The Beautiful Writers Workshop #18 Writing Challenges: Why Word Counts and Time Limits Work

Today’s blog will be short as I’m embarking on a new writing challenge brought to me by the fantabulous people over at Zombie Pirate Publishing. Not only is it a genre that I have yet to dabble in, but the subject has to involve a planet I know relatively little about.

What madness would possess me? Well…I don’t like boxes. I don’t like to be put into one, and I don’t like to contain anyone else in one. I think we were gifted free-will for a purpose. I also believe that it’s a lot more fun to participate in life than it is to sit on the sidelines, stuck inside some box somebody once, a long time ago, put you in.

So while I’m busy researching space travel and alternate dimensions and typical characteristics of rebellions, I encourage you, sometime this summer, to find a writing challenge that pushes you outside of your comfort zone and into that strange and beautiful place of self-awareness.

You see, until we’re faced with a challenge, we never really know what we are capable of. If we are always comfortably in our box, we assume those lines around us won’t bend; that the walls can’t be broken. Challenge brings change, and with it a casting off of limits. When we break through walls/limits we come to understand how amazingly capable we really are, and then realize how much our excuses have held us back.

I believe in every single one of you. I believe you can write 15,000 words in seven days, edit it, and submit it for consideration in a publication. I believe you will finish a 50,000 word novel in a month. I believe these things because I’ve seen it happen. Because I’ve done it. And I’ll keep doing it, especially in times when my tank is empty and I start to question my worth. Because I know I am capable…deep down. I just need reminding. We all do.

Writing challenges not only force us to sit our asses in the chair and knock our procrastination methods to the curb, they also show us how much we can actually write when we focus. Sitting for thirty minutes on a good stint will sometimes give me 1,500 words. (This doesn’t account for the editing which probably will drop a third of that). The point is, when you know you don’t have the time to second guess or organize your sock drawer, you give yourself the freedom to just write the damn book.

And, sad as it may seem, sometimes that’s all we need; permission.

Go and write. Look into the Zombie Pirate Publishing site, check out local groups in your area. I did an amazing one a year or two ago for the Rocky Mountain Writers that lasted one weekend and garnered 12,000 words. One of the most fun novellas I’ve ever written and my first foray to action/spy-fi (yes…spy-fi. It’s a genre I just now made up. Copyright.)

That’s it…that’s all I’ve got. No fun pictures or anything. I’m on a mission now, I ain’t got time for that. I gotta make up some swinging character names and decide how genetic mutations might let someone breath H2 and He.

Go find a mission. If you can’t find one, make one. Give yourself a time limit, and a word count and make it a little more than you think you can handle. Hell, make it a lot more than you think you can handle and watch how you surprise yourself.

I’ll be back next week with a full report of how often I found myself crying in the closet and banging my head against the wall for comfort.

Until next time, kids, happy writing.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #12: It Can’t Rain All The Time

I used to consider myself an optimist.

But if you’ve been following me lately, you’ve probably seen a shift in demeanor. Let’s face it, nothing is normal in the new ‘now’ and I am no exception. You see, I’m a creature of routine. I’m an early-rising, mile-running, kettle-ball-swinging, lunch-packing, 1,000-word-before breakfast machine. I live my life by the beat of the day and the rolling pace of a full life. I’m going to school. I started an internship. I was in the process of finishing books and starting a new blog series.

Then…well. You know.

Life stole my beat. Circumstances started to peel away the fullness of my life. Tasks dropped off like over-ripe fruit, destined to waste on the ground.

And all I could do was watch. All any of us could do was watch.

And half the world shouted to get up and do something with this opportunity but I don’t think many of us felt the drive in our heart to listen. The other half shouted to self-care ourselves into a state of zen-like enlightenment, unicorn pajamas or Netflix binges.

But the paralysis settled, a blocked river swelling the banks with murky and stagnant water.

We were not given the time to grieve the loss of the life we were building. We have no assurances that it will ever come back, only the knowledge that nothing will ever be the same.

And maybe we feel guilty that we don’t want to let go, and we feel morally responsible to accept the change, and we feel angry, and we fell regret, and we feel lethargy, and we feel our pants get tighter and our morning’s wasted with a paralyzing sense of not knowing what will come from this. Or even what we should do in the present hour.

