Deadlines

Earlier this month, I commented on a 4am Writer post about writing something new. The piece would then be submitted and the winner earned a coaching session or a free copy of one of two writing handbooks. I signed up because I wanted a challenge. And I thought surely I could come up with something and submit it by the end of the month. After I found a writing prompt to build on, I wrote out scenes on my phone. Kind of a way to keep it fresh until I could get to my laptop. But life has a way of keeping you “busy.”

As it stands, the deadline is less than a week away. I haven’t started to put my story on my laptop. If that wasn’t enough, I started a “brand new” story. Like before, I wrote out the most important scenes on my phone. And like before, I’m waiting to get to my laptop so I can type it out. 

I remember in school having deadlines to write essays and stories. But after graduating, I wasn’t as anxious to complete stories; I could take my time to make sure they were good and ready. But having that mentality made me lax. I wasn’t motivated to sacrifice time and certain activities in order to get things done.

But if I really think about it, I do set deadlines for myself. On the job, there are deadlines I must meet. I plot out my plan to get the tasks done as efficiently as possible. Same with my journaling. Unconsciously, I set a deadline of writing something in it before the day is done, and it does. It’s like second nature almost. So what changed when I accepted this challenge? Urgency. Seeing how I had time to work on this challenge, the urgency wasn’t there. Now that I’m less than week away from the deadline, I feel the urgency and the guilt of not getting this done sooner.
Urgency is key to meeting deadlines, as everyone knows. And as everyone knows, meeting deadlines requires discipline. Discipline in the sense of planning out the steps to see a task through. I do it on a daily basis on my job and in my home. So why am I not doing the same with my writing? Where is the sense of urgency to write these stories? Is it a fear thing? Maybe. Is it a discipline thing? Absolutely. 

I may or may not meet this deadline, but I hope that I do. The bottom line is that I need to practice working on deadlines so I can develop that sense of urgency. when it comes to my writing. I need to be develop the discipline needed to develop said urgency. And the best way to do that is to set deadlines for myself and create a rewards/consequences system. If anyone else has any ideas, I’m all ears.


WNF: Will Not Finish

Everyone’s heard the old saying, “Don’t start what you can’t finish.” I think it’s a flawed philosophy, but one with a sliver of truth. Those who know me know I don’t like to leave anything hanging. Whether it’s in my writing, or when I’m prepping pizza dough, or when I’m activating a phone for a customer. I want to see a task all the way through, or at least reach a comfortable stopping point. But in my walk through life, I realized that finding resolution is not always possible. That you have to stop wherever you’re at and move on to something else. 

I’ve experienced these feelings with my writing over the past several months. Each of the following scenarios marked good intentions, but ultimately ended up on the shelf. 

Exhibit A: Earlier this year, I posted some goals I wanted to accomplish. One was posting a short story series. I had everything pretty much figured out. Then as I wrote them and telling others about it, I slowed down and eventually stopped. Bottom line, I wasn’t happy with how the stories turned out, so I scrapped the series. 

Exhibit B: A few weeks ago, I started writing a story that basically was a modernized version of a published work. I started typing it out, but didn’t feel right about it, but a week later, felt compelled to write a different story. So I abandoned the reboot. As it stands now, I’m trying to make time to get the new story into my laptop and into the hands of potential readers.

Exhibit C. Back in April, when a new bookstore opened, I bought Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.” Four months later, I started reading it. A week into it, I’m thinking about selling it. It’s not as enjoyable, despite being an American Classic. It just doesn’t do it for me.

There are more examples. These are the most recent. Two concepts are prevalent in those scenarios. One, I lost the passion and enthusiasm I had for them in the beginning. The energy wasn’t there. Two, in the middle of the activities, I “found” something better. But I learned that can be a curse in that there can be so many unfinished projects that it’s hard to keep them straight. Now, this isn’t to say that I will never go back to them. Maybe they need time to marinate. Perhaps I need to look at them from a new perspective. But currently, I am making the decision to stop, move on to different projects.

In life, we all have choices to make. I decide whether to have a good day or not. I decide whether to eat healthy or not. And so on. Writing has its own set. And I have to listen to what my heart and head says what I should do with my writing. Ultimately, it’s my decision. And if that means I stop a certain project midway, so be it. 

