Meghan’s December writing response with Olivia’s comments

Here’s Meghan’s prompt response, with Olivia’s comments. These were aired on Episode 18, in case you want someone to read it to you. (I love being read to.)

It’s not too late to join in — just head to the open thread for December to share yours, or send us an email.

First, here’s the prompt:

 

And here’s Meghan’s response:

“Yes Mama, ok. I will. Yes, I love you, too. No, just because I’m not looking for a husband doesn’t mean I want you to find one for me.” Sharon brushed her bangs out of her eyes and turned around. “I have to go. There’s someone waiting for the phone.  zài jiàn. Bye Mama.” She hung up the pay phone and heard the clunk of her quarter landing somewhere in its metal belly. “Sorry,” she said, turning to the boy waiting in line.

He was Asian, and she wondered if he was Chinese, if he’d understood what she had been saying to her mom, and her face burned. The boy smiled. He was cute — his eyes crinkled up at the corners and his black hair was gelled up in the front. Sharon fiddled with her earring, a long turquoise feather, and cleared her throat. “Well, I’ll let you use the phone.”

She knew he had understood both what she’d been saying to her mom, and what she felt about it. She shifted her backpack up on her left shoulder. Maybe she wouldn’t go to the studio after all. The light was fading anyway, and she had time to finish her painting later. She got a Coke from the machine and settled in at a table in the student lounge. With her sketchbook open, she studied the boy at the payphone, the back of his neck tan, with a strip of lighter tan around his hairline from a haircut. His scuffed Doc Martens didn’t quite match his button-down shirt and pressed gray trousers, and she wanted to know more.

 

Olivia’s comments:

As Meghan already said, this was a hard one for us, but we still felt it was a meaningful and helpful critique session. I have posted our usual mix of positive and constructive comments. This time, I felt that my constructive comments were a little unfair – basically asking for her to do more than what a normal person would do for a writing prompt – but Meghan made the good point that these comments are supposed to tell you where you can go with it if you want to continue.

Here we go:

  • I liked the sequence. There were relatable late teen or early 20s feelings, and they felt both universal and unique; they felt real.
  • Meghan always has good details on the people she describes, which place them in a place/time and also give you a feeling for them. In this case, I liked the turquoise feather and the crinkly eyes.
  • She also didn’t have any obvious cliché words.
  • At the same time, I felt I she have gotten more out of the scene – everything feels sort of squashed into these three paragraphs. I don’t mean that negatively, just that splitting up the action or taking us more deliberately through it would have given us more.
  • I wondered as well if she could hint a bit more at what they learned from or about each other? Or what will happen? Some foreshadowing or linkage to the fate of these people? It felt like it was sort of hovering in space, in some senses. Again, that’s what happens in a writing prompt!
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December writing prompt: Olivia’s response and Meghan’s comments

Monday’s episode was our monthly critique session, and as promised, here’s the first of two posts sharing our responses and comments. It’s not too late to join in — just head to the open thread for December to share yours, or send us an email.

The rules are short — note something positive, and make sure suggestions for improvement are constructive. Simply put, don’t be mean.

So here’s Olivia’s response, and my comments below. Remember, these are first drafts written in 15 minutes or so, not polished submission-ready material.

Gareth glanced over his shoulder before talking. Later, he’d remember that glance and wonder who or what he was looking for. He’d left his wife at home – that was smart. She’d hate this whole thing. Maybe he was checking she hadn’t followed him. Not that she would do that.

Maybe it was just living in Moscow for so long that had made him paranoid. And that feeling had followed him here, to New York.

“Don’t you worry about being sued?” he finally asked.

“Sued?” Gabe’s face looked like he’d uncovered a horrible smell. “Why?” He reached up to straighten his tie, then squared his shoulders back.

“What was that saying you Americans have? I always admired it. Something like not eating where you –”

Gabe’s head lolled back his mouth open in a dramatic imitation of laughter, but the sound was controlled. “I love the Americanisms you know, Gareth.” He slapped his hands on the table, again with a surprisingly muted sound, as if all his movements were performed through a thin film of cotton gauze. The opposite of projecting from a stage. “No, I’m not worried. To answer your original question.”

