A Plethora of Prompts

There are a million reasons why I love my writing group, The Wicked Wordsmiths of the West, – their assorted, wild personalities; the hard work and dedication with which they approach a project; the never-a-dull-moment meetings – but most of all, I love the way they recharge my batteries. Our meetings are once a month, and often fall on a day when I’m having the worst case of Mondays and the idea of staying two and a half hours after work fills me with dread, BUT the second I enter the meeting room, everything changes. These people pep me up and get me excited about writing. Even when I’m feeling like a talentless hack and, like lately, haven’t been able to churn out anything worthwhile… by the time I leave the meeting, I’m racing home to write because I feel the drive and inspiration.

That was especially true in February’s meeting. Three of us presented writing prompt activities that covered a variety of topics but also included an element of fun. Knowing how much those prompt activities helped pull me out of a writing rut, I decided it would be a good idea to share them here and maybe inspire someone else who might be struggling to get their pen moving.

PROMPT #1
This was a short and simple prompt that I presented. It was right after the Oscars, so drawing on that, I had the Wordsmiths construct their Oscar-style acceptance speech for winning Best Book of the Year. Most all of the Wordsmiths have a project that is either close to being ready for publication or a project that they are working continuously on, so the catch was that, in their acceptance speech, besides thanking their family, God, publisher, etc., they also had to draw out details that actually described what their “Best Book of the Year” was about. This helps us be concise when summarizing. Not many of us actually like reading our writing out loud, but this prompt seems to have been the exception. We had quite the mix of hilarious, dramatic readings and those who gave sage advice about writing as an art (that I swear sounded like they could’ve been quoting Neil Gaiman…they were just that good!).

PROMPT #2
This activity came from Stacy Atkins (Check her out over at The Peculiar Cookie). She said that often when rereading some of her work she would find that she would mention a person, place, or thing, but not describe it sufficiently. As an exercise to improve this, Stacy went through dozens of real estate listings (some of which you would never believe to actually be on the market), and she printed off pictures of the houses. These were homes all over the world, in every architectural style, from secluded cabins to thoroughly modern, geometric homes. We randomly selected two photos without looking at them first, and then had 15 minutes per house to come up with a description that would adequately tell the reader all about the house without seeing the picture. For example, here are the two houses I received:

Nice, right? The one on the left was easy because my first thought was that it reminded me of an abandoned library, and really who WOULDN’T want to live in a library? The one on the right, however, proved that I would have to get creative because nowhere in my vocabulary could I find specific terms for Victorian architecture. At the very least, I did compare it to a gingerbread house, but this one was especially challenging. It definitely made for good practice when writing what you don’t actually know. After each person read a description, they would pass around the photo they’d been working from. 99% of the time, I could see the houses vividly in my mind before the photo arrived in my hands.

PROMPT #3
This is our take-home prompt presented to us by Brent McGuffin (go give him a like!), and we have until the next meeting to complete it. I’m rather giddy about just how fun this one sounds. Brent said that some of the requirements he snatched from a newsletter that he receives, and some of them he added himself. Everything listed has to be included in a story that should hopefully come in at around 2,000 words. Here’s the full list if you’d like to try it out yourself:

1. To find the first sentence of your story: Take the third book from the left off of your book shelf. On page forty-two, seventh sentence from the top, is the first sentence of your story. (If it is a blank page, keep going until you find a page with words.)

2. The leftovers in your fridge is what the main character ate for breakfast. (If there are no leftovers, your character has to eat leftover pizza or the most common dish in your world.)

3. The conflict in the story is what is under your bed. If you are one of those organized minimalist people and don’t store anything under your bed, then here’s your other option: your protagonist wants the last item you purchased.

4. Your protagonist is wearing what is hanging in your closet, second item from the right. I will give you another option if you hate what is hanging second from the right. Your character may wear whatever clothes you left on the floor last night. If there are only your white socks that you didn’t put in the clothes hamper on the floor, here is a terry-cloth robe and a pair of pajamas for you.

5. The protagonist’s hair color is the color of your dog, or your cat, or your neighbor’s dog or cat. If both of your neighbors have pets, go with the neighbor on your right.

