Let’s Pretend April and May Didn’t Exist.

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……except Coachella. That definitely existed.

Oh wait, I don’t have to pretend, because as far as this blog is concerned, April and May didn’t exist. I was absent, oh so absent, for most of those 2 months. I even avoided visiting my own blog in fear of the guilt I would feel when I looked at the date of the last post. This blog was like that annoying email you have sitting in your inbox from a distant friend you keep meaning to reply to but it keeps getting shuffled to the end of your to-do list, and then chucked out in favor of going for a beer with your friends.

My absence wasn’t really caused by going for too many beers with friends. The last 2 months were, to put it mildly, really full. Full of surprise events and unexpected turns in the road, the kind that are usually dotted over about 6 months or a year but were, for whatever reason the universe had for me, were feverishly packed into 2 months.

I like to say there are some sections of your life that you live a lot more in than others. I lived densely during April and May. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I believe all of life’s experiences should be embraced as they all impact the person that you are ever evolving to be – but it certainly took a lot of my free time away.

Most of the stuff that happened is personal – far too personal for a blog post – but suffice it to say that the mixture of several surprise events with some not so surprising ones, along with my always hectic work schedule kind of catapulted me into a new phase in life, which I knew deep down I needed to enter but was too chicken shit to take the first step into. I found myself newly single and without a plan – and let me just say that wandering aimlessly in life isn’t something I do well. I tend to be self-destructive and entirely unproductive, drinking too much, partying too hard and then crashing even harder. But luckily, after about a month I pulled myself up, dusted myself off, and did what I always do when I feel like I’m drowning – I make a new plan.

And, the good news is I have plenty to write about.

So I’m back, hungrier than ever for that blank Word document, a free Saturday afternoon, some good movie scores playing in the background and my imagination taking off while I cling to its tail, holding on for dear life.

Let’s go.

More Writing Contests…..and a fancy new iPad!

I’m sitting here at my desk with the candles lit, a new Word document opened up ready to be filled with story-telling brilliance and my fancy new iPad playing some motivating movie scores on my Pandora app.

I’m inspired tonight to start a new short story. You see, this last week I had not one but TWO new short story ideas pop into my head, and I immediately searched for some new writing contests that would motivate me (meaning would give me a concrete deadline) to actually sit down and write them. Since my awesome experience with NYC Midnight Short Story Competition this year – round 2 results should be in next week, by the way – I’ve decided that whenever I have a good idea for a story, I should immediately look for a reason to see it through to completion, in the form of an upcoming short story contest. Because, for some odd reason, having just the base desire to write the story is not enough to actually get me to do it. I need a deadline.

My search yielded several results (thank you, writersmarket.com!) and I narrowed down the options to three contests, all of which have deadlines around the end of April/beginning of May:

1. The 34th Nimrod Literary Awards – a 7,500 word limit on a fiction piece, due on April 30th.

2. The Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition – A big flipping deal, with several categories for submission and a deadline of May 1st.

3. The Lorian Hemmingway Short Story Competition – Run by the Hemmingway’s grand-daughter, this needs submissions by May 1st as well. 3,500 word limit.

My initial plan was to write one story, one GOOD story, and submit it to all three competitions. They all accept simultaneous submissions as far as I can tell, and they all have pretty similar guidelines. But, since I’m new to the writing contest world, I wonder if that is a normal thing to do.

Since I have two story ideas, so I may go ahead and try to write both in the next month, despite the heavy work schedule I have lined up. I will be traveling a lot, and I tend to get a lot of writing done when I’m spending a lot of time on planes and trains and in pretty hotel rooms. It may be rough and I may be setting too high a goal to attain, but that might be something good. I certainly feel inspired and motivated these days, why not try to capitalize on it?

Has anyone out there ever entered any of these contests or have any comments on them?

And by the way, about the new iPad – I actually won it in a drawing on SaveUp.com – no joke. Pretty awesome, yeah? I’ve decided to allow it to be the only gadget that I leave out of my work realm entirely. I want it to be my writing companion, keeping my notes and inspiring me with its awesome brainstorming apps and music features. I just need to come up with a name for it…..I’m thinking something like Albus?

Yeah, Albus. That’s perfect. 

I’m off to read a book with Albus and then maybe play a word game with him before bed. Goodnight!

Visiting Art Museums (and how they can inspire writers)

This last weekend, my dad and my step-mom came to visit me in LA for the first time since I’ve made it my permanent (ish) home, and I was tasked with showing them around for a couple of days. Because they are both well-traveled and enjoy art, I decided a trip to the J. Paul Getty Center Museum would be a perfect way to fill a pretty Saturday afternoon in LA.