And the voices from all around shout well-intended advice about all of our spare time and howling at the moon, but to some, spare time means no job and rent coming due. Some don’t get spare time, they get understaffed and over worked in under prepared hospitals, fighting governments that horde supplies for what purpose I don’t know (except I’m sure there’s a profit in it for those who need the profits the least). And howling together isn’t as effective at showing solidarity by voting for someone who would have actually taken care of our neighbors four years ago with better health care, or one who would have listened to science and helped to prevent the worst yet to come.

But this morning, I got up early.

I got up early, and though my gym is closed and I miss the familiar faces that I never really talked to before, I got on the Peloton and listened to some size-two Brit tell me to take back my day. And I had a quiet cup of coffee with my cat resting on my shoulders and I wrote. I listened to Hozier and sang back-up to the words

‘I came in from the outside, burned out from a joyride”

And I made my own normal in a time that is not normal.

I miss my job. I miss my routine. And though everyone touts that we’re in this together, the truth is that we are all in this alone. We all may be experiencing the tsunami, but no one else is in your life-preserver.

So, here’s my advice to you;

Grieve as long as you need. Pajama all you want. Cry and scream and be a pessimist for as long as you feel it, and get the hate and frustration off of your chest. But do, eventually, get it off your chest. Because the world will have to reemerge sometime, and we’ll need to come out with it. And when we do, rather than have a false sense of hope that someone else guilted you into feeling, come out with a heart that has been made stronger by the process of loss. One that chose to come back in its own time, and in staying true to itself, can do the work needed without a fluffy layer of guilt to drive it. One that knows the work lies in the painful changes of growth that mean fighting some big fights to protect everyone in this country, not just the shareholders.

Because right now it’s dark, and that darkness isn’t going to go away when we’re all allowed to ‘go back’ to the life left outside. We don’t need false sunshine and social-media guru’s, we need our own resilience to look at the world as a realist does. Accepting there will be clouds. Choosing to fight the man-made shade that still seeks to darken our collective sky. Knowing there is light behind it.

After all, it can’t rain all the time.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #5: Haiku, can you?

Good Thursday morning, writers! I hope your week has been productive and your mental coffers are overflowing with ideas.

Today I’m going to be featuring some awesome first lines from the “Ten First Lines” exercise, as well as a few of my own. But first, down to business.

I realize we aren’t all poets here. I know that some of you have more the mind for long and involved stories. But, sometimes when time is limited a quick little scribble of something is better than nothing at all. Often, I find that these little scraps of creativity can lead me to a good short story or even get me over a plot problem in something I’m working on.

So today, your exercise is to experiment with the dreaded 9th grade (probably earlier nowadays) assignment of writing 2 to 3 haikus, alternately and if you are of the mind, you may write limericks (but no pilfering the dirty ones that still remain stuck in your head long after algebra has disappeared).

If you need a refresher, the haiku is a form of poetry, originated in Japan, following a syllabic structure in three lines. 5, 7, 5.

example:

“A World of Dew” by Kobayashi Issa

A world of dew,

And within every dewdrop

A world of struggle.

(Hey, wait, that first line only has 4, Sarah!)

Yep, that’s the thing, sometimes poets will play with the rule as long as they stay in the general confines of brevity for big ideas. such as this:

“In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

If we make a break after ‘apparition’ it works in format, but Ezra’s point was to keep that flow of the first 12 syllables of ideas all together.

So, see?
It’s not so rigid as your English school marm might have made it out to be. We’re adults, we can play.

Give me some good ones and I’ll share mine next time.

Speaking of sharing…here are some fantastic lines, the first two from our good friend and down right amazing human being, sid sibo:

  • It’s frickin’ hard to turn the page on a petroglyph story panel.
  • Stars brushed their gleaming fangs and the air itself glittered with frigid crystals.
  • WorkEatSleep was no life at all, not for a black rhinoceros, her skin slicked with ancient dust from a glorious continent.

No matter how you spin it, that lady is brilliant.

Here’s a few bites of the odd from my own homework:

  • My inflatable kiddie pool was infested by porcupines, high off my neighbors discarded edible gummies.

  • The toy monkey clapped at my ability to darn my own socks, still on.

  • Two, bonded-for-life redtails mocked her and her single membership gym card.

Okay. That’s all for today.

Go haiku.

Hell…if you’re a romantic, work on something for your significant other early before that made up holiday hits us next week.

OH AND…

LOOK FOR AN ANNOUNCEMENT HERE FOR THE RELEASE DATE OF “NO SMALL THINGS, A BEAUTIFUL STUFF POETRY ANTHOLOGY 2020” NEXT WEEK!!!!

(I’m so exited I could join those porcupines.)