Keep Going

bee on flower

Lately, I feel as if my writing has been a series of snippets here and there, projects started and abandoned, notes taken, a few lines added, dropped again. Scattered leaves blowing in the wind. Like an essay I’ve been mulling about my grandmother. Or a short story about a young man who occasionally goes invisible without warning, beyond his control. Or musings on a possible memoir, focusing on how books shaped my life. And there’s still that unfinished draft of the time-travel novel, waiting in the wings. I desperately want to write and finish all of these things, and yet when I pick any one of them up, I quickly lose interest, or become mentally constipated. What’s going on?

Maybe it’s the restlessness of spring after a long winter, preferring to be out in the warm sunshine rather than holed up with the work of organizing my muddled thoughts. Maybe it’s the deep crisis of confidence I’ve been experiencing lately, the source of which I can’t pinpoint–every word I write screams wrongness, or worse, futility. Maybe it’s the turmoil of pre-menopause: I’m transforming into some mid-life beast that terrifies me, the physical and emotional throes of which keep me from finishing anything. Maybe I’m just really enjoying writing book and movie reviews on my new blog. Maybe that’s simply what I’m supposed to be doing right now, until I can settle down and focus on other writing. But I know I’ll eventually want to do something else, to write my own stories again.

I’ve always tried to wrestle my writing routines into some sort of discipline, because that’s what writers need to do, right? And I do, for the most part–I make sure I sit down with the notebook or in front of the computer screen on a regular basis to write. But I tend to flit from project to project, like a bee gathering pollen, a little here, a little there, with the result of feeling like I never finish anything. It’s a bit depressing.

It’s not true, of course; I have many short stories and countless blog posts that prove otherwise. I also have a lot of unfinished stuff, and ideas floating around like spores. But I think that’s true of most writers. I’m sure there are many out there whose routines are such that they finish the project they’re working on–write, rewrite, edit, polish, seek beta readers, rewrite again, query, send out for publication– before they move onto another. All very orderly. I envy them. But for some, I’m sure, it’s a messier process. We’re creatives, after all; creativity can be messy.

I suppose the point of this post is to remind myself–and maybe some others–to keep going. Just keep writing, no matter where you are in the process (or in your life), no matter what your routine. Keep dipping your toe into that big well of creativity, and something will come to fruition. Or, to stay with my rather clumsy spring metaphor, keep pollinating and something will eventually bloom.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Writer Beware

warning sign

Okay, writer friends, this one’s for you.

I recently received an unsolicited email from a purported small press called Z Publishing, with an “invitation to submit” some of my stories. Apparently they’d come across my blog site and felt they were good enough to include in an “Emerging Writers” anthology. There was no fee for submitting, and after a “careful review” of all the submissions, they’d let me know if one of my stories made it into the anthology.

Sounds great, right? It’s a beginning writer’s (or unpublished writer’s) dream: just post some of your work on your blog, sit back, and wait for the offers of publication to roll in. No work involved! And what a great ego booster–handpicked out of all the thousands of bloggers and writers on the web. After a few minutes of feeling really special, suspicion crept in. Luckily, I wasn’t born yesterday. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

I kept reading. Red flags began to appear. Don’t worry, they said, about 80% of submitted work makes it into the anthology. (Really? Huh.) By the way, there is no payment for writers who submit. (A-ha!) Unfortunately, they’re such a small press and still trying to grow, that they cannot compensate contributors yet. Oh, you can become an affiliate and advertise the anthology on your social media and get a certain percentage of sales…sales that probably are only going to be made by your small circle of family and friends, since the anthology will never see the light of day anywhere else.

So…you can’t pay me, I have to buy the anthology if I want a print copy (otherwise I get a PDF), and I have to market it for you, while you pocket the majority of any income. Hmmm…It’s all starting to become crystal clear to me.

But look what’s in it for you! they go on. The all-important “exposure” element. An invite to our private Facebook group. And we nominate our favorite writings for the Pushcart Prize! (Pushcart, huh?)

By now my ego has been totally deflated, and I’m dripping with sarcasm. And not a little anger. I googled Z Publishing and came across an article that just confirmed my suspicions: it’s one of the many new faces of writing scams under an old trick–vanity anthologies. I knew enough to be suspicious, but some new writers may not, and will fall for this scam, giving their work away for no reward.

