Holiday Writing Challenge: With Bells On

This year, we’re going to ask Santa for faces.

It’s only just past the first week of December and already the Seasonal Madness is upon us. Parties fill the nights. Gift-wrapping, baking, and fielding endless calls from family about how you’re not coming home again this year, do you not love us, seriously, you’re breaking your mother’s heart fill the days. Even if you stolidly ignore the holidays every year, you still get caught up in it, because everywhere you go, it’s right in your face.

Do not take this to mean that I do not like the holidays. I love this time of year. But let’s face it: it comes with a price.

For example, with two parties down and another still on the horizon, my house looks like Christmas threw up in here. There are still empty glasses on some of the flat surfaces from Saturday night. The cats keep dragging shreds of wrapping paper from under the couch.

But, instead of cleaning up, I’m sitting down at my desk to write. Because I am a writer, god damn it. Even when I’m busy.

So, in the spirit of the season, I bring you the Holiday Writing Challenge:

This holiday season, in the midst of all the parties and the shopping and the businesses with weird closing hours…make some time to write. 

I know, I know: you’re already stretched to your limits and here I am asking you to do something else. What a fucking asshole, right? Santa’s going to bring me nothing but coal and flaming paper bags full of dog crap.*

But here’s the thing: if you don’t make the time, it’s going to be damn hard to come back to it in January.

Besides, making some time for something you love will help you keep your cool during the insanity that is the holiday season. Whether you celebrate or not, there’s no denying the sheer amount of bat-crap crazy that descends from the winter sky like poison snow. I love the holidays, but people are fucking nuts. Give yourself some mental space by losing yourself in your story for an hour and you might make it to January without bashing someone over the head with a plastic Nativity scene.

Also, all that start over BS for the New Year is a waste. If you’re going to start over, then why wait? If it’s something you really want, then why not do it on December the 22nd? Then not only do you get a head start on all the other people who will no doubt be bombarding your Facebook with their pledges to finally finish that damn novel, you can celebrate by gorging yourself on half-eaten boxes of chocolates on Boxing Day. Win-win.

I’m not saying to skip all the parties or to lock yourself in your house with nothing but shelf-stable eggnog and fruitcake so you can write. But carve out half an hour or an hour here and there. Have one less drink at the party so you can get up earlier the next morning. Skip It’s A Wonderful Life** because you’ve already seen it a thousand goddamn times and work on the next chapter. Find a little time for yourself, and for your story.

And if you want to pour a little Christmas cheer into your coffee while you do it, well, I won’t tell anyone.

*Santa is apparently in junior high for the purposes of this sentence.

**I hate this movie, so it’s no difficulty for me. Harder would be skipping a Christmas screening of Die Hard.

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You Asked: Search Term Weirdness

You want to know about my what?

I’m sick today*, so let’s take a break from the usual round of advice and borderline abusive logic I throw your way. One thing I love about WordPress is the search term tracker. It shows me all the search terms that some of you entered that led you to this site. Some are obvious, some not so much. But they are all queries which led you to me, so I will do my best to answer them. Even if they’re not really questions.

“how to use nipple clamps”

This is one of the more common search terms. I am sorry to have disappointed you, searcher, but this Kinky World post might help you out. Godspeed.

“buzzfeed quiz gay”

Please don’t rely on Buzzed quizzes to determine your sexual orientation. Ever. It’ll probably just tell you you’re in love with Benedict Cumberbatch anyway.

“how does twist and shout end”

With neither twisting nor shouting, to the shock and wonder of all.

“Don’t disturb me or else I will fuck you”

…All right, then. Carry on.

“reaching 27000 first novel word count”

If you reached this, good for you! It’s an excellent start. If you’re trying to reach this, then write a little every day, keep your momentum going, and don’t lose hope.

“Toolbox kamikaze”

An underrated danger at Home Depot, the Kamikaze Toolbox can drop on the unwary from a great height, stunning its prey before the flock descends to feast. Thank you for bringing this predator to our attention.

“You never understood me”

Do you want to hug it out?

“You never ever understand me”

Shh, no more talking. Just hugs.

“boring parts of writing?”

Consider making those sections of your story more interesting, or not writing them at all. No reader anywhere ever got excited to get to ‘the boring part’.

“surprised and shocked cardboard box”

I don’t want to know what you did to that box.

“what sort of things should aspiring authors tweet”

Things which make you seem like a human interacting with other humans instead of a bipedal promotion machine are good. Not good are spam-style shilling, dick pics, and threats to murder reviewers. It’s amazing how many writers don’t understand the last one.

