Are you in the mood for some serious writing prompts? These do not let you waffle your way through.
Just one more week left on the August sale offer on my Intensive Critique coaching package. This professional manuscript editing normally goes for $100. Right now, it is 1/4 of that–a mere $25. Outside word count is 5000 words.
Writing is always an act of communication. Whether you, the writer, acknowledge it or not, the words you write have no meaning until there is a reader wanting to understand them.
However, when we writers, in the exuberance of self-expression, blithely ignore the needs of the reader, our writing often comes a cropper. Organization, word choice, plot, characterization, meaning–all can so easily be lost.
This happens no matter our age, experience, or familiarity with the subject. It is why editors exist and why you should always have an editor look at your manuscript before you write “The End.”
During the Intensive Critique I offer, I am the Reader. While metaphorically sitting on my hands, I read the text as an act of communication. What is it saying? What am I feeling and thinking as I read it? What questions do I have? When do I become confused? Lose interest? Feel the urgency of ‘what next’? I am looking for what works, but I am also looking for what needs work.
As I go through the manuscript, I use the Comments capability of Drive to make specific notes on the piece–asking questions, suggesting, offering my “at the moment” response to the work.
This creates a file which offers a record of my reading alongside the original manuscript. The writer can print this to have a map of sorts as to exactly where the act of communication either succeeds or breaks down.
Normally I charge $100 for the Intensive Critique. However, during the first weeks of August, I’m offering an abbreviated version for 1/4 of the cost. All genres; all levels of experience.
Want to learn more? Let me know in the Comments or email me at email@example.com
So–I found this in one of my many “Ongoing Projects” files that I’ve been going through, trying to clean house. I like it–a lot. So I’m sharing. Last time I shared fiction on my blog, a reader got very upset because she thought it was something from my life, a regular blogpost. So be aware that This. Is. Fiction.
This is the day he died. Ten years ago today. Right over there in his old chair. One minute alive, watching something stupid on the TV, drinking a beer, stuffing his face with peanuts, the next a goner, sure as I saw one. His face come over all purple like and he gave one grunt. “Urrff.” Like a dog mid dream what gives but half a bark. I knew from the sound that something weren’t right.
Called them kids but none were home. Out and about, doing whatever. Christmas shopping and such. Or so they said. So I sat here with his old dead body and watched him turn cold and wax-like.
Person takes a while to go, you know. Life kinda moves away from the body. Or maybe the body stays still and the person moves away. It’s an odd thing, I’ll tell you that.
Course I didn’t just stand there and watch it happen. Took a seat, for the show you might say. I’d waited a long time for that man to die. Once upon a time, I thought I’d enjoy the sight. But he waited too long to do it, I suppose. I got no pleasure, but then I got no pain neither.
Come morning I called again. Dickie came, along with Miss Priss, that old thing he married. They was fit to be tied that I’d sat all night with a corpse. “Why didn’t you call 9-1-1?” Miss Priss wanted to know. Couldn’t rightly tell her. But then, I wouldn’t have even if I could. None of her business, I’d say.
Cops came in a squad car, squealing up to the house like it weren’t a dead body they’d been called to see. Then that fat old lardbucket, Waylon Reardan, what got himself elected coroner, and a couple of helpers from Jury’s Funeral Home to do the work, since old Waylon wasn’t capable of moving a dead chicken, let alone the heft of a man the size of Lloyd.
Took the lot of them almost to pry him outta his chair. He’d stiffened up so they couldn’t get him straightened out nohow. Kinda fitting, I thought. He’d lived in that chair so damn long, ended up shaped like the damn thing. Ended up, they had to sort of lift him up, two on each side, like he was some football hero just won the game.
Lloyd’s chair, Got it for hisself the Christmas before he passed. One hundred fifty dollars, cost new. At the Fresno auction. Took hisself down there and bid on it without a word. Brought it home tied down in the back of his pickup. Come into the house with it, squared it up in front of the TV and sat down in it like he weren’t fixing to move for love nor money. Course he weren’t fixing to. What he figured was he’d get me to do all the moving for him.