Writer friends, I know you’re smarter than that, but just in case–please beware of vanity publishing. If you want to be published, work hard and submit to reputable publishing houses. Read the fine print. And NEVER give away your writing for others to profit off of. You’re better than that, and so am I.

New Venture

key-with-keyboard
Enter a caption

If you’re at all familiar with this blog, you’ll know that I LOVE books, movies, and television. Enjoying other people’s stories is a big part of my life, almost as much as, if not more than, my own writing. I’ve written quite a few book, film and TV reviews for this blog (you can find them under the appropriate categories to the right), and I love doing them.

The problem is, I’ve read in several different places that writing reviews does absolutely nothing for strengthening your writer platform. I get it: you may be drawing readers who also love books and film, but you’re not necessarily drawing in readers for your fiction. The proof is in the numbers: after nearly three years of fairly regular blogging, I’ve snagged a paltry 160 followers. I never dared hope for thousands, but I did hope to get a few more than that. I know it takes time and perseverance for a blog to grow, but I do think there’s room for improvement.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and feel that perhaps the problem is that the blog is too broad–I dump everything in it. Reviews, personal stuff, essays on whatever, as well as my own fiction. I’ve already created another blog for my personal musings on my experiences raising a child with spina bifida (Beautiful Detour )–but I feel I probably need to focus further.

I’ve read various quotes from several different sources claiming that if you want to write, you someday have to stop reading other people’s stories (at least for a time) and write your own. It makes sense. Here’s the thing: I don’t think I can. I’m a bit obsessive about reading books and watching movies and TV. It’s a big part of who I am. I’ve often felt conflicted between the two and pulled in different directions. Am I a writer, or mostly a lover of writing? At this point in my life, with only so much time, I feel I need to choose, and be done with it. The truth is, I can’t.

So I finally come to the point of this post, which is that I’ve created yet another blog, called Page and Screen. In it, I will exclusively write book, film, and TV reviews to my heart’s content, simply because I love to do it. If you care to do so, and are at all interested in my opinions on other people’s stories, please click the link and follow it. If not, that’s okay, too.

Don’t worry, I’ll still write my own stories. I’m far less organized and have no clear plan concerning my fiction, but I can’t imagine giving it up completely. My Writing Journey will remain the home for my musings on the writing life, as well as the occasional personal essay, story or snippet, and other things (things I haven’t quite figured out yet) to increase my fiction writing platform.

So, three blogs? Call me crazy, but yes, I love it, and I’m so grateful for this unique way of exploring my interests and passions.

 

 

A Fun Form of Research

books and science

I’ve been spending the last few months working on the first draft of what is turning out to be a novel. It began as an idea for a short story based on a prompt I came across in Writer’s Digest magazine: Your character hears a knock on the door. When he/she answers it, the person who knocked says, “I’m from the future. I’m here to save your life.”

I loved that prompt, and thought I could do something with it. As I worked on the idea I had for the short story, I realized I wanted to know more about that person who knocked on the door. I wanted to know more about that future he was allegedly from. So I started digging, and wrote some more. And more, and more. Soon enough, it was clear I was writing a novel.

Not what I had planned, but okay. It turns out this particular future–without going into too many details right now–is heavily science-oriented, and science has solved a lot of the world’s problems. Awesome. But because of this, books are rare, and reading literature is not particularly encouraged. My character, named Benjamin, nevertheless discovers the joy of reading. Here’s a sampling of the books he reads in the story:

  • The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells. Since Benjamin is from “the future”, then a time machine must figure in the story somewhere. This book excites him when he reads it as a child.
  • Antigone, by Sophocles. Benjamin has a good friend named Ellen, who aspires to be an actress (which is considered another subversive activity, besides reading literature). She puts on one-woman plays for him, including this one, playing all the characters.
  • Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie. Benjamin is studying law enforcement (considered a second-rate occupation, far beneath the hard sciences–that, and the fact that there’s not much crime to begin with). He discovers a fondness for murder mysteries; though murder is a rare occasion in his world, it becomes horribly real for him later on.
  • 1984, by George Orwell. Benjamin reads this when he is unfairly persecuted simply for being different. He becomes marked and is always being watched. The book mirrors the tyranny that is beginning to bloom in his society.
  • Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Neither Ben, nor my present day character, Brooke, has read this book, but it plays a small, though key, role in the story. And I like the title–there’s a love story in here somewhere, and there is a terrible illness that threatens the future.

