Flash Fiction Friday

Hi there! I’m participating in a fun flash fiction challenge on Instagram, and I wrote up this 499-word story this morning, inspired by the prompt “Wicked”. Let me know what you think! 💅

Tittering at a worn, wooden table in the middle of a cottage sat two sisters. A third young woman, the eldest of them, Sulea, stood in a haze of fragrant fumes as she mixed drinks. The scent of juniper, bitters, and burnt marshmallow hung on the air, and the clank of spoon against glass rang out. Outside the moon was sickly-white; the light shone through the windows. Sulea’s hands were steady as she stirred, yet her stomach coiled with anticipation.

“Did you see their faces?” The youngest, Fehna, giggled and wiped tears that had spilled onto her acid-green skin. “Those idiots never saw us coming!”

“I love how that one was just so surprised. His face…” the middle snickered. Her skin was the darkest shade of green, and it couldn’t be exaggerated that she was the most wicked.

The three broke into laughter again.

Sulea set the glasses down and took her seat at the table. She raised her own drink triumphantly, the billowing black of her sleeve hanging off her cuff with an elegant—if threadbare—fall. They’d never been wealthy, but that was about to change. “We got what we went for. It’s only a matter of time before we rule all.” With that rule would come not just wealth, but power.

Without mentioning it, the three synched their glances into the other room. On a crude, handmade bench sat a pair of glittering slippers, sequins winking in the moonlight.

“So beautiful,” Fehna whispered. She pushed up from her chair, just a little, as if she were going to rise.

“Don’t,” Sulea snapped. “You know how dangerous they are. Don’t weaken yourself.”

I’ll have to watch her carefully. Sulea thought. She’d already allowed herself to weaken, already let her foolish heart soften for another, let her power dwindle with her vulnerability. Letting yourself be mesmerized—by lovers, or even enchanted tools—was the surest way to suck your magic dry. Her throat clenched with hatred, and she forced a smile on her face. “Now, let’s drink to us.”

“The wickedest sisters of all!” the three said in unison, clinking their glasses, and downing a long pull of the cocktail.

After a minute, the middle sister said sharply, “What’s in this?” Her skin appeared to be lightning, her chest rising rapidly.

Fehna’s eyes slid to Sulea, wide, but with an admiring glint within. “Did you poison us then?”

“Of course not you.” Sulea scoffed, jabbed her green finger—still caked with blood to her left. “Her.”

They both looked at Glinda, whose skin was smudging out at the sharp edges, turning as milky as the moon. Her hands wrapped around her throat as her wickedness choked out of her. “Why?” she managed weakly.

“Him.” Sulea said. Her heart thumped inside her chest. Revenge would make it harden again. “Get out.” Before I kill you.

And Glinda did, escaping into the moonlight, tripping as she ran out into the woods. Leaving two sisters, laughing at the worn, wooden table.

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Character Illustration: Aya 

I recieved the sweetest character illustration of Aya Haven from Witch Lessons by nataliaillustrations on Instagram. It is absolutely perfect. I can’t explain how cool it is as a writer to see my character come to life! 

To read my Instagram post, click here

Have a great week! 

When You Need a Break

Sometimes, you just need a break.

I’m actually not even there right now. My writing is flowing, my Ideas are going off like tiny firecrackers in my brain. The words are being written, and regularly. Thank goodness! No block for me.

However.

However, I have been there. Sometimes you are sick, or exhausted (mentally or physically). Sometimes you’re emotionally spent. Sometimes, you just need to step back from your work and recharge your batteries. Sometimes you need to stop for a day, a week, or even a month.

It’s okay.

The world is not going to fall off its axis if you stop writing, or painting, or dancing, (so on and so forth) for a brief amount of time.

Do not feel guilty. A break is not the same as quitting. A break is brief, temporary. (Is anyone else yelling ‘We were on a BREAK!’ in their head right now???)

If you need to take a short hiatus, there are still things you can do to remain creative. Taking a break, we’ll just say from writing from here on out in the post, does not mean you have to stop thinking about writing as well as physically getting the words on paper.

No.

You can still create, you can even have FUN! While taking care of you, and removing yourself a little from your writing, great things can still occur, and those great things can lead to amazing stories once you’re ready to get back to work.

