Write Now Prompt for November 25, 2014

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

The wind howled outside, causing the walls of the old house to creak while the windows whistled a tired, old tune.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

Write Now Prompt for November 21, 2014

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

No one was around to see him so what did it matter if he took just one?

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

Contrary to Popular Opinion

fishhookIf you have a little tyke nearby you probably know the story of The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister. It’s about a lonely fish with scales of many colors. He is eventually persuaded to give away his beautiful scales, one by one, to the other, duller piscine creatures and builds friendships with them in the bargain. Children are enchanted by the crayon box beauty of the little fish and the budding empathy he exhibits. Teachers and parents have praised the book for teaching the values of sharing and being proud of who you are rather than how you appear.

But look up the book on the Internet and you’ll find a grenade of negative reviews and antagonistic comparisons. The book is accused of promoting liberal social propaganda above independent work ethic, of enforced equalization on behalf of those too lazy to earn their own colorful scales. The book incites heated political discourse worthy of college seminars or street protests.

It’s unlikely Pfister had any motive other than to write a kid’s book and hopefully earn a tooth fairy’s token bounty. Even if he suspected the potential controversy his story might cause, he proceeded with his vision, because the fish’s actions fit the story. Sometimes learning to share is hard. We live on a small planet where resources are finite though needs are infinite, where justice doesn’t always equal fairness, and doing the right thing might make you popular but more, might make you feel better about fitting into the tight spaces of your own soul. So, share what you’ve got. All that said in words and pictures little kids can understand. The Rainbow Fish remains a favorite among many, repellent to others.

And what have we “big kids” learned? Murder, rape, embezzlement, burglary, kidnapping, torture, fraud, graft, blackmail, espionage – all those crimes and more propel the world of books on its publishing carousel. They’re all acceptable aspects of a character as long as that character is the antagonist. The protagonist can exhibit a rumpled suit as well. Drunken, alcoholic, cheating, lying, egocentric, gambling, irresponsible, bullying, sleazy main characters are the mainstay of the written world. Of the real world as well, which is why they all fit their roles so well. Books would be boring if distilled water coursed in the main character’s veins, and every writer knows the protagonist must have a personal flaw to overcome on the way to resolving the plot.

Still, when writing The Tree House Mother, I faced a crisis. The book is about a woman’s relationship with her emotionally absent mother and how it colors her entire life, causing her to make impetuous choices that put her and others in danger. Though a successful artist, Andie’s self-doubt grows until she becomes pregnant and worries that she’ll repeat her mother’s impoverished parenting skills. She chooses to have an abortion.

Abortions are legal in this country but they inflame the perpetual debate over whether or not a woman should ever have one. I struggled with this scene, because I struggle with the entire issue. My grandmother arrived from Europe to America more than 100 years ago as a very young teenager, apparently unaccompanied by family. She’d fled a pogrom that had killed her little brother and left her mother insane. She married only a few years later, and over the next 15 years or so had seven children, all of whom she loved. She also had two self-induced abortions using a coat hanger, either of which could have killed her. She understood little about birth control, and legal abortion wasn’t an option for anyone. I won’t say whether or not I believe in a woman’s right to choose, but my grandmother’s story weighs on my heart. None of this is in my story, only Andie’s dilemma.

It wasn’t Pfister’s story that gave me the confidence to write the controversial scene in my book, but the little fish sometimes swims in the back of my head when I wonder if a certain action will fly or end up sabotaging the story. I had to let Andie remain true to her persona, even when that meant engaging in an act that might cause readers to gasp. It’s the truth to core that lends credibility to a story, that will ultimately allow a story to bear an incident that might be contrary to popular opinion of what is acceptable behavior. Bad guy can do that, but not the good guy. Will Andie’s choice lose an otherwise sympathetic audience?

Judging by the vociferous reviews of Pfister’s kids’ book, maybe 1000 words about scale sharing, I can imagine the reviews about my book (which is not yet published.) I could have allowed Andie to get falling down drunk and suffer a miscarriage, a condition more acceptable to some as it involves chance rather than choice. It wouldn’t have worked as well. (Getting drunk also being a choice.) I might not have had her face an unplanned pregnancy – one less conflict for her to deal with. The ending wouldn’t be as meaningful. Though the mention of Andie’s abortion is a tiny part of the book, the topic of abortion in American culture is incendiary. Yet it makes the conclusion of the story plausible and poignant.