6. The protagonist will use whatever is in your pockets to win their conflict.

7. Please, please, please use this word at least once in your story, “bacon”. I said, please, please, please, so I didn’t sound so bossy. (To be nice, I will give you a choice of three words to choose from. One of these words has to be in your story.)
a) bacon        b) cat        c) page seventy-four in your dictionary, left hand column, fifth word from the top

8. The Antagonist, the person trying to keep the protagonist from getting what they want, has the same name as the person you had a crush on in second grade. (If you didn’t have a crush on anyone in second grade, use the name of your best friend in second grade.)

9. The location is where you spent your last vacation.

 

10. You will get help to resolve your conflict from a brown paper bag.

There you go! Three different prompts to get you going, now get to it! Happy writing!

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Off the Shelf – A Review of The Sleeper & the Spindle

My first book of 2015 was This is Not a Test  by Courtney Summers, and I vividly remember finishing the book and immediately tossing it across the room in frustration. Just in case I forgot, Timehop decided to remind me.

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I can’t say what in particular made me dislike the book, but I do know that I was disappointed that my new year of new reads kicked off with a dud. I was determined not to let that happen again this year.

At the start of January, I began reading Da Vinci’s Tiger by L. M. Elliott, December’s book from OwlCrate. I made it through the first 60-80 pages, and I’ve had to temporarily set the book aside. The story is somewhat slow and just hasn’t captured me yet, so I began to worry that I would have a repeat of last year. I’m sure Da Vinci’s Tiger is probably wonderful, and I just haven’t given it enough of a shot yet, but I’m not taking any chances. So, I returned it to the nightstand, and I went in search of a guaranteed good read.

I normally stick to reading and reviewing mostly Young Adult books, but occasionally, I may choose one of certain relevance or that Young Adult readers may enjoy – such as this time. It may just be personal bias, but I believe Neil Gaiman transcends most all age groups and genres. So, while The Sleeper and the Spindle may look like an ordinary picture book, just one look inside can tell you that it is much, much more.

sleeper“Learning how to be strong, to feel her own emotions and not another’s, had been hard; but once you learned the trick of it, you did not forget.”

Continue reading Off the Shelf – A Review of The Sleeper & the Spindle

Safe to Say

It’s safe to say that I’m perhaps the worst blogger in the history of blogging. It always seems to happen that I’ll think of something I should post about, and then life immediately gets in the way. What have I been up to lately?

1. I started grad school! – Huzzah! It’s well overdue, but I finally made the leap and started classes this fall. I’m almost to midterm now, and it’s certainly been an adjustment getting back into the swing of things. I’m taking all online classes through the University of Kentucky for my Master’s in Library and Information Science.

2. I bought a house! – What an adventure this has been… I’ve dreamed of owning my grandparents’ home since I was a child, and a few months ago I was finally presented with this chance. I jumped on it. It’s still a dream come true, but it is in need of so much TLC. Renters certainly have not been kind to it, so there are tons of repairs and remodeling, most of which we (my other half, Joffree, and me) are doing ourselves. It’s definitely an ongoing project.

3. Spellbound Scribblers – A short story blog maintained by myself and my two best buds and fellow librarians. Last month got a little hectic between house/grad school, but I’m looking forward to getting back to regular posting with these two talented writers. Check it out HERE.

4. Anthology #2 – The Wicked Wordsmiths of the West published our second anthology last month, Stories from the Stacks. All short stories are related to libraries in some way, and I have two stories published in this one – “Saturday Librarians” and “A Novel Change”. It’s available in Kindle and paperback HERE.

And so now we are here, the start of October, with November and NaNoWriMo looming just over the horizon. A little while back, I was browsing through some old files on my computer and located an outline for a book I’d always wanted to write. It was surprisingly good, and so it’s been sticking in the back of my head that maybe just maybe I could use it for NaNo. Sure, it’s probably insane to even be considering participating in NaNoWriMo this year between the house and grad school, but this will make my fourth year. I can’t break the chain now. This year I am fortunate enough to have a co-ML to help in the planning and implementing of write-ins, so I figure that’s a plus. And, if I don’t want to use the outline I’ve been dwelling on, I can always be a NaNo rebel and write a collection of short stories, which also sounds like something right up my alley. I can do it, right? Right?!  Nothing seems to motivate me more than overwhelming amounts of pressure. *sigh* Here goes nothing…

NaNoWriMo Fail… or is it?

