Category Archives: Ten Minute Writes/Timed writing

It can be amazing what you writing in a timed writing. Keep your pen to the paper and don’t stop writing till the alarms rings.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

I originally wrote this post in 2014, but I never posted it. So why am I posting parts of it now, a little over five years later? Because I didn’t do what I said I was going to do, and that, in and of itself, is why I have failed and continue to fail as a writer.

True failure is inaction. Good writing, bad writing, it’s all writing and that takes action; takes courage; that takes faith; and gumption; and effort; and stick-to-it-ness otherwise known as endurance. Failure is not about the verb to try. Failure is: talking about it, and then fucking it off. Failure is giving up on the race before you even leave the house to get to the track.  I failed. I failed myself.

Reading while on break from my waiting tables job.

We are all our own worst critic, but I’m not trying to just beat myself up and take a look in the mirror and say, “Look at you you are a failure!,” And then start crying myself into a deep depression. I’m not into self-flagellation at the moment (I do have my moments). What I’m into is dissecting this illness, and yes to me to constantly choose to fail by not doing is a sickness (my definition), and try to combat it. I dissect it by looking at what I said I would do, but didn’t do. And take it from there. I believe this is called self-reflection.

Let’s Get Started

It is interesting that I wrote this, according to the time stamp, in 2014, because the event took place in 2008. Writing this in 2014 was six years later yet, the narrative is written as if it is in the present. I’m not sure what was going on in my head at the time. Let’s plunge into the tale.

I quit my job to finish my book. What really got me started on this whole, take control of your life-just do it attitude, was a book. I’m sure a series of events in my life, and aging, and all that life stuff had a factor, but what finally solidified it was a book.

This was true. I did quit my job in 2008. It was also true that I had decided that I wanted to hold off looking for a job for two months so that I could finish a book that I had been working on for about 8 years. I remember this decision distinctly. I was working at a software development company as a receptionist. I made decent money but I wasn’t really into the lifestyle of the office worker. I had saved up some money and I was in a position to take a break. I’d never had that opportunity before, so I thought the time is now. Timing is everything.

It was Ariel Gore’s How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead. I thought the title was funny so I picked it up. I didn’t expect any miracles or expect anything I didn’t already know, but while reading it I was struck with a now or never kind of thought. I mean Ariel started writing as a teenager and nothing stopped her or anyone else that wanted to be a writer for that matter. So as soon as I finished her book I made my decision. I’m quitting my job and I’m going to be a writer.

This is true. Gore’s book did inspire me to take the jump. She had travelled and her book was about her life traveling. I had traveled and my book was about traveling. Seemed like kismet.

Alright. I say a lot of shit though. So the next steps? I decided not to tell my parents. I’m an adult, I don’t have to tell them anything, but sometimes I have this deep wish that they are going to be supportive towards my ventures even though I know they wont. In their own special unique way they will fill me with fear and doubt. So I dashed the fantasy of a supportive family, and kept my mouth shut.

So, this is where stuff get’s a little sad. I didn’t tell my parents, who were not together and hadn’t been for over 40 years’ at that point. I didn’t tell them for different reasons. My father wouldn’t have called me foolish or stupid exactly, but his disapproval would be along those lines, and at the age I was at the time, I felt tired of his disapproval and I didn’t want to deal with it. My mom, well, that reason was more complex. I grew up raised on welfare and we never had any money. My mom had spiraled back into drug addiction and poverty which led to her eventual disappearance which was because she was homeless for three years. After time she managed to pull some semblance of structure back into her life and she returned to NA and found a home through section 8 housing and life was just tough, but she was coming out of it. She felt secure knowing I had a good, practical, stable job. How could I tell her that her only child was about to quit a good job just to chase a dream? It was immature to not just be honest.

I told my friends, my best friend, and all my acquaintances. All approved. Still, I didn’t really believe it. I could still back out.

I did tell my friends and now, reading this I feel a little embarrassed about it, but wait a moment… I’m over it.

