Writing Prompt – 5 Pictures

At our writer’s group meeting last night, we did a freewrite, which we haven’t done in a while, but we’ve been meaning to get back to. “Freewriting” means taking a prompt and writing immediately for a set amount of time–no planning, no stopping, no editing, just see what happens. If you haven’t tried it, do so! It’s fun.

The 5 Pictures idea is one where I pull out five (or so) images from a huge stack I’ve cut from magazines over a number of years. Writers can choose whichever one they want to write about, and the way we do it, no-one is under any obligation to share what they’ve written when the time is up. Usually people want to share, which is great and makes the exercise even more fun as we read our pieces aloud afterwards, but there’s no pressure. I think the knowledge that there’s no expectation of sharing makes it easier for people to let go and write.

Anyway, I rather liked mine from last night, although when I randomly pulled this picture from the pile my first thought was, “boring!” In the end, though, this was the one that spoke to me. We wrote for ten minutes, which is not long to tell a whole story, but I think I pulled it off…

“What They Don’t Know”

House-hunting with Marta is a bitch.

“Nothing too big,” she admonished, “because how many bathrooms can one person be expected to keep clean?”

I closed the browser tabs for all the places over 5000 square feet.

“And lots of windows,” she added, smoothing her dark locks.

“With wide windowsills,” I said, “for you to sit on.”

“Goes without saying, but yes.” She stuck her pink tongue out at me impudently.

“Neighbors?” I asked.

She gave me a green-eyed stare at that.

“Right,” I said. “No neighbors too close.” I closed more browser tabs.

“And you know how I feel about dogs,” she said, stretching over to look at the laptop screen.

“Well, the density of canine population isn’t usually part of the property listing,” I reminded her. “We might have to take our chances.”

Marta sighed languidly. “Of course, you’re right, darling. We’ll just have to ask the agent when we go for a viewing.”

I stroked the silky fur on the back of my wife’s neck. “I assume you’ll be in human form for that?”

She butted her head against mine with a rumbling purr bubbling up like laughter. “Darling,” she said. “Who in their right mind would sell a house to a shape shifter? But what they don’t know…”

Friday Desk Report 2-17-2017

The return of the Friday Desk Report! And look at that fabulously almost-symmetrical date.

So, there hasn’t been a Friday Desk Report for a while, mainly because for the past couple of months they all would have read something like, “Tried to work on the novel edits this week in between bouts of feeling utterly depressed with the world. Drowned my sorrows in Guild Wars 2. Also, winter.” I mean, how many times would you want to read that?

But here’s the good news: there’s actually news. I turned in the novel manuscript! I turned in the short story! I edited and submitted another story! So things have really picked up again around the old desk. With luck, it will continue. I have a few new projects pestering me for some attention, and some older ones lined up in the “go back to” queue. Time to open up my year-out project planning spreadsheet and fill in some things for the next few months.

I’ve also been asked to give a WFNS workshop this spring, which is exciting. We’re calling it “Exploring Speculative Fiction,” and I’m looking forward to spending a day talking genre with folks writing and hoping to write specfic stories. So over the next few weeks some of my desk time will be spent putting the workshop together.

I’ve also been busy Saving The World Through Knitting. Well, okay, not *quite* saving the world. But making a small difference. So far I’ve knit ten hats from my yarn stash, which will be sent to an organization that distributes such items to refugees in need. I’m finding it a very useful strategy in coping with stress, distress, and the darkness demons of the winter months. (In the course of this project I’ve also become addicted attached to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I expect I’ll be writing some new mysteries this year…)

Two Weeks of Winter

Well, yes, on the East Coast of Canada, we certainly get more than two weeks of winter. Winter meanders in sometime mid-November, hunkers down, and usually has to be forcibly evicted sometime in May. Occasionally it will pack its bags in April, if we’re really lucky.

