Constructive Criticism and Making Choices

Once, when I shared the opening chapter of Ourselves and Others with a fiction writer's group, a well-intentioned group member suggested that I change one word in the first line, which is as follows:

She met him when her bones were strong and her mind was sick—like a brand new house set on a crumbling foundation.

The word in question was "sick." From his perspective, "sick" was almost the right word, but not quite. It was "lightning bug" instead of "lightning." In its place, he suggested "weak." To him, I had used the wrong word because he believed I was trying to convey the opposite of "strong." Anyone who's been to first grade knows the exact opposite of "strong" is "weak," right? And yet I hadn't used it.

So I thought about his suggestion—there is a certain parallelism to using exact opposites, after all. I tried it out in my head and on paper, but no matter how I looked at it, "weak" could not win me over. To me, it was the flickering pinprick flash of a lightning bug when I wanted the power of lightning. I hadn't been trying to convey exact opposites in the first place. I used "sick" because it evoked the emotions and associations that were right for the story. "Weak" just didn't give the vibes I wanted to give. So "sick" stayed.

Book pages may be black and white, but writing is not. The "right" word is entirely subjective. Where one person sees lightning, at least one other person is guaranteed to see lightning bugs. Still, feedback remains an amazing thing. Every piece of advice you receive, you should consider carefully. Some suggestions may lead to changes that strengthen your work, while others reinforce confidence in the choices you originally made. There is no bad side to constructive criticism. However, in a world where right and wrong are so subjective, someone has to choose what is what. Ultimately, that's you, the author. You choose what's right and what's wrong for your writing and you take responsibility for those choices. You're the only one who really knows what your story should say, look like, and feel like. So stay true to your voice; don't exchange your lightning for someone else's, because you might find you've gotten lightning bugs instead.

Today's Prompt: Write a short story that takes place in the midst of a terrible lightning storm. Replace every use of the word "lightning" with "lightning bug."

Happy Writing!


Turn on the Faucet-- Get Writing!

FaucetQuote Some of you may have read my post from yesterday about the bout of writer's block I've been experiencing. Well, yesterday evening I saw this quote and felt inspired. It's completely true what Louis L'amour says: you can't write until you start. So this morning I made a point of waking up before my children. They both ended up in bed with me last night, but I managed to make my escape without disturbing them. Then I showered, brewed some strong-but-not-too-strong coffee, and set right to writing. No distractions (until the two children in question finally did arise). I turned the faucet on, and the water has been flowing ever since! Bye-bye, writer's block! I'm not about to shut off the flow now, but I wanted to share this quote with anyone else who might be having a hard time pressing forward. Take the advice. Start writing. Turn on the faucet and don't shut it off 'til the sink is overflowing.

Today's Prompt: Write a modern day fairy tale (an original story or a retelling of an old favorite). Include water imagery in your opening scene.

Happy Writing!


Writing Scared


First off, let me say, "Hello again!" I spent the last few days away from my blog, busy with another project. Some of you might know that I'm also a graphic artist and work from home as an independent graphic designer. Well, I typically do custom work locally, but recently decided that I'd like to try my hand at selling my stationery online, so I set up an Etsy shop!

Here's the link, if you'd like to check it out:

And a few of the pieces I've put up:

Keep me in mind if you're getting married or having babies and birthdays. ;)

Now back to the quote of the day. I haven't written in a while. I'm not ashamed of that; it happens. I think when I wrote my first novel, there was a period of 1-2 months that I just could not write, no matter what I tried. While I don't feel shame, I do think there's an element of fear preventing me. You see, I'm in a turning point in my book. Everything is about to change. Maybe I'm not afraid of judgment, but I'm afraid of that. Change. I like the comfortable place I was writing in before. It was cozy and I knew exactly what I was doing. Now? I'm about to head into uncharted waters and it has me dropping anchor. The truth is though, we can't write comfortable. If we did, our stories would go nowhere and our readers would be bored out of their minds. We've got to write scared, even if that means heading into uncharted waters where there might be sea monsters and pirates and rewrites later on. That's where all the good stuff is.

