Put Down Your Red Stapler and Go Home. It’s Friday.

Three things.

Uno – The “First and Last” contest is coming to a close tonight at midnight… but if you ask really nicely, I might let you finish your story over the weekend. Here’s a link to the contest info. And thanks to all who have already entered. So far, nearly 20 of you have taken on the challenge. I suspect a few more are waiting until the last minute to submit your brilliant work. Looking forward to reading each entry.

Two – I invited you to send suggestions for first and last lines that I might choose from to write a story… and some of you have done that. I might try to find a way to fit more than two of these in my story. This reminds me of a similar challenge I faced in an old blog of mine. I told readers I’d write a story using any word or phrase people sent in. Most sent a single word, and each got a short story. But this one sassy blogfriend sent me like a dozen (including, among others, “maggot-infested corpses” and “sargassum tea” and “Hello Kitty band-aids” and “a kite-flying windy day”) and challenged me to fit them in a single story. I did. And it was almost brilliant, if I do say so myself. (I’ll tell you more about that later.)

Here’s what I have to chose from so far.

First lines:

Joan hated dogs, especially hated them for breakfast.

If only he could see the future.

The end of the world was the best thing that had ever happened.

The striped cat glared at me.

The scent of roses had a chemical edge to it.

It had to be a trick, Nessie was just a myth, right?

Three attempts for three failures, and the last the worst of them all.

She wore bling like Christmas tree decorations, and I wondered if she could pay.

The song finishes too quickly.

Maybe this fertilizer will make our garden grow.

Last lines:

I was still hungry.

The jar was broken beyond repair.

The last thing he heard was, “dance for me monkey, dance.”

It burned on.

The feeling lasts forever.

Hot and sinfully smooth, just the way I like it.

If only the chairs were edible.

But it didn’t matter, not now.

The rain washed it all away.

He opened the envelope, no longer afraid.

Third Thing – While you’re waiting for the results of this contest (hopefully, by next Friday), I have a new challenge for you. Remember this post about what not to do with dialogue? Well, I want you to start thinking about what good dialogue looks like. Grab your favorite book and see if you can figure out what makes the dialogue shine. Listen to a conversation in a coffee shop and imagine it on the page. What would you keep? What would you delete? How many times do you need to mention who said what?

Next week, I’ll show you some of the good examples I’ve run across in recent reading.

Until then, write well. Read a lot. And send me cookies. (I prefer the cake-like cookies you typically only find in swanky bakeries. You know the soft’n'chewy kind. Chocolate chip. Peanut butter. Snickerdoodles.)

Thursday

Just a reminder about tomorrow’s contest deadline. Yup. That’s all I’m giving you today. Well, that and this link to an MSNBC article on why we get lost in a good book. Feel free to use the comments section to tell me what you think.

Tomorrow I’ll have a typical Friday grab-bag of random tidbits. Then next week, it’s back to regular blogposts packed with clever wisdom and snarky humor.

7 Excuses for Not Writing

seven-box1It’s still Sunday in my world. What day is it where you are? And what’s the future like? Do we all have jetpacks yet?

While I continue to be consumed by my editing work, I thought I’d give you seven excuses for not writing. Because, as we all know, these excuses play a key role in our efforts to cut our dreams off at the feet. Without them, we’d be writing all the time and getting better at it and paving the way for a successful future as published authors.

And we wouldn’t want that, now, would we?

You might want to bookmark this page so it’s readily available should the urge to write come on suddenly.

  1. I can only write when I have at least four hours of uninterrupted time. I only have three hours and forty-two minutes so I’ll just Twitter instead.
  2. The kids need to be fed. Okay, not right now, but eventually… and that takes a lot of forethought. I mean, do you even have kids? So what would you know about it anyway!?
  3. My laptop keyboard is too sprongy. I can’t write on a sprongy keyboard. I need a new laptop before I can write another word.
  4. I don’t have any ideas left. A Franciscan monk/ninja snuck into my bedroom last night and stole them from me because he’s tired of the monastic/ninja lifestyle and wants to be a famous (though still somewhat reclusive) author whose novels are so well-loved he gets invited to appear on Letterman where he’s asked to read a couple pages (just like David Sedaris does with his creative non-fiction) and before his segment – while he’s still in the green room – he meets Juliette Binoche and they hit it off and eventually run away to live in Sweden where they form a death metal band that becomes (in)famous for writing and performing terribly long and boring songs based on his bestselling books. Okay, fine. I guess he didn’t take every idea. I suppose I could write a novel about a monk/ninja/novelist… damn. Now I only have three hours of uninterrupted time.
  5. My muse left me for another writer.
  6. Tivo.
  7. Someone just published a book using the title I wanted for my novel. Now I feel empty inside.

See you soon. If the apocalypse doesn’t come first. Ooh… wait, that reminds me. Bonus excuse #8: I can’t write because the apocalypse could come any time and so what’s the point, really?

Peace. And enter the contest already, wouldya?

Time Travel & Teleportation Aren’t Just for Science Fiction

The written word defies the laws of physics. Right now, as you read this, the author of these words could be parasailing in Grand Cayman, or tied to a chair in the belly of an abandoned oil tanker while being pistol-whipped by thugs (a case of mistaken identity, surely), or (gasp) even dead. Okay, that last one’s a bit morbid, but the only thing you can be relatively certain of is that on Sunday, when I wrote this, I was none of the above.

But do you see what’s going on here? I’m talking to you from the past. Yup. We’re time traveling. I don’t know what “voice” you imagine when you read my words (I hope it’s a resonant, clever & sexy voice and not Steve Buscemi’s nasally weasel-whine), but the thing is… I’m not really speaking them, am I. It’s all in your head.

And that, my writing friends, is the magic of the written word. It takes on a life of its own the moment it lands on the page for someone else to read. And while all writing does this little trick to some degree, the best writing does more than simply speak from the author’s yesterday – it takes you to places you otherwise might never go, introduces you to people you otherwise would never meet.

Have you taken a train to Hogwarts? Stared in awe at Mt. Doom? Have you listened to Reuben Land’s asthmatic wheezing? Fought cold and fear with father and son as they walked Cormac’s Road? Felt the ache and uncertainty of Edward Mayhew and Florence Ponting’s honeymoon night on Chesil Beach?

The mark of a truly excellent story is its ability to grant you the impossible gift of living someone else’s life – to feel his or her pain, fear, wonder, joy. When you read a great novel, the words on the page dissolve into adopted memories nearly as real as the once-lived ones.

Does your novel do this? Or is it just a bunch of words on the page? Here’s an easy way to find out. Give your story to someone who doesn’t have to sleep with you at the end of the day. Ask him or her to read it, then… forget you asked. In a month or two, go back and ask what they thought. If their eyes light up and they recall a character or a story element in great detail, that’s probably a good sign (at least of that particular story element). If they say, “It was good” and that’s all? I think you have some work to do. (If they say “it was pure crap,” then surely they don’t know good literature – or maybe it was pure crap.)

Okay. That’s all. Nothing really earth shattering today. I mean, it’s Sunday after all, right? What’s that? It’s not?

I know.

Pretty cool trick, don’t you think?

Don’t forget about the “First and Last” writing contest. Still plenty of time to enter.

Just Something to Ponder

Since you’re super busy writing your entry for the “First and Last” contest I announced on Friday, I won’t fill this space will heady writing wisdom that might otherwise distract you from the task at hand. I will offer a question for you to ponder. Which would you choose to tell your real life story: a non-fiction memoir, or a novel based (loosely or tightly) on your life? And why?

That’s all for today. Don’t forget to write… your entry for the contest.