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Posts Tagged ‘Online Writing’

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“Today, my boy, I’ll give you your last lesson. I am getting old and frail; my health is no longer what it used to be even 80 years back; it’s time for me to move on. You want to say something? You have my leave to speak.”

“But where would you go, roshi? Isn’t this the only Sanctuary in the entire world? Why would you want to leave this magnificent mountain, with only snow leopards and eagles to keep us company?”

“What do you know of the world or beyond it, boy?”

“Whatever you taught me, roshi.”

“What I taught you is but a speck of dust on this great mountain. Don’t you fancy yourself a sage. Remember, you know nothing. But enough of idle talk. Brace yourself for your last lesson. Almost half a century has passed since you entered the Sanctuary as a brainless youngling. Half a century of hard work and learning the secrets that most mortals consider either lost or never in existence. Half a century of isolation and solitude… save for the company of this old fool… So let’s get to work. I’ll give you my final secret recipe that you must learn and you’ll be ordained to become the Great Master yourself. But first I must see what you are made of.”

“Yes, roshi. I am ready.”

“So you think, boy, so you think… Now, take a dash of the blackroot powder. Not that! The other box with a human skull on it. Right. Then add a few drops of the mountain toad venom. Slowly, don’t spill it. Very well. Now take a pinch of dragon grass and a viper’s egg, and don’t forget a good measure of snow leopard scat. Mix it all well. Good… Now you must read the incantation I taught you when the moon was full. Don’t look at me as if you have no clue what I am talking about. Just do it, or I’ll read it myself… Whisper, you oaf! You don’t have to shout it at the top of your voice for the whole world to hear…”

Roshi?”

“Yes?”

“What’s the recipe for?”

“Just give me the vial. Didn’t I tell you I am an old fool? Of course I forgot to tell you what it is. Nothing much. Just a recipe for disaster. As soon as it touches the rocks at the foot of the great mountain, it will bring about great suffering upon this world. But you needn’t worry, boy, for you’ll be spared.”

“Oh, no! Why would you do such a despicable thing, roshi?! Come to your senses I beg!”

But the one called roshi, a desiccated mushroom of a man, with a long white beard and gnarled limbs, left this heartfelt plea unanswered. He sprinted with the agility of a young cougar – in contrast with his withered appearance – and was already stooped over the room’s only window that opened up a vast panorama of a jagged mountain range, snowy tops blazing in the sun, an eagle soaring up high in the azure sky.

Holding the corked vial with the potion in his left hand, the old man reached out, unclasped his gnarled fingers and unleashed the vial on the unsuspecting world. At this very moment, his apprentice flung himself at the window, like a flash of lightning, and dove headlong into the cool air. The Great Master must have gone mad, but I can still catch the vial, he thought plummeting toward the earth, cutting through freezing air like a hot knife through butter, his cloak flapping violently in his wake. He could see the vial; he could reach it… There! He caught it and squeezed it in his half frozen palms, then shut his eyes so as not to see the sullen visage of rocks below barreling toward him. In a matter of seconds his body will become one with the somber landscape. And what about the evil potion? I can’t allow it to touch the rocks and obliterate the world! If only the Great Master taught me the magic of flight! If only I had wings!

At which moment his free fall slowed down and finally came to a halt, when his face nearly touched a massive boulder at the foot of the mountain. From this vantage point, it didn’t look as despondent as from above, covered with cheerful green moss and all. Still hovering over the rocks, the apprentice whirled himself out of his topsy-turvy attitude, and began to ascend, spiraling higher and higher, as if on a pair of invisible wings. And as he  took in the resplendent views around him, reveling in his newly acquired ability, he turned his gaze to the top of the great mountain, where the Great Master, still looking no bigger than a horsefly from down below, was bursting in paroxysms of hilarity.

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Photo credit: Mait Jüriado (Creative Commons)

Have you ever killed a story? A story that you are trying to tell. I bet you are thinking, why on earth would I want to kill my story? Really, WHY? Yet, many people do that every day. They write their stories (articles, news releases, novels, reports, essays, blog posts etc.) and kill them on the spot.

There are so many ways to kill a piece of writing, it would take a book to discuss all the killing implements and methods. But the most common one is death by drowning. Drowning in verbiage.

