Separating the Colors

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Some of my best writing ideas hemorrhage from my brain while I drive or when I walk—not sure how it all works—maybe the smells, the sounds, the visuals, the weather, they sort of conspire to draw me into a nirvana-like state.

So I’m headed home from a retreat recently, thinking about the critique sessions, and why the writing failed to move me. It hit me like a biff to the head—combine multiple colors in a bucket, stir them together, and they disappear in a gray mess.

Words are like colors, they have their own separateness, their own beauty, and when thoughtfully, sparingly combined they sweep readers through worlds, alive and magical, so that at the last page, this author desires you ache, even curse—there’s no more.

These are the stories we carry in our hearts.

Back to the critique. What happened? In most cases it was sensory overload—I heard the words, but they turned gray in my mind where pictures should’ve flowed.

Action interrupted for back story, either overtly in the author’s voice or as part of a character’s internal thoughts, and often unrelated to the action. Excessive descriptions, modifiers, metaphors, and similes—characters on stage with no voice, no direction.

I’m the first to say it’s not easy to carve away words, to pull back, to be spare—spare lives two doors down from bland, blancmange, junket, aspic pudding (I shudder.) But spare allows the reader to engage with the story, to fill in the blanks, to imagine, and it’s in the imagination of the reader that a story comes alive, not in the overwritten pages of a book.

Revision is the process by which the author refines and discovers the story—the peel-back of what’s unimportant—like separating colors, and finding ‘Starry Starry Night’ in a gray canvass.

May your work bring joy to others,

Shayne Huxtable

How to Name Your Story’s Characters Like a Professional

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Ever been intrigued by a good storyline or hooked by a good book description, only to be knocked out of the story by badly named characters? Troy, Sebastien, and Xavier may sound good to you in your warm writing room, but if your story is set in backwoods America, you’ve missed the mark. Before your readers begin to feel empathy towards your characters, the names have to fit properly.
They have to feel right.
Let’s look at a few examples…
I walked into his office, shiny surfaces everywhere. behind the glass desk sat a suit costing ten grand. the name on the door said ‘Dudley Penbright III’. I knew I was in for a heck of a meeting.
“Sit down, Constantine,” he said, “your father warned me you were coming.” he pressed a button on the desk. “Esmerelda? Bring me two coffees… strong, black.”
What kind of people do those names conjure? What do they look like in your imagination?
Character names are about the most important items in your arsenal, and if you don’t use them properly, you could weaken or destroy your story.
 
The Influencing Criteria
There are four different criteria which influence your character’s names… Period, Geography, Genre, and Author’s Choice. If you do not adhere to these four tenets, you will fail as a writer.
Periodicity
Before you name a character, you need to consider the time period in which your story is set. Unless you’re involving time-travel, there’s no point in calling someone Debby, Brian, Brittany or Winston in the 1500’s. Back in those days, in the English speaking world, most names were taken from the bible, and even the most obscure of prophets were invoked; Ezekiel, Jedidiah, Malachi, etc, etc. If in doubt, look on Google for “most popular names in 1500’s”. You’ll get plenty there to satisfy any novel.
Geography
The geographical setting also plays a huge part in defining a character’s name. There are few David’s born in China, and as far as I know, an Eskimo has never been called Puff Daddy. Your characters must have names that fit them like a glove, almost becoming part of their persona. A Romanian thief would never sound convincing if you had named him Charlie Babbit.
Genre
Writing in any particular genre will influence your choice of names. Detective stories have very solid character names, names that conjure an image instantly. Science Fiction is another genre that begs for some form of deviation from the norm… BUT NOT TOO MUCH! Don’t forget the first time you read Zaphod Beeblebrox from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy!
Author’s Choice
The choice of a name can be a conscious move by a writer to impart  special features, either physical or emotional to their character. By their name the reader is coerced into regarding the character in a specific way, designed by the writer. Arthur Dent (Hitchhikers again) is a classic example. He’s portrayed as a dithering Englishman… look at how Douglas Adams manipulates the name; Arthur (old-fashioned English name) Dent (simple single syllable, then dent, referring to flawed). Classic.
Flying by the Seat of Your Pants
One gem of advice; unless you’re in a different planet or universe, never make names up from scratch. An American Indian called Chakata, may sound okay to most ears, but if it means Crappy-Pants in Cherokee, you may find some bad reviews coming your way.
 
