I got in the Halloween spirit a little early this year. Yesterday, I was tweeting about Readers Imbibing Peril. It starts the first of September, but I always forget until October. So in one way I’m early by only starting a couple weeks late. This year’s group book is The Sundial by Shirley Jackson. I started reading it just after watching the first episode of the new season of Slasher and something was oddly familiar. I think I’ll finish the book and then see if Slasher really is mangling it. I haven’t picked any other scary books to read this season yet, but I do have a bunch of thrillers on my kindle. Readers Imbibing Peril also has a fun photo challenge this year and a BINGO card. Oh, so much Halloween fun!
I also went through a list of the top 200 horror movies of all time on Rotten Tomatoes and made lists of movies I haven’t seen yet that looked interesting, or at least were famous, and movies I want to watch again. I would have to watch two or three a day (don’t have time for that). But at least I won’t have to search for something to watch for a while.
Usually for #Writober, I create a collection of images on Pinterest and challenge myself, and you who want to join me, to write a piece of flash fiction inspired by the image each day of October. The first and second years I actually came away with some finished flash fiction. The last few years I haven’t gotten much past a one or two sentence microfiction each day. This year, since my focus is revision, I thought I might choose about six of my favorite microfictions from previous years and expand them into flash and or short stories. I think Ray Bradbury’s schedule of a story a week is much more doable than a story a day, especially when I’m doing OctPoWriMo as well and writing a poem a day.
So that was the working plan for #Writober, but then I saw A. M. Moscoso’s Halloween Prompt Challenge over at MY ENDURING BONES and those all look like fun. So now, the working plan is to go through the last five #Writobers and pick my favorites to revise and turn into stories, and to pick some prompts from the Halloween Prompt Challenge to write new stories to, too.
When I went to Pinterest to link to last year’s images, I noticed I had been collecting images for this year, so I filled up a folder for #Writober6 in no particular order for you to pick and choose from when you’re in need of inspiration. Since I’ll be going back through all the #Writobers to find my favorites, here are links to each of the collections:
Jacob M. Appel is an American author, poet, bioethicist, physician, lawyer and social critic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Education at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, where he is Director of Ethics Education in Psychiatry. He is also the author of four literary novels, nine short story collections, an essay collection, a cozy mystery, a thriller, a volume of poems and a compendium of medical dilemmas.
Vision and Revision
Once I had the pleasure of chatting with a well-known sculptor whose preferred medium was marble—and I couldn’t resist asking her what happened if she made a mistake. I had expected her to respond with an earnest observation about the planning required to prevent such a calamity: measuring with calipers, modeling in plaster, etc. Instead, she laughed and replied, “Why do you think the Venus de Milo is missing her arms?”
Fortunately, writing is far more forgiving. A loose plot line can always be tightened or a more original rhyme found to end a stanza. Would-be authors are taught early on that Hemingway wrote forty-seven different endings to A Farewell to Arms and Fitzgerald continued to revise The Great Gatsby even after it had been typeset, that Auden had the audacity to alter “September 1, 1939” after publication and Moore grappled with the text of “Poetry” for five decades. In contrast, writers publicly (although falsely) believed to eschew revision—Jack Kerouac, Frank O’Hara—are often derided accordingly. One can still hear the disdain of Capote’s quip about Kerouac, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”
In modern western culture, and particularly in the United States, revision has claimed a hallowed position. Nearly every writing course I have encountered incorporates an emphasis upon revision, a belief that multiple drafts are essential to the writing process. Maybe this reflects the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, or the Edisonian notion that genius is 99% perspiration. Unfortunately, many aspiring writers take the wrong message from these lessons. It is certainly true that revision has a valuable place in the writing process. However, that does not mean that vision isn’t also necessary. Nor does it mean that, just because great works require revision, revision necessarily leads to great works.
Grace Paley frequently observed that she did her best writing in the bathtub. Her point was not, of course, that she had to worry about getting soap suds on her writing pad. Rather, she was suggesting that she thought through her stories in depth before she put pen to paper. Having a sense of where you are going in advance helps you get there—both in life and on the page. Anyone who has ever planned family vacations with young children surely knows this: It is far wiser to book a hotel room at Disneyland or Yellowstone prior to departure than to hop into the station wagon and drive until one finds an appealing destination. For John Wayne and a few inveterate literary explorers, the open road may be alluring. For many writers, it is the sure path to hours before a blank computer screen. That is not to say that a writer cannot change paths or make discoveries as she writes—for the creative mind, that is inevitable. But choosing the Goldilocks moment to transfer words from one’s soul to one’s hand—not too soon, not too late—is one of the skills that separates the skilled writer from the amateur. And, fortunately, it can be cultivated.
