Daily Post Writing 101: 20-Minute Stream of Consciousness — ‘Birth of a Hero’

HANDS AT KEYBOARD  SHORT FOR BLOGI’m a big fan of writing exercises, but I haven’t actually put myself through any in quite a while, so when the Daily Post started off this new term of Writing 101 with a 20-minute exercise, I decided I should go for it. Here’s their instructions:

“To get started, let’s loosen up. Let’s unlock the mind. Today, take twenty minutes to free write. And don’t think about what you’ll write. Just write. Keep typing (or scribbling, if you prefer to handwrite for this exercise) until your twenty minutes are up. It doesn’t matter if what you write is incomplete, or nonsense, or not worthy of the “Publish” button.”

And for your first twist? Publish this stream-of-consciousness post on your blog.

So – set the timer – punch the button: GO!

Matthew couldn’t breathe. Well – no – that wasn’t right. He could breathe, but he felt as though he were being pushed through a very narrow tunnel, and it was squeezing the breath right out of him.

Whooooosh! Ah — now — now he could breathe normally again. But what had just happened? He looked around him.

“Holy cow! Where am I?” Surrounded by buildings taller than anything he could have imagined, with traffic rushing past him just to his left, he felt a little dizzy and disoriented. He shook his head to try to clear it, and that’s when he noticed the girl standing about four feet way from him.

“Hi.” she said, almost bashfully.

“Uh … hi yourself. Uh … do I know you?”

She giggled. “Not yet. But you will.”

“What does that mean?” He looked around in all directions as if trying to locate something. “And what on earth is that racket?”

“What racket?”

“That incessant tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.”

She cocked her head to listen and a moment later, she grinned again. “Oh, that. I have learned to just close it out after all these weeks. It’s the sound of the keys on the keyboard.”

“What keyboard?”

“Melissa’s, silly. She’s the author.”

“What’s an author?”

“Oh, I forgot that you couldn’t know all that yet. It takes a while to figure things out once you get here, but I’ve been here so long that I’ve pretty well gotten acclimated to everything.”

Matthew tried clearing his head with a shake again. “Wait … what? … What are you talking about? What’s going on? Where am I anyway?”

The girl let out a huge sigh. “Okay. I’ll start from the beginning. Melissa Pendergast is an author, and she writes romance novels. She’s writing one now. I’m the heroine. My name’s Abigail, by the way,” she said, extending her hand to him.

He shook her hand but eyed her suspiciously. “And just what does that have to do with me?”

“Why you’re going to be the hero of the story.” She paused, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. “And … the love of my life.”

“You’re crazy! I don’t even know you.”

Abigail sighed again. “Of course you don’t — yet. You just got here. Melissa has just now decided who you will be. Well, just a couple of days ago anyway. I heard her talking to her best friend, so I know what the plan is now. She decided to call you Matthew because her very first boyfriend – in sixth grade – was named Matthew, and she did it in honor of him.”

“Whoa — wait — start over, will you?”

Abigail began to get a little irritated. “I don’t need to start over. You just need to pay attention. Melissa is writing a love story and you are my lover. We are supposed to meet on the street right in front of that store over there on the corner. I’m supposed to get my heel caught in a grate at the edge of the curb, and you come to my rescue before a horde of people practically mow me down in their hurry to cross the street in the short time the light says ‘Walk.’

“So I’m in a book?”

“That’s right. And I understand it’s supposed to get a little steamy.” She smiled broadly now. “But I have to say that I’m not at all sorry. You’re quite a hunk, you know.”

“Well … thanks … but … I’m not sure I want to be in somebody’s book – even this Melissa’s.”

“Oh, don’t worry. She’s a great writer, and thousands of people love her books. We’ll be two of the most popular people in the world before too long. At least — I hope it’s before too long. She had a hard time sticking with this story. That’s why I’ve been around so long – waiting for you. She hit a block of some kind, but now everything seems like a go, and I can hardly wait.”

“So, when I felt like the breath was being squeezed out of me, that’s when I was being birthed into this story, so to speak?”

“That’s right. That’s exactly how it feels! But you’re okay now, aren’t you?”

