3 Lessons on Writing from the Past Several Months

For the first time, probably in my life, I have actually begun to write out of habit. Granted, sometimes I have to take a break from writing, which I did over the holidays. But what really matters is that I’ve begun to write regularly. In the past I’ve challenged myself during the summer and over the holiday breaks to write five-hundred or even a thousand words a day, but that goal never lasted more than a week or two. It felt good then, but I didn’t feel like I had to write every day. The habit wasn’t part of me.

But now, now something is different. If I don’t write something every day, even something that no one sees but me, I feel off, incomplete somehow. Recently I wrote two paragraphs that I intended to turn into a flash fiction story. I don’t know if it will actually happen, but I wrote two paragraphs, because I needed to do so. And today, I wrote a poem, partly because I wanted to, but also because I had to write. So I wrote about how I was feeling. I wrote.

For some writers, this may seem pretty mundane, not an achievement to celebrate to this degree. But the truth of it is, I took words, I fashioned them into a form that is unique to me, I made them into something new that hadn’t existed before I opened my notebook to write. Even typing out these words now is therapeutic.

As such, I’d like to share a few thoughts on writing that have been percolating in my brain.

1. It is okay, even necessary, to take time to write just for yourself.

I’ve been blogging consistently for a two years now. I know the euphoric sensation that rushes through you when you get a like or a comment on the blog post you just published. In some ways (and I hate to admit this, but it’s true) I live for that sensation. I feel fulfilled and recognized. Writing has the potential to do that for people.

But sometimes, you need to write just because you’re a writer and that’s what you do. You need to get words onto the page, even if no one sees them. You don’t have to get a bunch of WordPress likes to be a writer.

2. Creating a habit doesn’t have to be difficult.

What I mean is, you can build a habit based on a very small goal. Writers often have the notion (and I’m including myself here) that the habit of writing is a big deal, that to make a habit involves some sort of self-denial and a big goal. That’s not true. You can make a habit out of writing 100, even 50 words a day, or every other day. That’s super easy. It’s a great starting point, and once you’ve proved to yourself that you can in fact write, you’ll be able to write much more. I can accomplish something with greater ease when I know that I can do it.

3. The bathroom is a great place to come up with ideas.

I know this sounds kind of weird, but it’s true. At work, sometime I’ll take a break and go to the bathroom, and while I’m sitting there, an idea hits me. Or two, or three. And not just small ideas either: the other day, totally out of the blue, I came up with a solution to a plot problem that‘s been bothering me for a long time. I have this idea for a book of short stories about a collection of magical antiques in an antique store, but I couldn’t come up with a plausible way for the stories to be told in the first place. But today, in the bathroom, I figured it out.

So basically, spend some time in the bathroom and you might just come up with some great ideas.

Let me know your thoughts on this! I’d love to hear them. 🙂

~H

P.S. I’m way behind on my Storystorm list. The ideas just aren’t coming to me like I expected they would…

Story for Throwback Thursday #39

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash.

I wrote this story almost nine years ago for a class on children’s literature. This story was inspired by an exercise we did, involving sets of cards with characters, locations, and objects. I was a freshman in college then and didn’t know what kind of thing I wanted to write or how to write it. 

Once upon a time, on an island called the Isle of Somnys, there lived a boy who was heir to the magic of butterflies. His name was Sam. His father was the greatest Keeper since his great-grandfather, and he alone held the secrets of the magic. This magic protected the whole Isle and kept the forgotten dreams and remnants of nightmares where they belonged. But one day, long ago, evil infested the Isle of Somnys. A strange and deadly Slime began to feed on the dreams and bits of nightmare and suck the life of the island away. It fed on the flesh of anything that touched it. And so the island began to fade. But Sam was ready to be a Keeper like his father.

At the same time there lived a girl in a pleasant house in a pleasant town. Her family loved her and everything was nice and normal. But it wasn’t enough. Her family loved her, and she loved them, even her brother Robert who had recently gotten married. But ordinary everyday love wasn’t enough either. And that is where it all began.

It started on a day of rain, when long rivulets seemed to melt the window glass and everything was relentlessly grey. Luna Lytle sat curled up in a ball in one corner of the old armchair in the kitchen. She twisted one of her brown braids around her fingers, gazing absently out the kitchen window. Rain had been falling nearly all week and it was growing decidedly boring. Beyond boring. And another thing: Rob wasn’t there. Of course he hadn’t been there for months now—was it really almost nine?—but she still hadn’t grown used to his absence. Not that I mind Marie, she told herself. But Rob’s my brother, after all. I wish he would come back.

