Day 5: Write a story that takes place on a train
The Biggest Mistake Most Writers Make With Their Manuscripts…
And consequently, not understanding what stage of the process you are in leads to some crucial mistakes which can slow down or even keep a manuscript from ever being finished.
There are several stages to creating a book-length work, whether it is a novel, a collection of poetry or stories, a memoir—and knowing which stage you are in is crucial.
So what are the stages?
Newborn Infant Phase—this is when your ideas are new and fragile and you are engaged in lots of creative play, trying out new stuff, following hunches, stopping and starting and starting again. And it’s the worst time in the world to get feedback. But unfortunately that’s what lots of authors do: rather than protecting these infant ideas until they have more strength and can withstand critique, we are often just so proud of the fact that we are writing a manuscript at all that we want everyone to know it! And that need for validation can crush baby manuscripts, because a first draft is, well, a first draft, and it has a lot of growing to do before it will be ready for the world. But we still thrust our naked babies into the world, wanting praise or validation, and we rarely get it at this phase. Because, let’s face it—it’s not ready yet. And when we don’t get the praise we were hoping for…we become plagued with self doubt.
Don’t show your manuscript until it is strong enough to withstand the world!! Protect it at this stage like you would a real baby because it’s just as fragile.
Awkward Puberty Phase—this is right about the time when your manuscript has some legs under it, when you have a lump of clay that can withstand some real shaping. And mark my words: this puberty stage is no less transformative than growing hair between your legs—this is when your manuscript really discovers itself, when your manuscript is about to figure out who the hell he or she is.
The biggest mistake writers make in this phase? Skipping it! That’s right—we will finish a draft, and then we will get an editor or someone who is “good in English” to make sure it’s “correct”, and then we will think we’re done! We confuse revision with proofreading, so if someone combs through the manuscript and says all the commas are correct, the author believes the manuscript is ready for publication. They skip—or try to skip—puberty all together, even though puberty is where the manuscript actually reaches maturity and finds its specialness. And this is where I see writers get the most impatient—I have already written the book, I have already had someone proofread it—what else is there?
The answer to the “what else” is as nuanced as writers and books, but remember this: the what else IS the book. If you do not allow your book to evolve through this maturation process, you stunt its potential as an artifact in the world. The book must steep in your imagination, the words you have written must become puzzles, you must be willing to revision—and revision, and re-vision. Re. Vision. To see it again, as if it were new.
This is actually my favorite part, this evolving relationship with the words you have already written. But you have to be willing to embrace this phase—if you are clinging desperately to your first draft, terrified to change anything of significance because you might never be able to write it better—you will never create the book you are truly meant to create.
This is also the best time to bring in others whose voices you trust and who have your best success at heart.
Grown Adult Living In the Basement Phase—this is when the manuscript is truly finished—it has gone through its puberty, and it’s been scrubbed and polished…but you are still sitting on it like a mother hen. Maybe you are picking at it because you’re afraid of the next step. Maybe you are still soliciting feedback every time you change a sentence. It has now over gestated, late in the womb, done. Sometimes we pick at our manuscripts because we are afraid to start a new one, or we don’t feel a new one coming. Perhaps it’s a way to avoid publication or having to face the daunting wall of rejection. Perhaps it’s a perfectionist piece of us that is afraid to let it go. But let it go we must.
Maybe we let it go and it is published and that is fantastic. Maybe we let it go and it is not. But it does reach a point but we have no choice (and we can actually even ruin our work if we stay there too long). But mostly what it does is it robs us of our growth, because we have learned all we can from this manuscript, and we will have an impossible time taking our next steps as writers if we don’t ever leave the comfortable mother’s basement of what is known. So whether we decide to put it in the world or not, we must still choose to move forward and allow a manuscript to be complete.
Know that whatever phase you are in now–the vulnerable infant, the impatient puberty, the grown manuscript—is the perfect place to be with your manuscript. But first you must recognize where you really are, not where you think you are or where you wish you were, and give your manuscript what it truly needs from you now.
To your success!
FREE workshop preview call on Thursday, May 29t
“How much are you getting paid to do this?” he asks.
“Enough to pay off my student loans,” I answer, as he begins to tattoo the Coca-Cola logo across my face.
True Tales From Therapy #5
Though there was absolutely no correlation between seeing a new therapist, and that therapist killing himself with a shotgun the following week, Mr. G couldn’t help wonder, for just a fleeting second, if his wife’s claim that everyone was sick of listening to him whine about his problems had some validity.
by Nancy Stohlman
You Twisted My Spite Into Sculpture—1997
Mixed media: garbage bags, plaster of Paris, broken jewelry, straws, boyfriend
On permanent loan from the artist
Artist Statement: Mask making has always held a special place in my work. I believe there is an inherent fear of asphyxiation present in the creative relationship. This piece began as a mask but I soon realized a simple mask no longer was able to encompass the plight of current society—today’s citizen wants love but feels trapped. My work explores the implications of falsifying our true nature. The piece is really about transforming everyday negativity into art.
