Mother Writers

reading

Well, in a week I’ll be finished with my last design project for a while. This won’t be a complete sabbatical, since I’ll design some stuff for my Etsy shop, I’m sure, but it is a break from commissioned work, which is rewarding, but also very, very time- and brain-consuming.

I’m also giving birth in the next month(ish), so that will take up quite a bit of time and brain power. However, I would like to take this opportunity to get back to writing, even if it’s slow going.

How & when do mothers write?

That’s something I’m trying to figure out. Apparently there’s a book on the subject? (If you’ve got tips, please share.) The more I read about writers, the more I see a pattern—if they are women, they aren’t publishing while raising very small children. But I think they are still writing and reading, and I should be writing and reading, too, even with a toddler, puppy, and soon-to-be howling, hungry infant.

The baby steps are these:

  1. Read one literary novel each month
  2. Read short fiction and poetry once a week
  3. Create and execute one writing assignment biweekly or weekly
  4. Finish one poem or flash fiction piece per month

Eventually, the idea is I’ll get up to writing 1,000 words per day (excluding blogging and status updates), and then work my way up to 2,000 words per day.

That last one could take about ten years, or until the last of our brood is of school-age. We are well on our way to becoming brunette, American Weasleys over here.

Read one literary novel per month

I’ve got a book club going, and we are working through the Newbery (US) and Carnegie (UK) Medal Winners for juvenile fiction. They are short, simple reads that are deemed literary by librarians. Good place to start.

Read short fiction and poetry each week

The idea is to get as many contemporary voices into my head as possible. The Newbery and Carnegie medals are awarded each year, so 90% of the winners aren’t contemporary writers. I probably won’t blog on these a bunch, because that will soak up my writing time, but I’ll post recommended readings (what I liked) to my Facebook page. Feel free to share your own recommended readings for short fiction and poetry there, too! I’ll also post recommended readings on my blog under the Reading and Poetry tabs. (I just added one there this morning—check out Amy McCann’s “Human Climate” via Revolver)

Writing assignments and finishing poems

In an attempt to write more poetry and short fiction, I’ll be posting weekly or biweekly writing assignments here on the blog and then completing them for myself. The idea is that by the end of the month, I’ll have at least one I can turn into something more polished. I’m calling these short assignments “Fifteen Blinks,” the idea being that, whether the piece yields poetry or prose, you could read it in about 3 minutes.

If you want to join me on these assignments, please let me know! If I know other people are participating, I’m much more likely to stick to it and keep generating writing exercises. It’s an accountability thing.

I honestly have no idea what day of the week I’ll be posting Fifteen Blinks. Mondays I’m going to try to devote to motivational works and Author Chats. It’s going to be irregular at best, so your best bet is to subscribe to WriteLaraWrite via email (see right column for sign up) or follow me on Facebook.

Short Fiction vs Novels AND ALSO…Setting

First, a little bit about my background. Then, the difference between Short Stories and Novels. Last, a word about writing setting, and why it’s more important than I thought. Skip around if you want. I won’t be offended.

my writing background

If you’d asked me as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have had one of three answers: 1) goalie in the NHL, 2) marine biologist, or 3) actress.

1—I grew up in the desert of Colorado and none of my friends wanted to play street hockey with me.

2—As a child I was deathly afraid of whales. They still totally creep me out.

3—Seemed most viable.

Problem was, this tiny little town I grew up in had very little culture, very few opportunities for me to pursue theater until it was introduced in 8th grade as an elective. Until that point, I read Shakespeare and wrote my own scripts. Writing was a means to an end.

My eighth grade year, my school also finally included a creative writing elective. It wasn’t much, but it was my first real instruction in writing, and it was short stories. I learned that writing could be its own reward.

I continued taking creative writing in high school and decided to major in writing in college (my grandparents, who helped me pay my tuition at this private liberal arts university, forbade me from majoring in the arts. Writing I got away with because I could train as a technical writer). Halfway through my junior year, I changed my major to a combination of writing and graphic design. That choice meant I had to give up some writing classes, and one that I gave up was “Writing of Place.”

I thought it was a good choice at the time. When reading, I usually skimmed or completely skipped paragraphs of exposition, unless I REALLY liked the book and was determined to read every. single. word. Setting seemed secondary to the rest of the novel. Who wants to read twelve paragraphs about how undulating the hilly landscape is? Not I.

Sometimes I just wished that all books were illustrated…

When writing skits or plays, I don’t have to write setting—I can write a line or two and leave the rest to the set designer. Setting was an afterthought.

I have a problem few others share. Most writers write too much and then have to edit, edit, edit, edit to trim the fat. I write a skeleton of a story and then revise and revise to give it some more fat.

So it comes as no surprise that, when I decided to try NaNoWriMo a few year’s back, I got about 3,000 words into my novel and realized that I was about halfway through the plot. That’s not a novel. That’s a pathetic, anemic excuse for a novel. I learned then that a novel is in a completely different league than short stories (not to mention plays).

the difference between novels and short fiction

First, there’s a difference in length.

  • Length—Novels are longest, novellas are shorter, and short stories are shortest. See the numbers below for my recommendations. For more information, check out this post on Novel-Writing-Help.com
    • Novel                  80,000–100K words
    • Novella               20,000–50,000 words
    • Short Fiction    2,500–10,000 words
    • Flash Fiction     fewer than 1,000 words

With all those extra words, novels have more room to explore…more.

There’s a difference in scope.

  • CHARACTERS—Short stories usually focus on one or two characters. Novels often introduce a larger cast of protagonists, antagonists, secondary characters, and minor characters.
  • PLOT—Novels have longer, more complex plots. Short stories have to be simpler than novels because of the length constraint. However, I think there’s more freedom with short stories because they have a selective plot. Making Shapely Fiction is a great resource on the variety of “shapes” short fiction can take.
  • SETTING—Novels take you to more places, switch scenes more often, or stay in one place through more seasons.

And there’s a difference in depth.

  • CHARACTERS—Novels can explore depth of character in more words. But this can be a pitfall, because it tempts writers to spend far too much time in backstory. Feel free to get carried away during the drafting process, but kill, kill, kill! during revision
  • PLOT—Novels have plots, subplots and twists to keep the reader turning pages. Short stories usually focus on one plot line.
  • SETTING—A more generous word count means novels spend more time exploring setting. 

setting

Too much setting, and the reader’s eyes glaze over and they skip a few paragraphs. Too little setting, and you have a novel that no one can connect with because all they can visualize is a bunch of nobodies floating around in nothingness doing nothing. Unless you are Samuel Beckett writing Waiting for Godot, it’s not going to work. In fact, I think that Waiting for Godot is a waste of ink.

You really don’t want to know what I know about writing setting because…I really have no idea what I’m doing yet. But the best resource I have yet found on the subject is “Four Ways to Bring Settings to Life” by Moira Allen. You can read it here. Yes, the website isn’t the prettiest, but the text is what is important.

practice

So here’s your Monday Motivation.

  1. Take a character you know fairly well. Your WIP’s protagonist, your favorite fictional character, yourself, etc.
  2. Choose a mood for your character. Angstful? Annoyed? Embarrassed? Lonely? Something else?
  3. Pick a setting/situation and place your character in it.
  4. What is happening? How does your character react? What does your character notice? Keep his or her mood in mind—how we feel influences what we see and what we do.
  5. Write until you feel satisfied that you learned something or challenged yourself.