While on a train ride back from visiting my friend in Seattle I shared a seat with a man. I had my laptop out, and I was staring blankly at some words I wrote-AGES ago. He asked me if I was a writer.  “Yes”, I told him, “unpublished.” I added, as an excuse. I was preparing all my disclaimers- but I first told him about my decision to quit my job, and write full time for two months. He pulled out a book from his bag and tapped the cover- “well that’s me”, he said, “I’m a writer and if you have any questions we have three hours together to talk”.

This all really happened.

His name was David Guterson, and I did know who he was. He was indeed a writer. A published writer. His book Snow Falling on Cedars had been made into a movie a few years ago. I had seen the movie, but never read the book. Here on the train, at the moment I had decided to quit my job to be a full time writer, I had a famous writer at my side for three hours, and I had nothing writerly to ask. What I did learn was that he was a nice man who had five kids, and they were all homeschooled. He himself was a teacher, and his wife did the homeschooling.

I still haven’t read read his book. It is in my reading future. I promise myself. Not for him, but for me.

One word of writing advice he gave me was to make observations.

This too is true.

Tell me about that man.” He said nodding his head in the direction of a man that was talking on his cell phone.

“I can only see a part of him,” I had said, “but he is very black. His skin is dark like pure chocolate, and it is smooth and shiny. He works out or he does something physical that he uses his arms. His muscles are defined and big. He is wearing a tight solid black t-shirt and he has a gold watch. He is eating bright red licorice. There is something intriguing about him, about the cadence of his talk. He sounds charming. He is talking to someone, a person he is dating or married to. I have the impression he is a straight man, but I don’t know for certain. The strongest part of him as an image are all the colors; his chocolate skin, which isn’t actually black but a deep dark brown, and the black t-shirt, his gold watch, and the bright red licorice that he isn’t eating but holding like a pointer in his hand.”

This is what David Guterson told me to do. To observe. To watch and to listen, and then find the way to put the images and the thoughts onto the page. 

What’s interesting to me about revisiting this writing from 11 years ago, is that I can’t remember what David Guterson looks like. If I were to look him up or see him on the back of one of his books, I’m sure I’d remember, but just trying to think back to that time, I can’t picture him at all. He was white, average build and height, and maybe dark blonde hair, but I don’t know, I’m just assuming. Who I do remember in vivid detail is that black man on the train. This is crazy to me. I observed that man for a total of 5 to 10 minutes, and although I had noticed him earlier because as I recall he did have something noteworthy about him, it was still a short observation from 11 years ago. I sat on a train next to a famous writer and spoke with him for three hours. I sat side by side with this man talking for three hours, and I can’t remember his face. So, there’s something special about observing for the sake of writing. It emblazons an image and perception onto your mind-as a writer this can not be taken for granted. Its a necessary exercise.

My next day at work I told them I was leaving in September.

Oh boy, do I remember this. My first work free day was September 8th, 2008 and my new writerly self turned on NPR to the news that the financial markets had dropped 20% and it was the start of the market crash of 2008. I was not able to find a job for 6 months and the job I did finally find was a miracle job, but that’s another story. To make a long story less long; It was bad timing.

I’m not being completely honest about being a failure. According to my previous definition of failure I didn’t fail at my initial intension for quitting my job. I did finish my novel during this time. I sent it to two, maybe three places, but after three rejections I put it away. I gave up on the publishing part. So, perhaps this isn’t about the failure to write but the failure to publish. Intention matters. Later, I gave up not only at publishing, but writing too. And, that’s the biggest problem for now.

The last time I wrote on this blog was June 18th 2018. Over a year ago, and I’ve done many extended breaks through my writing life. I think at this point I don’t even want to be a writer in the published sense, but if I can just consistently write daily for at least a year, if I can do that I will be accomplishing so much. Beyond that year, I’ll worry about later, but for now just to be consistent and to take it seriously, truly seriously regardless of publication or notice that would be a huge accomplishment. Hell, I’m self published on this blog, that’s enough; but let’s make this a routine. Daily.

