Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. -- Gene Fowler

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Prompt Production

Writerland has been very empty for me lately, the place it usually occupies taken up instead by things of a decidedly more mundane nature. It's hard to be creative when, as I've grown fond of saying, life is being stupid in my general direction.

But I wanted to share a little of what has been happening in my creative brain over the last few weeks, largely in the form of the output from the Toasted Cheese prompt chats. The chats are held each Sunday, and while I don't make it to every one, I sometimes do the prompts on my own during the week. That scoundrel, Lieutenant James Sterling, who's grown into his own since I played him last summer in a Dresden Files roleplaying game, invariably turns up when it's time to do Toasted Cheese chats.

Here's a sample of what happened in the last prompt chat I wrote on. Standard "James has a filthy mouth" disclaimer applies.

Prompt: tell about a tempest in a teapot.
Reg and I struggled to hold the basement hatch shut against the howling wind. "You're trying to tell me," I shouted at him, though he stood right beside me, "that this fucking teapot holds the answer to all the weird shit that's been going on in town lately?"

"Yeah!" he shouted back.

"God, why can't normal things happen to me?" I complained at a more normal volume.


I raised my voice again. "Nothing! Where's Del?"

There was a loud thump and a squeaky cry of pain from outside.

"Shit. Let it open a bit," I told Reg.

"I don't know --"

"Do it!" I barked. "We can't let Del be out there with that thing!"

We relaxed our holds on the hatch and the roaring winds immediately took advantage, pulling the sturdy wooden door upward. Reg lurched forward, standing up on tiptoe before managing to adjust his balance. The door opened about three inches.

"Del!" I cried, squinting against the rush of air.

I could feel a weight shifting on top of the door. I flicked a glance at Reg, who nodded. He felt it, too. Several fingers appeared on the edge of the door, gripping it so tight the knuckles were white.

"Gimme yer hand, Del!" I released the door with one hand to extend it toward the visible fingers. A second set of fingers joined the first, a foot away.

"Del!" I edged closer to the opening, hoping she would let go with one hand so I could grab it.

I heard a faint voice: female, but incomprrehensible in the wind. I couldn't wait any longer. Reg's face was red from the exertion of holding the door mostly by himself. I reached for the second hand and grabbed the wrist on the outside of the door, then pulled. There was another shriek, and the hand struggled to pull away from me for a moment, then relaxed. "I've got you!" I pulled with all my might, releasing my hold on the door entirely.

The basement door flapped open wide for a moment as Reg failed to adjust to the sudden extra work he had to do to hold it. In the moment it was open I could see outside. It was like a scene from The Wizard of Oz out there. A whirlwind made visible by the objects it had collected: planks, doors, what looked like a horse trough, howling madly away, and at its center a plain, unadorned, everyday bright red teapot, its top rattling as if it were in the process of boiling. I thought I could even hear a whistle amid the sound of the treacherous wind. As I pulled, the first hand let go of the edge of the door and latched onto my wrist. I hauled in the body attached to the hands and in a moment Delia came flying into the basement and landed on my lap, bowling me over.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Play for the thrill of it

Seth Godin wrote about the "lotteries" of life in his blog recently:
In terms of practical mathematics, whatever lottery you're playing (the marry a millionaire lottery, the get picked to be on Oprah lottery, the get found at Hollywood and Vine and win an Oscar lottery) has no winner.

In other words, your chance of winning is so vanishingly small it's as if, from an investment point of view, there are no winners.

So, says Seth, play for the thrill of it, not in the hopes of winning. Whether it's the have an art show lottery, the record a hit song lottery, or the publish a novel lottery, the journey is as important as the destination. Bogged down in the middle of a heinous novel editing project and surrounded, seemingly, by people who have "made it", it can be hard to see that I'm making progress, too. I have my own path to travel, and whether or not it lands me on the NYT bestseller list or wins me a Hugo or Nebula award (or even a Caldecott), I have to walk my own way. (Insert Aerosmith headtune here.)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Slow Progress

I'm making some slow progress on "Umbra". I've got all but the tail end of the second manuscript into Scrivener, and though not much new material has been written, having the book all in one place in one application helps me visualise it better. I'm surprised at how linear the second manuscript is, time-wise. I had thought I was all over the place, writing endings of scenes before their beginnings, et cetera, so that I would have a lot of work to put things back in order. But aside from one bit written on day two of NaNoWriMo which follows something written a few days later, it's in pretty decent order.