“You’ve never had any complaints?”

“Not in that department.” Gabe tore open the crusty roll that had been dropped on his plate. He tilted his head towards the wall, as if his exploits had happened in the next room. “Times have changed, man. They’re so ambitious, they’ll do anything.”

Gabe picked up his knife, spread butter on one half of the roll. “And they don’t have all those prudish hang-ups your generation, and even mine to some extent, had. The young ones need to sow their wild oats, as much as we did.”

Gareth felt a pang of, what?, not exactly jealousy, but something else – regret, maybe, like he always did when he heard men bragging about their sex lives. I could have that, he thought. And then, as usual, something inside him shrugged. He took a long drink of his beer, letting it wash into him. It tasted flat, or old.

“Anyway, that’s not why we’re here, right? Didn’t you want to ask me about someone? Are you poaching one of our people?” Gabe waved at the waitress to get her attention, holding up two fingers to sign for more beer.

“Oh yeah. I almost forgot.”

Gabe did his quiet chortle again. “Business really is doing well. Before, you definitely couldn’t compete with our salaries.”

“I’m not. She left you guys a while ago, the girl we’re talking to. She won’t say why.” He paused, letting that phrase hang there, then lifted the corners of his mouth into a smile. “Anna Davis – know her?”

Gabe clinched his jaw as the waitress put the beers on the table.

Meghan’s comments:

All in all, this was a tough exercise for both of us. Working with characters we already know so well, and outside the confines of our establishes stories, we both felt like we didn’t want to speculate too far afield. However, it’d be great for digging into a new project, and it was still really great to stretch ourselves here.

  • I like the way it leads up to the end, giving just enough information to keep the scene moving, and the ending is satisfying and fits.
  • The scene-setting at the beginning is also good. Not too much background, but enough so we’re not floundering.
  • Gabe is also really gross — well done.
  • I also liked the flat, old beer — it clearly refers to Gareth himself.
  • It could be smoother. This is pretty normal for a first draft, though!
  • Also normal for a first draft — there are a handful of phrases you could polish (“glanced over his shoulder”, “pang of jealousy”). I think I noticed them more than I usually would because this is something I need to work on in my own writing!
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Episode 18 has the January writing prompt!

Episode 18 is live! Show notes are here. In it we read through our December writing prompt responses, and then we introduce our January prompt, which is to browse some CV or resume pages, find one person, and write about their job interview experience. It’s adapted from the helpful book Writer With a Day Job, by Áine Greaney.

We’d love to hear your responses.  Send your response and let us know if you want us to share it on the air!

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Open Thread: December writing prompt

Hey hey! In case you haven’t figured it out, we really love seeing your writing. It’s so cool how people interpret the same prompt so differently, and we’ve seen some very clever responses. SO, we totally respect wanting to keep your responses private, and get it if sharing them with just us is putting yourself out there enough, BUT just in case some of the rest of y’all want to get in on this writing prompt every month, here’s the open thread for posting your responses and critiques.

As a reminder of how this works: We do what most people do with writing prompts – i.e. use them for 10-15 minutes to get warmed up. That means we don’t edit them (we write by hand, so when we type it up there may be some basic changes, but we resist the urge to do real work on it).

Otherwise, the rules are simple — note something positive, and make sure suggestions for improvement are constructive. In other words, don’t be mean.

While it’s ok to offer critique without sharing your response in turn, we’d like you to really think hard before doing that, and let it shape your comments.

Ok, enough chatter. The prompt:

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November writing prompt: Meghan’s response and Olivia’s comments

This is Olivia, here. I am gonna come clean: I have a problem with procrastination. We talked about this writing prompt in Episode 12, and I am only posting these notes now. Sorry. This is the time of year that I can only say I hope I’ll be better in 2018. Let’s all toast to that.

