Today is May the Fourth

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And in honor of May the Fourth, I go to my writing not to work on serious projects, but to play around in the Star Wars universe.

Star Wars

‘Cause in the world of my imagination, there’s still a chance for characters to live, for love to last, for change to happen, for things to get better.

*brings lightsaber up to block*

*faces off against a Mickey Mouse dressed as The Grim Reaper*

Writing Advice (For me, Not You)

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Write when the mood strikes.

Not only when the mood strikes: you might never get anything done. (Maybe you will; I don’t know you.) But if you feel the urge to write and you’re able, get to it. Something good may happen on the page.

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My critique partner can’t actually read, but offers feedback based on how comfortable my words are.

Of course, it’s important to write even when you don’t feel like it. At least, it is for me. It’s helped me build good habits and finish long projects. Today, I got up and wrote while my coffee brewed even though I’d have preferred to sit slumped at the kitchen table, moaning.

(Not really a morning person.)

Anyway, I got writing done and it was perfectly fine and now I’m a couple pages closer to finishing this rough draft. Yay.

Still, there’s a special kind of joy in writing when you do feel like it. Like eating a favorite meal when you’re hungry, or scratching an itch, or waking up and realizing it’s your day off and you don’t have plans and you can re-burrow into your pillow.

Writing because I want to reminds me of the fun of it, the pleasure, the reason I began in the first place.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to need more coffee.

Friend-Zone, Danger-Zone

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A shortish, sandy-haired kid with a flower in one hand came looking for her after school, clambering over the empty bleachers once he spotted her, sitting up in the sun-filled breeze.

One of his friends. Ann straightened, closing her book and watching him approach. What was his name . . . Sam? Matt? Pi –

The kid halted his approach, standing awkwardly a couple rows below her. He held the rose out. “Hey, um – Ann. Ah, this is for you.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Who are you?”

He flushed. “It’s Marcus. I’m Marcus. We’re – we’re in Chemistry together.”

“Oh.” She re-opened her book.

The kid’s cheeks flushed – she could hear it in his voice. “I was supposed to leave this on your desk – I forgot – please just take it. There’s a note.”

“Yes, I can see that.” Lips tight, Ann took the rose and inspected the card.

Scraggly boy’s handwriting greeted her:

Look, I’m sorry about Friday. You shouldn’t feel like you have to make up crazy stories just to tell a guy you’re not interested. You’re a cool person, maybe we could hang out sometimes. 

Still friends?

~ Josh

Ann cast the flower aside. “Okay, first of all, I did not make anything up. And second, no, we can’t be friends.”

Marcus shook his head. “Not me – it’s not from me – it’s from Josh.”

She glared at him. “I know it’s from Josh: take a message back – we can’t be friends either. It’s not safe.”

“You can’t be friends with him? At all?”

Because it’s not safe.” She shrugged. “It’s nothing personal.”

“It sounds personal. He really is sorry about getting upset.”

Ann frowned. “Why is he sorry about getting upset? It’s natural to get upset when you’re broken up with. I’m upset.” She picked up the rose and shook it. “But this sort of thing only makes it worse. He doesn’t believe me, and now he’s pestering me with friendship. The First Love can’t be a friend. That role is also doomed.”

“What?”

Doomed.”

A confused, slightly worried expression. “Friends are doomed? Like, all friends? I’m Josh’s friend.”

Ann grunted.

“Why can’t I be Josh’s friend?”

She rolled her eyes. “I didn’t say you can’t be Josh’s friend – I’m saying you might not be safe.”

“Safe from who?”

“Whom.”

Who?”

‘The Evil Overlord.”

“What Evil Overlord?”

“I don’t know yet. He hasn’t revealed himself.”

Now Marcus frowned. “You’re still running with this? That Josh is the Chosen One? That’s really why you broke up with him?”

Ann nodded. “If you had any sense you’d break up with him too.”

“Because he’s doomed?”

“No, dummy – the Chosen One will be fine. You, on the other hand . . . ” She shrugged.

I’m doomed? Why am I doomed?”

“I suppose it depends,” Ann said, looking him up and down. “What kind of friend are you?”

He frowned. “What do you mean?”

Her eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, what do I mean?” What kind of friend are you? Are you his best friend? One of several friends? A sportsing comrade?”

“Does that mean ‘teammate’?”

“Are you?”

“No,” he said, meek.

“How long have you been friends? Are you clever and witty? Calm and logical? Are you like, funny?”

“Am I funny?”

“Yeah.” Ann caught his eyes and stared deeply. “Can you make me laugh? Make me laugh.”

