Friday, July 29th, 2011

Writer’s Prompt – Missed Opportunities

Barred OwlI was driving into town this afternoon, Husband of Awesome™ at the wheel of the vehicle, when a huge bird swooped down low and fast across the front of the pickup and landed on a fence post.

“Pullover!” I yelled, reaching for the camera, thinking I would have a prime shot at a hawk.

I was even more elated to see it was Barred Owl (Strix varia). Who cares if it’s the most common owl in the US? How often do you see a crepuscular* animal in broad daylight? And sitting so calmly it appeared to want to have it’s picture taken?

To my utter disappointment, I’d forgotten the camera.

Missed opportunity.

Still, the bird sat waiting. We watched until another car drove by, scaring it from its perch.

I’ve been kicking myself all afternoon. What a great shot that would have been!

Here’s Your Prompt:

Write about a missed opportunity. If you’re writing memoir, this could be a personal experience. If you’re writing fiction, it could be about someone else’s personal experience, or completely made up.

What kind of opportunity was it? A new job? Travel? Love? A big fish? How meaningful to you is this lost thing? Something you’ve wanted all your life? Something that’s only recently made it onto your bucket list? Or was it simply a momentary deal?

How was the opportunity presented? Were you schmoozing at a party? In a meeting at work? Walking down the street? Set the scene to enhance the tension.

What were the stakes? Maybe the opportunity was missed because an alternative seemed better at the time…was their anxiety associated with this choice? Calmness? Logic? Maybe, the opportunity was complete serendipity.

Has a missed opportunity turned out to be for the better? Maybe you turned down your dream job to stay close to home, and the company folded six months later. Perhaps you declined a free week at the beach and Hurricane Agnes blew in for 10 days. Maybe turning down the offer of a lifetime saved your life.

How so?

* Crepuscular animals hunt only at dawn and dusk.

(I’ve been dying to use that word since I learned it. I did not miss this opportunity!)

I did, however, miss the opportunity with the bird. The photo above was taken by Frank Kovalchek from Anchorage, Alaska. See Mr. Kovalchek’s flicker stream for more great photos.

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Writing Prompt – Zzzzzzzzz

Asleep at the LaptopI’ve been in training for the last three days – two in Virginia, and one in Washington, DC, for my day job. It’s geek stuff – and I’m about geeked out.

Between the travel and the all-day tech classes, I am wiped out. (And I’ve got one more day of training tomorrow in DC…)

I can’t wait to slip between the sheets tonight.

Sleep is very much on my mind right now.

And yet, so much goes on when we sleep: we dream, we kick, we toss and turn. We speak. We sleep walk. There”s so much activity! It’s a wonder we get any rest at all.

Here’s Your Prompt: Today, write about sleeping. Write about your sleep habits, or your character’s sleep habits. Write about when you can’t sleep: what triggers your insomnia? How do solve the problem? Write about the dream realm: what kind of place is it? Can you get there even if you’re not asleep?

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

How Hot is it Where You Are?

Melting LadyI’m in Washington, DC today, and temperatures are approaching triple digits. (It’s always great to come back from vacation a research trip to sweltering city heat.

I’m melting.

It was really mugly this morning, and I had to drag a suitcase and a laptop from the metro.

I’m taking some nerdy, geek training for my day job, so I’ll be in the city for the next four days.

Training has been fun so far, and I’m learning a lot (makes me want to abandon WordPress and build my own drupal site…) but the facilities have been a little worse for wear.

I don’t know if it’s the heatwave or something else, but it feels like there’s no AC here in this room full of computers. They’ve brought in two fans, but it’s not doing much to help.

Did I tell you I’m melting? I hope someone gets the AC on the ball before class tomorrow. I believe temps are supposed to be even higher.

How is it where you are?

Monday, July 18th, 2011

How Do You Cope When the Best Laid Plans Foil Your Resolutions?

Kelly A. Harmon Researches Contemporary LifeI got absolutely no writing done last week.

I was away, having a moderately fun time in a well-known location doing some research for a contemporary novel I’m contemplating writing.

Ha. I thought I’d have time to relax from the research and put in a few hours each day editing or writing anew.

One day I made the effort.


The rest? A bust…even though I meticulously prepared.

Lesson: Just take a vacation.

