Monday, September 29, 2014

Don't Break the Chain


Photo by Dave on Flickr
I know I've mentioned this before, but it's kinda difficult to balance writing with a full time job. It can be done, but it's not easy. You're tired when you get home from work. You might not feel like writing. If you could only convince yourself to sit down in the chair. To show up. Then you'd get some writing done. You'd make progress. You'd succeed.

The hardest part of writing, and the key, is showing up. If you can get yourself to show up, you guarantee productivity. Even if all you do is sit down and think about writing, you're still doing something to further your craft. Most of the time sitting down is all it takes. You put your butt in the chair and the words start flowing. Stranger things have happened.

I was looking for a new way to motivate myself when I came across Jerry Seinfeld's method. You get a wall calendar and a big marker and put an "X" through all the days you write. Don't break the chain. Keep the "X"s going for as long as you can. "Don't break the chain," Seinfeld says again. You won't want to. The chain is gorgeous.

I've started using this technique to get myself to write every day. Although I usually prefer pen and paper, you can also track your "chain" using the app WriteChain for iOS. It not only builds chains for you but also keeps track of your word count. The best part is that it's free.

Have you tried the "Don't Break the Chain" method before? How do you get yourself to write when you don't feel like it?

Friday, September 26, 2014

MUD EYES Excerpt, Draft 2

brown eye
Photo by Ian Hughes on Flickr
I was inspired to post this excerpt after seeing that Ksenia Anske had some on her blog. I didn't want to put the first draft up for obvious reasons. I'm not entirely comfortable posting this one, either, but at least it's been edited a little. Let me know what you think! Update: the next part is here.

MUD EYES

A novel by Briana Morgan, Draft 2 

Chapter One. Empty

Two weeks after my birthday, my brother was murdered.

The people came and took his body away in a black bag. When they zipped it up and hid his face, I felt like they erased him from existence. That was impossible. He was already gone.

I stood on the front steps because I didn't know what else to do. I didn't feel like doing anything. One of the policemen told me they were looking into it. He had green eyes. I knew better. My brother had had brown eyes, so he would be forgotten. No one but me cared what happened to him. That was the way it had always been.

It started to rain.

I swallowed a laugh. In the movies, it rained when somebody died. If only I were living in a movie—directed by God and playing the role of the heartbroken sibling, alone in the world. Only I wasn’t playing. I had lost my parents and now I had lost Rory.

A police officer laid a hand on my shoulder. His face was kind but his eyes were green. He didn’t care about me.

“Is there somewhere you can go?”

I was seventeen years old. I had to live with someone for another year at least. Some kind of legal guardian. The officer was asking if I had other family.

"No,” I said, “there’s nowhere.”

"The officer frowned. “We can put you up in a hotel for the night. Then tomorrow morning we can make arrangements. How is that?”

It sounded awful. I didn’t want to leave my house. Rory and I had built a life there together. Some of my best memories were created in that house. At the same time, it felt empty without him. So empty. And there was still blood and broken glass everywhere. It was hard for me to see.

“Sounds okay,” I lied.

“Perfect,” he said, “why don’t you come along with me?”

He kept his hand on my shoulder and steered me in the direction of his cruiser.

I turned over my shoulder to look at the gurney being wheeled into the ambulance. I didn’t recognize it as a part of my brother. My brother wasn’t in that bag. He was somewhere else.

The officer opened the door and held it for me. I slid into the seat. The leather was cool against my skin.

"Did you want to get your belongings?” he asked.

I hadn’t thought about it. Earlier when I’d tried to go into my bedroom, the police had told me not to touch anything. How was I supposed to pack my suitcase without touching things?

"I didn’t think I could.”

“I could go get some things for you. Do you know what you want?”

I wanted Rory back. “No.”

“Okay, do you want to wing it for a night and swing by here in the morning?”

I had no idea. I didn’t want anything. There was a hollow place inside of me getting bigger every second. I was numb.

I shrugged.

He nodded, closed the door, and climbed into the driver’s seat.

I put on my seatbelt. Rory would have made me. He’d cracked down on seatbelts since our parents’ accident, which was understandable, so I tried not to let it bother me. I knew he meant well. No one could ever love me as much as he had. Not even our parents had loved me that much. We didn’t pass judgment—that was simply a fact.

