show case, Writers Co-op, writing prompt

Go Ahead, Write It

by S.T. Ranscht

Photo credit: S.T. Ranscht

I don’t write quickly. Well, except for those weekly 500-word book reports for Honors English in twelfth grade. I churned out each of those A-graded babies in 30 minutes or less before class — In ink. On college ruled notebook paper — while hiding in the cafeteria where my friends never thought to look for me. But since then? I’ve written slowly, deliberately, editing as I go, and editing again before I start writing anew when I return to any WIP. And then I continue to edit.

Now I’m heading up the Show Case Writing Prompt Challenge here, for the Writers Co-op. One prompt every two weeks, and I’ve committed to responding to every single one of them. Or maybe I should just be committed. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Writing for these prompts is a huge challenge for me because, contrary to what Carl Reed thinks, I’m not prolific, and I don’t have the luxury of time to write any of them.

  1. I still have a labor-intensive livelihood to attend to. (I’m plenty old enough to retire. I’m just not anywhere near plenty rich enough.)
  2. I spent many, many hours over a six month period last year re-writing the first part of a YA Sci-fi trilogy as a standalone with series potential so I could enter it in ScreenCraft’s Cinematic Book Competition last November. Obviously, this hasn’t impacted the time I’ve spent writing for Show Case this year, but it does demonstrate my inherent slowness as a writer. AND, it sets up a bit of a boast: Last week, ENHANCED made the cut to the quarterfinals. (Shout out to Victor Acquista, whose sci-fi novel SENTIENT also advanced to the quarterfinals!)
  3. I’m currently writing a full synopsis — ugh — in order to enter ENHANCED in another competition in March.
  4. I’m also working on a different novel I am completely in love with that I am determined to enter in this year’s ScreenCraft competition in the fall. It’s based on a short story I wrote three years ago, and I’m only on Chapter 4. Long way to go. Limited amount of time to get there.
  5. There’s a household to take care of. You know the drill: shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, et cetera.)
  6. And a dog.
  7. There are front and back yards screaming for attention. Get a yard guy, you suggest? See number 1 above.
  8. And there’s reading to be done. Lots of reading, and I don’t read for speed.

In other words, I’m a lot like you.

Here’s my pitch. We all have lives outside of Writers Co-op, and even outside of writing. But we also have a talented, thoughtful, caring community here that urges its members to push beyond whatever point they are at in their writing journey. We lift each other up with each interaction.

That’s been particularly clear around Show Case. The feedback is not only appreciative, but in many cases, critically helpful, prodding good writers to show flashes of brilliance. And maybe brilliant writers to show flashes of genius. Do you want a piece of that?

You can learn the prompt two weeks in advance, so you have some time to mull it over while you’re driving, shopping, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry or yard work, walking the dog or taking a shower. And by sharing these posts on other sites, I know for a fact that we have attracted some new readers, even though they haven’t submitted any of their own writing — yet. (I’m looking at you, Tre!)

Most of all, writing to these prompts is fun. It’s a chance to flesh out projects you’ve been working on for a while or take short, creative detours in directions you didn’t anticipate going. I never imagined that everyone would respond to every prompt, but I suspect each of you who has contributed to Show Case so far would agree that the exercise was stimulating and satisfying.

So shake off any hesitation you have and add your creative energy to Show Case. Start small or go big. You might unleash a new voice hiding in your brain. You might discover each piece you write feeds your growth as a writer. You might decide to compile all your contributions in a published anthology that brings you wealth and fame. But no matter what comes of your efforts, you won’t be sorry.

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book reviews, Literary critique, show case

USEFUL CRITICISM

Toxic Positivity Is Very Real, and Very Annoying.
Psychologists say forcing ourselves or others to be positive can be harmful to our mental well-being and our relationships. This is because practicing false cheerfulness— which they call “toxic positivity” —keeps us from addressing reality.
Details here.
https://www.wsj.com/articles/tired-of-being-told-cheer-up-the-problem-of-toxic-positivity-11635858001?mod=wsjhp_columnists_pos1

Specific comments about another author’s work can be truthful, helpful and painful. Sacrificing truth to prevent pain is not helpful. None of us want that. We work hard to improve and we have all winced at positive but useless comments.