The SIX Keys to Success in Naming Your Characters
I have six methods I use for character’s names, all are equally legitimate, all have excellent qualities, and all will fit your characters perfectly, or add to the story. All these methods have merit when faced with doubt regarding naming a character.
Use Familiar Names; Names From Family or Friends
I’m Scottish/British, so it makes sense that when I’m writing either Scots characters or English/Welsh/Irish ones, that I dredge my memory for names from my childhood or family. In Opportunities, (a Scottish mission to Panama in 1698), I used some Christian names or surnames from my school; Hugh Wales, David Muirhead, some from my direct family, Henry Alisdair Harrison, Mungo Mair, James Ross, and a couple from my adult friends too, Andrew Rankine. I mix them up a bit, and get a nice selection of names.
Use Names That Have Been Used Before; Names From History
King’s names, dukes, and famous people ie, John Stuart, James Baptist, Rupert Wheeler, Howard Weeks,  Henry Haliburton.
Use Names from the Media; Movies, Television, Music, Other Books
Not one I go to frequently, but once I was looking for something just a little off the wall for a character… I tried actors/pop groups, and came up with Maximillian Schenk. (Actor Maximillian Schell, add rock band Michael Schenker) He never was a major character, but I wanted something out of the ordinary. It worked. There’s also nothing wrong with ‘borrowing’ a name or two from the professionals… If you’re looking for cowboy names, flick through a Louis L’Amour novel.
Use Names of Towns, Cities, Counties, Rivers, Even Countries
Again, this is one to use sparingly, maybe just one character per book is enough, but if used correctly it does work well. Here’s a few to let you get the idea; Devon Standish, Jeremy London, Jason Glasgow , Walter Cheshire. And here’s a few real ones used already; Josey Wales, Jack London , Douglas Fairbanks,  Rock Hudson, etc etc. Just look in Google maps, you’ll find a planet literally full of names.
Use Nicknames; for Men’s names… Don’t be Afraid to Use Nicknames
Again, not one to use frequently, but if you have a cast of six or more men sitting at a bar, most groups will have at least one nicknamed character in the group, especially men! These can be rude- ‘PussySniffer’, gross- ‘ShitForBrains’, geographically orientated- ‘Flanders’, or cute- ‘TeddyBear’. Men love nicknames, women, not so much. Adding a nickname to a surname is also allowed; Name, Anthony Bunter, but he hates the name Anthony, so is quite happy with his friends calling him Fatty Bunter. What image does that name conjure?
Using Foreign Names; Look No Further… Help is at Hand!
Thanks to this article, foreign names, such a huge bugbear of many writers, are now easy as pie!
Every country in the world has an official soccer team. Most now have women’s teams too. These teams are all based on players having been BORN in that country. It’s a veritable GOLDMINE of perfect foreign names, endemic to that country!
To find these, go to Wikipedia, the newspaper or the TV, and look at foreign soccer teams… YES, FOREIGN SOCCER TEAMS, (male or female) for the nationality of the character in your story. Mix the names, you get huge great results, and no clichéd ones either… these are the real heroes of a particular country, let’s take some examples, derived from this method; (Russian)- Ivan Vyhovski, (Romanian)- Tomas Lucescu, (Scottish)- Ally McLeish, (Italian)- Roberto Schilachi. All great names, all very solid characters, perhaps the names already inspire your mind to make a physical description.
 
MIXING IT ALL UP
NOW! Mix and Match All of the Above to Find Your Dream Team.
Take the above and let it be a guide. Find your own personal route to good character names. Mix and match from the above, have nicknames and real ones. There’s no right way to do it, but perhaps you’ve now got more ideas to whet your appitite.
You are now armed with all you need to successfully name your characters…
Let’s wrap this up with a list of six fictional hit men, all sitting in a bar, (one Scot, one German, one American, one Russian, one Romanian, and an Englishman, quite a mix) discussing their next job. Getting the six names believable, and be easy on the tongue is not an easy task. The first list is the names you may have chosen before reading this article…
Hamish MacDougal, Franz Muller, Brad Dangerman, Vladimir Adamov, Conrad Petersen, and Johnny Beckham.
A good bunch of characters, but now we can do better…
Mousey Fairbairn, Ernst Baumann, Sheepdog, Dmitri Dulayev, Alexandru Gunesch, and Billy Nile.
Man, I can see them in my mind already.
Try the above method; write a list of characters from various countries. See how easy it is now, with no more agonizing! What would your list of hitmen be? Pick another six countries, and change the hitmen into hit-girls!
 
