WFMAD Day 21 – The Calm Center of Chaos

Ready for week three?

I’m not. I’m stuck back in the middle of March. Every time I see a calender, I break down in hysterical sobs. So much yet undone, so much more being piled on my plate, and I’m supposed to be writing a book in the middle of this chaos?

Do you know the feeling?

Ready… Take a look at your schedule for September – December. What weeks will be crazier than most? What can you do ahead of time to avoid extra craziness?

Set… “It’s a lack of clarity that creates chaos and frustration. Those emotions are poison to any living goal.” Steve Maraboli

Today’s prompt: The key to staying focused on your writing when you are living in the middle of a sea of swirling blender blades is to stay focused on one aspect of your story.

Make a list of 10 or so critical statements about your story, such as “The main character wants (fill in the blank, because I have no idea what your main character wants), but (fill in this blank too) keeps getting in the way.”

Or “The central image to the story is (blank) because (blank.)

Or “The most significant relationship in the book is (blank) because (blank)>”

If you know you’re going to have one of those days, consult your list, pick a statement and refer to it all day. Tape it to the dashboard. Record it on your phone and turn it into a ringtone. Sing it while stuck in traffic. Turn it into a mantra so that your subconscious can work on uncovering ways to further this aspect of your story and will have them all lined up and ready when you sit down to write.

Scribble… Scribble… Scribble…

WFMAD Day 20 – Stuck in a rut?

Is your writing stuck?

Maybe not. Maybe the ideas are sputtering along. But you’re not happy, because you know (down deep inside) that what you are writing is a bit mechanical. Bloodless. DOA.

If you have the kind of busy life that makes it hard to develop a consistent writing routine (hence your presence on my blog this month), then it’s a safe bet to say that you don’t have many opportunities to do, see, or experience something new. You work, go to school, take care of the family, make sure the car has oil, deflea the cats, pay the bills, do the laundry, volunteer too much because you are too exhausted to say no, go to church, buy the groceries, negotiate world peace, and put out bird seed.

And you wonder why your writing feels stale?

Ready… Get out your calendar.

Set… “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Anaïs Nin

Today’s prompt: Everyone has a few things that they’ve been wanting to do…. for fun. I’ve been wanting to visit the Canal Museum in Syracuse, and an SU basketball game, and go for a run at Green Lakes. But those things are WAAAAAY outside my daily routine, which always feels overloaded as it is, so they remain only fond desires.

You have a few items on your list, too. Fun experiences. Out-of-the-ordinary adventures. Indulgences. You need to go on them. So do I.

In your fifteen minutes, write a short list of four or five easy, local adventures you’ve been wanting to take. Then commit to taking them. Write down on your calender when you will do it (in the next 30 days, please) and commit to taking someone you care about with you. Make a date.

If you have time left over, write why you haven’t given yourself permission to take these adventures yet. You can also write about the adventures that your character secretly wants to take, but for (fill in the blank) reason, she won’t make it happen.

Scribble… Scribble… Scribble…

WFMAD Day 19 – Anger is a writer’s best friend

If you haven’t read the post I wrote at 4 am this morning about the lawsuit recently filed that accuses authorities at a Republic, MO middle school of covering up the alleged rapes of a special needs student, please do so now.

We do not have a word in English that adequately expresses how angry I am about this.

But this is a WFMAD post. It is not the place for me to go all fire-and-brimstone on the hindquarters of adults who epically fail in their responsibilities to the children in their care.

One of the tricks to being a balanced, productive writer is to take the emotional fastballs that life hurtles toward your head and transform them into something you can use in your writing. If you want to write for teens and kids, the chances are almost 100% that you care deeply about them. This means you are going to spend a lot of time being upset at the way they are treated.

Anger, stoked in a righteous fire and smoothed with the hammer of integrity, becomes narrative energy.

Ready… Don’t take any time to be ready. Tell the people around you to leave you alone for 15 minutes. Put on head phones. Make the stupid world go away. And don’t give me any back-talk, OK?

Set… “Everywhere, everywhere, children are the scorned people of the earth.” AND “I get angry about things, then go on and work.” both quotes from Toni Morrison

Today’s prompt: What pisses you off? What action, person, offense, crime, indignity, injustice, horror scratches your soul like a sulphur-tipped match on sandpaper? I’m not talking about the jerk who cuts you off in traffic, or a parking ticket, or a partner who leaves socks on the living room floor. I’m talking about dangerous anger. World-changing anger. Revolutionary rage.

Write about what makes you that angry. I double-dog dare you.

Extra bonus points if you get so fired up that you write about what makes your character that angry, too.

Scribble… Scribble… Scribble…

District that tried to ban SPEAK accused of covering up rapes

I was planning on writing an update about the book banning efforts of Wesley Scroggins in Republic, MO next month. The school board finally made its decision about which books it would remove, and since we are so close to the one-year anniversary of the mess, I had decided to write about it then.

