super creative hubby, and (on top of it all) started a new job. All in all, a big month and not to shabby of a start to this new year of writing. I realized that getting in 500 words a day was too much for me in this season of young babies so, for February, I have lowered the count a little in the hopes that I will complete the entire month. So far, so good, she said on day three. 

What new things are you trying with your writing? What seems to work and what have you had to tweak?

The Ex-English Major: Loving Literature After College

I’ve asked my friend Elisa Bryant to guest post on the blog this week. She’s talking about how literature impacts our lives, even when we aren’t reading. Enjoy!

When people used to ask me what I did or who I was, I loved being able to reply, “I’m an English major!” The response from the person, usually an impressed one, made me feel good about myself. Now that I am graduated, I have struggled with what to tell people. I have been trying to come up with something, and I think I have found my solution. I told someone I had a degree in reading books, because I think that pretty much sums up what an English major actually is. All in all, I was honestly bummed I couldn’t call myself an English major anymore, since graduation, and I sometimes still feel that way. I had lost that identity when I moved on from college, but I still try to find ways to make literature part of my life. I still have an inherent desire to find the meaning in everything, often over-analyzing the world with all its symbolism and themes. Literature is still very important to me, even though I’m not spending every day of my life reading anymore. Dealing with the life after college, I still must find a way to connect with literature and I had the most unusual and wonderful experience doing just that a little less than a month ago.

To give some quick background, I had gone to Colorado with my husband and his family for a ski trip. We rang in the New Year tucked away in the cozy, snowy mountains, “skiing until we dropped” as my mother in law put it. By the end of the first day I was dropping and ready to go. By the second, I was unbelievably sore and in a lot of pain so I left the group and headed back to our rooms. When I finally reached the door, I realized I had never learned the entry code and, by then, my group could be anywhere on the ten peaks of the Breckenridge Mountains. I could hardly walk because of the clunky ski boots and I didn’t have my cell phone with me. I had no way of reaching my husband, or anyone. I was definitely screwed. I didn’t panic though because I had a feeling that everything was going to work out. After thinking for a minute, I heard a girl’s voice coming from the apartment next to ours. Something prompted me to knock at the door and ask for the loan of a phone. The girl who opened the door looked as surprised to find someone her own age as I was. I explained my situation and, before I could even finish, she ushered me in to use her phone. She was incredibly friendly and kept talking as I shuffled painfully inside. She had fallen on the slopes the day before and had decided to take the day off. Lucky for me! She turned the TV down while I texted and called my husband a million times, hoping he would pick up. I knew it could be a while before he got back to me so I settled in. The girl and I continued to talk about skiing, where we were from, and other small talk. She had been watching Harry Potter which sparked our conversation as well. After we had covered the basics, things got a little more in-depth and we started talking about plans for the future. She mentioned she might go into law but, first and foremost, she was an English Lit major. That was the spark! We couldn’t stop talking after that. Something was unleashed within us and we kept building momentum, feeding off of the other’s passion and love for this subject. We talked about everything; why English is such an important subject, why it has value, what are favorite pieces of literature were. Soon, I had forgotten my dilemma and what could have been a disastrous experience became one that impacted me to the point of writing about it!

I have always believed that literature connects humanity through its themes and stories, and here I was experiencing it firsthand! I can see how any piece of literature is relevant to our lives; whether it references escapism, family, marriage, love. One reason I love reading literature, especially pieces written decades ago, is you learn not only about life in that time but about the very real truth that humans have not changed all that much. I am currently reading Jane Eyre and have enjoyed the universal themes throughout the book. Jane is a very relatable character, whether you are female or not, living in her time or ours. She deals with many circumstances and issues that even the modern reader faces. Literature, like Jane Eyre, can take you out of your little bubble of existence and broaden your thinking and experiences. Some of us are limited in our ability to travel, our ability to meet new people, to have adventures and see great things; but literature brings those experiences to us. I find myself when I read about Jane’s loss and love and brokenness; when I see her struggle to make her voice heard, we are so very human, together. How can we extricate ourselves from societal expectations, Jane and I, and assume to position of autonomy? And it isn’t only Jane Eyre. I believe you can pick up any book and find something that you can relate to. Because that is what literature is all about: making sense of ourselves and the world around us.

