Fifteen Minutes of Hell on the Playground: The Gravel Days

The rocks stung as they whipped past my arms and legs. I choked on the dusty, chalky air, my hands cupped around my eyes as I faced the brick wall waiting for the next strike.

No, I wasn’t being bullied. Or tortured. Except by the weather.

First grade I attended a really new school. The carpets were still the right color, for heaven’s sake.

For some reason I’ll never understand, the designers put rice-sized gravel on all of the playgrounds, but every side was sharp.

The angle of the wind in the depression where the school was built made for what we called dust-devils. These miniature tornadoes whipped up tumbleweeds and plastic bags…and sharp gravel…almost every day at recess time. I swear it just waited until it heard the bell for us to go outside.

Pretty soon after the schoolyear started, the kindergarten sandbox wasn’t one any more.

A siren cry would rise as soon as someone spotted the whirlwind starting, and we’d all rush to the red brick of the school wall, hunker down, cup our hands around our eyes, grit our teeth, and endure another blasting.

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Mojave DustDevil.jpg
Hey kids? Time for recess!

Mojave DustDevil" by Jeff T. Alu - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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When it was really bad I used to cry because the gravel stung my legs. Tumbleweeds swatted at us, too, great beasts big as baby hippos sporting thorny tentacle arms skipped pell-mell through the storm and SWAT!

I’d finish recess with grit in my hair and dust all streaky from the tears on my face.

The plastic windows of the school got so battered they looked smudged all the time—-sandblasted, I suppose.

To this day I’m not sure exactly why they didn’t always let us all run inside when the wind was so bad. Maybe they do, now. Or the construction’s overgrown enough that the fingers of the wind have nothing to grasp to throw at little kids anymore.

I never explained to my mother why my clothes were so filthy from school. I wonder what she thought I was doing?

—Elizabeth Ellen Everson

NaNoWriMo and Beyond: 10 DON’Ts —-Simple “tricks” To Kick your Tail and get you Started Writing that Damn Novel Already

Always wanted to write a book? Great!

Time for some tough love, from one who’s struggling to learn the craft, too. *buries head in arms*

1. Don’t wait…start NOW

Make the plans.

Keep the words moving as fast as you can. I mean it, damn it, talk is cheap.

Use a pencil, a pen, a computer, a typewriter…hell, use styluses and wax tablets. 

Don’t wait for “the time to write.” Seize the minutes and go. When you’re taking a break, just the fifteen minutes before you sleep or while you’re drinking your morning beverage, turn off the TV and write, DAMMIT!

You don’t need a degree, permission, time, a loft, or a contract.

Just…write…right…NOW!


2. Don’t be “the next” anyone. Use your words, your way. Please, if we want Stephen King, we read Stephen King, not someone “like” Stephen King.

"Someone is either a smoker or a nonsmoker. There’s no in-between. The trick is to find out which one you are, and be that."

-Cozy Carlisle (Robin Williams) in Dead Again

via IMDB


3. Don’t insist that what you write has to be perfect…the first time.

Natalie Goldberg stresses this, and it is so very wise, it bears repeating: give yourself permission to write crap.

The moment you set in your mind it has to be excellent, you’ll lock yourself down. Trust me.


4. Don’t rush into revision, let it rest so you’re more objective.

A month. A week. Whatever it takes so that when you set eyes on the thing again, you’re more likely to see the gems and the flaws. Do something else.

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Write…right…NOOOWWWWWWWW!

Photo Credit: charlieishere@btinternet.com via Compfight cc

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5. Don’t write “for everyone”, pick one ideal audience for this one book, and write for them.

Just choose the most receptive kind of person for the kind of story you’re writing, and when you start, think of that person. It helps exclude the raging voices trying to shout you down as you go.


6. Don’t share your stuff too soon. At least give one pass at revision before you show it to anyone else.

Not your critique group, not your life-partner. You wrote the rough draft for you. The second draft is for getting pickier.


7. Don’t share your stuff with negative people. Seriously, enough’s enough on the pain factor. 

We all know THOSE PEOPLE who pick on stuff. They’re not discerning, they’re not helpful, these are the ones who are just plain cruel for cruelty’s sake.

You want thoughtful observations. Even tough words should come with an aim to make the story better, never to tear you, or your story, apart.


8. Don’t write a query for representation or self-publish your first (rough) draft.

I don’t want to read your crappy first-draft, not even if it is free. So I figure that’s got to apply to a lot of other readers including publishing professionals. 


9. Don’t freak out.

The Negative Voice inside your head will insist that what you’ve done is crap. We all go through that. It’s okay.

With the rest-period, and a little kindness for yourself, you can read your stuff out loud and find some really good crap in there worth saving. 


10. Don’t stop at one.

You’ve finished the rough on your first and put it in the proverbial drawer? Great. Time for story two. Start over at DON’T #1

Do What Works…Drop What Doesn’t!

Ready? Set? GO!

Elizabeth Ellen Everson

Flatline: Another Novel I’m Reading Bites the Dust, and I’m Frustrated

Another three hours of my life, wasted on reading a flatline novel.

Look, seriously, people, if there’s nothing for a main character to overcome in a story, I am not interested. At all. Ever.

Waste of my time.

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Make those Mountains High Enough, if you want to grip a reader’s imagination…and loyalty.

Photo Credit: L.e.e via Compfight cc

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The living pulse of Story is partly being still, speeding up, racing, then being still again.  

Just as it does on the elliptical at the gym, when the slope of the incline and the tension of each step varies, your heart gets a real workout.

You can rob me, you can starve me, you can beat me, and you can kill me…just don’t bore me.” Tom HIghway (Clint Eastwood)-Heartbreak Ridge

TWO PARTS:

1.  Internal tension. The needs and the desires and the behaviors of the character all pulling against each other.

2. External stress. The dragon must be slain, the companions befriended, the distances handled, shelter taken from the storm.

Good Reads require BOTH.  

Set up the levels and raise the stakes for the character. If that embroidery contest is the Big Challenge, by God it had better feel that way to the POV character. Play with the drama. Likewise with the firefight, or the courtroom closings. 

If I wanted to read cheerful social-media posts, I’d read…social media posts.  They don’t go anywhere. There’s no buildup and no conclusion.

What We Ate. Who We Saw. Who Wore What.

But that’s not a plot, and certainly not a story I’m buying, much less recommending. 

If there’s anything I wish I could shout out to so many writers that would so much make me one of your mega-fans for ever and ever, it’s this:

CHANGE is a REQUIREMENT of GREAT FICTION STORYTELLING.

(And for my own sins as I learn the craft, I kneel before the editing keyboard in an act of profound contrition.)

Elizabeth Ellen Everson