“I wish Rob would come back,” she said aloud, breaking the relative quiet of the kitchen. Her mother, right in the middle of preparing pot roast, only half-heard her.

“What, Lu?”

“Rob. I wish he were here.”

“Darling, so do I. Very much.” Her mother looked up briefly and caught Luna’s eyes. A half-sad smile tugged at her lips.

Luna sighed. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she went on, not really expecting her mother to listen but talking all the same. “Discontentment I suppose. But I’m not sure. I’m not really sure of anything anymore. I mean, I love you and Dad and Rob and all, but I feel like there ought to be more. I know there is. But where?”

Her mother set the pot of roast down on the stovetop with a satisfying clunk. “Honey, what a question. I’m afraid I can’t answer you either. You have to find it for yourself. And you will, I’m sure of it.” Turning the gas down she turned to the oven. Aromas of blackberry pie drifted out.

Luna ignored them. “But how do you know?”

“How do I know? Because I asked the same question when I was your age. And I did find it.”

Luna’s father materialized in the door way, smelling the warm air hungrily. “Dinner ready yet? You’re positively killing me with beautiful smells, Jenny. I hope you know that.” He sidled over to the counter and gently brushed the strands of hair from her face.

“So I do,” she replied, sneaking a kiss at him from the side. “Well, it’s ready now. Is the table set?”

It was. They sat down.

After dinner the rain was still streaming down the windows in torrents, so instead of going out on the roof garden Luna wandered out to the living room. Though the day was grey the stained glass windows here still glowed. Luna loved these windows. I’m going to have stained glass windows in my own house when I grow up, she’d told herself since she was five. The next best thing about them was that they kept going. There were some at the end of the long third-floor corridor and even one or two in the spare room at that end.

Luna’s feet led her there now. Not looking where she was going she wandered through the living room, up the wide winding oak staircase to the second floor and then to the third.

Her parents’ voices faded away. It was very quiet up here. Luna heard the strange almost purring noise silence makes when it’s been undisturbed for a while. The third floor was like that. She and her parents—and Rob, when he was there, but that was long ago now—all slept on the second floor and used the third one mainly for guest rooms and other infrequent uses.

Today the purring was even louder. Luna meandered down the corridor to the room at the end. The door creaked. A thin coating of dust lay on the door knob.

This room was so quiet and yet it wasn’t. It made goosebumps rise on her skin. But the silence was not the only thing that did it.

On the south wall two long high stained glass windows shone timidly bright. But there was a third. A third?

Luna blinked dumbfounded a few times and stared. Yes. There it was. And what a window! Its many panes shone with the colors of a monarch butterfly: black, orange, white. Luna gasped. Her footsteps were painfully hollow on the floor. Her fingers outstretched to touch the glass. The silence grew louder.

As her fingers brushed the gorgeous panes a sudden thrumming filled the room. It’s the storm, she assured her speeding heartbeat. It must have broken again. The glass seemed to melt together with the rain.

No. It wasn’t the rain. The colors were melting onto her hands.

Suddenly there was a tremendous crash. Something reached out and enveloped Luna in a powerful embrace. She couldn’t breathe. Black wings and orange glass and copper sparks flew past her.

Blinded and gasping she felt herself land on something that poked and rustled. Leaves. Branches thick with crisp leaves. What? Then complete darkness fell.

*

Out of the corner of his eye Sam noticed the coppery sun sinking lower over the hills, but he kept running. The butterfly was always just ahead of him.

It seemed like hours ago that the butterfly had fluttered out of the Observatory beyond the reach of either him or his father. He saw his father’s startled face in his mind. The loss of a butterfly, especially a monarch, meant the magic was incomplete. It was missing a part. If he did not catch it soon, he didn’t know what might happen, but it wouldn’t be good. I must catch it, I must, he whispered breathlessly. I’ve got to. Come on, you. Stop. Stop!

His feet pounded the brackeny ground and it was all he could do to keep from tripping. Already he had a number of scratches from where vines and briars had snapped at him. He took his eyes off the fluttering creature for a moment to see how far he had run.
His breath caught. The woods before him were grey. That could only mean…the Slime would be lurking there. But he had to go on.

The butterfly swooped a few times, cavorting in midair like a whirligig, then entered the grey woods. Sam ran on into the dimness, his heart pounding as hard as his feet. He saw the butterfly land on a rock.

Silently, slowly, he crept up. He clenched the net in his hands. Closer… closer…

With a swift thwop he brought the net down. But the thing slipped out.

