Searching for the write words

Whenever I hit a snag — known as the accursed ‘Writer’s Block’ — I’m instantly cast back to “Throw Momma from the Train.”

An odd reference? Maybe. But Billy Crystal’s character of Larry constantly searching for the right word to end the sentence, “The night was…” is the perfect example of writer’s block. Throughout the film Larry is searching for that missing word, and that’s just in hopes of starting a new novel. Never mind the rest of the book’s plot. Just the idea of how important that lead sentence is, is a great example of how one word can get you on a roll.

So often the flashing cursor is unbelievably intimidating. Like it’s waiting for you, beckoning. Maybe even taunting.

“I’m not stuck,” you tell the cursor. “I’m just waiting for the right words.

“And they’ll be here any second.”

Stop waiting for the words and just start typing. The first thing that comes to your mind could lead you down an entertaining path. I’ve written on a similar topic to this in the past, especially on just getting going.

How about a gentle push. Here’s your start:

“The first time the alarm didn’t go off…”

Take it from there. Don’t let that cursor hold you up.

 

Sorry about the moon!

Sunday, time for Sunday Photo Fiction, a chance to turn a photo into Flash Fiction of somewhere between 100-200 words. This is my first shot at it. Follow the link and give it a try, too.

Image

I was just washing my window, the living-room one that overlooks the Pacific, when I rubbed the bottom of the moon away.

I wasn’t using anything other than plain-old Windex, when, poof, I smeared a piece of the Earth’s satellite from the sky.

One minute it was a full moon, the next it was, well, you see it. It’s not all there any more.

The sad thing is, I have no idea how to undo it. I would’ve tried spraying and wiping again, but I was worried I’d make more vanish. And the moon is so little as it is, I can’t bear the idea of making more disappear.

Please forgive me. I’m truly sorry and would never have cleaned my window at that time of night if I’d known this was going to happen. I promise, I won’t ever do it again.

But let me know if it’s too hot one day, and I can try cleaning the window when the sun is out.

An incomprehension of time

Escher clock

Stop for a second and think about how much time plots your day.

Now stop another second and remember that time doesn’t exist.

Yet time tells us when to wake up. When to go to work. When to eat. When to sleep. When to leave the house. When to be in a rush. When to relax and just live.

Time is just a notion invented to structure our lives. And for the most part, we follow it unquestioningly.

Without time, how would we manage? Would it be chaos or would we continue along like we’ve always done? Even before the invention of clocks nailed down “exact” time humankind was controlled by it. The revolution of the Earth around the sun dictated the time for humans to eat, sleep, and work.

As we evolved, so did time. It got more exact, more detailed, more minute (pardon the pun). We watched it sift through as sand, watched it swing by in the form of pendulums. Even now, we carry it with us on our wrists, in our pockets, on our mobile phones. We’re never more than arm’s length or a quick glance or a turn of the wrist toward time.

And it’s so hard to resist checking what time it is.  (It’s 11:26 p.m. Mountain time right now as I type, if you’re wondering.)

Amazing how much of our lives we dedicate to something that doesn’t exist.

A toast to St. Valentine

The whiskey burned as it hit the back of my throat, nearly forcing me to choke. 

My coughing was relentless then next 20 minutes. But I managed to inhale a few more swigs between hacks.

Valentine’s Day again. Calling it a holiday was offensive, not only to atheists but to everyone. It wasn’t a holiday. Nobody got paid to enjoy the day off from work. Not even those psycho postal employees.

I thoroughly agreed with the realists who called it Hallmark Day — just another way for the greeting card companies to turn a profit between Christmas and Mother’s Day. It was a long stretch and they probably needed a boost, I was willing to grant them that. But at whose expense.

Mine. I mean, lots of people’s. And I wasn’t talking about the cash. I had enough to go out and buy a five dollar cardboard cutout. Even had twenty bucks lying around to buy a rose and maybe some candy. 

But that wasn’t what was costing me.

(Another swig)

Twenty-one of these damned February fourteen days and still nothing to like about it. Not once had I ever been with someone on that most sacred of days for lovers. Or so I’d been told it was sacred for lovers. Ha! I wouldn’t know. Nor would I allow myself even the slightest taste of hope that I would ever know. There were only about fifty more of them in my lifetime before I could happily ignore them. Of course, by then I’d be dead and probably wouldn’t be doing much ignoring of anything.