The policeman didn’t check to make sure I was wearing my seatbelt. In the rearview mirror, I saw he wasn’t wearing his. He hadn’t reached for it. He made no attempt to fasten it. That was also a fact, though there was some judgment. I knew what Rory would have to say about that man.

When the officer revved the engine, the interior fell silent. He didn’t turn on the radio. Neither of us talked.

#

The Innisbrook Motel wasn’t far from where I lived. We got there in less than ten minutes. I was relieved. I wanted to get away from the policeman as soon as possible. It wasn’t anything against him—I was worn out from answering questions and sharing my feelings with strangers. I wanted to be alone. I craved peace and quiet.

The motel was cramped and a little disheveled. It wasn’t disgusting or run-down but had seen better days. It wasn’t the cheapest option in town, but it might have been the runner-up. I didn’t care. The sooner I got inside and locked the door the better.

The police officer waited to leave after I was checked in. He asked me if I need anything. I needed everything and nothing all at the same time.

“I’ll swing by to get you in the morning,” he said. “You’ll probably need to answer a couple more questions.”

After the interrogation I’d had earlier, I couldn’t imagine what questions there were left to ask. Did your brother have enemies? I didn’t know. I didn’t think so. He was a good man. Was there anything to be gained from his death? He didn’t have life insurance and we were pretty poor. Do you have any idea who might have killed him? If I did, I wouldn’t have been answering questions. I’d be tracking down the killer and getting revenge.

“Okay,” I said.

He left me standing in front of the stairs. He got into the car and drove away without so much as a wave.

I climbed the stairs to the second floor. My room was 210. The motel was pretty empty. Either people were out for the day or there weren’t many guests. I passed one room with the curtains drawn—light filtered out from a crack in the fabric. Every other room I passed was dark. Room 209 was also dark, but I heard voices. A man and a woman were talking.

I stuck my card key into the lock. I could hear every word that the couple was saying.

“It would be easier with colored contacts,” the man said.

The light on the lock flashed red. I tried again.

“Don’t say that here,” said the woman.

“He won’t hear us.”

“Walls can talk.”

The light flashed green. I froze with my hand on the handle of the door. They were talking about colored contacts. The only thing I knew about them was that they were illegal. They’d been outlawed under the Ocular Codes. Everyone knew that. Why bring them up?

Curiosity got the best of me. I hovered outside.

“It’s not the safest course of action,” the man said. “I’d feel much better if we could wait a few days.”

"You know that’s impossible.”

“I know, I know. I just wish things were different.”

"Don’t we all?”

The man coughed. No one said anything for a minute. I thought they were finished with their conversation. I twisted the doorknob and went inside. Right before the door closed, I heard their door open.

I froze again. Someone had left the room. I pressed my ear against the door and heard murmuring. I recognized the man’s voice.

“You want anything else besides ice?”

“No thanks,” the woman called.

I pulled back from the door. I knew he couldn’t see me, but I felt safer anyway. I knew I wasn’t supposed to have heard that conversation. I couldn’t get the words out of my head. They were plotting something illegal. What could it be? Why did they need colored contacts?

I heard their door open again. It must have been the woman. I leaned against the door again but this time leaned too hard. The door wasn’t closed all the way.

I fell through the crack and against the woman. She wasn’t much taller than me, but she was strong enough to catch me before I fell. Somehow I still hit my head on the railing. That’s the last thing I remembered.

#

I came to in my hotel room. At least, it looked like my hotel room.

After a minute I noticed the smell—stale cigarette smoke. I sat up and propped myself against the pillows. The woman from earlier sat in a chair at the end of the bed, smoking a cigarette and staring at me. Her dark hair fell over part of her face. The room wasn’t well-lit, but I knew she was beautiful. It emanated from her like an aura. I felt it.

“How long have I been out?” I asked.

She took a drag on her cigarette. “A couple of hours. You must have hit harder than I thought you did.”

“A couple of hours?”

“Or you were exhausted.”

She looked at me as though expecting an answer. I wanted to give her one more than I’d wanted anything in my entire life. I was taken aback. Why was I so captivated by her? What was the allure?

“Exhausted,” I said. “My brother just died.”