Guess, how I know that. Correct. Guilty as charged. 🙂 My excuse is, or rather, was – I tend to overwrite. In the creative writing course I am currently taking, my weekly assignments are limited to 500 words, and sometimes 250 per piece. Up until now the very idea of a word count limit in creative writing made me cringe, because like many beginners I mistook verbosity for eloquence.

From discussions with my classmates, I gathered that most of them were also wrestling with the word count limit. So I decided that “overwriting” wasn’t such a big deal and my pieces were fine. Then I read a comment from another classmate who said,”I am actually enjoying the challenge of the word count.  I am finding that the word count pressures me into finding the “best” word possible.  Additionally, I suspect that it mirrors how writing for publication in the real world works!

That little comment hit home and got me thinking. I re-read what I’d written and found that my stories were not that interesting after all. They lacked panache. They were ridden with run-on sentences and wordiness, and I’d exceeded the word count limit before bringing the story to its conclusion. So, I re-wrote my pieces cutting ruthlessly everything that didn’t add to the story or the character and found better words and metaphors. Doing just that improved the flow and made the narrative a lot more entertaining and dramatic.

As I am not ready yet to share my pieces here, I thought I’d share a short short story that our instructor posted on the discussion board, to demonstrate how much can be said with fewer words. Enjoy!

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CRAZY GLUE
by Etgar Keret (700 words)

She said, “Don’t touch that.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s glue,” she said. “Special glue. The best kind.”

“What did you buy it for?”

“Because I need it,” she said. “A lot of things around here need gluing.”

“Nothing around here needs gluing,” I said. “I wish I understood why you buy all this stuff.”

“For the same reason I married you,” she murmured. “To help pass the time.”

I didn’t want to fight, so I kept quiet, and so did she.

“Is it any good, this glue?” I asked. She showed me the picture on the box, with this guy hanging upside-down from the ceiling.

“No glue can really make a person stick like that,” I said. “They just took the picture upside-down. They must have put a light fixture on the floor.” I took the box from her and peered at it. “And there, look at the window. They didn’t even bother to hang the blinds the other way. They’re upside-down, if he’s really standing on the ceiling. Look,” I said again, pointing to the window. She didn’t look.

“It’s 8 already,” I said. “I’ve got to run.” I picked up my briefcase and kissed her on the cheek. “I’ll be back pretty late. I’m working –”

“Overtime,” she said. “Yes, I know.”

I called Abby from the office.

“I can’t make it today,” I said. “I’ve got to get home early.”

“Why?” Abby asked. “Something happen?”

“No . . . I mean, maybe. I think she suspects something.”

There was a long silence. I could hear Abby’s breathing on the other end.

“I don’t see why you stay with her,” she whispered. “You never do anything together. You don’t even fight. I’ll never understand it.” There was a pause, and then she repeated, “I wish I understood.” She was crying.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Abby. Listen, someone just came in,” I lied. “I’ve got to hang up. I’ll come over tomorrow. I promise. We’ll talk about everything then.”

I got home early. I said “Hi” as I walked in, but there was no reply. I went through all the rooms in the house. She wasn’t in any of them. On the kitchen table I found the tube of glue, completely empty. I tried to move one of the chairs, to sit down. It didn’t budge. I tried again. Not an inch. She’d glued it to the floor. The fridge wouldn’t open. She’d glued it shut. I didn’t understand what was happening, what would make her do such a thing. I didn’t know where she was. I went into the living room to call her mother’s. I couldn’t lift the receiver; she’d glued that too. I kicked the table and almost broke my toe.

And then I heard her laughing. It was coming from somewhere above me. I looked up, and there she was, standing barefoot on the living-room ceiling.

I stared open-mouthed. When I found my voice I could only ask, “What the hell . . . are you out of your mind?”

She didn’t answer, just smiled. Her smile seemed so natural, with her hanging upside-down like that, as if her lips were just stretching on their own by the sheer force of gravity.

“Don’t worry, I’ll get you down,” I said, hurrying to the shelf and grabbing the largest books. I made a tower of encyclopedia volumes and clambered on top of the pile.

“This may hurt a little,” I said, trying to keep my balance. She went on smiling. I pulled as hard as I could, but nothing happened. Carefully, I climbed down.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll get the neighbors or something. I’ll go next door and call for help.”

“Fine,” she laughed. “I’m not going anywhere.”

