Sentence Challenge – Day 23

*My sentence challenge is simple. I craft, design and ruthlessly (obsessively?) edit one sentence until I like it. The only rules are to write one in a given day and to like the finished product.

Day 23

One hour of freedom rendered him weary of a week of forced labor.

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Sentence Challenge – Day 9

*My sentence challenge is simple. I craft, design and ruthlessly edit one sentence until I like it. The only rules are to write one in a given day and to like the finished product.

Day 9

She tossed her pen onto her desk and disappeared out the door.

It just clicked

It clicked.

Uncertainty has been my version of a tormented hell for the past sixteen months working on this book. Something clicked tonight and I think it is finally over.

I just spent almost two hours banging out a detailed outline for the alternate plot line for my novel. As it turns out, it is more or less a completely different novel. Many of the characters are the same or at least based on ones I wrote in the original version. But for the most part, it is quite different.

It is especially different in the fact that, from start to finish, the plot actually works. And it’s good. I genuinely believe this is a REALLY GOOD story. All of a sudden, I am feeling confident about what this book is going to be. That is a strange feeling to have. I like it.

I’m going to sleep well tonight. Even though I can’t wait to start writing and revising portions from the original version and I can’t wait to make this happen, I’m going to sleep well.

Pro-Life Death Threat – Part One

Pro-life. Pro. Life. The words were bloated with irony as it occurred to her that hers was coming to an end. She stared at a thin scrap of paper in her right hand, a torn envelope trembling in her left. Saliva began to build in the back of her mouth as she read it again. The words on the paper were blurry. No – she shook her head and squinted. No, they were clear, and she could tell they had been typed on a typewriter with some of the letters whited out and re-typed.

You have been contaminated with the deadly anthrax virus.

You will be dead within forty-eight hours.

Pro-life. Who would do such a thing? Who in the name of life would attempt to kill someone just because of where she worked?

She blinked hard and noticed a fine, powdery substance on her fingers. Her stomach lurched. Grabbing the trash bin under the desk she retched into it, her body convulsing with unexpected force.

Suzanne, one of the nurse practitioners, stopped outside the door in the hallway.

“Are you okay, Erin?” As she began to step into the office, Erin’s hand flew up to stop her.

“DON’T COME IN!”

Suzanne froze. “What is it?” Her eyes darted back and forth from the soiled trash bin to the paper and envelope in Erin’s hands. “Oh, God. Is that…Oh, God.”

“Yes, GET OUT.” Erin retched into the bin again, her eyes welling up with hot tears. Suzanne backed up.

“I’ll call 9-1-1. Don’t move. Protocol requires us to shut down and quarantine the area, I have to shut the –“

“Just close it!” The heavy door slammed shut, ringing metallic in her ears. Erin slowly set the paper and envelope on the desk and wiped her hands on her pants. She looked down at them. It’s no use. Dropping her head into her contaminated hands in defeat, her forehead was cold and clammy against her palms. Odd, since her skin was burning. It’s happening. I’m going to die.

— to be continued —

Day 343 – The importance of the “where” in writing a story

Day three hundred forty-three of my 365 Day Writing Project.

I have been working on my second book (fiction) for a couple of months now and while I am certain about the “who,” the “when” and the “what” in the story, I am completely undecided about the “where.” This is ridiculous to me, since the “who” and the “what” aspects are typically more complex. The “where” should be the easy part. For whatever reason, I keep changing my mind. So far, I have flip-flopped between three different states. And maybe starting in one state and ending in another. Or maybe three or more different states. See what I mean?

My indecision – while in the middle of writing the book – has led me to the profound understanding of how important the “where” actually is. Where the story occurs not only dictates scene background, it also dictates the voices of characters, cultural characteristics, experiences of characters, weather events, climate in general and countless nuances along the entire spectrum of details. As is the case in life, in a piece of writing the “where” touches everything.

To be undecided about location puts the writer in a position of writing sections she knows will need to be changed. Some of the writing thus becomes a string of contingencies. If happening in location A, it will be this. If happening in location B, it will be that. For instance, I wrote a colorful memory from my main character’s childhood that involved sweet grass. In the location I was imagining at that time, it worked. But if I change the location, it will have to be omitted if sweet grass is not indigenous there. This would be a minor change. However, major changes throughout the story might also have to be made.

For instance, a key thread in the plot centers around the protagonist’s ongoing efforts to flee the political and religious views of her upbringing. They are conservative, hard-core Christian views. This works very well in a location such as Alabama, but not as much in a place like Vermont. If a change in location means changing or omitting this thread in the story, well, then I’m changing my whole outline and likely resigned to writing a very different book.

The longer a writer remains in static indecision the more muddled her creative process becomes. Choose the location of your story at the same time you outline the “who,” “when” and “what.” And do your best to stick to it or you’ll end up changing far more than you anticipated.

Trust me, the “where” touches everything.

Day 336 – Take your moments as they come

Day three hundred thirty-six of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Some nights I barely have enough energy to brush my teeth after I count the minutes to a socially acceptable time to go to bed (not that anyone other than my husband and kids would ever know when I turn in). Other days I battle through a project – be it painting a room, writing a good story or working – until the wee hours of the morning, hardly aware of the hours passing by. This ability to hinge on opposite ends of the nighttime-energy-spectrum (NES) is what I call, “evenings in the 40’s.” If you’re in your 40’s, you can bet on your evening productivity like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get.

