Lessons Learned While Writing

Let me be real, writing a book is not an easy task. You don’t just sit down and write the story in your head. Sure that’s how you start but a lot happens in the midst of doing that. Your characters will teach you that what you thought about them was wrong.

Here are some other things I’ve learned while writing my first novel:
  • New characters are going to show up whether you invite them or not. And when they show up don’t try and shoo them away, you have to at least listen to what they have to offer.
  • Face it, you are going to write A LOT of words that are not going to make it into the finished book.
  • The above fact is something you have to accept and get over. Move on, don’t look back. Unless you’re like me and copy and paste some of that stuff into a different folder in hopes of using it in other works at a later date.
  • There are going to be too many days during which you can’t muster up the interest to even look at your story. You’re going to be frustrated and disappointed and even lost. Writing a book is not like butter; it doesn’t soften and get easier to spread if you just leave it out.
  • BUT despite the above bullet point, you have to continue your work. There are few parts of life that are only ever pleasant, but we push on. We persevere. Writers get over these humps and back to the story. I keep reminding myself that right now I just need to get the story out. One foot in front of the other; one word after the other.
  • What you start with is likely to change. Period.
  • Don’t get hung up on names. It’s okay to use a stand in name for a character so you can keep writing. The same goes for your title. Just get to writing and worry about such details later.
  • Be humble enough to admit you’re making excuses. Yes, sometimes I avoid writing because I don’t know what comes next. Sometimes I need a break. But, saying I just haven’t had time might be true sometimes but if I’m honest, I could make time to get it done. Be real with yourself about what you’re doing.
  • It is okay if your first draft is crummy. Keep writing.
  • Write your story, not what you think the market wants.
  • Remember that crafting a story takes many forms. Brainstorming, building character profiles, story-mapping, world-building, creating backgrounds, etc are all part of your writing. So give yourself credit for doing these things, they count. Don’t hesitate to do them if you’re not and you’re focused only on writing words.
  • Do Not expect to include all of the above in your story. Some of what you write is just for you and your work. Putting all the background you’ve gathered in your book is likely to exhaust your reader. Wouldn’t you say from your experience that this is true?
  • Write with your own voice but know that reading books is part of studying the craft. Learn how to read in a way that teaches you, benefits your writing, and builds your knowledge of the craft. This month I’ll be reading The Art of X-Ray Reading by Roy Peter Clark. I thank fellow blogger Charli Mills at The Carrot Ranch Dynamic Literary Community for suggesting this book to me.

While this list is in no way exhaustive (I’m always learning more), these are some of the things I think important to keep in mind while writing.

If you are a writer and want to share some of the things you’ve learned from writing please do! I love comments! Thanks for reading.

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Here’s What’s Up: Life is Going On

Hey there folks, how are you doing today? What new things have you been able to embrace during this struggle to overcome the SARS-CoV2 virus and its threat of Covid-19? What can you embrace that you might be overlooking?

I am embracing the time to focus on changing some habits, like being better about getting dishes done sooner than later. I’m also trying to embrace less grocery shopping and healthier picks when I go. Since it’s better to reduce exposure I don’t just go to the store when I feel a craving and have the money (CHIPS CHIPS CHIPS!). I’m also more likely to eat what I have instead of focus on what else I might be able to have. For example, I might say sure I have bread and tuna fish and mayo, so I could make a tuna fish sandwich but I would really rather have some chips and hummus and a hot dog. Nope, I’m not going to the store for chips and hummus. The food that’s available in my house is still food whether it sounds great or not. And do you know what’s so beautiful about this? I discover that that thing I really didn’t think would be as good as a hot dog or Taco Bell mexi-melt, is actually pretty darn delicious! As I ate my dinner the other night – tuna fish sandwich, cashew carrot ginger almond soup (something like that) and a side of fresh yellow pepper I thought, that’s right, I can do this diet thing. That’s right, eating healthy is a beautiful thing (even if I still want some chips and hummus).

By the way, cutting up that pepper made me that much more excited to grow my own orange peppers this summer. I planted my seeds inside (late) and my seedlings have come into this world! Yeah! More on that later.

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This quaran-time (as I like to call it) has not been without its challenges, its down days, and fear. But I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on myself and life even more than usual.

Sometimes we have the option to choose which lens we wear. During this lockdown period I imagine a lot of us are donning lens of fear. Still others pick up those of anger and frustration. Some days maybe you don’t think you have a choice, you just feel what you feel. I know that feeling. I know that need.

Compulsion:

1) the action or state of forcing or being forced to do something; constraint.

2) an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, especially against one’s conscious wishes.

3) Psychology. a strong, usually irresistible impulse to perform an act, especially one that is irrational or contrary to one’s will.

Google search of the word compulsion

Perhaps you feel compelled to be upset, afraid, and/or sad. Perhaps you are focused on how much is out of your control. Perhaps you are compelled to resist a new way of living and seeing life. Perhaps the compulsion is your own, not the fault of another.

We do not have control over SARS-CoV2. We do not have control over the Covid-19 illness. But we have control over ourselves and how we view things. The actions we’ve been required to take, or stop, have been as a result of what is unknown in an effort to protect all of us for as long as possible. The best way to protect beings from a virus pandemic is to keep said beings away from each other. Unfortunately, we can not rely on everyone to do the right thing without being compelled to do so.

I’m getting beside myself here…

Let’s try something. At least once a week – if you don’t already – choose to wear a different lens. Now come on, don’t roll your eyes at me – kumbaya shit right? – let’s wear a lens that helps us see how life goes on. See what you don’t always see. See passed the veil of stop and go and into a life you do not know…

Today besides this little rant I bring to you a piece of short fiction. It is inspired by real life but fiction. It’s fiction because it is not an exact account of the truth but a representation of it. 😉 Enjoy and let me know what you think in the comments.

