Spam vegetable strudel

Have you ever had one of those ideas that seemed completely brilliant until you said it out loud?  I had one of those today.  It was a thought for an essay, but when I tried to describe it to my partner, it just sounded sort of dumb.  Reflecting on it, the idea isn’t actually dumb – it’s the fact that I can’t articulate it in the brilliant way my brain first conceived of it that’s dumb.  It was a flash thought (though there’s got to be a better phrase for this concept) – a thought that must be made up of more emotion than thought, because at the moment it makes great sense, has tons of promise, and is something I can most certainly write and immediately have accepted for publication in a highly acclaimed literary journal, if I can only find the time to sit down and get it on paper.  Now that I’m sitting down, though, I can’t capture that perfect thought, and I think it’s because the words around the idea never solidified.  They zapped themselves in and out of my brain the way a person’s name does when I’m first introduced to them.  I forget names before I even finish hearing them.

Anyway, I guess there’s not much harm in having a smart thought turn dumb on you.  As long as it’s a thought, anyway.  Say it out loud, put it on paper, inadvertently send something moronic in an email to your coworkers – that could be more harmful, but in my case, it’s just a writing idea I need to kick around a little longer to see if it develops.  If it does, great – if not, no big deal.  Spam vegetable strudel, on the other hand, seems like it is probably a true monstrosity.  As a Google fan, I use GMail, and it doesn’t bother me at all that they target ads to me based on the content in my emails.  The ads are so unobtrusive, I rarely even notice them on the screen.  A few days ago, though, this line virtually leapt off the page at me.

Spam Vegetable Strudel – Bake 20 minutes or until golden, serve with soy sauce.

I couldn’t comprehend first why this ad would appear above my inbox, but more importantly, why anyone in their right mind would not only put those three words together, but actually create a recipe, then pay to advertise something so preposterous.  I believe I have solved the mystery of why it appeared in my personalized ad window.  At first I thought I must have used the word ‘strudel’ in an email.  That would be odd, but not unheard of – I come from a very German part of Wisconsin, and ate plenty of apple strudel growing up.  In fact, we had to sell something like strudel door-to-door to raise money for band at school.  Technically, those were kringles, though, not strudels.  Anyway, I thought maybe I discussed a recipe for apple strudel or something with my sister, who is an excellent baker, and just didn’t remember doing so.

Apple Strudel

I searched my mail, though, and was surprised to find that the other two words were the culprits.  They appeared in plenty of emails in my trash folder.  Don’t worry.  I didn’t intentionally have regular discussions about vegetables or spam with other real human beings.  The words show up at the bottom of other advertising emails I get because I bought something and never bothered to unsubscribe from a mailing list.  ‘Vegetable,’ in the case of a gift from Williams Sonoma, and ‘spam,’ courtesy of Writer’s Digest emails that have a daily ad for some other writing website at the bottom promising that if you sign up for their weekly email report, you will get no ‘spam.’

Back to Spam Vegetable Strudel, though.  Because I am obsessed with looking things up on the Internet, I took a few minutes to Google ‘strudel,’ because I thought strudel was only a sweet pastry.  It turns out that savory strudels are not uncommon in Germany, but I have to think Germans would be mortified at this version of a time-honored tradition that dates back hundreds of years.  Serve with soy sauce?!? Come on.  There’s just something wrong with the whole picture.

Breaking my own rules

I have a set of rules for myself when it comes to this blog.  I didn’t start out with all of them, but I spend a lot of time with the Tag Surfer feature on WordPress, and on StumbleUpon, looking for other writers whose posts I like.  I share these often in my semi-regular “great reading” posts.  However, the number of posts I skip right over or even sometimes get annoyed with is quite high.  I think about what I don’t like about the many posts I skip over, and those things sort of evolve into a list of things I don’t want to do here.  Now, for the irony.  One of the things I don’t like is writers who think they know it all and are openly critical of other people’s writing.  Yet what I’m about to do is share the list of things that drive me absolutely nuts in other blogs.  I’m breaking my own rules.

