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a: Friday Speak Out!: Writing and Distractions

Today, 08:00 AM

by Penny Wilson

I never thought about how many distractions I let get in the way when I am having a “writing day,” until I actually paid attention. This is what my day was like a few weeks ago when I decided I was going to “buckle down and get some writing done.”

I slept until 7am. I'm anxious to get up and start my day. I'm going spend my day at the keyboard and be productive. This is what I've promised myself.

I get up and make a cup of coffee and linger while I watch a bit of the morning news.

I look at my phone and check my emails.

I had better take Rocket for a walk. If I wait much longer, it will be too hot to walk him.

The morning news distracts me and I stand, frozen, staring at the TV. I snap out of it and turn the TV off.

Rocket and I are hot and sweaty by the time we get back to the house. By now it's after 9am. I'm hungry. I haven't eaten yet so I go to the kitchen. I have some toast and finish another cup of coffee.
I need to start a load of laundry. I go to the bedroom to get the laundry basket.

Finally, I sit down at the keyboard. Coffee? No too late and too warm for coffee. I need something cold to drink. I'm back up and head for the kitchen.

Iced tea in hand, I look at the clock above my desk. It's 10:30am! Where has the morning gone?

I sit down at the desk and fire up my laptop.

So for the next, God-knows-how-long, I check my email, look at my Twitter feed, look at WordPress.

"Oops, I need to get that load of laundry into the dryer. Hmmmm, I should probably strip the bed today and change the sheets. ...sigh. Yes, I really should."

I finally open up Scrivener. I look up at the clock and it's 11:30am!

"Maybe I should think about lunch before I really get down to work here."

Where did the morning go?! I haven't typed a word yet and the entire morning is gone!

I sit down at my desk, with a bowl of soup next to me. Finally, I start to pluck away at the keyboard. Its past noon.

After a couple of hours or so of work, I look down at my meager word count and frown.

“I need to fold that load of laundry and I still need to put fresh sheets on the bed. I haven't posted anything in a couple of days; maybe I should work on a post for my blog."

On Monday, my friends will ask what I did over the weekend. "Oh, I spent my weekend at the keyboard."

Maybe I need to rethink the investment of the Time Share on that deserted island. I would have fewer distractions!

* * *
I'm a  freelance writer that writes in several genres. I've had a successful blog with a growing and loyal following for more than 5 years. I've written articles for Counseling Directory .org and Introvert, Dear .com. I'm currently working on my first novel. You can find more of my writings on my blog at: https://pennywilsonwrites.com/ and follow me on Twitter @pennywilson123.
Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!

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a: The Mundane Doesn't Belong in Your Story

Yesterday, 12:13 PM

Our lives are filled with wonderful events, lively conversations, and meaningful relationships. But every day, we also encounter the mundane. In real life, there's routine. There's "hello" and there's  "good-bye". There are conversations with strangers that don't mean anything to our lives. Sometimes, these mundane occurrences show up in our manuscripts.

If you're writing a draft (especially a first draft) of a novel, short story, or memoir, you most likely have some mundane-ness in there. But in fiction (or your memoir), there's no room for mundane events, words, or conversations. If you include these, your pacing will be slow, and your reader may put the book down somewhere in the muddy middle.

Think about a well-crafted novel you've read or even a movie or TV show, where you think the writing is fantastic. Everything that happens in that story has a purpose. The main character does not have a random encounter with a man in the grocery store while picking out fresh produce unless something about that scene is important to the character's overall story and growth.

Where to Look for the Mundane in Your Writing:
  • Dialogue: If you're anything like me, your dialogue is full of lines and words that don't move your story forward. Even if you're a natural at writing dialogue, yours might still be full of greetings, everyday questions like: how are you, "inside jokes" between characters that are clever but don't move the story forward, or a conversation your characters have had more than once.
  • Life routine, especially getting ready and going to bed: When writing, we often take a while to get to the story we need to tell, and that's okay. I believe that it's better to delete 25 percent of what you wrote the day before than to have nothing on the page to delete. But we often start stories and chapters in the wrong place, and this is where everyday, boring life can slip in. We don't need to hear about a character's daily routine of waking up and getting ready for work. Readers understand that your character did not go to bed in chapter 2 and show up at the gala at the beginning of chapter 3, without nothing happening to her all day long. We don't need to read about her getting ready unless something happens that is purposeful, that adds to her overall story and character growth. If, for example, she is OCD, and it literally takes her twelve hours to get ready for the gala and readers need to see this to understand the character--then these events would NOT be mundane. 
  • Transitions: Transitions are places where your characters are going somewhere, like a family gathering, or getting ready to do something, like participate in a protest. Usually there's some needed preparation in the novel, but we also include how the character got to his car or the bus, drove to the event and had a conversation with his family or a stranger, and walked up to the event. Look at these sections carefully. Do you need them? Or will your novel work better if you put one transition statement like: After rushing through traffic and jamming out to the Rolling Stones, Freeda finally made it to the protest, now more than ready to stand for what was right. She grabbed her sign...
When revising your draft, look at every scene you wrote carefully. You need details to set the scene. You need dialogue to reveal your characters. But, you also need to look objectively at what details and dialogue you chose and make sure they're not slowing down your novel. Sometimes, this is hard for us to see in our own writing. So, remember, a good critique group or content editor can help you with this task and get rid of the mundane.