(Another swig) That one went down just fine.

The entire marketing was laughable really. Why did anyone need a day to honor the person they were already doting on? It was like the right to acknowledge you didn’t care about that person the day before or the day after. Just as long as you paid attention on that specific day — this year a Friday, making it suck all the more because the bars and restaurants would be packed with couples pretending they truly loved one another. Heck, maybe they did. But if that were the case, they didn’t need to go out and flaunt it in front of me … uh, the rest of us. 

(Another swig) 

I looked at my bottle. About a fourth of the way gone. I was feeling good too. The bars were beckoning. Stevie and I had already vowed to meet up in a bit to make fun of the cuddlers. 

(Another swig)

Even more depressing, Valentine’s Day or not, I hardly had any prospects. I’d dated plenty, been serious once. But right now, the cupboard was bare. 

In the middle of my next swig a face popped up in my mind. Darla. The girl from psychology class. We’d talked a few times and she’d asked for my number. Said maybe we could get together to study. 

Then my phone rang. No ID on the screen. It was local. She was local. My heart rate kicked into full gear.

I took a swig. Clicked the send button.

“Hello?”

“Yo, where are you?”

It was Stevie. “You still coming?”

“Whose number is this?” I asked.

“I’m at a pay phone at the bar,” he said. “I left my mobile at home. Wanted to let you know in case you were trying to reach me. Dude, you gotta hurry up. There are some total saps here. We’re going to have a great time laughing at these losers.”

“Sorry, I lost track of time,” I said. “Be there in a few.”

I hung up. Felt my heart rate slow.

I raised the bottle in silent salute to St. Valentine, whoever the hell he was. Time to head to the bar and enjoy the rest of the holiday.

Weekly Writing Challenge: My Funny Valentine?

The right place to write (a short short story)

Writing in the study never worked for Peter.

The author who had had a best seller every year for the past decade couldn’t make it happen.

His study contained a desktop computer, a desk made of oak and at last count 3,439 books — all but a handful fiction.

Guests and acquaintances loved seeing Peter’s study. The marble inlaid between the shelves of oak that matched the desk made for endless conversation.

Peter loved it too. It might have been his favorite room in the 10,500-square-foot mansion. But only to read or diddle around on the Internet.

For writing, he would’ve picked the bathroom ahead of the study. Though he never had.

He’d tried numerous times over the last six years, since moving into the place. But every time he sat in front of the computer his mind went blank. He didn’t know the reason. Maybe it was because he’d never had a study before this place. He’d always just sat down where his fancy took him and started working on his laptop. He’d tried that too once, took the laptop in the study with him and spun his chair away from the desktop. No luck there either.

A new novel had sprung to his mind on his walk this morning. It would be another best seller, he thought to himself, not that that mattered to him. He already had enough money to last him through his kids’ kids. The writing was the fun part for him. It always had been. He’d adored the challenge of getting to a finish line when he’d started there. He’d reveled in the plot when it started in the middle. But he preferred solving the puzzle when his idea started at the beginning of a book — as the one this morning had. He never knew where those stories would lead him, and as usual, he was eager to find out.

And he was determined to solve the latest puzzle in the comfort of his study.

He had the first few pages already drafted in his head when he opened the French doors to his oak-scented room. Had them nearly word for word when he sat down and pushed the power button to his computer. Felt them tingling in his fingertips as the word-processing document sprung to life.

He set his fingers to the middle row of keys and watched the cursor. It blinked at him, like an eager puppy awaiting a command. Soon, the cursor was mocking him. Here I am. Now I’m gone. Here I am. Now, gone. Here. Gone. Here. Gone.

He started to sweat. Felt the beads ooze through his skin, build until a few trickled down his temple. He had no idea what he was going to write. Didn’t know what the cursor wanted him to do. Didn’t know what he was supposed to do.

He took a deep breath. Held it. Exhaled. Then stood up and walked out. He closed the French doors behind him. Grabbed his laptop off the kitchen counter and walked into the bathroom. He sat down on the tile floor, between the toilet and the sink.

He began to type.

Self-editing: Is it possible and what’s the best way?

If you’re looking at publishing your first book — fiction or non-fiction — obviously it’s going to need an edit.