It’s not that I think I’m some expert on blogging or on what people want to read about.  I am just an average person who reads a lot of stuff online.  There are, however, lots of other average people who read stuff online, so perhaps by sharing my pet peeves, some other writers might avoid some pitfalls that would tend to turn some average people off from following their writing.  So, here goes.

I hate posts that start with something along the lines of:

Sorry I haven’t posted in so long…

If you don’t want to, or for some reason, can’t post often, you don’t really need to apologize for that.  It’s your life.  Write when you want.  When I began writing here, I had a goal of writing every day.  I haven’t met that goal, but I didn’t publicize it as some big promise to the world, either.  That way, when life interferes, I just have to get over my own frustration – I don’t really need to apologize to everyone else.

A lot has happened since the last time I wrote…

If you’ve been away from blogging for a long time, I think we can all assume a lot has happened to you.  Skip this wordy, uninteresting intro and just get to the good stuff!

I’ve been meaning to post for a long time, but…

I think if you’ve been meaning to post, you probably just should have.  If something kept you from it, I would think you’d be interested in diving right in to whatever stuff we readers have missed.  The stuff that gets in the way of your writing is generally not as interesting as your writing itself.  Those obstacles may be great fodder for posts – but presented this way, it feels a little like the dog ate your homework.

Hmm, I can’t think of what to write about…

Well, think about it some more then.  Or do this kind of writing in a notebook somewhere until you do hit on something you feel like writing about, then sharing.  Or, start your post this way until you get into a groove and then edit that part out later.  If you start by telling me you don’t know what to write about, I expect the rest of the post to have zero substance, so, on I go to the next blog.

– Here’s my to-do list for the weekend…

This kills me.  You may have something really interesting going on this weekend, but why not jump into a story about it, or a description of why it matters to you, so it might be relevant to people reading.  I’m generally not interested when you use your blog as a place to jot down notes.

Bottom line – get to the point and don’t apologize.  These are the kinds of things you can think to yourself as you ponder what you should write about – but to start your blog entries with things like this makes me go right past them.  I’m sure if I reviewed all my previous posts, I’d find other cases where I’m breaking my own rules, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

And more first lines

I’ve looked at first lines a couple times in the past, here and here.   Below are some others from books on my shelves…

The Stone Gods, by Jeanette Winterson.
This new world weighs a yatto-gram. But everything is trial-size; tread-on-me tiny or blurred-out-of-focus huge.

I like this opening because it evokes senses, but not quite images.  That makes me want to read further.  After looking through my notes and finding this blurb, though, I realize I’ve been unconsciously copying the hyphenated phrase style she uses here.  I am a big fan of Jeanette Winterson, so it doesn’t surprise me a ton.  What I like about this approach is that it alters the pace of the sentence itself.  Often, writers talk about pace in the context of a whole work, zooming into a scene and providing lots of detail and dialogue, slowing down the pace versus summarizing larger chunks of time passing with narrative.  I thought it was worth looking at pace within a sentence based on the use of language and punctuation itself, though.  The other thing I like about this style is that it’s a way of creating a new word when the right word doesn’t quite exist.

The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy.
My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.

I think these two lines work because they immediately introduce paradox.  When I think anchorage, I think home.  Comfort, familiarity.  When I think wound, pain and discomfort come immediately to mind.  I think this is a great introduction that at the very least, explains to the reader that place will be important, and the narrator’s association to that place will be complicated.

From My Father’s House, by Sylvia Fraser.
My father’s house was a three-story, frame building on a shady street in Hamilton, Ontario

I don’t like this first line that much.  It gives a bit of information, but it doesn’t hook me, beg me to read more.  Having read the book, I can say it is very well written, and a worthwhile read, and with the benefit of retrospect, the important element of this first line may be in its references to a large house – that can evoke a spooky feeling, especially from the perspective of a child.  The use of the word shady introduces a dark element, too.  When I read this the first time, though, those things didn’t mean anything to me yet.  To me, this is an example of how a great book can live without a great hook, though.

