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Use NanoWrimo To Your Advantage

That magical time of year is almost upon us. No, not Halloween. Nope, not even Thanksgiving or Christmas. I’m talking about the time of year that writers both revere and dread–National Novel Writing Month. This month, affectionately known as NanoWrimo or Nano, is a torturous, I mean glorious, month where writers are urged to write a novel in one month. For the purposes of the month, this equals 50,000 words. Yup, 50,000 words in a month. Seems crazy, right? Well, most writers are a little crazy.

And, it can be done. Thousands of writers do it every year. I’ve done it twice.

And, sometimes, it gets pretty great results. Water for Elephants started as a Nano book.

While there are many awesome advantages to Nano, one of the downfalls is that it tends to leave out those not working on novels but still working on cranking out some words.

So, I’m here to say…

Use Nano to Your Advantage

If it’s not done right, Nano can be a huge waste of time. Devoting a month of your life to something that won’t see the light day is not a productive use of your time and is not the point of National Writing Month. The point of this writing sprint is not only the word count, it’s also to create something that can someday BE something. But, if a novel is not your focus and you spend a month pushing yourself to write 50,000 words that may never see the light of day…you’re kind of missing the point of the whole thing. The point is motivation. The point is creation. The point is to get off your butt and actually write.
tenor

So, if a novel isn’t your focus…

Make it Your Own

If you’re not working on a novel, you don’t have to force it during Nano. For example, novels have not been my focus lately, flash fiction has. I just published a book of flash and would like to publish another fairly soon. In order to get some more material, I’ve decided to use NanoWrimo to crank out a ton of flash, fast. I may not write 50,000 words, but that’s not my goal. My goal will be to have enough material to get out a volume 2 of “Flash in the Dark.”

My Plan

So, what will I do differently? Rather than write 50,000 words in a month, my goal will be to write 1,000 words a day. In the flash fiction world, that’s an entire story. I’m not 100% sure what this will look like. Will I be able to write an entirely new, full story every single day? Maybe not. But I can get a lot of shitty first drafts done. I can flesh out some ideas. I can dig into a new idea I have but am not really prepared to write for November. I can get a lot of words on paper. Words that I am much more likely use than if they were written for a novel I wasn’t ready to write.
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To prepare, I am prepping daily prompts. I work best with a guide and parameters and I know that. So, I’m setting myself up for success.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re prepared, Nano is an awesome kick in the butt. It’s fantastic motivation. It’s encouragement. It’s a procrastination killer that can help you create a novel where there once was nothing. If a novel is your goal and you have an idea ready to roll, do it. Do it the way it was meant to be done. Sign up on the website. Go to write-ins. Set daily words goals and write your novel.

But, if you’re like me, working on another type of writing project but still need extra motivation in order to get the words out, do something different. Make it your own. Set your own goals. But still write everyday. Still go write-ins (they are a great way to stay motivated and connect with others doing exactly what you’re doing). Still get those words out and still create something awesome.

So, whether you end up with a new novel, a bunch of short stories, half a novel, or a play, you’ll have something that wasn’t there before and THAT, my friends, sure is something.

Curious about that book I spoke of? Check out Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction

 

Blog, Uncategorized

Finding Hidden Themes…In Your Own Writing

When I was in high school, my English teachers always asked, “What was this author really saying? What did they mean? What does this object represent?” And I, even though I loved English class but was still a moody teenager, would inwardly groan and wonder…can’t a rose just be a rose? They probably mean just what they wrote. And, because I already knew I wanted to be a writer one day, I would silently plead, I hope people don’t dissect my writing one day. I’m just going to write what I mean and I hope my readers can see that.

Well, surprise, surprise…I was wrong.

Turns out, as much as I actually do try to write what I mean, what I mean isn’t always super straightforward. Take that sentence, for example.

Let me back up. As I’ve been preparing to launch my debut book of flash fiction, I’ve been sending out copies to friends in order to get some feedback, create some buzz and get some reviews. My friends not only delivered feedback and reviews, but they also gave me a little glimpse into my own psyche.

“It’s an empowering experience which I thought played with gender roles in an intelligent and unique way.”

