strategy


by Rohini Gupta

Rohini Gupta

There are many reasons why writers fail and one of the biggest–and deadliest–of them is distraction.

You probably recognize its symptoms. You are working well and then you feel like taking a break. Then you remember unfinished chores. You think, let me answer my email and then come back. That is the untimely end of your writing day.

At night, you wonder what happened, where the day went and why was it that, once again, you got no writing done.

There are people for whom this is a chronic condition. I have a friend who leaves early morning on an errand and comes back, late at night, having done a lot of small unconnected things, but not the errand.

Been there, done that.

There was a time when I, too, lived in that garbage heap, amid the obscenely unfinished story bits, novel ideas, dangling lines of poems, rotting remnants of chapters and books. I felt trapped and frustrated and needed a way out but everyone I asked was in the same leaky, listing, capsizing boat.

I had to turn inwards and look at my own behavior instead.

The breaks were the problem. Once I took a break I never returned. So I tried to take no breaks at all. That was even worse. My writing bogged down at once and my stress levels hit the roof.

So, I asked, what happens when I take a break?

That was when I saw that invisible, insidious second bird.

This is how it goes.

Every few hours, distraction hits. One shy bird alights on your shoulder whispering, don’t you want some coffee? Ignoring it does not help. It will not go away.

So, you follow the first bird and make a cup. So far, so good.

The mischief begins here. Distraction never comes alone. It comes in flocks. The first bird leads to a second, Now that you are up, why not finish that job you keep putting off?

If you go there it leads you to the graveyard of writing dreams.

It is difficult to see, but once I caught sight of that second bird, the solution turned out to be surprisingly easy and immediate to implement. It was one of the most important things I ever learned and it took me all the way to the publication of a book.

It worked for me. It worked for a few others who had the same problem. Maybe it will work for you and take you right to the threshold of your dreams.

This is the key.

That first bird is your friend. When it shows up, suggesting a break, take one. Even a long one. The length does not matter. You need that break to refresh and recharge. Take as many breaks as you need.

The second bird is your enemy, the masked and cloaked super villain who only wants to see your writing career die. It reminds you of all the things you have not done.

It has repetitive complaints–too hard, too long, too terrible.

This is too hard. How about working on that story you put away a year ago?

It’s taking too long, why not finish a quick one first?

The first draft is terrible, better try something else.

The second bird speaks in the voice of your doubts and fears and takes you down a very dark road indeed.

What you have to do is wait for it and recognize it.

When it does appear with its siren call, be firm, no, I am going right back to the very sentence I left. Be determined and return to the same page. Be clear in your mind, I will finish this before I go to anything else.

I always finish what I start. I am a finisher.

Get into the habit of finishing everything even if it is worthless. A particular story may be no good but the habit of finishing is worth all the wealth in the world.

That one small adjustment will enable you to leave the junkyard far behind and enter the blue summer skies of writing completion.

It’s a very simple rule.

Go with the first bird and take all the breaks. Relax, enjoy.

Then, return and pick up exactly where you left off.

Never, ever, follow that career destroying, morale sapping second bird.

____________

Rohini Gupta is a writer living by the sea in Mumbai, with a houseful of dogs and cats while working on short stories, poetry and a book. Her blog is at http://wordskies.wordpress.com.

 

 

by Aliza Greenblatt

Tina Wayland

Tina Wayland is a freelance copywriter, part-time fiction writer and full-time mom to a great wee kid. Her story, Red Handed, was the top story for July.

Aliza Greenblatt: I’m always curious about what drives authors to write, so can you tell me a bit about that? Do you typically write horror or do you venture into other genres as well?

Tina Wayland: Good question. I don’t know what drives me to write—the curiosity to see where the story will take me? The challenge to get a good piece of writing down on paper? I’m not a writer who’s driven to write. It takes a lot to get me to sit and put stuff down. But I’m always fascinated by the outcome.

