For Those About To Write (We Salute You) #16: Bring On The New Year(s)

For Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part! 

Screen shot 2013-12-17 at 7.04.32 PMIt seems ridiculous, especially considering this series has been about getting over the blank page and just going for it, but I’ll be damned if I haven’t been sitting here with a blinking cursor for what feels like an eternity trying to figure out how to kick off my last post here at Ploughshares. So, I’ll say thanks muchly to those of you who have been following along over the course of this year; to everyone trying to get back into the swing of things, who needed to nudge yourself out of a rut or wanted to try something new, or wished you had a partner-in-crime to pump up and flex your creative muscles again, I sincerely hope you’ve found something in here that sparked something in you.

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For Those About To Write (We Salute You) #15: Eat, Drink, and Be… Something

Screen shot 2013-11-26 at 5.32.49 AMFor Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part! 

Holy smokes, pals, we’ve almost been at this for a year now! YES! How’d we all do gettin’ small? I’ve always loved and really appreciated short prose, so I thought this was a fun one. As a reader, I find that stumbling upon a single, perfect turn of phrase is as satisfying as finishing a massive novel—and as a writer, I seem to collect short, fully-formed snippets that have no beginning or end, and instead just exist as impossibly brief middles. Those usually just come naturally, so putting on the constraints of size was actually an interesting challenge. Now, I need to decide what to do with all the bits and pieces…

In the meantime, on to the next!

#15: Eat, Drink, and Be… Something

The holidays—I’m referring here to the amorphous three-ish months that mark the end of one year and the beginning of another—are loaded with all kinds of things: emotions, traditions, travel, family, celebrations, stress, and, generally, lots and lots of food. Like—so much food. From delicious manufactured junk that only appears during this strange, special time (I’m looking at you, peppermint bark) to the epic mealtimes that punctuate get-togethers, eating is often done in excess to share love, drown loneliness, and everything in between.

This year I propose we think—and write!—before and/or after we dine, nibble, and nosh. Continue Reading

For Those About To Write (We Salute You) #14: Let’s Get Small

2606645766_e5a934eb40For Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part! 

Was anyone else feeling a little emotional after doing last session’s Sliding Doors exercise? Sheesh. While there’s definitely something freeing about exorcizing regrets and shoulda-woulda-couldas from your own life experience, it also can also stir up a heck of a lot of emotions surrounding those times you wish things had gone differently.

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For Those About To Write (We Salute You) #13: Sliding Doors

For Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part!  

Screen shot 2013-10-14 at 12.48.22 AMLast session we took a brief break from writing to set some goals for ourselves. And because accountability can help keep that kind of thing on track—and because I greatly appreciate y’all taking on these exercises with me this year—I’ll share mine with you here:

1) By the end of March of next year I would like to write and edit a fully formed short story, one that’s ready to send out to a journal or competition. This year has been pretty damn decent in terms of sheer volume of words produced, just putting together and following this series alone, but everything’s a bit… scattered. I have yet to latch onto a concept I’m jazzed enough about to develop into something larger, and outside the confines of a dedicated class or workshop, it can be tough to pull a deadline out of thin air and just go for it.

2) I’m on a mission to put actual pen to real paper and drop more notes in the mail. So from now through the end of the year, I’m going to send out a postcard a week to a pal. Just a little something to say hi. Just enough to spread a teeny bit of analog love.

And now, onto the next challenge!

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For Those About To Write (We Salute You) #12: The To Do List

photoFor Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part! 

Can you believe we’re nearly ten months into this year-long writing extravaganza? I’m pretty damn impressed that we’ve all made it this far, and hope that everyone’s feeling good about the work they’ve done.

So far we’ve covered a lot of ground and tested out a bunch of different approaches. Now, it’s time to take stock and consider the future.

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For Those About To Write (We Salute You) #11: Guided By Voices

For Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part! 

Screen shot 2013-08-30 at 2.17.37 AMAre we all a bit hot and bothered from last session’s laptop romp? I’m new to the erotic writing game, and, well… it was fun! It all seemed a bit illicit, which was exciting—which made it less of a slog to get things going on the page. In spite of my own instructions I was still somewhat shy, but am looking forward to revisiting this challenge and continuing to bang away—at a keyboard! c’mon!—to get it right. Mastering the art of romance, between love and lust and lost inhibitions, is a delicate balancing act and dammit, I’m going to try to achieve something that reads as real, in some way or another.

#11: Guided By Voices

Write what you know is a common refrain for newbie authors, and in a lot of ways it makes perfect sense; you’re absolutely the only person out there with your very particular take on what’s what. Sometimes, however, sticking with that singular perspective is just too limiting. It can be easy to lean on your own life for creative inspiration but this can also become a kind of literary crutch. Or maybe you’ve found yourself adopting a recurring identity that just seems to appear once you sit down to start typing.