What does this have to do with short stories? This is a workshop. The Short Story workshop and figuring out a way to get back to writing is the part of the workshop. I have started and stopped so many times it’s unbelievable. My intention is to do a timed writing daily, and to start small. In fact I had already started. I started a week and a half ago. I started with a timed 3 minute write, and I’ve written every day slowly building that time. Today was 15 minutes. I included editing this blog post as a part of that 15 minutes. Tomorrow with be 16 minutes. There’s no excuse not to sit down for 16 minutes. What’s 16 minutes? For a writer trying to get back to writing 16 minutes is a life line. Intention matters. Intention really matters.

The Perfect Couple: Writing prompt 5 mins

Prompt: The Perfect Couple
Timed writing: 5mins

Time:1986

The first days of snow had come. It was a Sunday and my grandparents were at church. They had given up forcing me to go after I had a huge fit in the church parking lot screaming about how if God was so great why did he take away everyone in my family. I don’t think it was so much that they didn’t have an answer, but that all their church friends were watching us, and they were embarrassed. It is very important to my grandma that everything looks perfect and happy. This was something that both my dad and his brother used to complain about whenever they would get together. On all the family holidays when we would be together, grandma would always do something to make one of the parents mad. She would follow our moms around the kitchen cleaning up after them, and criticizing about how or what they were cooking. Or she would comment on how my uncle was dressed or that his kids were not presentable enough. She thought my dad was the perfect son, but he had made one huge mistake, and that was marrying my mother.

My dad had had a pretty blonde girlfriend when he was in high school, and she came from a rich family that had a lot of connections in the town where my dad had grown up. She had been a cheerleader and was, as my dad called her, traditional. She always had her hair perfect, and her clothes always ironed and starched. She wore the latest conservative styles. White butterfly collared shirts and pink cashmere sweaters with delicate embroidery that she did herself. I knew all these things about dad’s high school girlfriend: butterfly collars and embroidery and that her favorite color was pink,  a lady’s color, because my grandmother would talk about her almost every time she was around my mom. Mom had told me that grandma even brought it up at their wedding. My grandmother was crying because she was actually heartbroken that my dad was not going to get back together with his high school sweetheart. My dad said, he had liked the girl that she was nice enough, and a good person, but that she was exactly like his mother, and if there was one thing a man did not want to do it was to marry an exact replica of his mother.

He said they had met at a business function where his father was meeting with the girl’s father, and grandma fell in love with her at first sight. Dad explained it like grandma wanted to marry her herself. It was pretty much an arranged courtship. Grandma constantly inviting the family over for dinner and arranging the meetings. Her family was liked dad’s family, and he was certain that both parties involved were planning a wedding. Since they were business people, and as dad called them the new salesmen rich, it was not acceptable to get married before college. So both dad and the girl were sent off to separate colleges. He was to get prepared to be a businessman, and she was being groomed to be an educated wife who could host respectable dinner parties. Since it was important which school you went to, the girl was shipped off to a private girls’ school on the east coast, and my dad went to Stanford. Dad had said that he had felt sorry for the girl because maybe he would have liked her if it was allowed to happen naturally, but because it was forced he began to resent the girl, especially because the night before the business function where his father had dragged him along, he had finally built up the courage to ask Sally Renton out for a date. He had had a crush on her since the fourth grade. That night they were to go out to a movie. He said the movie was called Dr. No, and he was so upset that he had to cancel just so his father could show him off to a couple of his work colleagues. He said that it had ruined his chance to ever go out with Sally Renton. My mom said she was glad that his mother had ruined his future plans for love because without her meddling they would never have met.

Obviously, my mother was  not Sally Renton.

Outside the Window- 3mins

Three minute write.

Writing Prompt: Outside the Window.

