A writing prompt for creating villains

At my work we have a manager who no one particularly likes, including myself. She’s over fifty and going through menopause, which has meant that every single time she has a hot flash, she announces it to anyone who’s near, including customers. She’d probably be better off to just page it over the PA system.
When another employee’s mother died this week, she managed to find a way to make it about herself, and she often walks by me, pauses and audibly sighs, as if waiting for me to coo, “Oh, poor *insert name*! Whatever is the matter?!”
And when I don’t respond like she expects (because I’m really not a very nice person), she’ll do it again, but louder.
“SIGH!” she screams.

This is usually when I find an excuse to walk away.

Anyway, today at work I was thinking about a time when I got trapped in the break room with this woman and because I’m not completely terrible, I indulged her in some light conversation about drinking.
“I can’t drink like I used to,” I said, “I get really bad hangovers now that I’m getting a bit older.”
To which she responded, “But do you know what causes the worst hangover? Crack.”
At which point I tried to end my break early and run away, but not before she had a chance to flash me a picture of her current boyfriend’s penis.

If you think I am making this up, I’m not. I wish I were.

So I was thinking about this encounter when it came to me: the best writing prompt ever.
Are you ready for it?
Are you sure?
I don’t believe you.
Okay, okay, I’ll tell you.

It’s as follows:

write a journal/diary entry from the perspective of someone you don’t like.

It doesn’t seem super fancy if you don’t take a minute to consider it (I usually despise writing prompts), but IT’S ACTUALLY AWESOME. What better way to create a villain than by writing something from the perspective of the real life “villains” you have to deal with every day?

The villain is usually my favorite character in any sort of fiction, and he/she/it is usually the character that I have the hardest time bringing to life in my own work.

Enter the best writing prompt evar, and I’m suddenly putting myself in my manager’s shoes. Does she reminisce about her crack smoking days? Is the dick pic she showed me actually from someone she knows in real life, or was it just another ploy to get attention? What would make her want to share something like that with an employee anyway? Does she know how others perceive her? How does she perceive herself?

So many questions, and writing about it gives you the creative licence to fill in the blanks. It will be so much fun to write.

I. Am. A. Genius.

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Editing

Editing is difficult.

And I mean stupid difficult.

I’ve heard it said numerous times throughout my degree that the short story is the most difficult to write because every single word must have meaning, but at least when the revision phase occurs, there are only 500-2000 words to comb through. The errors are easy to find–even if you find that editing your own words is a challenge, it is a relatively small one (says the girl whose published story has the wrong “their” in it).

Editing 85,000 words doesn’t grant the same ease especially because like the short story, I want all 85,000 of those words to have the precise meaning I want. And that is SO much work!

I’ve essentially spent the last few months wrestling with this task. For a while, my goal was to edit it from beginning to end, looking for problems in: story, plot, character, sentence structure, grammar, and believability. However, the problem I found with this strategy is that rarely have I ever had enough time to go through 350 pages with a fine tooth comb in one sitting. Unfortunately, I still have to work. So I will surrender the project, and when I pick it back up again, I will begin at the beginning again until I run out of time again. Repeat x 50.

What did I accomplish by this strategy? I have now read the first five chapters so many times that I now hate them.

Obviously, this strategy isn’t effective, so I am now working as far away from those first five chapters as I can and editing from the conclusion, working my way backwards. I have yet to discover if this tactic will be as unsuccessful as the first. I will keep you updated on my progress.

In the meantime, to spur on my editing attempts, I’ve purchased the Writer’s Digest 2016 book of writer’s agents. I have promised myself that no matter what, I will send out query letters sometime this year. The author of Bird by Bird says that new authors almost always send out their manuscript before it’s ready, and I am honestly getting so frustrated with the task of editing that I can see the truth in her words.

My Favourite Writing Exercise

Sit down at you desk/on your bed/in a nook/wherever you feel comfortable writing with a pen, a notebook, and your music playing device with some headphones. Write the date at the top of the page and the song you’re going to write to.
Put your headphones in, ready your pen and notebook, and press play.

Write until the song is over. Write whatever you like, or whatever comes to mind, just don’t stop. Your pen must keep moving until it’s over. If you write faster than you can think (which does tend to happen), rewrite the same word over and over again until your thoughts catch up and you can carry on. The important thing is to never let your pen stop moving until the song is over.