Where there's pirates, there's treasure, right? ;)

Today's Prompt: Write a short horror story featuring some element you know almost nothing about (an unfamiliar profession, place, etc.). No googling!

Happy Writing!


Writing What Hurts: Using Words to Heal

CoffeeStainQuote The past is one of the hardest things for me to face. There was a time in my life in which I was very lost-- in the midst of an overwhelming depression that led to actions I hate. When many people think of depression, they might imagine a person sitting in a dark room, crying and penning suicide notes. But mental illnesses have many faces; how they present in one person may be totally different for another. For me, depression wasn't sadness. It was nothingness. I felt nothing. And when I say that, I mean it--there was no sadness, no happiness, no trepidation, no fear, no remorse. My actions became unpredictable and totally uncharacteristic. Only the most extreme behaviors would elicit a buzz of feeling, and even that was brief and superficial, like the hair on your arms standing up. Maybe that's why almost everything I did was extreme. That's what I assume, but what I know is that I acted insane (for lack of a better word). When you don't have feelings, it's brutally easy to hurt people. And I did--I hurt myself and others I loved without realizing it until it was too late. When I did realize, there was shame. But I didn't want to feel shame, so I felt nothing instead.

In any case, thinking about that time period hurts, and it will probably hurt me for the rest of my life-- unless somehow I forget those events and live out the rest of my days blissfully ignorant. That's unlikely, but the only thing to do besides forget about it is to write about it, so that's what I've done.  My current work in progress is based on true events from those months. Through the writing, there has been crying. There's been more regret and self-loathing and utter confusion than I ever allowed myself to experience before. But there has also been healing. There's been acceptance. And I felt all of it, which I'm so grateful to be able to do.

I don't think we're writing for our readers. I think we write for ourselves and just happen to affect our readers along the way. No one is alone in an experience. When you write "hard and clear about what hurts," you're writing about something that hurts other people too. And maybe seeing your truths in black and white is what those people need to face their own pain. If you write what hurts, you won't be the only one to receive comfort and understanding: you'll give it out to others too.

This is scary for me, but I'm going to share an excerpt from my book--my narrator writing down an experience she had during her depression. It's scary because her story is my story. The actions she took are actions I took, and now despise. But I needed to write about this to accept it as part of my past, just as I need to share it. So here it is.


She spun the diamond around her finger, watching the light catch the facets at every turn. It was beautiful—and she hated it.

The “yes” had passed over her lips like music when she was eighteen: an adult, but still a child. And she had been happy until an ugliness came: one that started in her mind like a seed, planted by nothing. It fed on her for months, changing who she was until only ugliness remained.

The ring was unbearable. Slipping it over her knuckle, she placed it on the bedside table. “You need to leave. I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she whispered. “What did I do?”

“We just kissed.”

“No. We kissed and then you fell asleep here—in my bed. You stayed all night. That’s more than ‘just’ kissing. Please—please leave.”

He looked so unfamiliar, sitting against her pillow—his eyes and hands and lips markedly different than the ones she knew so well. She had only met him twice. There was nothing attractive about him to her, except perhaps that there were no promises between them. “We can just forget it. We were drunk,” he offered.

Her hands shook as she cleared the glasses from the table. It was true: she had been drunk for months. She had kept enough alcohol in her system to try to pretend the ugliness wasn’t there; to pretend she still knew who she was. But no matter how much pretending she did, she kept growing uglier.

“I wasn’t drunk enough to—I’ve been engaged for a year. Why would I do this? I’ve never… I didn’t think I would ever…”

As she spoke to her own ears, he left without another word, his footsteps like drumbeats behind her. She never turned around. Nauseated, she lay down, the bed still warm from a body that hadn't belonged there. She grabbed her telephone and dialed the last number. The last number was always the same. Inside, her stomach twisted into knots, but she couldn’t delay. All too well she knew she had to call at that moment, while she still felt the sickness and shame. If she were to wait too long, the numbness would return and she would feel nothing. But she wanted to feel this. She had to.


