Longest Week in the History of the Universe

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My stomach. Waiting for a grade.

This is the longest week in the history of the universe. Previously I had believed that it was the last week of elementary school before summer vacation, or the last week before Christmas or my birthday. But how wrong I was! Waiting for feedback on my final draft of my master’s thesis is tough. Each day seems to span an eon of geologic time. Set adrift from assignments, I can’t decide whether to read, write, bake cookies, crochet, tie knots, go for a run, or stick pins in a styrofoam ball (seriously, I’m doing some craft stuff).

To be fair, it’s only been four days since the assignment was due but I have to resist the temptation to check in on the virtual classroom every hour to see if there’s news yet. There are only two questions I have. The first one is, Can I call myself a historian now? And second, what do I do next?

Waiting

cherry blossoms

Cherry blossoms at the Washington National Arboretum.

I’ve been busy for the past two months working on my thesis draft. I thought everything was going along fine until I realized that Word was counting my footnotes and I actually had about 3500 words less that I thought I’d written. So that was a bit of a letdown. I’d hoped to get the bulk of the writing done and have several days for editing, but as it turned out I was writing even on the last day.

The draft was due last Sunday night and now I’m waiting for feedback so I can do whatever editing and/or rewriting is necessary. Then the final project is due on April 13. I think these past few days of waiting have been harder than the actual writing process. Plus, I haven’t had so much free time in ages and I’ve spent most of the past few days worrying about what it is that I’m supposed to do that I’m forgetting.

Finishing the master’s degree is going to be a great feeling but there’s also going to be a hole in my day. I’ll be finding a way to fill in that “spare” time with writing and research. The classes may officially end but I’m just too interested in what I’m studying to shelve it and not continue learning.

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 98

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Will spring never get here? Honestly, I like snow, but I’m really done with the sub-freezing weather this year and snow in the metropolitan area is not something to enjoy. It just makes traffic worse. And look at these poor little crocus flowers! I think the crocus came up last year in February. This year they only just managed to bloom after St. Patrick’s Day and they were rewarded by being covered up in snow.

This week’s writing prompt is a grab-bag of five items that you must use in a story. Here’s the scenario: you’re looking around in your garage for your snow shovel, which you just used a few days ago, so you know it’s in here somewhere. In the process of scouring the garage for the missing tool, you find these items:

  • a broken action-figure doll sans clothing
  • a chewed red plastic dog food bowl
  • three keys on a leather key fob
  • a baseball glove
  • an antique carpenter’s square

Come up with the scenario for a story that uses all of these items that isn’t a short story about a flea market or yard sale! The genre can be whatever you choose. Enjoy!

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 97

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I wrote a short story last month and sent it off to a magazine, only to have the magazine editor whip out his badminton racket and whip the story right back at me. Geez. I guess moments like this is why writers don’t get runner’s highs. Staring at email rejections does not induce endorphins into your bloodstream. At least it wasn’t a letter, so I was saved from getting a paper cut.

February hasn’t been the kindest month around these parts, so for this week’s Thursday Writing Prompt I want to think about the effect weather has on people. I know I’ve posted prompts in earlier posts about using the weather in your writing, but this time I’d like you to do something a little bit different. This time, think about how the weather really does effect people, and I don’t just mean hot and cold, or getting wet in a thunderstorm.

According to Nick Groom, a professor of English and author of Gothic: A Very Short Introduction, the environment and weather were considered “primary determinants of national character” during the 17th and 18th centuries, and this idea was widely used in the Gothic literature of the age.1 Think of any Gothic novel or movie you’ve watched — Frankenstein, Dracula, or even a haunted-house story–and you probably understand this right away. There is always a lightning storm at a haunted house and wind whipping through the tree branches. And if there isn’t … there will be as soon as the protagonist gets settled in.

Groom lists seven types of elements that are often included in the Gothic novel, including weather, strange or ruined architecture, difficult terrain, and a spiritual or psychological element to the story such as dreams or symbols.2 The chances are pretty good that you already know what Gothic is, even if you can’t explicitly describe it, but Groom’s book is a good place to start if you want to read more about the subject.