When the song is over, unless you’ve stumbled on to a genius idea that needs to come to fruition right in that moment, stop writing. Take a step back. Stretch. Breathe. Choose the same or a new song with a different length. Repeat.
This exercise is wonderful because it forces you to get out of your head, to stop doubting yourself, and do that one all important thing: WRITE. It’s so easy to get tangled up in thoughts of doubt and self depreciation; it can cripple your writing. When you’re forced keep going even if what you’re writing is absolute shit, you have no choice but to to get passed it. There is no other option because in this exercise, your pen must continue. This exercise one of the best ways to get over writer’s block; I managed to get a brand new short story out yesterday by doing it!

It doesn’t have to be done exactly the way I instructed it either.

When I first encountered this writing exercise, it was done a little differently. It was simply a timed exercise, and there was no music involved. I used to do it with a little hour glass on my desk, but I soon realized that I could use the length of a song as the timer. One of my favourite songs to write to is Always Attract by You Me at Six because it’s a length I prefer (about six minutes) and it’s pretty  in a kind of sad way. I also like using music as a timer because if I have no friggen clue what to write about that day, I can write about the music. But if you’re not a musically inclined person, feel free to use a stop watch app on your phone or to listen to whale sounds or whatever it is that helps you write. Just make sure that for the amount of time you set, you don’t let your pen stop. That’s the most important part.

Happy writing!

The Write Tattoo

image

I got my first tattoo! After years of thinking about it, I finally did it. It’s on the right side of my ribs.
It’s the last line of my favorite book, Gone With the Wind. It says, “After all, tomorrow is another day.” It has layers of meaning to me beyond the literary significance; that’s why I knew these words were right.
If I get another one, it’ll be Jane Eyre or Sherlock Holmes related.

The Write Way to get Rejected

In one of my earlier posts, The Write way to get Published in Lit Mags, I discuss the proper way to go about submitting your work for publication, and in this post, I’d like to discuss Step Six a little further: rejection.
Rejection sucks. There’s no two ways about it, but it you want to be a writer, you’re going to be rejected. According to The Write Life (hey, they like puns too!), the chances of getting your story published by the New Yorker is 0.0000416 percent. You have a better chance of being struck by lightening sometime in your life than being published by the New Yorker.

But maybe you’re just starting out and you haven’t set your goals as high as the New Yorker yet. Your chances of getting published in lesser known magazines are slightly better, but not by much.

When I have a piece that I feel is publish-ready, I don’t submit it to just one magazine, but a whole slew of them thus increasing my chances of publication with every mag I submit to. As a result, I have a whole folder in my email dedicated solely to rejection letters. However, I’ve found that not everyone is like me when it comes to submitting their work. To a lot of people, writing is something sensitive, fragile, and it’s almost like they are afraid that should their work be rejected, they will lose the ability to write completely. So they don’t try. The fear completely cripples them and they may go their whole lives never trying to submit to even one magazine, let alone a whole bunch of them. This post is for people like that.

I figured the easiest way to to ease the fear of rejection, is to share three real life examples of what it looks like because really, when you get up close to it, it’s not all that scary.

The first example of rejection is the most common:

Dear Contributor, 

Thank you for entering our 2014 Annual Nonfiction Contest. We thank you for the opportunity to review your submission. Unfortunately, your essay was not selected as a finalist in our contest, and we regret that it does not meet our present needs. We wish you the best of luck placing your work elsewhere. 

Sincerely, 

The Editors

 

That is an actual letter copied and pasted from my email from Phoebe magazine.

I can understand how this may seem painful at first, I mean, they haven’t even bothered to use my name. I have been degraded to “Contributor,” while the name of my piece or anything even indicating that they read it is not present. The first time you get a rejection like this, it will sting. There’s no denying it. But eventually, the more you submit, the more accustomed to it you will become. Eventually you’ll be able to understand that editors are busy people and that writing individual responses to each and every piece is a tedious task. The more rejections like this you recieve, the more you’ll appreciate rejections that are a little more personalised and clever, even if they still seem like they are copied and pasted to every person whose piece they reject with nothing more than a name change and a reference to the title of your story. This is the second typeof rejection you might recieve.

Here’s a rejection letter I recieved from the Ampersand Review:

Dear Kat 

Thank you for sending us “Clocks”. We appreciate the chance to read it. Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but we’re going to have to turn your piece away into the cold. Sometimes we’ve already got a similar piece, sometimes we’ve seen a few too many like it lately, and sometimes we’re just in a bad mood and feel better taking it out on you. 

Thanks again. Best of luck with this. 