I used to write horror way back when I studied Creative Writing. It’s something I haven’t done in about 20 years. This story was supposed to be about a simple conversation, but it took a wrong turn down a back road somewhere and I just had to follow along.

AG: When you sit down to write a new story, what is your process like?

TW: Haha! Fiddle, fiddle, get a glass of water, check my emails, fold some laundry, check my emails. At some point I focus and start writing, and in those rare moments where the writing stars align I find that perfect groove and I’m lost in the writing. For me it’s more about overcoming the obstacles than following a process. But somehow it works.

AG: The desire to escape was a major theme in the story and the two major characters in the story were desperate for a way out. But it slowly became apparent that the boy would use any means possible to do so. Did the characters’ desperation carry the momentum of the story as you wrote it? Do you think the boy will ever stop running?

TW: I don’t know if I saw them as desperate. I think they both believed they would win—that they’d get what they wanted, in the end. In my mind, the boy never questioned that he’d escape, and the detective never questioned that he’d get his answers. But the boy knew better. I don’t know if he’ll ever stop running. All the story gave me is this small glimpse into his life. Once he was out the door in the wall, he was gone—out of my control. I’d like to believe he’ll keep running, though. I don’t know what else he’d leave in his path.

AG: This piece used language very deliberately, and I loved how almost all of the sentences in the story were short and concise. Did you have a reason for writing in this particular style? Was it a conscious decision?

TW: No matter how I start off, I always end up writing like this. Economical. Deliberate. It’s about the words but it’s also about the rhythm of the words. I love the poetry of it. I can spend a whole lot of time looking for the perfect two-syllable word to balance out a sentence just right.

AG: From your bibliography, this is not your first flash fiction story. For you, what is the appeal of flash? What are some of the challenges you face when writing stories with such a limited word length?

TW: I think my writing style lends itself most easily to flash fiction. I cut and cut and cut until I’ve excavated the right sentence, the right words. By the time I get to my third draft, I’ve lost more than half of what I started with.

For me, the challenge of flash is to get the story right, and quickly. It’s less of a build-up to your characters and more of a quick look into one moment of their lives. There’s no time, and no words, to waste.

AG: What other projects are you currently working on? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?

TW: I have a handful of stories desperate for a second draft. I’ll have to dust one off for my writing workshop soon.

I also have a poem just published in From the Depths. You can read it in here, free.

Plus I have a small collection of published stuff on my work website at http://tinawaylandcopywriter.com/fr/published-fiction.php.

A few of my stories are up on EDF, and it is a great honour to be published alongside so many wonderful authors on such a great writing site. What a thrill that Red Handed touched so many readers! It was unexpected and truly wonderful. Thank you for taking the time to ask me these great questions about writing. It was great fun to think about the answers and pass them along!

AG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.

__________________

 Aliza profile-pic-2Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night.   Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper.   She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com. and on Twitter  @AtGreenblatt

 

by Ethel Rohan

Ethel Rohan2013

There’s a rebellious element to flash fiction. The form writes against longer works. That rebelliousness, the writing against, and the challenge of starkness in flash fiction hold great appeal. In addition to high selectivity and compression, flash fiction is the art of omission. Greats like Grace Paley, Ernest Hemingway, and J.D. Salinger made excellent use of omission. Omission alludes to the bigger story and invites the reader into the work. Perhaps more than any other written form, flash fiction demands the reader’s participation and interaction, and thereby honors the reader’s mental and emotional intelligence.

Flash fiction is my bullshit detector. This form in particular, in its scantiness, holds up my weaknesses as a writer and demands I police those weaknesses if I wish the work to succeed. My first drafts are always overwrought and often sentimental and thus dishonest. Of all the forms, flash fiction most refuses to tolerate such amateurishness. Flash fiction demands I tell the best story I can with the most skill and the least amount of words and gimmicks possible. To that end, I am a forever student and forever striving.

