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2017 – The Year of the Novel

In the late winter of 2013, I came to a screeching halt with my writing. After failing to secure a publishing deal during a two-year option contract, I lost more than my confidence. I lost a piece of my heart.

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After my dreams crumbled before my eyes, I spent the better part of six months drifting around, unsure what to do next. Write? Don’t write? Every time I thought about picking up a pen, I cringed and threw myself into a different activity or hobby. The gym became my favorite place in the world. I signed up for all sorts of fitness classes (even Zumba, which shows you just how desperate I was to keep myself occupied).

As time trickled by, I grew more and more certain I’d never write again.  Then, out of the blue, a co-worker suggested I sign up for a writing contest. At first I balked at the idea (and probably ran off to the gym for another Zumba class). But, after I danced away my crippling doubts, I decided to give it a whirl. That whirl transformed into a whirlwind of revived passion. I started a blog, began working on a new novel, and participated in more writing contests.

Write, write, write! I couldn’t get enough.

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Ever since, my writing whirlwind has continued. For the past three years, I’ve split my focus into multiple projects: Two novels, 20 short stories, 365 blog posts, seven writing contests, and dozens of editing jobs. Looking back, it’s been a lot of work, but I don’t regret any of it. I needed every single project to learn and grow, and to become a better writer.

But now it’s time to narrow my focus. Dramatically. I can’t keep up the pace I’ve set for myself and expect to achieve my dreams. That’s why I’ve decided to keep my goal for 2017 sweet and simple: Finish my novel and send it to agents. Period.

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Sounds easy, I know. And, theoretically, it should be achievable. If I maintain my current pace, I should have a beta-worthy draft to send to my first readers by the end of January. Depending on their reactions, I should have my next draft (or two) done by late spring/early summer. From there I should be able to spend the summer revising and sending subsequent drafts to readers for feedback. And, by fall, I should have a polished manuscript and my first batch of query letters ready for agents (ahh!).

Yes, I should be able to get all of that done. But, I’ve had the same plan the past two years and failed miserably. Hence the reason I’m making my novel my main priority this year. Besides blogging and accepting the occasional editing job (because, hello, money!), I won’t work on any other projects. Enough’s enough!

 

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To be honest, the toughest part of this will be giving up writing contests. I absolutely adore the adrenaline, ideas, and friendships I get from them. Unfortunately, the contests I like to participate in eat up TONS of time. Not only do I write a story, but I also get sucked into a forum where I critique hundreds of other people’s stories. During the past three years, I’ve critiqued at least 1,500. That’s roughly 750-1,500 hours of work!

Or, rather, 750-1,500 hours I could’ve dedicated to my novel.

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No. More! As much as I love competing, I need to put a hold on it until I finish my novel. I need to put a hold on a lot of things until it’s done.

Hopefully my narrowed focus will keep me on track this year. And, hopefully, by next January I’ll be able to hold up my manuscript and say, “There! It’s done!” Or, better yet, “I have an agent, and I’m on the road to publication!”

Let’s do this 2017!

How about you? What are some of your goals for the new year?

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Top 2015 Posts – Can You Write a Story in 150 Words

To end the year, I’ve decided to spotlight my top 10 favorite blog posts from 2015. Each of these made a special impact on me and readers, so I hope you enjoy them (again or for the first time). Today, I present to you my 9th favorite post from the past year:

Can You Write A Story In 150 Words

#9_1Writing stories under 1,500 words is tough. Writing stories under 150 words is insane! That’s why I liked this post. It offered a tough, but terrific challenge to writers (including myself). It also offered a lot of fun.

So, check out the details below and, if you haven’t already, consider entering one of Ad Hoc Fiction’s free contests!


A few weeks ago, my online writer’s group introduced me to a weekly flash fiction contest hosted by Ad Hoc Fiction. Basically, writers are given a prompt word (ex: feather, bark, note) and must incorporate it into a 150-worded story…Yep! That’s it. Just 150 words to address all the vital components of a story and satisfy readers.

*gulp*

Once the deadline passes, the submissions are posted on Ad Hoc’s website and the public votes for a winner. It’s free (yes, FREE), it’s fun, and it’s a great way to challenge yourself. So give it a shot! Whether you want to learn, warm up, or win, you’re sure to have a blast with Ad Hoc Fiction.

Below is a story I submitted a few weeks ago. The prompt word I had to include was “plaster.” Enjoy!

“Crumb Layer”

by Jenna Willett

When I was little, my mom would let me help her frost cakes. “Remember, Annie,” she’d say, “the first layer is the crumb layer. You frost, wait, frost again, and—voila! See?” She’d point at a finished cake. No crumbs, no blemishes. The decorating method worked beautifully.