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO. You can read more about her on her blog at http://www.margoldill.com. Consider taking her next WOW! novel writing course, which begins on November 3. More details here. If you would like to find out about Margo's personal writing coach or editing services, please see http://www.editor-911.com.

Edit photo above on Flickr.com by Matt Hampel. 

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a: The Stories Behind the Authors

18 October 2017 - 11:00 AM

Geeking out over our swag at the John Green book tour in Charlotte, N.C.

This seems like a busy time of year for authors! I follow a lot of them on social media, and have seen more posts about book release tours than usual. Sioux also wrote about one a few days ago. I got to attend a special event with one of my literary heroes, young adult novelist, John Green, last week. Of course, because I have a 14-year-old daughter who also loves to read, I positioned it to my friends that I was taking her to the event, and not vice versa. Pretty sure she’ll keep my little secret. In Sioux’s post discussing Sherman Alexie’s new memoir, she asked the question, “What have you read that resulted in you embracing the author’s vulnerability?”

To be honest, while I’ve enjoyed reading John Green books like The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska, I didn’t consider the man behind the pages. I know he has a family he adores, he loves his younger brother, Hank (the two co-host a YouTube series and podcast and are also traveling many of these tour dates together), he’s a self-proclaimed nerd and proud of it, and is passionate about giving back to causes he believes in and fighting against social injustice. But until the release of his latest book, Turtles All the Way Down, I had no idea he has also fought a lifelong battle with obsessive compulsive disorder.

The main character in his latest novel, Asa, has what Green calls “instrusive thoughts.” Thoughts like, “Excessive abdominal noise is an uncommon, but not an unprecedented, presenting symptom of infection with the bacteria Clostridium difficile, which can be fatal. I pulled out my phone and searched “human microbiome” to reread Wikipedia’s introduction to the trillions of microorganisms currently inside me.”

As Green greeted the packed auditorium where we attended the event, he shared with the audience about how he’s had these types of intrusive thoughts from childhood. He also prefaced it by saying that he had a wonderful childhood with a family who was nothing but loving and supportive, but he couldn’t escape those thoughts and the anxiety they caused no matter how hard he tried.

As I listened to him speak, and then read a selection from the book in a shaking voice, I couldn’t help but fight back tears. This was a man, an author, who has loomed so larger than life my mind, who always seems so confident in his videos online, sharing his deepest vulnerability with the audience. I could hear my daughter, who also has been known to have some of these types of thoughts, as well as sensory challenges, sniffle beside me. This is a child who has told me there are times she “just can’t get her brain to turn off” when she’s trying to go to sleep and for a few years became obsessed with researching the differences between poison oak and poison ivy because she was terrified of getting it. 

Green also shared his worry that he would never be able to write another book again after the success of The Fault in Our Stars (I believe it has been almost six years since that book was published) so watching him stand in front of such a crowd (a crowd that I could tell made him more anxious than he wanted to admit) helped nudge the voice in my head that tells me I won’t be able to get past my own challenges and produce a great piece of work.

It was a great night with a powerful message. Yes, many creative people are considered “crazy.” No, that’s not really an acceptable stigma. There should be no stigma. We’re all human, and if we need to take medication or go to therapy to keep us on a level playing field, so be it. It’s not something we should have to be ashamed of.

And it will make for some damn good writing when the time comes.

What story do you have that propels you to keep moving forward?

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer and editor who also blogs at www.finishedpages.com.

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a: Interview with Flash Fiction Contest Runner Up, Alison Thompson

17 October 2017 - 08:00 AM

Alison Thompson lives and writes on the south coast of NSW Australia. She writes poetry and short stories and her work has appeared been published in several Australian literary journals. Alison is a founding member of the Kitchen Table Poets (which you can find on Facebook). Her poetry chapbook, Slow Skipping is published by PressPress (2008).

She won the Verandah Literary Prize in 2010 for her story, “My Baby Moonbird” and was shortlisted for a story in the 2016 Wildcare Tasmania Nature Writing prize. She is currently working on her first full-length story collection and is developing another story into a novella.

