Inside the soul of a writer

A Short Story

When I first started writing, I had trouble writing a story with a specific word count. I’d want to keep making the action move forward or describing the world I’d developed or putting more description and development into my characters. In other words, I would meander through my writing. 🙂 Now, that’s fine for the first draft of a novel or a short story. But then, I would need to enter the editing process, and I wasn’t sure of the best way to do that. So today, I thought I would describe the process I’ve been learning in my class about how to write a short story and about making word count. Then, I’ll post the story I wrote for my class for your reading enjoyment.

The first thing I learned was to make each word count whether it was a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, or any other part of speech. If one word could say what I wanted it to write better than two or three, it was all the better for my writing. The trouble I ran into was which words to use so I put a lot of thought into it while I was writing the first draft of my story and while I was editing it. It was a good process for me to learn–to make my story truly say what I wanted it to say and to make it “lean and mean” as some of my author friends would say.

The second thing I learned wasn’t necessarily from my class, or maybe it was something mentioned, but something I had already decided to try. I decided to write my short story about a moment in time. If the moment wasn’t a long-lasting moment, then it would be more likely I would hit the word count I needed to hit. It was interesting theory. I started writing, and the moment in my head started appearing on paper. I used the best words I could think of for each part fully describing the moment, but trying to be economical with them as well.

Did I hit my word count? No, I didn’t, and that brings me to the next thing I learned. I learned about editing and how it was supposed to work. When I finished the first draft of my piece, it was about ninety words more than I needed. I had been careful about my word usage, but my story wasn’t where it needed to be. This was where the editing came in. I was able to go back through my story and find more words I didn’t need or find a better way to state something with fewer words. I found I understood the process better after going through it this time for some reason. My story felt stronger, and I felt like it conveyed what I wanted it to say. I know this knowledge will help me as I begin to edit longer pieces and as I submit my work for possible publication.

Here is my story, “Belonging”, for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

Crash! Clank! Melissa hung her head in shame. This was the second time this week her lunch had ended up on the floor. The cafeteria workers ran to clean up the mess, and she was sure she heard the Spanish word for clumsy in there. She replied in kind. “No soy terpe. Alguien me empujo.” A torrent of Spanish came from the worker.

After taking the sandwich thrust at her by the manager, she turned to go to her table. She gazed at the crowd. There was no indication of who had pushed her, but two of the cheerleader brats were hiding their faces behind their hands. Emily saw her staring and raised her hand in salute. “Enjoy your sandwich, geek girl!”

Knowing that Emily had failed their Spanish test earlier, Melissa yelled, “te odio, perra!” She walked away from the crowd. After sitting down at a table in the corner, Melissa gave rein to her churning thoughts. ‘I hate this place. I wish we had never left Peru.’ Her parents had been teachers at the international school in Lima, and she had loved her life. She had been accepted there. But now they were back in the United States, and she had to go to this stupid school.

“Excuse me, young lady.” Melissa looked up to see one of the janitors sweeping near her table. “I like your hair.”

“You do?” She cradled the magenta ends of her hair. “It’s inspired by Gamora on Guardians of the Galaxy. She’s so kick-ass.” She gazed at the long table with the cheerleaders and football players. “And she wouldn’t let Emily push her around either.”

The janitor followed her gaze. “Don’t worry about her. She’s gonna get what’s coming.” He stuck out his hand. “Name’s Oscar. What’s yours?”

“Melissa.” She shook his hand. It was nice to feel comfortable with someone. “What do you mean?”

“Watch.”

Melissa saw the cheerleading coach walk up to the long table. The coach spoke to Emily. “Due to your score on the Spanish test today, you are on probation. Gotta get those grades up, Emily.”

Emily screeched. “You can’t do that, Coach!” She tossed her hair. “I’m a cheerleader.”

The coach spoke again. “Yes, I can. You need to listen. Cheerleading isn’t everything.”

“But it is!” She burst into tears as the coach walked off.”

Melissa grinned. “You were right, Oscar. She did get what was coming.”

“Keep watching,” said Oscar.

At the table, the football captain was speaking. “You have to move.”

“Why?” asked Emily.

“You made the rule. Only cheerleaders and football players can sit at this table.” He gestured to another table. “Move along.”

Melissa wasn’t able to contain her laughter. “Best day yet at this school.” She looked back at Oscar who had a slight disapproving look on his face. “Sorry.”

“I need to get back to work,” said Oscar. “Let me tell you something. You are worth ten of those girls, even with your magenta hair. And…you’re gonna find your tribe. In fact, I think you and Natasha would get along just fine.” He motioned to the door where a red-haired girl had come in. “Ask her to eat with you.”