If you just can’t write at this very moment, then why not try something else that will further your story, such as:

-Character sketches: I don’t mean literal sketches with a pencil or whatever, although that’s cool too, but making lists or brainstorming ideas about your characters. They don’t have to be related to the plot, or issues you’re having with the writing, or anything else. Simply asking yourself interesting questions about your characters can keep your brain busy and your creativity there with you. What’s your protagonist’s favorite dessert? Weird quirk? Hygiene habits? What about your antagonist? What are they afraid of? What’s their favorite song? Who do they love?

-Inspiration Board: Being a visual person, I love to SEE ideas all laid out, whether that’s on Pinterest or on a vision board, generally with a theme or connecting feeling. You can make boards with appealing images online, or you can go old school, grab a pair of scissors and some magazines, and start cutting. Find images that speak to you. They can relate to your writing, and you could make an entire board just on a potential novel or story. Or, you can simply make a board that speaks to you as a person, as a writer. It doesn’t have to mean anything. It only has to make you feel.

-Music: I love music. I make soundtracks for my stories, at least the long ones. I have a fabulism/fantasy soundtrack. Writing with music keeps my brain buzzing with ideas, or at least, that’s what I’ve told myself all these years. If you want to take a step back from writing (again, just temporarily), then you can still create—make a playlist for your stories! Or make a list of songs for your individual characters. Explore new musicians. Go to concerts. Dance. Sing. It is all good.

-Movies: Sometimes all you want to do is curl up on the couch in your LuLaRoe buttery-soft leggings and binge-watch your favorite movies and TV shows. Junk food optional. (But is it really?). Go for it. It might seem like it’s almost mindless to watch movies or television, as though you shut off your brain in order to suspend disbelief, and to escape reality, but even if you are, and even if you’ve seen said movies hundreds of times (like me with my favs) it is still stimulating to watch actors, dressed up, acting out fake realities. You can still cultivate new ideas this way. And you can do it while vegging in an ice-cream stupor.

-Exercise: Yeah. I’m not one of those people who love to work out. I generally dread it. Afterwards, though, I feel pretty damn good. When you crank up some music and start running, or walking, or settle into your favorite yoga pose a part of you shuts off, and you have to really focus on what you’re doing. It’s quiet. It’s calm, even if you have pop music blaring in the background. With that kind of clarity can come creative bursts. Just try walking on a treadmill for 45 minutes and see if your mind begins to wander. And, FYI, if you didn’t already know, mind-wandering is a really good thing.

-Nature: This ties in a little to the point above. Sometimes when you are on a break from writing, the best thing to do is reconnect with the outdoors. If you like to garden, get your hands in the dirt. If you like to hike, lace up your boots. I’m not an “active” outdoors person, in that I’d rather sit and sip a cold drink in a hammock in the warm breeze than dig up shrubs. To me, nature is relaxing, beautiful, calming. When I get outside, and really look around I usually always come up with some interesting thoughts. Sometimes those thoughts lead to stories.

-Reading: I think the best thing you can do when taking time away from your writing is to read. Simple.

Besides those things mentioned above, if you have a little time to fill up your regular writing hours, it never hurts to do things with loved ones, to work on your other hobbies, to make good food, to sleep. Fill up your extra hours any way you like. Just don’t forget to get back to the page. It probably already misses you.

Thanks for reading!

 

Book Review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

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One day at work I was walking past a cart of new BCD (Books on CD) and saw Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’d read Eat, Pray, Love probably around the time it came out and became a huge Bestseller, and I also read The Signature of All Things. Since I’d enjoyed both of those books (Eat, Pray, Love more so than the other) and I loved the description of Big Magic, I picked it up right away, and listened to it every day during my commute until it was through. Being only 4 discs long, and taking just 5 hours of time, it was a fast listen!

Big Magic was eye-opening, brilliant at times, and very timely for me. As many of you know I’ve been having a wonderful creative surge the last couple of months, and I really feel in love with the art of writing. In Big Magic, Gilbert talks about living a creative life. She talks about how to be playful, joyful, how to not take yourself or your art so seriously, about how to put yourself and your words (or other art forms) out into the world, how to take risks, how to love what you do. One of my favorite things she said was that the universe hides jewels inside each of us. It is our job to unearth those jewels.