“how to gain height, if its by genital character”

…what?

“iamfuckingbusy”

Too busy for the space bar?

“how to offend your mum secretly”

Leave an anonymous poop in the mailbox. Results may vary depending on federal laws and mums.

“ants bdsm”

I’m not sure, but I’m going to say that’s illegal under animal cruelty laws.

“fucking it is about time i started writing”

Yes it is! And welcome. I can tell you’ll fit right in here.

*And will likely remain so for some time. Updates will likely come later than usual over the next little while.

Monday Challenge: Now It’s Personal

Hairy Frank eventually achieved levitation, but his mullet elected to stay behind and enlighten others. Namaste, Hairy Frank.

I’ve recently gotten back into journalling. I did it for many years, mostly in that awkward/angry period between 14 and 25, but stopped because:

1) Life happened. Shit got busy fast, yo.

2) I rather stupidly believed that, once I was past 25, I had most of life figured out. At least the stuff that I would have been journalling about, anyway. Which just goes to prove that, while age might come with its own indignities, nothing makes you cringe like Younger You. I mean, goddamn, I don’t regret stuff that I’ve done, but the stupid was thick on the ground some years.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I’ve started journalling again, and am currently trying to remember what faulty brand of logic led me to stop in the first place. Near as I can tell, it seems to be the same sort of logic that makes you stop working out just when you start feeling really strong and fit, because, hey, you don’t need it anymore.

Seriously, Younger Me: cringe.

I prefer to do my journalling offline, in an actual paper notebook, with a pen that spews ink. Like a Muggle. Not entirely sure why, though the possibility of destroying any incriminating evidence with nothing more than some gasoline and a BBQ lighter has come to mind. I’ve got so many safeguards on my computer these days–after the Great Hard Drive Failure of ’14–that I could reasonably resurrect anything if I had to.

So I’ve been getting my Carpal Tunnel on and scribbling in a notebook, filling it with…stuff. because that’s what a journal is, isn’t it? A repository for all the random crap that you don’t want cluttering up anywhere else, including the inside of your own skull? That, and drawings of dragons and robots.*

I recommend journalling to anyone who occasionally feels, to paraphrase Albus Dumbledore, as if there are too many thoughts inside your head. In the absence of a working Pensieve, a notebook can do.

And what do you write about? I’m so glad you asked.

Monday Challenge: write a journal entry. It may be your first, it may be your millionth. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is your subject. Write a journal entry about whatever the hell you’re thinking about right now. Your errands, your writing, your family, the way your neighbour has started doing topless yoga**. Even how weird journals are and how you don’t know what to write about. That was the subject of my first entry, and, damn, if that thing didn’t go on forever.

Go forth and write, goblins.

*To guard my thoughts. Obviously.

**Hairy Frank has a killer Peacock Pose.

Monday Challenge: ALL HAIL SYMBOLITRON

*something something the human condition something*

I was cleaning out my guest room the other day and found my degrees. And a copy of my first thesis.* As I leafed the mess of paper, I remembered long—sometimes very long—afternoons spent in tiny windowless rooms, debating the various merits of post-colonialist discourse versus post-modernist aesthetics. Sometimes those arguments were fun, sometimes they were interesting, and sometimes they were absolutely infuriating, but not a day goes past when I’m glad I don’t have to do it anymore.

However, I do remember once, at the Grad House**, we got to talking about what would happen if you came up with the symbolism first, and then wrote the story. Short answer: it would probably suck. Or be critically acclaimed. Or possibly both, because the two are not mutually exclusive.

So, in honour of that drunken conversation many autumns ago, here’s this week’s Monday Challenge:

Go to the Symbolitron. It will randomly generate a story and the symbolic meaning behind it. Pick one from the list it gives you, and then write the opening for that story. 

And if you want to do it in a bar in memory of me and my colleagues, more power to you.

*The second one I haven’t seen since I passed it in for final marking. Either I really don’t want to look at it anymore, or it flapped its covers and flew away to start a colony of post-colonial research proposals of its own.

**A bar, because the first rule of grad school is why meet in your office when you can meet in a pub?

Monday Challenge: Guess Who’s Back?

“I had a headache once. Then I danced on some text.”

Today’s Monday Challenge is inspired by this goddamn migraine, which I thought was gone. It should be gone. I took the medication, got some sleep, did all the right things*. And yet, after a small intermission, it’s back.

Maybe it just slept in this morning.

