Writer’s Cramp is the blog and site for B. Jenne’ Hall, writer, genius, and pathological optimist. She’s written her first book, is working on her second, and she’s trying to get published. Which from all accounts seems to be as approximately attainable as the gift of flight, but who doesn’t love a challenge?

Entries in taking the leap (13)


The Sobering Reality of the Childhood Dream

I’ve been reading quite a lot about writing and publishing and getting an agent and all the ins and outs of the business for quite some time now, and let me tell you, it’s sobering to learn about the industry. Any romantic notions you have of writing your book, getting accepted, and then you quit your day job and write for a living die a swift and messy death as soon as you start learning about the industry.

You think the work ends after you’ve written the book, suffered through revision after endless revision and are ready to send it off?

Nope. Then you start the work of finding an agent*, which requires a lot of research. The information about agents and the querying process takes a not insignificant amount of time and effort. You’re (understandably) expected to do your research to learn not just the industry, but the vagaries of the particular part of the industry you’re hoping to be published in (especially true in genre writing). But finally, you’ve compiled a nice list of potential agents. The rest is pretty straightforward, isn’t it?

Nope. Once you find agents (and verified that they represent the type of book you’ve written), you then need to find out whether they’re accepting unsolicited submissions and whether they’re currently accepting submissions. Then you need to make very careful note of each agent’s submission guidelines, because they’re all different and making a mistake can mean the difference between getting your query read and getting it summarily binned. Some want query letters only, some request queries with the first five pages of your story, some the first chapter, some the first fifty pages. Some request a synopsis, which itself can vary in length and style. You submit to agent after agent, carefully following each individual submission guideline, hoping to find one to accept you. And miracle of miracles, an agent offers to represent you! They work with you on yet more revisions, and then they start shopping you around. Whew! It was a lot of work to get this far, but now you’ve got an agent so you can relax and focus on writing your next book, right?

Nope. They submit to publishers over and over and if you’re lucky, an editor agrees to take a chance on you. After having pitched it to their editorial session, of course, and hopefully not gotten shot down in the meeting. Then yet more revisions and drafts. *(Unless you’re submitting to a house that accepts unagented submissions, in which case you do that work while you’re trying to find an agent, but the steps are all the same.) You might spend months working on revisions, and in the meantime, getting lost in the shuffle of the publishing list for that year or the next. But hopefully at some point, you’re nearing the end of final edits and work begins on cover art, marketing plan, etc. You have no say in the cover art, book size/layout/type, and depending on the publishing house you’re contracted with, little to no say in marketing. If they’ve devoted any budget to marketing. Most books aren’t allotted any (again, depending on publishing house…smaller houses give more marketing push because they can’t afford to have as many “flops”, but that also means they can offer less and can take less). But at least now you’re done, right?

Nope, just getting started. You’re expected to self-market, and cross-market, and any other kind of marketing you can do to promote your book. You may be the only one doing marketing for your book (see above). You should have a blog and a website now — and really, should’ve had one when you were shopping agents — but you’ll want to be careful, because you can’t step on the toes of your publisher’s marketing. Which you may not be told what they’re doing. It’s hard to get anyone on the phone, and the marketing people don’t take authors’ calls. And any marketing you do is on your own dime, including attending conventions and symposiums. Which you’re encouraged to do, to increase your chances of success. (Of course, if you’re shy and introverted — most writers are — this can present something of a problem.) But surely, by this point, with all your hard work, you’re done, right? You’ve at least made some money, right?

Nope aaaaand nope. You’re expected to keep producing, because most publishing houses aren’t going to invest in a one-shot deal. So you should have something already going by the time they accept that first work, and somewhere in the midst of all that other work up there — and your day job, more on that in a minute — you’re supposed to be writing, writing writing. You need to be able to demonstrate that you’re a producer.

Yeah, and don’t quit your day job. Even a moderately successful book won’t pay enough to cover your bills and of course you still need insurance. And obviously to actually do your day job, you have to, you know, be there. So any writing-related activities have to be done in your spare time, just as the first book you wrote was, except then you were only writing a book, not writing a book and promoting another one. So, you know.

Pretty sobering post here about what you can realistically expect to make on a book. He comes up with a figure of about $13,000 paid out over 8 years, if all goes well, and that seems to match everything I’ve read on this subject. I was already prepared for that number, so it didn’t depress me as much as the timeline did. Eight years. I’ve been reading lots of author, editor, and agent blogs, so I’ve seen timelines of a couple of years, too. But ballpark, I’d say 4 to 5 years is probably normative.

