Friday, November 25th, 2011

Writing Prompt – For When You’re Blocked

This idea will work if you’re blocked, or if you want to write, but don’t have any idea what you want to say.

It can work with a short story, a novel or a poem; anything, in fact.

I believe I first heard this method from author Bruce Holland Rogers, though I can’t be 100% certain. (Bruce, if you’re listening, please set me straight.)

What to do:

Take a book off your shelf and crack it open to the first page, or the first page of a chapter, or a poem at random.

Read the sentence, then write one very similar to it, changing the nouns and verbs and setting, etc. Then move on to the second and third, or as many will help you as a jumping off point. Then, continue on your own.

So, for example, from Chapter 2 of Anne Ursu’s book, Shadow Thieves, the second chapter begins:

Charlotte was one month into the school year at Hartnett Prepatory School, and thus far the year had proved to be just like all other years, except more so.

I might write something like this:

Mark had been in the sanitarium for eight weeks now. And it wasn’t quite living up to the standard of nuthouses he’d formed in his mind. It was worse.

We could go on…

Anne’s opening paragraph (in C2) continues:

Eight of the other girls in her class, whose names all begin with A, had left for the summer as brunettes and had come back as blonds.

So I write:

Three of the others in his “we see dead people” ward, had been treated to brain stimulation therapy that left them near comatose, until their bodies seemed to heal the damage. (And then, they didn’t see their dead relatives anymore.)

Mark sighed, glad he’d seen the first two come back looking like zombies after their treatment. He never would have known how to act otherwise. The treatment left him giddy, feeling free, and his Uncle Bob sounded even more clear than before. And if he wasn’t mistaken, his dead sister, Melissa, had something really important to tell to him.

He simply had to act like the others, so the docs wouldn’t catch on. Soon, he’d be out of here, too.

Didn’t take me long to go off on a tangent, eh? And I took an interesting YA sentence, and waltzed off into something supernatural. It doesn’t matter what you start with, your brain will engage with what you want to write.

Here’s Your Prompt:

Take a book off the shelf and open it to the beginning, the beginning of a random chapter, or anywhere, if it’s a poetry book.

Read the first few lines to see if the content is interesting to you. (If not, choose another spot.)

Write the first line exactly as written, skip a few lines on your page, and then start your own writing.

See where it leads you!

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Carnival Squash

Once again I’m headed north for Thanksgiving.

Looking forward to turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, and this fantastic vegetable medley that my aunt makes with Velveeta cheese.

(Yeah, I know it’s not real cheese, but it’s fabulous!)

I’m also looking forward to a tryptophan (and carb) induced torpor.

And seconds on those vegetables.

We’ll also probably have venison and sauerkraut and pies…many, many pies.

This year, I’ve candied jack-be-little pumpkins and carnival squash and made pudding (lots and lots of pudding…because, who knew cooked pudding wasn’t supposed to be boiled?)

I’m looking forward to complaining about work, and hearing everyone else complain, and getting advice about everything, and hauling out the family photo albums, and talking about Thanksgivings past. I’ll groan the loudest when Mom tells me she’s finished her Christmas shopping, and admit that I haven’t started yet.

(Except that’s not exactly true. I have: I’ve bought one gift for my sister. I’ll admit that, too.)

I’ll ask my Uncle how his fig tree did this year (he swore he was giving up on it, and maybe he has…) And I’ll tell them I’m experimenting with mine: trying to winter them over in my harsh climate just like my great-grandad Spina did, by roping them down to the ground and burying them until Spring.

The kids will fight. (Someone might get hurt.) The dog will bark. Loudly.

One or two will slip from the table to watch the game while the rest of us talk about ‘all that boring stuff.’

It’s the same recipe every year…and just like those vegetables, I can’t get enough.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

And thank you to everyone who reads my blog, and for all the wonderful comments. Thank you for the emails, and the advice when I’ve asked for help, and for reading my stories. You guys are the best!

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

What do You Think of This Bookcase?

Expedit Bookcase from IkeaI’m thinking about buying this ‘Expedit’ bookcase from Ikea.

(Since I had to take everything out of my office and do it over, I thought I’d treat myself to some new bookshelves.)