Find me at…

By Ian Hall

Characters In Charge

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My writer friends will perhaps relate with my latest dilemma. Sometimes we as authors create characters who take on a life all their own. I am currently engaged in a love-hate relationship with one such character. He cannot seem to follow the outline I have created, which often causes some serious plot problems for me as the author.
 
I am currently working on a series of historical suspense/romance novel set against the backdrop of King John’s reign from 1199 – 1216. The ensemble cast of characters revolves mainly around a family of brothers who have recently regained their estate and family name after their father was stripped of them during the Crusades by King Richard. The head of the family is a strong-willed knight Lord Julian Darnall of Wolf’s Haven. He has been responsible for raising his younger brothers and raising (by any means) the funds to buy back his estate while at the same time procuring brides for himself and his brothers and currying royal favor.
 
In creating Julian’s character I made him so strong-willed as to be inflexible in certain situations. However, when it comes to the love of his life, Lady Lissandra MacGregor, he is mushier than a marshmallow. He has to know what everyone is doing at all times, especially his brothers. If he doesn’t keep his thumb on them 24/7 who knows what may happen?  He may well be the first OCD knight in Christendom or at least the most OCD of all time. Fortunately, his brother Andrew’s wife is an excellent healer because he often requires her potions to treat his ulcers as he deals with family issues, political intrigue and enemies who want what he has.
 
Julian has a habit of being overbearing and inserting himself in scenes where  he is only meant to be a bit player.  And don’t get me started on the things he says! In one scene in particular he opened his mouth to share his next scheme to keep the family intact and safe he completely goes off script and changes my well thought out scenario. I was both shocked and angry, especially when his plan was so much better than mine!
 
I took a break mid-way through the fourth novel in the series to finish my Nanowrimo novel and edit. Apparently Julian wasn’t very happy about the break because he kept appearing in my modern suspense novel intermittently as if to say, “Hey, we’re still here waiting. Don’t forget about us!” Really, Julian? Can’t you stay in your own novel and quit making guest appearances in other pieces? It’s not like I’m going to forget about you.
 
He did it in 2013 when I started my Nanowrimo novel. He was so insistent with his insertion into my Nano novel I was forced to scrap it and work on my historical novel for the duration instead. I despair over what will happen when his novels are finished. Is he going to continue to haunt me when I try to work on other projects? My experiences with Julian make me wonder how many of my author friends struggle with characters who just won’t leave them alone? Maybe it’s normal and I shouldn’t worry about it until Julian starts stalking me in the real world.
By Billie-Renee Knight

Whip It Good! Writing Erotica That Makes Your Reader Go “Mm hmm”

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Since the release of Fifty Shades of Grey, the once latent genre of erotica is making more

than people’s eyes raise these days. Of course, E.L. James was not the only author to release

novels about the art of monkey love. Before her, there was D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s

Lover, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, and Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, not to mention authors

such as A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice), R.J. Masters, and Caleb Knight, to name a few. If you

were to do a random Google search of erotica, you’re immediately bombarded with an

eclectic menagerie of novels by authors trying to tackle a genre that some would still consider

taboo. Who wants to read about sex? Right? (A devilish grin forms on my mouth even as I type

that question.)

What constitutes good erotica now-a-days? How do you compete in an over sexualized

world with writers trying their hand at slapping the monkey?

First, in order to write erotica, you need to be comfortable with being able to describe

the act without giggling. Ok, I take that back, maybe a little snicker here or there, but you should

probably take it seriously if you’re going to write about sex. Cue the music—(This is the part

where you put on Salt-N-Pepa’s hit song Let’s Talk About Sex as I continue on with the rest of

my spiel).