Another thing that stuck out was the idea that we should be putting our books, stories, and our work out there. That it does nobody any good to have it lying around hidden forever. A perpetual fear I have is of leaving this world behind with a computer full of things that nobody will ever read. I’m working harder to get things submitted traditionally, and published indie, in part because of this. We, as writers, or creators, can get so stuck on perfection, or fear, that we miss opportunities, and we deprive others of our joy. It doesn’t mean you have to send out subpar stuff, but let’s face it—the work will NEVER be published if you’re waiting for perfection. There will always be something to fix, or something you wish you’d done differently. Get proofreaders, find beta readers, edit, revise, and then for goodness sake, get out of your own way and let it be born. Are there things in my stories that even now make me cringe? Yes. But, a slightly imperfect novel is better than no novel at all, in Gilbert’s opinion, and now mine as well. You can, and should, always try to improve yourself, and your work. However, do not mistake improvement for perfection.

The most fascinating part of Big Magic, besides listening to Gilbert talk about her own process and evolution of success, was the idea that IDEAS just want to be made manifest. That they are actually things with energy, with will, and that if you choose not to make a project, it will move on to someone else. The part where she talks about how her Amazon jungle novel fell out of her head into her friend’s actually gave me chills. So neat. Ideas are looking for partners to collaborate with. They will find creators. Sometimes you will want the Idea that comes, and other times, it may not be the best fit. Gilbert suggests being polite, gracious, and even thanking your Ideas aloud, whether you accept their proposition or not. I love this idea. In fact, I’ve started doing it in my own life. “Thank you, for coming to me. Please, stick around for a while until I get this story figured out. I really appreciate it.”

If you’re looking for a quick read or listen, give Big Magic a try. Gilbert has a pleasant voice if you’re going with audiobook, and I think there would be something in there for everyone, writers or otherwise. This book got me thinking, it made me feel, and more than once, it made me say YES! 5 stars for this book. Check it out here.

 

 

Ideas Do Return

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I want to confess something:

In the last week, I began to fear I was done. I thought my well of ideas was all dried up. I thought I would never have another new idea.

Now, these were just glimpses of fear, just hints of anxiety. But still, they were there in the darkest corners of my mind. More than once, I had to shove these thoughts aside.

And it was ridiculous. It has only been a week since I wrote a new story (a story I really love, I might add). Only a week! Actually, it was less than a week. However, for some reason in the span of a few days, my mind went quiet. This could have been because I was hard at work in a different way—editing my witch novel—in fact, I’ll bet anything that the ideas coming toward me just slowed, to make room, to make time for me to work on the big editing project I’m in the midst of, so as not to overwhelm me.

You see, I’m trying something new. To backtrack just a bit, I’ll explain that I started listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic on audiobook last week, and I think it is brilliant so far. You might know Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love, or The Signature of All Things, but Big Magic is all about the process of creativity, and living a creative, fulfilled life. And it is fabulous, and makes so much sense. One thing she talks about is that we should try to think of ideas as actual forces, as beings, almost like people. When they come to us, we should thank them (if we are so inclined to accept their proposition) and so that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been thinking of my ideas as separate beings, with energy, with thought. Sound kooky? I don’t care. It’s been liberating. I am welcoming the ideas to me, and thanking for being in my life. It’s similar to thanking God, or the Universe, or whatever, for your blessings. Being grateful, and having gratitude is a huge factor for having a positive experience in this life. Simply the act of writing down a few postives each day makes you happier, so they say.

If ya’ll recall I had an epiphany recently, about the kind of stories I want to create, and the kind of writer I really am, and since that epiphany, I was almost overwhelmed with new ideas, writing several new short stories in a very small amount of time. Instead of thinking of it as a muse nowadays, I think of it as an Idea. Capital. A force that won’t leave me alone. Except, you know, when it leaves me alone.

And the last few days, that is what happened. The Ideas around me quieted, to allow me to focus on my revision. Thank goodness they did, because I really did get so much accomplished (in fact, I’ll be ready to query Witch Lessons soon!). But, it did leave me worried, and I admit even to myself that I briefly thought the Ideas would not return. What if I ran out of Ideas? What if I never had another Idea come to me again?