The reality is that if I’m ever able to quit my job to write full-time, it’ll only be because we’ve pared down our expenses to an absolutely minimum and The Prince makes enough to support both of us. Despite grandiose ideas of bestsellers and movie rights, I will probably never make enough money on my writing to live on it.

I say this not out of depression or discouragement, but just to say this is what it is. If I’m ever lucky enough to be published, that in itself is going to be the big accomplishment, as far as I’m concerned. It’s not going to go beyond that. In all likelihood, any subsequent books I write won’t be published. I’ll still write them, and I’ll still share them. But as far as I’m concerned, I’m shooting for my one chance and if nothing else comes of it, at least I did it once.

[I originally wrote and shared this post in a different forum a few years ago. The Neil Gaiman quote got me thinking about it again, so I thought I’d share it here. It has been slightly edited from the original.]


Prompt progress, week 10

Last Monday was the last workshop session. Bookended between prompts, we filled out an extensive feedback form and then after the break, Robyn passed out copies of the broadsheet — the mini-poster thing that includes a submission from everyone in the session — and then we all signed them in yearbook fashion, round robin style. Lots of fun, and just like the last day of school, except these were all good and talented writers so none of that “stay cool!” nonsense. We also received a regular copy of the broadsheet, as well as copy of their anthology from last year. Reading through it is both inspiring and humbling, both in the very best ways. What an amazing gift this program is to its participants, and in turn to our community.

The first prompt was a warm-up, but we had a little longer than usual — 7 minutes.

Prompts:  trust me                     most of all

“Trust me,” he said, holding out his hand, that mischievous twinkle in his eye almost daring her not to.

This is one of those moments that you read about in books, she thought to herself. The part where it says, ‘little did she know…’

The question was…was her story a tale of grand adventure? Perhaps with a smidge of romance, that happily ever after? Or with this story a tragedy, and this moment the beginning of the end? The literal turning point?

She pondered while he waited, hand still outstretched, and finally said….

Our final prompt was an 8 minute write

Prompts:  in this circle                  the last night

The last night, the house was mostly dark and quiet. No lights, because lights intimate happiness, contentment, and we were neither of those things. Quiet, because what do you say when your family of four is about to become a family of three?

Three and one, really, since sometimes it would be my brother and I and one of them at one place, then my brother and I and the other of them at the other place. More like two and one and one and that makes four. It’s how my brother learned addition and subtraction.

I learned multiplication and division. Multiplication of homes, of beds, of toasters and TV sets and favorite mugs. And later, of family members. Division of mine, of yours, of theirs.

But never ours again.


Prompt progress, week 9

We spent the first half of this week’s workshop doing the exercise that was originally planned for last week. We each picked a piece for review, then paired up and did more extended one-on-one feedback sessions. I chose the last piece I wrote in Week 3. I actually changed my mind about which piece to use at the last minute, but after the terrific feedback I received from my partner, I’m glad I did.

When we came back after the break, Robyn spread out a bunch of pictures on the table for us to look over and then choose from, much as we did in the second exercise of Week 6. She then passed around three envelopes that each had instructions: 1) Take 1 peach colored slip of paper; 2) Take 2 red slips of paper; and 3) Take 1 yellow slip of paper. We were then given the instruction that the main character in our photo (whomever we determined that to be) had to be experiencing/doing the action on the peach slip of paper, interacting with the person on the yellow slip of paper, and feeling/experiencing the emotions on the red slips of paper. From all of that, we had 20 minutes to write a piece that incorporated all of those things.

The picture I chose was of a symphony practice session, taken from just behind a violinist, looking over her shoulder toward the other side of the half-circle of players. You couldn’t see the violinist’s face, obviously, just enough of her instrument to know what it was and enough of the back of her head to assume it was a woman. You also couldn’t see many faces of the other musicians, with the exception of a man sitting across from her who looked to be holding a cello and looking at the conductor. He had longish blonde hair and was wearing green sneakers.

My slips of paper:  peach - “s/he rewrites a letter five different times”; yellow - “her/his closest friend”; red - “elated” and “agitated.

Who invited this conductor? His timing is atrocious, he can’t seem to tell the difference between the violins and the violas, and hasn’t anyone told him that screaming at us in German is pointless?