This is part of my story: one of the most painful parts. But that's not who I am now. That isn't really who I was then--it's who my depression made me. As hard as it might be to believe, this experience wasn't even the height of my erratic behavior. I went completely off the rails for a while there, and when I was in the thick of it, I thought I'd never recover. It didn't seem possible that I could be even a shadow of a normal person again, and yet here I am. Writing has helped me understand myself, what I went through, and what I put other people through. And by way of that understanding, I've come to a place of healing. There's no place I'd rather be.

Today's Prompt: Write a scene based on an experience you had that hurts to even think about, whether it was something you did or something that was done to you. If you're comfortable, share it with someone who never knew that part of your history.

Happy (or not-so-happy) Writing!



Also-- Happy Birthday, Hemingway!


A Tribute to a Fellow Writer

doctorquote A friend of my husband's passed away this week. I didn't know him, and I don't know much about him, but I do know that he was a writer too, with an unwavering commitment to his craft. Even after the diagnosis that signaled the end of his life, he continued to work on his book with the desire to have it published. I greatly admire that determination and hope that somehow his book does get out there into the world, even though he no longer inhabits it. More importantly than that, I know he had people who cared for him deeply and who are now suffering a great loss due to his passing. I know he was a father, a grandfather, and a friend. For his loved ones, my heart aches. Instead of giving a writing prompt today, I'm asking that you say a prayer for Tom and the people who are now mourning for him. May God comfort them and heal their pain.

Thank you all,


Original photograph by flickr user Adrian Clark.

Write the Book You Want to Read

ToniMorrison Today's quote is simple and sweet. Write the book you want to read. If there's a story you've thought of and wished existed, the burden falls to you alone. No one else can tell your story. Until you write it down, the only place it exists is in your head--and it's not doing anyone any good in there, is it? So get it out on paper and share it with the rest of us. ;)

Today's Prompt: Write a story from first person perspective, with other characters, but absolutely no external dialogue. The entire story must be told strictly from within the character's mind.

Happy Writing! blogsignature

The Anti-Formula of Story Writing

 My husband always reads the last line of a book before he begins. I never "got" it, but I've heard of other people doing this too. Some writers figure out the end of their stories before even beginning, which I've never been able to manage. I just wing it as I go along. I'm a straightforward, beginning-middle-end kind of person. But the amazing part of being a storyteller is that there are no rules. Even the rules of grammar, which I hold as sacred, can be bent for the right reasons. This flexibility is something unique to artists. Mathematicians have to follow a formula to get the right results. Scientists have to be certain of which chemicals will explode when mixed together. Not following the rules equals failure. 

For writers, there is no formula. You might hear that a story should follow a specific pattern, and there are people who tout that as absolute truth. But they're wrong. The average reader isn't looking to see if you have the right amount of plot points in the right places—they're just looking for something that speaks to them. So let that be your goal, whether your story begins with a beginning or ends with a middle.

Today's Prompt: Write a short story that begins with the ending. Work your way back to the beginning and conclude there.

Happy Writing!


How Smartphones Killed the Sense of Wonder

MagicThings Children are full of questions.

Why do the trees have leaves? Why don't snakes have legs? How does the sun know when to go down? Where does the ocean end? Can I possibly annoy my mother more?

When I was a kid, an answer was an elusive, mysterious beast. So if a question approached my mind, I'd capture it; study it; formulate possibilities and scenarios at warp speed. Potential solutions would be discussed with curious friends and hypotheses spouted to my parents. Everything was awe-inspiring, because nothing was obvious. The world was full of magic things, waiting to be fully discovered. And when--if--the answer ever came, it arrived with a sense of triumph. So that's why. I was right! I figured it out! Huzzah!

Fast forward 15 years and ten iPhone versions later. Yesterday morning I sat in the living room with my daughter, building precarious skyscrapers out of wooden blocks, and I asked her a question. "Why does Mommy love you so much?"

Her answer? She grabbed my shiny iPhone 5s from the coffee table and chirped in her precious 2 year old voice, "I don't know. Let's google it."

Let's. Google. It.

