Netherlands-Belgium-Luxembourg Writing Adventure

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Last year, I blogged here and here about writing while on vacation in France. Both the cultural experiences, mostly art museums, and the setting in Paris and the French Riviera were inspiring. Though my writing had nothing to do with either, I hammered out a good many words and better yet, felt productive.

This year, the family toured the Benelux countries. There was plenty of culture to soak up, but it felt different. The Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam was impressive and should be inspiring to any artists out there. My oldest daughter enjoys attempting to recreate the works of famous artists and had brought along her own self portrait to compare to Van Gogh’s numerous ones. But I didn’t feel the inspiration, like the year before.

I still managed to get some words on the screen. Most of the trip I worked on a new short story. I’m continuing to work on that one now that we’re home. It needs one more scene, which just happens to be the climax, so not difficult at all! I also wrote a flash story that’s a little political satire.

One of the last days in Luxembourg, the kids got these chocolate eggs that had a toy inside each. My wife tells me it’s a thing. Well, one of the little toys was a miniature dolphin. Like any toy these days, it came with instructions and a chocking hazard warning—in 30+ languages. This thing is like Pit Bull, worldwide.

And darned if that set of instructions wasn’t inspirational. A flash story idea popped into my head, and I got it on the screen that night with a few tweaks the next day.

Before these vacations, I hadn’t thought much about locations being inspirational, especially since I don’t write stories set in these locals. Now I know the location itself can feed the creative drive even if your story is set out in the solar system. Going forward, I need to make sure our vacations are set in the appropriate locales, and we visit the necessary sights, to get the creative energy going. I also need to read more toy instructions.

Let me know in the comments if you derive inspiration from your writing locations—or toy instructions.

The First Sentence

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How important is the first sentence? A Writers Path had a recent post on the importance of the first sentence setting the tone for the entire story. That blog also had a similar post on The Importance of a Great Literary First Impression.

Aeryn Rudel of Rejectomancy had a post as well where he analyzed the first lines from his stories that were published last year. And The Write, Already! blog recently had a series of posts promoting John Brueckner’s “892 Opening Lines” book. There’s even a publication dedicated to the first sentence called, not so coincidentally, The First Line. I’ve posted previously about that publication.

I also recall an editor of Asimov’s or Analog year’s ago discussing how important the first sentence was. What I recall, whether I remember correctly or not, essentially was if the first sentence didn’t grip him, it had little chance of being purchased.

Clearly, this is on a lot of people’s minds. So have I practiced this philosophy? I’ve certainly tried with varying amounts of success. I’ve also tried to vary my approach. Sometimes the first line is dialogue. Other times it’s the narrator speaking.

To date my favorite is from a story I’m still shopping around. Indeed, I hope to use it as the lead story in my short story collection submitted to the C. Michael Curtis Short Story Book Prize. (I wrote about this contest here.) The line is: “The naked man ran screaming from the room.” Don’t you want to read on to know why he is both naked and screaming? I thought so; I haven’t gotten an editor to bite yet though.

Do you try to nail that first line before proceeding with a story, or do you not worry about it? Do you have any first lines you’re especially proud of? Let me know in the comments.

 

1Q19 Update

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The first quarter of the new year is done, so it’s time to check on the ole productivity.

  • Words written = 11,070
  • Submissions = 26
  • Rejections = 32
  • Acceptances = 0
  • Publications = 1
  • Awards = 0

Not terrible, but not great. A fourth of my 2019 word goal of 60,000 would be 15,000. I fell short of that one, but I did better than I thought. I found it difficult to write this quarter.  Free time was not abundant, and when I had it, I felt unmotivated to write. I even had two business trips–my favorite writing opportunities–and still got very little writing done.

So what did get done? About 4000 of those words were the result of flash fiction stories. I finished three of roughly 1000 words and then another four that were some amount less than that. In addition, I added a little to the WIP novel (1600 words) and about 450 words to various existing stories I edited before sending out again. I also wrote the first 600 words in a story I’m collaborating on with a fellow novice speculative fiction writer.  I hope to have the opportunity to keep adding to the word total in that work.

The largest chunk of writing went toward finishing my long suffering novella. That was another 4200 words. I am pleased to report that project is now done! Well, the first draft is done. This was a weird one. Most of the novella is in final form already having finished it last summer. However, the consistent critique from my beta readers was it lacked a proper ending. So that’s what I’ve worked on adding intermittently for the last six months. I’ll have to see what my beta readers think now.