She lowered the cigarette. “I’m so sorry.”

Even though I barely knew her, I could tell she was sincere. Her eyes radiated warmth and sympathy—and they were brown like mine, which was a huge bonus. No matter how pretty she was, we were on equal ground in society.

I relaxed a little. “Thank you.”

“Was it sudden?”

“He was murdered last night.” The words fell out of my mouth before I could stop them. I was sure that was more than she’d wanted to hear. When I saw her eyes widen, I wished I could take it back. She didn’t need to know my tragic back story.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“Don’t apologize,” she said. “Never. Not for that.”  She tamped out the cigarette in the ashtray in her lap. I hadn’t noticed it before. Smoke hung around her face. She waved it away. “I had a brother who died a long time ago. Sometimes it still hurts.”

“How long ago?” I asked.

“Decades,” she said.

I didn’t push her for details. The idea that I’d still be living with grief years down the road terrified me. The ache was intense. I thought I’d never feel the way I felt when Rory and I lost our parents. Losing my brother was so much worse. I couldn’t remember what it felt like not to grieve. It hadn’t even been a full day since I’d lost him. I couldn’t imagine how this woman felt.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

"What’s yours?”

“Damita.”

“Hebrew,” she said, “isn’t it?”

I nodded. “I’m Jewish.”

“I’m Atalanta,” she said.

“What is that?”

She laughed and it was music. “That’s my name. Atalanta Silvestrov.” When I didn’t comment, she smiled. “My first name is Greek. My last is Russian. It throws people off.”

“Where’s the man who was with you?” I asked. I hated myself for speaking. The only way I knew that she was traveling with a man was because I’d eavesdropped on their conversation.

Her brow furrowed. “Who?”

I wondered if I should try to backpedal. I wasn’t sure if she’d heard me correctly and was just giving me a second chance or if she honestly hadn’t heard me. I didn’t want to repeat myself. I wanted to crawl under a rock.

"What man are you talking about?” she asked again.

I tried to come up with something that sounded halfway coherent. Then he came out of the bathroom wearing only a towel.

“Give it up,” he said. “We’re going to have to tell her.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Don’t Quit Your Day Job: How to Balance Work and Writing


Photo by Gerard Arcos on Flickr
If you have a full-time job, chances are that you’re so worn out at the end of the day that you don’t feel much like working on your novel. You don’t have enough time or energy. You’ll never do it. You know what? That’s crazy. You can do it. Here’s how.

Try the Nifty 350. I just read an amazing post by author Chuck Wendig that recommends writing at least 350 words every day. That’s it. 350. How easy it that? No matter how busy or tired you are, I’m sure you can manage to write 350 words. Keep that momentum and you’ll have drafted a novel within a year. The best part? That’s with weekends off!

Utilize pauses. If you feel pressed for time, look for pockets of rest scattered throughout the day. Waiting rooms, lines, bathrooms, and children’s dance recitals (joking) are excellent places to work on your story. Make sure you have a notebook or smartphone with you to capture thoughts on the go.

Stop making excuses. When it comes down to it, if you really want to write a novel, you’ll make it a priority. You’ll move heaven and earth to get those ideas down on paper. Trust me on this one.

Alter your routine. Can you wake up earlier or stay up later? You might have to change your schedule if you’re serious about writing. Figure out what time works best for you and set and alarm or have a cup of coffee. You can do it.

Stay motivated. Whether it’s by tracking your progress or rewarding your work, find a way to keep your spirits up so you’ll keep writing. You’re less likely to lose interest if you’re properly motivated.

Writing a novel while holding down a job isn’t easy, but it can be done. If you have drive, passion, and flexibility, you can make it happen. 

What advice do you have for balancing work and writing?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Importance of Building a Writing Community

The Importance of Community -- writing is a team sport!
Photo by Proctor Archives on Flickr
I received a request to do a blog post detailing all the reasons why you should make friends with other writers. This post will definitely go into those reasons, but I want to focus more on ways to build that community based on my personal experience.

The bottom line is as follows: if you are a writer, you should join with other writers. They are the only people in the world who truly understand you. The right writing community will laugh with you, cry with you, and scream into the night with you (not too loudly; you'll wake the neighbors). A good group can mean the difference between success and failure. Community for writers is invaluable.