But the past two weeks have been…worse than usual. Last week my high-school-aged son had three snow days…this week he’s had four. He’s not complaining, and I’ll admit it–I’ve enjoyed being able to sleep later than usual. But–wow. I’m not sure what the two-week accumulation has been, but in one day we had 70+ cm (that’s around 28 inches for my non-metric friends), so you can imagine that the two-week total is considerable. My office window sits at ground level, and it’s a good thing I have an OTT Light on my desk, because sunshine’s been in short supply.

My office window on Valentine’s Day. Not much light creeping through that snow drift!

We had more last night, although a mere few centimetres. And the forecast for the next few days…only flurries!

I’ll believe it when I see it.

NaNoRetro: 2002

nano2002Yup, today we’re going all the way back to the beginning. This was my first year of NaNoWriMo! And yes, in this picture you can see what I expect is a pretty rare artifact–the 2002 t-shirt.

My first NaNo novel was The Y Plague, a story about a future Earth where the male population has been reduced by a very large percentage. No, I did not write this because I hate men. I wrote it because it was an idea that interested me and I wanted to explore it. Here’s the blurb (from before I really understood how to write a good blurb, but someday I’ll write a better one):

In a future where genetic degradation has reduced the male population to only five percent of the total, fertile males are prized as research subjects and breeding partners. There’s unrest, however, as men begin to resent the bonds of society and start to form their own Freemen colonies. The radical X/Alt group wants to see the end of all research aimed at restoring the male genome, and in Rome, the last male Pope uncovers a secret that will either drive him mad or rock the Catholic Church to its foundations.

I had a one-year-old and a six-year-old when I wrote this novel, so it required getting up early in the morning and staying up late at night. I remember pouring up a glass of juice every night so that in the morning, I just had to stumble out to the fridge and retrieve it, sipping as I made my way to my office. Then I pried open my eyelids and tried to get a few hundred words down before the day started. This strategy worked out very well for me, as I found that by the time I got to write again once the kids were in bed, my brain had been working on the next part all day. I wrote over 2k words nineteen days of the month that year, which I think was pretty consistent.

Looking at my spreadsheet from that year, I see that I passed 50k words on the 25th of November! Wow. I was on fire that year. I finished out the month with 58,337 words, and an outline for the final fourteen chapters of the novel. I kept writing until the 3rd of December and reached 59,029 words, but wrote the outline when I realized that although I hadn’t gotten to THE END, I had to turn my attention to the upcoming holidays. I didn’t want to forget where the novel was heading when I picked it up again in January.

I have never written those last chapters. *headdesk*

However, I pulled this novel out last year and began looking at it. I think it’s good. Better than I remember, actually, and perhaps even more relevant in many ways than it was when I started it. It’s very near the top of my list of things to finish. I think it probably needs a new title, since the “plague” is not really a plague and has happened long before the book begins, but I can deal with that.

One thing I’m doing during this retrospective is considering these unfinished novels, what state they are in, and what they need. From this I’m making a to-do list for 2017, so expect to see some of these titles (or replacement ones) popping up over the next while.

November 11th Musings

Poppies by Benoit Aubry of Ottawa

This morning I walked “into town” to observe the Remembrance Day ceremony. I do actually live in the town, by the way, but on the outer edge, and going “into town” has always been the family nomenclature. I had planned to walk with some others of my family, but due to this and that I ended up going alone with a new plan to meet them there. It was a sunny morning, and the wind held a jagged edge–but, hey, it’s November in Cape Breton–and altogether lovely for walking.

Since I was alone and hadn’t taken my headphones to listen to music, I set my mind, as I walked, to the problem facing me in my current novel project. Which, coincidentally, had to do with war. The question I have been trying to answer is basically, how can a small group of people stop an interstellar war?

The obvious answer, I suppose, is: they can’t. But this is fiction, and that wasn’t the answer I wanted. I wanted an answer that involved cooperation, and determination, and compassion, and alien races working together. I just couldn’t seem to find the right way to make all those pieces fit together into what also has to be a good story.