Keep in mind that my daughter does not own an iPhone. She has no Kindle Fire or Nook. The intricacies of a keyboard still elude her, though I'm convinced she knows exactly what ALT+F4 does (and abuses it terribly). Google is as foreign to her as Spain. And yet, when she heard me ask a question, her immediate reaction was to "google it." So where did she learn that?

She learned it from watching me. Us. Her mother and father, grandparents and family friends. To her, this is how we answer life's mysteries. Instead of pondering and discussing them, we type a question into our smartphone and let the internet answer for us. Let me clarify that the internet is not the issue here--the problem is that we take the internet with us wherever we go (even to the bathroom), and we consistently allow it to do our thinking for us. We have gone from a world of dreamers and wonderers to a world that knows everything and nothing all at once. Our imaginations have given way to information. While information is an invaluable thing to have, we've lost something just as important: the desire to think for ourselves; to seek out the unknown by searching beyond our fingertips. I don't know about you, but it's been a while since I've really marveled at the magic of the world around me. Smartphones have killed the sense of wonder.

With the average american child spending eight hours per day locked into media, I do worry that in the future, that lack of curiosity will lead to a lack of innovation. Maybe one day nobody will bother to come up with their own answers anymore. Maybe everyone will be so used to having information given to them that they won't know how to create it. That's scary, and I can't do anything about it. But I can salvage my sense of wonder. Next time a question wiggles its way into my mind, I can resist the urge to pick up my iPhone. Instead, I can think. I can debate with myself. I can discuss with others. I can come up with my own answer--one that wasn't handed to me via the internet. And you know, perhaps that answer will be totally off base--but at least I'll have worked for it.

Happy Wondering,


This isn't a writing post, but for those of you who check in for my daily quotes and prompts, here's Today's Prompt:

Think of a question you don't know the answer to. Create your own answer, and write a short story explaining it. Don't use any search engines until after your story is complete!

Weaving Dreams Into Reality

 When I was young, I had this recurring dream. In the dream, I was walking through a forest on a path that eventually led to a lake. There was no bridge; just a pier on either side. I knew that my home was on the other side of the lake, but I was stuck—until a whale swam up and offered me a ride on his back. From this point, the dream could go one of two ways. One: I would make it safely across and then wake up. Two: the whale would toss me up in the air, open gaping jaws, and gobble me down. In the latter scenario, I would shoot up in bed, wanting to go see mommy. But I was too panicked to move—convinced that water was all around me (whale included). It was terrifying, but when night gave way to day, it became terrifyingly interesting to my eager mind. That dream turned into the first story I ever wrote. It bridged the gap between the dream world and the realm of reality, and made them into one world. I've never been the same. Every now and then I still have dreams that turn into material for my stories. They're more sophisticated now, but in ways they're basically the same—they require the same creative process and they come from the same place. I'm happy to call myself both a writer and a dreamer, and so grateful to live in this dream-reality-hybrid world. Everything is richer here, and I can't imagine it any other way.

Have you written a story based on a dream before? Something that changed the world you live in? I'd love to read it if you'd like to share!

Today's prompt: Write a story based on your most memorable dream. Try to keep the plot as similar to the dream as possible.

Happy Writing!


My Imaginary Library (Quote of the Day)

Funny to think that we today could have so much in common with a dead ex-president, huh? I love books. But Thomas Jefferson was next-level hardcore in his book obsession, I have to admit. His library at Monticello has been described as having "several thousand volumes classed according to subject and language..." (Sir Augustus John Foster). THOUSANDS Of books. Cue my jealousy. I wish I had the space and money for that; I wish I had a whole room to devote to a growing library, complete with a Beauty-and-the-Beast-style rolling ladder. Life would be utterly complete (though my library never would)! So does anyone else have the same Disney-inspired life goal? What kind of books would you put in your library? Maybe you'll give me some ideas. ;)

Today's Prompt: Write a short story that takes place in a public library.

Happy Writing!


