Just writing…

Today it’s cloudy but not snowy, and as of this moment, we still have a hole in our basement wall, and I’m just feeling sort of…blah. It’s been a stressful week. We ran out of propane yesterday, a problem which has since been sorted but was terribly uncomfortable for the better part of the day. And we’ve both been busy and trying to balance work things with the house chaos.

All of that to say – today, I’m just going to write.

I’m just going to write, because aside from reading, it’s the thing that makes me happiest. The writing zone – that spot when you’re really into what you’re creating, and the rest of the world just sort of melts away – that’s one of my very favorite places. I love the feeling of letting everything else go, and just being carried away by words and by story. It’s magic. There’s nothing else quite like it, and no other place I’d rather be right now.

And it comes with the advantage of marking some stuff off of my very long and ever-growing to-do list! I’m working on a script for an upcoming podcast episode, and a longer-form fiction that I have some ambitious plans for, and of course, January’s short story, which I think will be very inspired by the winter season and the quiet, cold time in between Christmas and spring.

So, that’s me. Just writing. And also there’s coffee. As Fridays go, this one’s not so bad. And hopefully by the end of it, I’ll have some good stuff down on the page.

Happy Friday, and if you’re spending time writing today, too, then I hope that it’s fun and rewarding, and that you create something amazing!

August’s short story will be up tomorrow!

It just needed a little more time to come together. But it’s almost there! We had a busy weekend, and I think my brain just needs a little rest before putting on the finishing touches. I’d rather take some time, get some sleep, and come back with fresh eyes than post something I know I’ll want to edit later. So, thanks for bearing with me!

And in the meantime, enjoy this sweet picture of Gatsby enjoying his favorite sunny spot. 🙂

The Power of the Opening Line

I’m working a little bit on my August short story today, and I’ll probably work on it a lot more over the weekend. It’s slow going – I have a spark of an idea, but it’s not really a story yet, and I’m waiting to see where it might go.

And that got me thinking.

Back when I was in college, I took a creative writing class. One of our in-class assignments was to write a story around an opening line provided by the professor. We had fifteen minutes to write as much as we could. This was the line:

“When we saw the headlights coming, we ducked.”

I can’t remember what I wrote, but I remember that opening line. And I remember some of my other favorite opening lines, too.

How about:

“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom noticed it when caught by her charm…”

Or:

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

Also:

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Or, the old favorite:

“Call me Ishmael.”

Whether I enjoyed these books or not (I resolutely hated Gone with the Wind, and surprisingly loved Moby Dick), these lines have stuck with me, as have many others. This speaks, I think, to the power of a good opening line.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it’s a make or break thing. Many an excellent story has had a lackluster or an unassuming opening sentence. One of my personal favorites begins really rather quietly with just:

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”

And I’ve never been very fond of this one, but everyone else seems to like it:

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

Anyway, my point is this: A good opening line gives a story somewhere to go, and a really good opening line hooks a reader immediately.

In the spirit of fairness, here are some that I’ve written. Some are fine, some not so much. Some have become stories. Some are still waiting. But I thought it would be fun to share them.

Summer is the time for magic.

The girl stood alone on a beach she had never seen.

“This is not how my life was supposed to turn out.”

To anyone else, the door at the end of the hallway was just that – a door. 

It was Lloyd Alexander’s fault, not that she could ever tell him, seeing as she’d never met him, and he was dead.

See, sometimes, when I’m having trouble putting words together, I’ll just sit down and write first lines. No story or characters attached, no ideas, no strings. And I actually find it really helpful. And usually, one of those first lines will lead me somewhere.

So, tell me! Do you have any favorite opening lines? Or least favorites? Either that you’ve read or that you’ve written. Either way, I’d love to hear them!

You’re welcome! (Or, about that quote I can’t get out of my head…)

Y’all, I just had to share this quote, because it jumped out at me yesterday, and now I can’t get it out of my head.

Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?

This quote is from The Writing Life by Annie Dillard.

(From Goodreads)

I read it yesterday while I was procrastinating some housecleaning, and I did not expect it to stick with me like this. But here I am, several hours later, still thinking about it. And now, perhaps you are, too.

So, sorry about that. Or not sorry? I’m not sure. It’s good advice to share, I think. So maybe, then, you’re welcome!

At any rate, what’s your favorite bit of writing wisdom? Feel free to share!

Listen, Step Back, and Trust Your Gut (or: How I Wrote My Latest Story)

I thought it might be fun today to talk a little bit about my creative process, and to show you what my latest short story, “Quiet Neighbors,” looked like when I started writing it. This isn’t something I’ve done before, but as I work to make a better routine for myself and eventually, hopefully finish a novel, I think it might actually be helpful to take a better look at how I’m currently operating.

So, first thing – I never really plan ahead, and I usually don’t know what I’ll write about when I open up my laptop and get started. Sometimes, a setting will come to me first. With “Quiet Neighbors,” it was a suburban neighborhood, newly built, without much space between houses (or privacy between neighbors). Sometimes, I’ll hear a voice first. When this happens, I listen. I always like to write from a character-driven place, and so if I’ve got a strong character from the get go, I feel like I’ve already got a head start on the work to come. When “Quiet Neighbors” started to take shape as what it eventually became, it was the narrator’s voice that compelled me to write. I wanted to know more about that character, and how that character perceived and interacted with the world.

Second thing – I try not to force a story to work. There’s lots of advice – and it’s good advice – about forging ahead and writing past blocks, but I find that if a story isn’t flowing, I’m not telling it the right way. When this happens, I like to take a step back, a few days away, and just give my brain time to think and process. In the case of “Quiet Neighbors,” I actually loved what I was building when I started, but something just wasn’t clicking. And so I started to look at it differently, and pretty quickly, things fell into place, I think as they were always meant to. I don’t mean to say that I never push through, and that every story has to flow easily for me actually finish it, but if my gut tells me it’s not right, I trust it.

And now, because I’m sure (or at least, I hope) I’ve made you curious, here’s what “Quiet Neighbors” looked like when I started it. It became something I’m really proud of, but it certainly didn’t start where it ended up, and I have to say, I couldn’t be more pleased about that.

*************

“The Quiet Neighbors”

There are two things you should know. The first is this: We liked them. They seemed like a bright young couple.

They moved in on a rainy day at the beginning of April, one of those gray, not quite cold days when you can feel the spring in the air. We heard the moving truck before we saw it, clunking down the wet pavement, the hiss of rain-slick tires.

We missed the MacKinnons. They’d lived in the big house at the end of the cul-de-sac for ten years before they moved, raised their children alongside all of ours. They hosted a Christmas party every year, they always put out the best Halloween candy and they could be relied on, you know?

Their house sat on the market for longer than anyone thought it would. Almost ten months ticked by filled with a string of showings and open houses, and a couple of times, the house went under contract. We all offered to help. We landscaped the garden beds over the summer and kept the front porch swept. We shoveled the driveway when it snowed. We all wanted to see the house sell, not only because we knew it make life easier for the MacKinnons – they’d moved in with her mother because of the cancer – but because we wanted the best new neighbors we could get. We wanted someone who’d take pride in the house and the neighborhood, just like the MacKinnons had, and just like we do. That’s what makes a good neighborhood. That’s what makes a home.

So the moving truck pulled into the driveway in the middle of an early spring downpour. We’d heard about the new owners from the realtor. A young married couple with no children (yet). They both worked in the city but wanted the space to grow. They had one dog, no cats, and oddly, only one car.

“How do they commute to the city?” That was Mr. Grayson to the realtor.

“They drive in together,” the realtor answered, “and they both get to work from home on Friday.”

“Must be nice.”