I laughed too. She was so pretty, and so incongruous, hanging upside-down from the ceiling that way. With her long hair dangling downwards, and her breasts molded like two perfect teardrops under her white T-shirt. So pretty. I climbed back up onto the pile of books and kissed her. I felt her tongue on mine. The books tumbled out from under my feet, but I stayed floating in midair, hanging just from her lips.

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“… the first step toward being a writer is to hitch your unconscious mind to your writing arm.” Dorothea Brande

First, please allow me to explain what morning pages are. In a nutshell, it’s a form of premeditated self-torture — of a sophisticated kind, mind you — for refined individuals like you and me. That is if you look at it from a psychological point of view, because the scribbling of morning pages occurs, as the name suggests, in the morning, first thing after you get out of bed. You wake up 15 -30 minutes earlier than your normal routine (in my case it happens to be 5 am), drag yourself to your kitchen table or your desk, whichever is nearest, and scribble away for 15 minutes while still half asleep. From a technical point of view, it’s free-writing at its finest – as free of inhibition (and sometimes intelligent thought), as a nudist is free of clothes on a nudist beach.

Why not call it journaling then, you might ask. Because there is one significant difference between morning pages and a journal. With the journal, there is no limitation as to when you can write in it. The morning pages, however, must be done in a zombie-like limbo state, before your waking mind hijacks your full attention, and your inner critic starts punching you in the face and kicking you in the butt. Your main objective in this pre-dawn ordeal is to keep your hand moving across the page for a set period of time, writing anything that is not complete nonsense.

Like in free-writing, you write whatever comes to mind, as fast as you can, without giving it too much thought, and you, or your inner critic, are not allowed to correct. That’s why my MPs look like notes of a mental patient. I don’t know about other morning scribblers, but I am never able to decipher what I’ve written afterward. And that works just fine, because you are not supposed to read what you’ve written anyway, at least for several days. But even after several days, I am not inclined to read my MPs, lest I lose heart and  claim those extra minutes of sleep. All I read is usually the title of the previous page. Today it happens to be “Day 59.” Tomorrow, the title will be “Day 60.” No need for dates or re-reads. It’s all about the journey, not the destination. Perhaps, that’s the best way for me to keep my overactive critical faculty at bay, at least for a short while.

Another rule with MPs that will make you scream is regularity, meaning you are supposed to write your MPs every day seven days a week. I break this rule every once in a while. So what? Do I look like a superwoman to you? I didn’t think so. But writing MPs for 59 days, almost straight, is an accomplishment I am proud of.

By now you must be pretty intrigued. You must also be thinking I am obsessive-compulsive or downright crazy, otherwise WHY on earth would I do it? Well, crazy can’t even begin to describe it. My psychiatrist said… Gotcha! 🙂 Actually, contrary to common sense, writing MPs helps me maintain emotional balance. It is also partially responsible for this blog and my creative writing pursuit.  My morning page challenge convinced me that MPs are a powerful inspiration machine, a perpetuum mobile of creativity. Try it and see it for yourself. The trick is to stay with the challenge for more than 35 days straight, 40 to be sure. It may vary for different folks though. Some say it takes 21-28 days to form a new habit, while others say the magic number is 66. I say 40 days, because this is when I began to feel the effect.  Before the MP challenge, I would sit at my desk, staring at a blank page and asking myself,”What should I write about?” Now, my question is “What should I write about first?” Before, I couldn’t drag myself to my computer to write and would come up with all kinds of excuses, like the need to do the dishes right this moment, or walk the dogs, or make dinner. Now I have to curb the time I spend writing, because dishes need to be done, the dogs walked, and dinner made.

Of course, writing MPs alone won’t make you a new Chekhov or Proust. Not right away. But it will help you establish a habit that you will be thankful for for the rest of your life as a writer, artist, and a creative person.

Just to make one thing clear before I wrap it up. As you might rightfully suspect, I didn’t come up with the idea of morning pages myself, and I resisted it for quite some time. I made three attempts at it over several years, but each time I would quit after seven days of writing MPs. I’ve learned from my mistakes and finally found the format that works for me: I do it in longhand, there are no computers involved, because when I use a computer I tend to re-read and correct what I’ve written. I also write no more than 15 minutes on weekdays, because I don’t want to be late for work, and a little longer on weekends.

Three books that gave me this wonderful crazy idea:

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge

And if you are a morning scribbler yourself, I would love to hear about your experience.

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