Bare List on Being a Writer

Despite public opinion, being a writer is not sitting in a hip cafe swilling lattes as the words flow from your fingertips, though there is a lot of coffee involved. It’s not sleeping late and working an hour a day as the money rolls in by the bucket load with little to no effort on your part. It’s not lazy or frilly.

Being a writer is pounding away at your computer at three a.m. when the rest of the house sleeps because that’s when inspiration strikes. It’s laboring away, fueled by caffeine and desire to get in those final words before you’ve got to get the kids to karate. Being a writer is working through lunch because the hunger pangs issuing from your stomach cannot drown out the inspiration screaming in your brain. Burning the toast because you’re lost in thought on your current story arc, scrambling to get the kids tucked into bed because you don’t want to miss a minute with them, but you can’t miss this deadline. Sitting with your computer on your lap trying to tune out the television in the background because you want to be able to sit with your significant other, but you also have to get these words on the page. Being a writer is about writing and revising so many times you could recite your novel by heart. It’s about knowing that you can never revise it enough to be perfect and learning to accept that, no matter how much you hate it, because perfection is the enemy of publishing. Being a writer is finding the courage to call it complete and take the chance on someone else loving it as much as you do.

Being a writer is querying, over and over again until your fingertips bleed and being met with rejection almost every time. Sometimes that means being a writer is starting again, rearranging and reediting so many times there can’t possibly be anything else to change, but then finding more you can do anyway, and even that will be rejected by someone. Being a writer is about having the grit to get up from all those rejections, because somewhere deep inside you, you know that this is what you are meant to do and if you just keep writing, you just keep querying, one day you will get past that hurdle and it will all be worth it.

And when that day comes, when your book is finally accepted, then being a writer is about making deadlines. Signing deals, missing dinners because you’ve got a big meeting, building your social media presence so that you can talk to the community of people with whom you want to share your work, yourself. Being a writer is about wondering how you can possibly get all of this done and realizing you can’t and watching the laundry pile up in the corner because you are not Mary Sue and something’s gotta give sometimes. Being a writer is about praying til your knees bleed that the creation you’ve poured yourself into, sacrificed yourself for, will be accepted and hopefully even loved by at least a few souls who wanted, needed your work.

When all of that is done, when you’ve found your people and you’ve given everything you have to this precious work of art, being a writer is about letting it go, giving it to the world and starting all over again with the next work, because now that you’ve tasted the pain, lived through the torment and come out the other side, you have no choice but to do it again. Because being a writer is giving yourself to the agony of writing to be able to experience the joy of having written.

Being a writer is grind. Being a writer is a grueling commitment. Being a writer is work. So, when your friends roll their eyes, when society scorns you for their beliefs of what it means to be a writer, you don’t listen. In fact, you tell them to eff off, because being a writer means occasionally having to tell people that they don’t have a damn clue.

Not sure you can tell them? Let them read about it in your next book because you’re too busy grinding to talk to them anyway.

Bare List of Writing Prompts

NaNoWriMo is upon us. With only two days left until you’re set to begin the greatest novel of our time, you may be feeling overwhelmed at the thought of putting your words, your characters, into action. Here are some prompts to get you started.

Unfamiliar with prompts or afraid of starting with someone else’s words? Check out some great reasons for using them here

  1. Her brown eyes glared back at me with unrelenting fury and I knew I’d said the wrong thing again…
  2. A butterfly danced across the windshield as I put the car in drive…
  3. I’d heard the story a half a hundred times but still I listened as if it was all anew…
  4. Back on Earth, I’d never be able to talk about this stuff. Human beings shut down so quickly at the slightest glimmer of something truly interesting…
  5. A glistening pair of new Jordan’s were all I saw of him from my spot beneath the bleachers…
  6. A dirge played in the distance as I enjoyed a steaming hot coffee at the Downward Cafe…
  7. She could see the cars whizzing by on the main highway, feet away but oblivious to her pain…
  8. Of course we’re here. I knew we would be. It was the only possible place for us to end up…
  9. Lady Gaga again. We Pandora isn’t the even trying anymore. Turn it off and let’s go down to the Sixer…
  10. The absurdity of it all is that if I had to do it over again I probably would because I never learn and the ride was worth the story…

Bare List on Using Writing Prompts

Writing prompts can be a source of contention in the writing community. Some people browse for hours looking for inspiration while other’s look down their nose at the idea of starting their masterpiece with another author’s thoughts. If you’re in the second category, or utterly new to the idea of using prompts, I’m here to defend their worthiness. Nay, I’m here to cheer them on. Writing prompts are excellent tools for professionals and hobbyists, experienced authors and writing rookies. Here’s why:

They release what’s already in you. A great novel is in you, coursing through your veins and gnawing at your brain. You can’t stop thinking about it. Your mind has already written it. You just have to get it down on paper, but when you sit down at the computer, your fingers freeze. The story churns inside you but it’s stuck behind those first words. Then you find it. The perfect prompt. Five, ten little words. You type them out, hesitant but hopeful, and the next thing you know you’re thousands of words into the story you’ve been dying to tell. A prompt is just that: a prompt to open your own floodgates.