It still does.

I hum to myself as I spread a second layer of white goo over the crumbly surface. I dip, swirl, smear, and wipe my metal spatula down and up, left to right. Over and over. I work carefully, but quickly. I have to. Even with the heater on, the house is cold and the cold makes things set faster.

I give one final swipe and stand back to study my handiwork.

I smile.

The plastered wall looks great. With a layer of paint, it’ll look perfect.

Nobody will ever suspect I hid a dead body behind it.


To learn more about the contest and Ad Hoc Fiction, click here.

Top 10 2015 Posts

10. Are You a Positive or Negative Writer

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Can You Write A Story In 150 Words

A few weeks ago, my online writer’s group introduced me to a weekly flash fiction contest hosted by Ad Hoc Fiction. Basically, writers are given a prompt word (ex: feather, bark, note) and must incorporate it into a 150-worded story.

Yep! That’s it. Just 150 words to address all the vital components of a story and satisfy readers.

*gulp*

Once the deadline passes, the submissions are posted on Ad Hoc’s website and the public votes for a winner. It’s free (yes, FREE), it’s fun, and it’s a great way to challenge yourself. So give it a shot! Whether you want to learn, warm up, or win, you’re sure to have a blast with Ad Hoc Fiction.

Below is a story I submitted a few weeks ago. The prompt word I had to include was “plaster.” Enjoy!


“Crumb Layer”

by Jenna Willett

When I was little, my mom would let me help her frost cakes. “Remember, Annie,” she’d say, “the first layer is the crumb layer. You frost, wait, frost again, and—voila! See?” She’d point at a finished cake. No crumbs, no blemishes. The decorating method worked beautifully.

It still does.

I hum to myself as I spread a second layer of white goo over the crumbly surface. I dip, swirl, smear, and wipe my metal spatula down and up, left to right. Over and over. I work carefully, but quickly. I have to. Even with the heater on, the house is cold and the cold makes things set faster.

I give one final swipe and stand back to study my handiwork.

I smile.

The plastered wall looks great. With a layer of paint, it’ll look perfect.

Nobody will ever suspect I hid a dead body behind it.


To learn more about the contest and Ad Hoc Fiction, click here.

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Why You Should Enter the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2015

I know many people don’t want to take the time or spend the money on entering writing contests. I was in the same boat up until I entered the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2013. Then, whoa! My entire attitude changed.

Before I began entering the NYC Midnight (NYCM) writing challenges, I assumed my writing skills were at their best…Wrong! In just a handful of Flash Fiction and Short Story Challenges (FFC 2013, SSC 2014, FFC 2014, SSC 2015), my abilities have grown exponentially. I’m actually embarrassed by what I considered to be my “best”. I won’t even let people look at my old work.

So, what has writing flash fiction and short stories taught me? Well, I’ll tell you:

  • Write a complete story. To make a story truly shine, all facets of it must be fully developed and balanced equally. Plot, characters, scenery, etc. If you miss or skimp on one, it stands out to readers.
  • Characters count. Characters carry a large portion of a story’s weight. Developing them so they’re as 3D and likable as possible is a must. Also, too many of them tend to be confusing/burdensome for a reader. So, make sure each one counts.
  • Keep it simple! Chop, chop, chop. Do you really need that character? Do you really need to talk about that meaningless detail? With their limited word count, short stories force you to take a step back and consider what’s vital to a plot. If it’s not pushing it forward or making it deeper, chop it out.
  • Take the road less traveled. Go outside the box. Be creative! Ask yourself, “Is this different? Will it make me stand out?” Example: In round one of the Short Story Challenge 2014, I received these prompts: Suspense, wedding, chef. My first impulse? Write a story about a bride and groom who are trying to off each other, and in the end the bride poisons the groom with the help of the chef. I immediately tossed it out and forced myself to dig deeper and think beyond the obvious. And I’m glad I did. Most of my competitors wrote stories about poisoned food and vindictive brides and grooms. Mine, “Chasing Monsters,” was nothing of the sort. And because of that, I landed myself a 2nd place finish.

Those are just a few things I’ve learned while participating in these challenges. To list all of them would take a decade.