I haven't done much actual editing or revision of the second manuscript yet, so I'm seeing little things pop up all the time. I'm reading over a section, looking for a reference to this or that, and I'll see a typo or a weirdness in a characterisation and out comes the red pen, circling or marking or scrawling a note. This process is different in Scrivener, but the program allows me to make little notes and keep them organised.

Scrivener Beta 1.6 for Windows
I'm really pleased with the way Scrivener looks and handles. Having an application that looks good helps encourage me to work in it. And my bits and bobs are at my fingertips to remind me to check the behaviour of this or that character, or figure out what the name of that one town is, actually. Writer's Cafe has many of the same functions, but it's not as attractive and the organisation of the information is not quite as tidy, I think. I've been using Scrivener almost exclusively for the last week, so I'm not making a line-by-line comparison here. The biggest down side for me is that I have to log into Windows to use Scrivener. There's no Linux version. I could use Wine, but my Linux install is currently a bit munged and Wine won't run it. But that's a topic for the Linux blog, not this one.

Little by little, this book is taking shape.  Right now I'm just filling in the gaps I left when I first wrote it during those frenzied Novembers. Anyone else out there using Scrivener or a similar writing program like Writer's Cafe?  Have any opinions about their performance?  What's your preference?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

There's an ace in every deck

Recently I've found myself becoming discouraged by other writers' success. People I know or writer friends of people I know have gotten published or are receiving media attention, and it gets me down. I'm happy for them, but it's a reminder of how much I haven't done.

KJ Grigoriadis shared a poignant anecdote with me and I want to pass it along:

At a sales demo, a man invites two women to sit in chairs on the stage, one to either side. He hands each woman in the chair a deck of cards and tells them, "Find the ace. When you find the ace, hold it up and shout, 'I found it!' and I'll give you ten dollars." Meanwhile three people stand behind each chair and call to the women, encouraging, discouraging, or hurrying them along, setting up a powerful distraction. At a word from the man, the women begin searching for their ace. After a few moments, one woman finds hers and holds it triumphantly aloft. "I found it!" The audience cheers for her. The man congratulates her and hands her ten dollars, as promised. He then points out that the other woman has stopped looking for her ace, though her deck still holds one. He never said, "I'll give ten dollars to the first to find it, and not the second." But once the first woman succeeded, the second stopped trying.

My writer friends have found their aces. I haven't found mine yet. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't keep looking. "The Rise of Umbra" is a good story with solid characters. If I don't write it, who will? What stories (or pieces of artwork, or poems, plays, sculptures, songs, et cetera) do you have within you that only you can create?

Friday, February 4, 2011

A shift to the left

This morning I've been distracted by computer troubles once again. Armed with a determination to get in here and write my 500 words before settling in to other tasks that need to be done, I was almost immediately derailed by my laptop misbehaving. I'll spare you the gory and geeky details, but I'm over here, two feet to the left, now typing on Cairns, the most recent acquisition from the local library, who donated a total of three used computers and a slew of mice and keyboards to me last year. Hopefully he'll play nice and let me get my work done.

Actually, I'm supposed to be writing my 500 words before writing in here. Distraction. Forgetfulness. Me. Anyhow, I nailed down my 500 words lickety-split yesterday, getting them done, as I had planned to do today, before I did nearly anything else (barring breakfast, of course).

Honestly, I didn't mean for the blog to turn into a constant run down of my progress with the challenge, but things got all backwards today and it's so odd to be working on a full keyboard and not my laptop and I'm just all discombobulated creativity-wise. Strange how one little change in the environment can completely throw me off my game. It's time to refocus! I do have some topics in mind for next week. Topics that aren't just about my manuscript. There are some burning questions that I intend to throw out here. There are some cool sites I've discovered recently. And other things, perhaps. So have a good weekend and I'll be back next week with ... stuff. Interesting stuff. Debatable stuff! See you then.

February Challenge Day Three: 626