Oh November, you cruel mistress. Teasing me with just how easy 50,000 words should flow from my fingertips, and then hitting me with one distraction after another. Needless to say, we are in the last week of National Novel Writing Month, and I am severely behind.

Just like everyone else, I had a good start to the month. Fresh idea, a decent outline, and plenty of write-ins planned for the month. Best of all? I took a vacation the first full week of November. Well, for me personally, that was the best part of the month. For my writing, ehhhhhh… Let’s just say I didn’t get as much done as I thought I would.

This. Was. Glorious.

This. Was. Glorious.

The beginning of the week was spent in Red River Gorge, KY, in a beautiful cabin in the woods. I woke up our first morning there, determined to write. There was rain echoing off the tin roof, I was still in my pajamas, and the recliner couldn’t have been comfier. Quickly, I knocked out a thousand words, jumping headfirst into the story. I was feeling pretty good about myself, and then, just as suddenly as it started, the rain stopped. The weather clearing, my wanderlust took over.

Natural Bridge
So really, could you blame me? Who wants to stay behind a computer screen when the view is this nice?

We spent the day hiking up to and around the Natural Bridge. It’s a gorgeous sight to see if you’re ever in the area. It’s even better if, once you’ve finished hiking for the day, you can return to your private cabin in the woods and soak in a fabulous hot tub surrounded by nature. Why yes, it was the dream vacation.

We spent the rest of the week seeing the Bengals play (horribly) in Cinci for Thursday Night Football, and then we were back to Lexington for a few days to spend time with a friend and check out some local breweries. Words weren’t made, but memories were, and that’s really what counts.

Once I was back in town, I was determined to get back down to the NaNo business. I’ve hosted write-ins on every Monday this month, as well as having our Kick Off on the 1st and our Halfway There on the 15th. Our Mad Dash End of the Month Sprint is just a few days away on the 29th. And where am I? Less than 15k. No, that’s not less than 15k from the finish line. That’s less than 15k total.

So what happened? I guess a lot of things factor in. I hit a depressive streak that I’ve struggled to pull myself out of. I’ve dealt with several stressful scenarios in my personal life this month. And generally, it was just hard to even get time in front of a computer, let alone put words on the mockingly empty screen. But the BIGGEST factor? I care about this novel. You might say, “So? You SHOULD care about what you’re writing!” Yes, very true. But I care to the point where I’m scared to rush it.

My first NaNoWriMo novel, as I’ve likely mentioned before, was a steaming pile of poop. Why? Because I didn’t really care about what I was writing. Sure, I thought the idea was pretty cool, and I had some fun characters to play around with, but I knew the whole time I was writing it that it wasn’t going to add up to anything even worth editing. So, I didn’t. It’s gone untouched for years, a hot pile of word vomit just tucked away in my hard drive. But this year? I love the idea for this story. I love how it originated, I identify with the characters on a personal level, and I’ve put a lot of myself into the words I’ve managed to wrestle out. And you know what? They aren’t all that bad! Sure, there are places where I really need to go back and fine tune the details, but overall – I’m happy with the direction it’s going.

So maybe this one isn’t meant to be finished in 30 days. Maybe I shouldn’t rush it. Finish it, for sure, but don’t rush it. Do it the justice that it deserves. I’ll continue to peck away at my word count, but without 50k being the goal point (Besides, this is honestly a story best told in about 100k). Don’t they have some saying about slow and steady winning the race? Yeah, that’s me. Let’s just not time this race.

In other news, I have entered the NYC Midnight Short Story Competition as a further motivator to actually finish something. How does the competition work?

“There are 3 rounds of competition.  In the 1st Round (January 16-24, 2015), writers are placed randomly in heats and are assigned a genre, subject, and character assignment.  Writers have 8 days to write an original story no longer than 2,500 words.  The judges choose a top 5 in each heat to advance to the 2nd Round (March 12-15, 2015) where writers receive new assignments, only this time they have just 3 days to write a 2,000 word (maximum) short story.  Judges choose finalists from the 2nd Round to advance to the 3rd and final round of the competition where writers are challenged to write a 1,500 word (maximum) story in just 24 hours (April 24-25, 2015).  A panel of judges review the final round stories and overall winners are selected.”

