Post #52 – Writing Prompts

12/20/18

Do you use them? Do you shun them?

According to Amazon and a perusal of my local Barnes & Nobel, there are numerous books full of writing prompts. How many would you like? There are books with 300, 400, 642 (oddly specific), and 1000. Or, if you want to go big (because there is no reason to go home), how about a box set of 5000! There are books devoted to just science fiction prompts.  Too limiting? There are books for science fiction and fantasy prompts. Not your thing? There are books with prompts for westerns. Too broad? There is a book with prompts for western romances. Clearly, there is something for everyone.

Don’t want to buy? Searching “writing prompts” in Google returned 183 million hits.  Have at it!

Earlier this year, I came across an interesting take on the writing prompt phenomenon.  A literary publication, The First Line, provides authors with a writing prompt in the form of the first line for every story. As the website puts it, “[e]ach issue contains short stories that stem from a common first line.”

I have mixed feelings about prompts. Part of me feels I shouldn’t need them. I can come up with story ideas on my own, can’t I? That’s ego speaking though. I take story ideas from lots of sources, so why is it cheating to use a supplied prompt?

The other part of me is scared to even look at them for fear I’ll come up with a story idea and feel the pressure to write it. For example, I received an email from The First Line with its list of lines for 2019. Instead of one line per quarter, for the journal’s 20th anniversary, they offer several first lines from past issues for each quarter next year. I made the mistake of clicking through to look at the available prompts. I couldn’t even get through those for the first quarter. After reading almost every first line, a story began to form in my head. I couldn’t take it. I had to look away. I didn’t want all these new stories bouncing around in my head while I’m at work, for starters, and also while I’m still plugging away at the WIP novel.

If I had more time, I might consider going for it and attempt to come up with a story for each first line. Even if several went nowhere, there likely still would be numerous ideas worth fleshing out. Right now, I have plenty to keep me busy. I hope I recall correctly Mike Resnick saying he wrote down story ideas on little pieces of paper, which littered his office. Over the years he accumulated so many, he had no hope of ever writing them all. That’s how I would feel if I attempted this.

I actually wrote a nonfiction piece for The First Line. The market accepts essays discussing the first lines of novels. As soon as I read that, I knew I had to write about the first line in Stephen King’s The Gunslinger. So I did. The essay wasn’t accepted by The First Line, but I was pleased when Page & Spine accepted it. You can read it here. Maybe prompts aren’t so bad after all.

Let me know in the comments how you feel about writing prompts. Love ’em or hate ’em?

Photo credit: OpenClipart-Vectors via Pixabay

Post #50 – 2018 NaNoWriMo Recap

12/6/18

Last week, I finished my first NaNoWriMo. I didn’t do too bad, for me. My grand total was 15,616 words written. That’s easily the most I’ve ever written in a month. The least amount of words I wrote in any one day was 110, and the most was 1249. I averaged 520 words a day.

I wrote something every day of the month. That was my biggest achievement. Though I didn’t even get to half of the 50,000 word NaNoWriMo goal, I’d never written every day for an entire month before.

I’m not exactly sure what my expectations were going into NaNoWriMo. I knew I wouldn’t make 50,000 words, but I didn’t have a feeling for what progress I could make. I’ve never tried to hammer out that many words on a single project. I’m still not sure I can, but I intend to keep trying. I plan to continue working on my novel, though not every day. It has a ways to go.

I enjoyed the sense of community created by the NaNoWriMo website and community, though I could have participated more. There were numerous write-ins in my area, not to mention the virtual ones online. My writers club even hosted a write-in, but otherwise my only involvement was watching my friend’s (Michelle McBeth) word count surpass, then double, then triple mine. Like me, she has two small distractions at home, so I’m impressed she found the time. She also has done this before, several times. This is her fifth novel. Congrats to her for winning NaNoWriMo 2018! Check out her work here and grab a copy of one of her novels.

At least with my 15,616 word total, I already reached my word goal for the fourth quarter. Everything else written in December will be gravy. That takes the pressure off, especially since I had a light October. I may even forgo trying to write for most of the month and focus more on reading. I’m feeling the need for a recharge. I always can use my morning runs to plot more scenes in the novel and then use the holidays to write when I may have more free time.

Let me know in the comments if you completed NaNoWriMo. If you didn’t, did you reach your goals? Do you plan to continue adding to your WIP?

Photo credit: StartupStockPhotos via Pickabay

Post #48 – Writing Every Day

11/22/18

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hopefully you are at home with family and friends either recovering from an early afternoon feast or about to dig in.  How’s that conversation with Uncle Ned going?  How many glasses deep are you into the cranberry prosecco?  (It’s available at my local Trader Joes’s, and it’s delicious.)  Has everyone fallen asleep watching the game?

If you at least answered “yes” to the last one, then this post is for you.  Now is the time to write.  Everything I read says to be a better writer you must write (and read, but who has time for both?).  I can’t recall the number of times I’ve read I should write every day.  There’s even recommendations on how to write every day.