Outside the window Fredric could hear the wind blowing although the alarm from the house across the street was ringing as loudly as if it was his own house. He had wanted to look out the window to see what was going on, but at the same time he hated to be one of “those people”. He wasn’t a nosey neighbor.

“It isn’t nosiness when it is your neighbor’s alarm blaring. It’s neighborly concern.” His wife was addressing him from the kitchen. “What if they need some help.” She was leaning in the doorway in her usual manner of pressing her fist against her hip. There was flour on her apron from baking. She was making biscuits. Fredric did love his wife’s biscuits, nice flakey, and sweetly buttered, but she herself could get on his nerves from time to time. “Look out the window, and see what’s going on.” She said wiping her hands on her apron.

“It’s none of our business.” He grumbled as he shook out the newspaper and settled into his old leather armchair.

 

3 minutes up.  

Stealing Sentences to Get Inspired to Write

 

I have been mentally preparing myself to get into full writerly mode by being writerly all the time. I haven’t actually been able to focus on my book at this point, although, I did do one character study, and I feel pretty secure with her, but there are so many characters involved. When I think about how much has to be developed in order to create a world for my characters, I feel overwhelmed. I immediately beginning criticizing my work as I write. I need to stop that. So to help me rework my brain and derail that monster critic, I have created a writing exercise. It serves two purposes for me.

1) It helps get my head in a new place because most of these writings will never be seen and they allow me to be as free in my fiction and imagination as my journal writing.

2) It forces me to keep writing and I have no excuse not too. The brain is like a muscle in our body and it needs exercise in order to work at it’s optimum potential, and this exercise is one way to go about it.

I can’t take 100% credit for this exercise since the bases for prompts has been shared in many of my writing classes. I had learned the beauty of prompts and timed writing while I was a facilitator with Write Around Portland.

The Exercise:

This is meant to be a ten minute write but it often ends up being longer, and this is A-okay since the minutes are just a trick to force myself to do it. Inevitably, I’ll have that never ending argument with myself about writing:

“I don’t feel like writing.”

“You should write.”

“But I don’t want too.”

“Come on it only takes 10 minutes. You can spare 10 lousy minutes.”

“True. okay I can do ten minutes.”

See how that works? If you’d like to try the exercise it can be done with just one of the prompts, two or all, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you write for at least 10 minutes. I really believe that it takes a good solid three minutes to be able to let your mind just go, and 10 minutes can send you into a beautiful world that you- yes YOU created.

  1. Take the last sentence from a book and poem whatever type of writing of something that you have read.
  2. Take four random vocabulary words- I have tons of vocabulary words on note cards and I just pull from those. The purpose for this is that I am always trying to increase my vocabulary. Some words are archaic but they are still fun to try and use properly.
  3. Pick an object in room
  4. Choose one or more of the other five senses- I notice I’ve been leaning toward scent and I hardly use touch which makes me think I should use some touch.

Then give yourself ten minutes and try to write a story/poem using all the above elements.

This was my first one:

Sentence: He told her that it was as before, that he still loved her, he could never stop loving her, that he’d love her until death. The Lover- Marguerite Duras

Vocabulary:

Baroque– Marked by extravagance, complexity or flamboyance.

Labile– Lacking stability, readily open to change

Machination– And act of planning, especially to do harm.

Obeisance– A bow made to show respect or submission, Deference, homage

Sound: clapping

Scent: poo

Object in the room: lighter

Here are a couple of sentences from what I created out of the exercises- It turned out to be about a 30 minute write- which was great-I’m not super comfortable with the use of the vocabulary in the second paragraph, but they are new words, and I do not use them often. They may be words more appropriate for a different type of writing, but the point is the effort to try and use them as correctly as possible. Once written you can follow up later.

-Enjoy

There was a stench that filled the room and she could not describe it as anything other than shit. Marguerite stepped over the piles of clothes and papers, the stacks of books, strewn newspaper articles, shredded bits of card board, the yogurt cartons, the bottles and cans of beer, the accumulated mess of months of a recluse; a terrible, terrible recluse.