I should not have worried, and you shouldn’t either. When they come to you, thank your Ideas, as Elizabeth Gilbert suggests. When they leave, let them go willingly. They will be back. They will, if you work hard, and welcome them.

This morning, fresh from a good night’s sleep, and a successful night of editing, I was flooded with so many new Ideas I needed to grab a pen and paper so I wouldn’t forget what was coming to me—what was coming through me. I jotted the Ideas down as swiftly as I could, and then afterwards counted. Six. Six new Ideas. And these aren’t just six new titles, or six new images. These are six new stories that came to me almost fully formed. Of course, I’ll still have to work for them. Of course, I’ll still have to bust my butt for some of it. But the bones are there, the plot, the structure, the characters.

I am not lucky, in that this is not something that can’t happen to everyone. It is. I fully believe that. To create what wants to be created is not something that you have to reach for, at least not all the time. Sometimes, yes, the Ideas are stubborn, or you don’t pay them enough mind, and as Big Magic says, they get sick of waiting around for you, and move on to someone else. However, a lot of the time (and I mean, A LOT), they are there, and you just need to listen. Be grateful when they arrive, be grateful that they’ve come to visit. Know that it is fleeting, and someday, they’ll be gone. But there will always be new Ideas who come to you, if you have dedicated yourself to creative living. Gilbert is right (and I can’t wait to finish her book so I can hear more)—this is magic. Creating is the best magic there is.

Now, I’m off to re-read the new short story I just wrote. It is 1,500 rough words, of a story that wanted to be born so badly it stopped me in my steps this morning, forced me to find a pen and paper, and passed everything it wanted to be to me in just the title: Goldfish Wish. I was simply the conduit for this story, just as I was the conduit for The Peony and the Sun, and Witch Lessons, and Sonja Uncaged, and Briar Rose, and The Maiden and the Maple Tree, and so on, and so forth. I don’t say that to be braggy, and most of you haven’t even heard me mention the majority of those, but they are there, they are written, they are going to be shared with you sooner, rather than later. And they all started the same way: an Idea.

Thank you, Ideas, for visiting me. You’re welcome anytime, but if you hold off while I’m editing, that’s okay, too. I know you’ll come back a different time. And I look forward to it.

And thank you readers. I hope you create something today. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be important. It just has to make you feel.

Good night.

-Amanda

 

 

Your Words Matter (what are you waiting for?)

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I ripped the page above from a magazine many years ago, and framed it. It is on my wall to this day. The words touched me, particularly the last two lines. (It doesn’t even really matter that I am a firm believer in reincarnation, so the “one” life part might be debatable pour moi…the words make me feel something.) Beautiful sentiment, beautiful question.

I want to tell you, you writers, you artists, you photographers, you filmmakers, designers, and those pursuing every other creative endeavor, that your work matters. I especially want to address this post to my fellow writers, because I assume many who follow this blog are tied to the literary in some way. Your words matter.

You may be afraid to share your work. You may be hesitant to submit it to literary journals, or magazines. You may refuse to submit for publication, or even publish it on your own blog. You may not let your friends, family or critique groups read it. You may think you’re not good enough, that you haven’t anything worthwhile to say. You may not finish your work. You may not write a single word. Perhaps you feel unworthy. Perhaps you feel talentless. Perhaps you think it does not matter.

You’re wrong.

If you have the passion and drive to write (or paint, or sculpt, or whatever), then you have something worth saying, or you’ll manage to find it along the way. In a world of doubt, where creativity is sometimes stifled at the expense of happiness, or health, it is important you remind yourself again and again, that what you’re doing matters. Words have tremendous power. They are not “just words” as some people say. Words are important, books are important, art is important. Is it necessary for survival? Well, not exactly. Water, shelter, food, yes. But if you have a creative soul, you will be stifled trying to ignore it.

I used to live this way. Every weekday I went to work at a bank (nothing wrong with banks, just…not for me). Every Sunday evening I would cry. I called it the Sunday Blues. I dreaded going to work the next day. I even once, fantasized about falling down the stairs and breaking my leg to avoid going to work. Normal reaction to an upcoming work day? No. Not really. I was there over two years, aching for a life of something else. Anything else. I made good money there, but money was not enough. I’m privileged enough to acknowledge that, I realize. However, even if money is your number one focus in your reason to work, it doesn’t mean you can’t listen to your right-brained side in other areas of your life. You don’t have to love your job, or even like it. But you do have to listen to your heart at least a little bit.