The crowd clustered around the sculpture, the crude plaster, the bits of broken jewelry cemented into the patina. The figure stood almost defiantly, two straws poking from the nostrils and the only movement, a sort of desperate darting of the eyeballs.
Originally published as part of the Exquisite Duet series–the first line “You twisted my spite into sculpture” was provided to the authors. Read original here.
I’m not saying I’m proud of how it all went down. But maybe if those collection agencies hadn’t been calling me all the time. After avoiding another 800 number last Saturday morning, I looked over at you sleeping, lips pursed, eyelids fluttering, all mussed up like a baby koala, and I thought: there are plenty of people out there who would pay good money for that.
You’re still pissed. I tried to explain that I won’t have the money to get you out until my next paycheck, but the pawnshop owner said that I was just riling up the merchandise and if I wasn’t gonna buy nothing then it was time for me to leave.
When I went in today you’d been moved to the front window display wearing a lovely tiara. I wondered if he would give me a deal on both because I really liked that tiara. You looked away when I walked in but then the owner said to be nice to the customers because Father’s Day is coming up, after all.
Today is actually our anniversary, but you didn’t want to hear it and wouldn’t open the card I brought. Look, you can’t hold onto your resentment forever I said. But you just turned away, tiara sparkling in the mid-afternoon sun.
Originally published in Blue Five Notebook. Read original here.
Nancy Stohlman is coming to Portland for 2 Flash Fiction events next week!
Tuesday, Nov 19, 7 pm: Figures of Speech Reading Series with Nancy Stohlman and Kirsten Rian
In Other Words Feminist Community Center
Corner of N Killingsworth and Williams
web site: http://inotherwords.org/
Wednesday, Nov 20, 6-8 pm: Flash Fiction For Poets Workshop
Flash forms have arrived as backlash to genre boundaries and flash fiction is leading the pack, redefining how we tell stories. By embracing the compressed form, writers are cultivating a new set of skills and creating an entirely new kind of story. In this workshop we will generate original flash pieces, examine what makes successful flash fiction, and try to differentiate flash from its cousin, the prose poem. This workshop is open to writers with all levels of experience in the form.
World Cup Coffee Meeting Room.
World Cup is located on the corner of NW Glisan and 18th ave.
Web site is: http://worldcupcoffee.com/taxonomy/term/1
Limited workshop spaces. To register email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the month of November, in solidarity with our Nanowrimo friends, we’ll attempt to write 30 flash fiction stories in 30 days.
So you’re going to try your hand at this flash fiction thing, huh?
In the beginning you will still very often land closer to the 1,000-word cut-off mark, trimming and pruning to make sure your story makes it into the official flash fiction guidelines. As you become more comfortable with the form you will find that your stories naturally shrink and start to land well beneath the 1,000-word mark.
What happens in between is a process of letting go.
First of all, let go of being good at it. Whether you come from poetry, longer fiction or nonfiction, it takes a while to get used to the new form. So let go of the need to be an instant expert. So many of us find it frustrating to “start over” and embrace being a beginner in a new genre. I invite you to instead see it as an opportunity.
Let go of exposition. We have become fond of our exposition techniques, our lush, sardonic, witty, poignant, clever, or otherwise expository voices. This is often the first thing to let go of in flash. It doesn’t mean you must let go of it altogether, but your urgent storytelling voice must trump your love of exposition for the magic to happen.
Let go of description. Not all together, but let your description come only in service of your storytelling. Let go of the urge to linger. In flash fiction, one well-placed detail brings an entire story into focus. Opt for one or two telling details over a wash of description—you just don’t have that kind of time.
Let your silences become informative. Don’t rush to fill them. As we learn to let go of exposition and description, we learn to embrace silence as a tool, and the juxtaposition of silences to infer information.
Let go of extra words. Try removing words and see if you can create potent gaps of intuition. See how much you can not say. Often what you don’t say is the story.
So what’s left you ask?
What’s left is tightly crafted little nugget of concentrated gold.
What’s left is flash fiction.
Check here for daily Flashnano Prompts during November.
Join our Facebook Event page here.
Flash fiction by Nancy Stohlman
I wanted to just keep walking and pretend I hadn’t seen it. I knew plenty about bags floating in rivers. It wiggled, and I knew I should stop but I kept walking, and I was reminded of my mother sneaking me down to the edge of the river, showing me all the empty bags left in the mud like used condoms – look at those stories, she would say, people just threw them away like trash! They could have lived. And then she would fall to her knees and pray to her god.