The Getty is one of my favorite places in all of Los Angeles. For those of you that haven’t had a chance to visit it yet, it is perched high above West LA on a hill, right off of the 405 Freeway, and it houses a fabulous, first rate art collection ranging from antiquity to a few early 20th century pieces, all of which are displayed in a beautiful modern white marble collection of buildings. The views alone are worth a trip.

I’ve always loved visiting the Getty, especially when I was in college. Even before I switched my major from Creative Writing to Art History, I would make the drive from Malibu to the museum at least once a month to bask in the treasures that it holds and to revel in the views of the LA basin, which stretch from downtown all the way to the ocean on a clear day. And the best part was and still is that admission is to the center’s permanent collection is FREE.

This trip, the museum again didn’t disappoint. It has been years it seems since I last visited the Getty, and I always forget how amazing the art and experience of it is when I spend time away. We wandered around the galleries and had ourselves a grand time, and it occurred to me how inspired I was feeling to go home and write.

I tried to think of what it was about visiting art museums that I’ve always loved. I’ve decided that reveling in the incredible works of art that men and women have created over centuries past has the power to spark the desire in us, as writers and as creators in general, to work tirelessly towards our own creations and contributions to the world. Seeing the great work that others have accomplished reminds me of the vast creative ability of man, something that is easy to forget in our world that is being devastated by those seeking to destruct and harm.

It made me want to go home and start writing immediately and see my own creative vision be manifested on the page!

I think I’m going to make it a habit to visit art museums more often – I’m a big fan of LACMA and the Norton-Simon Museum in Pasadena, and it is definitely time I paid both of those spots a visit.

 

Writing Down Your Stories

I just finish blowing through two short memoirs written by Roald Dahl called Boy and Going Solo, both of which are compilations of stories from his childhood and early adult life. In Boy, most of the stories revolve around his adventures while attending an English boarding school, and you can see the early experiences with a candy shop and with horrible headmasters that influenced his highly imaginative children’s books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda. Going Solo picks up where Boy left off with Roald going to work for the Shell Company in East Africa and then joining the RAF during World War II and his experiences flying fighter planes.

What I loved most about these books is they weren’t like an autobiography or a memoir in the traditional sense. They were just stories of interesting things that happened to him in his life along with some funny anecdotes  and remarks about how these experiences shaped his later adult life. He even writes at the beginning of each book about how autobiographies are boring, but stories aren’t, and that is why he decided to publish only the pieces of his memories that were the most engaging.

And they were engaging – they very much transported me to another time. I felt what it was like to be a boy waiting for a beating in the headmasters office for an offense that I didn’t commit, what it was like to live in colonial Dar es Salaam in the ‘30s, and the gut-wrenching fear that comes with fighting in a war against impossible odds, waking up each morning doubting whether you’ll live to see another day after this one.

Roald Dahl was a highly interesting person, but more importantly he was a very engaging writer and a phenomenal story-teller. What would have been an account of episodes from a semi-average man’s life from that time period was skillfully told in a wonderfully entertaining way under his expert hand.

Reading all his funny and interesting stories made me think about how little I record the memorable things that have happened to me. I feel like I’ve lived a very unconventional life thus far (entirely by choice, of course) and I wish I had written down all of the crazy things that I’ve done and seen, particularly while living abroad in college and from navigating the world of reality television over the last 4 years. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t’ think I’m super interesting or some kind of wonder in terms of what I have done, but I do think I have some funny anecdotes that someday my children and grandchildren and so on would like to hear about.

It isn’t journaling, it is more like telling stories from your life and crafting them as you would a story of fiction. It is definitely something I want to try.

So, I’ve bought a new journal – just what I need, right? Another journal yelling at me for a contribution from my bedside table! – and I’m going to use it just to write down funny memories and bizarre things that have happened to me in my life thus far. My plan is just to try to write 1 or 2 stories down a month, when I have a moment, so that someday they can be read and enjoyed by my kids, and their kids, and their kids. Even if they aren’t seen by anyone ever, it will give me a nice feeling of happiness recalling and reliving them, not to mention great writing practice.

I love getting lost in stories written by others from another time. Who is to say someone down the line wouldn’t want to read mine? Or yours?

Triumph and Distress! (news about my NYC Midnight Contest entry)

This is me right now!

I am feeling a mixture of elation, dumb-foundedness, success, fear, panic, exhaustion and pure happiness, all at once.

Here’s why. Remember how I entered my first writing contest in January? You know, the one where I had to write a 2,500 word story in 8 days after being given a prompt that included a genre, a subject and a character? The one where I was put into a heat of 25 writers faced with the same challenge, knowing that only 5 of us would make it to the second round? The one where I felt a sense of triumph for just having finished a story that I didn’t feel entirely crappy about and did not expect to make it to the next round at all?

Well guess what. I found out today I freaking made it to the second round.