You won’t learn to ride a horse if you’re too frightened to fall; you can’t swim if you won’t put your head in the water. Writing a sweet confection of a book with no controversy at all is likely to garner ho hum interest. Being afraid to write about a contentious topic means being afraid to write. Ultimately it’s the story itself that will show its strength. The worst thing might be if people have no reaction.

The rainbow fish gave away his scales. I feel like he gave one to me.

Censorship: External and Internal

When I look back at the writing I have done in the past 20 years, I see that a lot of what I write has to do with my relationships, as well as interesting women, both famous and infamous. I have written about my broken heart, my happy heart, the failings of both myself and my friends and lovers, and various women whose stories I happened across in arbitrary, lazy Sunday afternoon Google searches.

By American standards, what I’ve chosen to write about is relatively vanilla: not taboo. Lots of people write about their feelings and their relationships. Lots of people write about historical figures. I don’t write Hunger Games-style, dystopic literature. I don’t write Orwellian subtext, or Bradbury-esque social commentary. I am, in short, not controversial.

In my view, that is.

Having grown up in this culture, I am used to my freedom of speech, and more than that, I rarely give a thought to my freedom of speech. It just is. I do not have to hide my art. I do not worry about being censored by others, though my self-censorship can rear its head from time to time.

In a previous post of mine, “Baring it All: The Challenge of Short Poems,” I mentioned a Pashtun poetry form called landay, which is written by Afghan women. What I didn’t mention then was that this type of poetry is typically written in secret. Women are punished for their self-expression. A handful of years ago, one such woman, Zarmina, was beaten by her brothers for sharing her landays on the radio. In protest of their violent disapproval, she set herself on fire, and later died. A horrific ending to what seems, to me, to be a fairly commonplace act of recording—simply put—feelings.

Zarmina and other women working in this form of poetry are writing about their feelings. They are writing about their experiences, their relationships, their joys, and their sorrows. To give you a sense of the content, here is one landay that was collected by journalist Eliza Griswold:

Your eyes aren’t eyes. They’re bees.
I can find no cure for their sting.

This is a poem about suffering at the hands of another; it’s potentially about rejection, anger, or perhaps even violence. From my vantage point, it is not a controversial poem. It is stark and striking, to be sure, but it is not something that warrants censorship or is particularly controversial. But that’s from my vantage point. For the Afghan woman who wrote this poem, this was most certainly a controversial poem; not only was the content controversial, but the act of writing itself was controversial. Punishable, even.

These women are writing, despite the potential for punishment, about their lives. When I think about my poetry, and I see that I am also writing about my life, I have to remember that it is a gift to be allowed free reign to write about it. And not only because of where I grew up, but also because of the time in which I grew up. Had I tried to write about my feelings some 150 years ago, or even 60 years ago, I would have found similar censorship as the women writing their landays, and potentially similar punishment.

As an offshoot to all of this, I also realize that self-censorship, which I would also call self-doubt, becomes an almost decadent and foolish thing to allow myself in my current situation, given what I know about the censorship that exists in other cultures. Self-censorship, whether because of fear or concern over who might be offended by my perspective, only really flourishes in a society that allows freedom of speech to begin with. To use a somewhat crude comparison, it’s like going on a diet: you can only do this when food is bountiful.

Disallowing and discouraging self-censorship (since I don’t typically have to deal with the external version of it) in myself, is one small way of asserting my voice and joining it with those who are experiencing the kind of censorship that is externally enforced and often accompanied by violence.

Write Now Prompt for November 18, 2014

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

He pulled the book from the shelf and a letter slipped out of its pages and fell to the floor.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

The Writers Circle: Censorship

TWC
One of our goals here at Today’s Author is to help all of the writers among us to do what we love to do: write. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by talking to each other and learning from each other.  Our Writers Circle series is designed to do just that – provide a chance for us to discuss writing, editing and publishing questions.

This week’s topic is:

Think about the privileges of living in a relatively free and diverse culture. How has your writing benefited by not having to worry about censorship? What topics have you tackled that might generate debate or controversy? Have you written about other times or places where what one writes or states could get them thrown into prison, shunned from society or even killed?