I’m grumpy, I know. I mean, a better mood wouldn’t make Incompetent German Conductor any less of a moron, but it would make it easier to sit through this session. Having to sit here, right across from Dave…who wouldn’t be agitated? I should’ve thought of that before we started dating, that if we broke up, I’d have to look at his stupid face and his stupid hair and his stupid green shoes all through practice. Look at him over there, acting like he’s paying attention. Like he even speaks German.

Not bad enough that I lost my boyfriend and my best friend all in one go, I had to make practice miserable for myself, too. “Don’t date him,” everyone told me. “It’ll just complicate everything.” But did I listen? Nooooo. Too caught up in the elation of that first kiss. Unexpected, something I didn’t even know I wanted until he kissed me. And then it was all singing birds and endless sunshine.

But then I had to go and write that damn letter and it all went to hell. Five times I rewrote that thing, and it never once occurred to me it would break us up.

We just had a few minutes left after everyone read their pieces, but one of the rules of Prompt is that the workshop stops at 8:30, so if we can fit in another exercise, we will. Which meant that for the next one, we had 45 seconds(!)…

Prompts:  across the bridge                     wait here

Across the bridge is my favorite part of my morning. Encased in clouds, in fog, in damp.


Prompt progress, week 8

[I missed week 7 due to illness, unfortunately.]

After the initial warm-up exercise, Robyn spread out a strange collection of random objects on the table: a thimble, a scrap of colorful cloth, a spool of red thread, a wine cork, a mostly-empty mini Tabasco bottle, a small wire whisk, a small toy fire engine, a small glass bottle, a little Statue of Liberty statue. Other objects, but I remember all of these because they’re the objects we each chose as our inspiration for that exercise. We were first to contemplate the entire miscellany before taking any particular object; as I list them all out now, I realize I could’ve come up with a good little piece about the whole collection instead of a single object.

But we all did choose an object and she gave us two prompts to choose between, as well. I picked the tiny Tabasco bottle. We had 15 minutes for this prompt.

Prompts:  the last time I saw it                    where did you get that

When they were young and still dating, every shared object took on a special significance, a story or a secret joke attached like an invisible tag that read: “Remember that time we…?” or “This is the thing you gave me the first time we….” Consequential things, these objects of unrecognizable value, things that would otherwise end up in a garbage can if not for the strange coincidence of being in the right place at the right time to be saved forever like valued heirlooms. Things that could in fact still end up in the garbage can someday if they ever break up, but it’s been more than 20 years now and that seems less and less likely.

She is rummaging through old boxes looking for something very particular, an object that does have recognizable value, when she comes across the mementos box. The one labeled “Men’s Toes” that itself is an inside joke they share. Inside, the corsage from their prom, the letters that traveled back and forth that one summer, the tiny empty Tabasco bottles she tucked in his coat pocket so he would never be without his favorite condiment whenever they went out. “Meal enhancement,” he called it.

There had been six bottles, all neatly packaged in a small red box. And here they all were, six empty bottles neatly packaged in their small red box. She turned it over in her hand, thinking about him as she studied the box with its worn corners and the small tear in the top flap. Thinking about the significance of these six bottles, priceless in a way that the rarest bottle of wine never could be.

She smiled, tucked the small red box in her pocket, and continued rummaging.

The second half of the workshop was intended to be a critique on a previous piece that we would work on in pairs, but after the initial process, the group decided to postpone that exercise until next week. So instead we did a final exercise using two prompts pulled from an envelope and had seven minutes to write.

Prompts:  In the middle of the road                  In the garden

Every time I look out my dining room window, I feel guilty. Two raised garden beds hold the skeletons of last year’s tomato vines that were never pulled and composted as they should’ve been.

“Should’ve” describes the whole damn garden. We “should’ve” started our seeds sooner. We “should’ve” watered more often. We “should’ve” reseeded after each rotation, and pulled the lettuce when it bolted and thinned the tomato vines down to just three before they took over the entire place.

But we didn’t and we didn’t and we didn’t. And then we started avoiding it like that embarrassing alcoholic uncle that everyone ignores when he drinks too much at family gatherings. Our garden, which had been — “should’ve” been — a source of sustenance and nurturing and pride became, through our neglect, that embarrassing problem we try to ignore.