They rise in the morning

They rise early in the morning, with little thought about whether or not they want to. The work has to be done. The work will be done. The work of life will do itself whether you care to participate or not.

Perhaps if they could wish it, they’d talk to their coffee pot. Could you make the perfect cup this morning please? I hear it’s going to be a cold one. These midwestern springs are beautiful, but they are often temperamental. Could you please help me start my day with a great cup of coffee.

Work clothes present and on, fashion step aside there’s work we must do. Clothes up, coffee down, shoes on, let’s go!

Out to the barn they head, the dog running in circles around them. He’s likely the most excited creature headed off to work. Perhaps they cross their fingers before they pass the threshold into the barn. Hopefully the night was good to its inhabitants.

They walk through the barn greeting all the mommas and mommas-to-be. Good morning girls. Are you doing alright? Hello momma, how are your babies? They look over every ewe and every lamb. Are their bellies full? Is she taking care of them? Are they strong and healthy? Those for whom the answers are no require action by the farmers and they oblige the responsibility. That one needs a bottle. Never go to the barn without a bottle. We might have to tube that one. These folks in the barn are not just two-legged creatures; they come in like rays of light through the large doors. They bring hay, corn, fresh water and help. They are protectors, without their farmers many of would not survive on their own. They bring soothing voices billowing up from hearts deep and rooted in what they do. They are not cruel. They are not uncaring wicked creatures. These are real farmers. These are real people. This is a farm, not a factory.

This is a way of life and living is what they do. Keep on with the living her sister used to say.

They spot a ewe at the back of the barn. She’s laying down, straining, her chin outstretched, like a dog getting a good scratch. Life is on its way. She eyes the farmers. She’s wary, but she knows them. They will keep an eye on her to make sure all is well.

They go about their business of chores. They each have their routines, their preferred methods of doing things. Sure they bicker some, but that’s how we get on isn’t it? This is life and they are living it. They are living it despite the deceptive sun that hides the fact of the cold wind. They are living it despite the fact that a lethal virus waits in the wings. It waits where we can not see it. It lingers around all that we do. It waits for us to go about as though nothing else is happening. It waits. It acts. It takes. It is a virus. It does what viruses do.

But the farm must go on, and these people aren’t about to stop. Not age, not pain, not even fear, they are their weathered barns, antique and golden. As long as their blood pumps red as the paint, they will endure. They will listen to the news on their coffee breaks, their lunch breaks, and their dinners. They will take the necessary precautions and heed the science, as they do with any illness. Not simply because they were told but because decades of experience has taught them. And heck, that’s just common sense isn’t it? They will protect themselves, each other, and their flock. They will get up every day. They will do all that they can.

It’s been too long. They’ve given her plenty of time. The ewe in the corner of the barn stands, she is uncomfortable. She still has not given birth. She and the baby could be in danger. The farmers do not panic. They get to work. He takes his coat off and lays it over a nearby fence. She approaches the nervous ewe slowly, cooing softly as she does. The ewe is afraid, it’s in her nature, she’s a prey animal. And yet she knows them. These are her people. They have come to help.

The farmer stops but a few feet away. He approaches from the side. They communicate with each other about what they’ll do. He’ll hold the ewe, keep her still, assuming she cooperates. She will assist in the delivery.

Closer now she can see the lamb’s feet, the tips of two tiny hooves. She knows exactly what she’s looking at. It’s a breach. Oh? Yup. Nothing more to say. She grabs hold of the two little feet and pulls down ever so gently. The ewe does not resist, she grunts. There’s a little resistance from the body but then the legs come free. The farmer pulls and the hind of the lamb is revealed. With a few more gentle pulls against the strength of the body it gives way and the lamb falls to the straw. They use some straw to wipe the newborn’s mouth and nose, to clear the mucous so it may breathe. One of them gently pats it to be sure it’s alive and well. And maybe to be sure it acknowledges its arrival, as much as one can expect.

The lamb sneezes, lifts its small wet head and shakes it. The farmers have removed some of the membrane from around its head but the rest is the work of the mother. Were she not to do her job – which sometimes happens – they would do it instead, albeit as humans do. But this is a good momma. She turns to her lamb and begins licking it clean. She clears it inch by inch, all the while bleating a song that she only sings to her newborn. Even an untrained assistant can hear the soft pitch is different from her normal sound. Its tone is something innate to them. This sound is a bond. This sound is a forging between mother and child. One would not doubt the lamb knows its mother.

The farmers smile. Job well done. Good looking lamb. It is, it’s beautiful. What a good momma. Perhaps if momma spoke the language of the two-legged hairless ones she’d thank them. Perhaps she’d say, I knew I was in trouble, I couldn’t have done it without you. But the farmers would not need that, they know. This is a thankless job but they know they’re needed. They’re needed by the ewes, the rams, the lambs, and the people that count on the harvest. Wouldn’t it be nice though, if everyone knew how much the farmers are needed?

Outside the sun tells the wind to take a break. Let me warm things a bit, it is spring after all.

Outside, somewhere out there among the humans, the virus travels. It is expelled from one to the next. Or maybe it flies, soars, or simply floats, but it carries on because after all, it is life. The farmers know its there but they are here and there is work to be done.