“No!”

Then a hiss sounded from the ground.

Underneath the rock, overturned when Sam hit it with the net, the Slime had gathered. It thickened and brooded in itself until now it oozed from the once darkness. Hissing it curled and writhed in the dead leaves. Sam leapt back. His foot caught on a dead log. He fell straight back, his eyes wide. His hands plunged into—

Slime. It lay beneath the overturned log and underneath him. With a cry of pain and anger Sam struggled up, but the Slime clung to his hands. Sam felt his strength ebbing, his life flowing into the Slime, making it stronger, more powerful…suddenly he could barely move his own limbs. The Slime was taking control of them.

Painfully, agonizingly, he staggered to the brook and plunged his burning hands in the water. The Slime hissed in anger, then slowly peeled off and sank to the bottom.

Sam gasped. It was over. He could move again. He saw the butterfly bobbing a little ways away…

Crash!

With dripping hands Sam jerked around. A little ways away lay a heap of what looked like—clothing. And hair. And a hand flung out in the dirt.

Quietly he picked his way through the brush. It was a girl. He bent down, peering curiously at her face, or what he could see of it. She was slightly freckled and fair-skinned, and her hair, as he had thought, was braided in two thick brown plaits. Her arm, resting lightly on the dead leaves, was cut and dirty.

Sam didn’t speak. He knelt silently at the girl’s head, watching her. His hands still stung, but that wasn’t important anymore. He didn’t move.

Suddenly the girl’s eyes flickered, her hand stirred, and she tried to sit up. Sam sprung to her side. He slipped an arm behind her back.

“What—what happened?” she gasped. “Who are you?” She stood indignantly, and swayed.

“Steady, steady,” said Sam, catching her. “Sam. I’m Sam. Who are you?”

“My name’s Luna. Where am I? Why are your hands like that?”

Sam looked down at his hands. They looked dead. He hadn’t noticed them since he plunged them in the stream. The pain suddenly came back. He glanced at the ground a little ways away, then looked back at Luna. “We have to get out of here. You’ll have to follow me. I can’t take your hand. It hurts too much.”

He was about to trudge off. The monarch appeared in front of him. It landed on his right hand.

“Luna,” he whispered. “Stay. Watch.”

A stream of magic flowed into his skin. Luna stared, mesmerized. The thing flickered and beat its wings for a moment, then lifted and moved to his other hand. The flesh of his right was perfectly alive and well again. Like nothing had ever happened.

*

Sam burst in at the door of the House. “Father, come quick! Where are you?”

“Here, Sam! What is it?” He strode in from the corridor leading off to the Observatory.

“The Slime is spreading,” Sam announced. “I fell in some. And I found—her. Luna, her name is.” He looked at Luna. She squirmed under his gaze.

His father turned away a moment. His brows contracted and he seemed to withdraw inside himself. But he turned abruptly round again.

“Welcome, Luna, my dear. What happened to you? Your arms…” He took one of them gently, then let her go and touched his son’s shoulder. “Sam, come with me. Luna, go into the kitchen. My wife will take care of you.” He urged her off.

“Sam, what is this?” his father asked as soon as they entered his great study at the back of the house. “The slime is spreading? How do you know? Where did you see it?”

“I chased the butterfly into the woods, father. I tried to catch it with the net, but I overturned a rock… and the Slime lay beneath it. Then I fell into a patch of it…and then I found Luna.”

“The Slime has spread far,” said Bill gravely. “Very far. That means…the dreams and nightmares are growing thicker. There are more of them than ever before.”

“What can we do, father?”

“The only thing we can do, Sam. Send out the butterflies. Only they can destroy the Slime. And you and I will lead them.”

“But what about Luna?”

“She will stay with us. I cannot investigate her appearance now. There isn’t time. We must go tomorrow.”

*

Sam and his father stood at the edge of the grey woods. A swarm of butterflies followed them, fluttering and circling and filling the misty air with silver sparks of magic. Ahead of them the wood loomed dark.

“Come, Sam,” Bill said.

The butterflies teemed ahead of them as they entered the wood. With a swift motion of his hand Bill sent a flock of them toward the bed of leaves where Sam had fallen. They descended on the Slime. He sent another group hurtling towards the rocks. Another he sent farther into the trees.

“Sam! Send more!” he called to Sam.

The boy cast both his palms to the swarm. Two large groups of flickering creatures flew off. Then two more. And two more.  Everywhere rocks were being overturned, leaves cast up, and fallen bits of branches swept aside. Hissing sounded on every side. The Slime was being vanquished. The greyness began to disappear. Green returned to the grass, the trees, everything.