Take this quote from a review from my friend, Stewart (and no, I did not pay him to write these incredibly kind things), “I think we’re given glimpses into the parts of Allison’s life which have hurt, brought joy, and lust for hope.” I certainly did not mean to give a glimpse into my life. In fact, most of these stories have a supernatural or sci-fi element and could not have felt further from my life when I was writing them. But then he says of one story, “On full display is the role of women of all ages in society,” and “It’s an empowering experience which I thought played with gender roles in an intelligent and unique way.”

I don’t share these quotes to toot my own horn, though, toot toot. I share because, as we were discussing some of his observations, I realized that yes, my views of gender roles were on full display in many of my stories. In “The Final Cry,” which you can find in the Future Visions Volume 2 anthology, a married couple is faced with a brutal reality and the way they cope with their grief represents how I’ve always seen grief handled by the women around me.

He pointed out that he was surprised that it was the woman who took on a particular task that would (hopefully) help the couple move on from their grief and I realized I was surprised he was surprised. Women have always taken on tough roles in my life and I am never surprised to see the things they can endure when it’s men that are supposed to be the “tough” ones. I knew I thought all of this, of course, but never was it so obvious to me than when the themes in my own writing were recited back to me.

Women have always taken on tough roles in my life and I am never surprised to see the things they can endure when it’s men that are supposed to be the “tough” ones.

I was also asked, by another friend and an early reader of my book, if one aspect of a particular story was a theme for mental illness. I said no, it was simply about a mind control device. And then I thought about it and it turns out “simply” was the wrong word. While I did not intend this story to be about mental illness, I would never pretend to understand what it’s like to live with it, I have, as I explained to him, always been fascinated with “the line between reality and the things that exist only in our heads…” and the fear of not being able to differentiate between the two. And isn’t that a little bit the same as a mental illness? Our brains tell us one thing and pretty soon we can’t tell what part is true and what part is the disease.

Like I said, I have never had to personally deal with mental illness but I have had a loved one who struggled with addiction and I saw this line, the line between truth and the addiction, blurred every single day. I have always wanted to write about this but didn’t think I was ready. Turns out, if I take a closer look at my writing, I am already writing it in small ways.

So, why do I find this outside view of the themes in my writing so helpful? Because now that I am aware of how I feel, I want to explore it more. Why should we as writers take a look back at our own writing to find unintentional themes? It might just teach us a little bit about ourselves. And, if that’s not motivation enough, it might also give you more to write about.

I never wanted my writing to be dissected…now that it has…I’m ok with it.

What themes do you find yourself writing about unintentionally?

Psst…Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction, will be available on October 19th and the ebook is available for pre-order right now!

Also, if you want more stuff like this, book news, and peeks at my writing, sign up for my newsletter! 

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5 Tips For Writing Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction is a strange beast. It’s basically fiction in a hurry. Not more than 1,000 words, flash fiction can be challenging because you have to get to the point, fast. No rambling, no long, flowery narratives, no chapters. Flash fiction is an entire story, condensed into 1,000 words or less. It’s a whole story that can stand on its own, not an excerpt from a long story….though, I guess it could be if that snippet made sense all by itself. But, I’m rambling…something you cannot do in flash fiction.

Over the last few years, I’ve written a lot of flash fiction. First for a local writing event, then for online contests, now just for fun. And, in writing this super short prose, I’ve learned some stuff. And now, I’m going to share some of that stuff with you. And, if you’re lucky, later I’ll share more. If you want to write flash fiction but aren’t sure where to start, here are 5 tips to get you moving.

Give Yourself Parameters

The event that introduced me to flash fiction offered 3 words that must be used in the story. The contest I enter frequently offers a genre, a location and an object that must be in the story. As someone who has a hard time coming up with ideas, or at least focusing those ideas, these parameters were SUPER helpful to me. As was the word limit. Knowing I had to tell my story quickly AND fit it within the given parameters, well that really narrowed what I could write about. And THAT got me writing.

You don’t have to enter a contest to get prompts. Make them up yourself. Ask your friends. I started doing live videos where I asked viewers for genres and other prompts and then I had to write that story in a week. I crave direction. Maybe you do too. Pick up a book and pick three random words, give yourself a word limit, a time frame and GO. (And if you write something using this advice, share it here!).

Write Past the Word Limit (THEN Cut)

Don’t be too concerned with the word limit…at first. Tell the story you want to tell. Give it a beginning, a middle and an end. Then, hold your breath, grit your teeth, and check that word count. Once you’ve got a good idea of how much needs to go, start chopping.