As an author tackling the world of Urban Fantasy, I’ve often seen some of the lines

blurred as I set out to write love scenes. I’m always in the mindset “Be careful. It’s my first

time.” Wink. Wink. Nod. Nod. However, the only way to get your feet wet is to dive in and try

your hand at it. Yet the appeal of writing an erotic novel is fascinating. How far do you push the

envelope? With the evolution of the internet and powerhouse search engines like Google is there

anything out there that will shock people anymore?

My first attempt was not bad, but not great either. The struggle for me is that, number

one, I’m a dude. I’d rather see the action than write about it. After all, men are usually more

visual than women. Women enjoy the fantasy and the build up that accompanies erotica, which

sounds easy enough to capture. The Harlequin novels with the chiseled men on the front holding

the damsel in distress seem to have the formula down to a science. My head is spinning with

where to start on my journey to improving my craft. How does a novice begin to tackle jungle love?

Let’s consider the psychological perspective, taken from Robert S. Feldman’s

Understanding Psychology 6th edition; human sexuality, by nature, is complicated on an

individual level depending on the “expectations, attitudes, beliefs, and the state of medical and

biological knowledge of a given period.” In other words, we love sex! And with it comes a sort

of complexity based upon each writer, which brings up another question—what does writing

about sex say about you (the author)? If you write about doggie style, does that mean people

think you’re a freak in the sheets? Not necessarily. Erotica that gets a person hot and bothered is

good storytelling, not a reflection of the writer. Or is it? Sex is complicated, but it’s a part of life

and human nature. There are also many levels of erotica—it’s not just male and female. Gay and

Lesbian erotica is a growing market and is seeing a rise in writers not afraid to tackle the genre

wholeheartedly.

It’s easy to write about two lovers intertwined in the art of Kama Sutra, but writing a

compelling story that justifies the sex is the hard part.

Currently, technology reins supreme as the main source of information for the current

iGeneration. They base their knowledge on what their friends tell them or what they can find

with a typical Google search (which is not always pretty by the way), but I digress.

Understanding how men and women respond to sex is just as important to your writing as

knowing what you’re writing about. Think about what turns you on specifically. Do you enjoy

getting handcuffed? What about licking chocolate syrup off your partner’s chest? One of the

many rules for writing is ‘write what you know.’ Now, this doesn’t mean you have to go out and

do ‘research’ every weekend just so you can produce a novel worthy of a Hollywood treatment.

On the contrary, there are other ways to become a better writer of erotica and love scenes in

general—read! See what’s out there and take notes. Know your audience! Define what you want

to write. There’s a difference between erotica and pornography. Erotica requires a certain je ne

sais quoi; you can’t dive into the sex without the foreplay. Well, you could, but it probably

wouldn’t bring the notoriety that you want. It’s all about the scenes.

If you want get down to business, but need a quickie, I highly recommend you check out

the hysterical article by Steve Almond called “How to Write a Sex Scene: The 12-step program.”

(Almond, Steve. (2005). How to write a sex scene. UTNE Reader. Ogden Publications, 2005. Retrieved from  http://www.utne.com/arts/how-to-write-a-sex-scene.aspx)

In it, he writes the following:

Step 1: Never compare a woman’s nipples to:

  •  Cherries
  •  Cherry pits
  •  Pencil erasers
  •  Frankenstein’s bolts

Step 2a: Resist the temptation to use genital euphemisms, unless you are trying to be
funny

  • No: Tunnel of Love, Candy Shop, Secret Garden, Pleasure Gate
  • Equally No: Flesh Kabob, Magic Wand, Manmeat
  • Especially No: Bearded Clam, Tube Steak, Sperm Puppet

Step 3: Then again, sometimes sex is funny. And if you ever saw a videotape of yourself in action, you’d agree. Don’t be afraid to portray
comic aspects. If one of your characters, in a dire moment of passion, hits a note that sounds

eerily like Celine Dion, duly note this. If another can’t stay hard, allow him to use a ponytail

holder for an improvised cock ring. And later on, if his daughter comes home and demands to

know where her ponytail holder is, well, so be it.

Step 4: Real people do not talk in porn clichés.

  • They do not say: “Give it to me, big boy.”
  • They do not say: “Suck it, baby. That’s right, all the way down.”
  • They do not say: “Yes, deeper, harder, deeper! Oh baby, oh Christ, yes!”