Do not postpone your art. If you need to work 9-5 at the most boring, corporate job you can think of, well,  sometimes bringing home the (turkey) bacon means doing things you don’t always love to do. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create in your other hours. Do what you can. Do the best that you can. Write on the weekends, or at night. Jot down notes on napkins, and receipts. Use voice-software to get your thoughts out of your head and onto the page. Learn. Surprise yourself.

I want to dispel the notion that pursuing creativity is self-indulgent. If you choose to bust your ass working a job to pay the bills, or if you choose to be a “staving” artist to live the creative life you desire, it is no one’s business. What matters is your level of contentment with how well you are living your life. Being creative, and choosing creative work, or creative hobbies, is not indulging in childish fantasies. It is living authentically. If you are called to create, it is only doing a disservice to ignore that. It not only hurts you in the long run, it hurts others. You know why? Because you may deprive the world of your talent, your joy. So don’t do that. Don’t make the world sad. Don’t stifle your creative self.

Your words matter. You have one life, at least that you’re likely aware of. Do not waste it living a life of half-way there. Go for your dreams. Go for your goals. Beat the shit out of your fears, and prove to yourself, and everyone else that you have something to say. Ignore the naysayers, the people who doubt you, the emotional vampires, and the people who hurt you. It does not matter what they think.

Push yourself. There is no better time. There is no reason to wait. Think of how many people say they’ll “someday” write a novel, or “learn to paint” or anything else. Don’t wait. You will never regret starting.

Your life is wild. Precious. Ask yourself what you plan to do with it. And then, go out and do it.

 

When You’re on the Muse’s Good Side (cool stuff happens)

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There’s this really sweet thing that happens to me sometimes.

What happens is I get some love from the muse. Do I capitalize that? The Muse? Muse? I definitely don’t want to offend her (them?). Because right now I’m on her good side. Right now, I am drowning in ideas. And it’s a good drowning. It’s freaking cool. And I’ve learned to recognize it when it starts happening, and to appreciate it, however long it lasts.

Usually, and you writers, and creative-types will get this, usually you work your butt off for your ideas. You stretch, you reach, you push yourself, and then you push more. A lot of the time writing is hard work. You write one sentence, and then erase two others. You feel like everything you write is garbage. You read terrible reviews. You cringe internally at things you’ve written in the past. You wonder if you’re really cut out for this calling.

And then, sometimes, you are blessed with a wonderful burst of creativity. Don’t question it, is my advice. Take it and run. Jot down the ideas as fast as they come. Get your computer out, keep a notebook by your side. Scribble the words on a cocktail napkin or type them into our phone’s memos. Don’t overthink it, and don’t worry about what you’re doing with all these ideas THAT JUST WON’T LEAVE YOU ALONE. It’s wonderful. Let it happen. Let your brain do the work, without it actually feeling like work. Trust it.

When I’m in these phases, as I am now, I feel like I’m not even working. I am writing for the sheer joy. I’m writing because I must. I am a vehicle for these ideas. My mind, my hands, my fingers typing furiously, they are all working for these stories. These stories want to be born. I just need to get out of my own way, and birth them. When, and if, this happens to you, you will probably feel exhilarated, like I do now. You may love the ideas coming to you. You may be also be like, what the hell, brain. What are you doing to me? But, enjoy this creative energy. Creativity for me leads to productivity. And then I feel so good about myself, so inspired, I am more creative. And more productive. It’s a wonderful, messy, wild circle, and I love it.

If you’ve been “blocked” before, you know how awful it is. You stare at a blank page, a white screen. You stumble over the words, or worse yet, you have NO words to stumble over. You feel empty, stuck. And then you somehow manage to find something, to dig deep down inside, and grab a hold of a snippet of an idea. It’s not always good (usually, for me, it’s painfully pathetic), but it’s there. And then, like magic, other times you get on the Muse’s good side and the ideas fall like rain. A restorative, beautiful rain that makes all the flowers grow.

