Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The End Is Near ...

Charlie Finlay had a post on story titles. What stuck in my mind was a statistic about story endings he didn't think much of. I don't disagree that breaking a story down by percentages is foolish. But still it stuck in my head and popped back out when I read a story to my daughter recently. Having nothing much else to gab about, I'll relate it here as best I can, with the ending quoted, and apologies to the author.

The story was part of A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain, titled "Jim Baker's Bluejay Yarn." There was this miner out in California who claimed to understand the languages of animals. He stayed after the gold rush went bust, living alone in his cabin, studying the animals' speech. It was his opinion that blue jays were the most well spoken, as well as the most profane.

One day a blue jay was flying by with an acorn in its mouth. It dropped the acorn on the roof of a neighbor's cabin which had been long abandoned by the owner. The cabin was distinguished by its lack of a ceiling, nothing between the floor and the rafters. The miner watched as the acorn rolled down the roof and into a knothole. The jay declared its surprise and studied on the hole for some time. The jay decided to put another acorn in and, again to its surprise, didn't hear the acorn hit bottom.

This vexed the jay some as he knew that all holes have bottoms. The jay spent the better part of the day fetching and dropping acorns into the hole. The jay got mad, then madder, cursing at the hole that refused to fill up.

When the jay sat exhausted on the roof another jay happened by, then another and more, and hundreds, each taking a turn studying on the knothole. Finally one blue jay hopped down to the open door and saw all the acorns on the floor. The jay laughed and called to the first one who, seeing the acorns and understanding his foolishness at trying to fill up a house, laughed as well. One by one the jays took a look and laughed.

This brings us to the story's end:

"Well, sir, they roosted around here on the housetop and the trees for an hour and guffawed over that thing like human beings. It ain't any use to tell me a bluejay hasn't got a sense of humor, because I know better. And memory, too. They brought jays here from all over the United States to look down that hole, every summer for three years. Other birds, too. And they could all see the point, except an owl that come from Nova Scotia to visit the Yosemite, and he took this thing in on his way back. He said he couldn't see anything funny in it. But then he was a good deal disappointed about Yosemite, too."

I don't think I'll remember the title of the story, but I'm pretty sure I'll remember the end.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Light A Fire Under ...

A close friend starts all of his writing sessions with a prompt or exercise. Having thus primed the pump, he goes to work on his novel. This has never appealed to me, but I decided to try it since the procrastinating approach didn't seem to be working.

Writer's Digest posts a new prompt roughly (very roughly) once a week. There are plenty of prompts archived there if you want to work through one a day for a while. The prompts tend to be silly and beyond getting me started, didn't help much with the writing task to follow.

I have a book called "Room to Write" by Bonni Goldberg which has an expercise per page (so about 200). Most of those focus on one's own thoughts, experiences, and reactions, which again did not really focus me on the next task.

Two others I found with a quick search (i.e. I didn't spend hours researching the best sites) were the Imagination Prompt Generator and the Story Spinner Online.

While this approach still doesn't work for me as a routine, it did get me rolling a bit. I finally opened up that Word document, wasn't too sickened by what I had written before, and started typing new words on the page.

This reminded me of two things:
  • Writing is a craft. A variety of tools are needed to complete the masterpiece.
  • Sometimes I can't attack writing head on. Sometimes I need to sidle up to it slowly, especially when getting back into a routine.

Your thoughts and comments, as always, are welcome and appreciated.

Monday, October 02, 2006

1st Quarter ...

The first quarter has ended for FY07. Time to reflect on the goals for the last three months, devise new plans for the second quarter, and begin again.

1st Quarter Goals:
"The theme is to focus on what I can control." A good theme, but needs improvement.

* "Have 12 stories out for submissions." At this time I have 2 short stories and three flash fiction pieces out. Failed miserably on this goal.

* "Complete SF novel." Success! The late August marathon paid off. I now have 60,000 words of disjointed piffle.

* "Consistently post on blogs (own and others) and critique work of others." Mixed results. I didn't critique others' stories as much as I'd hoped.

* "Keep up with Two Year Novel class assignments." D minus on this score. There are reasons and excuses, but this is a business darn it! We will own up to failure.

On the bright side, I did have a short story published in Atomjack Magazine. This seemed to placate the stockholders and balance out the lackluster achievements listed above.

Onwards and upwards!

2nd Quarter Goals:
Another lesson learned again: use real numbers when setting goals. Many of the above were rather pie in the sky. This second quarter shall reflect (watch out, overused management acronym coming up) SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timebound.

* Have web site live by October 9th. Very little writing will be done until then.

* Submit two new stories by December 30th. This should be relatively easy. Story #1 is on the 80th round of edits and is just about ready to go out. Story #2 is on draft four or five and, given a realistic pace, should be ready by the holidays. If I don't throw it out in frustration that is. ;-)

* Catch up with word count for Two Year Novel Class. I need to get back into a groove with the new night schedule but this should be okay at least until the Holidaze.

* Critique one story a month on the Forward Motion Writer community. I expect to post story #2 there and so must reciprocate for good karma. It is the season of giving, you know.

* Complete second draft of SF novel. Doh! There go the SMART goals. If I can't do National Novel Writer's Month then at least I can be there in spirit. November will be the month to deal with this albatross I've been working on for 18 months.

Is that it? More than enough.