At least, they do not say these things to me.

Most of the time, real people say all kinds of weird, funny things during sex, such as, “I think

I’m losing circulation” and “I’ve got a cramp in my foot” and “Oh, sorry!” and “Did you come

already? Goddamn it!”

Step 5: Use all the senses.

The cool thing about sex—aside from its being, uh, sex—is that it engages all five of our

human senses. So don’t ignore the more subtle cues. Give us the scents and the tastes and the

sounds of the act. And stay away from the obvious ones. By which I mean that I’d take a sweet,

embarrassed pussy fart over a shuddering moan any day.

The article brings up some very good key points without giving you the same old bullshit.

I could include the whole article, but then I’d take the fun out of the rest of the Almond’s

information. I guarantee you may find it even more titillating than what I exposed you to! Check

out Steve’s entire article at http://www.utne.com/arts/how-to-write-a-sex-scene.aspx

The bottom line with erotica and sex scenes that I’ve learned is that you have to be

willing to invest the time in making your scene pop—turn your reader on. Sex creates a response

within us and that key point often gets lost. Don’t be afraid to experiment and don’t over think it.

If you’re able to invoke horniness just by writing a simple sentence then you know you’ve done

your job right. With that said, get practicing—safely! 😉

By Romualdo R. Chavez

Following Hemingway

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I just returned home from a school trip to France and Spain. Nearly every day the tour guide was pointing out this café or that where Ernest Hemingway used to sit for hours on a daily basis with his cronies writing, drinking and people watching. I got a shiver every time. Hemingway has always been one of my personal heroes. From an early age my family often called me Hemingway because of my insistence I would one day be an author. I was always proud of the appellation. After reading For Whom the Bell Tolls, the novel that first drew me to Hemingway, I felt some kind of connection with the writer. Hemingway and I had other things in common as well, which always made me feel closer to my hero in spirit. Hemingway was a traveler. He loved adventure and seeking out new sights. As a language instructor and history buff, traveling has become a great passion of mine as well, although I have never seen myself taking such an active part in my travels as he did – participating in the Spanish Civil war and doing foreign correspondent duties.

Hemingway loved cats and kept one or two about for inspiration. I, too, adore my feline companions. While my menagerie is not quite as large as those now living in the cat sanctuary at his former home in Key West, I assure you they are just as pampered and beloved. Hemingway apparently held much the same attitude regarding his four legged companions as I do, trusting them over their human counterparts. “A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not.” I have to say I agree with the man. I’ve been betrayed by people over and over again, but a cat is always true.

Hemingway was a true outdoorsman. He enjoyed fishing, hunting and camping. Growing up in Montana and Wyoming I often enjoyed these same activities. Although I never had the opportunities to deep sea fish that my hero had, I have been known to enjoy a day out on the lake fishing for rainbow trout and just enjoying the time outdoors. I loved participating in competitive shooting events and the occasional foray into the woods to hunt for dinner. Hemingway often summered in Wyoming where I grew up and lived his last years one state over in Idaho. Now here I was literally following in my hero’s footstep through France and Spain. What could be more perfect?

During some free time in Aix-en-Provence, the capitol of the Provence region, I was eager to visit the café where Hemingway spent a great deal of his time while in that city. A plaque attached to the wall just outside assured me my hero had sat at the very table I chose. The waiter also confirmed I was sitting very near where Hemingway sat with his good friends F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, and Ezra Pound. Wow! What could be more inspiring? I spent the next half hour sitting at that table just soaking in the atmosphere and reconnecting to my hero’s spirit. The waiter, realizing how enamored I was with the thought of sitting at the same table as Hemingway, offered to bring me the author’s favorite beverage. I was tempted, but being in charge of students and knowing Hemingway was infamous for over-imbibing alcohol deterred me from imbibing, so I ordered a café au lait instead. As I sat sipping my coffee, my journal open on the table in front of me, I was able to imagine what it must have been like back in the 1920’s for the Lost Generation. I wondered if I would walk away from that plaza with some as yet unrealized inspiration for a novel just as my hero had so many years previously when he penned The Sun Also Rises. I was disappointed when nothing immediately came to me, but I never gave up hope my hero’s spirit might reach out to me through time and space and give me a little nudge.