Melissa recognized the girl from her math class. “I will, Oscar. Thanks.” She turned back, and he had disappeared. “Huh? That was weird.” She watched Natasha go through the line and motioned her over to the table. As they both sat down to eat, Melissa realized she might have a chance to belong in her new school after all. She looked up. “Thank you, Oscar.”

 

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Style

This week I’ve started a creative writing class through Wesleyan University called The Craft of Style. It’s part of a set of writing courses for people who are planning to participate in NaNoWriMo in November. In case you don’t know what this means, the abbreviation stands for National Novel Writing Month where those of us who are of the writing persuasion try to complete the first draft of a 50,000 word novel during the month. Anyway, back to my course. I thought for the next few weeks I would write about what I’m learning and provide excerpts from my writing assignments so I can accomplish some “practicing in public” time.

First up is style. Scribophile.com defines style like this. “Style is like a fingerprint, no two are alike. A function of diction, syntax, and voice, style tends to emerge from how you write rather than from a concerted effort to control it.” This is where I’ve always confused style with some of the other elements of writing. How can style be taught? Isn’t style just our own way of writing?

The answer to that is yes…and no. Notice the definition includes “diction, syntax, and voice.” I believe that is what makes style similar to setting, and it also explains how they’re both interrelated with description. The professor is using description to teach us about style, and it’s been fascinating so far. I’ve learned about taking a piece of writing and making it more vivid by the words I’ve used. I’ve also learned that making scenes clear and vivid are the underpinnings to having a great story. I rewrote something I had written a few months as part of an assignment using what I had learned and was intrigued by how different it sounded when I read it.

I know I have a lot more to learn about style and the other elements of writing, but, for now, here is my latest piece of writing for you to peruse.

Description Assignment

Kathleen Whitaker and her daughter Olivia looked up and around in fascination, barely noticing that their limousine had driven away. There was the red and black pagoda featuring the poster of the movie Kathleen had come to review. The building appeared as traditionally Chinese as the buildings she had seen in Beijing two years ago. She could sense the history oozing out of the building and into her pores. Looking up as she walked forward and studied the building, Kathleen didn’t see the person in front of her until it was too late. Oof! Crash! It was one of the waiters carrying a tray of cocktails. Kathleen helped him steady the tray. “So sorry, sir.”

He didn’t reply and walked off. She was almost sure she could hear him saying, ‘Tourist yokels,’ under his breath. She thought of replying that she was most certainly not, but then realized she had been acting like a tourist yokel. It was time to focus. She turned to her daughter who was wearing a gown identical to hers except Olivia’s was royal blue, and hers was midnight black. “So Livy, what do you think of your old mom now?” She motioned to the crowd and historic buildings around them. “Do you like it?”

Olivia was bouncing with excitement. “Mama, this is so fancy.” Her eyes widened at the sight of the red carpet. “Do we really get to walk on it?” Her mother nodded glad to see her so excited. They followed the crowd of reporters there for the premiere into the theater. Everyone oohed and ahhed at the gift shop, the concession stand, and finally, the elegant staircase and escalator leading to the theater itself. It was all so beautiful. She could hardly believe she had been asked to come to such an elegant place. Now, to see if the movie was as good as the theater it was being shown in.

Have a great day, everyone!

Dancing Better than Myself

Sorry about the lack of an entry last week. Life was…overwhelming. Anyway, back to today. How is dancing anywhere near like writing? Bear with me. All will be made clear.

I get many of my topics for this blog from my writing inspiration book, and today was no different. The entry was about Mikhail Baryshnikov who is recognized as one of the greatest ballet dancers of the twentieth century. I learned snippets about his life in communist Russia and when he danced with the Bolshoi Ballet before defecting to the United States. One thing I was surprised by was that he was not a star dancer for the ballet. He only had secondary roles because of his height. Maybe that was his reasoning behind saying these words. “I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.” He knew he would need to work hard to get to where he wanted to be so he set goals for himself that reflected his primary goal. His opportunity did come, and I was reminded of the benefits of setting goals.

It’s the same way with writing. We need to set standards for our own writing and work on continually improving our craft. I found it interesting that the author of my inspiration book says this as one of my goals is also publication. “Just as Baryshnikov set out to dance for himself, you must write for yourself. Even if your vision is to have a work published, you must first write a work that’s pleasing to you and that meets the standards you have set for your own writing.” (The Writer’s Daily Companion, Amy Peters)

Dancing better than myself or writing for myself. They both remind me of something that I think can be important for any career or pastime. Having a heart for it and going back to the basics for it. When my sons, who are both in college now, chose their majors, they looked for things they were passionate about. Things they could imagine themselves doing in the long-term. I look back on the process now and can’t imagine them not having a career in either. They have a heart for what they want to do in their lives, and I know it is something that will sustain them.