They’re fun. My second NaNoWriMo I decided to embark in an adventure. Instead spending a month focusing on kicking off my next project, I would create a work exclusive to that month. It’s own entity based solely on prompts. November 1st, I found a prompt that spoke to me and I wrote. I wrote until the spark of that first great ember was nothing but smoke, over 12,000 words. When the emerging story hit an impasse and my inspiration ran dry, I found a new prompt. A radically different prompt that would change the course of the tale and take my story to exciting new places. Over 30,000 words later the end of the month and close of my experiment were in sight and I found one more prompt to see me the rest of the way through. I finished November with 70,000 words and a novel that I truly enjoy. Will it be my next published masterpiece? Maybe not. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that I took my writing to new places and had a great time doing it.

They’re an excellent exercise. If you were/are a writing major or have been involved with any creative writing class, you’re familiar with prompts as a writing tool. If not, it goes like this: the teacher gives you a prompt (or maybe a small collection of prompts) and you formulate a story around it. The goal is to stretch your mind and adapt your ability to embrace inspiration. For a lot of us though, after school’s out we forget the value of prompts. Maybe you’re sick of forcing a story into a collection of assigned ideas. Maybe you’re so focused on writing your own words, you don’t have room for other people’s. Maybe you’ve just fallen into a writing routine and forgotten the value of exercising. But, like keeping a healthy body, exercise is a necessity to keeping a healthy mind. Use those prompts. Even if you don’t think you have time, browse for anything that piques your interest. Force yourself to write a page, even a paragraph. Throw yourself a few curves to get to the end of the story. You’ll be a better writer for it.

You can always ditch them. Alright, so you’ve written a work of art but you’re hung up on the fact you’ve got someone else’s words stuck in there. Or the end of the story no longer fits the beginning. That’s the glory of the delete button. You can let the floodgates open, see the story to the end, then go back and delete whatever doesn’t fit. You’ll be doing it anyway. No work is ever complete on the first (or fifth) go. Just delete whatever you’re not comfortable with or not proud of during the editing process.

They were created to be used. It’s not plagiarism, it’s a prompt. The creators put it into the world to be utilized. Their sole purpose is to inspire others to travel down this absurd but awesome road of writing. Let them fulfill their destiny. Let those bare lists of words be suggestive to your imaginative and excited mind.

Do you have experience with prompts? Share your story. Have prompts you’re looking to share? Put them in the comments to help others start their journey.

Bare List on Writing When the World is on Fire

There’s been a lot of media coverage regarding the struggle of creatives to write in our time. The linked article call’s it “Trump’s Present”, but I’ve seen it referred to as many things and it’s effecting both sides of the political line. I’ll be the first to admit, we’re in trying times. Social and political divisiveness avalanche our social streams, North Korea is testing bombs every other week, mass shootings, hurricanes. Fear is high, satisfaction is low, and we still don’t know who sits the Iron Throne. Those horrors, and more threats than I even have time to mention, have been cited as stifling the voices of once exuberant writers, and I have to tell you, THAT more than anything else we may be facing saddens my soul.

I understand, I know, that times of chaos and dissension can make it difficult for the seeds of creativity to flower into inspiration and action. I know it’s hard to envision a future when you can barely see tomorrow, but we as writers, as people, as society cannot allow for the dark shadow of despair to block out our light. It is during these times, when the world is divided, when the future is undefined, that literature is needed the most. It is during these times that everyone’s story must be represented. Readers, ourselves included, are looking for hope, purpose, inspiration. More than that, we’re looking for connection, to open a book and find a character who understands us. Who gets us. Who will provide a reprieve from the pain we may be feeling.

“But I’m not trying to write a political manifesto. I’m not famous enough for my voice to count. I don’t have an inspirational tale to show people how to cope.” Your brain may lie to you with these excuses and barbs to keep you from putting pen to paper (or more aptly fingers to keyboard) but none of these things matter. It’s fine that you’re not going to write the next politically charged viral sensation. In fact, it’s awesome. We’ve got enough of them. Scroll through your Facebook feed or Twitter wall right now and I’ll place money that you’ve got a good dozen political rants. We’re covered there. You’re not famous? That’s great. We need new voices. We need more people willing to put themselves out there to give people something to believe in, and really all they need to believe in to feel even an inkling better is a good story. A good character.