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I was surprised when the waiter returned with a second cup of coffee and a tall glass and a bottle. He explained that after some hard drinking Hemingway often ordered the second beverage he had brought me. I was intrigued. The glass was half full of a shockingly green liquid. At first I was a little concerned it might be absinthe, but the waiter soon allayed my fears. It was crème de menthe syrup. He opened the bottle, which contained sparkling lemonade and poured it into the glass and presented me with a magnificent drink called a Diabolo. It was refreshing and I knew I would have to find a way to recreate it once I returned home. I’m sure it, along with the appropriate amount of coffee, could possibly trigger some deep writing thoughts.

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He left me alone again to sample my new favorite drink next to coffee. I was overwhelmed once more with the history of the place. The square, aside from the modern advertisements, probably looked much the same as it had when Hemingway visited. Tucked away off the beaten path it was secluded from the tourist routes and quiet, surrounded by more cafes and an old church. The early afternoon sun made it just warm enough to be comfortable and the high walls of the buildings surrounding the plaza kept out the worst of the strong winds. As I finished my drinks and closed my journal, I closed my eyes and strained with all my might to touch, if only for a brief instant, the essence I was sure my hero had left behind in that space. I have always made a point to try to visit the places Hemingway visited when I have the opportunity. I get goose bumps every time and it makes me think perhaps he’s reaching out to me from the other side. If just a tiny fraction of his writing skills and experience could seep through the cracks to me it would be worth the time and effort it takes to seek out his old haunts just to share the space he once touched.

By Billie-Renee Knight

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 New Year Me Resolution

I do not believe or participate in New Year’s resolutions as a general rule. In the cynical playground of my thought process, New Year’s resolutions are things to be mocked, ridiculed and/or used as a source of humor. Case in point, this year I was invited to ring in 2015 with my cousin Tana and her husband Cody. As I was driving to their house, I vowed that this year I would make a concentrated effort to be less of a snarky bitch. Three seconds later I was yelling obscenities at the car in the next lane. Naturally, I shared this little anecdote of the “Shortest Lived Resolution Ever” with my cousins as soon as possible. We all had a good laugh and promptly moved on with our evening. It never occurred to any of us that this was a resolution I would keep, or even try to.

New Year’s resolutions are stupid. By their very name they require that those participating must wait until an arbitrary point in time to begin changing those things in life that they would like to. It’s idiotic. If it’s the middle of June and you want to lose weight, don’t wait until January 1st. Don’t start a countdown mentality of, “Damn, I can only eat the things I love for seven more months. Come January it’s all celery, all the time!” That’s setting yourself up for failure in my opinion. It’s the dietary equivalent of the doomsday clock. And when people inevitable fail to uphold those resolutions? Well, it’s easy to brush them off with a “better luck next year.” So yes, I find New Year’s resolutions stupid and a good source of fodder my humor cannon.

Here is something that’s not funny: using humor and cynicism as an excuse to be lazy. It’s just as stupid as the whole New Year’s thing. So here’s a better idea:

Let’s cut out the ‘New Year’ and stick to the most important part: resolution. Instead of letting my cynicism rule everything in my life, I resolve to do something that will make me happy. Something that will make me feel good and maybe even better my life as a result. And I’m going to start immediately. I’m not going to wait for another New Year, as I’ve already missed this one. I’m not going to wait for a new month, new week or even a new day. I’m starting right now.

I resolve to no longer be lazy. I have been lazy for a very long time, it needs to end.

In May of 2014, I graduated with a master’s degree in creative writing. My final writing project was, and remains, something I am very proud of. Despite frequent and enthusiastic encouragement from my master’s advisor to submit my story to literary magazines for publishing, I held off. Why? Because I was lazy. Because I had to write a cover letter to go with my story and that would take time and effort. I kept meaning to get around to it but there were too many other things to do first. I had to finish all my final papers, then I had to graduate. I had to look for a job. I had to keep looking for a job. I was depressed over my lack of employment then over my lack of decent employment. I needed to get out of my own head and finish the next episode of Veronica Mars. The world would not end if I waited until tomorrow. There is always tomorrow. Before I knew it, seven months had gone by. Finally, I spent some time kicking my own ass over time wasted and sent out my story.