Or, maybe: Build more days into the “off” schedule (so that the stats don’t look so bad at the end of the year). 🙂

This week isn’t shaping up much better as I’ve got some (unexpected) travel and training to attend for the day job. Since I’m prepared from last week, it won’t be a problem to carry along the current projects…but I’m doubting I’ll find time.

Still, I’m going to try and make the effort.

What do you do when things go awry? Do you settle for less than you want to do, or bag it all together?

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Writing Prompt: I Don’t Remember…

Man Scratching His HeadI once punched a horse right on the nose.

I don’t remember this incident at all. But my Mom tells me it happened, and she wouldn’t lie.

The story goes that we were out…somewhere… (I can’t even remember what she’s told me several times), probably a petting zoo or something like that. It was hot, and I was wearing a straw hat in deference to the sun. Out of nowhere, a horse walked up to me and started eating my hat.

So, I punched it. Hard. And got my hat back.

There were some repercussions. I don’t remember these either.

But this hole in my memory is a pretty interesting thing. What I don’t know, I can imagine. And this non-knowledge is free for me to take and build upon. It’s wonderful fodder for a story or poem or a single scene in a larger work.

Thinking about what we don’t know exercises the brain in a way completely different than what we’re often admonished to do. (Write what you know, eh?)

Consider this:  how about not remembering something that’s absent in your life? I don’t remember ever having a family reunion. I don’t remember being in the “in” crowd in high school. I don’t remember ever being chased by zombies…

This is just another way to exercise your brain and consider something from an unfamiliar angle.

Here’s Your Prompt:

Write or type, “I Don’t Remember…” at the top of a sheet of paper and start writing. You must fill the page. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to do it: 20 minutes or all day. The point is to not just come up with a single item, but to think hard about the situation and include all the details.

If you get stuck, write the phrase, “I don’t remember” and continue to do so until your brain catches up. It’s important to write this phrase, rather than think it over and over.

It doesn’t matter if what you write about is a real memory or a non-memory. It could even be the memory of one of your characters.

Do you see a pattern emerging from your thoughts? Do you recognize old themes that permeate your writing? Have you found something new?

Sunday, July 10th, 2011

On the Road Again…

Amtrak Sign at the Depot

…or maybe I should say, on the tracks?

I’ve got wifi in the station, but not on the train. So once the train pulls out of the station, I’ve no access until tomorrow morning.


On the other hand, maybe I’ll get some writing done without the distraction. But then, I’m hoping for scenery types of distraction en route.

I’ll be traveling over night. The last time I did this was in coach, with the marching band during college. Having abhorred that situation with a royal purple passion, I sprang for a sleeper car. This is going to be an adventure!

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Writing Prompt: Secrets

He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore. ~ Sigmund Freud

Have you ever been in a room full of people and watched one person bend toward another and whisper something secret ?

(Maybe it wasn’t a secret at all. Maybe one friend was telling another very quietly that she had broccoli stuck in her teeth from lunch. Well, it certainly didn’t look that way! They have secrets, those two!)

There’s something about even the perception of a secret that charges the atmosphere in a room.

Who’s got the secret? What is it? Who will it affect? What does it mean to me?

As soon as some bit of information is perceived as “secret,” it becomes more desirous to know.

People act differently when they have a secret: they’re guarded and their body language mimics this closed fortress, arms crossed across the chest, legs crossed over knees or shoulders hunched in protection against the middle. Some folks are smug, wearing that “cat that ate the canary” smile and lording it over others. Some act frightened of what they know. Some are just full of energy, bursting to tell someone else what they’ve learned.

Secrets are a wonderful plot device. They can be uncovered, confessed, or created. They can be non-existent, with that fact known to all but the major characters. They can be a thing of joy, of horror, of shame, or any other feeling. They can control.

Here’s Your Prompt: Write about a secret. It can be one of yours, or one of your characters. It could be something pragmatic: the secret to making the tastiest fried chicken, or, the secret to brushing your teeth well.

Write about the secret you: the person you are when no one’s around. The person you secretly want to be. The person you are, but no one realizes…

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Half the Year’s Over – How Are Those Resolutions?

I have an ambitious list of resolutions for 2011, if you recall.

So how am I doing? As usual, I’m happy with my progress on some goals and not so happy with my progress on others.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about epublishing and the state of ‘the writing business’ in general, and some of the goals I had in January don’t line up with where my current thinking is. I’m beginning to steer myself toward longer works, rather than shorter, and doggedly pursuing some of these items will take me further away from where I currently want to be.

