You may be wondering where I’ve disappeared to these many weeks, and why I haven’t chronicled my squirrelly thoughts on this blog.
Contrary to what you might suspect, I haven’t been twiddling my thumbs, tempting though that may be. I’ve been here, behind the writer’s curtain, churning out fiction. Daily. Lately, a short story a week.
I accomplished this astounding feat because I took five steps. Five teensy-weensy steps, which I share with you now.
Step 1: Hang a calendar on the wall
Hang it where you’ll see it every day, where you can’t ignore its presence. I hung it next to the front door.
Step 2: Set a goal, and break it down into baby steps
I knew I could spare fifteen minutes a day to write. In fifteen minutes, I could write five hundred words quickly. No time to pick apart what I wrote as I wrote it, no time to stare out the window pondering what to write. If I spent fifteen minutes a day clickety-clacking on the keyboard, at the clip of five hundred words a day I’d have thirty-five hundred words in seven days, which adds up to (whips out the calculator) one short story. Fifteen minutes was doable. And do it I did.
Step 3: Set a timer
Show up at your keyboard (or notebook or legal pad), set the timer, and dive in. Don’t think about the dinger. Don’t let your inner editor fill your ear with his nasty breath. Just play in your writer’s playground for your allotted period of time. I often spent more than my allotted period, but that 15 minute goal got my rear in the saddle.
Step 4: Buy some colored markers
Use them to mark an X on your calendar for each day you complete your task. The more colorful the markers, the better.
Step 5: Don’t break the chain of X’s
That’s your motivational cue. If you’re like me, that calendar with those brightly-colored X’s will keep you going. When you don’t feel like writing or you’re too tired to write, when you don’t have a blasted idea of what to write or you’re just too lazy to write, even when you feel unwell and would rather sleep than write, you’ll write anyway because you want to reward yourself with that cheery pink, blue, or green X on the calendar. For three months straight, I haven’t broken the chain.
To prove that I did indeed write a smattering of short stories, I present the first paragraph, a sneak peek if you will, of five stories which I will be submitting to literary journals for publication. Without further ado, here they are, with their titles, in no particular order.
The day Sally Wilson turned eighteen, in spite of her mama’s objections, she packed an old suitcase and drove off with the twenty-three-year-old cowboy who had reeled her in but good.
Late on a Saturday afternoon, in the shadow of the police building, I sat in a donut shop reading the paper and drinking coffee when Ronnie Deuce rapped on the window and gestured for me to come outside. He wore a yellow plaid suit and pink tie and looked like he’d stepped out of a Damon Runyon story. I was familiar with the two-bit gambler. We’d crossed paths when I was down to my last hundred and had to visit the tables myself. Deuce cleaned me out, not that I held a grudge. It was beyond my capacity. I refolded the paper and kept reading.
Whatever Happened to Carl Hogan?
Carl Hogan walked downstairs with a plate of wet cat food and was never seen again.
Tunia jolted awake in the back seat when her father pulled into a gas station and asked the attendant for directions to Beaker’s Pass. They’d been on the road for a day and a night, the first time she’d been anywhere with just her Pops, and she didn’t want the trip to end. The pimply-faced boy pumping gas said they’d found it, sure enough, and her father said, “What, this scraggly stretch of dirt?” He wheezed when he said it. The same sound her mother had made.
I Won’t be Here Forever
We were doing what married couples do on Sundays, reading the newspaper, sipping coffee, savoring a late breakfast of bacon and eggs, taking a drive, and in the car at the stoplight you straightened and said, “I can’t do this anymore. I want a divorce.” Just like that. The light turned green and I stared at you, open-mouthed, and thought, who will I eat brunch with on Sundays? That’s what sunk into my head. The driver behind us tooted his horn and I floored it. Floored it. Went sailing through a red light, took the blind curves up the hill too fast, and when that sheer drop to the lake came into view I headed for it. At the last moment I squealed to a stop so we both bobbed forward and slammed back against the seats. Dust swirled around the car. Your lips were white. You didn’t say a word. I knew, then, you were willing to die, you were that miserable.