Many writers think it’s perfectly plausible to pen a novel, give it another read or two and then shoot it off to try and get it published the traditional way or via e-publishing. Rid yourself of that notion. It’s nearly impossible to edit your own book. You might have a 90,000-word work of genius on your hands, but without a new set of eyes giving it (at least) a once over, it’s all but guaranteed there will be plenty of mistakes throughout.

As a writer and editor I’ve read numerous “finished” pieces only to find mistakes aplenty that can change entire ideas and structures of paragraphs.

Before we get to the part of self-editing, let me remind you again, find a new set of eyes to give your work a read. It’s going to be put out there anyway for hopefully thousands of readers to sift through, what better way to get it started than to have someone you know give it a go.

This helps two ways:

1. They will most likely heap praise on you for such an achievement as completing such an undertaking as a novel, and who doesn’t love that praise;

2. They will reveal to you all the hidden mistakes your own eyes couldn’t find.

It’s not that you’re not capable of editing or not capable of catching your own mistakes. Our eyes just work differently when they know what letters and words are supposed to be on the page. They fill in missing blanks, they rearrange letters subconsciously to correct misspellings. To sum it up, our eyes shield us from harm we do to ourselves.

That’s why you should try and find someone to edit your work. Who knows, their take on how things should be in the story might give you a little insight on something you like or something you missed — such as an early-story reference to something you thought was going to play a large role in your novel, but what you never cycled back to.

Naturally, in this how-fast-can-I-make-a-buck world, there are plenty of editors out there willing to read your story for a certain price (bless their little hearts). Some of them are legitimate editors that can really make your work shine. Some of them are going to let it sit on their virtual desk for several weeks before they give it a once over and send it back with a few grammatical corrections. Going that route is up to you. And you’ll have to figure out who you’re going to trust.

That being said, maybe you don’t want to pony up money for an editor (and who can blame you) or maybe you don’t have the money to pay for an edit (and who does). Maybe you also don’t know anyone who you really trust to edit your masterpiece.

So now you’re down to one option: You.

As an editor with 13 years of experience, I’ve read plenty of copy — much of it my own. The problem, whether you’re writing on deadline or for fun, it’s way too easy to make mistakes, again, many of them my own.

So I’ve devised a few tips to try and help myself for pieces I don’t get edited (though those are few and far between).

1. Give it a second and third read. Too obvious? You’d be surprised. Plenty of people give it a once over and call it good. You know which stories I’m talking about. They are tough to stomach just because of the grammar and spelling errors, not to mention the plot going in 12 different directions and only have of those come to an end. Go back. Give it a twice over. Then give it another read for good measure. Even on that third read you’re bound to find at least one mistake. Got some time on your hands? Read it again.

2. More notes. This one is extremely important for longer pieces, such as novels and non-fiction works. You’ve probably already got a paper stack or virtual stack of notes you know back and forth. Now read your piece once again creating another stack of notes. Think of this one almost as a checklist. Put down any foreshadows or early posturing ideas the book proposes. Cross them off your checklist as the book comes back to them.

3. Read it in a different format. One of the biggest attributes of WordPress is the Preview mode. Use it! This lets you see what your finished blog is going to look like. Every time I preview a piece of my own work — EVERY TIME — I find at least one mistake (just found one now), often more. But WordPress isn’t the only one to give you this option. Most publishing/writing software has built-in alternate modes of viewing. Use them. Even if it’s saving your file in a PDF format just to give it a different look, do it. The new look will have your eyes and mind retraining themselves, tricking them into what they might see as a completely different document. If you have the paper and the ink, or the means to get it printed at your neighborhood office supply store, do it. Making notes and corrections on a hard copy is a wonderful way to edit.

4. Start at the end. Ugh. I hate this one, but I’ve found it plenty useful. Start at the back of your work and read each paragraph beginning with the last one and finishing with the first. This is great for grammar and spelling, though it can be hard to follow a plot in reverse. All of a sudden, you’ve tricked your trusty eyes into seeing this in a new way. No way have they memorized these paragraphs out of order.

5. Read it again. Sick of your masterpiece yet? It’s what authors mean when they say they lived with their book for X amount of years. You read it forward, you read it backward, you know it by heart.  Now, finally, it might be ready to be published.

How do you self-edit? I’m always looking for new methods that will make my copy cleaner and more succinct. Drop me a line or post a response!