He’d sit there watching that old black and white TV, and on one of them collapsible metal TV table, he’d collected his ashtray, his beer and that damn bowl of nuts. He’d stare at that TV and yell out to me “Hey, Myrtie, bring me another one of them brewskis.”
Didn’t matter where I was in the house, doing whatever more important, if I didn’t answer him right away, he’d be a bellowing again, “Myrtie? You hear me?”
“I hear you. The dead hear you,” I’d tell him. I’d hand him the beer, and damned if he’d take it without even a look my way.
“S’that all you’re gonna do from now on? Watch that damned thing? You know them rays are poisonous. They shine right out from that there pitcher tube and beam right into your body. Frizzle your organs, they will. I read it. Turn your guts into dried rope.
“Course what do you care since your liver’s already pickled. Lloyd? Lloyd, you listening to me?”
“Oh huh, “ he’d grunt.
“No you ain’t,” I be starting to yell, getting mad-like by now. “I hate it, Lloyd. I hate it when you treat me like I’m some dead wall.”
He’d hear the yell and know he better perk up some. “I hear you, Mama. You said the TV will turn my guts into fried rope and my liver’s pickled.”
“Dried, fried. What’s the difference?”
“No difference. No difference at all. Dried, fried, whatever, dead is dead.”
And, of course, in the end I was right. Dead is dead and it didn’t rightly matter what killed him. Waylon claimed it were a stroke. Who cares. He was dead.
As part of my research for other things writing related, I came across the website, Funds for Writers, which offers, neatly alphabetized, a list of grants writers can apply for along with deadlines and other relevant informaton.
I don’t know about you, but I have long harbored a fantasy of being awarded a fellowship at the McDowell Colony or the like. There’s something about the idea of all of my needs being satisfied in the service of my writing that seems magical to me. As in, I would magically write the purest of prose, with no tendency to procrastinate.
Here’s me as a fellow at a said writer’s conference:
I wake up to the sound of bird song. Is it the fucking jays twittering outside my window or is it the sweet sparrows warbling away?
Ne’er mind–my eyes open and I stretch and yawn and think of the exciting day ahead. All mine, to write, to create, to fantasize whole worlds—to go back to that fucking draft I left in the middle last night because it was turgid and going nowhere, nowhere, nowhere.
I climb out of my nest of comforters and open the front door of my cottage. There, just at the stoop, is a steaming pot of coffee and a wicker basket of freshly baked rolls. Will there be the ones I truly cherish–the baking soda, brown sugar, pecan knots–or will someone else have gotten the only rolls that are talismanic for my daily productivity? I root through the basket, find one twisted pecan knot and feel relieved that the omens for my day seem on my side.
And thus my day at the writer’s colony continues apace, as filled with the dark and the light, the yin and the yang, the blithe reduction to utter absurdity as any a day at home.
For those of you who want the real story, however, I offer this blogpost, All About Writers Colonies. The author, Nova Ren Suma, has surveyed a number of her fellow writers who have actually spent time at some of the most prominent colonies. They offer their experience–and their advice.
My fantasy about being awarded a fellowship at a writer’s colony will always remain hovering, somewhere just beyond my ability to actually sit down and apply. If you are more proactive than I, check out the list of grants from Funds for Writers.
And let me know how it goes. Really. Feed my fantasy with your own experience!
Here’s my problem: I want to start blogging again. And one would think, what better place to do it than here, in this corner of my website labelled “Blog”.
Except–the kind of blogging I want to start again has little to do with writing or editing or process or revision. Except, of course, when it does. Which is when that thing in front of me, the whatever must be expressed that day, just happens to concern the written word.
Am I making any sense?
Do I really care?
What I miss about blogging, about the kind of blogging we used to do before we got concerned about stats and monetization (have I said all this before? because it feels very familiar…)–. Sometimes we wrote about what we ate for lunch, and sometimes we wrote about the state of our union (if we had one) that day. When I say ‘we’, I mean ‘I’, of course. Sometimes we/I ranted and sometimes we/I moaned.