So I mulled it over as I walked, and I thought a bit about war, and a bit about my Great Uncle John, who fought in the Second World War and did come home, if a changed man. I thought about the characters in my book, and what’s just happened and is happening in the United States, and about other wars and other places and other stories. And I came back to my characters and all the bits of the novel that have already been set in motion.

And. I think it worked. By the time I met up with my family members, some very important story pieces had fallen into place, and others had revealed how they could work together, and new pieces had appeared, too. I didn’t quite dance in the street since it would have seemed quite disrespectful under the circumstances. But I felt much better than I had about the story in a while.

There isn’t really a moral to this story, but I suppose if there is one for writers, it’s that sometimes you have to give your brain a quiet place to churn, and let it go. Maybe it means a change of scenery or activity, maybe it means a nap or just a break from staring disconsolately at the screen. Maybe it’s not forcing ideas, but nudging your thoughts in a certain direction and letting them run, instead of staring at an outline that isn’t working any more. Maybe it’s a walk on a sunny, windy day, alone with your thoughts and a question to be answered. If you’re stuck, try all of these things, and more, if that’s what it takes. The pieces will fall into place.

It’s My 15-Year NaNoVersary!

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_municipalliaison-2-250x250Yes, 2016 marks the 15th year I’m participating in the wonderful creative blast of National Novel Writing Month. I thought it would be fun, as the month progresses, to look back at the things I’ve written, the data I’ve kept, and, even more important, the t-shirts and other nano-merch I’ve acquired over the years. So sit back, pour up a celebratory glass of your favourite liquid for toasting, and enjoy this little trip through time and word counts.

I’m doing this in no particular order, so today I randomly picked 2008 (because that’s the t-shirt I’m wearing today).nanoretro2008This was the 10-year anniversary of NaNoWriMo itself, and the brown baseball-style tee boasts “NaNoWriMo” and a large number “10” on the back. This is one of my all-time fav NaNo t-shirts. That was the year I wrote At the Sign of the Starcase, and yes, that’s STAR CASE, not a typo. This was a middle-grade to young adult story, and I know I wrote it specifically trying to incorporate many of the elements my daughter enjoyed in the books she was reading at the time. Here’s the blurb:

In the five years since Maddie’s father disappeared, she and her family have struggled to go on with some semblance of a normal life. That life is shattered by the arrival of Neb, a vaguely rabbit-like creature who turns up in Maddie’s room one night, pleading for her help in finding a powerful book called the Cyclopedia and telling her that her father is still alive—but trapped in an alternate world. There’s no question that Maddie will try to help Neb and hope that by doing so she’ll be able to rescue her father. But keeping the rest of her family safe grows increasingly difficult once she finds out that there are others from that world who want the Cyclopedia too…and they don’t care what they have to do to get it.

Looking up my tracking spreadsheet from that year, I see that I finished up at 50,699 words. Some selected comments from the daily “notes” section of the spreadsheet: “Still no idea what I’m doing with this story, but at least it’s started,” “I hate that message that says, at this rate, you won’t finish on time,” “bleh,” and on a more positive note, “Woohoo, I’m getting so many great ideas in the last 24 hours!”

Unfortunately, all those great ideas did not lead to a finished first draft of Starcase, and I didn’t get to type “The End,” which is always my ultimate goal during NaNoWriMo. I always get the 50k, but that goal is more elusive. My daughter is no longer a middle grade reader, but I’m sure if I ever finish Starcase she will read it anyway just to be nice.

We launched our first Third Person Press title, Undercurrents, during that November, so I think that contributed to my struggle with this manuscript. However, I still like it and think it has potential, so it remains on my TBF (to-be-finished) list.

Friday Desk Report – October 21, 2016

barneysriverfall

I detest the end of summer, but we do have a beautiful autumn in Nova Scotia.