At this point, being called an English major isn’t as important as it was nine months ago. I am just glad I can still find ways to connect my love for life and my love for literature. I was hundreds of miles away from home and found myself in a potentially disastrous situation. But literature found its way into my life again, and, in a way, it saved me.

What’s On Your Bookshelf?

This was supposed to be a post where I share with you a glimpse into what I’ve been reading this month. Unfortunately, I haven’t started, much less finished, a single book so far. Isn’t that terrible? Between wrapping up holiday stuff, starting a new part-time job, and being a mom, I’m more than a little behind on the reading. While I’m actually really not happy about that there is good news. My husband and oldest will be traveling for a few days and that means, once the babies are in bed the evening will be mine for reading! I am really looking forward to that.

I have two “writerly” books in the queue: The Writing Life by Annie Dillard and Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, a new translation by Tiina Nuynnally. The first was recommended by a writing blog I follow with specific instructions to read it immediately. Guess I missed the mark on that one, huh? The second is research material for a mosaic short story collection that I am currently working on. That one will be a little easier to read as I can just flip through for inspiration and ideas vs. reading it through from cover to cover.

I also have several books that I have started reading and have been unable to finish. Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir, Cooked, An Abundance of Katherine’s, Cold Tangerines, and The Lovely Bones. The main reason these are still sitting on my shelf is that I can’t seem to read a book in bits and pieces. For example, when I read Gone Girl, I read the entire thing from start to finish while feeding my kids graham crackers to keep them quiet. I didn’t leave the couch for all 432 pages. That’s how I read. I disappear for an entire day because I am, quite literally, in another world. With kids, I can’t read like that anymore and I am not sure how to move forward from here.

How do you read? If you read in bits and pieces, how do you get back into the world of the book? If you read all at once, like me, has anything slowed you down? How did you deal with it? All I know is, I can never stop reading all together so I will have to figure it out eventually.

Word Count: January

As you may remember from earlier this month, one of my resolutions for the year is to write every day. This might seem like a pretty simple task but when you add three kids 5 and under, an artist/poet/songwriting husband, a handful of great friends and a group blogtraining for a half marathon, and a new part-time job you can see where it might be hard to find the time for words. I have actually been doing really well, especially for me. Usually if I set a goal and miss it one time (which happened to me three times this month, just in the interest of honesty) I throw the entire thing out the window and spend a week moping about how I’m a terrible person and I can’t even culture one little habit, blah, blah, blah. Yes, I can be a real joy to be around. But this year is different. I can just feel it. This is my year. This is a good year.

I have missed three days so far this month but you know what? I just kept plugging away. What I wrote wasn’t the most amazing or polished writing, but it was words on a page, everyday (almost). My goal for January is 500 words per day and it has been really amazing to me to see how easily they come…most days. There were a few times where I was counting up words every dozen or so just waiting for the 500 mark. But that is where the rubber meets the road. When it’s hard and I don’t want to write and I just want to give myself a pass and go watch Dr. Who, that’s when it’s most important to get those words on the page. Most of the time, I am writing after the gym which is after the kids in bed which means my writing time is usually eleven thirty or later. But I’ve enjoyed most of it, I was a night owl before kids and I think my body is kind of enjoying it again.

To ensure success, an old writing buddy and I have linked forces once again for inspiration and accountability. We get together (online) every Sunday night to write for a while and to think tank longer pieces we are working on. This week, the prompt was to write a story titled Kinetic Energy. At the beginning it was rough going and I restarted the piece about three times before it just started coming to me. I thought you might like a sneak peek at what came out of it so, without further ado, Kinetic Energy:

It was two days longer than normal when she showed up again, all softness and smiles. Something was different. She was keeping a secret, it seemed. She walked with power and purpose. But she kept me at arm’s length. This hadn’t been a lovers’ quarrel. I was on the outside now, the outside of what I wasn’t sure. She cut her hair. Got a manicure. She spent evenings out with friends and came home with red wine in her teeth.  She stopped sleeping so late, remembered to eat, painted her toenails red. The letters started coming in a few weeks into this change of habit. They were plain, stamped return addresses of galleries near our apartment, a few in DC and NY. I asked her about them and she gave me a generic answer. She shopped for gowns. I couldn’t write. I needed to know what was going on, with her, with us. She wouldn’t talk about it. Answered my questions with her own. “What are you talking about? What big changes?” Things were as they always had been according to her. As if I hadn’t been the muse. The one encouraging her. Pushing her. Driving her along. She would smile at my outbursts, amused and aloof. She made plans for an installation, displayed in two galleries, didn’t have time to talk.