I urge my students to take time to reflect upon what they want to say, and how, long before they consider saying it. It is easier to erase a sentence in one’s mind than on one’s parchment. (There are a few exceptions, like Dostoevsky, who managed to weave his revisions and even his mistakes seamlessly into his prose without any undoing.) Either Will Rogers or Head & Shoulders once warned: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That is as much true regarding the impression you make upon yourself as the impression that you make upon others. Once you’ve committed yourself to a word or idea in print, you’ve often moored yourself to a particular course. Needless to say, there are limits to how much one should wait before setting down your internal epics. As either Aristotle or Voltaire or my Great Aunt Sadie once warned, “Don’t make the perfect an enemy of the good.” But the good, thought through in advance, can prove the mortal foe of the mediocre.
The fetishization of revision often leads writers to forget one of the craft’s most important principles: Quit while you’re behind. I firmly believe that anyone with the passion and commitment can write valuable and inspiring poetry or fiction. Yet that does not mean that every particular poem or story can be transformed into a work of value and inspiration. Sometimes, the materials themselves don’t cohere: the author had chosen the wrong structure or genre for this particular idea or the underlying plot simply isn’t compelling; other times, the material is worthwhile but the author is at the wrong point in her journey to share it most effectively. Knowing whether a story or poem is working is a talent. But recognizing whether a story or poem can work is a far more crucial skill.
So how does one know whether a story or poem can work? One question to ask is whether, as you are writing, you find yourself with too many or too few ingredients. An analogy I often share with my students is self-assembling an exercise bicycle—inevitably, one of life’s greatest challenges. If you try multiple times and find yourself with excess parts and wheels that don’t spin, or too few parts and a hollow pole for a seat, you might consider repackaging and returning to the supplier. The same is true with writing. Sometimes, the pieces just don’t fit together. Accept that. Move on. Live to fight another day. I say this as a writer who has spent thousands of hours writing manuscripts that should have been scrapped after fifteen minutes. Revision is often necessary, but it is rarely sufficient. No writer wants to be lauded as a “revisionary.”
It has become a trope in creative writing to place original drafts and revisions of famous works side by side to admire the radical changes imposed by the authors between drafts. That is often a rewarding exercise. But I exhort students that they should admire the vision of the original as well. Exceptions do exist: The Ray Carver-Gordon Lish Complex, for instance. (Editor Gordon Lish is often credited with line editing Carver’s stories to create the spare, crystalline prose we now know as Carveresque.) Yet it is usually the magic of the original draft that still enchants in the final form.
Revision, in other words, is an essential tool—but it shouldn’t be a crutch. I am very wary of writers who plan on revisions at the outset, of students who assure me, “I’ll fix that later.” To my thinking, that is like planning for a second marriage at your first wedding. The responsibility of the writer is to get it right the first time. And then, in the revision, to get it even righter.
In April of this year I learned about Sky Awareness Week. I was looking up an occasion to write about for a poetry prompt, so I went to the National Days site and found I was in the midst of Sky Awareness Week and after laughing, a lot, imagining people that needed to be made aware of the sky, I learned that one important activity of Sky Awareness Week is taking a blanket or mat into the yard, lying on one’s back and practicing Nephelococcygia: the act of seeking and finding shapes in clouds. And listen to the word: it’s music.
I bring this up because over at the dVerse Poets Pub, Merril presented a line from a great poem called “Clouds” by Constance Urdang as the line to be included in a short bit of prose. I’ve never participated in Prosery before, but I loved the prompt, so I’ll give it a try.
A gentle breeze comes, and the gray that has been smoke for days, breaks to blue rivulets between fluffy clouds. And I break for some needed nephelococcygia. But these clouds are clearly foreign, such an exotic clutter against the blue cloth of the sky. All I see are faces: an alien with huge eyes and a bulbous head, bubbling off the horizon, observing the firs and the lake; a cartoon professor with crazy eyebrows, nose pointing to my right over his wide lips, stretches to the alien’s right; overhead, an angry smiley face and a detailed sneak with a foamy, twisty beard. All these strange faces, remind me of the weeks after Katrina, after relocating, when I kept seeing friends’ faces on strangers. Wanting, needing the familiar so badly. And like those strangers, who only resembled friends from a distance, the cloud faces change.
Because I’m focusing on revision this year, I want to bring you along as I attempt to revise my work and improve my revision process. Hopefully, we can all improve together.