Then, there’s going back to the basics. Each career has something that’s basic to the heart of it. For the dancer, it’s the ballet barre. For the veterinary technologist, it’s animals and taking care of them. For the sports manager, it’s the love of the game. And, for the writer, it’s the page. Always the page. It’s where I find my heart and where I find my words. I hope as we all set our goals and do our best to meet them, we remember the passion that first brought us to writing and keep going no matter what.

Have a great day, everyone!

Struggles with Writing

When I was thinking of today’s topic, the word struggle came to mind. We all have struggles in our lives whether with writing or anything else. Then, I thought of all the struggles I have had or am having as I seek to chase my dream of becoming a published author. I know those of you who write have had struggles (And if you haven’t, message me. I want to know your secret. 🙂 ) so I thought I would explore my thoughts and feelings on the subject.

I believe the first struggle is finding the time to actually write words on the page. Most of us have other jobs, whether paying or not, that demand our time. Our world has hundreds if not thousands of distractions as well. The desire to write our stories, to write our words down needs to be strong enough to overcome this inertia or anything else the world might throw at us.

When we get to the table with our notebook or our computer, we reach the next struggle. What do we write about? What story idea churning in our brain will be the first to see the light of the computer screen or the notebook page? I also count writer’s block in the middle of a story as part of this category because it’s all the same thing. What words should we put on the page? This can be the place where we’re stopped forever from sharing our stories, or it can be the place where we push through and get our stories out of our brains.

Another struggle we can have is learning how to write well. I’m sure most of us have first attempts at writing stories or books that are stored away in our notebooks or on our computers never to see the light of day. We have these stories to share, but learning how to write them well is our way of making them accessible to the people we hope will read them. It is also our way of showing others we take our craft seriously.

Answering the question of why we write can be another struggle. Do we want the recognition that comes from publishing a book? Are accolades or a big paycheck (or any paycheck at all) part of our reason for going to our writing desks each day and working to make our stories the best they can be? Or is it a need or compulsion to put words on the page? As always, all I need to do to find people’s reasons for writing is to google “why I write” on the Internet. I found some interesting ones today.

From Anne Frank: “I can shake off everything as I write, my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

This quote from Flannery O’Connor is one I’ve seen often. “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

I thought this quote from Joss Whedon was beautiful. Or I might be including it because I loved his TV show, Firefly. Not sure which. 🙂  “I write to give myself strength, be the characters that I am not, explore all the things I am afraid of.”

And finally, from Joanne Harris. “You write because you need to write, or because you hope someone will listen or because writing will mend something broken inside you or bring something back to life.”

All of these quotes resonated with me, and they give me strength as I come to the next struggle of writing. Rejection letters. Yes, I’ve finally had the courage to start submitting my stories to different publications to see if they might be interested. Nothing has happened so far so I’m getting…rejection letters. They’re a badge of honor for me though. They represent the overcoming of a fear–the fear that my writing isn’t worth seeing. Sure, some people might not like it, but I know there is someone out there who eventually will, and that is the most important reason of all to keep trying.

So, with all of these struggles in mind, I thought it would help me to develop my own writing manifesto. My own reasons for writing when the struggle gets to be too much. Maybe, someday, someone will quote me, or, if nothing else, my family will understand why I wrote.

I write because it helps me understand a situation when I am too scared to talk. I write because it helps people to understand me. I write to gain courage to live my life and share my insights with others.

Have a great day, everyone!

 

The Nature of Friendship

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about friendship, and I wrote a post for my other blog about it, http://thrivingingrace.com/whats-comes-next-friendship/. I’ve been trying to work out how friendship is going to look in the next stage of my life. I’ve also been working my way through some loneliness for the past few months that I’ve hoped the answers to my friendship questions would resolve. In my own life, answers have been coming, but I think they would have come sooner if I had remembered the information I’m going to write about today. Friendship happens in stages which I think would be helpful for all of us to remember.

Nowadays, almost anything can be googled on the Internet with many results being available in seconds. The topic of friendship is not immune. I found that I had been skipping over some stages of friendship in order to achieve the close friendships I was looking for. I had also been trying to put people in my life into categories where they did not fit. And, I think this is the most important, I had been trying to imprint my Christian faith onto friendships that weren’t necessarily ready for that level of closeness

I am grateful to the writer of the article I found, Jermaine Tucker, and what he wrote on humans.media about the stages of friendship. It echoed what someone else in my life had told me about friendship. We need to give friendships time to develop like we give dating relationships. We also need to realize that some friendships might not ever pass by the casual friendship stage even though we might profess the same faith.

Here are the stages and a brief description of each quoted from Mr. Turner’s article which also referenced Waiting and Dating by Dr. Myles Munroe.

1) “Stranger–the lack of awareness of another’s existence.”

2) “Acquaintance or Associate–the occasional interacting that you experience with a person.”

3) “Casual Friend–where a person can actually say that they know a person.” Most interactions stay at this place because a person is not interested in emotionally investing in another person for whatever reason.