Criticism, as the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults of a literary work, has a wide history. There’s Formalist criticism, Gender criticism, Marxist criticism, Psychoanalytic criticism, Russian formalism, Reader Response criticism, even Critical criticism. And we don’t have time for all that.

I suspect that trusting the author who asks for criticism and truthfully giving what help we can competently offer, will work most of the time. Sue Ranscht’s Writers Co-op Show Case allows just that. Check it out if you’re looking for criticism &/or are willing to criticize another author’s writing.

Of course, the real fun in criticism is when you don’t like an author and can say things like, “If you think he’s good now, you should read his writing from two or three years ago.”

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About Writers, editing, Stories, writing technique

Show Me

While screening stories submitted to Sci-Fi Lampoon magazine, it occurred to me that editing means the opportunity to find new stories to share with others. What does that mean? It can’t mean only stories that the editor personally likes. Good stories appeal to a wider variety of readers than any one person can imagine.

So what makes a story appeal to a wide variety of readers? Common themes help, of course, because more readers will identify with the story. But I suspect the real key is participation. Think of it this way: Would you rather sit in an audience and listen to a comedian or a lecturer? The lecturer may tell you interesting things but the comedian will draw you in and make you participate. Would you rather laugh or be lectured?

Yup. I’m talking “Show don’t tell,” my favorite explanation of which remains the quote by Russian novelist Anton Chekhov.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
“Show don’t tell” entices the imagination. That lets the reader participate in the story.

Writers have used many creative ways to draw readers into their stories and the ‘Net is full of examples. Chekhov’s is an immersive description.
Some are half-thoughts that invite the reader to complete the image.

“She said only, ‘He spent the night rocking my world.'”

Or juxtaposed images that show something of the character’s character.

“I drive way too fast to worry about cholesterol.”
-Steven Wright.

What is your favorite way to show the reader your characters, to draw then into your world?

Me, I favor dialogue. It can allow the reader to imagine the details.

“You had a vibrator?”
She nodded. “I pulled a lot of guard duty. You know how boring that is?”

It’s not enough to tell a reader anything. You have to show them something.

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Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Let’s Show Off

Recently, several of us explored ways to expand our little co-op. Having failed to heed the Universal Caution against volunteering, I volunteered to organize two ongoing projects — Writing Prompts and Critique Groups — that might induce authors to participate. Most of those who commented on my ideas supported them. (I suspect they were just happy somebody offered to do something, but I am grateful nonetheless.)

Let’s begin with a Writing Prompt. This isn’t a competition, but all submissions will be shown off in a Show Case posted here on Writers Co-op. Here are some guidelines: Pick a genre, any genre. Use approximately 6 to 1,000 words. The goal is to stretch our author muscles and produce a piece worth sharing with our friends.

The first prompt is: Atrophied.

Submission Instructions: By Monday, October 4, attach your work (as a .docx or .pdf) to an email addressed to me at stranscht@sbcglobal.net. I’ll put them together in a Show Case post here on Writers Co-op for Friday, October 8. (I’m thinking this could be a bi-weekly challenge. What do you think?)

And if we all share these projects through our own personal blogs, Facebook pages, and soapboxes, authors who have never heard of Writers Co-op might take part, too.

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About Writers, Freedom of Writing, inspiration, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

JK Rowling Loves Minecraft

Novelist, screenwriter and film director Alex Garland is a big fan of BioShock, loosely based on Ayn Rand’ self-interest-championing philosophy of objectivism as outlined in her novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

Harlan Ellison collaborated with Cyberdreams and game writer David Sears to create “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, “a PC horror game based on his short story of the same name.