“Sam!”

Luna’s voice. Sam twisted around.

“Luna! You shouldn’t be here! Go!”

“No! You’re my friend! I am not going!”

He left the swarm. His hands glowed with the magic pulsing through them. He took Luna’s cold ones.

“Listen to me…”

“No, I won’t! You’re the only friend I’ve got! You’re the best friend I’ve ever known!”

Sam grinned. “What?”

“Yes!” Luna shouted. “You are! You are! I’m not going!”

Sam squeezed her hands hard for a second, then let go. “All right, then. Stay. Only don’t come any closer. I don’t know where the Slime may still be hiding, and if you touched any…” His face grew dark. He bit his lip. “Well…if you did…I’d miss you. I’ve never had a friend like you either.” He stared hard at his feet. Then he met Luna’s eyes with his own grey ones. The flecks of green stood out more than ever.  “So stay away!” He ran back.

The Slime had extended farther than either of them imagined. Swarm after swarm of butterflies they sent wheeling to destroy the Slime, but it kept appearing. Bits of nightmare floated about, dark and ragged like distorted bats. Sam’s magic was weakening. Once or twice he narrowly avoided stepping in Slime.

“Sam! Go!” Bill shouted. “I don’t want anything to happen to you!”

“No, I’m staying!” Sam called back. “I can do this!”

He sent a group of monarchs veering toward the largest patch of Slime, but stumbled. He caught himself against a tree. Bill hurried toward him. Sam cast another cluster veering away. But those were not enough. There was too much of It.

Suddenly the Slime uncurled Itself from the ground and reared up in the boy’s face. He ran straight into it. He could not stop himself.

“NO!”

Luna, watching from a distance away, saw him fall. She took off running, unheeding Bill’s cry of warning. She fell to her knees beside him.

The Slime was gone. The butterflies had finally destroyed It. Bill stood breathing heavily beside Luna. Sam’s skin was grey.

“Sam! You told me not to get hurt, and now look what you’ve done!” Luna cried. “Stupid!”

“I told him…” said Bill. “I told him to go. He would not listen to me.”

Sam gasped. His eyes were heavy. Sweat beaded his forehead. His curly hair was filled with dirt.

“No, I didn’t, father,” he said. A grin spread across his face. “But we did it. We destroyed the Slime.” He gasped again. “Luna…”

“Oh, Mr. Vistica, can we do anything for him?”

“The butterflies, Luna. The butterflies.” Bill looked around. A flock of monarchs fluttered nearby. With a swift gesture he called them. They came.

In one movement they descended on Sam. They covered his face and his hands, his arms, his chest. Fluttering and flickering they settled. Magic flowed from them. The wood was filled with glowing sparks of black and orange and copper. Green returned to the trees and grass. A fresh breeze ruffled Sam’s hair. It lifted Luna’s now undone braids. She watched, entranced. The flickering of wings drew her in. She could not look away. Her vision was filled with the colors of monarchs.

*

She landed on hard wood somewhere with a loud thump. It was the floor of the extra room at the end of the hall. Cool smoothness met her fingertips. The air, instead of breezy, was close and dusty. The stained-glass window, the one with the colors of monarchs, was still there.

Luna sat stunned. She was back. She had been gone for days and days. Her parents must be terrified by now. And of course Rob would know.

But the window gleamed before her. It had really happened. Sam was out there somewhere. She had had a best friend for a little time.

“Will I ever see him again?” she asked the empty room.

Suddenly she jumped up and fled down the stairs, leaving the monarch window behind.

Her parents were sitting where they had been, in the living room. A lazy newspaper lay in her father’s lap. Her mother clicked knitting needles quietly. Obviously they were not worrying.

“Dad! Mom!” She burst into the room, her cheeks flushed, panting.  “What? Aren’t you worried? I’ve been gone for—for days!”

“No you haven’t.” A voice came from the other end of the room. It was Rob.

“ROB!” Luna flung herself on him. “What are you doing here? When did you get here? Oh, Rob, oh Rob!”

*

Luna couldn’t sleep that night. The next day, riding the noisy bus to school, she stared out the window. The earth was unnaturally green after the rain. Sunlight streamed from behind the last of the clouds. It almost looked like the Isle of Somnys. Except—it wasn’t.

Luna slipped into her seat in the back row. The back of the head in front of her—she had never seen it before. He must be new.