Their eyes and minds open up beyond the delivery. They watch the swallows dip and dive through the barn. They are everywhere and yet their grace enables them to stay in their own space, they bother no one. They carry on. The farmers hear the lambs bleat for their mothers, the mothers bleat for everything. Might they talk to each other? The farmer opens the door to allow the other ewes back inside the barn after tending to one of the herd, a sister or mother perhaps a cousin. Some rush in looking for fresh hay. Others approach the new mother in her pen, smelling what has happened. Still others watch the farmers, wary of what they’re doing as they finish checking the barn and all its inhabitants. The dog sits nearby waiting for a job or a pat on the head.

Well let’s get coffee then we’ll do some marking.

Inside they’ll hear the news that the numbers are still rising. They’ll hear about the angry people resisting the current situation. They know the threat is real. They know that were the world their barn they would have to do things differently. They would have to change their course of action to ensure survival of the herd, not comfort of the individual. They would adjust. They would adapt just as they do every spring.

The farmers know that life isn’t just about survival of the fittest. The farmers didn’t need school to teach them that the mechanism of evolution is adaptation. They survive because they do not stop, they adapt.

One last check of the barns after dinner then they’re off to bed. They will rise in the morning, again and again.

Here’s What’s Up: Saturday Update & April Wrap Up

So guys, how ya doing? It’s Saturday although Saturdays don’t hold quite the same sentiment these days – would you agree – it still feels good in theory. We’ve had kind of a rainy, groggy week which oddly enough echoed through a lot of our moods. However this weekend is already GORGEOUS as far as weather goes.

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So Here’s What’s Up: There’s a lot to be grateful for in addition to sunshine and a warm weekend. I’m grateful for audio books – just finished Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse, loved it, better than the first and highly recommend – and physical books – I read Everything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee, which was very moving as well as Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin & Ezekiel Kwaymullina, an intriguing novella, both recommended. I’m grateful for the time and capacity to read and listen to them. In March I started What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra and finished at the beginning of April. One thing I enjoyed about this book and Catching Teller Crow was that they were fairly simple and by simple I mean the language was accessible and I would say direct.

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The plots were original, intriguing but not overly complicated. I don’t mind complicated writing or stories but it’s nice to read something straightforward and easy. Ironically both of these books focused on characters who had their fathers (in some respect) but had lost their mothers. The main characters’ relationships with their fathers are central to the plot. Both protagonists are young women, one is 15 the other I think 19, who are going through some kind of transition in their lives while trying to balance their inner struggles. What I really appreciate about how these characters were written is that they felt true to life, even as one is a ghost (that’s not a spoiler). Some YA books turn me off because I feel they exaggerate the lives and abilities of young adults. Perhaps I’ve not used the right word here. I’m not trying to say teenagers and young adults are like children, or they’re weak or incapable of leading extraordinary lives and adventures. No, that’s not what I’m saying. But it seems like most YA’s focus on young people enduring journeys, trials and tasks that would be difficult for older adults with more life experience. And yet, the young people do just fine, for the most part. A lot of the time I read YA novels (not that I read a ton) I tend to forget I’m reading about a 16 year old or an 18 year old. I’m thinking of one story in particular (I will not name, I did like it though for the most part) in which the main character goes from a sheltered little girl to a wise, ass-kicking, lover, queen and warrior in the span of a year or two and we’re talking young teen. It just didn’t ring true. I struggle with stories that suddenly toss in a scene about how young (usually a girl) the character is when all along they act like much more experienced individuals, even though as in the case above they might be a very sheltered individual with little life experience. That’s a big reason why I try to shy away from YA.

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That said, Catching Teller Crow and What the Woods Keep didn’t do that. Their characters felt far more true to life than many if not most other books I’ve read about younger ladies. Beth in Catching Teller Crow read like a 15-year old to me. The authors didn’t try to make her something else, to make her better or stronger. She was herself and perfect as she was. She was a 15 year old girl. The character in What the Woods Keep was a little older and read as such. Sure she had to be braver and maybe some things might feel like a stretch but they weren’t unrealistic in my humble opinion. Check these books out, then come back and tell me what you think. 😀

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About a week or so ago I finished listening to The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This is an epic fantasy, so it’s very long and I think long books make great audio books. For one it gives you a chance to settle in to the narrator and their various performances. I also find it easier to finish, it’s less daunting. I listen while driving, working in the yard or around the house, even walking the dog sometimes. Do use caution while listening to audio books and doing other things, better to be distracted away from the book than the task at hand. This was a great story, no doubt. The only reason I’m giving it 4.5 stars is because I think maybe it’s a little too long. However Patrick Rothfuss is a very good writer, the skill and talent is there. The characters are interesting and well-rounded, at least the most important for sure. The plot is pretty cool but sometimes I feel like I lose track of what’s actually going on as most of the story takes place as a retelling of the journey that brought our main character to the present time. Again though I have to say it is a very good story. I’m nervous to start the next book which is equally as long because everyone has been waiting on the promised third book for a long time I’ve heard. Today I visited Rothfuss’ website to see if there was any news. But all he said was when there is news he’ll be sure to share it.

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Oh and to be technically correct, I also finished Lady Midnight (The Dark Artifices, #1) by Cassandra Clare (started in March). Sorry, but no I do not recommend it and I will not continue the series.

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At present I’m reading the hardcover copy of Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor, not quite halfway through it but it’s pretty cool. It’s set in Lagos, Nigeria with a large diverse cast of characters. A unique story no doubt, something I see Okorafor does not fail to deliver. 🙂 When I finish Lagoon I plan to read Akata Witch, a yound adult, middle grade (I’ve seen it referred as both?) story, the first in a duology, also by Okorafor.

