As I sit at my desk and write, I smell of A-1 Steak Sauce. That’s because I forgot my protective cooking gear, namely an apron. The belly of my t-shirt is wet from a hasty scrub of dishes, and you get the picture–I was rushed fixing dinner at the ranch tonight.
You see, my husband is coming home after a week of working across state borders in Moses Lake, WA. He’s an A&P mechanic, turning wrenches on planes. Work is up and down; right now it’s up thus he deserves a nice home-cooked meal after working 10 hours and driving home three.
Only thing is, I have no sense of time. My intentions ran high earlier today as I baked a yellow cake while hauling wood and building a fire to heat the house. He called on his break and I promised dinner in the oven by 7 p.m. Well, shoot-fire, it’s 7:15 and the dogs are near collapse because I forgot their 6 p.m. kibble. Who can keep track of all this AND write?
Rushing downstairs, tossing kibble into bowls I open the fridge. Hamburger. Oh, now I remember–I was going to make hamburger-lentil soup with cheddar dumplings. That’s out of the question at this late hour. Ah, meatloaf. That’s quick and the house will greet my hubby with a savory aroma. Oh, yeah, and I need to use up those mushrooms so I’ll saute them in garlic butter and toss them in the loaf. Scrumptious.
But alas, I’m out of Muir Glen Organic Ketchup (best ketchup in the universe, f.y.i.). Then I see the A-1 Sauce. That will pair nicely with the mushrooms. When our kids were little (they’re grown, so don’t think I left them in a chicken coop or something while hubby was away) they used to call A-1 Sauce, “9-1-1 Sauce.” Not sure why but we let the nickname stick. Tonight it fits; A-1 Sauce to the rescue!
Recipe From the Ranch: 9-1-1 Meatloaf
- 1.5 pounds hamburger
- 1/4 cup Panko crumbs
- 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 4 Tbsp. half and half
- 1/2 tsp. Smoked Paprika
- 1/2 tsp. sea salt
- 1/4 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1/2 package of sliced mushrooms (4 oz.)
- 3 cloves hard-neck garlic, chopped
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1 tsp. tarragon
- 1/4 cup A-1 Sauce
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Get the mushrooms sauteing in the butter with the garlic and tarragon. While that’s going, mix the rest of the ingredients (except A-1 Sauce) into the hamburger; don’t be prissy about using your hands. Do wash your hands after mixing. Once the mushrooms are smelling divine and are soft, add to the meatloaf mixture. I dump the mixture diagonally into a square glass baking pan and mound it into a loaf with a nice flat top. The measurement for the A-1 Sauce is an approximation. The idea is to cover the top of the loaf. Sprinkle with extra tarragon for garnish. Cover with foil and bake for one hour.
While making the meatloaf, I scrub a couple of Idaho potatoes, prick each side with a fork and toss into the oven. After 30 minutes, I flip the potatoes and start steaming fresh broccoli on the stove.
A note about the half and half–we don’t drink milk, and I bake with buttermilk. The only other dairy I have on hand is the hubby’s coffee creamer (and if your creamer is something like Irish Cream Coffee Mate, use your horse-sense and don’t put it in meatloaf).
Some writers know exactly what genre they’re writing–mystery, YA, lit. It’s like knowing that Levis 501s will always fit. You don’t even have to go to that cold dressing room in the back of the feed store to see if Wranglers might be it.
When you write, just write. Don’t let these niggling thoughts of fit and function distract you. Write. But when you revise, you need to pause and consider the big picture.
Let me explain how I got to this point of looking at different genres on the shelf and why it matters at this point in revision.
When I began drafting “Miracle of Ducks,” the story seemed like one of faith. When I mentioned the word faith to a publisher at Rain-Taxi in Minneapolis, MN he smiled and kindly directed me to the Christian publishing house two booths down the row. With the reference to the Christian publishers–who were very welcoming and interested–I wasn’t sold that my story was Christian, but it easily could be with intentional revising.
In 2012 I completed the first draft. Revision has been slow for me. Much slower than writing, and I understand that I have tons to learn about mastering a project as long as a novel. It ain’t no 2,000 word profile on a cranberry bog or regional beer. And I’m in it for the long-haul, not the publish-quick-as-horse-spit fix.
Since this is not a quick process, I decided to crank out a NaNoWriMo project each year so that I’ll always have material to work. With my 2013 project, LuLu offered a free manuscript review to Wrimo winners. The DNA of my second project came back as a “sci-fi thriller.” That’s not what I expected!
However, when I read the reasoning behind the review results, it made sense. It described my writing style: expressive in dialog, rich descriptive passages, breezy language and kinetic motion. Accordingly, my manuscript placed a premium on plot and character, engaging the reader early and keeping the characters active. It is a common profile for mystery, thrillers and romance. The “sci-fi” tag recognized that my protagonist is a climatologist in the arctic.