In the last month, I’ve been showered with ideas. If you consider five new short stories showered, then yeah, I’m keeping that metaphor. And I do consider five a lot. Five new stories in a month that I didn’t have to sweat, cry, and bleed for? Five stories I’m excited about, that just sort of fell into my brain? Yes, please.

So, I’m taking these stories, and running with them. The first, The Peony and the Sun, I self-published just last month. The others still need work, but I may self-publish again, or I may submit to journals or magazines. That really doesn’t matter to me right now, though. What I care about now is that I am thrilled to be writing. I have ideas to spare! I am jotting this down quickly (sorry for any typos!) and I am getting back to the short story I started writing this short story. I not only want to get back to it, I need to. The Muse will not leave me alone. Thank goodness for that. I’ll enjoy it as long as it lasts, whether it’s another month, a week, or gone in a day. I feel giddy with it. It’s the best high ever, writing often, and writing well.

Thanks, Muse. Really.

Writers, what is your experience with getting random, wonderful bursts of creativity? Aren’t they amazing? How long do you find they usually last?

Here Comes the Sun (Happy writing post, and some news)

A couple weeks ago I went through a very dry spell with minimal writing. I didn’t do anything creative, in fact, unless you count the overactive imaginings of an anxious and uneasy mind. I had no ideas, except the ideas I did have were awful. I had oodles of problems in current manuscripts that I knew needed fixing but I had no clue how to do it. I was understandably upset by this. I felt like I was sucking at life. Perhaps a bit of an overreaction, but if you’ve ever been blocked, or lacked inspiration or enthusiasm, or just felt downright bad about your writing (or whatever), then you get it. The bad news is it was a few days of black rain clouds over my head and instead of lifting my pen and writing, I pretty much just lifted nachos into my mouth…

The good news is, it passed. The sun is out again! I am writing! Now, I still have a few problems I don’t know how to fix in those manuscripts. I have stopped stressing about that, and am taking a little hiatus from those for a little while. I will come back to it when I come back to it. That’s the thing that works for me. Stuck on something? Move on to something else. When the answer is there, you will find it and go back. Writing something else at least keeps me writing!

In any case, this sunny explosion of creativity began when I was lying around on the couch and lazily musing about a story idea. “What if…” just came to me and I got the idea for short story #1, and I jotted down some notes. Then later that night as I was falling asleep I got a single line in my head “There was once a flower who fell in love.” And that became the first line in story #2, and it was that second story that I ended up writing first. (Still working on #1)

I actually made myself get up from bed, (well, fine, I mean I reached over and grabbed my phone) to put that line down, and I could just feel it was taking me somewhere. I fell asleep, anxious to wake up and write.

In the morning as soon as I could open my laptop I began writing. And writing. It was short, I think only 9 or 10 pages, but the flower story was there, and I loved it. I wrote the whole thing in about an hour. It was rough, of course, so I sent it off to a few wonderful, lovely friends and readers. They gave me plenty of feedback. I edited the story and added, and took away, and came out with, thus far, 18 pages, and a bit over 4,000 words which is actually a REALLY long short story for me. My longest short stories are usually about 1,000 words, but my average is probably about 700. So this was different, and it pushed me. I plan to get more editing done so that it is as perfect as I can get it.

You see, once the story was written I knew what I wanted to do with it. What is that, you ask? Well, I’m happy and excited to share I’m going to be releasing it as an e-book short story on Amazon Kindle soon! That’s right, everyone, I am going to be a hybrid author. I have always had an open mind about self-publishing for myself. I’m thrilled Ditch Flowers was traditionally published, because that’s the goal I set for it, and I worked damn hard for it! I am actively seeking a literary agent for my middle grade novel and my short story collection so they will be traditionally published, too, I hope. Though I may end up self-publishing the collection, who knows—those of you who are in the know are probably aware there are very few agents who take short story collections, and only slightly more small presses. So.

However, with this individual short story, I knew from the get-go after I wrote it that I wanted to release it on my own. I was SO excited to select cover art, and a title (both of which I’ll share in my next post! Sorry to tease you.) I can’t wait to share it with the world. It’s a learning process, for sure, but I am having fun with it. I’m telling you, the absolute high I got while getting some of the details figured out is just the coolest. I know it’s just a short story, not the next great American novel, but if you follow my blog at all you know I really, really LOVE short stories. And I am letting myself be hyped up about this story and the decision to self-publish. It is fun, and after the clouds over me lately, I am enjoying some positivity. The writing funk is over. Wahoo!