Growing Up

There are some things that no matter how long or how much you prepare, you will never be ready. That’s the biggest takeaway I got from being a parent. This week, my daughter started public school. This is a big step for all of us. For her, it means being away from Mom and Dad for over six hours five days out of the week. For us, it means not hearing her make up stories of princesses frolicking with unicorns or giant bears. It’ll be quieter, which will be odd, even if it’s for a few hours. 

The decision to put her in school wasn’t easy. But we came to the agreement that this will be the best thing for her. She can get help with reading and math. She’ll meet new people and develop friendships that hopefully will last longer than time on the playground. There are a couple of concerns. The biggest is that she’ll be different. By that, I mean that she’s mixed–mother is Caucasian and I am African-American. Yes, it’s a cost we counted years ago when we discussed having children, but it doesn’t hit home until you see it yourself.

 

It’s one thing when your parents enroll you in school. You don’t see everything that entails. It’s a different animal altogether when you are said parent. We had to make sure her health records were up-to-date. The hundreds of dollars worth of school supplies and clothes. Deciding whether or not she’ll ride the bus, and learning what bus she’ll take and when to be at the bus stop. Budgeting for school meals. Meeting the teacher(s). Meeting the parents.

Saying that it’s overwhelming is an understatement. But those are the costs you count to ensure your child will grow into the adult you hope he or she will be. But it brings about a question. If I’m not ready for her to go to school, what other things will I not be prepared for? Driving? Boyfriends? Jobs? College? Marriage? Kids of her own? There’s a lot in which I will never be truly ready for? But I have to take it one day at a time, just like everything else. 

Book Review: Emily’s Stitches: The Confessions of Thomas Calloway

I love the short story forum. It’s a daunting task to set a limit on words to tell a tale. But it’s something to weave a collection of stories together to form a bigger story. “Emily’s Stitches: The Confessions of Thomas Calloway” by Leverett Butts, is such an example. The crux of these stories tell the tale of Thomas, a young man trying to make sense of the world. But it’s not as simple as he believes. And after meeting Emily, a girl with issues of her own, the world becomes more complicated. And it doesn’t help that friends like Gardener Smith twist his way of thinking under the guise of educating him. The stories compose a journey of a young man struggling to find his place.

Leverett Butts does a wonderful job of integrating these stories into a tale that doesn’t pull punches. Leverett’s description of Owen, Georgia is so rich for a small town. The characters and their relationships have range and complexity. No one is squeaky clean, not even Thomas. And by the end, you get the sense that all of them are doomed to be stuck in the environment they were raised in. 

Leverett Butts includes a variety of poems and short stories. Some stories take place in the same universe of the main series.  Some deal with loss, some about revelations. “Misdirection” is a favorite. It’s about a hit man who approaches a crossroads in his career. “Requiem” is another good one where a young man recollects where he met the girl of his dreams and the friend who refutes it. And “Gods for Sale, Cheap” takes a satirical look at how we approach religion. I found that one fascinating. 

I want to write a series of stories that center around a theme, a character, a town, whatever. “Emily’s Stitches” is an example of how to approach such a task. What Leverett Butts does with this world and these characters is wonderful. He’s definitely an inspiration to follow. 

The Absence of Satisfaction

Last week, I finished a short story that’s been a year in the making—I think. I changed the names of characters. Outlined and outlined some more. Went through numerous false starts. After all that, I finished this story. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal. I mean, I finished a story. That’s great. I should be thinking about the next one, right? Only, I feel like there should be more. 

I went to Twitter and the Ten Minute Novelists page on Facebook about this and everyone offers the same encouraging statement: “At least you wrote it. Congratulations!” And yes, that should be comforting, but I don’t feel that way. 

Two reasons. One, it took me this long to write a short story. I read different articles that say writers should be able to write a short story in one sitting. Regardless if it takes a few minutes or a few hours. Unfortunately, I’ve never been one of those writers. One problem is that I write and edit at the same time, which is detrimental to the process. The other is that I have daily obligations to meet. So getting to a laptop is not that simple. 

