Every few months the fabulous Susanna Leonard Hill runs a mini writing contest on her blog. I don’t always have the time/inspiration to come up with an entry, but given how much I love Halloween, I just couldn’t resist this year. The challenge was to come up with a kids’ Halloween story in under 100 words, including the words (or variations of) spider, ghost, and moon. Contest details are available on her blog, and be sure to check out the other entries (links at the bottom of her post). Happy Halloween, everyone!
Ghoulie the Ghostie (98 words)
Ghoulie the ghostie
Was a spooky, howling soul,
With a moonlit glare, spiders in her hair, and
Two eyes as dark as coal.
Ghoulie the ghostie
Is a ghost story they say,
But on Halloween all the kids have seen
The terrifying games she plays.
There must have been some magic
In that beat up pillowcase
For when they placed it in her hands,
She stopped her haunting chase.
Down to the village
The big bag in her hands, she
Flew up and down the street shouting, “Trick or Treat!”
As you may have picked up from previous posts, lately it has been a real struggle to get words down on the page (up on the screen?). I had hoped to blast through this YA draft in mock-NaNo style, to have 60,000 words after 30 days. I started writing on September 14th, and my goal was to be done by October 15th.
Spoiler alert: That didn’t happen.
As usual, life got in the way. Even setting myself generous bribes (a trip to the café for every 5000 words written, chocolate at home for every 2000) hasn’t been enough to motivate me most days.
It’s been almost six weeks, and I’m sitting at just over 25,000 words. Not even halfway there.
But the way I see it, I have a choice to make. I can say, “I’m not cut out for this writing-thing” and walk away and get a real job, OR, I can sit my butt in my chair everyday and force myself to come up with words, whether I feel like it or not.
Guess which one I’m going to choose?
(Spoiler alert: it’s the one where I’m writing!)
So, I’m going to sit and write. Every day. And if I only get 1000 words? Well, that’s 1000 more words than I had the day before. And I’m going to keep doing that until I have a finished draft to revise, because that, my friends, is where the real magic happens.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to see how many words I can get out today…I’m in the mood for some chocolate.
This is not a political post–but it’s also not a post about writing. It’s a post about assault and rape culture. Last week, Kelly Oxford started the #NotOkay hashtag in response to a certain politician’s audio tape describing his own behaviour. She asked for women to come forward with the stories of the first time they were sexually assaulted, and the response has been overwhelming (as of the last time I checked, over 30 million responses had been tweeted). I tweeted my story, but it’s hard to sum up everything in 140 characters, so I thought I’d go into more detail here to try and continue the conversation. Because it’s #NotOkay.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
You’ll have to forgive me if some of the details here are fuzzy. I’m not sure if it’s the concussion, or the fact this happened almost thirty years ago, but while the assaults themselves live on in my memory, many of the peripheral details are less than clear in my mind.
I was in fifth grade, only ten years old (just three years older than my daughter is now). A group of boys at school started a game. I can’t remember if there were points involved, or if it was just for the thrill of the hunt, a new kind of ‘tag’–but the game was called squeaking, and the objective was to pinch girls’ butts.
It was supposed to show that they liked you. Indeed, the boys tended to have ‘favourites’–one girl they harassed more than the others–although they would still grab anyone who they happened to catch. I was the favourite of two boys. One, a relatively sweet kid who I vaguely remember eventually gave up the game, and the other a messed up little sociopath in training…more about him later.
It probably sounds harmless, right? Boys being boys…but we had three recess breaks a day (two fifteen minute breaks, and one half-hour break), and it got old real fast. Honestly, I have no idea how long this game even went on, but let’s say it was only one week (I’m sure it was well more than that), that’s still five hours of sexual assault per girl at the hands of these boys–just to put it in perspective for you.
At first I fought. I was taller than a lot of them, and a tomboy, but not particularly strong. I would scream, punch, kick, whatever it took to keep their hands off me. So they created a new rule: if you screamed, the penalty was a hug, if you hit them, they got to kiss you. The boys would band together to enforce the punishment, sometimes all of them taking the penalty.
At least one of the girls asked me to stop fighting, because I was making it worse for them.
Eventually it got to the point the other girls and I would spend all of our recesses with our backs pressed up against the portables, the only way we could figure out to protect our bodies.
Well, my little sociopath (I told you we’d get back to him) couldn’t handle that. So he devised a new feature in the game: “smurfing,” or as a certain presidential candidate calls it “grab them by the p***y.” Because it’s very hard to cover your front and back at the same time, you see. One side is almost always vulnerable.