Author Website: alisonthompsonpoetry.wordpress.com

PressPress (chapbook publisher): www.presspress.com.au

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Spring Winter 2017 Flash Fiction competition! What inspired you to enter the contest?

Alison: I'd seen the competition in the past and read other shortlisted and winning stories and really like the diversity and excellence of the writing.

Also its great how you take the time to showcase the authors - its nice to see and hear a bit about inspiration behind the stories. Plus of course great to see the promotion of stories about women and the female experience.

WOW: Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, Her Daughters’ Fire?

Alison: This story is a little unusual for me as its from a perspective and culture very far from my own--and I'm conscious of not wishing to appropriate that. It arose after I saw a news grab many years ago showing a women who had had a similar experience-it was a very brief news piece but something about her distress and the sheer horror of it remained with me--really as something I didn't want to be reminded of as it felt very painful, especially as I was a young mother at the time. I didn't imagine ever writing it as a story but several days into a writing retreat I woke up early with the voice of the mother in my head and wrote the story in one sitting, a process that reduced me to tears. I've revised it of course but it is essentially as I feel it was told to me.

WOW:  It's a powerful story, you did a great job with it. I felt like I was there. What do you enjoy about flash fiction writing versus the other kinds of writing that you do?

Alison: I also write poetry and like the paring down process required in poetry and flash fiction--the distillation that occurs. Trying to get to bare essentials. Its especially a challenge in flash fiction to keep the narrative arc satisfying with such brevity.

WOW: We’d love to know more about your writing routines. Could you tell us when and where you usually write? Do you have favorite tools or habits that get you going?

Alison: Well, I drink a lot of tea and coffee! Best time is mornings and if possible, I like the whole house to myself as I prefer to write at the kitchen table. That doesn't always work out of course so I make do. Also I try to get away for occasional writing retreats--I find being out of my usual routines very helpful.

WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Alison. Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Alison: I think firstly, know who you're sending it to and what kind of writing they like. If it's a contest or magazine see what they've chosen before. And check out the judges as well.

Also, if you're able to its worth getting your work edited or critiqued, or at least looked over by someone whose opinion you trust BEFORE sending it out. And pay attention to formatting requirements of individual competitions and typos!



WOW! Women On Writing now hosts two quarterly contests: one for fiction writers and one for nonfiction writers. We’ve hosted the flash fiction contest since 2006, and over the years, writers have asked us to open up an essay contest. So we are happy to add the essay contest to our offerings. We look forward to reading your work!

Click on the links below to jump to:

Quarterly Flash Fiction Contest

Quarterly Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

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a: Five Minutes a Day: Roughing Out Your Novel

16 October 2017 - 08:00 AM

About a month ago, Sioux challenged us to state a BHAG – a big, hairy, audacious goal. Mine is writing a piece of fiction long enough to require chapters. The problem is that I’m writing two nonfiction books and, thus, the fiction keeps falling by the wayside.

A friend of mine drafted her first novel writing fifteen minutes a day on her lunch break. But that just didn’t feel do-able. To put it simply, I’m a full time writer who doesn’t have a single full time work day. I’m hoping that will change soon, but it is going to require some help from outside. So right now I’m learning to work around it.

Fifteen minutes a day is impossible but five minutes a day is do-able. But is it enough? Can you really rough out a novel in five minutes a day? I wasn’t sure but it wouldn’t hurt to try. For the last month, I’ve written five minutes a day on my novel. Most days I don’t get to it until bed time but I pop in here and do those five minutes.

But is it enough?

A month ago, I had two chapters or 1000 words. Today, having worked five minutes a day for a month, I have 6,400 words.

They won’t all make it into the final draft. One chapter wandered off in an odd-ball direction. You know how it goes. The whole chapter, you’re type-type-typing, but something feels off. I realized I had no clue how to get from the end of this chapter to the end of the book. I’d written myself into a corner.

That’s when I looked at my outline. It’s a lot like looking at the map after you get lost. I had definitely taken a wrong turn. And that’s okay. A rough draft is rough. Brilliant statement, yes?

The point is that I managed to keep writing even during the week that I drafted 12,000 words on one of my nonfiction projects. Fifteen minutes a day? Impossible, but five worked.

Part of what makes it work is acknowledging that this draft is truly rough. I don’t go back. I just keep moving forward. And that’s okay. When I write later today, I’ll just ignore chapter 10a and start at the beginning of chapter 10b. I’m not deleting the messed up chapter because I actually need part of it. I’ll just keeping moving forward and sort things out in the rewrite.

NaNoWriMo is coming up. It’s a great idea if it works for you, but not everyone can draft that many words in a month.

But five minutes a day? You can do that. And in a month you’ll have about 5,000 words. Keep it up and your word count will reach even higher.

5 minutes. You can do it.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins January 8th, 2017.

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