Checking your word count obsessively as you write is a surefire way to stress yourself right out of the writing groove. Promise yourself, and me, that you won’t check your word count until you’ve reached some sort of respectable endpoint to your story. You promise? Spit shake? Ok no, gross. Pinky promise.

Read Out Loud

While this is true for any type of writing, it can be particularly helpful with flash fiction. Pacing and flow are extremely important when you are trying to write a story in 1,000 words and reading out loud can help you gauge that. It can also help you see where you’ve repeated words or thoughts and save you precious words. If you’re shy about sharing your work, you can read it to yourself but I like reading to at least other person depending on my timeline. I can see where they laugh, tell if they’re confused and ask if everything made sense. More often than not, reading out loud helps me catch mistakes and fix errors I may have missed.

Have Someone Else Read It

Again, true for most writing. You should always have someone else read your work before you submit (whatever that means to you) that final version. Outside perspectives are important and other people are going to catch mistakes you missed. If you’re trying to cut words, let them know. Ask them to look for spots that seem too wordy or descriptions that are too…descriptive. It’s hard for us to cut our own words…it’s easy for others.

Outline

I hate to say it because I’m usually a panster, but when you are dealing with flash fiction an outline can be extremely helpful. Even if it’s something super informal like a couple paragraphs about what you want to happen, some sort of direction can keep you from wandering off into the weeds. And, since I told you to write past the word count, the less wandering, the better. If you are loyal to your panster ways, at least have an idea of how you want to the story to end before you get too far and do your darndest to write in that direction.

Speaking of flash fiction, in just a few weeks my newest book, Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction, will be available. Coming October 19th, the ebook is available for pre-order right now!

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The First Taste…

Of blood…Just kidding. This is not a vampire story.

Or, maybe kind of…No, no it’s not. But it could be…

Anywhoo….what this post is actually about is that first, sweet taste of publication.

This story begins when I was a wee gal of just 5-years-old….kidding, kind of. I have always wanted to write. Since I was just that wee gal writing on wee pieces of paper. And, like I mentioned in my last post, and like anyone that has dreamed of being a writer, I’ve always dreamed of publication. Seeing your name on the front of a book, knowing people are reading your words and crying or laughing or shaking in terror or avoiding clowns for the rest of their lives…

It’s every writer’s dream.

 

Yet, sometimes, that dream feels unattainable. And you get discouraged. And feelings start to set in. And you don’t feel like writing. That happens, trust me.

But then, sometimes, the Writing Gods smile down at you and your hard work and practice and writer’s block-fueled-wine-binges are rewarded and…you’re published. It doesn’t matter where, it doesn’t matter how, but when you see your name on that cover for the first time…well, something happens.

I know, because it happened to me. A short story of mine was recently accepted into a sci-fi anthology called Future Visions Volume 2. Today, that book went live. While I don’t have a copy in my hands yet, something inside me squeed a little (ok, a lot) when I saw my name on the cover of that book.

squee

Sure, it was listed along with other authors (other awesome authors) but it’s there. There is a book out there with my words in it and ya know how that makes me feel? Like I wanna do it again. And again. That first win? That first taste of publication? It can do wonders for your ego, for your motivation, and for your doubts. I want to write again. I want to create more things that people want to read and that I can see in the real world instead of just on my computer. I want to keep going.

That first taste? I got it because of small steps. This story was the first story I ever wrote for the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition. I have since competed multiple times and have some great stories under my belt. Stories I never would have written without the competition. I then took the small step of answering a call for stories I found online. Then, I forgot I submitted it. It took some time, and during that time I experienced a lull in motivation and confidence and wasn’t even sure I wanted to keep writing. But I did. Little things like more of the contests, some stories for local events…and then, something else happened. I realize that because of those small things, I had one big thing…a book.

Now, after a period where I thought maybe I should stop writing for a bit and see if that inspired me to write, I am featured in an anthology AND I am publishing a book in October. All it took was a few baby steps. A few small wins.

So, my advice to you if you’re feeling discouraged? Start small. Submit to contests, forums, magazines, etc. Heck, publish the damn book yourself. But be careful, because once you get that first taste? It’s all downhill from there…wait…is that good? Is that better than uphill? Downhill seems easier but…worse? Hmmm….that’s a weird saying. Just get started. And be better at metaphors than me. Oh, and check out Future Vision Volume 2 on Amazon, available as an ebook or in paperback.