And two, the story lasted five pages. This was the frustrating thing about this story. I thought this particular story would last longer, given the time I took to prepare it. I wrote out certain scenes in my phone. I had them looked over with a fellow writer. I incorporated the advice. I wrote it out. When I finished, I pulled up the stats window. And after all was said and done, over 1600 words and five pages worth of story. 

Again, this should be no big deal. But I remembered writing stories that took twice as long. Maybe it’s because I felt a strong connection to it. There are some personal ties. So I am a little disappointed.

I should look on the bright side, though. One, it’s done. Two, I exercised some personal trauma. Three, I sent my story to the same reader that looked at the snippets and I got some good advice on making the story better. So, there will be a second draft, and I can get more of these feelings out.

I know this is more of a rant than anything, but I felt I need to expunge my emotions on this story. Maybe it’s the universe telling me I have more to work through. If that’s the case, I’m going back in. 

Digging Up the Past

I have a bad habit of lying things haphazardly. It’s a wonder I’m able to remember where certain things are. One day, I found an old journal stashed in my closet. I opened it and just started reading random pages. Some were journal entries, venting sessions about whatever drama was happening. One page was full of writing quotes. And some were exercises, though I forget where it came from.

About three-forths of that composition book is full of writing. The fact that I had so many entries and notes made me nostalgic. I do regret not stamping the entries with the year, but I can gather those from some of the entries. 

Anyway,  it got me thinking about how many notebooks and journals we have lying around. Or how many files we have saved on flash drives and laptops. And what’s in them. Clips? Flyers? Notes? Stories? I remember one notebook where I had just about all those things and then some. But then, when it came time to make more room, I saw my notebooks as obstacles to the ideal “work environment.” The same can be said for computer files or notes on smartphones. If I didn’t see them as something I could use in the immediate future, I threw them out.

I felt no need to keep old notebooks after I filled them, which rarely happened. And I wasn’t refining stories I kept on my desktop, so I deleted them. But after picking up that old notebook and browsing through it, I thought about the journals, notebooks, the computer files. All those documents that mapped my writing journey up to this point. I regret throwing them away. Maybe there was a story ideas tucked within them. As far as those stories on discs, I would need some sort of disc reader and Microsoft Word to even look at them. 

If I could change one thing about my writing journey, it would be to hold tight to those books and files. And therein lies one of the wonderous things about writing. There’s no telling where the next idea will come from. A note describing a man who smells like he bathed in Old Spice. A rant about how family drives you crazy. Who knows?

The past is past, I know. But it’s not so much about living in the past. Rather, it’s about the memories and experiences that make a writer’s journey unique. And having those old journals and stories are our markers. I wish I kept all the stuff I wrote in my early writing years. It would be interesting to see how much I’ve changed with my writing. 

What about you? Do you have old notebooks and/or files? Do you throw them away or delete them to make room for something new?

Old School vs. New School

It’s still summer, yet retailers are prepping for back-to-school. For me, it feels different because this will be the first time I will be school shopping. (My daughter starts kindergarten in a few weeks.) It’s still one of my favorite times of the year because I can get certain supplies at a discounted price, like pens and notebooks. 

I read and commented on the debate between old school and new school writing. Many writers adopted writing with smartphones, tablets, and the like. Apps like Evernote and Google Docs make note taking and letter writing easier and more convenient. Computer programs like Scrivener give the writer a way to organize their story notes while writing their “great novel.”

Still, there are writers who use the old school method of writing with paper and pen. They have notebooks full of free write sessions and scenes of stories that may or may not have been used. In the margins, there are probably notes or doodles or whatever. They may have a stack of notebooks and journals they are unwilling to throw away. (I’ll cover that in another post.)

I admit that I adopted to the new school way of writing. I have a journaling app on my phone called One Day to write random stuff. I can write scenes of stories and email them to people. I use Evernote for note taking. (Even now, I’m using my phone to write this post.) But as much as I am “connected” in terms of writing, there’s a part of me that yearns to go back to old school writing. Recently, I handwrote a scene from a short story. I felt a connection that can’t be replicated on a laptop or a smartphone.

So while having this tech is beneficial and a necessity in some ways, there’s no reason to completely abandon old school writing. I believe writers can use both methods to improve their writing and enrich the writing process. 

What about you? Do you still write with paper and pen? Or do you use tech to write? Or have you incorporated both?