Jumpstarting the Process

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have sat down to write only to sit there, mind and page as blank as can be. There are days where no amount of coffee is going to stimulate my brain into action and my creative juices feel as if they will never flow again. I used to throw in the towel at this point and just walk away from the notebook, hoping for the muse to descend tomorrow and bring me something truly wonderful. The problem was, I wasn’t creating a habit of writing by doing that. I was actually creating the habit of giving up…which isn’t really a habit I want to cultivate. I knew I needed help so I turned to Google for some answers. That gave me tons of great writing sites that offered prompt ideas and I tried them all out. I have a few favorites that I turn to now, when I can’t really get in the mood to write.

creativewritingpromts.com is my all-time go to site when I just can’t get pen to paper. Some of their prompts are ridiculously cheesy (write about the saying “revenge is bliss”) but many of them have led me to some really cool places (write from the point of view of a glass on the edge of a table). I love that they are numbered so you can actually choose a prompt at random.

Creative writing now is another great site for prompts. Their ideas are a little more fleshed out, a little more “writerly” if you will, and they make for some super easy word counts. They don’t have a ton of prompts on there so I try to save them for when I have a large chunk of writing time and can really put in the effort. My words seem to come much easier when using one of these prompts.

If you want to waste some time (always good for writer’s block) and get in a few laughs, you should definitely check out Seventh Sanctum Story Generator. They are hilarious and weird prompts (The story is about an alliance of queens. It takes place at a portal to another solar system. The effect of magic on technology is a major part of the story.) that give you lots of room for imagination.

Short story ideas is my last stop on the inspiration train. Like, Seventh Sanctum, they have some strange prompts (A motor home is the location, blood is thicker than water is the theme. A radio is an object that plays a part in the story.) but they try to make a complete picture for you to work with. There is a little more brain work needed for these prompts which is a good thing when you are stuck.

So there you are, a few places to turn if you are stuck with a blank page in front of you and a word count looming over you. Let me know if you find a prompt you love or one that really takes off into a story.

Happy New Year!

Well, this is it. The last week before a new year, a clean slate, a fresh beginning. 2014 was a good year for me, as far as writing is concerned. I didn’t accomplish all my goals but I came closer than I ever have before and I am proud of that. Heading into 2015 I wanted to come up with some more attainable resolutions and I thought, maybe if I share them with you, that will help motivate me to achieve them. So, without further ado, my 2015 New Year’s resolutions:

1. Read 1 book a month. Ok, this might seem really ridiculous (especially for those of you who know me and how much I love to read) but I seriously only read like 6 books last year. It’s sad. With writing and cleaning and “momming” I just didn’t devote the time I wanted to reading. To make sure this actually happens, I’ll be posting a review of the book I read on the blog on a monthly basis. So less time on Facebook and more time flipping pages! 

2. Write a certain number of words per day each month. This number will vary each month (one month may be 350 words, another may be 500) but I want to cultivate a habit of writing each day because I know it will pay off in the long run. It worked for Kazuo Ishiguro. I will share one of my word count “stories” per month, just so you can keep tabs on me (and so I’ll actually do them).

3. Complete something each month. I know, vague right? But I need to get some edits done and I need to crank out some new stories so vague is the best I can do. I will try to share a review of sorts each month that outlines any submissions, edits, ideas, drafts that were completed in the month to keep myself accountable.

I think those are totally doable and realistic goals for the new year. How about you? Any goals, writerly or otherwise, that you’ve set for yourself in this brand new year? I can’t wait to hear all about them!