Middlesex, by Jeffery Eugenides.
I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

This opening line tells the reader exactly what the story will be about, and the subject itself is unusual and promises to be intense.  References to place and time help set the stage for the inherent struggle the narrator will have in dealing with gender identity.  Most of the language is straightforward, unadorned, though the first four words imply the significance of the subject matter.  I like the combination of the gravity of the first phrase, and the almost boring everyday description of the remainder of the line.

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen.
Only three people were left under the red and white awning of the grease joint: Grady, me, and the fry cook.

“Only three people were left,” – this part of the sentence implies that we’re joining the narrator at some later point in the story – I expect to hear what led up to there being only three people left.  The terms “grease joint,” and “fry cook,” both make me think of lower class characters – people that don’t have much money.  The line isn’t earth-shattering, but it sets the stage a little bit, and the opening words make me want to read more.

750 Words

I recently found this site, and have been using it for a couple weeks now.  I love it for helping me write daily.  It’s a very clean and simple site that provides a place for daily writing, counts your words, and gives you points for achieving 750 words a day.  For those of you that like to have a way to track what you’re doing, and get reminders by email that make you feel guilty if you skip a day of writing, this might just be the place for you.  There is also this interesting analysis of your writing, and while the site owner provides a little disclaimer about how the analysis is performed, I love this aspect of it, whether it’s entirely accurate or not.  So, if you want a place to dump your thoughts daily, try this out.  You can export everything you’ve written so you can use it in other formats, and I think the site’s brilliance is in its simplicity.  My longest streak is 5 days, and often my writing is meaningless, but it is one form of writing I’m able to do easily without expectations for myself other than to crank out words.  I have had a few good chunks come out of it that I’ve used in other places later, too.  Hope you like it.  I’ll be back from Spokane tomorrow, and should be back to posting regularly again after that.

More First Lines

I wrote a post recently on the first lines that open books. Below are five more first lines and my thoughts about them…  I did cheat a bit in two cases, and I included the first few lines because despite the punctuation, I felt they were meant to be read together.

Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris.
We were fractious and overpaid.

I recently shared an excerpt of this novel, Joshua Ferris’ debut.  I loved the book, and identified with the humor of the ad agency world contained within it.  This first line is incredibly short and simple, but I think it grabs the reader very effectively.  The line clearly indicates the story will be about a group of people and have something to do with jobs.  The reason I love the line, though, is because of the use of the word “fractious.”  What an awesome word, and one I doubt I’ve seen in print anywhere! gives two great examples of the meaning and use of the adjective:

1. refractory or unruly: a fractious animal that would not submit to the harness.

2. readily angered; peevish; irritable; quarrelsome: an incorrigibly fractious young man.

Looking at this first line after having read the book, I couldn’t possibly pick a more appropriate opening line, and I think that also underscores it’s effectiveness.

The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss.
When they write my obituary. Tomorrow. Or the next day. It will say, LEO GURSKY IS SURVIVED BY AN APARTMENT FULL OF SHIT.

I absolutely love this first line, and I loved the novel.  The reader is introduced to Leo Gursky, the main character, and knows the story will be narrated by him.  It also immediately introduces sarcasm and humor, both of which are big pluses in my book.  The narrator’s name to me reads “quirky,” and I know that Leo is old or doesn’t expect to live long for some other reason.  If you’ve never read this book, go get it.  It’s brilliant.

The Sunflower, by Simon Wiesenthal.
What was it Arthur said last night?

This simple first line doesn’t tell the reader a whole lot, but it does instantly convey that he is not in top mental shape.  It sets the mood, though, as I quickly pictured myself with eyebrows scrunched, searching my memory for something I couldn’t quite remember.  I love that readers do that – fill in details themselves as they read, whether its’ picturing themselves or another person with an expression that’s well-described, or painting a picture in their heads of a character, even though only certain details are provided by a story.

Fool’s Crow, by James Welch.
Now that the weather had changed, the moon of the falling leaves turned white in the blackening sky and White Man’s Dog was restless.