But then I found out that the mother of a special needs girl has filed suit against same school district in which she claims her daughter suffered “multiple sexual assaults” and was raped by a classmate in school in seventh grade. The suit claims that the daughter told school personnel, who did not report the accusations to authorities, that her daughter was shamed into recanting and forced to write a letter of apology to the rapist, then was RAPED AGAIN by the same boy in same school the following year.

So I am writing about the Republic School District a little earlier than I had planned to.

(I have linked to the original complaint, the district’s responses and other news coverage at the end of this post.)

The outrages pile up one atop the other. According to the complaint filed by the mother, this girl (then in seventh grade) suffered from repeated sexual harassment from the boy in question. When he finally raped her, she went to school officials. They told her mother that they did not think the girl’s accusations were credible. After that, they met with the girl a number of times, without the mother being present, to discuss her claims.

Apparently no one at the school contacted the police.

If I had written this storyline in a novel, my editor would have dismissed it as ridiculous. She’d say something like, “That would never happen in America today. School officials know that they are mandated reporters. They would have called the police the first time the girl spoke up.”

They didn’t. Instead, they made the girl write an apology letter to the boy she accused of raping her. Then they made her deliver it to him.

And then? They referred her to juvenile authorities for making up the whole story and suspended her for the rest of the school year.

(There is a big unanswered question here: did the police, acting on that referral from the school for false accusation, investigate? What did they find?)

When the girl started eighth grade the following September (2009), the lawsuit claims she was the victim of “repeated sexual assaults” for the entire school year. In February of 2010, the suit alleges that the boy took her to a secluded corner of the library and raped her.

The girl immediately spoke up again. School officials were skeptical and did not take any action. The girl was taken (by her mother, I believe) to the Child Advocacy Center for a SAFE exam (Sexual Assault Forensic Exam). The exam showed a “positive finding for sexual assault.” Semen collected in the the exam was found to be a DNA match for the boy in question.

The boy was arrested and pleaded guilty to the charges brought against him. (The lawsuit does not the specify the exact charges or his sentence.)

What did the school do? The lawsuit says it suspended THE GIRL again for “Disrespectful Conduct” and “Public Display of Affection.”

According to the local county prosecutor, Missouri state law lets the school officials off the hook for not reporting the incidents because the boy was not an adult. (The age of consent in Missouri is 17, but if the perpetrator is under 21, it appears that there is rarely prosecution. If any of you are trained in the nuances of Missouri sexual assault law, I’d love some more information about this.) But he also said the school should have erred on the side of caution and allowed a trained forensic professional to interview the girl and decide about her credibility.

I have no information about the kind of “special needs” the girl has. I believe that her disabilities, in there are any, would even further enhance the need of the school officials to bring in law enforcement the first time she spoke up.

What do you think?

1. Initial coverage of the lawsuit in the local newspaper

2. Excellent coverage of the story at Boing Boing.

3. PDF of the lawsuit against the Republic, MO school district, and the principal, counselor, and school resources officer of the middle school filed with the US district court.

4. PDF of the school district’s response to the mother’s lawsuit.

5. PDF of the Republic School District’s public statement, issued Wednesday, on the matter.

6. CBS News weighed in on the matter, too.

7. Local television coverage.

WFMAD Day 18 – Getting By With a Little Help

In my humble opinion, Joe Cocker’s version of this song is way better than the Beatles.

What does Joe Cocker have to do with your writing?

Your character needs some friends. We are often so focused on developing our main character and The Forces Of Evil Who Rally Against Her, that we neglect to use the vast potential that a friend can bring to our story. You can tell a lot about a person by the friends they keep, can’t you?’

Ready… Your character is not the only person who needs friends. If you don’t have someone you can trust (and to whom you are NOT related by blood or marriage) enough to share your writing with, now is the time to figure out how you are going to find that person. (If you are writing for children or teens, your best bet is to join SCBWI. If you’re writing for adults, I don’t have a clue. Sorry.) Once you figure out who that person is, schedule some meetings over coffee, or Skype, or on the phone so the two of you can commiserate and cheer each other on as you push forward on the writing path.

Set… “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” Ernest Hemingway

Today’s prompt: Develop a friend for your main character. Make sure that she’s not a cliche; no “trusty side-kicks” please. How are they different? What irritates them about each other? Why are they loyal to each other? What secret do they know? How did they meet? Don’t worry about how this friend is going to fit into your plot. The answer to that problem will come to you as soon as you’ve developed the character well enough.


Write about the person who was your closest friend in elementary school. Open up the floodgates and let the memories flow.

Scribble…. Scribble… Scribble…