Here’s something new and tiny and unpublished. Here’s me striving.

Circles

Barry keeps Mya’s mother awake at night. Mya’s father wants to break Barry’s nose and knee-crush his groin. He just hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Three times Mya and Barry have broken-up and gotten back together again. Mya’s mother asks her daughter, Why?

Mya’s father feels robbed of his wife’s left breast and her long luscious hair. Hair like a black velvet lap. He insists she always wear her wig and a loose top, especially in bed. He prefers the black top, with the deep V down her lean, tanned back. Her spine holds him together. He asks her to buy a blond wig too. Might as well go for a third, he decides. Red, he tells her. Might as well have some fun, he thinks. Mya’s mother promises herself that, if she survives, she will put herself first more.

Mya checks her arms and neck in the mirror, impressed by the new concealer. Barry waits outside Mya’s house. To Mya’s mother, sitting inside her living room and searching the TV, the car engine sounds like it’s trying to get away from Barry. Barry’s thick fingers drum the dashboard, sending up dust. What’s taking her so long? The moon hits him like a spotlight. He thinks about all those astronauts, Neil and Buzz and more, and how it must have just about killed them not to ever get back there.

____________

Ethel Rohan’s latest work is forthcoming from The Lineup: 25 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press, 2014); Drivel: Deliciously Bad Writing by Your Favorite Authors (Penguin: Perigree, 2014); and Flash Fiction International Anthology (W.W. Norton, 2015). You can visit her at ethelrohan.com.

 

by Joanne Jagoda

Joanne Jagoda

I suppose I owe a debt of gratitude to my young bitchy boss with her ice pick style of management. When I finally had enough of her poking away at me, I decided it was time to retire at the age of 59. So there I was, at a new juncture of my life, a youngish senior, trying to figure out what the hell to do with the rest of my life. I found several volunteer jobs right away, including teaching English as a second language to Chinese seniors and working with children in a poor school in East Oakland. I needed something else. I knew I could only exercise, go out to lunch, and shop for so many days until I’d be bored. I needed to find something to keep me feeling vital and alive. What would open the magic gate to lead me on a journey I had not ventured on before?

I had always liked to write, and as a history major and English minor had done endless term papers, but I never attempted any serious creative writing. I was fortunate, or maybe a better word is the Yiddish expression, that it was beshert or destined for me to find a daytime writing class, Lakeshore Writers in Oakland, which had a spot in the spring class. It was a writing workshop using the Amherst method. The class met Thursday mornings for two and a half hours. I was willing to give it a try. One class…it couldn’t hurt. If I hated it I just wouldn’t continue, lose the deposit, whatever.

I got to the class early that Thursday, chatted with the facilitator as the other women rolled in. We eyed each other. I was the oldest. What the hell am I doing here? I sat down on the mismatched chairs, clutching my lemon ginger tea listening to the instructions. We would write on three prompts during the class time, read our work out loud and give positive feedback to each other. We were to treat everything we heard as fiction. My first prompt, I still remember it … “write about hair.” Oh shit, I’ve got nothing to say. I take a breath, gulp my tea, stare at my blank yellow legal pad. Maybe I could write something about my daughter’s mane of wild curly hair which has always been a source of drama for her. It had a life of its own, and I had my story.

And that one class was enough. I was hooked. Who would have ever believed that I had words, and sentences, and images and memories waiting to burst forth out of me. It was as if I had new glasses on and could see for the first time. I started to look at things differently. I started to hear snippets of conversations everywhere which I wanted to incorporate in my work. I found colorful characters lurking in the supermarket checkout line, on the BART train, in the jury pool when I had jury duty. I went back to my childhood in my head, remembering the poppies Mrs. Mialocq used to give me over the fence and the neighbors down the street who had a drunken brawl and my tap dancing class. I wrote fiction, nonfiction, and found I had a gift to write poetry.