It won’t quite fit in my space, so I’ll probably wind up buying three of the single stacks which are five cubes high, and create a 3 x 5 cubed shelf by smooshing them together.

I have a short bookcase on another wall that I might replace with a taller bookcase from Ikea in the same line.

I like the cubes because I can use some of the space for things other than books, like photos or art.

On the box-opening front, I’ve opened about 20 boxes and put the items back in the closets they came out of. I’ve weeded out nearly four boxes of items to get rid of. (That’s 20% of my junk, for you statistics-minded people.)

I’m happy with 20% at this stage of the game. I knew it would be difficult to toss out a lot of the items in the closet because the bookcase in there contains mostly genealogical materials: binders full of census data, photos, city directories, cemetery and military information. There’s not much “junk” that could have been tossed.

Unfortunately, a few of the boxes for the closet area were my own…full of old family photos and letters which haven’t gotten into binders. I’m putting going through those boxes on my “to do” list for next year.

(Next year’s to-do list is starting to look REALLY ambitious.)

The big disappointment today is that when I was filing some of those boxed papers back into the file cabinet, I realized that the movers dented up my file cabinet. It’s really bad, too. I can’t open the third drawer…. I hope they’ll replace it.

So…what do you think of the shelves? Yea or nay?

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Writing Prompt – What’s in the Bag?

Brown Paper Grocery BagAs part of the entire roof debacle, I had all the carpet replaced in the upstairs of the house. In order to carpet the closets, everything had to come up off the floor in each one.

Inside my closet, I found this brown, paper grocery bag.

I’ve no idea what’s inside it. The top’s turned down, and stapled, and I haven’t opened it. I’m having too much fun trying to decide what’s inside to peek right now.

(Incidentally, it’s not my style to store something like this. It sounds like a certain parent I know… On the other hand, I may have learned it from her. But, still, I’m usually good at labeling. I can’t believe I’m at fault.)

Here’s Your Prompt:

Tell me what’s in the bag.

Where did it come from? Who was it given to? What happens if the wrong person looks inside?

Is it a gift? A memory stored away out of sight? An embarrassing impulse buy?

Don’t just make a guess….write the background, then the story.

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Reclaiming My Office!

The Fire and Flood Company brought my furniture back today!

I’ve found the boxes with the laptop docking station, keyboard and large-screen monitor, as well as a few other desk items: speakers, telephone, electric pencil sharpener.

::: EXCITED!! :::

I can’t wait to get back to working in my space. Working at the kitchen table since September has been a real bummer. Distracting, too. I’m hoping that getting back to my own space will be freeing, creatively.

This is what the front half of my office looks like right now:

Boxes in the Front of the Office

The thing I’m amazed at: the last box I looked at was numbered “70.”


And I packed 12 additional boxes from my doll cabinet. (I wouldn’t let them take those away for fear of something getting damaged or lost.)

So that means I’ve got at least 82 boxes of junk in just two rooms of my house.

I’m hoping that a great many of these boxes are books…because if they’re not, I’ve got a ton of stuff that has no place being here.

I’ve already told the Husband of Awesome™ that I anticipate that at least a third (I hope more) of what’s in these boxes is not going back on the shelves.

I believe this means parting with a great many books, and possibly some (published) manuscripts that have been lying around. I’ve been advised to scan them and toss the originals.

Closets and Boxes in the back half of the room.Here’s a picture of my double closets. Note the filing cabinet in one. I have a bookshelf in the other closet. I love the option of putting furniture in closets. It makes the space so much more useable.

Notice the non-brown boxes, devoid of pink labels? Those are my own. They’re numbered, too, but not in any scheme I can figure out. And, now that I’m looking, they don’t appear to be counted in the 70 (82).

Now, there’s a mystery I’m going to have to solve. The Secret Math Junkie™ inside of me is starting to wonder: How many total boxes? How many brown ones? How many are the 3 cubic feet version? How many are the smaller? How many contain books? How many contain paper? Etc.

It might take me a few weeks to get through it all, but in the end, you’ll have your report. 🙂

In the meantime, I find myself already with a plethora of packing supplies on hand. Anyone need any bubble wrap?