A Story Only You Can Tell

  You could live an experience exactly like another person—be in the same place, with the same people, witnessing the same things—and still have a different story to tell. That's where individualism comes into writing. Let's face it: there's nothing new under the sun. Most stories come down to the same few core subjects: good versus evil, falling in love, self-growth, etc. But year after year, books come out. They keep enrapturing us, even if we've read the basic subject matter a million times before. And the reason for that is because no one tells any story the same way. Everyone has a unique perspective that transforms age-old topics into new adventures. If nothing else, you have something that only you can offer to the world of literature. You are the only one who can tell your story. So tell it, because it's the only way we will ever hear what you have to say.

Today's Prompt: Write this story. Two characters, Bill and Catherine from Louisiana, are vacationing in Oregon and visit Tamolitch Pool (pool pictured below). After exploring a bit, Bill decides to take a dive from a cliff into the pool. But when he does, he doesn't come back up. Catherine realizes he's in trouble, jumps in after him and (after quite a struggle) manages to get him to shore. She begins administering CPR and...

The wrap-up is for you to choose.

Here are the relevant photos:


Here is a link to more information about the area if you're interested:

Happy Writing! KC

Stay in the Game: Writing after Rejection

   I've heard people say that art is pain. And it's true, to an extent. To be an artist is to open yourself up to rejection, ridicule, and unwanted remarks. Everyone has something to say and oftentimes they focus on the negative. That hurts.  And don't even get me started on the publishing process. From querying agents to finally getting in with a publisher, the road is fraught with "no" after painful "no." Many times rejection isn't a reflection on you as a writer so much as a product of the circumstances—but it doesn't feel that way. Every "no" is like a tackle, knocking you off your feet.

When you're on the ground with the wind knocked out of you, bones and muscles aching, you have two choices: get up and make another play, or stay down. So what do you do? Well, you probably make the same choice every other writer makes. You stay in the game, not because you're a glutton for punishment or because you heal instantly, but because you love it. You love it so much, you're willing to be tackled again and again just for the sake of the game. In fact, if you're anything like me, you probably don't have a choice; sitting on the sidelines would be more painful than anything a publisher could throw at you. That's just how writers work.

So keep playing. Keep writing. Take the tackles: the rejection, the ridicule, the unwanted remarks. Continue to put yourself out there, no matter what the cost, and one day you'll make it past that goal line.

Today's Prompt: Write a story about an unlucky football player and how his luck finally changes.

Happy Writing!


The Non-Writing Monster (Quote of the Day)

  Kafka sure doesn't mince words. And he's not wrong. I haven't had much opportunity to write recently lost and I kind of feel like a "monster courting insanity": a big scaly monster with pens for claws and a deathly sharp tongue. Nice, right? So instead of blogging about how ugly this monster is and how the only way to get rid of it is by sitting down to write (which let's face it,  everyone knows already), I'm going to take my own advice and go work on my novel. If you're feeling monsterish, maybe you should do the same. ;)

Today's Prompt: Write a horror story including a terrifying creature.

Happy Writing!


Backyard Books: Using Reading to Enhance Your Writing

  Once, my backyard was Narnia. The trees had minds of their own; resident pets spoke in voices only I could hear. In my hot-and-cold Louisiana winter, snow never came because I had defeated the White Witch, the Pevensie children by my side. And in the fall, when our bonfire pile grew high with sticks and scraps, it wasn't just a pile. No, it was the Lonely Mountain, and my charge was to defend it from dragonfire. From the ground, Smaug looked like a harmless sparrow in the sky, but I knew better. The fate of the Lonely Mountain—even of Middle Earth—was in my hands. I wouldn't let it burn.

That was my creative reading, manifested in the veritable wonderland behind my one-story suburban house. Now that I'm older, I can't go scrambling up piles of sticks or whispering to the trees. I can't pass off pebbles as the dwarf-king's gold, but my mind still builds around the words I read, even if my body is at rest. When immersed in a book, I imagine the scene, the characters—even myself included in the pages. 

I am a creative reader, through and through. And that exercise of my imagination makes me a better writer. Creativity is like a muscle: the more you use it, the stronger it gets. So when you read, don't resign yourself to being an outsider. Instead, take part in the story by accessing your imagination. Let yourself be transported to a different world and see if it doesn't make a difference in the world to which you belong. You might just find that the next world you create is just a little better than the one before.