Tom Clancy is well-known in the gaming industry, especially for his Rainbow Six military and espionage games.

Authors play video games for the same fun & relaxation reasons others do and they sometimes pick up tips on world building, scene progression, and character differentation.

I play video games to push thoughts of what I’m writing aside, to someplace in my mind where they’re free to evolve without me consciously picking at them. For me, much of life is like swinging through trees. You have to regularly let go to make any progress.

Do you play video games? Which ones do you prefer? And, do they in any way contribute to your writing?

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About Writers, inspiration, Writers Co-op

Hobby Anyone?

That’s a photo of Vladimir Nabokov chasing butterflies.
Ayn Rand collected stamps, Emily Dickinson baked, Dostoyevsky gambled, Tolkien was a conlang* wizard, Tolstoy played chess, and Franz Kafka amassed an extensive collection of pornography.

Mark Twain, friends with Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison, obsessed over science and technology. He even patented three inventions of his own.

Why? Flannery O’Connor suggested, “Fiction writing is very seldom a matter of saying things; it is a matter of showing things. Any discipline can help your writing. Anything that helps you to see, anything that makes you look.” I couldn’t agree more.

That may be why E. E. Cummings painted daily, creating 1,600+ drawings, oil paintings, sketches, and watercolors. Other writers who used art to better visualize included Henry Miller, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, and Sylvia Plath. And of course, our own Mimi Speike comes to mind.

What about you? I use photography to “see” things I might otherwise not glance at twice.
What’s your hobby?

~

*conlang is a word used here in an attempt to pay back Carl E. Reed for constantly making me look up words.

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book sales, self-publishing, Writers Co-op

SELF-PUBLISH BOOK SALES

Who makes money self-publishing? Probably, E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey sold the most copies. LJ Ross’ series about Detective Chief Inspector Ryan has a total of around 4.5 million copies. Rachel Abbott has sold over four million copies. Every one of her 11 crime novels hit six figure sales in its first year.

What genres dominate? Half of the e-book bestsellers in the romance, science fiction, and fantasy genres on Amazon are self-published!

Famous authors who self-published? E.L. James, of course. Margaret Atwood self-published her poems. Beatrix Potter first self-published 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. And, of course, successful authors from Mark Twain to Stephen King cut out the middle man.

Do many authors make money self-publishing? According to Amazon’s 2019 review of its Kindle sales, thousands of self-published authors earn over $50,000, while more than a thousand hit six-figure salaries from their book sales.
‘course, In 2020, there were over 44.2 thousand writers and authors working in the United States,
https://www.statista.com/statistics/572476/number-writers-authors-usa/
Best estimates suggest the “average” self-published, digital-only book sells about 250 copies in its lifetime. By comparison, the average traditionally published book sells 3,000 copies, but only about 250-300 of those sales happen in the first year.

So should we self-publish? Obviously, we don’t need a publisher to publish a book. To earn their cut, a publisher must promote your book or they ain’t worth feeling good about. And once you’re famous, you just don’t need them. Feel free to treat publishers the way they treat authors: make me money or go away.

DISCLAIMER: Just my opinion here, but obsessing about money misses the point that life’s memories are made from other stuff. For example: Unlike money, an author’s book is never spent.

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About Writers, inspiration, Uncategorized

Behind the Story

Authors are creative people. Give us an interesting idea or a memorable experience, and we’ll create a world, populate it with believable characters, and tell their stories. Not that you have to wait for the gift. Jack London famously said, “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.”

A WWII a bombardier dealt with the horrors of war in his memories for years before a line suddenly popped into his head: “It was love at first sight. The first time he saw the chaplain, [the as yet unnamed main character] fell madly in love with him.” Joseph Heller began writing a short story that gripped him for years before it became the novel, Catch-22.

One of many women growing up in the deep south of segregation watched her father defend two black men against a charge of murdering a white businessman. They were hanged. That father and son had no chance in 1919 Alabama. Harper Lee turned her childhood experiences into To Kill A Mockingbird.