She was not going to obeisance to him or his space or even the memory of him. She was labile at this point and had no room to honor him in anyway. She could drop from the window as easily as he did and with that she let the cigarette, lit and hot, fall from between her fingers.

The Burden

From a photograph

Before the sun rises we will walk out to the river and say good-bye to my daughter. It is the way. I know this. I know— we know— that HE will take all of us one day, at anytime, and it is a blessing, and that is why we are thankful .

It is offensive to show any sadness because to be sad is to show anger to Him, to not trust Him, and that is a sin. There is much to be grateful for and I show it through my silence and my peace. She was a girl, and with the death of a girl there is celebration because now there will be space for a boy. Food for a boy, a future for a boy. And, I am pregnant now so it will be a boy. The girl is gone and in His kindness he has put a boy in my belly. We know this. Yet, I feel empty. Somewhere inside of myself where my daughter once slept curled like an egg warming my blood and filling me with something I can only call love, I feel a hole. A deep hole like a well that reaches no water.

As the sun rises from the dark brown line of the earth and pushes the thin rainless clouds away our toes touch the edges of the water. It is all the women of the village who are with me, but they are not for me they are for Him, because they too must give thanks. In the river I wash the white linens that I will use to swaddle her body. She was little so I do not have to use much, but I wish it to be as white as the lily. The other women partake in the ceremony- they murmur, hum and wail in painful tones of remorse and prayer. They give praise and thank Him for taking her, my daughter, and releasing us from the burden of yet another girl child.

The water flushes over my fingers and in-between the fibers. It is warm and smells slightly of urine. I do not always think it is good, but HE has provided it and therefore it is good. I walk deep into the folding river wringing the white cloth, focusing on cleaning and cleansing them. I think about the preparations for the evening. The dying walk with the white candles, how we must prepare the candles for the ceremony, but she keeps poking her baby fingers into my head. I feel her arms around my  neck. Her fingers tangling in my hair, and she is bound to my body as she had always been when I had washed the clothing in the river. I gasp and pull the linen to me and hold them like I had held her. They smell like her and I feel like I will shake until my knees break and I will then collapse into the dirty river. I want to fall and join her my most beautiful child. My first child. But, I cannot. She has been taken for a reason so the boy can live. I must tell myself this until I believe it.

I walk to the shore still holding my bundle of linen tightly to me like it is my daughter, but suddenly I am aware of where I am and what I am doing, and I hope that none of the other women have noticed me; noticed my weakness. It is a sin to be mournful when a girl dies when there is so much thanks to be had before us. Save the tears for the loss of our boys. I know this, and I can be beaten for such a display of sorrow even on the day of burial.

I drape the linen, heavy with the river’s water, over thick branches and slap out the wrinkles and lines of fabric with my open hand. The sound like a wet drum beat in my ears. Soon the other women are doing the same, pounding out the their linens of many different colors, the rhythm rising toward a song. Coolness and warmth pass over me. It is the breeze warm from the sun and wet from the great river, but there is a thin veil of cool that licks the sweat from my neck and shoulders. She is beside me and I know this because I can feel her. I want to say her name, but it is forbidden.

***

The sun will be setting soon. I have been washing all day, and I continue with the final washing as the dark folds over the sky and I wrap the wet cloth over my body, and my head covering every part of me. The heavy wet fabric gathers about my head and ankles and the weight is like that of a human.  A human child. We return to the village wearing the wet fabric around our bodies, and carrying the dry linen in baskets on our heads. We sing songs of praise as our bare feet pass over the dusty road that will take us to our village. Once we arrive, and hang the last of the wet cloth, I will wrap the white linen around the body of my dead child, and once again we will take the slow walk to the river. The river that gives us life the river that gives us death.