We’ve been assigned the task of choosing a piece from one of the workshops that will go into a “broadside”, a collection of pieces from each participant in this workshop. I have a few I’m trying to decide between, but if you’ve been reading along as I’ve posted these and want to suggest your favorite, I’m open to suggestions. (Clicking the “prompt workshop” tag below will take you to all the entries related to this workshop, and all the posts with the pieces themselves.)


Prompt progress, week 6

This week involved reusing pieces we’d written in previous weeks in different ways, which I enjoyed greatly. I even felt good enough about all three of my pieces to read them in the group.

The first was a quick warm-up for 5 minutes. We were instructed to flip through our previously-written pieces in our notebooks, semi-randomly choose a page, and write down the last line on that page on a slip of paper. We then passed the slip of paper to the person on our left and the paper we received became the first line of our piece. The person next to me gave me an amazing line to work with.

prompt: Stop breathing breath of fire - breathe breath of clouds

Stop breathing breath of fire - breathe breath of clouds. Breath of wind and effervescent rain, of the distillation of the heavens .

Take a moment, a heartbeat. Think. Be. You are a thing of the stars, borne of the primal ingredients of the universe, and no boundaries can hold you.

For the next exercise, Robyn spread out a couple dozen pictures — almost all of which featured the ocean in some way — and we spent time poring over the various scenes depicted. She then played a soundscape of ocean sounds and instructed us to pick out any picture that particularly spoke to us. She also gave us two prompts if we wanted to use either one. We had 10 minutes for this exercise.

The picture I ended up using was a shot that looked like it was taken from the Seaside Promenade looking south toward the promontory, with the ocean only barely visible past the dunes at the right edge of the photo. The sky was overcast with low clouds, there were only a few people on the Promenade, and in the middle distance, a girl or woman in jeans, sweater, and vest was running toward the water.

prompts: when the tide came in                          on the horizon

She could see something just over the low, grassy dunes. Something that wasn’t right, though she couldn’t make it out from this vantage. It looked like a hill, but smooth and dark, no grass. And anyway, there was only sandy beach over there, no hills, dark or otherwise.

She glanced at the others walking the Promenade with her. None seemed to notice, everyone talking to each other or looking straight ahead instead of at the sea. Sharp wind prickled her face with blown sand, as if to discourage her from investigating. Probably nothing, she thought.

It moved. The hill…moved. She vaulted over the stone balustrade, stumbling as her feet hit the unstable sand. And then she was running and shouting for someone — anyone — to come, to help.

Figures, she thought. The first time I see a whale and it’s going to be a dead one on a beach.

For the last exercise, we picked a previous piece and picked out words or phrases that struck us in some way to form a kind of free-form poem. The poem part wasn’t the exercise, only a step. The idea was to then rework the piece by recycling it into something else entirely using the words we’d pulled out. What was interesting about the exercise was how pulling out certain words could form an entirely different theme or tone than the original piece had, or create a completely different story altogether.

We were given 20 minutes to put together the free form poem part that would become our prompt, and then write the piece itself. And although I loved how mine came out and that it was unquestionably the best one I did all evening, it’s too private to share here, unfortunately. So instead, I’m posting the words I pulled out in a free form poem that became the prompt for my piece.

The original piece I worked from was this one from week 3:

She hates coffee. Always has. Hates not just the taste, but the smell. Sacreligious in a city so reverent about its coffee roasts. Almost tragic, since he is a connoisseur of such things, and it’s a pleasure they can’t share.

But on the rainy mornings when the clouds sit so low that it’s hard to tell whether it’s the beginning of the day or the end, she loves the smell of coffee wafting from the kitchen the most.

It means he will be there, singing tunes from old musicals while he makes oatmeal — or perhaps, if she’s lucky the pancake recipe he created just for her — and their day will start slow and lazy and comforting. She will pad through the rain darkened house, all blue and gray, heading for that cheery yellow rectangle cast through the kitchen door, moving toward that light from death to life. Guided by the light, by the sound of his voice, and by the smell of coffee.

And this is what I pulled out to create a prompt poem (poem prompt?):

almost tragic
a pleasure they can’t share
whether it’s the beginning of the day or the end
rain-darkened house
cheery yellow rectangle
moving toward the light
from death to life
guided by the light


Prompt progress, week 5

Whoops, what happened to Week 4? Well, I wasn’t able to get out of the office in time to make it to last week’s workshop, unfortunately.

This week’s workshop focused on poetry, both as prompts and inspiration. We also had more exercises than we usually do. One in particular brought home how much of writing is about the choices we make: the choice of words, of form, of structure. What to leave in, what to remove, what to change and rearrange.