4) “Close Friend–people have invested in each other personally and emotionally. Both people have seen each other at their best and at their worst, and they have stayed around regardless.”

5) “Intimate Friend–an individual who you are familiar with. This stage is attained over time, through shared experiences, and most important, through vulnerability.”

I had been trying to put intimate friendship characteristics onto people who, by all rights, should stay in the casual friend stage. No wonder I was frustrated and lonely. People weren’t interested in what I had to say, and I wasn’t getting it. They didn’t want me to be vulnerable in front of them. In fact, I felt like I was the only one who wasn’t getting it so I was relieved to find that trying to jump friendship levels is fairly common. Many of us do it without even thinking about it. People can think they are BFF’s one minute, and the next minute be sworn enemies. I’ve gotten old enough now though that I’m no longer interested in those rapid shifts. I want to know that the close friendships I feel are reciprocated so I know what to expect, and I want to know that people are actually interested in sharing life with me before I am vulnerable in front of them.

Hope this has been helpful for someone.

Have a great day, everyone!

Life is Short

I was struggling with what to write this week. I had thought of beginning to include some short fiction pieces in this blog so I could continue my practicing in public, but nothing was coming to me. Then, I started looking through one of my writing prompt books, and I found a question. This question, along with events that have happened in the last few days, gave me my answer. Here’s the prompt. “What is something you have learned in the past few days?”

The answer, of course, is today’s title, but there is so much more than just those three words. I’m not going to go into detail about the events themselves to preserve my friends’ privacy. I just want to write about how they affected me personally. As you can imagine, both events had a “life is short” theme, and I thought about what I had been working through for the past few months. Thought about how I had felt awkward showing my true self because I wanted to fit in and feel less lonely. Thought about how I had felt my true self wasn’t worthy to be shown even though I am a daughter of God. Thought about how I had felt like I was standing on a precipice.

But, God showed me where my thinking had been wrong, and I said, “Enough!” He reminded me of Psalm 139:13-15. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.” He made me the way I am, and He wants me to acknowledge it as I live my life in His service. Just because another Christian brother or sister is doing something doesn’t mean God wants me to do it and just because others feel the need to put up shields doesn’t mean I have to. My true self is worth showing! I’m going to show it, and if someone doesn’t like it, that’s too bad. God has too much work for me to do to reach those on the edges for me to do otherwise. Life is too short for me to try to fit into a mold even if that mold is the church. God doesn’t call for us to fit into a mold either. He calls for us to have a heart like His, and I know He wants me to show my true self as I share His love.

So, as I think about my friends and the events they are having to deal with, I will think about what God has taught me and put it into practice in my life. Very thankful for my Lord and Savior who is the truest friend I have!

Hope everyone has a great day!

 

Writing Quotes

I thought I would take the opportunity today to share some quotes about writing I have come across recently and share what they mean to me. There is wisdom in the people who have come before me, and I want to make sure I take advantage of it.

First is a quote by Maya Angelou. I came upon this yesterday in a Facebook post by Jeff Goins, and all I could think of was how true it was because it gave me the idea for today’s post. Here’s the quote. “When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.'” I was working on my latest piece, and nothing was happening. I couldn’t think of anything to write so I just started writing words. Words I knew would come out in editing. And then something in my brain clicked. It was something that would take my story in a direction I’d never thought of. It was good too. I started writing, and before I knew it, I had written several hundred words. Not bad for an afternoon’s work. So, that’s what the muse coming feels like, I thought. I’ll have to remember this the next time I get stuck.

The second quote was just as illuminating as the first. From George Washington Carver, “When you do common things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.” This quote helped me to know that I need to become comfortable writing in my own voice. Yes, lessons are helpful. Yes, I can gain wisdom from those who have come before me. But, I will be the most successful at this writing craft when I let my voice infuse my words which will turn into stories only I can write.

I especially liked the third quote from nineteenth-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. I had never thought of dancing as anything but what you do with your feet, but I liked how he related it to writing. Here’s the quote. “Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education; dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and, need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen?” That’s how our words come alive, I would think. Come alive in the reader’s mind; come alive in those who would like to see the change reflected in our words; come alive for humanity. Dancing with my words so that they reflect who I am–this is something I aspire to as a writer.

Finally, there is this quote from Gustave Flaubert. “The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” I have found this to be true for me. Writing is the third component to sealing a belief in my heart. I can see something in writing. I can hear someone read something. But, before it goes into my personal belief system, I have to write it down. I have to write my own beliefs in words I can understand before I can say I believe them. It is as important to me as someone else’s creativity is to them. Writing is how I express my heart and soul to the world.

So, there it is. Four writing quotes and how they apply to my life. May we all be willing to glean wisdom from others as we discover our own writing voice!

Hope everyone has a great day!