More genres to try on: mystery or thrillers? No, I don’t enjoy reading them often so I wouldn’t want to write any. Romance? Yes, this cowgirl likes Julie Garwood and Jude Devereaux. And, according to the Romance Writers of America, it’s a mighty popular genre, generating over $1.438 billion in sales in 2012. I might have to kill off a character, though…tempting.
In order to progress, I’d have to make major structural revisions to craft “Miracle of Ducks” into a sci-fi thriller, romance or Christian novel. And what debuts as the genre, becomes the genre. Even Ann Rice writes about how difficult it is for even well-established writers to cross genres in their career. Not to mention, as I research agents and publishing houses, they are genre-specific. No use wasting my time or theirs with a genre-less orphan or a family of mismatched genre manuscripts.
But before I give up on the jeans, I have one more pair to try on: commercial fiction. According to AgentQuery.com, this genre “…uses high-concept hooks and compelling plots to give it a wide, mainstream appeal.” It also places a premium on plot and the characters are active. Sound familiar? But the best part is, “…commercial fiction maintains a strong narrative storyline as its central goal…” That’s what a storyteller likes to hear.
The zipper is closed on this shopping spree. I’ve found my genre.
Back in “ye olden days” of the initial Gather.com, it was the first social network site that I joined. It was created to give voice to those who typically followed and responded to National Public Radio. The idea was that Gather was a collection of people who were poets, artists, photographers and writers. You could share and read the stories of others who were intelligent, engaging and creative.
While active on Gather, I met many people who are now good friends. I learned how to write tankas, cinquains and other short-forms of poetry because I was inspired to try. What I learned from practicing poetry, is that the creative exercise unlocked my mind. In fact, cinquains became the opening to all my department meetings–I actually required my staff to show up to weekly meetings with project updates and a poem. By that simple act of creation, my team became more open to creativity.
As a storyteller, my favorite short form is “flash fiction.” It is similar to cinquains only in brevity. Beyond that, it is a story. By challenging yourself to craft a story in 99 words, you unlock potential in your brain. When the brain shifts into problem solving, it shifts into creativity. The constraint of 99 words adds to the problem solving activity and you will be amazed at the results.
Not only is flash fiction fun, it can be powerful. The short stories can resonate in unexpected ways with readers. A benefit of regular practice is that you also learn to “write tight.” You will find that after practicing flash fiction, your sentence structures will become more dynamic. You know, the experts always say, if you’re going to write then you need to write regularly. I’d like to tack onto that statement–have fun!
Are you with me? Do you want to infuse your writing with more creativity? Do you want to practice weekly flash fiction with other writers? Then get ready for this coming blog hop. Here are the details:
- Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction begins March 5 and continues every Wednesday.
- Look for the weekly prompt (such as, “Facts About WWII”) on Wednesday and submit your Flash Fiction link to that blog post by noon (Pacific Time) the following Wednesday to be promoted in the blog hop.
- Yes, this is a blog hop. You will write your Flash Fiction on your own blog (any day before the Wednesday deadline) and submit it, using the link-up widget supplied at Carrot Ranch.
- Carrot Ranch will promote all the submissions and make comments on each one. You are encouraged to read and comment on the other submissions, too. It’s a great way to get to know other writers and connect with authenticity.
- With enough active participation, this blog hop will grow into a contest. Random House is giving away a box of Kind Bars and a Valentine’s Day dinner for a writing contest they are hosting, so I figure, writers must like to eat. I do. And I’m connected when it comes to food. So I’ll be networking for food prizes so that winners can declare, “I’m not a starving artist!”
Questions? Comments? Leave me a note! Share this coming Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction post with other writers and let’s get to know each other, practice our craft and have some fun!
Here’s an example of a flash fiction I wrote on Gather to the prompt, “Facts of WWII.”
“Now what I want is, facts.” My mother’s cousin made this demand with her pencil poised to record the facts of WWII. I glanced to the hospital bed where my once giant grandfather now lay withered and wasted.
“Fact,” he said, wheezing, “I enlisted in 1942…Marines…”
“I earned top rifle scores…one of eight men…selected to guard…Admiral Nimitz.”
“Why were you selected?”
Although weak, I saw him grin slightly, replying “Looks…build…smarts.”
She grilled him for 20 more minutes then left. Once the door shut my Papa’s eyes filled with tears. “Facts are easy to recall…what I faced…I will never tell.”
©Charli Mills 2008
Just as blisters emerge from hiking, doubt can be a painful byproduct of the writing process. Even authors anyone would view as successful experience moments where they question their authority, ability and aptitude. Take for example, acclaimed mystery novelist Charles Finch. In his recent Writer’s Digest Guest Blog, he wrote that up until his fifth or sixth novel he still felt like an imposter. He compares a writer to a “…kind of crazy charlatan, trying to trade words out of your brain for money.”