I sometimes wonder if the part of my brain that gives me weird story ideas and insults like ‘shambling pubefarmer’ is also responsible for the migraines. I mean, there’s got to be something twisted about that little nest of dendrites, right? It can’t be totally normal. When it’s working as it should, I get stories about blood and magic and guns and monsters. But every now and then it throws a rod and the energy that would go into making an idea goes into trying to force-eject my brain from my skull.

Just a speculation, of course.

Anyway, Monday Challenge: something that should be over—that whoever it was happening to thought was over—has continued. Perhaps in a different form, or in a different place. Or maybe in the exact same shape it used to take, stalking around your life or your head. And is it possible to make it go away, once and for all?

*As opposed to the shit I would have done ten years ago, when my thought process could have been described as “just take the edge off with some rum and half a pack of cigarettes, because you’ve got another section of your thesis due tomorrow and that fucker ain’t gonna write itself.”

Monday Challenge: Anything To Declare?

“And I see here you’ve claimed your suitcase is a sovereign nation…”

I just got back from a week in Cuba with friends. There are many stories I could tell of that time—Hector the Crab King, the Kamikaze Nightclub Bat, the Trouble with Troblins—but I’m going to tell the one that happened before I’d even set foot on the island.

When you’re flying internationally, on the last leg of the flight, someone comes around with customs forms for you to fill out. Name, rank, serial number, most recently committed crime, that sort of thing. Just the basics.

And, significantly, any controlled or banned substances you’re bringing into the country.

I’ve never been entirely sure why those sections are included. Perhaps customs officials use it to catch the stupider of the smugglers. Or maybe some people don’t realize what they’re bringing is illegal. “Holy shit, no illegal drugs or firearms? Do I ever feel silly! Better go to the bathroom and flush this kilo of heroin and AK-47. ”

Before any of you get on the phone to Homeland Security or whatever the Canadian equivalent is*, no, I was not smuggling anything illegal. But I had gotten very little sleep the night before, and I didn’t read the customs form carefully enough. I assumed I was checking that I had not brought drugs, firearms, or illegal llamas into the country.

Instead, I had checked that I had.

And not just one thing, either. According to that customs form, I was bringing everything. Liquor? Sure. Drugs? Why not? Animal products, plant seeds, toxins? Hey, check out my suitcase full of kittens, daisies, and ebola.

Thankfully, before I approached the customs window and got taken away to a dark windowless room by the Cuban police, the Husband spotted the mistake. He’s a pharmacist, so it’s just second nature for him to double- and triple-check every document he sees. So, instead of the story of how Steph Was Never Seen Again, this becomes the story of Steph Having Another Laughable Screw-up In A Lifetime Of Them.

But it almost didn’t.

Monday Challenge: someone is having trouble at customs. Did they do anything wrong? Maybe. Or maybe they just screwed something up. Or this can be as Kafka-esque as you like.

And in traveling as in the rest of life, remember: read the damn directions.

*One dude with a German Shepherd and a stern look. But not that stern.

Monday Challenge: Haunted

In retrospect, we should have paid a little more attention to this sign outside the door.

My house is haunted.

I’m, like, ninety percent sure of this. For one thing, the stats are there: 

-Our house is almost a hundred years old, which is pretty fucking old for North America. Shush, Europeans.

-I know for sure that at least one person died here.* 

-There’s an attic, which horror movies have convinced me is essential to any haunting.**

Now, to be clear, I don’t think it’s bad haunted. If there’s something living inside the walls of Chez Snow, it’s the type of spirit that randomly rearranges your books and puts your action figures in compromising positions. Not the type that wants to wear your skin like a cheap suit. 

It’s just that things move when I’m not looking. I’ll put everything away for the night and wake up to find books left out. Maybe the cats are more literate than I thought.

I’ve thought of setting up some kind of Misery-like trap—“The Groot bobble head always faces South.”—but if this thing has been here since we moved in, it’s had time to read that book by now.*** I’d probably find Groot in the same position but Knifehead and Gipsy Danger having anatomically improbable sex. 

Monday challenge on the table: things keep moving around when you’re not looking. Who’s moving them?

Updates may be on a strange schedule this week, because we’re gone away. I hope they’ll go up at the right times, but if not you’ll just have to rest assured that my Type A personality with fix it as soon as possible. Or whenever I’m not playing D&D on a beach somewhere.

*That would be the previous owner, who—according to her children, from whom we bought the house—passed away quite peacefully. Of course, if I was selling a house, that’s what I’d say, too.

**Because where else does the ghost live? Obviously.

***If it hasn’t, get on that shit, ghost.