You don’t have to write the hero’s tale to be the hero. With such great epic glories of literature flooding our history, it’s easy to forget that sometimes all that is needed to bring people together is a simple story. It doesn’t have to be Harry Potter or Game of Thrones. You don’t have to write a New York Times Best Seller for people to cherish your work. For a small book club to bond over it and coffee. For a lonely high schooler to find solace in the friendship of your characters. For a beat down population to find representation.

People don’t have to come away with a life-changing revelation for your work to be meaningful. They just have to come away changed, however mildly. Maybe you gave them a friend, maybe you gave them a glimpse into another person’s experience they would never encounter in the real world, maybe you just gave them a place to escape to when this one got to be too much. All of it is meaningful. All of it is necessary.

There is a reason that great pain spawns great art. Many may point to the need for change, to the voices inspired to create a new and better tomorrow, but it’s more than that. These times, the times we’ve seen before and we’ll surely see again, create great art because in our soul we know the world needs it. We know that we might not reach the masses, but we can reach one person and that makes all the difference.

So, keep writing. Even if you’re uninspired, keep writing. Even if you can’t see how your one story can make a difference, write it anyway. No matter what it is, no matter what genre or tone you ascribe to, just write it, because right now, people deserve your bare list of words.

Bare List on Blankness

As the icy rain poured down over the back porch I took a deep swig of my dark roast coffee, it’s steam warming my face against the chill of the early morning and thought “This is a day God made for writing.” I opened my latest project full of quiet excitement for what this scenic day would bring. Those words that raced from my fingers days ago, that sparked awe and admiration as I pondered them in the dreary morning hour, now lay lifeless on the page. Where do they want to go? How can they have paved a path so clearly and now I can’t sense their direction?

Call it what you will: writer’s block, creative impasse, brain strike. It’s all blankness. An inability to coerce the story you know needs to be told to come to life on the pages in front of you. Everyone who’s picked up a pen or sat down at a desk knows the pain, the panic of reaching inside yourself and coming up blank. It’s a harrowing experience to have all of the right materials and none of the words, but what can I do?

I can write. I can force my fingers across the keyboard pounding out ideas I have no intention on keeping until I stumble across something that clicks. I can trust that the movement of my fingers will eventually rattle awake my sleeping brain and my creative mind will swoop in and takeover where my fingers have failed me, and so I do.

I write in the hopes that today will be more than it seems right now. I write trusting that I can do this, no matter how dire the situation may seem. Does it work? Not always. There are days I struggle for hours only to destroy everything because I never found my way, but there are days that I persist long enough that something beautiful happens. There are days I see myself over the struggle and on those days I am more proud of myself, my stamina than on any day when the words flow easily and effortlessly. It is for those days I write. Because I have to. Because whatever well-meaning outsiders may tell you, you will not tear down that blockade by forgetting about it. You will not break through that wall by trying to pretend it does not exist. No, the only way to keep writing is to start writing.

For those reasons, today I write. Though my mind is blank and my inspiration is lacking, today I write, and so should you.

Bare List on Why NaNoWriMo

Halloween, Thanksgiving, hoodies, changing leaves, the sweet smell of autumn pies baking in the oven. These are a few of my favorite fall things, but at the top of that list is one of my favorite fall traditions: Nanowrimo, National Novel Writing Month. If you’re new to the writing world, you may not be familiar with the 501(c)3 charitable organization encouraging us all to novel out 50,000 words in 30 short days, but you should be…nay, you NEED to be. Even if you’re an experienced writer with a number of books on the shelf, NaNoWriMo is an excellent opportunity to reignite your writing process. Why is National Novel Writing Month how you need to be spending your November? I’m glad you asked because I’ve made a list:

You Can Do It, And You Deserve to Know That- If you’re new to the game, fifty-thousand words may sound like a lofty and even unrealistic goal, especially in thirty small days that include a busy Thanksgiving holiday weekend. But that’s only because it is an insanely lofty goal, but I promise you it is NOT unattainable. When the pressure is on, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you’re able to accomplish, especially with the wealth of inspiration and information provided by the organization and community. You deserve the pride in a job well done on November 30th and all you have to do to make that happen is get started. Once you’ve got that first 50 out of the way, you’ll have the confidence to take on any writing challenge.