Today's Prompt: Read a chapter in another author's book or a short story. Now imagine yourself as a key player in that story, and write it again from your perspective. How is the story different now that you're there?

Happy Writing!


Good Sense is Good Writing

 When I was in third grade, I began writing my first novel. It was an interesting attempt, to say the least—a   comedic story of a young girl and her certifiably insane cat. I don't remember much of this story—not the cat's name or the characters or even the basic setting, but I do remember one scene. My main character's older sister, the typical teenager, had her boyfriend over for dinner. Budding novelist me wrote that during the course of dinner, teenage sister's boyfriend began making strange noises and squirming in his seat. Then with a shout, he stood abruptly at the table to reveal a "giant bulge" in his pants (oh dear)!

In my mind, there was a simple explanation. The cat (then a kitten) scratched her way up the boyfriend's pants and ended up as a furry little leg tumor clearly noticable beneath the fabric. I was too naive to see it any differently. My parents on the other hand... Well, they laughed at the unintentional innuendo so much that I was too embarrassed to continue. I didn't try to write again for a few years—not until I had gained a little wisdom and recovered from my shame.

My unfortunate experience came primarily from a lack of worldly knowledge, which I consider to be in the same vein of good sense. I was eight years old or so, so my naïveté is pardonable. If an adult wrote the same scene however, people would shake their heads and say, "She really should have known better." 

Sense, knowledge, maturity, practicality—all of these assets come along with growth, and all are necessary for good writing. Whatever your genre, you've got to have common sense to craft something believable; something that flows well and comes together perfectly at the end. Even in fantasy, a writer's comprehension of reality—real situations, real people, real emotions—should be evident. Otherwise, the work ventures into the ridiculous and leaves the author looking silly (at best).  So use common sense when you write, because sense is the difference between a joke and a masterpiece.

Today's Prompt: Write a short story feauturing a character with good intentions, but bad sense. Teach this character a lesson.

Happy Writing!


Beyond Currency: Write for Yourself

  A simple truth from Stephen King for your Friday. Money and writing are always separate. Sure, you might get paid for some of your work; maybe you'll even make it big--books, movies, action figures, bobbleheads. But at the end of the day, "the act of writing is beyond currency." Money is a bonus, not a reason.  Write for yourself. If money comes, it comes. If it doesn't, well, your achievement is just as great; it just looks a little different.

Today's Prompt: Write a story about a person who is a bank teller by day, and something wildly different by night. Have someone from his/her "day life" catch him/her in the "night life."

Happy Writing!


Writing in Buttons (The Writing Process)

Buttonsquote I'm a visual person. I don't think in words so much as in pictures. Where one person might internally say to themselves, "Hmm. I'm going to get a cup of coffee," I typically see a steaming coffee cup in my mind's eye. My brain might go so far as to mumble, "Ooh, coffee," but that's the height of my internal verbal skills-- just call me Caveman Kharis.

When I'm thinking of a story, I experience the same phenomenon. There's no, "Wouldn't it be cool if I wrote a story about a guy and a girl falling in love?" (Super original idea, I know). Instead, I see short films projected by my imagination: a boy meeting a girl in a yellow dress; the two of them sitting across from one another in a cafe, laughing; a first kiss on a rooftop; etc. etc.

Those films are my "buttons." As I write a story I get bits and pieces of it in these little pictures, then sew them together. Everything between is the thread: the transition material that carries you from one button to the next, linking them all together. Whether Sandra Cisneros' buttons are like mine, I don't know, but it sounds like our process is the same. What I'm interested in discovering is, are all of our processes the same? Does everyone sew together buttons? Do we all have bits and pieces that we start with and then connect, or does anyone out there see every detail before they begin? I get little pictures at first, but does anyone else get hit with the whole picture (beginning, end, major plot points, transitions, the works) all at once? I want to know.

If you don't identify with this quote, I'd like to hear from you and get some varying perspectives on writing processes. Shoot me a comment and let me know how you're different!

Today's Prompt: There's been a horrible tragedy at the button factory. Write a newspaper article about it.

Happy Writing!