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I’ve not yet decided on my next audio book. For some reason I have a tendency towards wanting to start something new and fresh so I feel a weird aversion towards starting the sequel to The Ruin of Kings, The Name of the Wind or Strange the Dreamer. Lol. I think it’s kind of funny of me, but yeah. Probably I need a break from The Name of the Wind so I’ll likely go with The Name of All Things (A Chorus of Dragons, #2) by Jenn Lyons as my next audio book. I do believe the third book is due out this October. 🙂

I am also still reading Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom, Kind of Coping: An Illustrated Look at Life with Anxiety by Maureen Marzi Wilson, and over there on the couch is Voyage of the Basilisk (Memoirs of Lady Trent, #3) by Marie Brennan and over on that shelf is The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman.

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Aside from my reading my novel work has been…meh. I’m a little stuck with some details going forward regarding where things are going. Feels like I’ve been saying that for a little too long. I have no doubt I’ll break through this, I just need to focus harder and knuckle down, something I plan to do this weekend. With over 200k words I feel good, lots to edit, but there’s still a ton of work to be done. I did figure out that one of my characters, a retired schoolteacher is now a yoga instructor. Hey, what can I say, that detail came to me and I think it makes sense, it’s a good cover for what else she’s doing. 😉

There’s a lot of emotion in this thing, a lot of energy. I think it would help me to put more of my own emotions to work this weekend. This whole coronavirus situation has been beating at my brain and heart this week as I think about the future. How long, for real, until everyone is safe? What about all the high risk people? What about all the people who care only for themselves and their situation? What will happen to people who rush the process? What about the people who are quietly suffering, the people who are keeping their fears to themselves and not talking about them lest they worry someone else? How can we help each other’s mental health?

These are some of my questions. These questions are good to think about, not ruminate on but just consider. And I’ve found for a person such as myself, a creative among other things, that putting these emotions and questions, this soul-digging (as I’ll call it) to work for me and my work is one of the best things I can do. How am I feeling? How can I apply that to what my characters are going through to make it more authentic and deep? When I put my own emotions to work it helps me, it helps me in a ton of ways. So when I am feeling all over the place, stuck, down, up, everything, I think, I have got to write something. A lot of times I don’t do that but when I do, man I’m glad I did (like exercise). 😉

What else? Well I’m working on my raised garden beds, first time ever doing this but not my first go round with a garden, just my first garden in a very long time. I’m stoked! My diet and fitness goals/plans got a little off track in April but I’m set to get back on the wagon! Woo hoo! I’ll restart some kind of daily yoga and exercise regimen and hopefully start running again sooner than later.

That’s it for now but stay tuned for some book reviews, a TBR update, expected reading (basically the same as I shared before), some images (I’m going to return to sharing some of my hobby photography, at least just using it in posts), flash fiction, and I’m going to start a regular short fiction column as well.

Cool please feel free to comment, I do love to chat. Bye for now, I hope you all stay safe and well and have a lovely weekend.

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March 19 Flash Fiction Challenge from Carrot Ranch

Hey guys, how you holding up? Are you in a place that’s under some kind of stay at home order? Today I feel a little more anxious about things but still hopeful. When I first started this post the states of California and New York were announcing statewide lock-downs. Since then Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Jersey plus five others and many cities are under similar executive orders. India, as a whole apparently, is also on lockdown. Still I pray and pray for relief, a slow in the spread of the virus. I pray for everyone the world over.

That said, I read a beautiful post by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch Dynamic Literary Community. She opens with evidence of a rabbit on her roof. I encourage you to read her post. Charli talks about our new reality and looking back on March 2020. How will you look back on March 2020? For some of you the change in reality came in February, maybe even January. We will all look back on this with 2020 hindsight. Oh my, how we did not know when this year started the irony of 2020.

In her post Charli shares their last day before the change as well as she and her husband coming down with symptoms. She shares with us their experience trying to get tested. Trying. Luckily it sounds like they’re getting better.

What I want to reflect on about her post is the topic of writing fiction. Many years ago I stopped reading fiction for about five years. I got it in my head that doing so was not important, not productive and well, kind of useless. It wasn’t a huge deal, it’s not like I was reading a lot of fiction anyways. No I just didn’t bother to read any novels. Done. I also thought that if I was going to be doing anything with fiction, it should be writing my own novel. Wrong. Writing is like any other profession, practice, craft, exercise, you have to study it. However, you don’t have to go to school to study writing, you can read books, novels and more. (By the way, I wound up screwing my head back on straight and have long been back to reading novels. 😉 )

Charli raised the point that fiction writers are practicing the truth, and I most certainly agree. We take concepts, ideas, ideals, subjects and explore them. We are like scientists of art exploring our subject under different conditions and constraints. We’re experimenting and testing our characters with magic or new worlds. We put pressure on our characters like life puts pressure on us. Have you seen the movie Contagion? That is fiction and yet, here we are. (WAIT I am NOT suggesting what happened in that story is going to happen to us, but in some ways and some places it has.) Think about the Jetsons and how crazy their technology seemed to us back in the 90s. And yet, I’m listening to the news right now on my Echo Show, having told Alexa to play CNN, having told Alexa to turn the volume to nine so I can hear it over the noise of the shower my birds are undergoing. I check my touch screen phone for 2pm news updates, a 14-day weather forecast, instant messages between family and friends, and I think about video chats. When today will I listen to my current audio book, the Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, on whatever device I choose? Art imitates life and sometimes I think life manifests from art.

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During this time of isolation and orders to stay at home we artists have a lot we can do. If you don’t have a current WIP, maybe now is the time to start one. If you do, push yourself to make progress, I know I’m going to. And as much as all of this is inconvenient at best, scary to say the least, and life-threatening at its worst, we can pull stories from it. We can safely take bits of terror or large chunks of hope and build stories. We can stamp this history into our archives, portfolios and futures. Use your feelings, the things your reading, the world outside and create something. Express yourself. (Quick example: my father sent me audio of him scatting (from the context of jazz) with some music in the background, including some drumming I believe to be his own. Time well used pops!) Of course we will never forget these times, but thankfully we still have some power to shape the future both as we stay home and stay safe and as we put our art to work.