All of those posts existed at some point in the MidLifeBloggers archive. However, the MidLifeBloggers archive no longer exists. Therefore, my pearls, those gems of my mind for the years ’05-’15 are lost forever.
Do I care?
Not really. And that’s something I want to blog about, why I don’t care–or, to be specific, what it is I don’t care about.
Oh, wait! I just went back a mere six months and lookie what I found: http://janegassner.com/2017/08/the-good-old-days/ . This is what I said before that feels very familiar–to quote myself back at the beginning of this post. So read that, and add it to this–and then we’ll see if I’m any better at fulfilling my urge this time.
Have you ever read Tim O’Brien’s novel, The Things They Carried? It tells the story of a platoon of soldiers in the Viet Nam war through the things that they carried in the knapsacks. I used to assign it when I taught Comp & Lit at Lehigh. For one, I wanted my overindulged students to get their minds around something other than their latest hookup. Even more, though, I love the idea that we tell our own stories by the things that we feel we need to have with us every day.
- Empty your purse, backpack, briefcase, or shopping bag and look at what you’ve taken out. Now choose the things that for whatever reason are always with you.
- Describe them.
- How are they related? How are they not? What does it say about you that these things are necessary to you?
This is an exercise in three things:
- Your powers of description.
- Your ability to analyze, to move from the concrete to the abstract, to see the patterns (or lack of same) in things that seem unrelated.
- Your willingness to come to a conclusion about what the things you carry say–or don’t say–about you.
Bonus offer: Want to know what it’s like to get an Intensive Critique from me? I’ll give a free Mini Intensive Critique to the first five people who send me their drafts. Just save and copy your draft to the Comment section on the form below.
A client once said to me,
“Writing this story feels like I’ve set out on the ocean with a lot of heart and grit and a general sense of direction, but I don’t want to spend months rowing hard to get to France only to learn that I’ve landed in Texas.”
At first, I wasn’t sure how to respond.
- Was she feeling insecure about her writing overall and needing me to reassure her that if she had planned for France, and worked hard to get there, she would definitely see the Eiffel Tower?
- Or was she expressing some subconscious uneasiness that she was actually on the wrong plotting track?
There was no right or wrong answer here. The first speaks to the general anxiety writers all feel from time to time. We’re sitting alone creating worlds out of thin air; how could we not feel insecure from time to time?
The second speaks to a more complicated issue: where does our writing come from? Whose ideas are these, if not mine? So why do they sometimes turn on me and take me to a place I never thought of–or wanted–to go?
When that happens to me, I’ve learned to listen to my silent self and, at least for a while, give it rein to move at will. Eventually, I either write myself out of that place–or I find that it actually is where I wanted to go. It means, of course, that I have to allow myself the hardest freedom of all–the freedom to fail.
How do you feel about grammar & punctuation? Is it the writer’s responsibility, or can it be off-shored to a paid editor?
That’s the going debate on a private Facebook writer’s group I belong to. The responses, which seem to be running fifty-fifty, are passionate in both directions.
All that grammar stuff stifles the creative urge
Words and the correct use of them are an essential part of the writer’s toolbox.
I say both of those are true, and what we’re really talking about is…
The crying need for a First Draft.
- First Drafts, which I affectionately refer to as the Vomit Drafts, are where you just pour it all out without a thought for whether it makes sense or is legible.
- The First Draft is the draft that only you, the writer, see; therefore, you can spill your guts with impunity.
- In First Drafts, you can leave blanks to fill in later when you can’t come up with the words you’re looking for now.
- You can write notes to yourself in your First Draft remind you of something you want to describe but aren’t quite ready to.
- To treat the First Draft as a Final Draft in which you focus on correcting grammar, punctuation and spelling is to deny yourself…
The essence of the First Draft,
which is the freedom of discover.