FV2 Cover

Blog, Flash Fiction

Coming in October: A Flash in the Dark

The Dream

Like any good writer, I’ve always wanted to publish a book. When I was young, I dreamed of being picked up by an agent, seeing my name on a cover adorning the shelves of a bookstore, signing books for fans, and making millions. As I grew up, and technology changed, that dream evolved. Ebooks became a thing and traditional publishing became less lucrative (unless you’re a King, a Grisham, or a Rowling). I also began to stress over the actual writing of a book. Novels were hard. Writing was hard. Obviously, I wouldn’t let that stop me but real life, and jobs, and relationships, and adulting happened and I wondered, when exactly was I going to write this?

My focus began to shift when I discovered short fiction. I found I had a knack for telling intriguing stories in very few words, and I loved the challenge of it. I began entering contests, participating in flash fiction events and even creating exercises that would encourage me to write more and more flash…all the while wondering, when was I going to write my book?

Then, one day I realized…I had.

The Book

I had piles (well, electronic piles) of flash fiction and short stories stocked up and just sitting around waiting…for what? The perfect place to publish them? A contest to enter? No. A book. My book. I realized I had already done the hard part, I had written the content. And judging from reactions, and judges and feedback…the content was good.

It was time to publish a book.

That book is called, A Flash in the Dark: A Collection of Flash Fiction and it’s coming. Soon.

October 19th, to be exact. 

Flash in the Dark is a collection of stories no more than 1,000 words. That’s right, even those who claim “I have no time to read,” can find a few minutes in their day to read a super short story. Some of them are even less than 500 words. Here’s a little preview:

Oil

If only it had been oil.

If it had been, things would be different now. If all the things we’d done that day had gone differently, I wouldn’t be here, alone, surrounded by silence and stench and wishing for that crumbling farmhouse.

 

Taking Flight

When Death stopped for me, I eagerly took his hand.

I almost missed my chance because I was not looking for him. No one was. No one expected him to show up and no one wanted him too . . . well, almost no one.

 

The Duplicate

Mistress was warned not to get too close to her Duplicate. “They weren’t created to be companions!” Master often bellowed as Trudy followed Mistress from room to room. “They were created to work!”

 

The stories are a little dark, a little creepy. Some are lighter, but they’ll all make you shiver. I hope. So, just in time for Halloween, watch my blog and my socials for more details and get ready for A Flash in the Dark. 

Blog, Writing Blog

When I Don’t Want to Write: My Internal Struggle

I want to talk about something not a lot of writers talk about. Let’s talk about what happens when you don’t feel like writing.

Not what you should do when you don’t feel like writing…which is write. Power through it. Suck it up. Writers write. You have to do your job even when you don’t feel like doing it, and the same is true for writing. If you ask any successful writer for their advice on what to do when you don’t feel like writing they’d say….write anyway.

But, I’m not here to give you advice.

I am here to talk about how it feels when a writer just doesn’t feel like writing. I want to talk about what happens to your brain, your ego, that delicate writer psyche that is barely holding on to sanity at any given moment. Because it happens. It happens to me. A lot. I am almost always thinking about writing. Even when it doesn’t seem like I’m thinking about writing, I probably am. I imagine the same is true for most writers. This is not the problem.

The problem is the gut-wrenching guilt that comes when you just don’t want to write. I want to talk about that. I am not going to give advice on how to get past it, because I have no idea. I am not soliciting advice because I know what you’ll say and I know you’re right. I just want to talk about how it feels…

So, here are a few things that happen inside my brain, my guts, and my writer psyche when I don’t want to write.

I question my existence

All I’ve ever wanted to do was write. When I was young, I did it all the time. During school, after school, in class, while eating, before sleeping, in the bath, with friends. I didn’t know a lot about what I wanted to do with my life (shit, I still don’t…) but I knew I wanted to write. My love of writing has always defined me as a person. So, what does it say about me if I don’t want to write? I don’t just sit on my bed and write anymore. I don’t sneak out a notebook and write lines between tasks (though, to be fair, I am writing this at work right now…shhh..). I still want to be a writer, but sometimes, I just don’t want to write. And when those two thoughts collide? My guts and my brain and my sensitive writers psyche all tighten into a ball and internally rock back and forth while I grimace and go about my day wondering who I am, what I’m doing with my life and if I’ll ever find a purpose.

