A Year of ‘Spare’ Change

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A year of ch-ch-ch-changes  for us (thank you, Mr. Bowie).

Last year at this time this blog was only a twinkle in our left eyes. We would soon be on a family vacation where we decided to take time every other day to write side by side on our own ‘blog posts,’ for the future when we’d start one.

We had different concepts, and perhaps that comes through. Maybe not.

The book was in the beginning stages with an initial idea. We had no sense of the journey’s magnitude ahead or what it would be like to collaborate on a project this large.

We worked on a few little things together, such as a relative’s dating site profile (it worked!), a resume or two, and a few short stories by that time.

We didn’t know at the time of writing these smaller pieces that it would actually turn into, ‘Let’s write a book together.’

Now we’re here, one year later. So much has changed, but we can see that it has been on a consistent upward trajectory.

Where we’re at now – We have started this very blog. Our book is written and in its final drafting. Our cover is finished, and we are elated with it. We are researching the best way(s) to go about publishing it. We did have a period where we thought we knew, but further research revealed a lack of integrity from their partner company, so we’re back at the drawing board. We plan to create a rubric to evaluate different publishers. Any advice or experience anyone has to share is greatly appreciated.

Thank you for being with us. We appreciate your company.

 

 

Concocting an Inspiration Buffet

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A topic came up for us last week. We were discussing where our inspiration comes from when we begin a new writing project. Dozens of suggestions clamored to the surface and different ones tugged on each of our sleeves.
Primarily for Andrea, it’s her intuition. She tunes in, and the story calls to her.
For Leslie, it’s more visual. It can be a memory tangent or a photograph as the catalyst. It can be picturing the characters in action or conversation. Any piece of art can get her started.
Other times it’s a combination of those two, with additional spices added.
We stay alert to opportunities around us which leads to asking questions that draw out the story. This is about making a conscious decision to fly manually. We come out of autopilot and listen to the world around/inside of us.
It can be as simple walking down Main Street, seeing an always deserted restaurant full of people and wondering what led to this moment. Questions beget other questions, and soon a plot develops. Will it be a mystery? A comedy, drama, or something supernatural? Only time will tell.
We do know that it’s important to be open to inspiration everywhere we go. It could be our next story.
Where do you get your inspiration?

Whys and What Ifs?

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Questions lead places. They don’t stop like words do at the end of a sentence. They’re an invitation to go somewhere potentially new and bountiful.

 

I use powerful questions in my coaching practice, and I use a different set when I write. I ask myself ‘What if?’ and ‘Why?’ plus the rest of the ‘W & H’ questions to get deeper into plot and character development and motivating goals.

 

Let’s say I want to write a short story featuring a ham sandwich. Before or after doing some preliminary brainstorming, whether listing, mind-mapping, or stacking categories/subsets, I would develop tangents that might come from the food and ask:

 

Why is the sandwich important?

How did it enter the story?

When was it made?

What is its composition?

Who will eat it?

Where are they located: the eater and the food?

 

I might write out a few sets of those like reps at a gym, just for fun. Then I prioritize which questions are most central to the story I feel forming in my brain. After I do that, I begin with, ‘What ifs?’

 

What if it’s poisoned?

What if it was stolen from someone who struggles for food every day?

What if the bread is moldy?

What if it has a smell that brings back an important memory?

What if it’s the last food available?

What if it falls on the floor and/or gets stepped on?

What if there’s a paper inside that contains the password for an important account?

 

I could go on quite a while like this, but when I finish for the time being, again I prioritize them. I see which ones have the most potential and are of the most interest to me.

 

Do you use questions in your writing? Have you found any helpful ways to think about them that give you more mileage? We’d love to hear questions, snippets, topics, anything you’d like to share as an example of your questioning strategy.

A question may be simple, but it’s a powerful tool for life and creativity.

 

“Ella… the Untold Story”

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For today’s post, we are sharing a short story written on Day 25 of Andrea’s Creative Writing course. The prompt on that day was one that is especially fun as fairy tales often contain skeletal story elements, ripe soil for creative change and embellishment. Here goes the prompt: “Write a fairy tale that changes the ending and other elements of the original.”