So far, October has been a super-busy month. Unfortunately, not a lot of that busy-ness has resulted in word metrics to report. In between home improvements, road trips, meetings, family events…sometimes writing does get sidelined.

Oh, I’ve been working, it just hasn’t been the sort of working that translates into a lot of new words. It’s been planning, reading, changing, re-evaluating. A few new words written on a couple of projects, but hardly enough to share the numbers.

However, that’s what the writing life is like, sometimes. It’s not always quantifiable. That hour I spent working out the story thread for a new short story–sure, it looked like I was only doing jigsaw puzzles on the iPad. But there was so much going on behind the scenes while part of my brain focused on looking for patterns in tiny digital pieces; another part focused on looking for different kinds of patterns in that short story project.

lapdeskRemember that “Shoe” cartoon from Jeff MacNelly? I won’t put it here since I don’t have permission, but Google will find it for you. The one about how typists pound keyboards, and writers stare out windows? Yes, that’s what it’s like a lot of the time. I also considered the trajectory for one of the characters in my current novel manuscript while I sewed a new pillow for my lap desk – it was spilling tiny styrofoam beads and also had lost some velcro. It now has a new life and I like it better than before! AND now I can use my laptop more comfortably again, which will help productivity. See how it’s all interconnected?

The continuing education course I’m teaching this month seems to be going swimmingly–I’m enjoying it very much and I think my students are, as well. We’ve covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time, and it’s hard to believe there’s only one class left. And that experience has been inspiring as well. Interacting with other writers and creative people is always rewarding.

And then it will be November. I’m considering being a bit of a NaNo Rebel for National Novel Writing Month this year. I’m thinking of a project I’m going to call “The Finisher.” This will entail finishing the first drafts of several–I have three in mind–NNWM manuscripts that still need final chapters. Still toying with the idea, and it will depend on the state of some deadline projects, but it’s appealing. I do, of course, have new ideas begging to be written this November, but it’s impossible to overstate the importance of finishing things, too. So I’m thinking about it. Stay tuned…

Interesting things from the Internets this week:

Art isn’t free–can we stop pretending it is?

7-Point Plot Structure Story Mapping Template

Creating Mood Worksheet

Friday Desk Report – October 7, 2016

img_6712

Lavender shop in Venice (I’d like to be back there breathing in its soothing scents right now!)

It’s been a purple week around here.

Purple, because that’s the color we’ve been painting my daughter’s room…rich, luxurious purple. The color of royalty, luxury, and the unity of mind, body, and soul.

Which is actually kind of ironic, because rarely do my mind, body, and soul feel so out of sync. Too many things on the to-do list, too many aches and pains (from moving furniture and painting and climbing up to stretch and reach), too much chaos in the house (always the fallout of painting jobs), too many deadlines zooming at me at once. I just made a loooong rapid-entry list in Nirvana, which is part of my current attempt at staying organized and getting everything done. That feels like a step in the right direction, and, whew, it’s Friday…

…and the beginning of a busy family weekend, since it’s Thanksgiving here in Canada. So I guess I’m not getting a whole lot done until Monday.

This week saw the start of a continuing education teaching gig for me, though, which runs throughout October. I have a small but enthusiastic class of students, and we’ll be discussing pathways to publication and all the attendant considerations, best practices, and pitfalls to avoid. Not that I consider myself the last word in any of these things, but I do enjoy sharing what experience and knowledge I’ve gleaned to this point. I think it will be a fun and enjoyable course.

I did finish editing that novella and sent it off to my beta readers. Huzzah! I also sent out my newsletter, but hmmmm, that could have been last week…

And I just looked at my year-out schedule spreadsheet (which plots what I should be working on and when, and which I adapted from Ron Collins), and I realize I’m not irrevocably behind. Not yet. So that’s a bit of a relief. But I need a lot of desk time this coming week, so we’ll see how it goes.