I found a call for submissions that I think one of my stories will fit perfectly, so I’m starting with it. For once, I have plenty of time; the deadline isn’t until May. This is one of my longer short stories and I worked on it for a long time. I have edited and submitted it in the past, but after rejections set it aside. Now, with this anthology call as a goal, I thought it would be a great piece to put through Cat Rambo’s revision class and use as an example for my own revision process.
First, I printed it out (double spaced, Times New Roman, double sided pages to not waste paper).
Then I read it aloud, trying not to stop for notes, but making some notes.
Then I stopped. I hated it. It wasn’t the great story I remembered. It wasn’t what I wanted it to be.
I came back and finished reading it aloud, but had to walk away.
I was disappointed and had no intention of figuring out how to fix it.
I searched the internet for what to do when you hate your story.
It helped to know that most writers go through this. And happily, I think I’m getting to the other side of the I hate everything phase. What was the magic fix? As usual, there wasn’t one. The answer was time and work. I kept going back to Cat Rambo’s class and trying to get myself to do each revision pass on my story. Finally something clicked, and since then things have kept clicking. Here’s what has worked so far:
My Short Story Revision
1.Major cuts: The first thing that had to change is I went into a flashback way too soon. Though the backstory in that flashback is important to the story, I plan to only use the most important parts and pepper them in later, so for now, I cut the flashback completely.
2. The Character and Dialogue focus: After cutting the flashback, it became clear that one of my two characters was less developed and it was the character I introduced first. To fix this, I journaled about his life before the story, his wants and needs and rather quickly got to know him and his story arc. Then I went through the story and found places where I could add character development.
My characters are opposites in every way, so I want each character to have a distinct voice. I journaled for a while about what would influence their style and word choice, exploring such things as education, socialization, family life, etc. I also decided that both of my characters needed new names, so I did a little research.
3. Setting focus: While exploring my character, I decided that he has a biology degree and works in a Garden center. He would have knowledge of the local flora that would impact the story. This made the specific setting more important. In the first draft, the setting could have been any river in any forest in North America, but after doing some research, I have now set my story in Northwestern California and have specific plants and trees for my characters to interact with.
At this point my draft is so marked up, I can’t read it. I’m going to sit down with all my notes and write a brand new draft from scratch. Hopefully my next read through won’t lead to me saying, “I hate this,” but something closer to, “this has potential.”
It’s the last day of OctPoWriMo. Thank you, Morgan Dragonwillow, for hosting and for your inspiring prompts. Thank you to everyone who participated for your camaraderie and sharing your poetry.
It was a productive and creative month. I’m very excited about finally making the step in my exploration of klecksography to draw on my inkblots and write my poems on the inkblot page. I’ve wanted to get to that point for a long time. I’m also excited to continue exploring my new poetry form Tappswave and see where it takes me.
For my final poem, I’m going to try an idea I had over a year ago. When I read (amazon associate link) Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, I was intrigued by his numbered poems in which the top half of the page had numbers typed in space as if notes or labels to the unseen and then those numbers were footnoted. The spacing of the numbers made me think of markers at a crime scene which led me to create my own crime scene photos with the intent to make poems that go with. I hope you will see what I mean below.
Into the Night 1. howling and yowling pull me from my bed into the moonlight 2. tufts of fur, ripped and torn bring worries of death 3. Don’t look up. I hold my breath as my ankle painfully turns 4. rustling leaves bare nerves aware I am not alone 5. on high alert, I do not turn around, but hurry, limping into the shadows
micro-story : When TV preacher Pat Robertson made his prediction I laughed and laughed. Watching Cthulhu rise from the waves in the light of a nuclear explosion, I have to ask myself: Whose laughing now?
Here we are. The insanity begins tomorrow. The time has flown by and though I am probably more prepared than I have ever been, I still don’t feel ready at all.
Tonight, my region is doing a costumed countdown to midnight. Since I doubt I’ll have any trick-or-treaters, and I’m not going anywhere, it’ll be nice to have an online Halloween with fellow writers.
For my final prep, I mowed the lawns and went to the Grocery Outlet where I stocked up on Amy’s frozen meals and a huge bag of coffee beans. This evening I plan to clean the bathrooms and vacuum, so I can start with a cleaner house.
One thing I learned throughout Nano Prep this month is putting my plans in these posts really helps me get things done, so here are my goals for the first week of NaNoWrimo:
Wake up early and go straight to my notebook for morning pages
butt in seat in office by 9:30 a.m.
take daily walks
I still haven’t decided what I’ll do here on this site during NaNoWriMo. I don’t plan on doing intensive daily posts like I have in the past. I want to get to my draft and write, but I also want to check in here.