Anyway, moving on to what I’m actually here to write about – here is the prompt from November:

 

As a reminder of how this works: We do what most people do with writing prompts – i.e. use them for 10-15 minutes to get warmed up. That means we don’t edit them (we write by hand, so when we type it up there may be some basic changes, but we resist the urge to do real work on it).

Otherwise, the rules are simple — note something positive, and make sure suggestions for improvement are constructive. In other words, don’t be mean.

(Note: We’d still love to hear from you if you wrote anything in November and want comments on it!)

Here’s Meghan’s response:

Ellis stood back and surveyed the room with satisfaction. It had taken years, but she had finally done it. Green tendrils hung down from above her head, swaying in a gentle breeze. The air was humid and warm with the scent of the black earth that lay in soft mounds under her feet. She took in a deep breath and smiled. 

They hadn’t believed her. That’s the way it always goes, isn’t it? You have an idea, and if it’s new, or if you’re just not the sort of person they’re used to listening to, it’s no good. Well, it isn’t up to them anyway.  

The grass had been the easiest part, of course. Just spread compost and seed and make sure to water. It was replacing the walls and ceiling that gave her trouble. Ellis didn’t want to just build a conservatory. No, that’s what they didn’t understand. This was something entirely different. 

She started with the hardwoods. She would have preferred to get right down to the fruit trees, but she needed more protection and they weren’t strong enough. So she started with oak, of course — something native would be simplest — and a few chestnuts. Then the softer things. Ivy, muscadine, other vines. Snowdrops that year of the blizzard, when she spent three nights worrying about ice.  

Violets were a late idea, but the narcissus was planned from the beginning. They wouldn’t understand that either, but Ellis would. The trickiest part had been the spring. It was only a stroke of luck she’d found a source so nearby, though it was shocking really how deep she’d had to dig. That was when she thought it might be all over, when they might lose patience and all her work would be for nothing. Well, let them try now, anyway. 

A rustle as something scampered through the undergrowth reminded her it was done now. No more worrying. Ellis patted her hair, gone white ages ago. 

She stepped in and closed the door behind her. 

 

My comments:

  • I really liked the tone and the feel of the piece. The beginning sets the atmosphere – a calm and earthy environment – so well, and her strong knowledge of some plant names help to continue this. I liked the scampering at the end.
  • Similarly, it had a really strong voice – introduced in the second paragraph. I liked you feel and understand the person talking and their emotions. A cranky old lady-dreamer, and I wanted to get to know her more.
  • (I also like the name Ellis.)
  • I thought whether this sentence could be rephrased: “They wouldn’t understand that either, but Ellis would.” It made it sound like there had been another person involved in the idea – probably because of “Ellis would” (i.e. she’d understood someone else’s idea). So that could be tweaked.
  • I also pointed out a couple of potential cliche/normal words – swaying in a breeze etc. It seemed that she used those types of phrases at the beginning, but later in the piece, it was more like she found her stronger voice.

 

If you want to send us your prompt, email us or write us on Instagram, or leave us a comment!

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November writing prompt: Olivia’s response and Meghan’s comments

As promised last week, we’re posting our responses to November’s writing prompt, with comments. The rules are short — note something positive, and make sure suggestions for improvement are constructive. Simply put, don’t be mean.

So here’s Olivia’s response, and my (Meghan’s) comments below. Remember, these are first drafts written in 15 minutes or so, not polished submission-ready material (although I was super impressed with Olivia’s).

Grace froze when she heard the knock on the door. One arm was outstretched, her hand grasping the hairy-barked pine log she had been feeding into the dark mouth of the fireplace. She was glad she hadn’t lit the fire yet. She propped herself up on the other elbow.

The knock came again, harsher this time. Impatient. It knew she was inside.

Both of her arms were starting to shake. She ease the wood onto the sooty stone hearth, silently, then dragged herself across the floor. Her thick skirts picked up twigs, beetle carcasses and small clumps of mud, leaving a clean-swept trail behind her.