It hurt, in case you’re wondering. A lot. Even my thickest jeans did nothing to protect my body from their invading fingers. If I’d known about maxi pads back then, I probably would have worn those to school as armour, but it was a couple years too early for that.
I started trying to avoid school. Would feel panic building in my chest every time the recess bell rang.
A couple of the portables backed onto the border fence. We weren’t allowed to go behind them, but I did. This was a huge deal for me–I was a compulsive rule-follower, terrified of getting in trouble, but my panic over these boys, over this abuse, outweighed everything. But every day the recess monitor would come behind the portables and roust me, sending me back out to my tormentors.
Until the day I broke down.
I can’t remember what caused it. Did she ask me why I insisted on going out of bounds every day? Did I catch sight of the sociopath just waiting for me to be ‘available’? Who knows. But I did break down. I told her everything. About the ‘game’. About the torment.
The ‘game’ stopped that day.
I have a vague memory of the boys (all the boys in the grade, I think, since I’m not sure I told on specific people) being taken aside and told the game was over.
No one was punished.
This wasn’t the only time a guy thought he had a right to my body. It’s not even the worst time. Merely the first in a long line of incidents that have been inspiring my YA writing lately. I hope that by speaking out we can start to call out bad behaviour. Teach our sons better. So that my daughter doesn’t have to experience the same things I did. Because it’s #NotOkay.
One of the perils of working from home is the misguided assumptions from others that my day is more about “home” and less about the “work” part. The number of times I’ve heard from other parents, “Oh, you must be glad the kids are back at school so you can rest.” Um, no. I’m glad the kids are back at school so I can work.
And while I’m glad to be only a mostly-full-time writer, in order to balance other things like providing my own afterschool care for my kids, looking after them when they’re sick, spending time cooking healthy meals, and helping out with the occasional school event or field trip, (not to mention dealing with my own personal issues and errands) I still average about five hours a day on writing-related activities (more if I’m on deadline).
Notice I said “writing-related activities” and not just writing. Because while writing is a large part of what I do, it’s not the only thing covered by the job description “writer.” So here’s a handy-dandy list of some of the things I do during my work day:
Writing – That one’s a bit of a no-brainer, but I spend less time on it than you’d think. I’ve just started on my first new novel draft in over two years, and, generally speaking, I draft quickly, completing the first version of a manuscript in about one month. Because I need a first draft in order to start:
Revising – For me, this is where the magic happens. Where I turn the bare bones of a story into something worth reading. This step can take me up to a year or more, and involves writing, re-writing, and getting input from critique partners on how improve my work. Then once it’s done I hand it in to Bri and start the whole revision process over with her input.
Critiquing – When I’m revising with critique partners I spend about a hour a day working on other people’s stories. I belong to two official critique groups (one in-person, and one online), plus I have a few writer-friends I occasionally trade stories with informally. And let me tell you – the more I critique, the more I learn, so this is definitely time well spent. (Plus, it’s really cool to find your name in the acknowledgements section of your friends’ books.)
Social Media – Nowadays it’s not enough to be just a writer, you also have to have a social media presence to help market yourself. And that doesn’t come without an investment of time. My current schedule calls for me to post once a week here, twice a week on my author Facebook page, and five days a week on Twitter (I definitely fell off that wagon over the summer, don’t tell my agent!). Even then, it’s not just about simply banging out a post, but also about finding or taking a photo to go with it (which for my Facebook page often involves baking something to photograph), interacting with other people, reading other people’s blogs, posts and tweets…social media could be a full time job all on its own (and I’m not even on Pinterest yet), and it’s only one part of my daily routine.
Research – sure, I’m mostly writing contemporary fiction these days, but it doesn’t mean I don’t need to research. From psychological conditions to pop culture references to just figuring out what names are appropriate for my characters and their friends, it sometimes feels like I spend most of my days roaming the internet for reliable info.
Writer Stuff – all right, that sounds kind of vague, but I’m not sure how else to label all the things like learning about the craft of writing, keeping track of trends and new industry developments, networking with other writers, not to mention all the time and energy that goes into marketing.
So there you have it, how I spend my work days. And that doesn’t even count the things I do after hours, like read to keep current with the market, or attend conferences and critique meetings. Working as a writer is just that: work – not the glorified vacation that some people seem to think.