I take my writing moments as they come. If involving the NES, I wallow and soak up those moments whilst making the most of the creative energy that might evaporate in a second’s notice. When I have time to write during the day or in the morning: Whoa. Watch out.

I was able to write for an hour yesterday morning while in the waiting room at a doctor’s office. I not only didn’t have to worry about being plagued by fatigue, I was devoid of the distractions of home. I experienced a lovely combination of energetic creativity and uninterrupted focus. Where and when can you find that, especially during the NES? On a wing and a prayer, that’s when, and who has time to wait for that? Not this writer.

I take my moments as they come. Whenever they may be.

Day 323 – Longing to write

Day three hundred twenty-three of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Book two is limping along, slowly but surely. Lately I am too drained at the end of the day to write much. Life is busy. Work is demanding and stressful. I curse the day job. Except for the regular paycheck, I curse the day job. Well…except for the regular paycheck and the continuous conveyor belt of delicious writing material laid out before me, I curse the day job.

All right, I admit it. As much as the day job adversely affects the time and energy I have left in a day to write, it does have its benefits. I get ideas for stories all the time. Some of my experiences are so wild and colorful and unexpected and puzzling and crazy and just plain interesting, I can only defer to the old saying: “you can’t make this stuff up.”

It’s the stuff great stories are made of. It’s too good. And some day I will write about as much of it as I can, in the context of fiction and complete anonymity for those who may be connected to the material. Until then, I long to write. The ideas keep coming, and I long to write about them.

Someday, I will.

Day 315 – One’s writing pace doesn’t always matter

Day three hundred fifteen of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Keeping a steady pace while writing is an unrealistic goal. It is for me, anyway. I find that some days my mind goes faster than my fingers can keep up, while other days I trudge along word by word tapping keys on my keyboard with slow purpose. What I have noticed about my fluctuations in pace is that – fortunately – they are unrelated to my level of enjoyment. They are also unrelated to the quality of writing I produce.

I wouldn’t mind being more consistent, hitting my stride at a pace that produces both quantity and quality and maintaining it every time I sit down to write. Perhaps that stride is something the more seasoned writers achieve after many years. Perhaps it is never reached by anyone. In all honesty, I don’t think it matters. Fast or slow, I’m writing. And I’m loving it.

Day 307 – A snippet from my second book

Day three hundred seven of my 365 Day Writing Project.

In the midst of writing my second book, I’m having a good time. The first draft of my first book is resting. I need more distance from it to be able to do a proper re-write. So it rests, and I write. As I fling myself into the throes of a second book, I have found a completely different voice. It has been fun to explore.

I decided it’s time to share a bit. I gave the first beta-read of this snippet to my seven year-old son. That may be the smartest thing I have done in a while. Well, you be the judge:

I was a young girl once. I remember it. Well, parts of it anyway. I remember the sky was a brighter blue than it ever looks to me now, even on its most beautiful days. I remember the grass smelled so sweet in the summer, my best friend Bea and I came up with the idea of the sweet grass lollipop. We loved that smell so much we just knew it would be the most delicious lollipop we’d ever have. Like too many childhood dreams, it never came to be. But it was sure fun to talk about. I remember climbing trees and skinning my jeans on the rough bark, making my mama so mad I thought she’d tan my hide to purple. She didn’t. She sewed patches on my jeans instead.

I remember playing ball with the boys and running just as fast as them, hitting the ball just as hard. My mama yelled from the front porch, “be careful!” and “don’t get so filthy!” None of the other moms ever yelled those things at the boys.

I remember being sprawled out on the front yard, looking up at the clouds, dreaming about all the things I could do someday. You know, someday when I was a grown-up. I could be an astronaut, or a chef, or own a candy store – the first ever to sell sweet grass lollipops, of course. My mama told me I could be a teacher or a nurse someday. My daddy agreed. “Those are fine choices,” he’d say. “Fine choices for girls.”

Day 304 – The chase of the writer

Day three hundred four of my 365 Day Writing Project.

The art of writing is a wily beast. Inasmuch as it can be simple, it can be extraordinarily difficult. The art of writing is always a step ahead of the writer. You see, writers are chasers. We chase our imaginations, we chase words to bring color to our stories, and we chase the notion that we can artfully depict our stories to share a little piece of our minds, to leave something behind of ourselves that will prove that we existed once. That we were something special because we had something to say worth reading. But no matter how much we chase, we never reach the level we hold as our standard in our minds.

Wily, elusive, seductively ambivalent. The art of writing is all of these things, which is why writers are chasers. We may eventually capture our imaginations and generate the story we wish to tell, but for a time we hold it sheltered deep within ourselves like hyper-protective, helicopter parents. During that time we live with it pinging around the corners of our minds in sheer madness until we are ready to put it down on paper. As we write we try to blossom the story into what we envisioned, and we hope what is left on the page truly reflects what we enjoyed (lived) in our minds. We do all of this knowing full well that it will always fall short. Always.

I love the way Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner and And the Mountains Echoed) describes it in an interview with Joe Fassler:

You write because you have an idea in your mind that feels so genuine, so important, so true. And yet, by the time this idea passes through the different filters of your mind, and into your hand, and onto the page or computer screen—it becomes distorted, and it’s been diminished. The writing you end up with is an approximation, if you’re lucky, of whatever it was you really wanted to say.

Writers experience this every day, in every piece of writing, and sometimes even in every sentence we write. Madness? Maybe. Art? Definitely.

So, we chase. It’s what we do.