Another knock. Not even waiting to listen.

As she moved, she searched the sparse room again, pointlessly scanning the dusty surfaces for a girl-sized crevice. Even the kitchen had only shelves, no cupboards.

The metal latch clicked but did not give itself up. And so the cheap door began rattling in its frame, asking for entry at first, then demanding it. Fierce.

She pulled herself up onto the austere wooden chair behind the door, arranging herself into her most natural position. This always took time, otherwise something about her angles were wrong. Gave her away immediately.

But she didn’t have time. Her leg dangled awkwardly as the door gave way. A panting bearded man swept in, blue moonlight and frost swinging in on his cape.

And the comments:

  • I loved the tone — it’s so creepy from start to finish
  • The ending! It is a surprise, but a logical one. The signs are there, but I loved how they were only clear in retrospect. The whole piece moves quickly and is full of tension.
  • The only thing I noted for revision is the way the intruder’s actions are given to the door, the door latch. I do like how it masks all details about the intruder, but it is a bit distracting.
  • The language itself works really well — beetle carcasses, hairy-barked pine log, and my favorite, blue moonlight and frost swinging in on his cape. Just lovely.

Did you write something for this prompt you’d like to share? Email us, or leave it in the comments!

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Episode 10 is up, and we talk NaNo progress and share this month’s writing prompt

This mini-episode is an update on our NaNoWriMo rebel progress and our draft revisions. NaNo details are in our blog post, and full show notes are here. Make sure to subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever get your podcasts, and rate and review us — you’ll never miss an episode, and you’ll help others find the show!

Focus on the experience and not just the results.

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Writing Prompt 1: Olivia’s response and Meghan’s comments

Earlier this week, Olivia posted my response to our first writing prompt and her critique. As promised, here’s her response and my critique — remember, rule #1 is be kind.

“Have a seat.” Gareth turned away from the window and waved towards a chair in front of his desk.

I squeezed past the desk and settled between the chipped maple arms, onto the seat made of worn office-blue fabric with tiny pink dots. He pulled the tall leather chair back from his desk and sat, gazing patiently at me from a chair set at considerable height. I felt like I was visiting the principal’s office, seven years old, sulking in cheap mass-produced furniture.

“I made some calls.”

“What did they say? Will he live?”

Gareth shook his head, almost shrugged. “They still don’t know.”

We sat for a few seconds in empty quiet. I let the image of Igor, surrounded by doctors, sink in.

“But he’s in London?”

Gareth nodded, his eyes betraying a feint surprise – perhaps that I was still there.

“Getting the best care, at least.” My words felt flippant, revealing how much I wanted to pretend that everything was okay.

“Anna, I think you should go –” he glanced around the room, pausing deliberately “– on the business trip. That we planned.”

“We – um, did?”

“The meetings in London?” He nodded, eyebrows raised.

I frowned, shook my head, then belatedly noticed the way he’d left spaces between the phrases, like signs in the words, to lead me through the conversation.

“You have two days. After that, I can’t guarantee anything.” He pulled open the drawer, pulled out a folded piece of paper.

“It’s your ticket.”

I smiled at the ink-jet-printed page, with its black and white Russian airline logo. As if nothing on the internet was real unless it was transferred to paper.

So, in terms of comments:
  • First of all, I love the way the information unfolds in the dialogue, in little stepping-stone bits. It’s a dynamic way to move the scene along. We don’t know where they are, or what the relationship is between Anna and Igor, but we get hints.
  • I like how this motion is echoed in the phrase, “I frowned, shook my head, then belatedly noticed the way he’d left spaces between the phrases, like signs in the words, to lead me through the conversation.”
  • I also liked the comment about nothing on the internet being real unless it’s transferred to paper.
  • I’d like to see other senses pulled into the descriptions — maybe convey the cheapness of the chair by describing how the fabric feels, rather than looks.

Remember, this is really draft and we haven’t particularly edited it – we wanted to be genuine with you! This is a great way to realize that everything can be revised, that each comment isn’t a way to say you can’t write something, but just a suggestion for how to make it better in the next draft.