Without further ado, here is Charli’s 99-word flash fiction challenge from March 19:

In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a rabbit on the roof. Or many rabbits. Why are they there? Explain the unexpected, go into any genre. Go where the prompt leads!

https://carrotranch.com/2020/03/19/march-19-flash-fiction-challenge-3/

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Alice and Janice Save the World

Alice sat atop the roof waiting for Janice. This wasn’t like her. Alice squeezed tight against the gable.

There came a high shriek. She twisted her ear listening. She heard the call and hopped out.

Janice landed next to her.

“I’m sorry Alice. You alright?”

“I am. You?”

“Yes.”

“Should I worry?”

“No. It seems we’ve started a movement. Others want to know how we, prey and predator, have forged an alliance. They want to help. This is how we will prosper in these times now that humans have turned their backs on the world.”

“Well done my friend.”

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Thanks for coming by and reading my post. If you want to read more of my flash fiction please visit my page Flash Fiction and Short Fiction. I’m trying to make more of a habit of doing the Carrot Ranch challenge as well as posting a flash fiction challenge of my own. You’ll find stories I’ve done for both at the above link. And once again, I really encourage you to visit the Carrot Ranch Dynamic Literary Community.

If you like what you read don’t forget to hit the like button and maybe even subscribe to keep up to date with what I’m posting. In addition to flash fiction I like to post about books I’m reading, read, plan to read (TBR additions, lots of wishful thinking there), writing stuff, and some rants from time to time. Hopefully I’ll have some updates or at least things to tell you about my debut novel soon. 🙂

Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge – Tapping

Please visit Carrot Ranch Literary Community and read Charli Mills’ beautiful post about the tap-tapping of spring coming forth in the Keweenaw Bay. It’s a beautiful lesson in gratitude even in precarious times. It’s true, that even as this pandemic crashes against us in waves of fear, spring is coming and it’s still beautiful.

My sister shared a post on social media in which the author of the post instructs us to go outside and breathe, plant your feet on the Earth. Ironically before I plunged into the rabbit hole that social media often is, I pet my dog and welcomed my birds to the new day. In doing so I thought about the fact that they – for the most part because no doubt they sense a shift in energy – aren’t aware of this pandemic. They don’t know and aren’t worried about its spread or how best they can practice social-distancing. This made me think about the world outside, nature. Nature always keeps going. It just keeps doing its thing.

Spring will not be cancelled. The birds will not stop singing. The flowers will not remain underground. The trees continue their energetic push to grow buds, flowers, seeds, and leaves. The wildness around us keeps on being wild. As I think about this, what my sister shared, and Charli Mills’ post and her friend in hospice making plans to see fireworks on the 4th of July, I think about keeping on. I think about how Charli’s right, there’s hope in plans. I will still make plans. I will breathe and take in the sun. I will plant my feet and salute the sun.

And I will try my hand at Carrot Ranch’s 99-word flash fiction challenge this week.

March 12, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes tapping. You can play with the sound, make it an action, or create something unexpected. Tap a story and go where the prompt leads!

https://carrotranch.com/2020/03/13/march-12-flash-fiction-challenge-2/

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Get Out of My Head

There was tapping around my house. I could not find it. Upstairs, downstairs, I looked in every room.

“What the hell!” One more sign I did not have control of my life. I collapsed in bed. There was movement behind the blinds. Tap-tap-tap.

I jumped up and twirled the wand, opening the blinds. Away went the red bird. It was vibrant, not the drab of winter. The sun glowed on my face. Green points poked up through the dirt. Birds whistled around my yard.

“Oh Little Cardinal, thank you for enlightening me with your tap-tap-tap.”

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Thanks for reading! If you’d like to participate in the Carrot Ranch Literary Community’s flash fiction challenge please click on the link at the top of this post. Inspired by Carrot Ranch to do more flash fiction work myself I’ve also started doing a weekly flash fiction challenge. Please click HERE to read what I’ve been working on. My challenges can be done at any time.

As always Thank You Carrot Ranch for sharing your great post and really cool challenge!

Mental Wellness and 71-Word Challenge

Hello everyone, how are you? I hope you and your loved ones are well and safe. Things are kind of scary right now for us all. My state just announced their first case of COVID-19 and it makes me want to bury my head in the sand. But freaking out isn’t going to do me any good. I think this is a good time to reach out (by phone or internet, not physically!) to people you know around the (your) nation and world, especially those in heavily affected areas, to see how they are. I did this the other night, messaging family members whose contacts I have. I know some people might think me awfully dramatic (guilty as charged) but my spirit compelled me! I have family in Washington and when I thought about them I wondered how they were, so I asked.

I think it’s especially important to reach out to the people you know who are at higher risk for contracting the virus as well as people you know who have mental illness. I suffer from anxiety and I have a particularly difficult time worrying about matters of health. Some people call me a hypochondriac. Based on the definition, “a person who is abnormally anxious about their health”, I most certainly am. I’m not proud of this fact and I know it’s irrational but when my mind gets to whirring those thoughts around about what these constant headaches, chest pains, sparkles in my vision are it is extremely difficult to just shut them off. My best bet is to ask myself some questions:

  • Is this an emergency, as in I need urgent care? If not then,
  • Is there anything I can and should do about this now? In other words, if my doctor’s office is open, can I schedule an appointment? If not, then calm down, leave it alone, call when you can.
  • Can I simply monitor this myself, thereby taking a strong stand as my own advocate?