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Writing Prompt – Veteran’s Day

Frank MichalskiIn honor of our country’s Veterans, I’m hosting a Veteran’s Day Writing Prompt today.

Many thanks to all the men and women who’ve served in the US Armed Forces. I’m grateful that our country has a strong military, for both the freedoms it’s continued to safeguard and how safe I feel knowing it’s there to protect us.

Thank you to the men and women who continue to serve.

A quick digression:

I wrote a little about my family’s strong military background and some info about Veteran’s Day in my post last year, if you’re interested.

Last year’s post has a pic of my great-Uncle Walter. That’s him in the background of the picture to the right. He and my great-Uncle Frank are pictured in a downtown Baltimore bar, having a drink before they both return to duty after the Christmas holiday.

(Wasn’t Frank a handsome fellow? He looks like an old-time movie star to me. I’m sure the ladies swooned when they saw him coming.)

Now, on to the prompt…

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Write a diary entry for a single day in the timeline of any “great war.” Include specific details, as well as personal reactions.
  • Write a thank you note to a veteran (or current member) of the armed forces.
  • Take a few moments and brainstorm some words that come to you when you think about the military. Write a poem using one or more of the thoughts that occurred to you.
  • Make a list of words that define “the perfect soldier.” Create a character sketch of this hero.
  • Based on the prompt above, choose the one trait you think every soldier should have. Now, create a character sketch of a soldier who doesn’t have that trait, or blatantly disregards it. (Does that make him an unfit soldier? An anti-hero? A villain?)
  • Imagine the military of the future. What gadgets do they have? What skills do they need?
  • Write a story about U.S. Military Occupation on the moon. Why are we there? What’s happened? What would happen if weren’t there?
  • What if there were no militias the world over? Would the world be a better place, or worse?
Thursday, November 10th, 2011

On a Mission to Edit Out the Paper…

Wrecked OfficeRemember this, way back in the beginning of September?

My office (and the rest of the damaged house) is starting to look liveable again.

Fresh paint has been applied, and (even though insurance didn’t cover it*) we opted to put in new carpet. I am just too paranoid about mold.

The carpet folks laid most of the carpet yesterday–a charcoal grey, smooth piled loveliness–and will be back this morning to finish up. I can’t wait!

But our furniture and things — which were boxed up and taken away by the Fire and Flood Company, won’t be back until early next week. That’s when the fun begins:

I’m on a mission to “edit out” a third to a half of the items that were in my office originally. It’s true that the company carefully wrapped and boxed my stuff, making it appear more bulky. But the sheer number of boxes they removed from my office astounded me.

And while many of them came from the double closets (yeah, that’s one thing I really like about my office space) and didn’t clutter up the room, even with the doors closed behind me as I wrote, I often felt the stuff “mentally” clutter my mind.

It’s hard to write in that environment!

Things I need to clear out:

  • some abandoned crafty items I’ll probably never get back to
  • tear sheets (and in some instances) entire copies of newspapers with my stories printed in them
  • empty binders I’ve been hoarding to put all my genealogy paperwork in
  • boxes of photos from high school, containing pics of (some) people whose names I can’t remember
  • probably some other stuff I’ll be surprised to find when I open up the boxes!

The big issue for me, since I’m:

  1. a writer
  2. a genealogy buff, and,
  3. a former journalist with hundreds (a thousand or more?) clips

… I’ve got a terrible paper problem, especially since I so often want to keep things for “posterity.”

But the paper is starting to weigh me down.

At a minimum, I’m toying with scanning all the old manuscripts and tossing the paper. Ditto on the newspaper clips.

But what I really need is a paper-flow system to get things under control. Most days, I’ve got more paper funneling in than out, and it’s taking a toll: hence the three boxes of collected papers I need to weed through before I even get to the closet items.

How do you handle the influx of paper? What do you do with critiqued papers and clips and tear sheets that may or may not be looked at again? Where do you draw the line on what to keep?

* The insurance company was AWESOME, but they didn’t pay for new carpet. Understandable, really, since it was able to be dried. But they’ve done more for us regarding everything else. I have no complaints, and have actually been impressed with their service.

Friday, November 4th, 2011

Writing Prompt – National Candy Day

Sugared CandyToday is National Candy Day.

