The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors (halfshellvenus) wrote,
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphors

LJ Idol Prize Fight: "Behind the Curtain"

Behind The Curtain
idol prize fight | week 17 #5 | 2320 words
Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life


As a discovery writer, my process is unpredictable. :O Sarcasm quotes around 'process' would probably be more accurate.

Prompts are helpful—a complete lack of topic is like navigating through a gigantic void. Without guidance, I have nothing to kick off a spark of inspiration. But with a prompt, I'll brainstorm ideas for it—sometimes a setting rather than a character. Then I'll start writing and see if it wants to go somewhere. If the opening is evocative enough, or stirs up a distinct character or narrative style, I'll keep going and see what the story wants to become. (My writing is very "voice-driven." If I can hear a character in my head, I know who they are). If the opening is flat or stalls out, I'll try a different setup, character, genre, or approach, and see if that one works. Repeat as necessary until something takes hold.

This is the scariest possible way to write. There's no guarantee of ever finding something that 'clicks.' But you have to work with whatever ill-behaved form of talent you have, and this is the method that matches my brain. If I'm lucky, some future events will suggest themselves as soon as things 'click.' I'll jot them down—they'll be a rough outline to write to. On really, really rare occasion, I start a story and know exactly where it will end. I might even skip ahead at some point and write the ending early, and then go back and write toward it. But usually, it's a long mysterious experience all the way through.

This five-prompt round of Idol was punishing proof of that last case.

Day 1:
Uh-oh. There are TWO prompts this week, Salad Days and Vigilance. Ugh. Consider ideas for both possible meanings of Salad Days. Write down fictional possibilities and think about non-fiction on something from my past. Hate them all.

Turn to Vigilance instead, and immediately think of doing non-fiction on exercise. Draw a blank on any fictional approaches.

Write no actual words. This is sadly typical on days when we get a new prompt.

Day 2:
Three more prompts show up. Oh my god, FIVE PROMPTS? I haven't done that since Season 8, and it was a nightmare. Could this be the thing that gets me booted out of Idol? Ugh.

I hate the last two prompts. Both lean toward things I don't want to write, and I don't want to read 15 stories about them either. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Google the Fatberg prompt, which is disgusting. Why, Gary, why?

Try to stop flailing and at least write something. Craft a few opening sentences for Vigilance. I like where they're headed. But what will the threat be?

Day 3:
Brainstorm possible variety of genres for the range of five stories. Trolls float up, somehow. Decide one of these stories needs to involve trolls. For reasons.

Ponder the Vigilance 'threat' some more, consider setting the story in an earlier era, with a more naïve POV. Use that style to describe the first encounters with the threat. Not sure it works. Flesh out vision of the threat and its capabilities, instead.

Play a few rounds of 3D Mahjongg and Spider Solitaire.

For Fatberg, consider a story about a plumber's kid or a sewer monster. Reject anything involving weight issues and diets. Maybe personify the Fatberg, for the weirdness? Ugh, that's even more disgusting.

I can tell this will be the prompt I obsess over…

Day 4:
Go back to using a modern setting for Vigilance. Add a few more sentences while forming an idea for Salad Days. Try out the Salad Days approach. It seems to have legs. Play Spider Solitaire while running background 'think' process. Jot down some future events in the story, little flashes of detail.

Consider trolls for Fatberg. How would that work?

Day 5:
Write more of Salad Day and play Spider Solitare whenever the story stalls, which is often. Feels like pulling teeth! Do extensive Google research on salad. Make lists of base leaves, accent vegetables, and extra ingredients for 'wow.'

Write all freakin' day, and the story's almost done but not quite.

Think about Fatberg again. Try anagrams out of desperation. 'Batferg' sounds like a nerdy Batman wanna-be, which could be fun, but the 'ferg' part doesn't mean anything helpful. Do not want to write about fraternities, so 'Fratbeg' and 'Begfrat' are out.

'Fretbag' could be a story about a chronic worrier… Sketch that idea out, let it sit. Has no particular 'hook' to make it worth reading, though.

