Still Stressing About Which Story to Write?

Figuring out what to write can be quite messy and time-consuming when you have drawers and drawers & files, upon file folders of story ideas you’ve collected over the decades. I promise myself (almost on a daily basis) I will commit to a project/idea and see it through to the end – hence the whole commitment thing – it’s about staying with it, persevering and not flaking out when 10 other great story ideas come calling. Still, I waver, I fail at this commitment thing. I think I’ve become my own enabler – I entertain these cool, out-of-the-blue sparks of imagination and allow them to hijack me away from my current project.

This act becomes a very convenient way to tell myself, “You’re still writing, brainstorming, plotting, whatever….you’re still engaged in that which they call the “writer’s life” right? After all, you are breathing life into this tiny spark of an idea with every character sketch, every plot point and every metaphor you invent.

In short, I have become my own worst roadblock. I don’t suffer from “Writer’s Block” – instead I am perpetually infected with the “Me Block.” Instead of doing what the great Margaret Atwood advises me to do in the afternoons as I listen actively to her Masterclass (on repeat almost daily) – instead of sticking to it….instead of listening to her words: “A word, after a word, after a word, is powerful,” I digress.

For now, I will march onward with my sketches, and brainstorming and plotting and imagining…but at some point…if I am to be a writer, I will have to choose one of these lovelies and just write, one word after another (a la Atwood) until the entire manuscript is complete – until I can type the infamous two words: The End. Until then, I am just playing at being a writer – and play I shall <3

BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A LITTLE ROMANCE (OR A LOT)

AN EXCERPT FROM MY 3rd NOVEL: ONCE UPON A CUPCAKE SHOP

Available through: https://amzn.to/2O0b96E

THE FARMER’S MARKET on Niagara Street teemed with life. Fresh, earthy smells and vibrant, indescribable colors found nowhere else except amid the splendor of a street bazaar—a true farm-to-table experience. Eva knew nothing matched the sheer enjoyment of an open-air market. The endless rows of vendors under battered awnings and tents formed a multi-colored landscape as far as the eye could see. Tables and crates overflowing with nature’s harvest: the egg-nog yellow of summer squash piled high on wooden baskets, the impressive pyramids of the fire-engine-red plum tomatoes and bell peppers, mounds of vibrant purple eggplants and red onions, the citrus potpourri of a table stacked with Valencia oranges, limes, lemons, nectarines and bright green lemongrass.

Eva’s absolute favorites were tables stockpiling a medley of apricots, peaches, mangoes, gooseberries, and warm summer cherries—these were the fresh delicate summer fruits she would soak in a sugar bath, drizzled with honey or coat with confectioners’ sugar to use as toppings for her iced cupcakes.

“This place is amazing.” Leandro took slow steps to match Eva’s leisurely pace.

“Is this your first?” She figured he must have bumped into many farmer’s markets throughout the years; after all Manhattan was known to have some great ones, from Columbia University’s Greenmarket north of Central Park down to the Tuesday market on Broadway and Battery Place, with offerings from local farms to Lower Manhattan’s Bowling Green plaza.

“No. I’ve seen a few pop-ups in Hell’s Kitchen on Thursdays along the pier. But I’ve never quite gotten over how these places shock the senses.” Leandro smiled and walked beside her.

They strolled past the section of the market showcasing the seasonal fruits and vegetables. At the southern entrance of the lot, a toothless vendor with a propensity for haggling over the price of his fresh produce shouted bargains at whatever passerby happened to be within earshot. Leandro stopped to smell the farmer’s plums and apricots. He felt the warmth of the sun in his palm.

“I’ll take these three.” He decided.

“Make it a whole pound for just five dollars and we have a deal.” The vendor swayed in anticipation of Leandro’s negotiating tactic.

The toothless man seemed almost dissatisfied when Leandro agreed to his price, handed him five singles from his wallet, took the plastic bag full of freshly-picked summer apricots and joined Eva at the next stall.

“How’d you make out?” She asked, admiring his selection.

“Five bucks. Can’t beat that.” He smiled and his irresistable dimples controlled the moment.

“You could’ve gotten them for four.” Eva pointed to a basket of apricots near the Valencia oranges she was inspecting.

Leandro saw a handwritten sign propped by a popsicle stick in the middle of the apricot pile that announced a special deal that would fetch $3.89 a pound. “What can I say, I’m a sucker for sweet things.”