I had discovered a new world like some intrepid explorer stumbling upon the universe of literary magazines, online submissions and contests, and a whole new vocabulary of “simultaneous submissions” and “flash fiction.” I started to submit and was in a writing frenzy. I was like an addict hooked on a drug which gave me a fulfilling high. In the beginning, I had some surprising successes even placing in the Writer’s Digest contest with an honorable mention. I didn’t realize that was a pretty big deal. There were other first place and second place wins, and it was a thrill seeing my work published. Then came the Rejections…there have been plenty of those sometimes arriving on a half sheet of paper. I mean really, couldn’t they at least send it on a whole sheet?

Now five years later I am still on this writing journey, and there are days when it is not easy. The most difficult challenge is making writing part of my daily routine. This requires a steely resolve to make time to write no matter how busy I am and treating my writing as a job. It is easy to put it aside when life gets too full. I still struggle in believing in myself. There are days when I’m a “writer” not a WRITER. One of the nicest things that happened to me early on was when a friend who encouraged me tremendously held a “Salon” for me to read some of my work at a tea. It was a thrill to share my writings with a rapt and appreciative audience.

I have been fortunate to become involved with the website, Pure Slush, and have written a number of pieces, which have been published by editor Matt Potter, who lives in Adelaide, Australia. I am one of the thirty-one writers in his ambitious 2014 project where a monthly anthology will be published for the twelve months of 2014. Each writer takes a different day. Mine is the thirtieth of the month, and I wrote a mystery. It has been amazing to become part of a group of writers from all over the world. A reading is in the works for November in New York City, and I’m thinking of attending to read one of my chapters. Maybe then I will finally consider myself a WRITER and not just a “writer.”

____________

Since retiring in 2009, it took one inspiring writing workshop to launch Joanne Jagoda of Oakland California on a long-postponed creative writing journey. Since discovering her passion for writing, she has been working on short stories, poetry and nonfiction. Her work has been published widely online and in print magazines and anthologies including Pure Slush 2014; 52/250, a Year of Flash; Persimmon Tree Literary Magazine; Women’s Memoir-Seasons of Our Lives, Summer; and Still Crazy. Joanne was the poet of the month for the J, a Jewish news weekly. She continues taking writing workshops and classes in the Bay Area, enjoys tap dancing and Zumba, traveling with her husband and visiting her four grandchildren, who call her Savta.

 

by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Sarah Akhtar

It’s like the pangs of afterbirth. There’s your lovely story, ready to send out, and you can’t for the life of you think what to call it.

Happened to me once. Put a working title on a flash piece so I could at least submit it. Revised the title when I did the rewrite, but knew it was still a dud. The right one finally came to me, literally in the nick of time, shortly before the due date, so to speak. And to my enormous relief, one commenter remarked that the title was perfect for the tale. If she’d known how I sweated that one. . .

I’ve looked in some strange places for titles. I loathe, fear and despise mathematics, but my offspring has a gift for it. Go figure. And it so bothers me, being locked out of that world he inhabits so naturally, that with the bounteous help of Wikipedia, I’ve named a number of my stories for mathematical or scientific concepts. Those titles sounded so elegant, while making me feel closer to my kid. And strangely, they expressed just what I wanted to say.

Without the intuitively perfect title, a story’s luster is a little dimmed. And a bad or mediocre title may keep readers away from a piece they might have truly enjoyed.

If you’re struggling to name your story, take a little break. I once had to leave something alone for a couple of months, until my main character’s voice called to me so clearly that the right title fell naturally into place. It was frustrating not to be able to submit something I believed in and had worked hard on, but part of growing into your craft is recognizing when you haven’t fully achieved your intent, and waiting until you do.

Resist the urge to slap something on your story because you’re facing a deadline or just want to mark it as completed. You don’t want any child you love to go out into the world ill-named.

____________

 Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable–the best of all possible worlds. Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Online and Perihelion SF Magazine.

 

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