What would you like to see on Experience Writing during NaNoWriMo?
I was thinking a daily photograph and something I find inspiring, motivational, or surprising while I’m writing. Other ideas?
Here’s hoping we all write great novels and have a lot of fun doing it.
Today’s prompt inspired a new bokeh filter and photography project. I used wire and tape to create “tracks” on a square-cut bokeh filter. Then I put lights over paintings in my office to put those tracks into and through spaces where no tracks had been before.
micro-story : When he began his experiments with black holes, the excitement of small discoveries, publishing and proving his theories, may have blinded him to the big picture. Now, staring into the powerful void of his creation, he knew the heart-wrenching horror of playing God.
She faces threats with effort and courage defends creative space from distraction two choices arrive of equal value
Wishing balance, she refuses to act until a unique solution guides her as waters rise, she leaves comfort behind
Instinct, an ally, leads toward challenges this new world is not as she imagined unpredictable and tempestuous
but pushing through rewards with abundance the journey back is restful and quiet resurrected the fool, wide-eyed, renewed
beginning fresh, energized with passion facing hope with a lucky, shiny coin
For today’s visual prompt, I chose this image of a woman on a cliff by a mausoleum
micro-story : When I had insomnia, I would often climb the hill just before sunrise. I enjoyed the creepy lone mausoleum on the outcropping, slowly emerging from the morning mist, otherworldly, full of mystery. These chilly daybreaks had become my ritual, so her first appearance was jarring, a trespass. At first, I believed my sleeplessness and the slanted light played tricks on me, but she lingered and I realized the trespass was mine.
yearning for power over fear of the unknown chant into the night
ancient recipes to command earth’s forces and fight the unseen
something from nothing symbols of knowledge reveal the boundary torn
For today’s visual prompt, I chose this image by Anton Semenov
micro-story : Mikey had tricked the guardian into opening the portal to the depths of nightmares. He was starting to regret trapping his little brother down there. If he couldn’t bring him back, Mom was going to kill him.
Forms Yesterday, we were challenged to create our own form. I got a start on it, but needed more time to play around with my ideas. I knew I wanted to incorporate internal rhyme and repetition with slight variation.
I wanted the form to reflect my daily interaction with my environment, so here it is, the Tappswave form:
The Tappswave is made of one or more eight line stanzas. The eight lines are couplets of sensation then reaction that repeat with variation. Each couplet has its own rules of rhyme and rhythm.
Lines one and two: Observation and attention like light shining on the water.
Line one: specifically describe a sensory experience my example An odd sharp chirp came from my plum tree Line two: memory or emotional response my example making me think of children shooting laser-guns
Lines three and four: Choppy, all one and two syllable words, like a cluster of small waves.
Line three: Expand on the sensory experience of line one, include internal perfect and familial rhyme to the last word of line one. I believed the tease or plea was a bird high on a branch unseen Line four: memory or emotional response to line three with internal perfect and familial rhyme to the last word of line two. the alarm bell rung, damage done when I was young
Lines five and six: Show what’s underneath the surface. Use words that rhyme with fish or types of fish for the internal rhymes.
Line five: Reveal a revelation about the sensory detail in line one. At last my search reveals the perp on his perch Line six: memory or emotional response to line five. and I’ll pass on the sass of this non-bird’s wrath
Lines seven and eight: Reflection and refraction/ ebb and flow
Line seven: Line two slightly changed to show reflection That laser-gun battle rages on Line eight: Line one with a slight change An odd sharp chirp from my plum tree
If I chose to write another stanza, I would start with a related but different specific sensory detail and explore it through the pattern of the eight lines.
My first Tappswave poem
Searching Out the New Sound
An odd sharp chirp came from my plum tree making me think of children shooting laser-guns I believed the tease or plea was a bird on a high branch unseen but the sound an alarm bell rung, damage done when I was young At last my search reveals the perp on his perch and I’ll pass on the sass of this non-bird’s wrath The nerve-shredding laser-gun battle rages on as an odd sharp chirp from my plum tree
For today’s visual prompt, I chose this image that was hanging on my friend’s wall.
micro-story : She had always been told she had statuesque beauty. Once she had a fully integrated neural implant, she spent all of her time in the virtual world. Feeling no attachment to her gangly limbs any longer, she decided to fully embrace that beauty.
Read for inspiration and craft
Horror flash fiction story “Shedding” by Deborah Sheldon