There he was again, Eva thought. Leandro and his metaphors were fast becoming famous. Always flirting, taunting, with his innuendos and cute little dimples. If Eva wasn’t careful her Leandro-free days would soon come to an end. Truth be told, Eva didn’t want any days without Leandro. For someone who hadn’t dated or had the pleasure of a man’s company in eight years, she felt completely at ease with Leandro. Completely relaxed. She could be herself. She felt at home. Home? She freaked and pretended to calculate how much oranges  would cost her. Could Leandro be the home she was yearning for, the home she’d been missing? The home she deserved?

And I thought I’ve found my favorite writer…

I have read tons of YA with sad disappointment. Many which have been hyped and gotten praises and awards but failed to touch me in anyway. But my YA impression has changed. I had lost hope that YA could be lyrical, touching, and life-changing (even for an adult reader like myself). After reading Kathleen Glasgow’s HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE DARK, the search was over. What she does with the narrative voice felt, not just like an intimate conversation with a friend, but rather an intimate conversation with a younger me I had been neglecting for decades. THIS. IS. HOW. WRITERS. SHOULD. WRITE. Full stop!

A Short Story of Improbability

Saving Galileo

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ‘em.”  

– William Shakespeare

The café is crowded tonight but I have no patience for a crowd. Minutes will be lost in the long line for a Frappuccino, not to mention the relentless effort needed to secure even the smallest of tables-this will cost me precious writing time. A cold urine spot on my underwear rubs against my skin, adding to the increased frustration.

It amazes me how after a lifetime of daily practice I still can’t efficiently shake and squeeze the excess pee from my dick. A violent spasm takes over my right knee—my pressure valve. Perhaps I should just go back home and attempt to work through an eight-year-old’s constant demand for attention and the futile arguments of two teenage girls over phone time, nail polish, and all that’s trivial in the universe.

The words of my colleagues come to mind: “You are not a true writer until you have produced under the most deplorable conditions.” They’re quick to recite the words of the great Toni Morrison, who explained in an interview how she wrote around her baby’s vomit: “While I was writing he spit up orange juice on the manuscript, on the tablet that I was writing on and I distinctly remember writing around it because I thought I had this really perfect sentence that might not come back if I stopped and wiped up his puke.”

So, I resolve to abandon the romantic notion of a productive night to creamy Fraps, smooth jazz, and the comfort of unified chatter. Making my way through the customers, I head home determined to write around it…when I see Jake coming in. His left hand already in the air signaling for me to join him at a nice table near the windows that is freeing up. Confirming his invitation with a similar wave, I shout over a few heads to ask what he’s having.

“Tall Latte-no whipped cream!” He yells back taking off his coat and draping it over the chair.

Others have been waiting for more than fifteen minutes (their coffees turning cold) hovering over seated patrons, like hawks watching their pray from an elevated position. But not a minute through the double doors, Jake’s set up at one of the most sought after spots in the entire place. Lucky bastard.

Continue reading “A Short Story of Improbability”

Boss Bitches: Not a Lifestyle. Not a Trend. It’s who we ARE.

We are Boss Bitches. A force to be reckoned with. We’re the bad ass bitches who help you changing your tire. We play poker and enjoy cigars & cocktails before breakfast. We give to the needy and adopt too many strays.

We, Boss Bitches, speak at least two languages and respect (or at least accept) everyone’s opinions. We lift everyone up around us and deflect petty behavior. Inner strength, confident, and grit are our super powers. We look gorgeous in our own uniquely beautiful styles, and we are ALWAYS who we choose to be.

Like all Boss Bitches, we are capable, independent women, but not perfect. What some may consider our weaknesses, like addictions to shoes, caffeine, chocolate, or champagne, are just guilty pleasures we know we deserve. Most of all, real Boss Bitches live by one major rule of Boss Bitchdom: Never, ever, judge, question, or cross another Boss Bitch.

Is There Such a Thing As Imagination Exhaustion?

How do I know if I am suffering from IE (Imagination Exhaustion)?

I’m not sure how most people’s imaginations work. Not quite certain what sparks their creativity and other-worldly muses. It has been said that entertainers (from dancers, musicians, artists, writers and other creatives) tend to have an overactive imagination. Then, there’s the whole debate of right-brained versus left-brained people. Which is better, left or right? Verdict’s still out on that one, as it should be, because there is evidence to suggest each side has its pros and cons.

But right or left, imagination or muse, what I do know with certainty is I’m experience the birth of a new world (a world filled with characters and exotic backdrops and nail-bitting conflicts and plot twists) every time I blink.