We were given a paragraph from a writer that we were supposed to redo into an unstructured poetry form, choosing where to break lines and deciding the rhythm. We talked about where we broke the lines, how those choices change the intent/tone/etc. Then we were given the paragraph in its originally written form…a poem.  It was interesting to see where we chose to break lines versus how the original poet did, what we chose to emphasize versus the original.

Poetry isn’t something I spend time writing, although I do enjoy reading it. Which meant this week’s workshop was going to be a challenge for me. I passed on reading almost everything I wrote this week (and consequently, I won’t have a lot to post here). That’s okay, though. It was a great exercise and pushed me to stretch.

One of the exercises was writing haikus. I actually really enjoy writing haikus — who doesn’t, right? — and I do haikus because I’m bored, or my mind is wandering in a meeting, or to pass time in the car. We had eight minutes to write as many as we wanted, but tonight was a struggle. As an option, we were given a grab bag to pull random words out of for inspiration, but my words didn’t help much. Just wasn’t feelin’ it, as Robyn (the facilitator) would say. I wrote three, but just read this one.

Prompts (from the grab bag, although I didn’t end up using these): moving          friendly           free

oppressing grief, numb
underneath, anger scares me
cannot let it out

Robyn told us something interesting during this part. Write Around Portland does work with prison populations, among others, and she said that during a particular workshop she was doing, several of the participants kept getting thrown in solitary confinement, which meant they had their journals taken from them during that time. It was understandably upsetting to to these inmates, both because someone else could be reading their journals, but also because they wouldn’t be able to write while they were in solitary. So she taught them how to do haikus, because you can do haikus in your head and anyone can memorize a haiku. They could write in their heads — something no one could take from them — and when they got out, they’d then be able to write them down in their journals.

I will never think of haikus in the same way.

The exercise for the next piece derived from another poem we read that was originally written in Spanish. We have a member of the group who speaks fluent Spanish so she read both the original and then the translation. The exercise was to use the same format of the poem, or if we preferred prose, we were given two prompts. I did end up using prose, but I think the poetry focus of the workshop was filtering through nonetheless because as I read it aloud, I realized it could’ve been broken out in some kind of unstructured form. So I rewrote it in that form for comparison as I was typing it for this post. Which was an interesting little exercise of its own.

Prompts:  after the storm              in wet earth

After the storm, relief. Violence of elements, an echo of remaking the world, and then stillness when life begins again.

She can feel it, the storm, waiting to break inside her in a tempest, sure to fell trees and flood creation in despair. She holds it back, barely. Afraid to unleash it, yet wanting the release that comes after. If she can survive it, life begins again. In the stillness. After the storm.

in unstructured poetry form:

After the storm,
Violence of elements,
an echo of remaking
the world, and
then stillness when
life begins

She can feel it,
the storm,
waiting to break
inside her in
a tempest,
sure to fell trees
and flood creation in

She holds it back,
Afraid to unleash it,
yet wanting the release
that comes after.
If she can survive it,
life begins

In the stillness.
After the storm.


Prompt progress, week 3

One more catch-up post of previous pieces written during Prompt, with two more pieces from the third week’s workshop to share. Remember that the prompt I chose for each round is bolded.

Before we started the second round from this session, the facilitator played a few minutes of a soundscape type of thing of the sound of rain running down a window and plinking on the roof, with the distant rumble of thunder. As with the index card from the previous week, it served as inspiration to go with the prompts that we were then given.

Prompts:  outside the window                     in the air

I live in a tree fort. Well, technically, I sleep in a tree fort. Well technically, technically, I don’t live in a tree fort at all, but when I’m snuggled in the downy deliciousness of my bed, tucked into the attic eaves of my quaint little house, way up high on its hill, sheltered by trees, and the rain burbles down the glass of my window like a Zen garden fountain, I pretend I’m in the tree fort I never had as a kid.

My husband and I bought this house, bought it and renovated it. Reclaimed it, really, from the well-meant neglect of its previous owners. A house that we saw not as it was, but as it could be. A place that we could make into our sanctuary from the world.

We’ve fixed it up a room at a time, slowly as we could save up the money, as we could fit in a project between competing work schedules, as we could acquire the knowledge we needed to turn us from clueless newbies to expert renovators. Knowledge like: “dry wall is not ‘mostly the same’ as concrete backerboard”, and “a compound miter saw is your friend”.