To me, it’s worthwhile even if I go out in the first round because I’ll still receive helpful criticism from the judges. From what I’ve read, a lot of people vouch for how constructive the judges have been with their comments. I’ll give it a shot, as I tend to be more comfortable with cranking out short stories rather than whole novels. Here’s hoping for the best, as I could certainly use a confidence booster with my writing right now.

If only I could count this thousand word blog post into my NaNo word count. *sigh*

A Wicked Signing

My First Signing

I’m a bit behind in making this post, but it has taken me quite awhile to put into words how I feel about the signing. In short, I am still in awe. On October 14th, the Wicked Wordsmiths had their first ever book signing for Wicked Words. A local bookstore hosted the event, and it was a success, to say the least.

I won’t lie, in the days leading up to the signing, I started having my doubts about how many people would show up. It was entirely possible that it could only be our mothers, fathers, and significant others. We’re just a small, local writing group… we shouldn’t expect a crowd, should we? As it turns out, the supporters showed up in droves. For an hour and a half, there was a constant line of readers making their way along the table to visit with each author. Of course, the mothers, fathers, and significant others were there. In fact, my father was the first person in line (adorable). But on top of that, there were people that showed up that didn’t have any prior connections to any of the W3 group, and THAT was what truly shocked us. It’s amazing to know that we managed to write this anthology, jumped headfirst into publishing it despite our nervousness, and that there are people out there that want to share in what we created. AMAZING. We can’t thank everyone enough for their support.

Wicked Wordsmiths of the West

I am beyond proud of this group. Wicked Words was definitely a learning experience for us all, and I think it has given us the drive to continue doing bigger and better things, including our own individual WIPs and more anthologies for the group. I know that personally, I now want to strive even harder to finish the book that’s been running wild in my mind and bring it to fruition by seeking publication. Publishing the anthology has done wonders for proving to me that I CAN do this, and I certainly won’t be losing that motivation any time soon. Especially not since we continue to receive promotion from the press. There have been several local news articles published regarding the anthology, and next week, a few of us will also be interviewed on a cable access show that reaches about 37,000 homes daily. Pretty sweet stuff, if you ask me.

Cabell Standard

We’ve also been invited back for another signing in participation with Small Business Saturday, which is extremely exciting, especially when you factor in that some big names like Craig Johnson and Marie Manilla are also in talks of attending. With November less than a week away, we Wicked Wordsmiths have had to shift our focus to our participation in NaNoWriMo, but we will continue to be grateful for all the opportunities and learning experiences that Wicked Words has given to us.  This also certainly won’t be our last anthology.

Oh, and for anyone wondering, why yes… I did end up signing my own book. Sometimes, you just need to give yourself a reminder.

Wicked Words

While writing my bio for the Wicked Wordsmith anthology, I realized two things:
#1 – I need a more professional twitter account with less “colorful” language than my personal account. Thus, you can now find me @JulianneTillis
#2 – If I’m going to list my blog in my bio, I might want to actually start posting on a more regular basis. So, here we are!

I started a writing group about three years ago after my first NaNoWriMo experience. The Huntington region at the time did not have a ML, and so I unofficially took over and found a core group of local writers to participate in the write ins during November. At the end of NaNoWriMo that year, we’d all enjoyed the camaraderie so much that we wanted to make our meet-ups a regular occurrence. Wicked Wordsmiths of the West was born, and have met every month for the past three years to discuss all aspects of our craft and participate in creative prompts and activities. At the beginning of this year, we had the wild idea to start working on an anthology. A loose goal of a collection of creepy stories in time for Halloween was set, and we began drafting all varieties of horror. It has definitely come down to crunch time, but I think we’ve just about got it! Our cover release happened just the other day, and I’m pretty excited about it:

The cover for our first anthology - due out October 1st!

The cover for our first anthology – due out October 1st!

The photo in the bottom left corner happens to relate to my short story, “Flesh and Blood”, which you can read when Wicked Words is released October 1st. It will be available in both paperback and kindle format through Amazon, and I will be sure to post the link as soon as it’s available. For anyone who happens to be in the Huntington, WV area though, we will be having an in-person signing and release party October 14th at Empire Books and News in the Pullman Plaza. Hope to see you there!

Oh, and don’t forget to like the Wicked Wordsmiths of the West page on Facebook to keep up with all of our updates!