I will, however, point out some specific benefits of participating in an NYCM Challenge. The main one is their private forum. NYCM offers competitors a location to interact and share stories with each other. And I love it! The forum helps you:

  • Overcome the fear of sharing your work. I’ve been sharing my stories for years and I still get butterflies whenever I let others read them. However, sharing our work is a must if we want to learn and take our writing to the next level. Plus, if you dream of being published like me, then sharing is a basic requirement. So why not get used to it and learn how to manage those pesky butterflies?
  • Discover what you do well. Not only does positive feedback give you a nice ego boost, but it also helps you understand your strengths. And understanding your strengths helps you understand who you are as a writer.
  • Discover what you don’t do well. Yeah, I know. Who wants to hear what they’re bad at? Unfortunately, opening yourself up to constructive criticism is a necessary evil if you want to become the best writer you can be. Plus, if you’re planning to enter the Harsh Land of Publishing, then you will need to learn how to handle constructive criticism. And the forum is a great place for that.
  • Learn by critiquing other stories. You wouldn’t believe how much you can learn by reading and critiquing other people’s work. When you (tactfully) explain to someone what you liked/didn’t like about their story, you will naturally apply those observations to your own work.
  • Meet other writers! While doing these challenges, I’ve gained a lot of amazing friends, writing pals, and trustworthy beta readers. So, believe me when I say the forum is an excellent place to connect with other writers and find the moral and professional support you need to succeed.

Anyway, with all of that said, registration has officially opened for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2015. I strongly–strongly–encourage you to consider entering it. Yes, it costs some money, and yes, the actual challenge is, well, a challenge. But I promise if you go into it with the right attitude and participate on the forum, every penny and every stressful second will be worth it. Plus, the story you’re working on now (or in the future) will thank you for doing this. I know the one I’m working on is thanking me.

FFC2015_HomePageTransp06Of course, the NYCM writing challenges aren’t the only ones out there. If you aren’t ready to take the plunge, or aren’t in a position to spend the moola, then I still encourage you to look into a blog or website that hosts free weekly challenges. My favorite is Chuck Wendig’s, terribleminds.

 You have until June 18th to take advantage of the early entry fee. There’s also a Twitter discount, so be sure to use that to lower the cost even more. Final deadline is July 30th.

Hope to see you all on the forum!

For those of you who’d like to understand the differences between NYCM’s Flash Fiction Challenge and Short Story Challenge, click here!

To learn more about the NYCM Flash Fiction Challenge 2015, click here!

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Operation Disney – 2nd Round Entry – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge Entry

Below you will find my 2nd round entry for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2014. You will also find a perfect example of trying and failing–ha! As I explained in a post earlier this week, I received the number one genre I DID NOT WANT: political satire.

To be honest, I wouldn’t even share this story with you because it’s not representative of who I am as a writer. However, I’ve decided the true failure for this story would come from stuffing it in a drawer and forgetting it ever happened. I might as well post it and learn from my mistakes. How else will I improve if I don’t open myself up to criticism, right?

So, with that all said, here you go! As a reminder, I had 48-hours to write a 1,000 word story based on these prompts:

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*Since not all of us are political gurus, I wrote out a brief explanation about my chosen topic. If you’d like to read it before or after you check out my story–click here and scroll to the bottom 🙂

“Operation Disney”

by Jenna Willett

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: It’s the 21st century and time for a new, inviting strategy for the Secret Service. But Director Peterson’s plan might be too Disney for special agent Prouty.

*

“My, oh my, what a wonderful day!” Director Judy Peterson clapped her chubby hands and hitched her bulldog-like face into a smile. “Remember, everyone: be friendly and inviting. Understand?”

The group of black clad Secret Service agents shifted uneasily. Agent Prouty glanced at his colleagues. They wore varying expressions of alarm, amusement, and indifference. Behind them, Air Force One glimmered in the setting sun of Scranton, Pennsylvania, the “happiest place on Earth”.

“Come, come. I wanna see smiles. Lots and lots of smiles!” Director Peterson nodded her approval at each agent. “Ah, yes, there you go. Very good. Yes, yes–No, no. Prouty!” she barked. “You’re not smiling!”

He clenched his jaw and twitched his thin lips into a smile.

Fuck, this was ridiculous.

Satisfied, Director Peterson motioned across the tarmac to the VIP passengers being herded out of the airport to the final security checkpoint. “Smith, check IDs. Phillips, run the metal detector. Halloway…” As she rattled off their individual assignments, Prouty studied the approaching passengers: congressmen, media clowns, a few invited guests.

“…yes, yes, Halloway. That’s a great smile. Just like Prince Charming.” Director Peterson’s praise drew Prouty’s attention back to her. The evening breeze hardly ruffled her stiff chocolate brown hair. “Prouty, you’ll oversee the baggage scanner.”

He nodded dutifully.