With that in mind, I’ll probably strike a few of these goals off the list.

Here’s the nitty gritty:

  • Write 302 out of 365 days in 2011.
      Fail! Even if I write every single day for the rest of the year, I won’t hit this mark. Something tells me I should have aimed a little lower with this one. I haven’t updated my spreadsheet for the last week or so, so my numbers are a bit off. However, it looks like I might make about 80% if I write nearly every day for the rest of the year.
  • Triple last year’s fiction output.
    • On target. Even with not hitting the daily writing mark I’ve set, I’ve managed to double last year’s fiction goal. This irritates me a bit because if I were writing nearly every day like I want to, I’d really see the numbers climbing.
  • Finish the two short stories that have plagued me since the beginning of 2010….or trunk them.
      Fail! Or maybe, Complete!! I wrote this goal poorly. Can you tell? I haven’t even looked at these two stories, so I will probably trunk them. That means Complete! Right? (This is the first goal I’m going to discard.)
  • Finish the first draft of my current work-in-progress novel.
    • On Target. I’ve written 25,000 additional words since January.
  • Write and submit 6 non-fiction articles.
    • Fail! I’ve written 0 articles this year, although three I wrote last year were finally published. (I could probably still meet this goal, but it doesn’t line up with my “longer works” goals. So, I’ll probably abandon this goal, too, before the year is out.)
  • Write at least three blog posts per week for a total of 156 blog posts for 2011.
    • On target.
  • Fifty-two of the above mentioned blog posts must be writing prompts.
      On Target: I’ve created a Writing Prompt every Friday since the beginning of the year.
  • Make 30 fiction submissions this year, only 1/3 (or less!) of which can be flash or micro-fiction.
      Fail! (But not by much.) I’ve only submitted 10 stories this year. I can probably make this up by the end of the year, provided I have some additional short fiction finished…and, well, we know where my goals lie, so I’m not sure I can do this.
  • Finish reading Sol Stein’s ‘How to Grow a Novel.’
    • COMPLETE!! Finally! Excellent book, though a tad dated for today’s market. Expect a full review sometime “soon.”
  • Send 25 query letters to agents.
    • I’m not hopeful about this. Early on I decided that the anticipated novel I was going to shop needed one more ‘read through’ and I found a section I want to completely re-write, so I haven’t moved on this. It’s late in the novel, so there’s an opportunity for me to send out the queries and fix the section before some agent (or editor) asks for a full, but I really want it “all done” before I send anything out.

So…that’s it for me. How about you? If you’re over-exceeding your goals, will you be raising them? Are you abandoning any ill-made resolutions, like I am? Inquiring minds want to know!

Monday, July 4th, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

American Flag

I’ll be celebrating by gorging at a family picnic today. The menu includes:

  • steak
  • chicken
  • hamburgers
  • hot dogs
  • corn on-the-cob
  • (my) Mom’s Famous Potato Salad
  • other miscellaneous salads
  • three cakes
  • and more stuff I can’t remember.

I think there will be seven of us in attendance. That’s the kind of parties my family throws.

The good news is: like Thanksgiving, we will not have to cook for the rest of the week!

What are you doing today?

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Writing Prompt – When the Words Won’t Come

Crumpled PaperSometimes when we write, the words won’t come.

Or, they’re boring.

Or, they’re average, common or trite.

It could be the subject matter. Or that we’re trying to hard. Or we’re afraid to write the words.

It could also be a thousand other things. Unrelated to writing things. We’re tired. We’re fried from a long work week. The commute sucked. It’s too noisy. We just can’t concentrate.

Many times, we’re dancing around the point.

Here’s Your Prompt:

When you’re stuck with your writing, and the words won’t come, just draw a line on the page (or skip a few lines on the screen) and write:

What I’m really trying to say is…

… and then write for 10 minutes about what’s really on your mind. It may or may not fix the scene or the poem or the passage you’re working on. But it may open avenues to other pieces. It might be the kernel of the next book or poem or essay you want to begin.

Or, it might be just getting something off your mind. It might clear the path for getting back to what you were doing.

It might be exactly what you want to write about.

Either way, it’s deeper thinking, food for thought….something to be considered when next you write again.