The attic was the biggest project, although we tackled it far too soon in our acquisition of knowledge. It’s how we learned about the miter saw, actually. Although looking at the interiors of the closets,  clearly not soon enough.

But it’s done and it’s ours, and when I fall asleep at night in my pretend tree fort, I know I am home.

After the second round, the facilitator brought out four spice jars wrapped in paper so we couldn’t see the contents. We passed them around, carefully sniffing each as we opened ourselves to inspiration. After the round was over, we found out that the four bottles contained coffee, allspice (which everyone thought was cloves), mint, and scented detergent.

We only had a few minutes for this one. As with the last prompt, this prompt showed up more indirectly in my piece.

Prompts:  blue smells like                         on the table

She hates coffee. Always has. Hates not just the taste, but the smell. Sacreligious in a city so reverent about its coffee roasts. Almost tragic, since he is a connoisseur of such things, and it’s a pleasure they can’t share.

But on the rainy mornings when the clouds sit so low that it’s hard to tell whether it’s the beginning of the day or the end, she loves the smell of coffee wafting from the kitchen the most.

It means he will be there, singing tunes from old musicals while he makes oatmeal — or perhaps, if she’s lucky the pancake recipe he created just for her — and their day will start slow and lazy and comforting. She will pad through the rain darkened house, all blue and gray, heading for that cheery yellow rectangle cast through the kitchen door, moving toward that light from death to life. Guided by the light, by the sound of his voice, and by the smell of coffee.


Prompt progress, week 2

Okay, so continuing the catch up of pieces written during Prompt, I have two pieces from the second week’s workshop to share. Remember that the prompt I chose for each round is bolded.

This was from the second round of prompts in the session. I can’t remember how long we had to write this round of prompts, but I think it was about eight minutes.

Prompts:  the wind picked up                           at the back of the garage

At the back of the garage, in a box with corners weakened by years of mildew, there are damp and moldy stacks of magazines. They are old enough to earn the moniker “vintage”, though their condition renders them merely trash.

It is not the box, nor the stack of magazines, that gives Billy nightmares, although they feature in his dreams every night. It is what he discovered beneath the pile of magazines, searching for hidden treasure when his stepfather was out long enough for Billy to go exploring without fear of being caught. It was treasure, of a sort, although certainly not the kind of treasure he’d ever envisioned. Not gold, not rubies. Not a stash of candy bars, nor even the girlie magazines his best friend’s older brothers kept hidden in their closet.

He’d dug halfway down when he discovered the hand, cold and crawling with bugs. He yanked his own away, fearing contamination, but then the fascination with abomination that is the particular ailment of young boys compelled him to keep digging. More parts…a foot…a thumb. Bones.

He found the head when the garage door opened.

After the second round, we were given index cards and had a couple of minutes to write down the contents of our bag or purse. Then we passed the card to the person on the left and the card we were given was used as inspiration in conjunction with the next prompts. The card I was given listed: bulging grapefruit, chocolate-stained deposit slip, pink umbrella, an unwrapped rectangle of Dentyne, pen, 3 cashews, folded workshop agenda, cell phone, keys, wallet. I ended up utilizing the pink umbrella in my piece.

I think we had about ten minutes for this prompt. I ended up passing on reading this one to the group, but now I wish I had.

Prompts:  he never left home without                    in her hand

He never left home without the pink umbrella. Not “a”. “The”. As in, “definite”. As in, “definitive”. As in, “the definitive pink umbrella”.

But not his. Hers.

She’d carried it the day she died. Held it in her hand, actually. Crossing the street in a ground-soaking rain, the kind they called toad stranglers back home, but here, such rains were as common as daisies.

He always loved that she chose pink for such a mundane accessory. Not the usual black, nor the brown of the more sophisticated set. But pink. And not dainty, feminine pink, either. Wild, affirming magenta, a live-out-loud sort of color, just like she was.

It came to him with the rest of her effects, what little ther was of them. Her clothes, her few items of jewelry, the silly candy necklace from one of her students that morning, nearly melted away from lying in the rain so long. But not melted away completely, shielded, as it was, by the pink umbrella.

His own umbrella was practical black. Everyday, mundane black. Just like him. Efficient and plain, it did its job without flash or flair. But today, he thought maybe it was time for pink.