If an appointment is necessary and scheduled, then I need to distract my thoughts away from the worry while I wait for my the day. This all seems pretty common sense but it can be really stressful. What’s my point? During this pandemic people like myself are probably experiencing even more than our usual every day anxiety. It wouldn’t hurt to check in with a text or e-mail or phone call and see how people are doing. I’m alright. I’m keeping myself up to date with the latest news. I’m washing my hands when available to me and using hand sanitizer or wipes when I can’t wash. I cancelled travel plans and plan to avoid people as best I can. This means my trip to the store yesterday afternoon will turn into late night or early morning trips to avoid large crowds, all the while being safe about my surroundings. I’ll gather some food supplies to avoid having to go out more and be prepared should I need to hunker down. I am not freaking out, I’m being cautious. Freaking out would disable me, making me more dysfunctional than not. I’ll also see what I can do to get another month of medications. I have extra pet food as well.

We all have to do what we can to stay healthy and keep those around us healthy. Not all my worries are irrational or extra but staying healthy means I also have to look out for my mental health. Keep exercising, continue yoga, and probably make some time to meditate or whatever to calm my mind. Let’s all make sure to remember it’s important we care for our mental health as well.

In case you’re wondering, and in case it would help to share, here’s an example of a mild hypochondriac panic attack:

Almost two weeks ago (maybe?) I was at a big box grocery store. It was really busy. We didn’t have any cases in my state yet so I was less nervous but still concerned. As I made my way to the dairy section to get some cottage cheese I noticed a woman cough into a tissue balled up in her hand (not covering her mouth with it or her hand, but balled up uselessly in the middle of her hand). She was with another woman by the yogurt. Instantly my heart rate increased. I thought oh my God why is she in the store! Okay, calm down, she might have allergies or some kind of breathing or lung matter. Maybe she’s not sick.

Regardless, I decided I’d leave my cart where I was at and quickly walk over to the cottage cheese, grab a container and hustle back to my cart. That’s what I did. Then as I turned around I saw them walking towards me. Heart rate, up, more. Oh God, oh God, oh God she’s coughing! Hold my breath, hold my breath. Do you know how difficult it is to hold your breath while you’re anxious? I went back to my cart holding my breath until I couldn’t and was far enough away to believe I was safe. But the fear did not leave me. The incident did not leave me.

I bought my groceries and left the store. I used my sanitizer then just sat in my car replaying the situation over and over. Little evil butterflies flew rampantly in my gut. I decided then that what I should have done was walked in the opposite direction and went all the way around the next aisle to get back to my cart. Over and over I thought this. I pictured myself doing it. I imagined how I wouldn’t have come close to them had I done that. I worried that I had made a critical mistake. Then I thought, no you just should have ditched the cottage cheese all together as soon as you saw that woman cough. She probably doesn’t have the coronavirus but what if! All the way home I thought about this. At home I thought about it. And still I remember it. That incident for me was distressing to say the least. Once it was over, I then also had to imagine what if I were to contract it and then visit my elderly aunt?

I’m sharing this to give you a snap shot. Like I said, I’m fine but having anxiety means I’m a greater risk to mishandle real fear and make things more difficult than I need to. So maybe see how the people you know are doing (not in person), you never know when your compassion could help ease another person’s soul.

With that I’m going to issue a 71-Word writing prompt challenge. The theme is looking passed fear.

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What should I do?

“You know what this means don’t you?”

I stared.

“Transformation. Metamorphosis. Change! You could be change.”

“But… what if -“

“You can’t hide forever. Your wings will show them there is hope in our future. When you finally fly you will be filled with their magic and it will fill your voice. Your voice must be heard.”

I flexed my double set of wings. They shivered. The thin butterfly wings changed colors.

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There you have it, my 71-word flash fiction piece. I encourage you to participate and try your hand at flash fiction, no more no less than 71 words. Post your story in the comments or a link to your page with your story. Please link back to me here. If you’re interested in my other flash fiction challenges as well as those I participated in over at Carrot Ranch, please follow the links below. Carrot Ranch Literary Community run by Charli Mills is who I have to thank for my doing these flash fiction challenges. I’m so grateful for the inspiration provided thanks to her 99-word challenges. This is a great thing for my writing practice.

Carrot Ranch 99-word writing challenge:

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67-Word Writing Prompt

Hey guys how ya been? Sorry it took me so long to post again, I mean it feels like a long time. That’s life though right? Right. Okay today I will be short and sweet. By my calculations it’s the 67th day of the year. Tomorrow begins Daylight savings, 2am tomorrow. Should we start a betting pool of how long it’ll take before we scrap this concept? More and more I hear people asking the question: why? I’ve been wondering that my whole life, even as I’ve heard it explained again and again it never clicks. It’s weird, we’ll see. But daylight will be our theme today. However you translate that in your story go with it.

Write 67 words, no more no less, using the theme, topic, idea, whatever of daylight. Please title your piece. Post it in the comments below or post the link to your post (if applicable) and be sure to post back here on your site. Below my piece I’ve included some links to my other word challenges as well as my entries for Charli Mills’ Carrot Ranch word challenges. It’s thanks to Carrot Ranch – A Dynamic Literary Community that I do these challenges. I keep trying to get back to hers then miss the mark. But check her out, it’s a great community.

The Shimmer

They would shimmer. I didn’t dare step out and be seen. First a watcher would see me. They know the shimmer. Next, a call will go out to sentinels who notify the alphas. By then the watcher will see my second set. I don’t know what happens then.