You might not yet be sold on the idea of coming together with other writers. "It's a solitary craft," I hear you whine, "why in the world should I talk to anybody?" Here are some benefits to joining a community of writers:
  • Mentorship

  • Critique

  • Promotion

  • Inspiration

  • Motivation

  • Support

  • Discipline...
... and many, many more. I could go on for days about how becoming a member of a writing community has helped me, but it's better if you can see it firsthand. Let's say you're psyched. You want to meet with other writers to discuss issues of plot and elements of style. So how can you create or join a community?

Be active on social media. ESPECIALLY TWITTER. Seriously, people. Twitter changed my life. I've made so many writing friends on there that I almost can't believe it. Feel free to follow me and we can live it up. If you have social media accounts, make sure you use them! And often! No one likes an inactive user. Tweet, reply, mention, direct, message, or whatever it takes to keep up with the Kardashians (kidding, of course, because none of them are writers).

Ask for nothing. I mean it. Don't tweet at people asking them to read your stuff over and over again, especially if you've never had a normal conversation. Don't ask people to buy everything you put out. Don't obsess over self-promotion. That's a massive turn-off. Just be you. Focus on building relationships and you'll find that plenty of people will be interested in your work.

Do nice things for other people. This tip goes hand in hand with not asking for anything. When it comes to flourishing in a community, you need to give more than you receive. Help people out. Be a good human being. Remember the Golden Rule? Yeah, it's time you use it. The nicer you are to other writers, the more likely it is that they'll return the favor.

Reach out. If you've got a question or need advice about something, don't be afraid to ask! Sometimes all you need is some encouragement. That's where community comes in. I've had so many questions answered by my friends on Twitter, and I'm eternally grateful for their help. Don't feel embarrassed to reach out for help! Everyone's been there at one point or another.

It's not that hard to meet and interact with other writers. As long as you follow my tips, focus on being genuine, and use your manners, you'll be just fine.

What do you think of these tips? How has joining a community helped you and your writing?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How to Get Writing Done When You Can't Shut the Door

How to Get Writing Done When You Can't Shut the Door
Photo by Giorgio Raffaelli on Flickr
In an ideal world we would all have spaces dedicated to writing. We'd have rooms or closets or storage spaces where would could close the door. We could physically separate ourselves from the world. Nothing would distract us from doing the work.

I'm writing this from the living room of my grandma's house. It's impossible to close myself off while I'm here. If I go into another room, someone follows and strikes up a conversation. Every single time. Without fail.

Sometimes it's not possible to go somewhere and write, with a physical door between you and your surroundings. Like right now, for instance. I'm stuck in the living room. Luckily, I have a few tips to help you focus even when you can't shut the door for some reason.

Use music as a form of "shutting the door." If you can't get somewhere private, turn on Pandora and plug in some headphones. Even if you're not playing anything, most people will leave you alone if you're wearing headphones. Turn the music up and you won't hear anyone. It'll be easier to get lost in your own little world.

Write when people are sleeping. I stayed up late last night to get some writing done. If you're a morning person, try to rise before the sun. When the house is quiet, it's easier to concentrate. The best part? No one else will be awake enough to bother you.

Communicate. Tell your friends and loved ones how much writing means to you. If they love you, they'll understand when you tell them you need to set aside time for your work. You can even schedule time to hang out with them later so they know they'll get to see you. Honesty and openness can get you a long way.

While all of these methods have worked for me before, I've found that nothing beats getting behind a closed door. Feel free to try some of these. If you don't like them, move on. Find what works for you. What matters is that you write, not how you get the writing done.

What do you think? How do you write without getting distracted?

Friday, September 5, 2014

On Facing Fear

On Facing Fear
Photo by Jordan Francisco on Flickr
I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now, but I haven’t had the courage. This post is honest, frank, and uncomfortable. I’m going to reveal something about myself that I’m not proud of. In doing so, I hope I can inspire someone else who might be struggling with similar issues.

What am I talking about? I’m talking about fear.

A year or so ago, I finished the first draft of my manuscript. I put it away. I let it breathe. I wanted to put some distance between the novel and me so I could view it objectively the next time we saw each other.