This path feels right for this project. And that’s all you can really do in this amazing world of writing. Follow the right path for you.

Self-publishing gurus- any tips for me as I move forward?

Thanks for sharing in my excitement, everyone. Stay tuned for my next post!

Amanda

 

 

The Importance of Being Inspired & the Elizabeth Berg Event

Today, coming off a wonderful talk last night by New York Times Bestselling author Elizabeth Berg, I want to talk a little bit about the importance of being inspired.

I am not speaking of the kind of inspired that comes when you actually are at your computer/typewriter/notebook and magical stuff pours out of you onto the screen/page. What I mean in this case is being inspired by other writers, books, and the literary community in general. Being inspired in your life.

As a public library employee, I get to be surrounded by books all the time. How lucky am I?? I see the best of the best, the prettiest of the pretty, the newest of the new, the shiny, the beloved, the sought-after, the bestsellers, the trendy, the classics, the ones we love to hate. I see books that inspire me by their gorgeous covers, by the titles, the descriptions. I flip open books to the back to read author acknowledgment pages, to remind me that they are indeed human, and not these God-like creatures I tend to worship (and I even am an author! Why do I forget that they are just people?), and I add more and more to my “to be read” list for checking out at a later date, or, on many days, I walk out of work with my purse overflowing with books, and my arms aching. Just doing my job inspires me every day, because I get to see, feel, and think about great works. I think of new ideas all the time. I get envious, wonderfully so, over books I pick up. When I think, Ahh! Why didn’t I write this book, first? I already feel a kinship with that author and that work.

Besides being at a library as an employee, I get to go to events and partake in library services as a patron. For FREE! (I promise to write more about why I love public libraries, so much, but if you can’t tell already here, I do. And that post is coming). A fellow writer and friend told me about author Elizabeth Berg’s upcoming appearance a few months ago. I registered for her workshop/lecture, and began noticing the influx of Berg books coming through the library in anticipation of the event, each looked better than the next. I already owned, and recently read The Last Time I Saw You, but I have already added many of her (over 20!) books to my TBR list. Dream Lover is up after I enjoy Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing Time, which I had autographed last night. But back to the event. I was nervous, and excited. I was ready to be inspired.

Elizabeth Berg was lovely. She was warm, funny, and insightful. She spoke about the importance of dialogue, setting, and character. She talked about taking time to notice things. Look at people from head to toe. Look at rooms from floor to ceiling. She said we all need to tune in to the world around us, “let your whimsy kick in” and ask ourselves what things remind us of. She spoke a bit about her own experiences with writing and publishing, and gave excellent advice for the many writers in the crowd (of some 80-ish people). I even asked a question- how could I pass up personal advice from a great writer?!- wanting her take on abandoning partially-written novels if you have lost the passion on them. She smiled, and said a lot of the time, that means a break-through is right around the corner. She said even if I want to throw it out, or give up on it (I’m looking at you NANOWRIMO 2012), that I shouldn’t literally throw it out, or burn it, or delete it. That I might be able to salvage parts of it. Excellent advice. But you know what was almost the best part?

It was that I recognized a part of myself in her. This successful, well-known, written more than TWENTY BOOKS author. I recognized a similar style in writing. A plotter, she is not.  I recognized the joy in writing in more than one genre. I recognized something in her that gave me hope that I can sustain a career in this sometimes difficult, but always wonderful, world of writing. I saw her speaking, and thought, I could be on that side in the future. I am still starting out. I am still a beginner. I still recognize, and cringe, at the newbie mistakes in my early writing, in my debut novel, as proud of it as I am. I still see so much I’d change. I still think, I can do better. I will do better. I have greatness inside me. I still think, and hope all this to be true. Seeing this author speak, when I had just a glimpse of myself as a writer in her, was more than inspiring.

I was strangely nervous walking up to the table to see Elizabeth. I was sweating. I got both my books signed, and my co-worker who had set up the event, said to Elizabeth that she had just finished my book and loved it (aw, thanks!), and I stammered out that yes, it was published last year. I mentioned to her that I am looking forward to reading her short stories, and aren’t short stories just underappreciated in general, and why is that? And she agreed! I then, like a total nerd, asked for a picture, and she said yes. So cool.