So, for this week’s Thursday Writing Prompt, write the setting for the opening scene of a Gothic story. Be sure to include a description of the landscape and any buildings. You probably don’t want your setting to be the middle of a grassy field on a warm sunny day, but it could work if you have the other story elements in place and if they’re strong enough to support the feeling of dread that lies at the heart of many a Gothic novel. Enjoy!

1. Nick Groom, The Gothic: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 50.

2. Ibid., 76-79.

February Insanity

Stress. You can’t live with it, and you probably can’t live without it. But it sure would be nice to have a little bit less of it in my life right about now. Today my glasses broke. I wasn’t even doing anything with them, just picking them up off my desk, and the arm swung around like a windmill. I’m also under a lot of stress at work, plus I have some freelance writing projects for the weekend and my thesis to get done.

Oddly, it’s not the thesis that is stressing me. I thought I would really have a hard time coming up with twenty to thirty-thousand words on one subject, but so far I’m not. It just takes time to write this stuff and I have to keep on keeping on or risk falling too far behind and not meeting the deadline. This isn’t NaNo writing, either. I can make that up as I go, but academic writing means I have to cite material and find sources and do a lot of fact-checking. The biggest problem is to avoid going off on tangents on everything interesting I find, which is really a lot of stuff.

I am treating the thesis the same way I did NaNo, though: with daily word-count goals. I’ve been more or less successful, but today was a total waste and included enough stress to induce an aneurism in all but the most sedate individuals. I’m afraid I don’t qualify as “sedate,” especially since I spent the evening wrestling with an angry cockatiel. Perhaps it’s the weather. I sure hope so, because that means if I wait five minutes it will change…

Anyway, the thesis is up to just over fifteen thousand words, although some of that may get stripped out, but it’s encouraging to see sixty-nine pages in the document when I open the file and know that I am going to meet the required minimum word- and page-count for the thesis. I may go over, but it will be easier to edit down than to make up thousands of words the day before the deadline. I have just over three weeks to write another ten thousand or so words to complete the draft, then there will be time to revise for the final project that’s due in April.

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 96

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I’ve been too busy wrapping myself in blankets to go outside and take photos of the snow, so here’s a photo from a couple of years ago for today’s inspiration. Hey, this morning it was only 10 degrees Fahrenheit and now it’s 23 degrees. How often can you say the temperature has increased 230 percent over the course of the day? Yoiks!

In honor of snow days, this week’s Thursday Writing Prompt is about using weather to create atmosphere in your writing. Specifically, snow.

Write a description of a scene that includes snow. Don’t get lazy and use words like cold, white, and fluffy to describe the landscape. Snow can actually be a variety of colors, although it’s usually caused by algae or contaminants. If you want to write science fiction, do an Internet search for colored snow, watermelon snow, green snow, or any other combination and do a bit of research.

Adding sensory detail to your scene will make it more real. Think about how it sounds when you walk on snow, or the sensation you feel when you hold snow in your hand. Really strive to describe it, and pretend you are writing for an audience that’s never experienced snow. Don’t rely on your reader’s shared experience to fill in gaps in your narrative.

Have fun, try to stay warm, and get some writing done.

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 95

Buffalo sculpture in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Buffalo (bison) sculpture in Salt Lake City, Utah.

This week’s Thursday Writing Prompt takes you on an old-fashioned road trip. Your task is to find a postcard or some other bit of travel advertising and write a descriptive paragraph about that travel destination. I took this photograph in Salt Lake City, Utah, during our vacation in 2010. As you can see, the bison statue has travel stickers pasted all over it, so if you can’t find a postcard you like, then use one of these places as your inspiration.

Set yourself a word goal and a time limit and get to work. About 350 words should be enough for you to describe the scenery without having to go into too much detail. This is not a story, but a possible setting for a story, so don’t worry about characters, dialogue, or plot. Just take yourself on a virtual road trip to gather some information about a place and then write about it. Try to use descriptive language and include sensory details to make the reader feel as though he or she is actually at the location.