I have to confess that either a) it’s been a long time since I’ve read some of these books, or b) I haven’t read some of them at all. If I’m going to mention any of these books in my story, I better have read them and be very familiar with them.

Reading books–what a totally painless form of research! Because I also have to look into sciencey-related things (NOT my strong point), including writing about time travel in a way that doesn’t make a physicist roll her eyes.

I’ve always been a bit lazy about research (or at least whiny about it), but this I can do.

If you’re a writer, do you like research as part of your writing process? Or does it fill you with dread? Any subjects you like better than others? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

First Lines

blank book with letters

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

These are, of course, first lines of famous novels (Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina, and One Hundred Years of Solitude, in case you’re wondering).

If you’re a writer, you inevitably come across writing advice that tells you to pay particular attention to the first line of your story. Whether it’s a novel or flash fiction, its purpose is to not only draw your readers in, but also to set the tone and maybe hint at what is to come.

Perusing some of the books on my shelf, I came across these perhaps less famous but serviceable gems:

  • The King stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored. (Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel).
  • For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in town. (Practical Magic, by Alice Hoffman).
  • I still remember the day when my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time. (Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon).
  • They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days. (My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier).

Coming up with a great first line is an art in itself, and I’m not sure I’ve quite got it down. It takes practice. Personally, I think short story first lines should be punchy and to the point, while novels can ease into a scene–the whole scene taking the place of the first line to grab a reader and lure them in.

Here’s a sampling of some of my short story first lines:

  • Alice left her body for the first time the day George nearly killed her. The Memory of Oranges
  • I went to the river where my husband died, looking for absolution.  Clean
  • Oliver loved the monsters. The Hungry
  • Rose knew they’d be coming soon to implant her. Plugged In

Would you want to continue reading these stories? My hope is yes. Usually with a first draft, I don’t worry about it too much; just begin. Then go back and try to sculpt it into something that says, you just gotta read this. 

What are some of your favorite first lines? Any great ones of your own? Drop me a line and we’ll talk about it!

 

 

 

Sci-fi Shenanigans

So I went to the theater to see Blade Runner 2049, and loved, loved, loved it. Loved the original, and the sequel is just as good (and that’s saying a lot). I haven’t written a review. Just go see it. Right now. I want to again.

gosling blade runner
Ryan Gosling as K/Joe.

But instead I’m pondering the story I’ve been working on the past few weeks. Having been inspired by Blade Runners 1&2 and in that futuristic frame of mind, I was wondering if I could possibly write a decent science fiction story. I’m not particularly scientifically-minded, and the only sci-fi story I’ve attempted is my computer chip-brain-implantation story called Plugged In. 

But I remembered a story idea I had a few years ago based on a writing prompt from Writer’s Digest: someone knocks on your character’s door, says (s)he is from the future and is here to save his or her life. Write the story. I came up with a time-travel idea and wrote the first few pages, but then abandoned it. I’m not sure why, probably distracted by another idea (I have that problem). But now seemed like the perfect time to take it out again, dust it off, and finish that amazing story.

Well, as I began again, my mind started to twist into a pretzel contemplating the realities of time travel. I googled “time travel rules for fiction”, and it turns out there’s a few (at least if you don’t want a physicist to cringe), and my story idea violated most of them. So I brainstormed some more and managed to solve most of those problems. As I brainstormed, my story became more and more complicated, with more characters and some futuristic world-building. More problems cropped up, both logistic and creative. But I didn’t mind; this is what I loved about writing: solving plot problems, creating characters, diving into a world of my own imagining.

As my story became more complex, I realized I was probably writing a novel. Hey, November is coming up. Maybe I could write it for NaNoWriMo. All I had to do was spend the next few weeks of October planning structure and tying up a few loose ends before I began writing the actual story on November 1. But the more I explored the story and its details, the more roadblocks I encountered. It’s like trying to put a puzzle together with pieces that don’t quite fit, trying to force the picture to come into focus. Crap. Now what?

