I’ve spent last night and this morning reading the lovely first drafts of my fellow Writers in Motion. It’s fascinating to see how many unique and creative directions one prompt can take in the hands of different writers: dark, surreal sci-fi, a creepy MG tale with an unseen threat, a high-stakes story of spies on the run, and some deliciously disturbing horror. I’m excited to see how everyone’s stories develop over the course of the challenge. They’re already so good!
One thing I realized as soon as I started reading other writers’ thoughts about this event is that I had kinda, sorta…missed the whole entire point of week 1. I did a significant amount of polishing and trimming before I posted my first draft, because I tend to edit as I go, but also because throwing the fresh draft up in public felt too vulnerable. I’m a perfectionist, so it’s very challenging to think of showing a rough draft. But the exercise is about showing the bones and the process. So I’m going to talk more about how I approached the challenge here.
Prewriting and Journaling
Every morning, right after I wake up, I wrap up in a blanket, drink my coffee, and fill three pages in my journal. This is an adaptation of the “morning pages” practice from The Artist’s Way. I restarted my daily journal practice about three months ago, when I wasn’t doing any writing at all. Now it’s a crucial part of my writing process.
Here’s an excerpt from yesterday’s pages:
Ok so now that I have taken on WIM I need to actually write for it. I have a character in mind. A witch of the woods. She weaves wards & charms out of branches, has a coywolf companion, but also goes down to the town to check her mail & interact with others awkwardly.
One day a young woman gets caught in her wards. A stray. A young LGBT person who got kicked out of her home because of her identity. The young person is the child of the town’s pastor. She has a bruise over one eye. What were they doing up here? Why not just catch a bus to the city? There was no bus. Not until Monday morning. The witch, who does not want any visitors or like people whatsoever, brings the teenager back to her shack. But now the townsfolk are looking for the kid. She is surprised that they care. The witch takes the teenager back down the mountain.
Then what? What is the ending? Is that enough conflict? Or too much for 1000 words? It is flash fiction, after all. Good to start with. Where to start, though? The witch coming down from the mountain. Animal bones–she and the coywolf hunt for food in the forest. Throw the bones? The way the townsfolk react to her.
That night, she wakes up when her wards are crossed. The coywolf, listening. Nothing happens (tension). When she goes to investigate, she finds the child. Not a child, but young. Tangled in the wards. “Well, fuck me,” said the witch. Does she have the ability to project out using the forest’s network to see what happened in her domain? Clutching a backpack with a rainbow patch. Was trying to make their way to the road to hitchhike. “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” feels. What if the hunters/search party burns the wards? Made of woven branches and spiderweb. The witch screams when they are burned? Wouldn’t burning cause the forest to burn? This is way too much for 1000 words lol.
When compared to the draft, I’m actually surprised to see that I generated most of the story’s content in this journaling/freewriting session. Coming up with the line “Well, fuck me,” was actually the moment I understood this character and her world-weary attitude. I had not figured out how the story would end. I also hadn’t figured out that Riley was nonbinary (I figured this out literally the moment I started writing their first appearance). But the bones are there.
I was still dithering over where to start, and decided to outline. My outlines are usually created with several layers of Scrivener files so I wasn’t sure how to go about outlining flash fiction. In the end, I jotted down the following:
1. Intro/status quo: the isolated witch interacts with townsfolk including the pastor
2. That night she wakes up when her wards are breached.
3. She goes to investigate the wards and finds a young person (trans woman) tangled in her wards.
4. She brings the young person back to her cabin.
5. The townsfolk are out searching for the missing teenager
6. They start tearing/burning down the wards and the witch takes the girl to the main road where she catches the bus and heads to the big city.
Now I had a plan. I just had to implement it. THE WORST.
I had the first line in my head, which is always nice because starting is where I usually struggle the most. I wrote down the first three paragraphs and got stuck with the witch in the general store. It felt so prosaic. Who cares what she eats? (I care.) I stopped to research mountain wildflowers, and then the nutritional properties of lupine. (Did you know that people eat lupine beans? I did not.) I read the first three paragraphs and realized that I needed conflict. In came the good ol’ boy pastor and his charge.
(As a note, I don’t love this first scene, specifically the witch’s response to Riley. I think she would be less hesitant and more hostile.)
After I had the first scene down, the next two came relatively easily. Then I had to find an ending that would fit the word limit. I think I spent most of the time it took me to write the story on the last 200 or so words. I wanted Riley to ask the witch’s name (no, I still don’t know it) but it would have lengthened the story and I was already overbudget on words.
The story came out more wholesome than I thought it would be. My original concept was “Blair Witch meets Shirley Jackson meets T. Kingfisher’s The Twisted Ones” and what I wrote was not even in the same creepy ballpark. In the end, banal human evil is scarier to me than the supernatural, and I think that shows here.
I didn’t change any plot points in the editing I did prior to posting. It was mostly copyediting, pruning some of the language to make it more efficient, and turning similes into metaphors. I enjoy figurative language a lot, so that is usually where I need to cut. I did kill one darling: the fact that the witch raised Lupe from a very young puppy (probably after the mother was shot by hunters from the town). It was an important part of my understanding of her character, but I couldn’t figure out a way to put it into the story organically, and it ended up feeling like an unnecessary aside.
I used to write a lot of fanfiction once upon a time, so I’m familiar with the “oh-god-its-out-there-will-anyone-read-it-will-they-hate-it-please-validate-me” post-publication emotions. However, it’s been a long time since I posted any of my writing in public, let alone my own original work, let alone cross-posting to my admittedly small Twitter audience, let alone while holding myself out to be A Real Writer. This has been a year of working on that kind of vulnerability, from asking my partner to read my PitchWars 2019 submission, to pitching in SFFPit, to querying a real live agent, and to making this account and participating in Writer In Motion. I’m proud of myself for the steps I’ve taken in putting myself out there, but I think I can push my comfort zone more (said the perfectionist).
So far, everyone has been extremely kind and welcoming, and I’m so thankful for that sense of community. I definitely went through a lot of feelings yesterday, and was relieved and grateful when people took the time to read my draft. (Your comments, likes, and retweets are EVERYTHING.) I’ve been missing that without knowing what I was missing. It’s such a pleasure to interact with other writers, get excited about creating things together, and learn from their process. I can’t wait for the next steps in this challenge!