So when I saw the woman leaving the edge of the river, I knew what was going on. I avoided eye contact with all the gypsies, beating deflated pillowcases against rocks as I crawled up the muddy banks and caught the tail of the story. I dragged out the waterlogged thing and took it home, where I set its cold, blue body gently on the page and let it live.
Originally published in Flash Frontier. Read original here
Flash fiction by Nancy Stohlman
The hostess decided to throw a small dinner party, just the neighbors and a few friends, just something to lift her spirits. She made pot roasts and French Onion soup from scratch while he retreated to the basement.
There was a few weeks truce, an uneasy truce for the sake of the children, and then another all-night battle followed by a series of murder mystery parties, complete with costumes, wine tastings, realistic weapons rented by the hour, and yucca whipped into small hills as light and fluffy as French pastries.
By the end-of-summer-Hawaiian-luau, the hostess was holding back tears through her fake eyelashes and long, black wig as he moved his things into the spare bedroom: You invited them, you entertain them! he yelled, slamming the door. The guests tried to keep her glass filled with an assortment of specialty rums and freshly crushed papaya mixers.
Soon the invitations started going unanswered; the guests found excuses for not attending the 1950’s sock hop, the M*A*S*H party, the “1001 Arabian Nights” celebration complete with whole roasted goat. Come spring, the 25-foot-tall Maypole looked desolate, pastel ribbons hanging limply like unwashed hair.
But today, the sound of hammers. It would be the greatest party she had ever thrown. Everyone would come. A crew of a dozen was sawing, hammering, painting, and creating a to-scale facsimile of the Titanic. Another crew was bringing in 500-gallon tanks of water that would, at the appropriate moment, be released into the back yard, while the guests, in full pre-World War I formalwear (as specified in their invitation) would get into actual lifeboats and attempt to row themselves to the safety of the house. A caterer was reconstructing an iceberg two stories high, and, at 11:40 pm, the gong she rented would sound, the string orchestra would begin to play, the water would begin to rise and the guests would file into lifeboats, of which there would, of course, be too few.
Originally published by Pure Slush. Read original here.
What is your favourite colour? Why?
Red. When I was 10 I was told by the Avon Lady that I was a “winter”
Do you wear this colour? How often and when?
As often as I possibly can. Lipstick. Boots. Red sparkles if I can get away with it.
What does the colour suggest to you?
Wonder Woman at a voodoo German sparkle party.
What does it not suggest to you?
Barfing out the window of a moving RV.
How long has it been your favourite colour?
I’m pretty sure my placenta was red.
When does it work best?
Here’s the thing: Red is both celebrity and paparazzi. When a person walks into a room embodying red, everyone secretly feels better: Red has arrived. It’s kind of like when someone brings the Hot Damn Cinnamon Schnapps to a wedding reception. Maybe you wouldn’t have done it yourself, but you’re glad to know that someone else has, and you might crowd around that person and even take a swig because it will make your story better later.
When does it not work for you?
When I want to disappear. There are plenty of days I just can’t live up to the expectations of red.
How does the colour relate to you, or you relate to it? Are you this colour or is this colour you?
At my best, I am always red.
As an artist, I walk a path that has been smoothed by others. If I take an easy step, it’s because someone before me has been kind enough to move a rock out of the way. And each rock I move on my journey leaves the road a little clearer for you.
What if we all stopped and really embraced this idea for a moment? What if, instead of feeding the fear, the jealousy, the insecurity, and the competition, we wrote ourselves a new story of mutual success?
Unfortunately most of us operate from a vantage point of scarcity. Writers live in a very real world where publishing houses are folding, or merging, a gazillion books are being written and published every year, and every year we are faced with a new study about how few people read books. We’ve been conditioned to believe that by this time next year there will be only one reader left on the whole planet…and she’s dying.
So if I’m living in the scarcity paradigm, then your success is a direct threat to my own.
But what if this isn’t the only story?
We’re storytellers, after all. We are writers and artists and painters and musicians—our job is to create ideas that weren’t there before. So what if we created a new story? A story that says there are enough readers/fans/audiences for all of us?
What if we created a story that said every reader you recruit is a reader for the collective? What if every book I sell is a potential reader for you? What if, as a collaborating community, we can rebuild our dying readership and infect the world with our love of words?
If I step out of my fears, the ones that say there isn’t enough for us all, then your success can only support mine and my success is in service of yours. And like a perfect partnership we take turns: I teach, you learn. I learn, you inspire. I surprise, you applaud. I applaud, you dazzle.
We are traveling a well-worn road, and every one of us owes our successes to someone before us. In return, we share our successes with those who follow. Applause is contagious, after all, and when one of us wins, we all win.
Together, we can create a new story.