He stared back, wildly uncomfortable. “Like . . . like a joke, or . . . ?”

“So it’s looking like a no, then.”

“Um.”

“Kid, it’s your life – you do what you want. But if it were me, and I wanted to both be Josh’s friend and stay alive, I’d work on my sense of humor. It could aid in your survival.”

“But I’m not in danger.”

“Yet.”

“And how would being funny aid in my survival?”

She shrugged. “It just would: I don’t know why. That won’t be enough, of course. Do you know any self-defense? You might want to learn some self-defense. Or buy a sword or a shotgun or something.”

“Ann, I’ve been his friend since fifth grade – I’ve never been in danger from an Evil Overlord.”

She shook her head. “Of course you haven’t; it hasn’t happened yet. When it does, though, he’ll eliminate the support system.”

“The what?”

“The who. The Farm, the family, the mentor, the First Love, the best friend, unless the best friend has enough wit and charm and street smarts to survive.” She stood up, looming over him and his puzzled expression. “Should you reconsider your loyalties, Marcus? Bow out while you still can? Or do you have what it takes?”

“Um.”

“It’s looking like a no to that question too.”

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Yet another picture of THE CHOSEN ONE’s farm. Hopefully, nothing bad happens to it.

 

Writing Advice (For Me, Not You)

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One. Fun. Thing.

Or, more than one fun thing, if that’s what you want. But at least one fun thing.

 

“You grew up in a desert?”

Cade nodded. “The capitol’s in a desert; you’ve been there.”

I stared at him, trying to control the impulse and failing. “So, if you’ve lived in a desert most of your life . . . how do you feel about sand?”

Whatever question he’d been expecting, that wasn’t it. “Sand?”

“Yes. Sand.”

A shrug, as if he’d never thought about it before. “It’s fine, I guess.”

“It’s fine?” I raised my eyebrows. “Not . . . coarse?”

The wizard frowned. “Well, some of it’s fine and some of it’s coarse, depending on the terrain – why do you ask? Do you not have any of your own sand?”

“Sure we have sand – there’s a beach right in town.” I kept a straight face. “I like sand.”

He looked at me, obviously confused. “That’s what I meant when I said sand is fine.” He hesitated. “I mean, it does get everywhere – that’s irritating – but – “

I began to laugh.

 

I do a fair amount of writing – a lot more rewriting – with the idea that someday I’ll be good enough at it to get paid. And while I wouldn’t keep on writing if I didn’t enjoy it, trying to be better takes a lot of the fun out of a project.

Not good, not good, not good enough, still not good enough, still not good enough. Again!

It can be discouraging. And sometimes, working on a different project, in a different stage, isn’t any easier, because I have hopes for that story too, and I want it to be perfect, even when I’m rough-drafting.

My solution? At least one other thing going on the sidelines that’s just for fun. Something silly. Pointless. Something I’ll never rewrite or try to make better because it doesn’t matter. It’s just for me and my own enjoyment. Maybe it’s a side character’s backstory. Maybe it’s an inside joke or a bit of epilogue or prequel. Maybe it’s fan fiction in one of my favorite universes. (Star Wars. It will always be Star Wars. Or sometimes Jules Verne, for variation.)

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Maybe it’s something with characters who are complete strangers to me, and we discover the story together until it’s time for us to part ways.

I always go back to my serious writing, and my serious, writerly goals. But I goof off, too, to remind myself why I started writing in the first place: it brings me joy.

Happy writing, all. ; -)

 

“Breaking Up is Hard to Do”

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“I’m so confused,” he said, pushing his plate aside. “Are we breaking up?”

“Yes.” Ann reached across the table and took one of his fries. “Pass the ketchup?”

He held the bottle out to her, but didn’t let go when she grabbed it. “For real?”

“For real.”

“But why? I thought . . . I don’t know . . . I thought things were going well.”

Ann tugged the ketchup free and popped the cap. “They were going well.”

“Okay, so . . .?”

“So?”

“So are you going to explain? You’re not going to say things are going well, break up with me, and then not explain why?” He hesitated. “Are you?”

Ann frowned. “Well, I thought it was obvious.”

“Thought what was obvious?”

“Well, to put it nicely . . .” Ann shrugged. “Dating you could get me killed.”

He gaped. “Excuse me? What are you talking about? Is it the motorcycle? You don’t have to ride if you don’t want to – I – ”

“It’s not the motorcycle,” Ann said, rolling her eyes and applying ketchup to the fries on her own plate. “The motorcycle isn’t what could get me killed – it’s you. You could get me killed. Like, no hard feelings or whatever, but I want to go to college and get married and see Europe someday.”