Let’s discuss this in the comments and see what our community thinks.

Write Now Prompt for November 14, 2014

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

The first snowfall of the year was always so beautiful, even though it was so disruptive.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.

What Did I Write Today?

YA author Medeia Sharif, with a bazillion (or maybe it’s six) books to her credit, does a fun summary of her weekly writing activities on her blog. I love reading it. It’s a peek inside the daily workings of a published author. In a nutshell:

  • she’s always working on multiple books
  • she’s always thinking of how to market one or the other–or all of them
  • she’s always involved in some sort of marketing (by this I mean, past the planning)
  • AND–she constantly reads and reviews books to share with her blog readers

Amazing, innit? Medeia inspired me to keep track of what it is I do on a daily/weekly basis. Here’s one day:

  • read and review books in my genre. I track completed tomes using Goodreads’ 2014 Reading Challenge. I’d add the interactive widget here, but WordPress doesn’t support it. Click the image below–it’ll take you to the Goodreads page:

reading challenge

  • research for my much-delayed techno-thriller WIP.
  • draft between nine-twelve posts for my three primary blogs (Ask a Tech Teacher, WordDreams, USNA or Bust!). I do this when inspiration strikes. If I don’t memorialize them in draft form, I won’t have sufficient material for my commitments.
  • work on my non-fiction Technology-in-Education series. There’s a deadline here so I have to keep this project moving forward. Here are some examples:
  • draft/edit/format articles I contribute to several online ezines (like TeachHUB). These, too, have deadlines. I like to wait for inspiration to strike because I write more quickly then, but my muse doesn’t always accommodate me. Then, it’s research-write-edit: Get ‘er done!

Where Do I Start Concept

  • visit my efriends on social media to support them, check in, and learn something new. I use this as breaks in my writing activities. It rejuvenates me to see what the rest of the world is doing.

social media

  • spend ‘some’ time every week marketing, be it an email campaign, a brochure, or images for my books. There’s more than I can keep on top of, so I chip away at it. When I reach a deadline, I put everything else down to complete the project. I end up with a lot of posters like these:
  • about once a week, read and write a review for my Amazon Vine gig. Since I pick these books from an offer list, I am usually inspired and they go quickly.
  • at least once a week, I attend webinars and/or Tweetups in my areas of interest. This keeps me up to date on topics I write about.

social mediaIt doesn’t seem like that much when I list it out. Where DOES all my time go? What do you do with your day?

If you’re curious what other writers do all day, here’s Lynne Hackles post. And here’s Lucy Santos from the Crime Readers’ Association.

 

More on a writer’s day:

8 Things Writers Can Do No One Else Can

15 Traits Critical to a Successful Writer

A Writer’s (Holi)day


Jacqui Murray is the author of dozens of books (on technology in education) as well as the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer.

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Just for Fun: What’s in a Name?

If you write stories, chances are you have to name things. Whether it’s a character, a town, a planet or some kind of invention, we need to be able to call it something. Let’s discuss the way you come up with names for your characters and places. Do the names need to be related to their function in the story? Are they random? Do you use variations of your spouse’s name or your kids’ names? What works or doesn’t work for you?

Write Now Prompt for November 11, 2014

Write_Now_Plane

At Today’s Author, our first goal is to get you (and us) to write. Write Now is our own collection of prompts to help you do that. With Write Now we’re not talking about writing, or trying to teach anyone how to write. Write Now is all about putting pen to paper.

Today’s Prompt:

His sister sent him an apology letter for something which had never happened.

Now_Write_Plane

How to play along with our Writing Prompts

  1. Write in any format or style you wish: short story, poem, script – whatever you like.
  2. Write for at least 5 minutes. There is no time limit – write for as long as you wish!
  3. Editing is not required, though we do recommend that you run a spell check at least.
  4. Post your work to your blog and include a link back here so your readers can find other writer’s work, too.
  5. Come back here and provide a link to your work on the Write Now! prompt for which it was written.
  6. Read other authors’ posts and leave constructive comments.

Important Note: When you post a draft of your work online, it may be difficult to find a publisher who will accept it, as many see an online document as being previously published. It may also be ineligible to be submitted for certain writing competitions. Always check publisher’s and competition guidelines before using a draft you put online.