New Dictionary Words!

For my writing exercise today, I challenged myself to write a paragraph using Merriam-Webster’s new dictionary entries:

Mom says she’s hoping my life will turn into a walk-off homer in the 9th inning of my twenties, otherwise I’ll have to revive her broken heart with CPAP.

“You can’t treat life like a duathlon,” she says, “if you’re not even bothering to enter the race.”
“I’m gonna apply for that robocall job, I swear.”
“Not if you don’t get off the couch.” Mom picks up her smart phone and whips up some crowdsourcing for her m-commerce vitamin business. She’s always attached to some sort of electronic device, so I don’t get why she bugs me about wasting time on social media. She tweets more than I do, hoping to sell supplements to parkour participants. Talk about a boring job!

I mean, it’s not like I’m fist-bumping my buddies about being a boomerang child. And Mom’s wrong about me going after the cougars in her book club, but could she blame me? My only relationship is a bromance with an old high school classmate based on our shared fondness for Americana banjo music.

Maybe I’m not doing the most I could with my life. But it’s totally Mom’s fault for being such a helicopter parent!

So what’s your favorite official new word?

Still Collecting Characters…

One of my favorite neighborhood “characters” is a man who walks three little dogs every morning. With his dark shoulder-length hair, bushy beard, and old-fashioned coat, he looks like someone from another era. He should be wandering cobblestone streets in the mist, not dodging early morning sprinklers watering manicured lawns in a dry climate.

Seeing him, I sometimes wonder if there’s a time travel portal hidden among the white vinyl fences in my neighborhood…

But today I saw him walking his three little dogs, wearing shorts–Richard Simmons shorts. Oh, no! It turns out he’s a man from another era alright, but that time is 1980!

Well, at least he can still be a time-traveling nomad in my imagination.

Collecting Characters

Summer vacation is here and that means a break from big chunks of quiet writing time. But that’s okay because I plan to spend the next few weeks researching my next story; it’s easier to squeeze reading between fun activities. But I’m still writing every day.

My challenge: collect 50 characters before school starts.

So far I’ve imagined a Starbuck’s employee’s tumultuous breakup, written a voicy piece about a rebellious teenage couple who actually have a really good relationship, and I stretched myself by seeing things from a too-curious Seeing-Eye puppy-in-training’s point of view (I wish I had a photo of that cutie!). Last week I found a grocery list on the floor of my supermarket and wrote about the woman behind the ingredients. Here’s the list so you can try it too:

Today I plan to write about the teen who wore her zebra snuggie to the pharmacy.

Is it wrong to take sneaky photos of strangers? Maybe. But I guess my friend gave me a “Careful, or I’ll put you in my novel…” tote bag for a reason!

Teen Author Boot Camp

Last Saturday I spent the day with 130 fabulous teen writers at the Teen Author Boot Camp. The teens impressed me with their intelligence and creativity as we busted stereotypes and figured out ways to make believable bad guys and interesting main characters. 

Wanna try it yourself?

• List five stereotypes. How is this character the exact opposite of one of these?
• Think of three actions that will make this character sympathetic.
• Write this character’s history (parents, trauma, etc.). Add the best bits to your story.

Thanks so much to Writers Cubed for organizing a wonderful day! 

Revision Report: Filling Holes

Flashbacks are great, right? Type a few snappy lines and voila–you can move ahead with your story.

Unless, you’ve used those snappy lines to avoid writing a key scene. I do this. In every single manuscript. Every single time I write a manuscript. Why? Key scenes are hard to write, especially when the characters brim with emotion, passion, and tension.
Sometimes writing those scenes makes me crabby.
Today I reached one of those unwritten key scenes. So, I put some towels in the dryer, soaked a few dishes, read a few blog entries, pulled chunks of hair off my shedding dog… And then I turned off the Internet, poured another cup of coffee, turned my music on loud, danced around a bit to Phoenix, pet the cat–and (finally) wrote my main character throwing a big, justifiable fit.
So why did I avoid this powerful scene in the first place? I wish I could say that I’m unfamiliar with the throwing of fits, but that, unfortunately, isn’t true. I think I simply wanted to move on to easier writing.
Key scenes are difficult: you have to dig deep into the character, often looking into the darker, tantrum-throwing parts of yourself. You’re balancing the right tone, character change, growth, opposition, creating and increasing tension… And I usually end up rewriting key scenes numerous times before I get them right.
So what’s my strategy?
1. Make a list of physical sensations your characters might experience.
2. Brainstorm the setting–are there items in the setting that will amp up the tension in the scene? If not, maybe this scene needs a better setting? (Mine did!)
3. Think of a time when you’ve experienced similar emotions. Free write all those emotions, things you said, wish you’d said. Play with a variety of metaphors. Try a few lines in your character’s voice. Don’t judge anything you write, just go and go and go. See if the best bits will fit into your story. If not, at least you’ve gotten to that tension-filled emotional place.
4. Make yourself sit and write. Forget the dishes, the dog, that email that just dinged. It doesn’t have to be a great scene right now. The important thing is to write something, anything…
Because there’s always revision!

Exercise–Yes, That Kind

I’ve written about how I do daily writing exercises, but I also do daily physical exercise–because it’s also good for my writing (and allows me to eat more chocolate).

First of all, I’ve noticed that the people sharing my genetic code who live the longest exercise. I have so many ideas to write about that I’m going to need to grow very old.
But I also get ideas while exercising. High school starts at an unreasonably early hour around here, so I see a lot of teens during my walk. Mostly they’re driving too fast.
But yesterday I spotted a girl–hair beautifully straightened, cute outfit, bright book bag–and let’s just say she was using an unique mode of transportation to get to school. I seriously had to stop myself from saying, “Thank you. You’ll end up in a novel someday.” But she got really, super embarrassed when she saw me. So I just smiled and tried my best not to laugh. I came home and wrote about her immediately.
I also find things when I walk. Today I found two nickels, four pennies, and three screws all bunched together–hmm–but yesterday I found a ski boot buckle and a heart pendant. Aha, I thought, time to buckle down and do what I love best: write.

And then I saw this:

My imagination wouldn’t have combined an open jar of pickles next to the sidewalk. But I’d LOVE to know how it got there, so today I’m using this photo to prompt my daily writing exercise.
See? Exercise–of all kinds–really is good for you! Try it: what’s the deal with these pickles?