Matthew looked himself over, took a nice deep breath, relieved that he could, and answered. “Yeah, I think I’m okay. But what do we do now?”

“Just relax for a few minutes. I think Melissa just finished the second chapter, and she’s about to have us meet. This is so exciting. I think I’m falling in love with you already.”

~

(As soon as I decided to write for this challenge, the first line popped into my mind, and I went from there. My understanding was that we were not supposed to edit these pieces to any extent, so I did type slower than usual to try to avoid as many mistakes as possible.)

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A Sharpened Pencil

 

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There’s just something about sharpened pencils – lead pencils, colored pencils – it doesn’t matter.  There’s just something about sharpened pencils that brings out a craving in me: a craving to write!  I’m not alone, of course. It happens to all of us who were born to be writers.  In fact, that’s one of the ways you can know for sure that writing is in your genes – in your soul – in your gut.

I suppose paintbrushes do the same thing to the artist, and adding machines the same to accountants. As a matter of fact, I’m going to make it a point to ask my accountant friends if they feel this uncontrollable itching to punch buttons when they see an adding machine sitting there with a pristine roll of paper tape rolling out of the top and just begging to be imprinted with numbers. I’m sure they do.

That’s what happens to me when I look at sharpened pencils. I have this almost insurmountable urge to pick up one – or more – and start moving it across an untouched sheet of paper. At least my preference is untouched, uncontaminated paper, but when such is not available, I have been known to grab a napkin, a piece of cardboard, or the back of a used envelope. But write I must.

Or if I’m sitting and looking at a cup full of freshly sharpened colored pencils mixed in with the lead pencils, as I was today, I run for my sketch pad and begin to draw. Am I an accomplished artist? No. But I can no more keep myself from putting those colored pencils to paper and moving them across it in gliding, soul-satisfying strokes than I can keep myself from reaching into a just-opened box of chocolate candy and taking a piece.

However, whether lead or colored, when the point is no longer sharp, then I must change pencils. That is the other cardinal rule that governs this addiction. Dull pencil points will absolutely not give me the fix that I need.

So what do I write – or draw? Now, honestly, that part really doesn’t matter where this addiction is concerned. The requirement is that I write (or draw) SOMETHING. And therein lies the only real advantage of this craving: by giving into it, I am put in a position of creating something that never before existed – something out of my own being, my own entity – something that relays who and what I am.

When I’m writing – which is what I do most often, of course – the product may turn out to be superfluous words that don’t make any real difference in this world I live in. But more times than not, those words – once they are tweaked, re-arranged, and polished – offer something satisfying, inspiring, entertaining to myself and others who read them.

And truthfully, this addiction doesn’t require wooden pencils to have its effect on me – or on the rest of us who call ourselves writers. A computer keyboard and a blank white document page on the screen in front of us will do exactly the same thing.

But we are not quite as susceptible to the keyboard and screen, because unless we are sitting in front of them already, they don’t pull on us the way that pencil does. We are likely to run into those pencils almost anywhere. And when we see one – that is if it’s nice and clean and sharp – look out world: we just may unleash our greatest masterpiece on you before you know what hit you.

 

 

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Joseph’s Decision — a short, short story

This story originally appeared on my blog last year, but only for a short time. I decided to enter it in a writing contest, and the rules of the contest required me to remove it from my public blog until the results were in. Now that the contest is over, I am posting the story anew. It did not find enough favor with the contest judges to be declared a winner, but no matter: it’s a winner to me.

RYAN AT COMPUTER - DARKENED

JOSEPH’S DECISION

Joseph sat on the bus, staring out the window, unseeing for the first twenty minutes. His mind just needed rest. So much data – so many words – such volatile emotions – too much to deal with right now. His eyes hurt from the glare of the sun, and he needed to close them for a while. Not yet, though. He couldn’t let himself – not so soon. He couldn’t bear to close himself up in his own private world – his own private hell. Not yet. He had to keep his eyes open so that light and color and motion would bombard his mind for at least a little while longer.

The knot in his chest had loosened some. Maybe that was due in part to the even rhythm of the moving bus and the almost imperceptible sound of the wheels against the hot pavement – things, no doubt, completely unnoticed by the majority of the passengers. But Joseph noticed. He seemed especially attuned to sounds and movement in a new way today. All of it seemed amplified somehow. He let out a deep sigh. I’m probably amplifying them in my own imagination, he thought, to keep my mind off the bitter news I just got.

