Ideas for writing come from all over–overheard conversations, awful dinner parties, a moment in time that hits you just right and sparks something inside of you that can only be described as the literary gene. But sometimes, you have to make the ideas come. Like when you’re on a deadline, self-imposed or not.
For several of my short stories this year I’ve started with a title idea and/or cover image rather than actual plot or character ideas, and it’s been interesting to see where that leads my writing. Because of this, I’ve run into a rather interesting situation I thought I’d share with you creative types out there.
For August’s short story I started with a title which I drew from a quote from Virginia Woolf’s diary where she is describing a total solar eclipse that she and her friends saw. I loved the phrase “the astonishing moment” which she used to describe the moment the eclipse was total and the light in the world simply went out. So I pulled that phrase out and thought it would make a compelling title to write to. I popped it on a photo I took up at Lake Superior whilst hiking Pictured Rocks last summer and thought perhaps I’d do a story with hiking as a backdrop. Here’s the cover I came up with:
But then Saturday night when I started to think about getting started writing, I decided to reread the section of Woolf’s diary that had inspired the title and pull out a quote with which to begin my story. Here’s what caught my fancy:
“We kept saying this is the shadow; and we thought now it is over—this is the shadow; when suddenly the light went out . . . . How can I express the darkness?”
Clearly that quote and my original cover concept do not match.
Rather than lose the pathos of that quote by omitting it and just writing the story I had (very) vaguely formed in the back of my mind, I decided to try again at the cover art. I pulled a photo I just took up at Mackinac Island, manipulated it a bit, and came up with this:
Clearly this new image does fit the quotation. I’m pretty sure the story will not be about hiking. I’m pretty sure it will be “maritime” in flavor. And I’m pretty sure some bad things will happen to the characters.
And that’s all I’m sure of.
The next morning the sun was behind a cloud, but they started on, as if they were quite sure which way they were going.
‘If we walk far enough,’ said Dorothy, ‘I am sure we shall sometime come to some place.’
This line from chapter 14 of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Lyman Frank Baum did not inspire April’s short story, but it did provide the title after it was written. I’m particularly proud of We Shall Sometime Come to Someplace as a story that attempts to combine the three main conflicts (man vs. nature, man vs. man, and man vs. himself) into one short tale, and also alludes to three particular well-known stories that involve portals and other worlds of some sort.
I first had the inkling of an idea for this story a couple years ago during a drive in March when the skies were studded with clouds that looked like they belonged to the month of July. It grew from the short note I jotted down about it and an element of one of my recurring dreams.
Because I like this story so much, I’m offering it free on its release day (and that, my friend, is today) so click here and get your free copy! (No, this is not an April Fool’s joke; it really is free.)
I don’t know about you, but I’m super happy to leave February behind. We’ve gotten through a few winter storms, we’ve had some wonderful temperatures recently just above freezing, we’ve heard some beautiful birdsong around my house, and the sun made an appearance and I could actually feel it. Puts me in a springy mood.
Which is why I painted my bathroom a much lighter color.
Which is why I’m buying vegetable seeds even though I can’t plant most of them for a couple months.
Which is why I’m feeling pretty generous at the moment.
So here’s what I’m doing. I’m releasing March’s short story today (first day of the month!) and I’m making the first two short stories of 2013 absolutely free for a day! So if you missed the last freebie, take heart. This one’s for you…and for the promise of spring.
Don’t forget to pop on over to Amazon and get your free Kindle copy of Beneath the Winter Weeds. This is a one-day-only sale. Hope you enjoy the story!
I’m happy to tell you that February’s short story, The Door, is now available on Amazon. Click here to preview and purchase this slipstream story for Kindle. Just $0.99.
As before, here is a very short excerpt to give you a flavor of the writing.
Wesley laid the canvas aside, sat on his stool, and stared blankly at the wall for a long time. As he sat, the weak February light moved slowly through the room as the day progressed until finally it rested upon the wall in such a way as to suggest a door where there was none. Something in Wesley clicked.
And why not? Why not a door?
In addition, for one day only I will be putting Beneath the Winter Weeds on sale. On Valentine’s Day (February 14th starting at 12 AM Pacific Standard Time for all you lovely international readers who may not celebrate this silly holiday) you can click here and download January’s short story absolutely free! It will only be free for 24 hours, so snap it up while the getting is good.
According to a fat little marmot, we will be having an early spring. But I don’t put much stock in what marmots say, so I imagine that spring will come officially on March 20th and that we in Michigan will still have to suffer the insult of an April snowfall and wait until May to plant our tomatoes.
However, I do know of one thing that will be coming early. One day after I wrote this, I finished this…
Once I settled my mind on the point of the whole thing, the writing of February’s short story went from slow-drip to freely flowing. And that feels so very good. I’ll leave it alone until my “editor” has a chance to critique it, but I’m itching to get it styled and uploaded to Amazon. I imagine it will be ready around Valentine’s Day. Though I’m not sure of it’s “giftability.”