Still gaping. “I – what – but I want those things too.”

“Uh-huh. Sure.”

“I do – we have that in common! We both think long-term; we both want to study and travel . . . ”

“Don’t get hysterical now.”

“I’m not getting hysterical!” He took an upset gulp of water. “What’s this about me getting you killed? That’s a crazy thing to say to anyone: a crazier thing to say to your boyfriend.”

“Ex-boyfriend.”

“Ann!”

She picked a fry up and broke it in half, letting the insides cool. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Kidding? What would I be kidding about? Do I look amused to you?”

“Dude . . .” Ann glanced at the other restaurant tables around them, but they were mostly empty, and their server was nowhere to be seen. “Look, I know about you, okay. And I don’t want to be unsupportive, but . . . you’re dangerous.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, yeah?”

He crossed his arms. “Yeah.”

Ann crossed her arms too. “Don’t play dumb with me.”

“You know I don’t play dumb: I don’t know what you’re talking about. How could I get you killed if we’re not talking about the motorcycle?”

“Because . . . ” Ann slid down in her seat, voice lowered. “You’re the Chosen One.”

He leaned toward her, over the table. “What?”

The Chosen One.”

He looked deep into her eyes, unblinking. “What does that even mean?”

“Oh, come on.”

“I’m serious!”

Ann made a face. “You know . . . the Chosen One. The One Prophecy Has Foretold. The One of Destiny. The Hero.”

“The hero of what? What prophecy?”

“As if I know. I don’t read up on unfulfilled prophecy.”

“You don’t know? Then why would you think I’m a Destined One -”

“The. The Chosen One.”

“Whatever. I don’t get it. I don’t have anything to do with anything like that.”

Ann groaned. “You mean you don’t know yet? You really don’t know?”

“You think I’m stupid, don’t you. That’s what this is about: I’m not smart enough for you.”

“That’s not it. You’re plenty smart, but I’m smart too, and I know enough to get out before the Evil Overlord’s minions burn down your uncle’s farm.”

He sighed. “There’s no such thing as evil overlords. Even if there were, my uncle wouldn’t let them burn down the farm.”

“He would if the Evil Overlord gets to him first.”

He blinked, obviously stalling for time to respond. “Has someone been threatening you? Are you getting hate mail? Am getting hate mail and you just happened to see it first? Did someone leave a note on the car or something, threatening to burn down my uncle’s farm and kill you?”

“No, no, no.”

“So what is this about? I’m not following you.”

“How can you not be following me?” Ann pointed at him. “Where’d that scar on your left temple come from?”

“I told you,” he said, baffled. “I was two: I climbed up a dresser and fell off onto a toy. I don’t even remember.”

“And you don’t remember your parents, either.”

“They died when I was an infant; how could I remember?”

“So you’ve lived with your aunt and uncle this whole time.”

“Do you have a problem with that?”

“On your aunt and uncle’s farm?”

“This is a rural community! Most of us live on farms or work on farms or in farm-related industry!”

“So, who,” Ann said, shifting to point at another table in the restaurant, “are those people? They look menacing, and mysterious, and they’ve been spying on us all day.”

He swiveled to look, then swiveled back to glare. “That’s my neighbor and his friend Kyle. This is their favorite place to get dinner. My neighbor recommended it to me, actually, when I mentioned I wanted to take you someplace nice. If I’d know you were going to – ”

“You get advice from that old bearded guy? He mentors you?”

“Dinner recommendations and mentoring are entirely different things.”

“Just look at him. He’s wearing a robe.”

“That’s not a robe – that’s protective gear. He was out spraying the rosebushes to keep Japanese Beetles away. And he’s allowed to have a beard.”

“And I’m allowed to break up with you if I decide it’s in my best interest! Whether we like it or not, the fact of the matter is that the Chosen One’s first love usually ends up dead.”

He flushed. “Are we saying ‘I love you’ now?”

“We might have been, eventually, if I wasn’t breaking up with you.”

He flushed a darker red. “Okay, let’s just see if I understand you correctly: you’re breaking up with me because I’m an orphan with a scar on my face.”

And because you grew up on a farm with your aunt and uncle, overseen by a mysterious, bearded old man who mentors you sometimes.”

“About where to get good burgers.”

“Still mentoring.” Ann sighed. “Look, I’m sorry too. I wish things were different. But I’ve got to look out for myself.”