Day 6:
Gary extends the writing deadline! Wow—I could potentially go to the out-of-state wedding the next weekend that I've been waffling over. Is it too late? Can I afford the plane tickets? Are there any plane tickets left?

Almost done with first prompt, which is somehow taking forever.

Day 7:
It's NOT too late to go to the wedding! Find affordable plane tickets that have annoying flight times, arriving in Salt Lake City late Friday night and leaving early Sunday morning. Buy them anyway.

But what to do about hotels? The wedding site is an hour away across the mountains, and snow or below-freezing temperatures are forecast for the whole weekend. Need to rent a car.

Should I stay near the airport and travel during daylight on Saturday? Or drive through the bad weather on Friday night so I can stay where the rest of my family is? I'll definitely have to drive back on Saturday night—it's too risky to wait until the morning of the flight.

Day 8:
Decide to drive the first night of the trip. Flail around with some words for Fatberg in between weighing hotel options for both cities and booking them.

Day 9:
Look at car rentals, start making packing list. Research whether Travelpro suitcase is still within carry-on size limits, since they've been shrinking. HalfshellHusband measures suitcase, and crap—it's too big for Delta! We have two duffel bags under the limit, but both are probably smaller than I'll need. Can I fit winter clothes AND dress clothes into the same bag? Rush out to buy new rolling carry-on suitcase.

Write a little more of Fatberg, but fall asleep early.

Day 10:
Reserve rental car at work the next day. Add some more to Fatberg in between writing, building, and testing code. Why is it so slow? Poke it with a stick.

Do Google research on German/Scandinavian-sounding words for components of names.

Day 11:
Flying out tonight! All-day flailing over work, financial snafus, rescheduling doctor's appointment, and final packing. Take care of last few work things and head to airport.

Plane lands on time at 9:30 in Utah. Pick up rental car, start driving across the mountains. A little snow, not too bad. Arrive at large, scattered hotel complex. Spend ten minutes looking for registration building while not hitting kids driving golf carts around in the dark. Register with surly night clerk who won't disclose the color of the outbuilding I'm staying in. Drive to vicinity of building and spend five minutes schlepping luggage around in the snow while searching for the right structure.

It turns out the building is brick red, which is definitely a color. :(

Unpack, get things ready for bedtime and for morning. Turn on tiny Windows XP laptop, wait 5 minutes to get to the Internet so I can download my in-progress story document. Gmail loading takes forever. Succumb to shininess of Spider Solitaire and FreeCell in the meantime, repeatedly checking Gmail until it loads. Download document, then alternate between more Spider Solitaire and seeing whether document has opened in MS Word yet.

Ponder possibility of ADHD for the zillionth time. Never has my aptly-chosen dinosaur cursor spent so much time being the yellow "waiting" color. Ugh.

Story document finally opens. Look at Fatberg, rework part of a few sentences, add more trolls. Remember I have to wake up early to check in for Sunday morning's return flight. Set alarm and go to bed.

Day 12:
Wall-to-wall busy on wedding day. Have fun with family before, during, and after the wedding, then drive to Salt Lake City and check into hotel.

Get computer up and running, again waiting about 15 minutes before Word allows any writing.

Calculate lead-time needed the next morning for getting up, checking out, re-fueling and returning the rental car, and getting through TSA. Realize I should already be in bed. Shut down and put things away.

Day 13:

Sleep badly, get up at 6:20 a.m. (5:20 in my own time zone). Rush through packing up, checking out, returning the car, and getting to the plane, which is boarding as I arrive at the gate. Nod off multiple times on the airplane.

Arrive home around 11:00 a.m. Spend entire day attempting to get Fatberg to finish. Decide trolls too eloquent, make them terse. Whoo—that's much more fun!

Make significant progress and now know how it should end, but story still isn't finished when I start fighting sleep from 10.p.m. onward. Go to bed at midnight.