Sincerely, 

Cook 

Ampersand Books 

 

I love the quick wit and brash honesty of this one and it makes me want to try again with this magazine.

The third and best kind of rejections you can ever get are from those editors who actually take the time to let you know their thoughts about your piece. These kinds of rejections still hurt (sometimes a lot), and maybe it will take you a few days to come back to it after the initial wound, but when you do, you’ll likely find some great advice about how to improve your piece from someone who works in “the biz” and knows what they’re talking about. It will help you immensely before you submit it again elsewhere and (hopefully) encourage you to keep writing.

One of the first rejections I ever got was one of this type from Calyx:

Dear Kat:

Thank you for your submission to CALYX, and also for your patience during the break between discussions for Vol. 28:1 and 28:2. “Contagious” was among the small group of submissions held for final consideration by our editorial collective for the next issue and it was a pleasure to have the chance to share it. 

While we enjoyed reading and discussing your writing, we ultimately decided that your submission doesn’t fit our current needs. The language and interplay between Innocence and Illness was dark and primal, but sometimes at the cost of clarity and direction.

We appreciate the hard work and style that goes into your work and would like to encourage you to continue submitting to CALYX in the future.

Sincerely,

The Editors of CALYX Journal

 

How freaking awesome is that?! My story made it to the last round, almost got published, and they want me to submit more to them. If that’s not encouraging, I don’t know what is.
There is a fourth type of rejection letter which you may recieve, but I’m not going to share any because, well, they’re embarassing. These types of rejections occur when you haven’t done your homework. Editors can usually tell when you haven’t checked them out and read back issues of the magazines to see if your story actually fits their style. This kind of letter comes with a few passive aggressive lines, suggesting that you actually take the time to read the magazine you want to get published in. This kind of rejection is your own damn fault and if it hurts your feelings, well, then you deserve it. I have been guilty of this more than once. It takes a lot of time to find the right magazine that’s a fit for you, and in a exasperated haze of laziness, I have sometimes blindly thrown my work at places it had no right to be thrown. I suggest avoiding this and the embarassment that comes with it.

That’s it! Those are all of the ways your work can be rejected, and when it comes down to it, it’s really not that bad. The worst that can happen is a generic dismissal and even if you do get the first type of rejection, hey, at least you tried. Plus, there is always the chance that you will get accepted! The easiest way to fail is to not try, and if you want to be a writer, I heartily encourage you to take the risk.

If this article was useful to you and prodded you to try submitting your stories somewhere, I’d love to hear your rejection (or acceptance!) letters when you get them a few months down the road.

The Write Way to Read

By my own definition, lately, I have not been a writer.

Why? Because writers write. I haven’t been doing this.

Unfortunately, my ability to write is closely linked to my mental health and for what feels like the last two centuries or so, I’ve been trapped under the ice in a lake of depression. Only quite recently was I able to finally kick through the heavy sheet of numbness above and feel the sunlight for the first time through the cracks in the ice. You never realize how much you appreciate the ability to feel until it’s taken away and given back.

Since my last post a number of things have happened. I have applied to graduate school to the master of library information studies program, my manuscript has started to resemble something similar to a novel, and I read another book from my list and Huckleberry Finn (I am excited to FINALLY understand all of the references to it in well, pretty much every movie and book ever). I’ve also been analysing my reading habits and I’ve decided to make a new goal for them.

A while ago I came across this image:

These statistics sadden me beyond words, but it’s not the tremendous amount of non-bookish people in the world I want to focus on, but the last little bit that says, “Reading one hour per day in your chosen field will make you an international expert in 7 years.” I tried to look up who initially said this, but I was unsuccessful.

However, wether the information in the image is credible or not (I mean, can reading every day for an hour ever really be a bad idea even if it doesn’t make you a specialist?), it’s a fascinating idea. Since I came across this image, I haven’t been reading for an hour every day because I’ve been stumped by the idea of what to read. What would I like to be an expert in? I have so many different interests, committing myself to only one genre/topic for seven years seemed daunting and, well, boring. That’s every day. Every single day for seven years. That’s 2,555 hours of reading in the same subject. What if I chose to be an expert in flowers and a year into the project, discovered that I really couldn’t care less what the difference between flowers and weeds are? Would I start over in a different subject, or would I just give up? Thoughts like these paralysed me from acting on any impulse to train myself to read every day.