All things have been prepared. The older women have painted her and oiled her. Her face has been dusted the red of the earth and black coal circles her eyes that are closed. White dots divide her face in half. Her arms glisten against the flicking lights of the candles and I inhale the scent of oil. Although she is not a boy she is anointed and praised because HE brought her to us and HE has been kind enough to take her away. Perhaps she will return as a boy and her life could be better in the next life. I wish for that, but at the same time I feel sad that she will not ever be a woman.

The night is blue black and the stars blink and weep as we began our walk to the river. The men carry my daughter on a plank of wood on their shoulders. I want to call out her name, but it is forbidden. The villagers have been singing and as we move closer to the river they sing louder. The night is dark now and only the candles show us the way. The scent of wax and smoke fill my nostrils and I can no longer smell her. My eyes begin to burn and I can feel the wet of my tears streaming down my cheeks. This is a feeling of great sadness and I must not feel this but I am overcome. It is only the smoke. I will say it is only the smoke.

We reach the river and my husband and all the men are the first to place their candles into the water. It is like they heave a great sigh of relief. A daughter is such a burden. We are all relieved—but something… something is empty and there is no relief in my heart. They place her body into the water and push her off to float and get carried away into the mouth to be forever swallowed up by Him and all that HE has given to us. We thank him for releasing us and we pray that the boy in my belly is strong. I place my candle in the water to give thanks to Him who took her. I must say a prayer of gratitude, but all I can say is her name; Kalaya.

Not a Beautiful child- five minute write

Five minute timed writing

Chang Mai was not a beautiful child. In many respects this made her life all the more difficult. It was bad enough that she was born a girl, but to be ugly too, this was not a blessing.
Maybe she will grow to be beautiful her mother whispered to her father.
No. he grunted. She is ugly and a girl we are cursed.
They had already had five unsuccessful births. Each and every one a girl. None of the girls were very beautiful, but Chang Mai was by far the ugliest. Thankfully she was not deformed so she could at least be sold for work, but it would be impossible for them to marry her off.
Father looked at mother as she held the tiny round Chang Mai in her arms.
She is so fat. He said. How do you have such a fat child? Do you sneak food?
No. Mother whispered.
You are a disgrace. He said. You have girls, you have ugly children and now you have a fat child. She will eat us out of home. We must get rid of her right away. Father stared at mother with hate in his eyes. If I could, I would drown you woman. If we had money you would be floating in the river you and your fat children. No sons. We are wasted. You are a waste.
At that Chang Mai let out a shrill and a kick. Her voice piercing fathers ears.
Too much fire! He yelled as her stormed from their shack.
Enough fire. Her mother whispered. Enough fire to burn the earth.
At this Chang Mai silenced. Her crescent eyes peered up at her mother. They were like black moons early in the cycle and curved like frowns. Her head was bald and shiny like an old man who had lost his hair and nothing like a new baby’s. There were no signs of follicles. He lips were fat and puffy as were her cheeks and her apple chin. In other countries, other places, in another time, she may have been thought of as a cute baby, but destiny birthed her here in the damp tent in a wet peninsula stuck out like a crooked finger into the Yellow Sea.
A lot of fire. Her mother said. Like a Queen.

 

Above the auto shop for Dinner

Appetizers began with a bean spread with garlic and pesto sauce over toasted baguettes and figs wrapped in brie and prosciutto drizzled with crème fraiche. We each had a cold beer, Pacifico.

First course: gazpacho with a lot of garlic and fresh tomatoes, along with a glass of red wine. It had a rich oaky taste. The main course: beef flank medallions wrapped around roasted red peppers with golden raisins, prosciutto, and rosemary. The side dish: spanish rice with a spicy kick of chile pepper and fresh organic green beans sautéed in olive oil and citrus; lemon.

Another bottle of red wine and a cheese platter; blue cheese, goat cheese, creamy and served with freshly cut peaches.

The evening ended with homemade liquor: limoncello, a shot each. It slid down the back of our throats, smooth and came out in a cool stinging breath.

All devoured and enjoyed in a stylish loft in Seattle above an auto shop where the Asian mafia may or may not hang out.

Skoll.