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For Those About To Write (We Salute You) #10: Everything You Always Wanted To Write About Sex *But Were Afraid To Try

For Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part! 

Screen shot 2013-08-08 at 7.49.11 AMHeyo, friends! Did everyone have an over-abundance of fascinating conversations since last session’s Q & A & Q & A? In my day job as a design writer I ask a lot, a lot, a lot of questions, and I find that even in a less personal, more professional setting there are few things better than connecting with someone interesting who wants to—or is willing to—share their work and/or life. These opportunities are genuinely special, and will directly or tangentially enrich your writing as much as your person.

And now, for something completely different.

#10: Everything You Always Wanted To Write About Sex *But Were Afraid To Try

A few weeks ago I was eating lunch with a pal who, with little fanfare, announced his latest passion project. “I started writing a sexy novel,” he said. “I wrote 25 pages yesterday.” He’s been working on an entirely different book for quite a while now, setting daily goals and disciplining himself to get it done, and after this quick gear shift he had a magic touch and fingers that just would not stop. 25 pages in a single day?? C’mon! Such was, for him, the seductive power of getting caught up in naughty prose.

Now, to be immediately clear: writing erotica or romance is not inherently easier than any other genre. In fact, getting it right might just be one of the toughest literary challenges out there; both have been traditionally tabooed and stigmatized, oftentimes making them difficult subjects for both authors and readers to approach.

And, as such, it’s very, very easy to go horribly awry with this kind of text, aiming for lustful and ending up with laughable; “Argh” is used numerous times as climactic exclamation in 50 Shades of Grey, and last year marked the 20th anniversary of the Literary Review’s Bad Sex award, bestowed upon the most cringe-worthy stabs at fiction with an erotic edge.

Seeing as though this particular series is about experimentation, however, we’re going to give it a go. There’s nothing shameful about some harmlessly titillating trial-and-error from the comfort of our own laptop computers.

So let’s shake things up and get, you know—excited.

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For Those About To Write (We Salute You) #9: Q & A & Q & A ….

For Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part! 

Screen shot 2013-07-23 at 7.36.42 AMAlrighty pals! Let’s consider this a bit of a clean slate. We’re about half-way through the year, and last session’s Cut & Paste gave us an opportunity to revisit our handiwork, pluck out the parts we especially liked, and put them in a special place—okay, a word doc—for safe keeping and easy access. Revisit that collection when you need a boost, return to it when you want a prompt, or let it hang out for a while, untouched, and rediscover your gems a little later on with fresh eyes.

Now, it’s time again to turn our attention outside ourselves. We’re askin’ questions; we’re gettin’ answers; but most of all, we’re listenin’ and we’re learnin’.Continue Reading

For Those About To Write (We Salute You) #8: Cut & Paste

For Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part! 

photoLast month’s exercise was to come up with different narratives surrounding an inanimate object. Of all the miscellany on display and tucked away and in my teensy San Francisco apartment, I chose to be inspired by a rock. A plain old rock.

I was on my way out the door to the local coffee shop, on a rainy morning a few weeks ago, when I pulled a coat from the closet—heavy and wool, with buttons down the front and an oversized hood, one I hadn’t worn in a while because despite the city’s notoriously fickle weather it had been pretty pleasant for a while. And with my umbrella clutched in my left hand, I reached into my pocket with the right and found a rock. A plain old rock. A perfect mini-monolith about an inch and a half long. It situated itself between my fingers and I ran the pad of my thumb along its smooth edge.

Now, it’s not actually the weirdest thing in the world that I’d find a rock in my pocket. I collect a lot of things; stones happen to be one of them, and this, being such a fine specimen, definitely seemed like one I would be attracted to. But it seemed like a beachy find; how had it ended up along for the ride in my  jacket? It was enough of a mystery to warrant the start of a story, and I’ve been having fun playing around with narratives about it ever since.

And now, onto this month’s exercise.Continue Reading

For Those About To Write (We Salute You) #7: Show & Tell

For Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part! 

Picture 3Okay. This last exercise, Stop, Look, and Listen, was a challenge. I feel sheepish about this, but continually checking my phone has become a habit as bad—and instinctual—as biting my nails, which I’ve done for as long as I’ve had fingers. It’s not something I want to do. It is, more often than not, a physical action that happens before my brain can have a say in the matter; a nervous tic that actually makes me more anxious the more I do it.

Reaching for an ol’ notebook instead of a gadget took me back to the analog days when it was natural to jot down all the minutiae of my day-to-day, from stray observations to deep (and not-so-deep) thoughts. I liked it. It felt good to get down my own stream-of-conscious thoughts on paper, as opposed to absorbing someone else’s from online. This practice is a keeper for me. I’m going to try to keep up with this one, to retrain my reflexes to opt for pencil over touchscreen.

Next up is an observational deep dive; we’re going to spend loads of time developing a deeper relationship with an object we adore. Get ready to Show & Tell.

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