Finally, thanks to the gentle rocking of the bus, he leaned his head against the back of the seat and let his eyelids drift shut. Another deep sigh. Okay, Joseph, it’s time to deal with it. You can do it, Joe.

He took a deep breath. There, that’s better. Another deep breath. That’s it, Joe. Slow and easy – in – and out – in – and out. See, you’re still alive and breathing. Nothing’s changed all that much.

His thoughts drifted back to Dr. Samuels’ office. He shivered slightly at the memory of how cold he’d felt sitting there on the examination table in just his undershirt and shorts. The sterile smell of the room still clung to his nostrils, and his mind replayed images of the signs on the walls describing various ailments and reminding doctors to wash their hands. He’d read every sign at least a dozen times over the past few years and knew them by heart, but he still read them every time. It was something to do while he waited for Dr. Samuels, and it kept his mind occupied so that he didn’t concentrate on how uncomfortable he always felt in doctors’ offices.

Prior to today’s appointment, he’d imagined numerous possible scenarios and played them over in his mind. Dr. Samuels might say this … and then I would say that … or … maybe he’ll tell me this, and I’ve already made up my mind what my answer will be to that. He closed his eyes a little tighter, stifling a low, mirthless chuckle. Funny – I never – not once – even considered a report like the one I got.

He felt something jostle his arm, so he opened his eyes, looking toward the empty seat on his left. A small, elderly lady had just sat down, and her purse had bumped his arm. “Oh, excuse me,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”

He sat up a little straighter and gave his head a slight shake, hoping to clear it. He hadn’t even noticed the bus had stopped. He glanced out the window and realized they had already come half way to his destination. One more stop, and then he’d be at his own jumping off place. Home. It used to always give him a warm feeling to walk up the small concrete sidewalk, step up onto the little porch alcove with the rose trellis on either side, and open his front door to the cozy living room/office where he devoted hours to the work he loved so well.

Writing was his life – had been ever since his young adulthood. There had never been a marriage. He had hoped there would be a time or two, but it hadn’t worked out. And he wasn’t too sad about it. He had a good life – great friends – great audiences for his books – and a family of his own making. The characters that populated his best-selling novels had been born out of him, hadn’t they? And he loved them – everyone of them – even the villains. And many had been the days when he had rushed home, bursting through the front door with ideas literally pouring from his brain faster than he could get to the keyboard and turn them into words.

Well, Joe, it won’t be the same anymore. Everything’s changed now. He focused on the passing scene outside the window. He read a sign on one of the buildings. Then he read a street sign … and another. The bowling alley sign came next. He was seeing all of them for the zillionth time, but he read every word on every one. He had to keep himself from thinking anymore right now.

Finally the sign for his own stop came into view. As the driver made the announcement and slid the bus to a smooth stop, Joseph began to rise from his seat, but, suddenly, he realized his legs felt like lead. He sat back down momentarily, and the lady beside him looked concerned. “Are you all right, sir?”

He made a quick recovery and tried to smile at her. “Y – yes,” he answered. “I think my leg went to sleep. I’ll try to get up more slowly.”

He knew there was nothing wrong with his ability to walk. It was the result of the shock he’d had. The trauma of the news had been enough to shock a better man than he was. He focused all of his mental reserves on making his legs function normally, and finally managed to get up and move out into the aisle. From there, he moved by rote down the steps and through the door to the sidewalk.

As he started down the walk to the next block and his own house, he was amazed that everything around him looked exactly the same. The street looked the same. The traffic whizzed by as usual. The few people he passed looked normal. They spoke a word of greeting and smiled just as if he hadn’t changed at all. Yet his entire world had been wiped out with one simple sentence less than an hour ago.

The roses smelled the same as he stepped onto his porch and inserted his key in the lock. Stepping into the room, he let his eyes search out all the pieces of furniture and equipment that provided his comfortable, peaceful, productive life. He closed the door behind him and walked farther into the room. You’re home Joe. Really home … and it hasn’t changed a bit. It’s exactly the way you left it.