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(Plus, look! We both like long necklaces!)

I left the event with a few favorite new poems (including this one), a list of more novels to read, a reminder to myself to read her short story collections (because you know I love those!), a page of notes I’d scribbled as she spoke, and a fluttering, high-energy feeling. I recognized it. It is the same feeling I’ve had upon leaving particularly great critique group meetings, or writing conferences. If you’ve had it, you know exactly what I mean. It’s this excited, happy energy, inspiration-overload feeling. But in a good way, overload. It made me want to go home and WRITE. To paint. To dream. It was me connecting, not just with that author, but with a whole group of strangers (mostly), who wanted that same feeling. To create. To take what is inside us, and put it outside.

That got me thinking that this feeling is really something that needs to be experienced more often. This public event was free, as stated above. And it’s not difficult to find other events like it. My library hosts author book discussions once a month. There’s a free writers group there. And another within the community. There’s poetry and storytelling night tomorrow. There’s writers conferences in my state, at least three of them every year. There’s so many opportunities to connect with other creative thinkers.

Now, I don’t downplay the importance of internet communities. I have many e-friends, both writing, and not, who are FREAKING AMAZING. I leave conversations online, feeling energized and excited. But. And I say this gently, getting a creative inspiration in person is rarer (for me, at least), and again, for me, more powerful. I can look at a painting online, and fall in love with it. But being in an art museum, standing 6 inches from something great, is truly awe-inspiring. That’s why it’s important to try to make some kind of connection “in real life” as internet-savvy people say. As in, your physical world. Go to museums, join writing groups, go to a poetry reading. If you’re too nervous to read, just listen. Go see live music. GO TO YOUR LIBRARY! Look at the events calendar. If there’s nothing like the events I mentioned before, ask to start your own. For a minimal fee, or more likely free, you can start groups at your library. Put an ad in your newspaper, or start a group on Facebook that will meet IRL. Be it writing groups, or a book club, or anything creative. It’s amazing how like a battery charge, you will feel rejuvenated after these things. And that will reflect and manifest in your writing.

Tell me, when’s the last time you had that wonderful, inspiring feeling from a writer (or artist or anything) around you? Do you have any ideas for more creative inspiration?

For more on Elizabeth Berg visit her website.

The Magic of Inspiration

True story #1- Back in 2007 I was working at a daycare as an assistant teacher. There was a little boy in my room who reminded me of my hubs. This boy’s mannerisms, something of his face, just made me smile and think of my husband. I went home and told him of this boy, whom I’d come to think of quite fondly, and we had a good laugh about his mini-clone. That got me thinking. What if there was a woman, who, for some reason felt she couldn’t laugh about it? Who couldn’t even bring herself to talk to her husband about it, because- God forbid- she might suspect infidelity?

That planted the idea for Ditch Flowers.

True story #2- Sometime after that I was taking classes as an adult student and there was a girl in one of my classes. She was quite lovely, zaftig, with white skin and red hair and plenty of confidence. I wondered how she had come to gain so much confidence when I still struggled to find my own.

That idea became the story of Rousseau.

True story #3- I woke up, heart beating, feeling adrenaline rush through me as I gasped myself awake. I had been dreaming I was married to an abusive husband, and we had a baby together. I knew, in the dream, it was just a matter of time before he began abusing our daughter. So, in the dream I planned our escape through a back bedroom window just minutes before he was to arrive home from work.

That turned into Running.

And there’s more I haven’t even mentioned. Do you see where I’m going here? I didn’t seek out any of these ideas. I didn’t chase the muse. I simply stumbled upon them somehow. Or they thrust themselves upon me. Sometimes ideas can be like magic, simply happening to us when we least expect it. They might go nowhere. But…they just might turn into something special. It might be as simple as meeting someone new, or hearing a phrase you’ve never heard before, or asking yourself a question out of nowhere. Let yourself be open to ideas even if you’re not actively seeking them. Being blocked, which I believe is a real thing at times, doesn’t mean there aren’t ideas available for you to use. Even if you can’t or don’t come up with them on your own. Let yourself be aware of what is happening around you. The answers might be within your reach. And you might only need to find the question.