My goal was to finish the novella and then break it up into its three component short stories. That way I could include all three stories in the short story collection contest I plan on submitting to by the April 15th deadline. The rules for that contest limit any one story to 15,000 words. The problem is, even with breaking the novella into three stories, the third story now clocks in at 16,200 words. Whoops! Don’t worry, I have plenty of other stories to include in the collection. Besides, the newly written part needs editing anyway before it’s ready for submission.

I also was disappointed not to have an acceptance this quarter. Admittedly, I didn’t maximize my chances, having taken several stories out of circulation, so they’d be available to include in the contest collection. Still, I’d really like to get to where I’m receiving at least one acceptance a quarter. Those are huge motivators.

I did have one publication in Issue 8 of Broadswords and Blasters. Buy the issue here!  It’s a noir detective story with a sci-fi twist.

So that’s it. How’d your first quarter go? Let me know if the comments if you had any triumphs or failures.

Flash Fiction Workshop

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My Writers Club hosted an excellent flash fiction workshop last week. We invited local author, editor, and teacher Tara Campbell to lead the workshop. Another club member and I had attended a writing salon she taught at the National Gallery of Art. Space is limited for those, but if you’re in the DC area, I recommend attending. I left with most of a flash story drafted. Though I’m still shopping that piece around, I’m proud of the outcome.

This time, Tara led a shorter workshop focusing on three types of flash stories. The first task was to produce a story about an ordinary, everyday ceremony but with a twist. The second was to write something autobiographical about a time in our life when we experienced anxiety. The final story was to be something procedural, like a recipe or some other set of instructions but embedding a story therein.

We were given 10 minutes to write each time. And darned if I didn’t come up with ideas for each immediately and get most of a story for each on the screen in that time. The next day I finished all three and polished them a little, but most of the stories were there already. I’d count that as a productive workshop, and if you need inspiration, I recommend using the same three scenarios as the basis of for three stories.

In the interest of full disclosure, these stories are not long. They aren’t even typical flash length. Two are 200 words and the third is 300. However, I think each is a complete, self-contained story. I don’t have any plans to flesh them out further. I like them the way they are.

I intend to shop them around to the flash fiction markets. I haven’t had a flash piece accepted yet. Maybe one or more of these will break that logjam.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve attended a flash fiction workshop and whether you were pleased with the results. Did you get one or more stories out of it? Did you have any success in getting those stories published?

Where to stop?

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I previously posted about different takes on when a writer stops writing for the day (or night).  Some writers keep going until meeting a specific word goal. Others try to finish a chapter or short story. Still others set a time limit and stop when the counter reaches zero.

For those that write toward a word goal or for a set time, I came across an interesting debate. Where do you stop when you reach the word goal or time limit? Do you finish the page? Do you finish the paragraph? Do you even finish the sentence?

Common sense seems to advocate at least finishing the sentence–if not paragraph–the writer is on when reaching his or her self-imposed limit. What if you forget the idea you’re working on? What if you can’t replicate the writing grove you’re in the next time?

I certainly followed this line of reasoning. When I had more time to write, my goal for a writing session was to finish a scene. If I finished that scene before my writing time ran out, I’d usually still quit, enjoying the sense of accomplishment and the unexpected free time. I also dreaded getting in the grove of writing the next scene and having to stop midway.

As my time to write decreased, I had to settle for stopping at the appointed time. Even so, I would finish the paragraph I was on. Then I listed to an interview with speculative fiction author Tim Powers on the Reading and Writing Podcast. He writes each day to a specific word goal and stops when he reaches that goal, regardless of whether he is in the middle of paragraph or in the middle of a sentence. He argues it is easier and more exciting to resume writing when you have to dive back into the middle rather than starting at the beginning of something new.

I was skeptical but put this nugget in the back of my mind. Lately, as my writing time each day diminished further, I almost had no choice but to give it a shot. I first ended a couple evening writing sessions at the end of a sentence, no matter if it was the end of a paragraph. Then, I took the leap and ended in the middle of a sentence. It was a line of dialogue, and I simply stopped three words in. The next evening I picked it right back up with little hesitation.  And I didn’t hate it.

It worked so well, I’ve continued with this technique. Sometimes that last paragraph or sentence can take another 2, 5, or 10 minutes. I’m already under pressure to finish and get ready for bed, which can’t help the writing process. So now I stop. Period. Though admittedly, the stopping point is not necessarily a period.

If you haven’t already, I recommend giving this approach a try. If you have or when you do, let me know in the comments what you think. Did it work for you, or was it a catastrophe?