I get SUPER jealous

Since social media is obviously the place you want to go when you’re feeling bad about yourself…I spend a lot of my time watching other writers post word counts and pictures of coffee shops and manuscripts and highlighted pages and stacks of paper and I hate them just a little (seriously, love you all!). I want what they have. I want to be doing what they’re doing…except I don’t. Trust me, I get the irony. I say I want to be writing as I blog about not wanting to write….as I write the blog…about…not…wanting to…write…it’s very confusing. And, often, too much for brain, heart, and psyche to handle and I am frozen in my tracks before I can even attempt to put pen to paper.

I feel like a failure

And so, before I even have anything to fail at, I feel like a failure. I didn’t write something that turned out terrible and was shunned by the masses as the worst piece of writing in history….I didn’t write anything at all. You know those “inspirational” memes…”You only fail if you stop trying.” Yea, that’s me. I’ve stopped trying. I’ve stalled. I’m stuck. And a lot of the time, I don’t want to get unstuck. I feel like a failure but I don’t want to take the steps I know I need to take to do the one thing that would make me less of one…try.

I think other writers are judging me

Side note: Writers are actually the most non-judgmental people you will ever meet.

They aren’t judging me, and I know this. They get what I am going through because they’ve been through it. The writers I follow on Twitter and know in real life are supportive and understanding and would never make other writers feel bad about themselves. That said, it doesn’t mean my brain doesn’t THINK they are judging me. My irrational writer’s psyche, the one that thinks I’m a failure, also thinks these writers who are writing are silently judging me for not writing. Even though they’re not. But it feels like they are.

So, there you have it. Not wanting to write sucks. And it makes you feel like a giant, judged, lackluster, no purpose in life failure. At least that’s how it makes me feel.

How do you feel today? Do you go through periods where you don’t want to write? How do you recover? Help! Share your thoughts.

Blog, Writing Blog

Permission to Write

“What gives one the right to write?”

“Well, is there something that will go unsaid if you don’t write?”

“Of course.”

“Well, then, you simply must write.”
You simply must write. Because something will go unsaid if you don’t. This is a mantra that I am going to start repeating to myself. For some reason, as writers, we don’t always believe that we should write. We don’t believe we have the right to write. We don’t think we have permission.

The above is a conversation Karen E. Peterson experienced (author of Write. `10 Days to Overcome Writer’s Block. Period.) in which she finally felt like she was given permission to write.

As writers, we want to write. But, we often pause at our computers or pads of paper, unsure of whether we SHOULD write. I basically feel like this, oh…all the time.

Does this sound familiar?

Start something.

Get passionate.

And then….screeching brakes.

My mind starts to wander, to ponder. To analyze. Why am I writing this? Certainly it’s been said. Someone else has probably already had this experience and put it to paper. So, what’s the point?

whatdoesitmeangif

But, in what other profession do people look at what they are doing and say they can no longer proceed because it’s already been done? Doctors certainly don’t, and thank goodness for that. Because each doctor adds something to the profession that someone before them would not have been able to add.
The same is true with writing.
Yes, maybe someone like me had a similar experience, but, they aren’t me. And I experienced that moment differently than anyone before me. I thought different things, I had different fears, I approached it with different experiences behind me. Just as no two people ever read the same book the same way, no two people ever experience the same moment in the same way.
Writing fiction? Same thing. There may only be a handful of stories out there, but everyone tells them differently because everyone is different. This may seem like a simple concept, but writers have a hard time with it. And, if it’s not grasped, it can cripple.

It’s up to each writer to decide if they can push past self-doubt and fear in order to say the thing that might go unsaid. And, to decide if that thing is worth is saying. Spoiler: It is.
I confess, I am currently letting fear stop me. I’ve got a story inside me. One I’ve had inside of me my whole life, because it is my life. And that, the thought of putting my experiences out there for the world to see, that’s terrifying. But, if I don’t say it, who will? No one has had my experience. If I don’t say it, there are definitely things that will go unsaid. Even now, as I type this, there’s a little voice in the back of my head whispering evilly, “But is it really worth saying? Who cares if it doesn’t get said?”
And to that I reply, “I care, dammit. I care.”
And for now, that has to be enough. I am giving myself permission to write. To say what would otherwise go unsaid. And, I give you permission, if you still need it. Go forth, write words. Write YOUR words. Because if you don’t, no one else will.

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