He shrugged – a helpless, hopeless gesture. “I don’t know what to say. I – it seems like you’re overreacting.”

“I could be. But I don’t want to be an inspirational memory just before you march onto the battlefield.”

“But there’s no battlefield. I’m not going to war. I’m still in high school, remember? We had classes a few hours ago.”

“For the Chosen One, it’s just a matter of time.” She picked up her burger. “Yes, you’re in high school now, but who’s to say what will happen down the road?”

“After the Evil Overlord burns down my uncle’s farm?”

“Mmmmpfhhh,” Ann said through pretzel bun and medium-well patty. “Exachthhhly.” She swallowed. “You should probably try and get your neighbor to teach you more than the best places to take a girl out to eat. Although to be fair, this food is amazing so far. Aren’t you going to eat yours?”

“I,” he said, “have lost my appetite.”

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THE CHOSEN ONE’S DOG, PICTURED HERE WITH THE CHOSEN ONE’S FARM

 

The Cat’s Advice

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In a perfect world, each writer has at least one intelligent, thoughtful, straightforward friend with lots of free time on her hands, which she happily uses to read every little thing Writer writes so she can give helpful feedback.

But it’s not a perfect world, is it. And so you find substitutes.

Like the cat.

Kitty Editor

“Too long. Remove this ENTIRE section.”

Cat

“I’m LOVING your ideas: elves, dwarves, dark lords, the fate of the world resting on the shoulders of a nobody from a rural area. . . It all sounds so totally original.”

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“What? No, no – your book didn’t put me to sleep. I just, um, closed my eyes for a moment. Did something actually happen? No? Um, could you wake me when it does?”

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“Excuse me while I try not to vomit.”

Again, another person (someone who can read and speak) is ideal. But if you can’t get ideal, get creative instead.

Writing Advice (For Me, Not You)

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“Cause I’ve got a blank space, Baby . . . and I’ll write your name.”

*coughs*

Sorry. Been thinking about outlining, lately, and how much I hate it. Outlines are boring, while blank space is way more fun. Blank space is undiscovered country, endless possibility, THE FINAL FRONTIER. If an outline is a road through the wilderness, blank space is striking out on your own with nothing but the stars and your gut instinct to guide you.

Romantic, right? Wandering the mountains and forests? Chasing the horizon?

Never mind that you’re starving and hopelessly lost. These things take care of themselves.

Hopefully.

I used to write stories like an explorer setting out with no map, no compass, no destination. I’d start with blank space thinking, Plot, character, setting? These things take care of themselves! Unfortunately for me, a story begun in blank space would end in blank space – unfinished, rather like a journey whose explorer starved to death on the way.

As enchanting as I found blank space, I realized that if I ever wanted to finish a project I was going to have to attempt using an outline.

Me: “I AM GOING TO CROSS THE MOUNTAINS!”

Friend: “You keep saying that.”

Me: “But I mean it this time.”

Friend: “You say that every time. And every time, you go in a big circle and show up back in town. You’ve got to take a map.”

Me: “I DON’T NEED A MAP.”

Friend: “Yes, you do.”

Me: “SHUT UP I DO NOT.”

Friend: “Every time, Erika. Just. Take. A. Map.”

Me: “FINE.”

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Stay on the path, Erika.

My first outline was nothing fancy.  Sentence fragments to describe the characters and events from beginning through middle to end.

Character 1 befriends Character 2

Harvest Festival, sword fighting

Eventually, there’s going to have to be some kind of showdown somewhere, unless I can think of a better way to resolve conflict between three different universes. Er….

This style of outline worked for me. It didn’t result in a great story, but I did get all the way to The End, which was a first.

(Emerges from wilderness with broken nose, poison ivy, and no food. Wearily consults partly singed and mostly shredded map and realizes THE MOUNTAINS HAVE BEEN CROSSED!)

These days, I don’t start a project until there’s some kind of outline. It doesn’t have to be terribly detailed – I still like some blank space to keep things exciting – but it should serve as a general guideline for the trip through the story:

Character 1 argues with Character 2

Ugh, do they have to argue? I hate it when characters are not getting along. WILL YOU TWO JUST GET ALONG LIKE SERIOUSLY DO YOU NOT HAVE ENOUGH PROBLEMS ALREADY?

Ummm. Something should happen next, I guess.

Then, BAM! CUE MAGICAL EXPLOSION

PLUS DRAGONS!

So, to summarize:

Make a map to consult if you get lost.

But don’t make a super accurate map – that’s no fun. Leave some blank space.