It dawned on me yesterday that it really doesn’t matter what I read as long as the act of reading actually occurs–that’s the important part. As I’ve mentioned before, I have an obsessive personality and it comes out when I read books as well. I need to take breaks from reading because the way that I read isn’t healthy. I don’t eat or sleep or really, function like a human should. All I do is devour page after page until I’ve whipped through the book so quickly, that unless it was a particularly amazing book, in a few weeks I’ll have a difficult time remembering exactly what I was so obsessed about. This trait of mine can be particularly problematic when I tackle large books that take a bit longer to get through. I tend to emerge from my reading frenzies like a strange emaciated bat creature who has forgotten how to socialize with the rest of the world.

I believe that if I learned the self control to stop my reading frenzies and limit myself to only an hour a day, but do it every single day, I would actually be a much more productive reader than I am now. It’s that whole tortise versus the hare parable (except in my case it’s really more like obsessive bat creature versus like, I don’t know, being a normal human being). In the wise words of Stephen King, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” So that is what I intend to do.

I am pledging to make a goal not to become a specialist in any specific topic in seven years, but to kill the bat creature by learning self control and reading every day for an hour. As a result, I will read more by doing it more productively and I am not limiting myself to any subject. It will be difficult, but now that my mental state is better, I believe I am up for the challenge; I am excited to see how many more books I will be adding to my 50 Book Pledge shelves once I’ve begun.

Bring it on, batsy.

I Finished It

My novel, that is. The rough draft of the manuscript is done.

In total, it is just over 75,000 words and I have found myself in uncharted territory–for me at least.

This is the fourth novel I’ve finished which sounds totally crazy because like…wow. I’m awesome. But the thing was, with all of my other novels, once I finished, I tucked them away never to be seen by anyone ever again because they’re terrible. That’s not me being a self depreciating artist or anything either, it’s just true. I’m not the kind of girl who says she’s fat because she’s looking for attention and assurance that she really isn’t fat; if I am saying so, it’s because to me, it’s that: a fact. Much like the colour of the sky. My percieving myself as fat has very little impact on my self worth; if I’m bringing it up, it’s likely a necessary prelude to discussing weight loss/clothing/something related. I’m like that with my writing too. I know my first three novels are shit. It is simply a fact.

Don’t get me wrong though, despite their being shit, I absolutely love them in a far away won’t-read-you-ever-because-I-don’t-want-to-cringe-for-200-pages kind of way. Without them, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today where I have this manuscript that is actually worth reading. It’s through my bad novels, that I got to this potentially good one. However, this is where the terrifying uncharted territory comes in. With my three previous trainwrecks, I’ve never edited them because, well, I’ve never had to bother. I knew there was no point because they weren’t worth it. But this one is.

So what does my lack of experience editing manuscripts mean for this novel?

Well class, it means that I have no fucking clue what I’m doing.

There’s probably a zillion books on how to write fiction, but I have come across very few that actually tell you how to edit the damn thing when you’re done writing.

I guess when I think about it though, the how to write fiction tips probably apply to the editing process as well, you know, making sure your characters are well rounded, having a detailed setting, making the plot follow a logical progression, yadda, yadda. I guess the problem I’m having with all of that is while I’ve been writing the manuscript, I’ve just been making this huge mess with sloppy sentence structure, cliches, repeating words, vague settings etc. and just motoring on towards the end. Finishing it has been my only goal for years. Now that the mess making has come to a conclusion, I’m suddenly stuck with this new and unfamiliar goal: I need to work what I’ve written into a readable novel worth publishing. It’s time to clean it up, and I feel like I’m standing in the wreckage of a tornado with only a little broom and dustpan.

The one bit of advice that I have come across repeatedly in my little oh-my-god-how-do-I-make-this-a-good-novel panic is that Stephen King, Anne Lamott, and this blog I found all seem to share the same idea: once the rough draft is done, take a step away from it.

So that’s what I’m doing (begrudgingly). I am finising Bird By Bird by the aforementioned Lamott and a mystery novel by Sue Grafton. I’m not allowed to touch it until I’m done both. Okay, maybe a little bit of touching, but only like heavy petting.

After that, my plan is to start with the setting (the prospect of working on character terrifies me) via researching tree/plant/flower types for the weather of my island, names of wallpaper/paint colours, and begin colouring all the little edges of my scenery that I’ve left blank. Next, I don’t know what I’ll do. Maybe cry a bit, become fascinated with the trees I just researched, become a biologist and hide from the behemoth task of editing forever. Sounds about right.