There is a new story in every new smell, sight, sound, textured surface, and in every sweet or savory bite I take. There is a hidden hilltop vineyard mystery in every sip of Argentinian Malbec I have with dinner; An adventurous young woman traveling alone and navigating the  dynamic streets of Tangiers after sunset with every delicious bite of honey-soaked Baklava and gulp of sweet mint tea. The gentle Saturday breeze that sways the palm trees, takes me to a South Pacific shipwreck deep in the lush mangroves of New Caledonia where a crew of five will discovery who they truly are and what they are really capable of after being saved and nursed back to life by a people they assumed were savage cannibals.

The sad truth of it is, I am capable of filling volumes of encyclopedic-sized books with all the stories that traverse my brain, like the synaptic sparks that bounce back and forth and jump around spastically inside our gray matter all day long. Yet, when it comes to filling the blank pages to bring to life said stories with emotive, powerful prose, I am at a loss. The evidence? Simple. I have ventured thrice and succeeded thrice in completing three manuscripts – to the dozen or so stories I have started and abandoned, like discarded roadkill, unfinished and dismembered by the side of my long and frustrating witting path.

Is my struggle to complete so many fictional worlds, somehow connected to the fact that my brain, my imagination, is constantly being battered by an unstoppable storm of plot lines, heroes, villains, landscapes, conflicts and endings???

Do I have Imagination Exhaustion, or its less harmful cousin, Imagination Fatigue?

*Clinical/Medical Disclaimer: both Imagination Exhaustion and Imagination Fatigue or terms I have fictionalized/created for the purposes of this post. These are NOT actual medical conditions that I am aware of or have done any actual valid research on. If interested in these terms more seriously or if you are suffering from any unexplained side effects, please call your doctor immediately or seek help at your nearest emergency room.

From Writer to Scribe – Proof Handwriting Can = Creativity

I’ve been hearing the experts say that they all start by handwriting their stories before taking to the keyboard. Most of them confess to writing an average of 100 pages into a book before they switch over to their preferred tech.

They also say they always travel with small notes or their journals to be able to write down wayward thoughts, unexpected ideas or dialogue while eavesdropping.

I will admit, as much as I say I want to live the life of a writer, I confess with some shame that I do not employ these strategies or follow these solid fragments of writing wisdom.

I do keep journals with tons of ideas, story beginnings (more of them than I care to count) – but for the most part, the writing in my journals or notebooks happens while I am sitting in front of the laptop staring at the blank page.

This maybe why I have struggled with forward movement lately. This maybe why I have been story-hopping from one unfinished manuscript to the next – I’ve clearly lacked direction.

This morning, despite having decided I would sleep in during my Fall break from school, I popped out of bed at 8:11 a.m. and decided why not just stay up. I felt unusually awake and didn’t even feel a need to pump myself full of caffeine to start my writing day. I simply made the necessary stop at the bathroom, concluded my morning routine and headed – not to the laptop – but grabbed a brand new notebook I had bought at an office supply depot the previous day, I reached for the nearest pen (without scrutiny for type or color) and began the first sentence that had prompted my out of bed.

Once my hand leaned onto the soft white of the page and the sharpness of the pen’s tip scraped across the light blue lines of the college-ruled paper, something entirely different took over my hand, my brain and my direction. I found it difficult to stop or even slow down. My fingers struggling to keep up with the words pouring out and filling each page, one after another, after another. Not much care for word choice – something that too often paralyzes me when I am typing out a first draft – there was very little attention to structure in a conscious way. I trusted this character in my head that was guiding me through her story – I listened as she dictated and instead of the writer, I became her scribe. I stopped focusing all my efforts on being the storyteller – you see as the main storyteller I had to keep asking myself the tedious and often futile question: what would my character do next?

As a scribe, I was no longer in charge. She was and I wrote it. She felt and I say so. She pondered, questioned, lost herself in a stream of consciousness and I followed, writing it all down FOR HER, not for me. You see, this girl doesn’t care about style, structure, plot points, or adverbs, synonyms or beautiful prose – this girl has gone through something and she just wants to tell her story in the hopes that someone out there will listen, connect, learn and heal – perhaps in a way she never could.

And so, instead of heading to the keyboard, where I am instantly reminded that I am trying to be a writer, I will pull out her journal again and continue to trace the events of her story as she decides to lay them out for me; for us. I will try my hand at handwriting, like the experts the way Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman suggest we ought to.

