Not giving up the Ghost

If there’s one thing experienced authors can count on, it’s that at some point in the creative process they will look at their work in progress and believe it was, is, and always will be a huge piece of crap. Success rarely comes to those unable to navigate this nadir.

That’s where I was last month, when I watched a writing challenge – one I’d really looked forward to – turn to mush. Another NYC Midnight challenge, this one was:

  • a rhyming story up to 600 words,
  • in the genre of a ghost story,
  • with an emotion of vulnerability,
  • and a theme of around-the-clock.

I couldn’t have gotten any luckier getting assigned a ghost story theme so close to Halloween. And I had entered the contest wondering why they would consider giving more than a week to finish. Then, two days into it, I felt like there would never be enough time to turn this dud into a diva.

A rhyming story? Isn’t that a poem? Well it may be. But perhaps not. It needs to actually have a story, a plot. “Romeo and Juliet” is a rhyming story. “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died” is not…in my opinion. Emily Dickinson fans should feel free to weigh in.

I love a good rhyme. In college, I wrote a paper in rhyming verse format on the topic of Jonathan Swift’s “On Poetry: a Rhapsody”. The topic was assigned, the format I chose for kicks. When this challenge came along, I knew I had this! I was made for this.

And yet shortly in, I began to wonder why I had signed up, why I ever thought I could do this, and why the story in my head just wasn’t coming out on the page. I had a likable, vulnerable protagonist Ghost. The story arc was there, the inciting moment was solid.

But what was that theme again? And why had I chosen this rhythm? Why couldn’t I come up with something more sophisticated? Surely others would have ravens quoting “Nevermore”, and winds chilling and killing.

Although my writing eventually turned a corner, in the end I had to bow out of the contest. I didn’t give up on the idea or the character and story it spawned. Competing non-discretionary priorities just made it too tough to pull off in a way I could be proud of…or even stomach. The challenge offered a valuable reminder, though.

The difference between failure and success is often a matter of continuing to work through it. We need to keep walking the path until the woods clear before us – until we see how to get through, feel the joy of finding, and begin the run to the end.

I suspect someday I will write the story I envisioned, though likely not in rhyming format. It was a beautiful story, and beauty is best when shared. Don’t worry – I haven’t given up the Ghost just yet.

Happy Halloween!

Wading into writing contest waters.

Although I love a good challenge, writing contests hadn’t interested me until recently. A friend shared her experience with NYCMidnight, a contest that launches at midnight on a specific date, and allows you only 24 hours to write and submit a newly written piece. It sounded like a fun effort, and I loved the idea of so many people taking the same prompts at the same time and turning them into unique works.

I decided to give it a go, and signed up for an October 15 contest of micro-fiction (250 words or less). As midnight approached, I couldn’t wait to find out what my prompts and genre would be. The anticipation was so exciting! It felt like Christmas! The launch message came, and I navigated to my name for my group assignment. My face fell. I’d be writing something in the Romance genre, including an activity of swimming in a pond, and using the word “dawn”. A few important points here:

  • I have never written micro-fiction in any genre.
  • I have never written or desired to write romance.
  • Swimming in a pond is my personal nightmare given my aversion to dark water and what lies beneath.

The thought of ditching it crossed my mind, and not just once. But I pulled my big-girl socks up and gave it a shot. Given the challenges with the assignment, I am pleased to say that I did manage to write something and submit it. I’m also pleased that, despite falling into the romance genre, it’s not too blush-worthy for prime time. I won’t know how I fared in the contest until December, but I have to admit that I enjoyed rising to the challenge of stretching into a new genre and format. I’m sharing the micro-fiction here, as likely the only piece in the romance genre I’ll ever write…unless another contest comes along.

Sunday Ritual

Written October 15, 2021

She caught her breath as the chilled night air greeted her. Walking toward the pond he’d built, her lips spread into a smile as she thought of how his vision, though not his hands, had made it reality. A pond for their children to swim in, but no ordinary pond. She walked past steps flanked by urns with cascading bright flowers. Her toes broke the dark water, irises and rocks surrounding it on all sides, backlit as the sun peaked up in front of her.

Waist deep now, she spread her arms wide, and watched the water swirl around her fingers as she moved through. In an hour it would be dawn, and she would lie next to him in the silence of the smooth teak deck, slightly warmer than the night, but not as warm as his chest and thighs. They would watch the sun rise, and speak quietly words for just the two of them. When another hour had passed, the patter of tiny feet would run toward them, starting their day, wondering about breakfast.

Having crossed the length of the pond, she turned back toward the house just in time to see him slip out of the bedroom doors, a towel slung around his waist. He was more than she had imagined when they married. He became even more each day. She waited for this man who had made her the woman she was at that moment. Waited for their Sunday ritual.