Creativity is sometimes reaction. J.D. Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye as a personal reaction against war. He had several chapters with him when he landed on D-Day. It can also be misleading. Russian and American novelist Vladimir Nabokov read German and lived 15 years in Berlin, beginning in 1922. He could have read the short story, “Lolita,” written by prominent Berlin author Heinz von Lichberg in 1919. The similarities with Nabokov’s Lolita are numerous.

What about you? What lies behind your stories?

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blogging, book promotion, marketing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

ATTN: Gamers, Writers & Editors

Video games have been around since the early 1990s when we played them over long distance phone lines. Gamers have been forging relationships for 30 years now, and we want to tell some of their stories.

You may have a story or two to tell, about yourself, your friends, or even your marriage, that could only have happened because of online gaming. We’d like to hear it. And so, we believe, would a lot of other people.

We are publishing an anthology of stories by gamers. No fan fiction. Just real stories about real people.

You can note your story in the comments below, or on our Facebook group Stories by Gamers for Gamers at
https://www.facebook.com/groups/932185130543024
or email it to GD<at>Deckard<dot>one.
Don’t worry if you’re not a writer, just say what happened, when, in what game. And if you are a writer or editor, maybe you can help us to ghost-write or edit the stories of others?

This is a brand new venture. So, if you’re interested join us. We’ll work out the details together. Help us to form a group of gamers, writers, and editors and create an anthology of our stories.

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About Writers, book promotion, book reviews, Literary critique, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

How to Prepare for Negative Comments on your Creative Work

Aristotle is quoted as saying: “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

I have been fortunate, so far, in receiving largely positive and constructive feedback on my first published novel, “Unearthed.” I of course know that no creative work can appeal to all audiences, though. Somebody, somewhere, will not care for your writing, your painting, your music, your recipe, etc. I know people who don’t even like chocolate … and I mean … it’s chocolate.

Like many authors, I felt some anxiety when publishing my novel. I had three beta readers and multiple rounds of edits; I was happy with the result. But I haven’t been living in a cave. I’m on social media, and I read the comments on public posts. I felt I should steel myself for the negativity that seems to thrive on the internet.

Here are my tips:

  1. Make a list of popular things you don’t enjoy

The beauty of this step is that nothing is off limits. Allow me to demonstrate: Fortnite, Game of Thrones (I really tried), every song by Drake, bicycle shorts, calamari. The fact that I don’t care for these things won’t (and shouldn’t) stop them from being successful. Except for whoever designed bicycle shorts. They should be stopped.

  • Read the 1 and 2 star reviews of your favorite novels

This is an eye-opener. One of my favorite authors, Karen Marie Moning, received a review titled “Seriously?!” that opened with: “I am mind-boggled that, at the time of this review, this book has over a 4-star rating.”

Another gem from a review of J.R. Ward’s work: “The characters are the most awfully cliched stereotypes I’ve seen since … actually, no, they ARE the most awfully cliched characters I’ve ever read.”

Yikes. I read other reviews that are overly critical (imho) of story line or character development, but these snippets stand out in my mind for obvious reasons. Fortunately, these authors continue to turn out successful novels and connect with audiences who enjoy their work.

  • Watch Jimmy Kimmel clips of “Mean Tweets” on YouTube

This is a hilarious segment that highlights the most scathing comments on Twitter, read by the celebrity target. It’s brutally funny and frighteningly enlightening. Celebrities respond in various ways and some surprise you.

That’s it. Three easy steps that cost you nothing but a little time. For me, this was the perspective I needed before sending “Unearthed” out into the cruel, cruel world with my eyes wide open. I sincerely hope I never receive a Kimmel-worthy review of my work, but if I do, I’ll remember that I’m in good company with every other creative talent out there—and keep writing.

Escape mundane reality with “Unearthed”—a fun, fast-paced contemporary fantasy romance.

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