I had planned to start revisions this past May, but you know what? My fear and apprehension had other plans. As of writing this post, the only step I’ve taken in the revision process is the read-through. I’ve made some notes, but I haven’t gone through with any changes. Why?

Because I’m terrified. I’m afraid once I start cutting, there will be nothing left. I’m afraid I’ll never make this novel concept work. I’m afraid it won’t be good—no, more than that, I’m afraid it will suck. When it comes right down to it, I’m afraid of failure.

Let me tell you something—it’s okay to be afraid. In fact, it’s normal. The issue with fear is that it can keep you from achieving your goals if you don’t rise up to challenge it. I realized recently that I’ll never accomplish the very thing I’ve been dreaming of (publication) if I don’t, for lack of a better phrase, suck it up and move on. If I want to finish this novel, I have to face my fears.

And you know what? Moving forward scares me more than I can say, but I’m doing it anyway. I’m pushing ahead. In writing this blog post, I’m hoping you all will hold me accountable. That means more to me than you can know. I’m facing my fear. Why don’t you face yours?

What are you afraid of when it comes to writing? 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Liebster Award Nomination

liebster-award I hadn’t heard of the Liebster Award before the lovely Jess at Like Star Filled Skies nominated me. Here’s the lowdown:

1) Post the Liebster Award graphic on your site.

2) Thank the blogger who nominated your blog.

3) Answer the 10 questions from the post of the person who nominated them.

4) The nominee will nominate 10 other blogs who have less than 200 followers.

5) The nominee will then create 10 questions of their own for their nominated bloggers to answer in their Liebster post.

Here are the questions from Jess:

1) What is your favorite fruit?
Strawberries, without a doubt.

2) If you could be any superhero you wanted, who would it be?
Black Widow because she’s a baller.

3) What one book could you read over and over again?
The Great Gatsby. And trust me, I have.

4) If you could own any exotic animal you wanted, what would it be?
A tiger!

5) Favorite sport to watch on television?
I can only tolerate sports when the Olympics are on. With that being said, I don’t mind watching soccer.

6) How would you describe your style?
Bohemian with edgy touches.

7) What 3 things would you like to do before you die?
Publish a novel, travel all throughout Europe, have children.

8) If you could move anywhere other than where you live now, where would that place be?
London.

9) Favorite book? Why?
Ohhh this is going to be a tough one. I’m caught between Gatsby and Nineteen Eighty-Four because both are timeless and I also find something new no matter how many times I read them.

10) As a kid, what did you always want to be when you grew up?
A dolphin trainer or an artist. SURPRISE, PAST ME.

Now, part of the challenge involves me tagging other people. but I’m not sure who to tag. If you want to participate, you can answer these questions and link back to my post:

1) What’s your favorite season? Why?

2) How many languages do you know?

3) What’s your earliest memory?

4) Who are your favorite authors?

5) What’s your favorite quote and where does it come from?

6) What’s your most irrational fear?

7) How do you feel about rain?

8) Tell me one short-term goal and one long-term goal.

9) If you could invite any three people to dinner, living or dead, who would they be?

10) Favorite time of day?

Feel free to answer these!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Turn Off the Television!

Using remote on television
Photo by flash.pro on Flickr
I have a confession to make.

I'm addicted to television.

I'm a die-hard follower and fan of several shows current and ended. When I get home from work, I go straight to Netflix or cable TV. I even have a DVR set to record certain shows so I don't miss them when they air.

With that being said, I dedicate time to daily writing. It can be hard to sit down and get to work after a full day on the job, but I make it happen. It gets easier once I've started.

Unless I turn on the TV.

I cannot focus if I turn on the TV. Sometimes I trick myself into thinking that the background noise will help me; that it won't be overwhelming. "I'll turn the volume down," I tell myself. "I won't even watch. I'll just have it on." You know what? It never works. I don't get as much done when I have the television on--even if it's tuned into something I don't care about.

Some writers can work with the television on. The problem comes happens when you come home from work or school, turn on Netflix, and spend two hours or more binge-watching something instead of writing. We're writers, after all, and writers write.

Watching TV isn't writing. Commit to putting in some work before turning on the television. That way, you'll accomplish something and have the rest of the evening to relax, free of guilt.

How do you feel about writing with the television on? What distracts you as a writer? 
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