“And, don’t forget, everyone,” she trilled. “I want smiles and magic–“

“Director?” Prouty blurted. “Who’s on Air Force One with the First Family?” Hell, the last thing they needed was an armed lunatic running up the plane’s stairs, barging through the door, and mowing down the President of the United States.

She waved a dismissive hand. “Eh, they’ll be safe on board. The attendants can keep an eye on them.”

Oh, dear God.

Prouty bit back his angry retort and did as he’d been trained to do: follow orders without argument.

“Now, let’s hoppity-hop to it!” Director Peterson fluttered her fingers towards the security checkpoint.

Prouty and the rest of the team obediently took up their positions. From his perch behind the baggage scanner, he watched Director Peterson stroll behind the other agents, urging them to maintain their delightful facades while greeting passengers. “Welcome to Air Force One. Anything your heart desires will come to you. If you want a cognac, you got it.”

How the hell did she get her husky voice to sound like a chipmunk?

Prouty shook his head and focused on scanning the luggage contents. The shape of a gun appeared.

What the–?

“Is there a bluebird on your shoulder today, agent?”

He jumped and glared behind him. Director Peterson leaned in close. Her cotton candy perfume gave him an instant toothache. “Director, we have a serious problem.” He pointed at the screen.

Her beady eyes narrowed. “Well, that’s obviously a hairdryer, silly.” She winked and tapped him on the nose. “But, good eyes. Keep them sharp.”

“But–“

“Ooh, look! A Birkin bag.” She bounced over to a busty blonde hanging on the withered arm of an ancient congressman.

Oh for shit’s sake. Prouty swallowed his outrage and continued checking bags.

A few minutes later, a hefty man plodded past holding a map of Washington D.C.

“Sir?” Prouty stood and squinted at the map. The White House was circled in red.

Holy hell.

“It is fine, da?” the man grunted in a thick Russian accent while puffing on a cigarette.

Prouty coughed and tapped his headset. “Director, I have an issue–“

“An issue?” She skipped over to him, her jowls wobbling with each heavy jolt. “Well, well, well. Who’s this handsome man?”

“Vlad Bukavitsky,” the Russian sneered. “And I not like dis treatment by your countryman. I good man. Loyal man. See?” He flashed the Russian flag pin on his lapel.

Prouty scowled. “Sir, I need you to hand over that map–“

“Agent Prouty!” Director Peterson gasped. “Don’t discriminate against our international friend.” She smiled apologetically at Bukavitsky. “I’m so sorry, sir. We’ll make sure you get a souvenir.” She tapped on her headset. “Halloway? Yeah, I need a coffee mug…”

Prouty’s jaw dropped. “But–“

Suddenly, a man wearing a yellow construction hardhat appeared. “Hiyah, folks.”

“Hello there!” Director Peterson chirped.

“Got a call about a broken TV on the plane. Mind if I hop on real quick to fix it?”

“Of course not. Go ahead.” She waved him past the security checkpoint. “And thank you. I know how much the President wants to watch those Steelers.”

“Best damn team ever,” the construction worker agreed. He tipped his hat, and whistling, strolled off to the jet. Prouty caught him snapping a selfie on his way up the steps.

Good God!

Unable to contain himself any longer, he rounded on Director Peterson. “With all due respect, this is bullshit. None of this is protocol–“

“My dear agent,” she sighed, impatience lacing her sugary tone. “How many times must I tell you? This is the 21st century. It’s time for a new attitude and a new approach to our tactics. Lowering our guard might be the best thing to raise–“

BANG!

Everyone screamed and ducked.

BANG–BANG–BANG!

Prouty spun around, gun in hand, ready to fire.

BANG–BANG!

“Someone get to the President and his family,” he shouted.

“How dare you, Prouty!” Director Peterson cried. “I’m in charge here. Stand down, team. I repeat, stand down.”

He gaped at her. “Director, someone shot–“

“Nobody shot anything! It was just the luggage trolley backfiring.”

“Backfiring?”

“Obviously.” She clucked her tongue. “Haven’t you ever heard a car backfire?”

“But six times?”

“Hush, hush.” She patted him on the arm. “And for God’s sake, smile. You’re scaring our poor passengers with your unnecessary panic.”

Unnecessary? Are you out of your–“

“The last passenger has been processed, Director.” Halloway ran up with his Prince Charming smile.

“Well, my, oh my.” She clapped her hands. “Great job, team. Let’s get this show on the road.”

Prouty glared from them, to the President’s plane. Slowly, he exhaled and muttered, “Ah, fuck. Let it go.” 

To read more stories, visit the Jen’s Pen page.

You Know You’re A Writer When…Frustration

YNYAWW - Frustration