I’m also eager to get started on my next story. Here’s a peek at what’s coming down the line for March…
It gives me great pleasure to announce that today is the day! You can now buy the first short story of 2013, Beneath the Winter Weeds, for your Kindle. It’s just $0.99 and you can download it here. I believe non-US Kindle users may have to wait a day or so more before it is available for purchase in other territories.
I would like to ask those of you who read it to post a review on Amazon. I’d appreciate it so very much. If you’re a non-US reader, I’d love it if you could let me know when it is available to you. And if you run into any formatting problems on Kindle, please let me know in the comments here so I can address them. Thanks, everyone!
To give you a flavor of the writing, here is a short excerpt…
Instinct drove her on from one end. Knowing what lay beyond the ravine, somewhere beneath the ground, drew her ever closer from the other. Like a drop of rain upon a long blade of wild grass, she was inching ever closer to the root of it all. And when she at last came to the ravine and began a careful descent on the frozen ground, she had a palpable sense of acceleration, of reaching the point of no return.
And what’s coming down the line in February? A story about a painter and one very curious painting…
Over this past weekend I finished writing January’s short story. Now the man/fellow writer of the house will read it, give his feedback, help me to catch any errors, and show me how to format it for Amazon. I’m pretty excited that the first story of the year will be “on schedule” such as it is. Makes things so much easier to maintain when you start off with a bang.
I very much enjoyed writing this story, which I’ve retitled to Beneath the Winter Weeds. I can’t say that each story will be set in time during the month in which it is written (and certainly for many stories, it will not matter so much when they happen) but it was a fun challenge to write a story that felt immediate.
Now then, how am I deciding what to write about when? If I plan for a story to take place during a particular time of year, that is when it will come to life. I know one is in early spring and a couple are set in summer. Beyond that, I know some stories will have female protagonists and some male, and as much as possible I would like to switch back and forth between those so that people don’t feel I write for women exclusively. So both of these elements have helped me arrange my thoughts on which story to put my focus on next.
I have also already mocked up covers for nine of the twelve. For most of these, I have an image and a title and little else in terms of notes on what these stories will be about. I think it will be a fun challenge to approach story creation this way and to see how the title and cover may change as the story develops. For those not yet mocked up, I have particular images I want to capture (all covers will have my own photos on them) but I have to wait until the snow is gone and then go to a couple particular places to take the photos I envision.
Thanks for coming with me on this year-long writing experiment! I hope you’re thinking some creative thoughts of your own. Whether you write novels, short stories, poems, or just in your journal, why not give yourself some creative challenges to have fun with? Try coming up with a title and perhaps an image, then write to that. See what comes out. If you have trouble getting started, try a book like The Pocket Muse or its sequel for some writing prompts.
I’m already hard at work writing January’s short story, which I’ve tentatively titled Winter Weeds. And because procrastination is an integral part of writing (and because I have to get to it at some point in order to upload everything to Amazon) here is my current cover mock-up. You may recognize the photo.
As I’m plugging away at this story, I am enjoying the challenge of capturing a setting in vivid words. The temperature, the way the light hits, the thin, faint smells of winter. This is probably my favorite kind of writing. Such a fun challenge to try to describe the essence of something physical and visual in mere words on a white page.
When are you at your very best as you write? Dialogue? Action sequences? Bringing emotions to life? Think about whatever type of scene you like most to write, the kind of thing that got you jazzed about writing in the first place. Are you still writing scenes like that? Has the joy of writing slipped away? Has your technique stalled or improved over the years?
Today, write something you absolutely love to write, whether or not it is attached to any work in progress. It may just take on a life of its own and become your next great work.
It seems to me that there is quite a push to get writers to believe they can write a novel in a month. NaNoWriMo, blog posts, books. If you’re a full time writer or someone with an already thoroughly sketched out or outlined idea, I think that is true. Or maybe if you just type ultra fast. But I don’t think I’m among your ranks.
I have my own fairly ambitious writing plan for this year, however. In May or June I plan to release a novel. But that’s not the real ambitious part (because it’s already written). By the end of 2013 I would like to have a collection of short stories to put into book form. And I would like to release them throughout the year as Kindle Singles, little ebooks for $0.99 each. And I would like to do this once a month.
To think I can pull this off strikes me as ambitious, but not quite foolhardy. So I plan to break up each month of 2013 in such a way that I can write, revise, edit, format, and release a short story into the cybersphere regularly, like the slow drip of an IV.
How will I accomplish this? I believe it may work out this way:
- Weeks 1 & 2 – Write
- Week 3 – Revise and edit
- Week 4 – Format and release
This seems reasonable to me at the moment, in the glow of a fresh new year. We shall see as we go, I suppose, if it is in reality. I already have ten stories partially imagined or scribbled about in my notebook. One of the stories that will be in the collection is already written, though I cannot release that one until after a particular contest is finished in March. So I will save the release of that one to be my one cheat, my back-up in case of a bad or very busy month.
Does this strike you as a little naïve? Am I fooling myself here? Perhaps. But you can’t fail or succeed until you try.
What are your writing goals for 2013? I’d love to hear about them.