We’d love to hear your responses — send them to us and let us know if you’d like them to be featured on the show.

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Writing Prompt 1: Meghan’s response & Olivia’s comments

As promised on today’s podcast, we are posting our responses and the mini-critique comments we discussed on the show. Of course we’d love to hear your responses as well. The rules of the mini-critique are that you should pick out something positive, and then where you see potential suggestions or improvements, be constructive. Basically, like in so many spheres, the rule is “don’t be mean.”
October writing prompt: Your boss calls you into their office. What happens next?
Anyway, this is Olivia – I am posting Meghan’s response* and some comments below. So first, Meghan’s response:
“Roz.” Margot beckoned from the doorway of her office. Her face was blank – for me, or for my coworkers’ benefit, I couldn’t tell. I unhooked from the network and stood.
I waited in front of Margot’s desk while she closed the blinds on both the office-facing window and the one that overlooked the street outside. Margot shut the door.
“There’s been a mistake,” she said. Then she disappeared.
Just — gone. I ran over to her desk and looked behind it, frantic. I crawled on the floor — maybe she was hiding under the desk — but she wasn’t there. There was no sign of her, nothing left behind, except me.
Sweat rolled down my sides from under my arms, and I sat back against the gray steel cabinet in the corner to think. No one could know. I had to get out, fast.
The handle of the cabinet dug between my shoulder blades and I turned. The drawer wasn’t closed all the way. Something [[i don’t know what – I haven’t figured that out yet]] was wedged inside. I pulled it out and slipped it in my waistband.
With one last look, I slipped out of the door. “Thanks, Margot,” I said as I closed it. “Yep, I’ll take care of that.”
I couldn’t leave right away – I needed to know if Margot’s absence was discovered, and I couldn’t look suspicious. I needn’t have worried. The afternoon crawled by and by the time I left, I was a wreck. I hadn’t done a thing, unable to face connecting again in case someone was able to read what had happened, and I had no idea how I could find out about the [[[whatever thing]]] I had found without being tracked.
As soon as I got home, I checked both rooms in my apartment, every cupboard, every corner.
So, in terms of comments:
  • First of all, I really liked how the suspense builds here, and the way the reader is drawn into a world and infers so much from the scene and the setting just from the small amount of text here.
  • I also really liked the image of the “afternoon crawling by” – it’s not a phrase I’d heard a lot and it’s a really good image.
  • I thought, in terms of things that could be done differently, I am a little bit weird in that I have a logistical mind, and so I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out where the door was, compared to the desk and the window. I couldn’t imagine it, so I suggested to take another look at that part at the beginning.
  • And finally, there were a few points where I liked the phrase, and they short cut us to the feeling we need to get, but I thought they could be more vivid. For example, “by the time I left, I was a wreck” and the word “frantic” in the fourth paragraph. What did that look like? What would it smell or sound like? And so we talked on the podcast about the importance of being in touch with all your senses in describing something.

But overall, we really enjoyed this process – although it was scary – and we look forward to hearing from you all.

 

* As we said on the podcast, this is really draft and we haven’t particularly edited it – we wanted to be genuine with you and hopefully to get you guys to participate with us in future ones!

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Episode 8 is up, and it’s scary (for us)

In episode 8, we do something super scary — we share our responses to this month’s writing prompt, and have a mini-critique session.

If you want in on the fun, send us yours here, or post in the comments! We’d love to hear what you came up with. We talk at the end of the episode about how useful it is to get feedback on our writing, both to improve and to realize that room for improvement is natural, and doesn’t make you a bad artist.

We also talk more about schedules and managing the stress of multiple projects — good to think about as National Novel Writing Month (for those who wonder what the heck this Nanowrimo thing is) approaches — and Olivia comes up with a great motto.

The writing prompt, if you missed it in episode 6, is:

Your boss calls you into their office. What happens next?

What mottos keep you going?

motto less crisis

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