Something about the hair made her breath catch in her throat. It looked like Sam’s hair. It curled just like his. Luna’s heart pounded. She had to stop thinking about it all. She could never get any schoolwork done this way.

The teacher walked to the front of the classroom.

“Good morning, people,” she said, smiling the same smile Luna saw every day. “Before we start, I want to introduce a new student to you.” She gestured to the boy in front of Luna. “He’s just moved from—I forget where you said it was, Sam.”

That name. It couldn’t be. Luna clenched the side of her seat, not daring to hope…

The boy stood up. “You wouldn’t know it. Let’s just say—it’s pretty far away.”

And he turned around.

A huge grin spread over his whole face. His curly hair brushed the collar of his white shirt at the neck. A pair of grey eyes flecked with green twinkled at Luna.

Then he sat down.

No could understand afterward how they could possibly become friends so quickly. But they did. And they were friends for a very, very long time.

 

The End

 

~H

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinquain: The Basement #micropoetry #5lines #poetry #CinquainPoetry

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash.

Inspired by Colleen’s Tanka Tuesday prompt.

 

Serene

This atmosphere

With its attendant chill;

Aged voices call from boxes stored

Away.

 

~H

Cinquain: Coyotes

Photo by Ihor Malytskyi on Unsplash.

Inspired by Colleen’s Tanka Tuesday Poetry Challenge #159 and Eugi’s Weekly Prompt.

 

Laughter

Echoes from throats

Furred, greedy, exultant

In their kill, making the listeners

Tremble.

 

~H

Flash Fiction for Weekend Writing Prompt #139–The Runaway

Photo by Francesco Ungaro from Pexels.

Trying to get back into the swing of writing with a little flash fiction today. Thanks to Sammi Cox for inspiration.

108 words

Exhausted and shivering, I devoured the hunk of bread and cheese the hermit placed before me. I was vaguely aware of my surroundings: rough stone walls, a blazing fire, a blanket wrapped around my shoulders. How long I had been on the run, I couldn’t tell him. Days, maybe weeks. But I was still alive.

“What’s your name, boy?” he asked gently.

I couldn’t remember.

“What are you doing, wandering alone in these woods?”

That I knew, but would not tell him.

He looked at me with narrowed eyes. I gulped down the rest of the bread and withdrew into my blanket.

“You’re not entirely human, are you?”

 

~H

I Just Registered for Storystorm 2020!

Here we go!

storystorm2020participant

~H

2019 in Review: Poetry, Stories, and Death

Photo by Danil Aksenov on Unsplash.

Here we are. 2019 is ending and 2020 is about to begin. I am eating a baked potato and sitting at my desk, feeling tired and wondering what to write. I considered not writing an end-of-year post, but realized I would probably feel bad if I didn’t.

I didn’t blog at all in January 2019 but started the blogging year in February with a couple of Throwback Thursday posts and some flash fiction. February also involved adjusting to my new job and learning how to balance writing and work, so I only posted four times that month. In March I discovered I loved the quadrille (introduced by dVerse  Poets’ Pub) and eased my way back into writing poetry, just in time for April’s NaPoWriMo challenge. During the summer I wrote a lot of poetry and flash fiction, including a story that intrigued me so much I wrote a second part to it. (I recommend reading strange news articles and bits of weird history; one such piece inspired that story.) I took a break for over a month between August and the middle of September, but jumped right back into writing with a sestina that turned out so well I submitted it for publication. In October I discovered a new poetic voice that I really liked while writing for dVerse’s quadrille #90 prompt. In November I tried a new way of presenting my flash fiction and wrote another quadrille in the same style as the previous one. I also wrote the second part of the story inspired by the weird news article.

And then December came. Following the passing of my husband’s grandmother (who had had become my grandmother as well) in mid October, I didn’t think I would have to face any more tragedies. But I did. My beloved corgi died suddenly on December 11th, after ingesting some poison he found in the neighborhood. I was devastated. I still am, but I’m managing to move on slowly. Then my great-aunt passed away a couple of days after Christmas.

Grief is tricky, because you don’t feel it at the same level constantly. You might be going along, having a normal day, and it hits you out of the blue. “My dog is dead.” “My grandma won’t be there for Christmas.” The thoughts come to you as suddenly as your loved ones left.

I haven’t had the drive to write in the past couple of weeks, but that will most likely change as the year changes. I have a few plans for books that have been percolating for a long time. I also have a short story to revise, poetry to write, and some picture book ideas to develop. And of course I will continue to write flash fiction.

‘Til next year.

~H