Seven months after graduating, I finally landed a job as a writer/editor for a small publishing company.

I spend my days writing dozens of press releases and the occasional longer article. I love my job. I’m more grateful than I will ever be able to express that I’m no longer stuck in a temporary, ass-numbingly dull state office job where I spent most of my days struggling not to fall asleep (Seriously? It’s no wonder our state is in debt up to our eyeballs if they keep paying temp agencies ridiculous wages so their temps can sit around and be bored. I won’t start on how much of that ridiculous wage I never saw. That’s a whole other bitter rant). Back to my original point…

In the near year that I was not submitting my story, I was also dragging my feet on my other works in progress. In the months since I have graduated, care to guess how much creative writing I’ve accomplished? Very little. That’s not to say that I don’t want to write. I think about writing every day. I think about my stories and my characters every day. I have ideas. And outlines. And character descriptions/profiles. I have small chunks of prose written on random Post-it notesand stuck into my designated writing notebook. But actual sentences on a page?

I have more excuses than actual writing:

I can’t work on my novel, I have to find a job. I can’t work on my story, I have to find a better job. I have too many jobs and am too tired to write. I only have a little bit of free time, I’d rather watch Netflix. I’m too depressed to write. I have to curl up in a dark hole and fixate on all the things I’m not doing/doing wrong in life.

I am in no way making light of depression or any form of mental illness. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. I will admit, however, that too often I use my depression as an excuse to hide rather than doing anything to try and work through it. Ironic considering my writing was always my one outlet for the miasma of emotions that I have no idea how to handle otherwise.

I would say I’ve just grown lazy; however, that implies I was ever not. The truth is, I’ve always been lazy when it comes to my writing and my past successes have done little to encourage a change of habit. For instance, the first draft of the story that would turn into my master’s project was highly praised by the professor who would become my master’s advisor. He stated it was an honest and powerful piece that I had obviously spent a lot of time on. Wrong. I tossed the idea around in my head for several weeks before finally churning it out the day before it was due. Nor did I bother to do much in the way of  proofreading/editing before turning it in for workshop critique (also ironic considering mysevere anxiety regarding workshops. One might think I would want to turn in the very best, most polished work I could in hopes of combating my own feelings of inadequacy. One would think. But I was too lazy.).

The second draft of that same story won 1st place in the graduate creative writing awards. The fifth draft netted the honor of “Master’s Distinction”, something very few receive. In fact, only two other projects received distinction that year, both of which were critical pieces rather than creative writing pieces.

I’m not going to lie or practice false self-deprecation here. I have talent, lots of it. Talent that is being thoroughly wasted. Whatever skill I might have is dwarfed by the massive amounts of self-doubt, self-criticism, depression and laziness that I allow to get in the way.

So here is my attempt to overcome. Forget the ‘new year.’ I’m simply making a resolution to write. Every week, at least once a week. Now, every successful writer I’ve met or even heard of adamantly proclaims that you need to write every day in order to get better. I agree. Unfortunately, at this time in my life I’m working two jobs in order to make ends meet. Damn those student loans. Some days I go directly from one job to the other. So unless I want to give up sleeping (which I don’t), or I only want to commit to a few crappy lines every day that I put very little thought or effort into (and I don’t), every day is not realistic for me at this time. Someday it will be. Right now I can manage at least once a week, often more, of devoted writing time. Which is a good start for someone who used to go months without touching pen to paper.

So here is my New Me Resolution: Just Fucking Write. Starting Now.

By Brittany Willes

Finding Your Voice

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Sunday is my day to catch up on reading.  Since I read everything but the Swedish newspaper, catching up could mean learning how to use glue on horse shoes for my farrier business, the assembly instructions for the new dining room flooring I am going to install, or losing myself in a novel.

My focus this time is about learning how to write.  I’ve been told my writing has a wicked sense of humor.  However, I’ve been so caught up the technique that I am stalled in my writing.

When I finished farrier school and began apprenticing, the first question I asked was ‘when does it stop hurting.’  The farrier I was apprenticing under laughed and said ‘when you are dead.’  He was right about that. Not the dead part, but after 10 years as a full time farrier, I can attest to the pain part.