You’d think someone would have the good sense to combine it with Halloween, when it comes right on the heels of it, wouldn’t you?

No worries, though, I plan to celebrate with my absolute favorite candy/drink combination:

York Peppermint Patty and an ICE COLD bottle of Diet Coke. There’s nothing better than that cool minty sensation burning down the back of your throat in a huge swallow of icy cola.


But not before breakfast. That would be sacrilege. Perhaps for a mid-morning snack…

(According to the National Confectioner’s Association, there are no less than 15 “National Chocolate” something or other days and one International Chocolate Day, as well as 35 “National” candy days total in the yearly calendar, including National Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day, only a few days away on November 7. However, their calendar doesn’t mention National Candy Day at all…nor does it mention that, apparently, June is National Candy month.)

Before you get started today, I recommend channeling your inner child and eat all the candy you find around the house. If you don’t have any leftover, I’ll bet you could catch a good sale. You remember the immortal words of Bart Simpson, right?

“It’s okay. There’s no sugar in Pixie sticks.”

Here’s Your Prompt:

  • Invent a new candy! Put on your Wonka hat and create the sugary treat missing the world over. Make a list of all the ingredients that have to go in (don’t forget those spoonfuls of love and pinches of mystery.) Describe it, draw it, and then write the advertising copy.
  • Do this slowly: Close your eyes and lift your favorite candy to your nose. What does it smell like? Can you smell the individual ingredients that make it up? What do you think of when you smell them? (Does vanilla remind you of sex? Does cinnamon recall the pungent odor of a burning fire or a cup of hot chocolate?)

    What is the texture of the candy on your fingertips? What does that remind you of. Lastly, take a bite. Take note of the texture, the blending flavors on your tongue. How much did you salivate? Write down all these sensations, thoughts, feelings.

  • Think of a character you are writing about. What is his or her favorite candy? Why? How does knowing this change your story? Could this candy play a key role in the plot of the story?
  • What kind of candy best describes your personality? Write about it.
  • Write a haiku or other poem about candy. The heart of the poem can be about anything: an ode to your favorite candy, or a poem of disgust for what you think is the worse; that candy should be banned, how candy once saved your life (or nearly destroyed it), that candy should be served before dinner… Anything.
Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Giving Up Hope – Or Faking It Until I Do

Image of painting called My Lost Hope by Freida.Wherein I whine just a little bit after having done a stupid thing…

Writing fiction is hard.

And starting over from scratch is even harder, I’ve found.

Except for some free writing in class the last few weeks, I haven’t written anything on my work in progress: not since I lost 25 pages of the manuscript.

I’ve been in a terrible funk. And hopeful.

Hope is a terrible thing sometimes…and crippling.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve tried to recreate my lost work, but the words just aren’t flowing.

In the back of my mind, I’ve constantly been thinking:

  • It’ll turn up.
  • It’s got my name on it. Some kind soul will drop me an email to let me know they found it.
  • It’s not really lost, it’s misplaced…
  • I just haven’t looked hard enough for it yet.

And as long as there’s been a smidgeon of hope in my mind that the dratted pages will turn up, I haven’t been able to write a word…because why should I re-write these chapters when I know they’ll appear at some point?

But the fact is, it hasn’t turned up. No one’s called me about it. And I’ve looked high and low, and called a lot of places and dropped in on several more (some more than once) and so I know it’s it’s worse than misplaced:

It’s lost and I’m never getting it back.

(Okay, I said the words. Maybe, if I say them enough times, I’ll believe it.)

Yeah. I’ve not quite given up hope. But I’ve got to fake it, or I won’t be able to move on.

It’s not like this writing should be hard. I know what happens. I know where the plot turns. I know about that secret reveal in Chapter 15.

And this version will likely be better since I’ve already written it once. It’ll be the second draft, for 25 pages, halfway through the novel.

I’ve written a few hundred words between yesterday and today. Not great progress, but it’s more than I’ve done in a month.

Have you ever been paralyzed by hope? How do get past it?

“My Lost Hope” image by Freida. Not used by permission, since I’ve been unable to contact the artist. See more of Freida’s work at RedBubble. Freida, if you see this, please drop me a line so we can talk about the use of your gorgeous painting. Thx!