It’s the Wrecking Ball of Writer’s Block- So, you’re an old pro at writing. You know you can write 50,000 words in 30 days. Hell, your publisher expects you to do it in 3. You’re past NaNoWriMo, right? Wrong. If you’re struggling with new material or having trouble finessing an arc with a current project, NaNoWriMo is perfect for you. Pounding through those words with the pressure of a time-constraint but freedom of WHATEVER YOU WANT is an amazing combination for spurring your creative brain into action.

Great Community of Avid Writers- Writing can be an isolating profession or hobby, but it doesn’t have to be. While you might not have many “real-world” friends that share your zeal for character development or unexpected plot twists, NaNoWriMo does. It’s a huge community of people of varying experience levels as passionate about writing as you. You can make friends, meet mentors, or encourage a new generation of writers.

Bragging Rights-  We can pretend that this is a totally philosophical endeavor for self-evolution and improvement (which it is) but come on, you WANT to tell people you did this. It’s an awesome accomplishment. But, it’s not bragging if you can back it up, right? And you can because NaNoWriMo will reward you with an exclusive Winner’s Package.

Great Experience for a Great Cause- There is an exhaustive list of reasons why this is an outstanding experience for writers. Seriously, this little barely even skims the surface, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about what a great mission the organization strives to achieve. NaNoWriMo and it’s various programs promote writing fluency creative writing education, promote communities to ensure the proliferation of the written word, provides free materials for libraries and community centers.

There’s plenty of time to sign up and get your profile ready. I’ll be adding my bare list of 50k words to those of the thousands of other avid writers and I invite you to do the same. NaNo Newb? Share your questions or concerns. Nano Pro? Leave your experience in the comments.

 

 

Bare List on Release

Expectation, judgement, fear, social norms, doubt, shamers, haters, trolls, perfection. They are the confines through which this world can become a prison. We are constantly bombarded by unrealistic and unattainable expectations of what our lives are supposed to look like to the point that our own minds become our worst enemy. Society tells us we must have money, we must have the title, we must have the status or we are not successful. We are not productive. So we work and we slave away trying to find meaning in whatever job affords us the liberty of not getting “the look” when we tell someone what we do to make ends meet. Then, when we’ve gotten there. When we’ve found fulfillment and an acceptable salary, society stares down its nose again and asks us “At what cost? When were you with your friends? When did you last see your parents? Have you traveled the world? These are the things that truly matter.” So we change direction again and steer into the path of love, family, and adventure and we report our findings and happiness and society, unmoved and unaffected, looks us in the eye with it’s judgmental stare and calls us lazy.

So then, we chase the impossible dream of work-life balance and report back to the powers that be that we spend exactly 40 hours per week working and the rest is spent on us, with family, with our friends. Cooking meals, having adventures, pursuing hobbies that we once loved but now honestly barely have the energy to enjoy. To this society says “But when did you workout? You have to do that thirty minutes a day you know. And what meals are you cooking? Are they healthy/delicious/responsibly sourced/gluten, gmo, meat, dairy, and egg free? Are you eating enough? Are you eating too much? Are you having children? You have to but you won’t raise them right. You must practice self-care but when you do it you’re selfish. You must be involved with politics but you’re almost certainly on the wrong side. You have to give back through charitable work but the charity you’re donating your hard earned time and money to probably sucks. And despite all the duplicity and negativity you slave away anyway trying to be the best and most valuable member of society you can possibly be and you tell society, you tell yourself, that even though you’re only sleeping three hours every other night, you’ve done it all…to which society replies “you must get a full eight hours of sleep every night to truly be healthy.”

Then, you snap. Because you realize finally with bleeding knuckles and bags under you eyes (which how dare you, by the way, look tired?) that you cannot keep up. That no matter how much you do, how much of yourself you give, it will never be enough and there in that moment, that release…that’s where it all gets better. When you release yourself of the judgment of Internet trolls, fake friends, and well-meaning though utterly soul-crushing family members. You release yourself of the fear of not doing what you love because if you have to do it why can’t you love it? You release yourself of that little voice in the back of your mind that parrots all the societal/social/personal judgement you’ve accumulated over a life time and you just say “screw it” and live you’re you because society is going to hate it either way and it’s too much damn work to try to please it.

There’s no reason to wait. Don’t get to the end of your rope before you cut yourself free because there’s no reason to be hanging on when soaring is so exhilarating. And when that little voice voice tells you that you don’t have wings, that maybe you’ll grow them tomorrow but today you’re stuck right here in a prison of expectation’s making, you tell that voice that flying is just falling with style and let go.

via Daily Prompt: Release