He started to genuinely relax for the first time since he’d stepped into Dr. Samuels’ office three hours ago. He pulled off his jacket, yanked his tie loose, and tossed it on the chair after the jacket. He walked to the refrigerator and grabbed a bottle of his favorite juice, downing half of it in one drink. His stomach had been so knotted up when he’d left the doctor’s office that he hadn’t even tried to get lunch. In fact, he’d thought he could never eat or drink again. But he took another drink now. It felt really good going down. And, come to think of it, one of those frozen dinners he’d stocked up on yesterday sounded downright appetizing.

He kicked off his shoes, ambled over to the computer desk, and sat down. Touching the mouse, he focused on the screen. There it was: the new baby – novel number thirty-one – bright and shiny and full of life – staring right back at him from the screen with the familiar challenge that compelled him to create another chapter and another and another. Every word was a part of him – his offspring. Yes, this was life to him. This was all he needed.

Other thoughts tried to intrude, but he kept pushing them aside. Finally, at one point, he got up and walked to the wall on which he kept his main calendar. He stared at it. Dr. Samuels had said, “Six months at the outside. Maybe not that long. I’m indescribably sorry, Joe.”

Joseph reached up and ripped the calendar off the wall. He tore it in half and tossed in into the waste basket as he spoke out loud in response to the words of the medical report: “What is time, anyway, Doc? It’s all relative, isn’t it? Why, I’ve given hundreds of characters entire lifetimes in less than six months.”

He walked back to the computer and placed his hands on the keyboard again. “Sorry, Doc … I’ve got too many lives depending on me right here in this keyboard. I just don’t have time to die.”

~~~

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2014: THE YEAR OF THE AUTHOR — Part 3

BLACK TYPEWRITER - YEAR OF AUTHOR
PART 3: THERE’S POWER IN THEM THERE WORDS!

Writers are referred to by numerous terms. Some of those terms carry connotations that determine the way other people perceive — and receive — what we write. Here are a few of the things we’ve been called. Do you see yourself in any of them in particular?

Scribes

Wordcrafters

Wordsmiths

Ink Slingers

Artists

Journalists

Pencil Pushers

Sword Weilders

Scribblers

Scripters

Quill Drivers

Hacks

Knights of the Pen

Composers

After you peruse this list and find yourself — most likely in several of these titles — I’d like you to stop and think about one more term that describes every one of us: Creators.  I made this point in the first article of this series, but it is so important that it’s worth bringing up once more at the conclusion.

We are creators every time we write something original — no matter how long or short — no matter how good or bad. Take a few minutes and look at a piece you’ve written. The fact that it is there before your eyes means that you have CREATED an entity that never existed before you put words onto paper. How powerful is that? Do you feel it?

It is a beautiful and exhilarating truth to realize that our Creator has willingly placed within us the ability to create — even as He does — with our words.

We, the writers of the world, are truly an elite group of human beings. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, in his play Richelieu, wrote, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” But many great men throughout preceding centuries – as far back as the poet Euripides in 406 BC — have expressed that exact same truth. They were so right.  In all the history of mankind, it has been words that have moved men to take up swords — not the other way around. And it has been words that have caused men to put down swords. Whether for good purposes or bad, words stirred men to physical action. And in many cases, it has been words that created such a powerful response and commitment to a belief that, even though threatened with destruction by the sword, men and woman still wielded their pens to continue the promulgation of that belief — and were successful in those efforts.

Powerful? Yes.  Exciting? Indeed.  Scary? You bet.  Because with so much power comes an equal amount of responsibility. We must never lose sight of the fact that words really do create — for good or evil. And words move people — to good or evil.

POWER

One man may wield with ease a sharp-honed sword,
And drawing blood, strike death with that long knife.
Another for his weapon chooses words,
Yet with dead aim, he too destroys a life.

‘Twould seem that power resides in reservoirs
And can be drawn and used for peace or strife.
And ’tis the Master Wordsmith’s Word that teaches us:
In our words is the power of death and life. *
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You are a writer!  Use your power wisely!


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* (Reference to Holy Bible, Proverbs 18:21)

Surprise: There’s also a Part 4: “Just for Fun”

 

 

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