Yeah, and I don’t know if this means anything, but my story was listed as #1 on my heat’s “Top 5 Writers” listing. And it wasn’t alphabetical. Or arranged by location. Or story title. I checked.

I honestly can’t believe it. This is the first writing contest I’ve ever entered and this was the first short story I’ve written since the ones that I had to write for my college creative writing classes. I feel happy, and I’m not afraid to say it. I feel like maybe I’m not so crazy for believing (sometimes) that I have a talent for story-telling. I feel good.

But, I also feel panicked.

Here is why: I got the email announcing I’d made it to the second round halfway through a 14-hour shoot day here (my 2nd in a row) in St. Louis, along with the instructions that the next round starts tonight at midnight EST (or roughly an hour ago), and that I would have 3 days this time to write a 1,500 word story. Did I mention I have two more 14-hour shoot days ahead of me? And that the 3rd day of this round I will be checking out of my hotel and flying back to LA? The timing of the 2nd round for me is pretty rough, and to be honest I hadn’t planned for it because I never imagined my story would get me to the 2nd round.

But here I am. I just got my prompt, and even though I have to be up in 7 hours, I am not going to sleep until I’ve at least worked out a story in my mind and outlined it enough to start my first draft tomorrow night.

Just because I didn’t plan to be in this situation doesn’t mean I’m not going to grab this challenge by the horns and beat it into submission.

I’ll catch you all on the flip side, in about 1,500 words. Or, when I look like this:

NYC Midnight Contest is over!!! (Round One anyways….)

Take a good look at this amazing picture. No, a closer look.

Okay, okay, it may not look like anything to you, but to me, it is beautiful. Triumphant, even.

Yep, that is a short story. A FINISHED short story. A finished short story that I WROTE.

A finished short story that I wrote in 8 DAYS.

In my last post, I laid out the prompt that my heat was given for the first round of the NYC Midnight short story contest. I wasn’t feeling too confident about my story choice, and I was kinda bummed I hadn’t been more productive.

But dammit, I feel GREAT today. I feel AMAZING because on Saturday, I finished and submitted my 2486 word story. And that was after finishing the rough draft on Wednesday, getting notes from a couple of trusted friends, rethinking my first draft and giving myself some time (and a night of heavy drinking at a friend’s show at the Roxy) to help me get enough distance for a rewrite, and then doing an all out rewrite and polish, allowing myself enough time to turn it in 7 hours early.

So yeah, I feel good. I feel good because this contest forced me to work on something and demand the best for myself. Even though I wasn’t crazy about the concept I came up with, I wanted to make it the best version of that story that I could write, and I actually followed through with it. I especially felt great after looking over the forums on the contest website and seeing how many people waited until the last minute to finish it…..that is usually me!

And thinking about how much I got done in one week makes me see the potential of how much more I could get done if I spent more time knocking out the rough draft of my novel, even if it is just a couple nights a week of 2 hour sessions. It just takes buckling down and not allowing myself to get out of my chair, no matter how much I want to turn on MSNBC or eat some ice cream and Magic Shell.

I don’t find out if I made it to the next round until early March, but to be honest, I don’t expect to. I’ve already gotten so much out of this contest just by accomplishing what I did in a week, and I’m looking forward to the receiving the judges’ feedback.

And in case you were wondering, I did celebrate finishing the story by going out for a drink for my brother’s birthday. And by a drink, I mean a beer tower.

NYC Midnight Contest, 3 Days In…..

I received my prompt late Friday night for the NYC midnight contest, and now I find myself three days in having nearly finished my first draft and SO happy that I entered! Of course, I’m frustrated with my lack of productivity (I’d hoped to to be finished with my rough draft by now) and I’m worried that I didn’t choose the right idea to pursue, but all in all, this contest has given my imagination a run for it’s money and pushed me to complete a story that a week ago did not exist, not even in my own head.

My heat received the following guidelines for our first round story:

Genre: Fantasy

Subject: An attack

Character: A singer

First of all, I was pretty excited to get Fantasy as my genre, but I wasn’t entirely sure about the definition of “Fantasy” in terms of this competition. Were they looking for a Lord of the Rings-style story that took place in an entirely different universe, or would a story set in present day with fantastical elements work as well? I was even more confused by the fact that another heat was given “Fairy Tale” as their genre. The two seemed somewhat interchangeable.

In the end, I chose a story set in the present time, in the South, but with fantastical elements…..creatures to be exact. In short, the story is about an unhappily married woman who frequents a shoddy karaoke bar run by elves, who is about to hit her high note one night when her husband bursts in and demands that she come home.

I know, my brain works in weird ways. But I figured, write what you know, right? And I know a lot about shoddy karaoke bars. Too much maybe.

I have until Saturday night to finish the story (and keep it under 2500 words!) so wish me luck. If all goes well, I’ll be heading to a shoddy karaoke bar immediately after I send it in.