I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to persevere with the idea until I get it right (never mind Nanowrimo), or let it go for now and work on something else. Maybe I’m not cut out for science fiction. Maybe it’s just not meant to be. Or maybe I’m giving up too quickly. Maybe, like marriage, I need to hang in there and hammer out the problems, even when it’s not fun anymore.

Maybe I should just go see Blade Runner again and call it a day.

 

 

Words and Coffee

I prefer to write outside of my home. There are numerous reasons for this:

  • My apartment is small, and I don’t have a “room of one’s own” to write in; I often leave the house to get some privacy (even though I usually go to a place full of people!).
  • When the weather is nice, it’s hard to stay inside and write; when the beauty of the day calls to me, I’ll grab my notebooks and/or computer and walk to wherever it is I’ll write that day (and get a bit of exercise, too).
  • Often, I have cravings: Dunkin Donuts coffee. A chocolate and nut mix at the local co-op. Or there’s absolutely no food in the house, and I’m hungry. Why not go out and eat and drink and write?
  • There are too many distractions at home: my family, of course; a messy, dirty apartment that screams at me to clean it; the television, the phone, the refrigerator, the cat, noisy neighbors. Any number of things to take me away from my desk. Sometimes I write on my computer, but the internet is an alluring distraction–when that happens, I’ll grab just my notebook and get out of the house.
  • Natalie Goldberg, my early writing influence, told me to write in different places, and so that’s what I did, and that’s what I still do. It’s what I’m used to. Although I don’t write in laundromats, as she suggested.

coffee and writing

So where do I go to write? Here are my favorite spots in my town:

  • Greenfield’s Market. My local co-op is a place I’ve been writing in for close to twenty years now. It’s easily my favorite spot; there’s good food and drink, free wi-fi I tend to trust, and two different places to sit and write: downstairs near the sunny windows looking out onto Main Street, or upstairs in the mezzanine which overlooks the entire store (I try not to sit next to the railing–I’ll gaze out and people-watch the whole time if I’m not careful). I’ll drink peach Honest Tea and nibble chocolate trail mix; my friend Vince is often there, working on his haiku or reading his obscure books. He’ll stop by my table and chat for a few minutes, but respects my need for space to work. Familiar strangers surround me, and I feel right at home.
  • Dunkin Donuts. I love Dunkin coffee. In the winter, it’s hot decaf with one cream; in summer, it’s iced with one cream. The donuts don’t tempt me, really; it’s all about the coffee. There are three Dunkins in my town, which really doesn’t seem excessive to me. One is within walking distance, and that’s where I usually go. In the morning, there is a large group of seniors who gather there every day to talk and tell stories and laugh. They’ve come to know me, and call out a few pleasantries. They can become quite raucous, but I don’t mind. I’ve learned to block out distraction from the multitudes, the shriek of the coffee grinders, the employees giving each other shit. It’s all background babble, white noise. It’s wonderful. It smells wonderful, and I smell wonderful when I go home, the coffee clinging to me like an aromatic shawl.
  • Greenfield Public Library. Sometimes I need to go to the library to search for a book or do some research, and I’ll sit and write for awhile in one of the many comfortable nooks provided. There are the big tables in the main room, near the computers and the check-out desk and the magazine racks; but there are more private places nestled near the stacks, with upholstered chairs and low tables with vases of flowers on them, or a table near a window with a view of familiar buildings, seen from unfamiliar vantage points. It’s quiet, mostly, and being surrounded by books has to be the closest thing to heaven I can think of.
  • Greenfield Coffee. I only occasionally frequent this cafe in the center of town, mostly because it’s kind of expensive, and the coffee is darker than I prefer. But I like the wrap-around glass windows looking out at the intersection of town that often steam in winter, and the hardwood floors and the shiny steel espresso makers. It’s fairly small, so I’m lucky to find a seat among the many other solo patrons working on their own projects, on laptops mostly, but some with actual books and notebooks. I feel I’m a part of a special tribe, my tribe, even if I don’t speak a word to them.

My peripatetic writing habit suits me; it’s like leaving home to go to my office to work, except my office is everywhere. I’ve written in doctor’s offices, in my car (not while I’m driving, just in case you’re wondering), at work at my register. I’ve even written at a picnic table on the town common on nice spring days. Come to think of it, I might have written in a laundromat once, a long time ago. With a pen and paper, you can do your work literally anywhere.

If you’re a writer, where do you like to do your work?