Prompt progress, week 1

I’m three weeks in to the ten weeks of the Prompt workshop and enjoying the challenge. And it has been a challenge. Nothing about what we do in the workshop is like my usual process, not to mention the practice of reading my work aloud (to strangers, no less!).

Sharing these quickly written pieces with other people has been interesting. Encouraging, even. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before, but I had the idea this week that I ought to share at least one of my pieces each week here, as well. So I’m going to try to post at least one piece each week from that week’s workshop.

In each session, we do three sets of prompts, each set followed by reading our piece aloud and receiving feedback. We can opt not to read if we wish. The rounds are timed — sometimes only a couple of minutes, sometimes eight or ten, once as long as fifteen minutes. Each round, we’re given two prompts that we can pick from, or choose something else entirely if we’re inspired by something else. For each piece I post here, I’ll explain what that particular exercise round involved and mark the prompt I picked in bold, followed by the piece itself. To catch up, I’ve picked out a few from the previous workshops to share, but to keep the posts manageable, I’ll separate each week into its own post.

Prompt Workshop, Week 1

This was our first set of prompts. The first part of the session was spent in a written “conversation with the person to our left”, in which we couldn’t ask yes/no questions. We then read them aloud as a dialogue. After that, we took a time coming up with our group rules, such as “We will assume the writing is fiction” and “We won’t worry about spelling” and “We will silence our cell phones”.

We didn’t do any kind of round-the-table introduction, so this one served as our intro to each other, through our writing. I think we had six minutes for this round.

Prompts:  My name                          I come from

My name is one of my favorite things about me. Mainly because I got to choose it, and that always gives me a good (and kind of crazy) story to tell. It also used to be very unique, and even though when I was in school, the fad of personalized everything meant there were no pencils with my name to be found on the racks, nor personalized unicorn stickers, I always felt this was an endorsement of my very own unique me-ness.

I’m proud of my name, every letter of it, and i’m proud of my identity, of where I come from. Which is odd, really, since I knew from the time I was very small that I did not want to stay there. The wild, sort-of-but-not-really rugged wilds of Wyoming, so sparsely paopulated and seemingly exotic to everyone who doesn’t live there. It is also something that is innately part of my unique me-ness, a place I’m proud to be from, and love very much in a special secret way that I can only tell in pictures and stories and memories.

I did not belong there — Wyoming does not fit me and I do not fit Wyoming — but I’m better for it, and I’m glad that it loomed so large in my growing-up life. So few can claim to be from Wyoming, and (used to be) so few can claim to have my name…they’ve become my own Venn diagram of identity.


Making a literary life

my writing tools: laptop, headphones (off frame), inspirational space, awesome new Night Owl mug from my husband full to the brim with expensive hot chocolate, and my story journal with notes for Books 1 & 2Writing is a mostly solitary pursuit. It suits me well in that way, but there’s a part of me that craves interaction with other writers, a writer’s circle, people who know and understand what it’s like to wrestle with plot and character, to beat your head against the wall during revision after revision, to lose yourself in the high of a writing groove and know how precious those times are. It’s an aspect of literary life I want for my own.

Tonight was the first step in that direction. For a birthday gift this year, my husband bought me a spot in Prompt, the 10 week writers’ workshop hosted by Write Around Portland. I’ve never participated in a writers’ workshop before so I didn’t know what to expect.

A corner room high up in Powell’s, reached through a secret door up two extra staircases no one but employees ever see. Two walls of tall mullioned windows with an invigorating view of the city. An oval table with mismatched chairs. Twelve strangers, a notebook, a pen. Terrifying. Exciting. Full of possibility.

a new journal bought just for this purpose, with the expensive pen that was a gift from my thoughtful brother-in-law and sister-in-law a few years agoWe didn’t go around the table and introduce ourselves or talk about why we were there or what we do for a living or what kind of books we read. Our facilitator, Robyn, introduced herself and talked a little about philosophy behind the workshop. On a large sheet of paper taped to one of those tall windows, she wrote the rules we decided on as a group: “Listen.” “Give constructive feedback.” “Turn off cell phones.” “Read your words with the conviction that you have a right to write.” “What’s read here, stays here.” A few more.

We did four exercises tonight. We introduced ourselves through our writing in ways that going around the table and giving superficial answers to icebreaker questions can never do. We were entertained and amused and moved and intrigued and blown away. It will be a couple more weeks before we know each other’s names without asking.

We started forming a writer’s circle.