“Ella… the Untold Story”

  “Ella, are you going to sit there all day while I’m out hunting and keeping the kingdom safe?”

“Yup. Pretty much. You promised me an exciting life, and all I get to do is stare at these same four stone walls.”

His tone softened as he sat down next to her. “I don’t want anything to happen to you. You know how the other kingdoms are always trying to take us down. If anything ever happened to you, I would be devastated. There’s plenty for you to do around here.”

“Like what, dear King? Order this one around or that one? I am watched 24/7. I’ve freakin had it with the microscope I live under. The only time I get to myself is when I’m on the throne, if you know what I mean. Even then I’m not so sure. I see how the others look at me when I leave the loo.”

“Oh Ella. You’re being paranoid. No one is watching you.”

“If you say so. But I don’t buy it. Not one bit.”

“I’ll prove it to you. Go for a walk around the garden. No one will follow you. I promise.”

“Okay. I’ll do that.” Ella gave him a kiss on the cheek and was on her way.

After she left, he went behind the large wall tapestry and entered his mission control. “Keep an eye on her, boys, but not too close. I told her she wasn’t being watched, and I don’t want her to get suspicious.”

“Yes, Your Majesty. We won’t let her out of our sight.”

“You can ease up on the powder room camera. I guess she can have a little privacy there for now.”

The king noticed the disappointment in the man’s eyes. He wanted to smash his face into the desk, but he refrained. He needed his men loyal, and hurting this one would not be good for morale.

***

I know he’s watching me. I can feel it. Ella kicked the dirt with her glass walking shoes. Ever since they got together, every pair of shoes had to be made of glass. Really? I know he thinks it’s romantic but enough already. My feet are killing me.

“Hello Mister Mouse. How are you today?”

The tiny creature looked up at her and with a turn of his head, smiled. She knew the mouse was having a good day.

Ella wished for the freedom he had. Even at her evil stepmother’s, she had time to herself. Who knew it was going to be like this?

“Can you help me, Sweetie?”

Ella walked to where she heard the raspy voice. There was a turtle lying on his back in the shade under a big oak. He was smiling at her too. Nothing surprised her these days since she knew magic was real.

“How may I help you, Mister Turtle.”

“If you could turn me right side up, I would be ever so grateful.”

“No problem,” and Ella immediately righted the turtle on his feet once more.

“I’d like to be Frank with you. I am your Fairy Godmother’s half-brother on her father’s side. I am here to de-wish you.”

“De-wish me? Whatever does that mean?”

“Well, I know you wanted this, but not ‘this’ exactly. You know the old saying, ‘Be care…’”

“Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. I know that saying all right. So how does this de-wishing process work?”

“You have a choice. You can either leave things as they are, or you can go back to the way things were.”

This is it. What I’ve been hoping for all these long months. “Hmm. Which do I choose?”

“Sleep on it. Your true heart’s desire will reveal itself in the morning.”

“By the way, what is your name, kind turtle?”

“I already told you. My name is Frank.”

“What? Oh, yes. I guess in an unconventional way, you did.”

Ella thanked Frank, waved goodbye, and headed back to the castle. She quickly passed the king’s chambers and entered her sleeping area. It was a long boring day and she was ready for bed.

She awoke from a deep sleep to a screeching sound she hadn’t heard in forever.

“Cinderella! Get down here now and make us breakfast!”

“Oh no. I made a mistake. I don’t want this again. Please bring me back.”

Ella opened her eyes to the king’s face. He was nose to nose with her.

“Good morning, Sunshine. It’s wakey wakey time. You have a big day ahead of you.”

“Really? What do you have planned for me?” Ella sat up. She was excited at the prospect of an adventure.

“Well, you said you were bored, so I gave the chef and maids the day off. You get to take care of the whole castle. Isn’t that exciting? Enjoy your day, Love. I’ll see you tonight.”

“Frank!! Come back!”

Tortoise

Thank you for reading.

If you feel so moved to adapt a fairy tale of your choice, we would love for you to share it or its URL here in the comments.

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It’s Still Summertime Here, Evidence to the Contrary.

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It’s my cousin’s 50th birthday today, and I wish her much joy and health!