I would like to write every day, but if I want to do anything else, that is not realistic.  For example, this month, for NaNoWriMo, I committed to writing every day.  So far I’ve succeeded but at a cost.  I’ve pretty much given up my morning work out.  I try to squeeze that in at lunch but am not always successful. I also usually don’t get enough sleep because I’m trying to get things done in the evening in order to wake and just write.

I’ve done the majority of my writing in the hour before my kids wake up. I usually complete about 400-500 words a day. It’s slow going but progress nonetheless. The problem is it’s progress at the expense of my health. While not working out and sleeping is fine for some, it’s not for me. Once NaNoWriMo is done, I plan to return to my usual routine.

So where does that leave me–going back to doing at least one writing related activity a night. Some nights that will be actual writing. Some nights that will be submitting stories to markets. Some nights it will be researching new markets for story submissions. Other nights it will be learning about the craft of writing. Oh and some nights I might read, as crazy as that sounds.

Current, the NaNoWriMo website says at my current pace I’ll complete 50,000 words by the first week of February. However, my goal is 80,000 to have a fighting chance at a marketable book. When I started this month, I thought I would finish all 80,000 words by February. Now I’m thinking I’ll be lucky if I finish by Summer 2019.

If I go back to my old routine, I no longer know what a manageable goal is. 11,000 words a month? That’d mean another six months. This year I’ve averaged a little more than that over each quarter, so 11,000 words a month may be aggressive. Plus I’d still like to work on new short stories and continue to submit those I’ve completed to various markets (and submit them elsewhere as the rejections roll in).

I still have over a month to figure out my 2019 writing goals. That’s plenty of time, right?

Let me know in the comments if you successfully write every day and what you give up to do so.

Photo credit: tigerlily713 via Pixabay

Post #46 – NaNoWriMo 2018

11/8/18

It’s here. Like a baby that takes 12 months rather than 9, it’s here. It’s National Novel Writing Month.

What have I done so far, and what do I plan to do the rest of the month? I’m so glad you asked. I initially debated whether to keep writing several work-in-progress short stories with the 50k word goal in mind or actually work on my yet-to-be-started novel. Then it dawned on me the name of this activity has “novel” in it. There’s my answer.

So I began. No more procrastinating. No more character development, though the characters need it. No more developing the various settings, though they need it too. I’m finally putting words on the screen for the novel.

Luckily, I already had mapped out the four settings and three of the four main characters in the novel, so I wasn’t starting from scratch. So far, I’ve written an introductory chapter for each of those three characters. I’m also pleased to report that while doing so, the fourth main character coalesced in my mind, and I’ve written her introductory chapter as well.  Now I’ll see how much further I get. The holes in the backstory for these character is coming to me as I write each chapter or as I do my plotting during a run. I’m making a real effort to avoid the info dump and sprinkle that history in as I go, not only in the introductory chapter but in later chapters as well.

I’m enjoying the process, but it’s still daunting. As of today, I’ve written 4395 words, essentially a short story. The small number is a reflection of my limited time to write rather than my commitment. I’ve managed to add to that total every day this month, and I hope to continue that streak to November 30. Even so, my biggest fear is I’ll end up with a novella length work rather than a novel. If that happens, I’ll have to decide whether to continue adding more conflict to get to novel length or polish the novella and submit that to willing markets. I should be so lucky to have to make such a decision.  I plan to have a follow-up blog post the first week of December to confirm how I did.

Let me know in the comments if you’re attempting NaNoWriMo this year and how’s it going.

Photo credit: Free-Photos via Pixabay

Post #44 – Writing Retreats

10/25/18

Are they worth it? Are they comparable or better than writing conferences such as CapClave, which includes small workshops in addition to panel discussions with writers and editors?

And what to choose? A blogger I follow, Luke Tarzian, recently went on a writing cruise. There’s, of course, Clarion West and Odyssey. This Wired article on the Strangely Competitive World of Sci-Fi Writing Workshops was eye opening too.

Then there is Writers of the Future, if you place in the contest. I admit I am skeptical about this contest given L. Ron Hubbard’s history. Based on what I’ve seen online, the contest and retreat appear to be legit.  Also, big names in the speculative fiction realm attend every year and teach during the retreat, but it’s hard to overlook the Scientology connections as reported here and elsewhere.

Nevertheless, I’ve submitted a story every quarter for the last year.  One of my stories got through the first round of judging recently, and I admit I am intrigued by the possibility of spending a week learning the craft. Since I’ve continued to submit a story every quarter, it may still happen eventually, though my conscience is weighing heavily on me these days.

The thing about Writers of the Future is it’s free. Otherwise, I don’t know if I can justify both paying for the retreat and taking the time off from work. One seems manageable. Both seems burdensome.

Maybe it’s an investment I need to make to get better. A couple beta readers have mentioned I’ve noticeably improved since starting out, which was a great ego boost. But I don’t want to plateau. I know I’m far from a good writer, and I want to continue to improve. I’m thinking it’ll be an investment to make when one of the two constraints are lifted, i.e. the retreat is free or I’m retired.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve attended a writers retreat, which one, and what you thought of it.

Photo credit: Christian Georg via Pixabay