Back to the Problem of…TOO MANY STORIES…12 to be exact…

(Reviving an old post because it is still very much my Achilles Heel)…Figuring out what to write can be quite messy and time-consuming when you have drawers and drawers & files, upon file folders of story ideas you’ve collected over the decades. I continue to  tell  myself I WILL commit to a project/idea and see it through to the end – hence the whole commitment thing – it’s about staying with it, persevering and not flaking out when 10 other story ideas come calling.

Still, I waver, I fail at this commitment thing. I think I am actually my own enabler – I have these cool, out-of-the-blue sparks of imagination and I allow them to hijack me away from my current project.

This act becomes a very convenient way to tell myself, “You’re still writing, brainstorming, plotting, whatever….you’re still engaged in that which they call the “writer’s life” right?

After all, you are breathing life into this tiny spark of an idea with every character sketch, every plot point and every metaphor you invent.

In short, I have become my own worst roadblock. I don’t suffer from “Writer’s Block” – instead I am perpetually infected with the “Me Block.” Instead of doing what the great Margaret Atwood advises me to do in the afternoons as I listen actively to her Masterclass (on repeat almost daily) – instead of sticking to it….instead of listening to her words: “A word, after a word, after a word, is powerful,” I digress.

For now, I will march onward with my sketches, and brainstorming and plotting and imagining…but at some point…if I am to be a writer, I will have to choose one of these lovelies and just write, one word after another (a la Atwood) until the entire manuscript is complete – until I type the MOST COVETED two words for any writer: THE END.

Can A New Endeavor Mean Returning To An Old ONE?

Not sure if this “getting stuck” between projects happens to many writers, but tonight I decided to stop wasting time with the mind-juggle that is the constant concern/question over which of the gazillion projects I have in progress I should tackle next? I have finally D E C I D E D – I heeded the wise warning of Joyce Carol Oats in her Masterclass session, where she reminded me that writers get a very necessary (albeit brief) boost of energy and satisfaction from finishing a first draft.

And so, my stubborn fantasy YA novel, which will not desist anyway, despite months of being trapped and  ignored in a writing folder labeled “Pending Projects” – has been LIBERATED! My protagonist is now officially out and free to roam the blank pages of my word document–feeling unencumbered as I tap on the quiet keys of my laptop and carve her a path to a (hopefully) satisfying ending; one in which she will discover a new self and forfeit the crown she has coveted, to its rightful heir. A draft I will no doubt edit and revise and edit and revise and edit and revise and edit…

When Is a Creative Writing Exercise a Potential Novel?

How does a writer know when their writing project has become more than just a creative exercise? Can the writer, who is so close to the work, ever be objective enough about his or her manuscript to know if this story or that plot line, is THE ONE? Aside from the help of a few beta readers, who, as we all know, harbor their own prejudices and preferences, are writers equipped to determine if our current projects have what it takes to make it?

I ask, in all honesty, because there is so much effort, time and tears devoted to the painstaking process of writing our novels, I find it necessary to explore the answers to these questions.

Speaking from personal experience, I can say with certainty, that working on the “wrong” story can be likened to being sucked into a black hole–a place in which you lose all sense of time, reality and awareness.

You give yourself over to a project you believed (once) had merit, only to surface months, or even years, later realizing you’ve made a costly mistake–that you’ve chosen to pour all your valuable time as a writer into a story that simply doesn’t work.

Whether it be that you’ve discovered you were writing in the wrong genre, or you know your plot line or characters have derailed in a way (no story ought to), in the end, the truth is that you’ve sunk your precious resources into something that will not produce positive results (except perhaps the learning experience of knowing–in the future–what not to do).

I don’t claim to have the answers. But, I know, as a teacher of seventeen years (who employs the Socratic Method), that it is crucial to ask the right questions, in an effort to explore our options.

  1. What signs might help writers identify he or she is working on the wrong project?
  2. Is there such a thing as a “wrong” project when all writing experiences teaches us something in the end?
  3. Can we trust completely in our beta readers to identify a viable and potential success story?
  4. Are writing groups a place to seek help from likeminded folks or are all writers from from a different cloth?
  5. Are there forums out there that share these types of experiences in order to warm others against pitfalls?
  6. Is it feasible to think a writer might be able to decide on a project and ever be certain of its merit and potential?
  7. Are all our writing efforts seeds we watch grow without knowing if they are weeds?

There are endless questions and, no doubt, endless answers to this issue. As I continue to learn from my writing experiences, I will continue to post the knowledge I acquire along the way. As I am still very very green (with only three solid years devoted the serious craft of creating fiction), I will end this post by predicting, I will be sharing lots more, as I have much to learn.