But I would love to step into the rising light and stretch my wings, let them finish their growth.

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Alright, your turn! In case you’re wondering or it matters, I do my flash fiction piece (the above) on the fly. I don’t write it in advance. This is all on the fly. But have at it!

Below are the links to my other flash fiction pieces. You might notice that my own prompt responses (as in not my pieces for Carrot Ranch) are related…

My Flash Fiction Pieces

My Carrot Ranch Challenge Responses

I hope you’re all well and in a safe place. May we keep on in good humor and faith even in these trying times.

60-Word Writing Prompt

Today is the last day of February and the 60th day of the year (by my count 😉 ). March brings with it so many possibilities as well as responsibilities that winter simply does not. Maybe I won’t be mowing the lawn in March but outside jobs are that much more in your face. It’s the possibilities that are exciting. Outdoor activities, not just jobs, will slowly but surely become available. What I especially love are the birds, their voices and songs, their migrations, and their overall presence. Add to that we’ll soon have flowers poking their little way through the cold soil to greet the sun with the rest of us. I do love spring.

As the weather warms that also usually means I won’t be reading as much and yet, audio books are helping to change that. Besides, I would really love to get some sun, which goes hand in hand with reading. Even more than sun and birds, flowers and warmth a new season alerts me to just where my novel is and isn’t. Where it is is a little stuck, which means it isn’t finished. But okay, I see that and I will act on that.

I’ve had some really great brainstorming sessions as of late. As well I’ve had a few tiny breakthroughs in terms of character and plot details. So far in my progress I’ve only really had to kill one of my darlings, that weren’t already dead. 😉 It wasn’t all that difficult for me. However what I discovered recently is that I have a character I’ve long considered bad, but now the waters are muddying. In other cases a bad character simply became good. In this case however I cannot undo what they’ve done. So it’s not that I’m struggling with having to kill a darling it’s more so the balance or rather juggle of roles this character takes on. In real life we aren’t always good or bad. We’re usually a mix of the two. Even then good people go bad and vice versa.

At first I thought that maybe I would need to change something, maybe this character isn’t all that bad. It would be much easier to know how to judge them than balance their bad against their good throughout the story. Then what? But I recognized my error; in writing as in many arts and things we do in life, the simplest answer isn’t always the best answer. I’ve read/listened to many stories with gray characters. It didn’t stress me out or frustrate me, it was kind of refreshing. It was more like real life, more dynamic. I know that this will not be easy but I’m not trying to write an easy story. Instead I will embrace this new direction as I am spring and all that comes with it.

The theme for today’s 60-Word Writing Prompt Challenge is new. I’m going to keep it just that simple, go with it where you may just make sure it’s in 60 words, no more no less. Please title your tale, post it in the comments or a link to your page with a subsequent link back here to me.

Feel free to revisit my other flash fiction prompts as well as the pieces I wrote for The Carrot Ranch’s Writing Prompt Challenges. You’ll find links to all of these at the end of this post.

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Things Discovered, Things New

It wasn’t a surprise my wings were feathered, but an interesting development. The composition of your wings is an indicator of your position, at least in part.

Feathers meant watchers, messengers, spies, and hunters to name the basics. I could live with that. But I was shocked to find I had a second set of wings. They were not feathered.

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Voila! Your turn. 😀

For more of my Writing Prompt challenges follow the links below:

The following links are the pieces I wrote for The Carrot Ranch’s 99-Word Writing Prompt Challenge. She writes some really great posts I highly recommend you check them out, especially if you’re a writer. The Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community for sure!

As always, thank you so much for visiting and sharing. I do encourage healthy discussion. If you like what you’ve seen follow me to stay tuned in to what’s going on here. This week I’ll share another flash fiction piece for Carrot Ranch’s latest challenge as well as new additions to my TBR for January and February. That last one might come in the form of two posts, we’ll see.

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Carrot Ranch: Feb 20 Flash Fiction Challenge

I just have to say I really enjoy Charli’s posts. As she works up to the flash fiction challenge details in her post this week, she first shares how her thesis is coming along, the plot and plot outline she’s working on. This comes at a great time for me as I am a pantser at heart but have learned over the last few years that I really need to be a plantser, a mix of both plotter and person who writes by the seat of their pants. I can not survive on pantsing alone. Her words are like an arrow with a message to the center of my story board: plot & plot outline you do need.

Thanks Charli!

More on this later, but for now let’s take on this challenge!

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February 20, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a library cat named Rainbow who escapes. Use this situation to write what happens next. Where does this e=situation take place, and who else might be involved? Go where the prompt leads!

https://carrotranch.com/2020/02/21/february-20-flash-fiction-challenge/

The Meeting

Rainbow waited behind the statue of the library’s patron by the door. She hoped Ms. Margaret would not see her tail and know.

When it opened she slipped out the door. The patron spun around alarmed but Rainbow was out and running down the sidewalk.

Two blocks away Rainbow stopped. She looked up and down the street. Then up the building next to her. A small red sweater in a window flapped in the wind. The door read “Phyllis’ Place”.

She waited for that door to open then bolted inside. The woman looked up from the desk and smiled.

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There you have it!

Writing prompts and flash fiction are amazing tools for a writer. I have undoubtedly overlooked these practices in my own writing. Brevity is not my strong point. Therefore it is in my best interest to write more with less. It’s so interesting to learn just how much you can cut without taking away from the story. At first I didn’t know what to write. But when the idea came to me there was a lot behind it. I just started writing. I had 163 words when I stopped. This was the most I’d over-wrote for one of the Carrot Ranch challenges so far (I’ll post links to my previous efforts as well as my new flash fiction challenges).