Day 14:
Sleep in a little. Work on real job all day and start the change of scene on Fatberg. Write a couple of sentences, but that's all. I have two potential writing hours before bedtime, but I just can't stay awake—even with slapping myself in the face and getting up to move around. Ugh.

Manage two sentences, one of which is just iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii

Day 15:
Another busy day at the office. Realize I only have one of the five stories finished and time is running out, so I'll need to do non-fiction for the last two prompts. This means I should have kept an actual diary of the whole experience to help write this prompt, but c'est la vie.

Meanwhile, HalfshellHusband is finishing his third story…

Sketch out notes for the fourth prompt, My Happy Place. Revise part of Fatberg, and write two more sentences before the comatose sleep problem starts up and I battle it for two hours before going to bed.


Day 16:
Spin plates for work, tidy up at home for housecleaner, achieve possibly 1 ½ sentences before being too sleepy to write. Who knew that weekend trip would take such a toll?

Day 17:
Move Fatberg roughly half an inch forward, and re-read the 300 or so words I have for Vigilance. Decide on the approximate ending, revisit earlier parts of story to remove any potential contradictions, and write a few more sentences.

Day 18:
Incremental progress on Vigilance before another round of unconquerable sleepiness hits. Man, this sucks.

Day 19:
Write Fatberg between randomly browsing combination briefcase/backpacks. I bought a gray one of these along with the new suitcase for the wedding trip, but the color is ugly and the black version is expensive. Get excited about new product options from other vendors, skim Amazon reviews, and move Fatberg along to the cusp of the denouement.

Shift to Vigilance, and push it along bit by bit until there is 200% more of it than the stalled-out version of the last two weeks. Ponder whether I've reached a good place to end it, or if it's too soon? Continue pondering off and on in the pre-bed hours while trying yet again to stay awake.

Day 20:
Decide Vigilance isn't ready to end just yet. Continue working through the rest of it. Do Google research on cutting down trees with an axe. Write some more, get sidetracked by neighborhood-region email showing cat who needs a home. We're still looking for a new kitty after losing ours in December! Rathole into looking at alllll the kitties and sending emails to HalfshellHusband.

Finally focus and slowly write Vigilance through to the finish, with much re-reading along the way to check word choices and pace. Oh my god, it is finally, finally done! Paranoid-save the Word doc at least four times…

Sketch out final parts of Fatberg, add new scene, and go for an outdoor bike ride. Come back, shower, and then start sketching out parts of prompt 5 (this story right here).

Create reference calendar after dinner to align dates with the writing process over the last several weeks. Write these very words as part of the high-level rough draft.

Day 21:
Sleep badly due to DST time change. Do real work, and finish the end of Fatberg. Edit it, change the clan name and add a few more trolls. Finally come up with a title for it and the Vigilance piece!

Write My Happy Place in a long, agonizing stretch starting after dinner. Periodically consider adding pictures, and look at photo albums for that. Get overwhelmed by the amount of time required to choose them, scan them in, and add them to a story post. Resume writing the story instead. Finish after midnight.

At Midnight:30, return to this fifth entry, writing the lead-in to the notes jotted down over the last few days that will form this Hell Diary. Fingers become sluggish, like the brain itself. Ooh look, it's two a.m. :(

Work through to the end of the paragraph above, then read through Vigilance again and decide the ending needs rework. Ugh—tomorrow.

Scan in some pictures for Happy Place after all, which takes forEVER. In bed at 3:15, my worst late-night Idol effort ever.

Day 22:
Super strung out. Struggle to revise this piece while getting some real work done. Finish reworking end of Vigilance, post it and the other two finished stories. Polish My Happy Place, and lament all the formatting in all these stories that makes posting them so slow.

Finally, finally… get ready to post this sucker up less than 30 minutes before the deadline.


Between the difficulty with these prompts and the unplanned problems staying awake during my regular writing window, this was a thoroughly thwartastic experience!

But while I may start nodding off during dinner tonight… in the end, I prevailed.


If you enjoyed this story, you can vote for it along with many other fine entries here.

Tags: #5, my_fic, original_non_fiction, real lj idol

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