What does that have to do with writing? I feel that working on this book and sticking with it bears some similarity to that milestone. We are more than halfway. We can feel the story’s growing heft and what that means for our writing.

At the moment, we’re sitting in the screen room attached to the house that our family rents for a week each summer. The rhododendrons are at their peak bloom, with some displaying the darker, richer pink of the soon-to-bloom. That’s us. We are blooming every time we sit down to write, both in the story and with each other.

Beyond the blooms are the dark green leathery leaves. My eye doesn’t see more than a foot and a half deep before it looks like impenetrable, primitive forest. That’s also us. We know what we know, yet how it all comes together, which chapter comes before another, and how that background character eventually says enough to get his S.A.G. card? Those are mysteries right now… They tantalize us at every turn.

The sun and foliage cast wavering shadows across the furniture and floor, as well as the screens that surround us on two sides. There’s such a pleasant breeze. Much better than in the house at this hour where the air stifles everything it touches.

We, too, dabble in moving shapes of light and dark. It’s at the heart of our trade, our art. They’re woven together, the good and the bad, if such things truly exist: the mistakes made and the noble deeds done. There’s growth, meaning, and plenty of messes to clean up after.

Today, we love what we do so much that we are sitting side by side in the middle of the screen room so we can easily access each other’s computers and also have the beautiful view I describe.

Minds alert. Bodies relaxed and upright. Senses reaching out, minds remembering things that might be used.

The world is every writer’s fodder…. in the best of all possible ways.

 ~*~

The above was written earlier this summer when the season was still brand new.

It feels good to look back at what we’ve accomplished since then. We know our beginning and our ending, having drafted both. We figured out the first four chapters’ order and revised them as best we could in three or four passes. Then we sent our wee ones out to a professional editor for overall impressions and in-line suggestions. We received our feedback last night, and it’s incredibly helpful, broken down into pertinent categories for us in the overview.

It’s exciting because our editor’s notations led us to the conclusion that she wanted to read on. You may be thinking, ‘Of course she does as she will get paid for more,’ but the evidence in the details gave us a deep knowing – her interest in particular characters and plot points was well documented. Either way we find it inspiring, but that’s our perception, of course.

I heartily recommend the company that helped us take our text to the next level.  First Page, Last Page is a great resource for a variety of services, and editing is found under the ‘Our Feedback’ tab. Depending on your choice, you get quite a bit of help from their careful readings.

This is the first time I’ve written this way, but I have to admit it’s encouraging. Usually, I write the whole first draft as quickly as I possibly can, usually in November during (Inter)National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo, with my inner editor tucked firmly away until Later, which is so far yet to happen. That is, at least, with the four novels I’ve so far “finished,” (50,000 words to ‘win’ the month) partially… or wholly, with a beginning, middle, and end.

There are many lists to help you get ‘Revision Ready’ at The Writer’s Block Blog, and this link will take you to one of them, from which you can navigate to others if you like. If you’re at that stage of the process where you’ve finished your first draft of whatever form of writing you’re working on, these can be helpful.

To end today’s post, I’ve included my own list of 6 actions around different points along writing’s way.

Six Suggestions for Start and Finish:

  • Open up your senses and take it all in. The world is a direct and often metaphorical treasure trove of inspiration.
  • Let your memory wash over you like a gentle wave, ebbing and flowing with ideas and analogies.
  • Write down your dreams as close to waking as possible and in as much detail as you can recall. Better yet, use a digital voice recorder.
  • Review what you’ve recently written to see if you can continue that flow or launch into a new direction or chapter.
  • Leave notes for yourself about your intentions at the end of what that session’s writing produced. Any thoughts about where you want to head next are especially helpful.
  • Close your eyes (or leave them open!) and let the last scene unfold on your inner movie screen. Any details that might be worth adding?

As for the evidence that summer’s drawing to a close: the fluttering yellow locust leaves heading downward like a gentle rain, the temperature dipping below 70 degrees during the daytime, and the children back to school one step up from last year may seem to suffice. I choose to believe it’s summer still, at least for another twelve days or so.

Happy dreaming, mind-mapping, drafting, revising, editing… you know: Writing!

(Best wishes, Leslie)