It’s not only doubt about the value of our word-craft, it’s also the comparisons we place upon ourselves. We get caught in a cycle of worry that someone else writes tighter, more descriptive sentences than us or we see the pinnacle of one author’s success and think that we can never reach it. We want to toss the laptop or break all our pencils. Known or unknown, writers are not impervious to moments of failed faith. The question is, how do we keep hiking when blisters make us want to stop?
It was my dog who gave me the answers.
When I published my Elmira Pond Spotter post, “Winter Frog-Hopper,” it struck me how joyful my disabled dog is when she runs. While it is true that running is difficult for her due to a spinal injury, you can’t tell by the expression on her face. She loves to run. And she runs with joyful determination–not gloomy or angry or self-righteous–but joyful.
Taking cues from my dog, here are five ways to bust through doubt and write with joyful determination:
- Remember why you like to write. You didn’t start writing because you hated it. I remember that the writing fervor hit me in seventh-grade when I discovered the joy of telling stories that my teacher and classmates enjoyed. Storytelling is at the heart of why I like to write. What’s at the heart of yours?
- Do it your way. There is no wrong or right way to write, but keep in mind your own definition of success. If you want to publish, then you need to master grammar, book development and research what your target audience wants to read. If you want to journal your thoughts or paint canvas with words, don’t let someone rob your joy with expectations that are not yours.
- Adapt to your circumstances. Don’t wait for more time, better pay or a different laptop, make do with what you have. Do the best that you can with the time and resources available. Create your own space in the midst of everything else that is going on in your life and declare your joy in that space.
- Craft a writer’s statement. When I discovered the power of writing into my truth while on a retreat, I wrote a commitment to my writing. This can include honoring your sacred space as a writer, as well as listing specific goals such as a certain number of pages or words a day (a week or month). This is about you, not another writer or self-help guru. What resonates with you?
- Join the big dogs. That’s right, get out there and write with the best of them. Learn how your favorite authors made it to publication. Emulate their steps. Find a writer you admire and ask if he would be willing to mentor you. Get ideas from other bloggers. Be yourself. Write.
Take it from my dog, joyful determination will overcome the pain of doubt. Blisters heal the more we hike. Write what you love and love what you write.
Fridays are tagged for Recipes From the Ranch. However, after mulling over a reader’s comment on contests I decided to post my reflection as I believe it has value for all writers, especially those considering contests as a means to build a writing presence.
Entering into the traditional book publishing industry is a new river for me to navigate (as if I were Huck Finn). There’s so much advice out there in the form of industry news, author interviews, publisher insights and, of course, tons of writers like me who are forging dreams of publishable novels. Entering your writing into contests is one of those venues for getting noticed if you are seeking an agent or traditional publisher.
Sylvestermouse posted a comment on my post, “A Question of Contests.” Her discussion is based on her own experiences and realizations. She was wise and confident enough at a young age to recognize the slippery slope of contests. The danger is that the scrutiny of judges, which is only the opinions of a few, can devastate budding creativity. After reading her comment, I sighed relief. She made me realize the discontent that had come over me. Instead of enjoying the productivity of my fellow contestants, I became hypercritical–of my writing, their writing, comments, the whole thing. And that is not what inspires me as a writer.
Each story selected, mine included, was a submission deemed worthy of publication in a contest by an editor. In that sense, all stories accepted are equalized as “winners.” But once the competition began, anxiety churned my gut. I’d rather read what writers craft than develop a pretentious sense of what is best. Different writers have different voices; different readers resonate to different stories. Best is subjective.
That isn’t to say that contests aren’t for me, but I need to be more self-aware of how they can create inner turmoil for me and stay objective, but above all, kind. Writing is a business, but business professionals do not have to “win” to be successful at what they do. In fact, as professionals, we need to connect and learn from one another without creating barriers. When entering contests, keep a balanced perspective and acknowledge the accomplishment of being selected in the first place. You don’t have to wave the blue ribbon to have a solid portfolio piece.
In one form or another, contests will continue to be a part of the literary scene–you can even conclude that making the New York Best Seller’s List is a contest. For marketing and profitability, success will continue to have markers that seem like trophies. But for true success as a writer, I still say that finding your own voice and writing into your own truth is the greatest gift you can share with readers.
To any writers reading this, keep in mind that contests are a way to get noticed in the industry and a viable way to build credibility and a portfolio. However, it is merely one avenue. If you write, please continue to write beyond competition outcomes and develop your own special voice, discover your own inner truths and practice (practice, practice) your craft. Do not let a contest be the final judge on your work; do not succumb to discouragement or haughtiness. Be you. And write.
And if you are George R. R. Martin and by the very slim chance happen to be reading my blog…I’m waiting for the next installment of “Song of Fire and Ice.” Write, GRRM, write.