Fellow writers and procrastinators, I wonder if you see yourselves in this article? It goes a little off-track at the end, but it does make sense in a way. I think this might be a good time to re-install Cold Turkey on my computer…and it has nothing to do with Thanksgiving.

Friday Desk Report – September 16, 2016

Oh, my, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

But in my defense, there wasn’t a whole lot of activity at the old desk this summer. We travelled for most of July, and then there was much to do for the Big Fat Geek Wedding happening at the beginning of September. What? You want a picture from that? Well, here you go. It just happened to happen on my own anniversary, so we celebrated at the photo booth.

sherry-terry-geeky-anniversary

 

And of course, I took a little bit of time for just enjoying summer. I did manage to read and make notes on a novel manuscript while on airplanes, and I have a new novella in the editing stage. So I guess I wasn’t entirely a slacker, was I?

This week has been mostly getting ready for CaperCon. This is the second year for this convention, and last year’s was a tremendous success. This year it looks like things have only grown, so I’m looking forward to being a guest. Here’s my schedule for the weekend:

Reading/Q&A – Friday @3:30
Crafting Stronger Stories (with Third Person Press) – Friday @6:30
Self-Publishing for Success – Saturday @ 11:00
Plotting and Outlining – or Not – Sunday @ 10:30
Blue Pencil Cafe (with Third Person Press) – Sunday @ 12:00
Writing a Series – Sunday @ 1:30
Insider’s Guide to Marketing and Publishing (with Third Person Press) – Sunday @ 3:00

If you’re there, please drop by my table and say hello!

Friday Desk Report – May 27, 2016

tulip2016This has been a lovely week of getting things done but NOT chasing a deadline for any of them. I’ve been busy but not frantic, both at my desk and away from it, and it feels almost as good as relaxing with my feet up every day. Okay, not quite that good, but yes, almost. And spring is finally arriving, and all the bulbs I planted in the fall are poking their heads up to have a look around. This gorgeous tulip is one of them; I have several clusters of them around the yard and I’m just loving them. Along with them I have new daffodils, other tulips in various shapes and sizes, and hyacinths for the first time ever. I even managed to spend a couple of hours outside pulling out old dead stems and leaves from last year, so the new blooms are actually noticeable.

big-rabbitBundle news! My Nearspace novella, “Waiting to Fly,” is in another bundle over at BundleRabbit. So if you missed it last time or were not drawn in by the other stories in that bundle, here’s another chance. This time it’s a bundle brimming with stories featuring teen characters, from superheroes to space station buskers, apocalypse survivors to magic-users. There’s over $60 worth of stories in the bundle, and they can all be yours for just $10.TeenS-H bundleThe other authors you’ll find in this bundle include Eric Kent Edstrom, Carl S. Plumer, Mario Milosevic, Shantu Tiwari, Stefon Mears, Nick Tatano, Sabrina Chase, Deg Logan, Rob Collins, Michael Jasper, and J.D. Brink. It’s only around for another ten days, so you should pick up your copy soon! What a great way to load up your ereader with some summer reading possibilities!

For fun this week I wrote a chapter for a round robin story being circulated around my Second Life writing group, The Quillians. We’ve done one of these before and they’re always fun; everyone brings their own ideas to a chapter, but builds on what’s gone before. I think it’s important sometimes to write something with no pressure, no strings, and no expectations other than having fun. I haven’t done that in a while and so I really had a blast with this chapter. Now as long as the others like it…wait, I said no pressure!

I actually did not write on the novel draft this week–I decided that I needed some thinking time on it, and I think that was a good idea. I’m ready to start back on it on Monday with a better idea of some things that have to happen next. It’s an interesting facet of the writing life, how much work actually goes on when you’re nowhere near the keyboard. I also did some more thinking and preliminary research about the new idea that’s taunting me. I think it’s going to happen. Not sure when, but it’s taking on a life of its own already…

Oh, and I signed up to receive Notes from the Universe this week. So far I love them. :)