Preparation is everything in farrier work.  If the horses’ foot is not level or balanced there is nothing you can do to get the shoe to fit properly.  I apprenticed for a year before I started nailing a shoe on a horse.

Putting a shoe on a horse is kind of like nailing upside down on the deck of a ship that is sailing through a hurricane.  There is a 1/16th of an inch area, called the ‘white line’ where the nail goes into the hoof.  The nails are tapered on one side, as they are designed to angle outward.  Hold the nail the wrong way and it will enter the sole, causing pain and a lot of bleeding.  Tap, tap, tap.  By the third tap, the sound will be different, meaning the nail reached the laminae, or hoof wall.

Two to three more hammer strikes and the nail does its’ angling thing and comes out through the laminae.  Tap too  lightly, the nail slides between the laminae and the sole instead of coming out through the hoof wall.  Tap too hard and the nail comes out through the hoof wall too high up, causing pain to the horse, and more bleeding.  Hammer strikes have to be straight on the nail head, or the nail twists, making it impossible for the nail head to ‘seat’ or sit in the crease of the shoe.  Six nails per shoe, 24 nails per horse.

My next question to my mentor was ‘How long does it take to perfect nailing a shoe on?’  My mentor responded ‘Oh, about 20,000 nails.’  What?!  The MBA in me did the math.  That meant 833 horses with a full set of shoes completed, billed, and paid for with sub-par work.

Sub. Par. Work.  Sub-par work in the farrier world means both short and long term muscular-skeletal damage, lameness, and chronic pain issues. For the owner/rider that means additional veterinary bills, potential for injury, the loss of purse money in competition, or a completely un-rideable horse, a.k.a. ‘Pasture Art’.  No stress or pressure in my business at all!

I’ve been writing since I was a kid, as back burner projects, or the ‘when I have time’, kind of thing.  My first fiction short story was printed in Horse of Course Magazine when I was 11.  However, in 2015, writing is going to the front burner.

So, I stumble up the gangway and am back on the damn ship in a hurricane again.  Instead of trying to nail upside down on the Weather Deck, I’ve been thrown to the Quarter Deck to learn world building.  I swallow some sea sickness pills, tighten my life jacket, zip up my slicker, and climb to the Crow’s Nest to see what is next.  BAM!  I fall to the Tween Deck to learn about dialogue, but before I can get a good sense of how to use dialogue, the ship hits a wave off the 40 degree angle, and I am tossed up to the Bridge.

I sit quietly on The Bridge and look around, dripping and nodding.  Not a bad place to be.  I am out of the wind and rain.  The Bridge is in the center of the ship, topside.  There is less cavitation here.  The only other place on the ship that has less movement is the Medical Deck.

The Bridge has access to the Internet.  I type S.O.S. into the BING search bar, and up pops www.thewritepractice.com.  I click on the link.  Maybe this guy Joe Bunting can get me outta here.  Or give me directions to The Galley.

Instead, I find I’ve come full circle.  He doesn’t know how to get me off the ship because I don’t know my longitude or latitude.  But he does give me two key pieces to the puzzle.

The first thing Joe Bunting tells me is that ‘Perfect is no place for a writer.’  Bunting claims that it is not a writers’ job to write perfect sentences, and to stop thinking that it is.

My interpretation of this advice is to learn to write when I am being a writer.  Then edit when I am being an editor.  But don’t mix the two.

The second thing Joe Bunting shares with me is a question he had at a writers conference, ‘How long does it take a writer to find their voice?’  Joe’s answer was ‘4 or 5 novels.’  WHAT?!  The MBA in me does the math.  That is nearly 500,000 words.

Learning a craft or a trade takes time and so much practice.  My farrier mentor always seemed to know when I was discouraged.  He would tell me that, if being a farrier was easy anyone could do it.  Then he would buy me a Milky Way Dark candy bar.

Me?  It looks like I am stuck on this ship for awhile.  I’m going to the Galley to look for chocolate, and hope I don’t end up on the Flush Deck. For those word smiths who like palindrome’s, I have one for you.  There is a deck name on a ship that is a palindrome.  Anyone have the answer?
by Cheryl Swayne