Having counted 64 words over I thought oh dear how am I going to cut this? In truth, I really enjoyed that part of the exercise because it taught me. If I were to write the story in more detail I would expand on what I have above however it’s not necessary. More so than not, my situational storytelling about Rainbow above conveys just what I need and want it to. It was cool cutting four or five words here, accepting that they really weren’t important. Or turning three words into one.

I keep coming back to the same conclusion: writing flash fiction is really good for me.

I posted the link to Carrot Ranch’s flash fiction challenge above but I’ll go ahead and post her main URL here as well. I encourage all writers especially to visit her page/blog.

The following links are to my entries for a few of Charli’s flash fiction challenges:

The links below are my own flash fiction prompts and works. I started doing this several weeks ago and will continue. You are welcome to join.

Thank you Charli for your inspiration, teaching, and motivation, and thank you readers for visiting and hopefully joining both challenges!

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56-Word Writing Prompt Challenge

Well hello all you fine people out there, happy Tuesday. The last week and a half has just flown by. Friday turned into Tuesday and so has my 56-word writing prompt. At this rate you’ll get two writing prompt challenges this week, or maybe I should be saying at this rate I’ll see you next Friday! Lol, stay tuned to find out. 😉

Okay let’s get to it. So I’ve joined the writing community in doing writing prompts, at least I’m trying. 😀 I’ve also joined by doing a prompt myself. This week, as the previous two – 38-Word flash fiction & 47-word – is based on number of words and a theme I choose. Write your flash fiction piece with 56 words no more, no less because by my math 😉 it’s the 56th day of the year. Post your piece or a link to your piece in the comments below and post a link back to this post should that apply to you. Also, please title your piece and if you decide not to write flash fiction, note that as well.

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This Week’s theme

This week I’d like to reflect on blessings, gratitude, appreciation, and the like. This includes talents that your life has bestowed on you, help or gifts people have given/offered/provided you, good luck you’ve experienced, good people or animals you know, all of it. I’m talking about any and everything you are grateful for, big small, few or many.

Time out, time out.

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Some days, weeks, months, even years are just hard. You might not feel inclined to stop and count your blessings. Things might be so hard for you at that or this time that it just makes you sick to hear people say count your blessings. You might be feeling like your glass is half-empty. And if that’s the case, I’m sorry, I’m genuinely sorry. I do know how that feels. Maybe I don’t know exactly how you’re feeling, or what you’re going through but I have compassion for you and the very fact that you’re struggling.

If you or someone you know needs help please scroll down for a short list of websites and phone numbers you may contact for assistance. Skip the exercise and reach out. You don’t have to be alone in this.

56-Word Writing Prompt Challenge – Gratitude

Please try, just a quick second, try and do this exercise with me and with us. Challenge yourself to find even the silliest thing. The smallest things really can be the best. I have had some really sad days and then I see a joyful thing that reminds me of my deceased brother. Of course the fact that he’s been gone over eight years is horribly sad but a good memory of him is just that and it makes me smile. Through my tears, I think, at least I knew you at all. And sometimes it feels like he’s saying hey, I’m here. I always say, thanks bro.

So let’s do this together, whether your day sucks or not, whether it’s the best time of your life or the worst. Take a deep breath and find the thing in your life that you’re glad is there, be it a memory, a gift, a book, your car, your apartment, the lady at the gas station who knows your name, the sun, a blooming plant, a singing bird, a purring cat, catching the bus when you thought you’d missed it, or a laugh or smile you weren’t expecting. They all count.

Use that thing to craft a 56-word short story. In your title please refer back to the thing you’re happy about or grateful for that has inspired your story, specifically, literally, metaphorically, however. Look in or around for a sneak peek. 🙂

Being Seen and Seeing

I reached one hand through. The warmth spread across my bleeding hand. Still in the tunnel yet here is the hope I needed. Today I saw light, and touched it.

As I’ve traveled below the war outside and through one inside, I’ve changed. The stretch before me should give me time to finish growing my wings.

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There you go, 56 words! I’m grateful for letting my struggles be known and for the help that has been provided and offered me. I’m grateful for being seen. I’m grateful for having some tools, any really, to carve out a brighter future. I don’t know just what that looks like but I know there’s light and I’m going to embrace it.

If you’re struggling please seek help, be it through a help line of sorts, a group, a friend, family member, doctor, professional, whatever, please know it’s there. Take a deep breath and reach out for help. You have that courage inside you, even if it’s tucked away at the bottom of your old toy chest of childhood, call it forward. Embrace it. Ask for help. Ask for help like poking air holes in the tunnel that may surround you. Keep looking until the light you need shines down. Use even a little bit of that hope to hold you a float, it’s worth it. That light may be light, or a beautiful sound or sensation or voice. Don’t give up. Don’t always doubt yourself. Don’t over think taking a second to say for this I am grateful. Fill your heart up. Breathe. Try on a tiny tiny smile at the corners of your mouth. It might be hard or feel stupid, just try it for a quick second. How was that?

Keep scrolling for a list of websites and hotlines you can use. Keep looking. Keep trying. Stay breathing. Share your story.

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SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

Top Helpline Resources from National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – 800-950-NAMI or Text “NAMI” to 741741

https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-HelpLine/Top-HelpLine-Resources

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline connects callers to trained crisis counselors (800-273-8255)

The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides 24/7 crisis intervention, safety planning and information on domestic violence (800-799-7233)

HelpWhenYouNeedIt.Org over 350,000 lisitng for social services, mental health, substance use, legal and financial assistance.

The above is not a comprehensive or even exhaustive list but I wanted to provide you some places to start should you need it. One step forward. Be proud of yourself that you took a step at all.

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