This sentence primarily sets a scene, though it also introduces the main character and illustrates his general state of mind.  The language is descriptively rich, and continues that way throughout the book.  As a tale of Native American life, this type of description runs throughout the entire novel.  I don’t believe it is the type of first line that completely grabs the reader, but the question of why White Man’s Dog is restless is compelling, and the many references to nature, weather, and season do set a certain ambiance.

Lighthousekeeping, by Jeanette Winterson.
My mother called my Silver. I was born part precious metal part pirate.

Again, these statements are classic Winterson.  You know instantly that you’ll be reading a tale that has some fantasy in it.  Punctuation is missing, which subtly reinforces the concept that this character is  truly a combination of precious metal and pirate – there is nothing to separate the two elements of the character.  The unique and odd combination itself begs for more information, so I think these lines do their job.

 What are some of your favorite first lines?  Or, if you don’t have any off the top of your head, open up a couple books and jot them down – what do they do for you?

First Lines

One of the exercises in Writing Life Stories, by Bill Roorbach, is to write down the first lines of a ton of books so you can analyze them, and look at why they work. Below are some first lines from some of my books that are within arm’s reach of my desk.

Gut Symmetries, by Jeanette Winterson.
First there is the forest and inside the forest the clearing and inside the clearing the cabin and inside the cabin the mother and inside the mother the child and inside the child the mountain.

This sentence reads to me like classic Winterson.  The lack of punctuation and repetitious phrasing creates a rushing, falling forward, feeling of things growing smaller and smaller until you reach the smallest thing and inside it is something larger than everything that led up to it.  The sense of spiraling motion and paradox startled and hooked me.  I have yet to read this book, but after doing this exercise, it will jump high up on my list.

Typical American, by Gish Jen.
It’s an American story: Before he was a thinker, or a doer, or an engineer, much less an imagineer like his self-made-millionaire friend Grover Ding, Ralph Chang was just a small boy in China, struggling to grow up his father’s son.

While this sentence contains little drama, it tells me the story has the global theme of son-trying-to-live-up-to-dad’s-expectations.  It also sets the stage for the journey of Ralph Chang, and introduces a character that seems quirky simply based on his name – Grover Ding.  Hard to take seriously anyone with the surname of Ding.

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.
I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.

This simple first line instantly frames the story as a remembrance, possibly a dark remembrance based on the description of the weather.  It also makes clear the narrator will experience something very significant at the age of twelve, and as a reader, I want to know what that is.

Still Alice, by Lisa Genova.
Alice sat at her desk in their bedroom distracted by the sounds of John racing through each of the rooms on the first floor.

This sentence simply sets a scene, and although I did continue to read this book and enjoyed it in the end, this first line had no big impact on me at all.  I can visualize the scene, so it is effective in achieving that and introducing two main characters, but it doesn’t scream, “Keep on reading!”

The Passion, by Jeanette Winterson.
It was Napoleon who had such a passion for chicken that he kept his chefs working around the clock.

This sentence sets the historical period of the book, while introducing a quirk the reader doesn’t expect to be associated with a figure like Napoleon.  The image of Napoleon having people working around the clock to serve him fits, but the reference to chicken passion adds a unique twist and generates curiosity for the reader – at least when that reader is me.

I wrote down (or typed, to be more accurate) many more first lines than these today, but in the interest of NOT writing an overwhelming amount of information on this subject, I started with five.  I’ll post more another time.  What are some of your favorite first lines?  Or, if you don’t have any off the top of your head, open up a couple books and jot them down – what do they do for you?

Fragments of memory

With my latest obsession of reading books by writers about how to write memoir, I’ve stumbled upon one that’s a little different than most of what I’ve been reading.  Writing Life Stories, HOW TO MAKE memories into MEMOIRS, ideas into ESSAYS, and life into LITERATURE, by Bill Roorbach with Kristen Keckler, PhD offers much of the same advice as other books, but comes with a different style of writing prompts and “exercises.”  When I finish the stack of books I’m reading, I’ll make a post comparing them all, but for now, I’ll comment only on the first major exercise presented in Writing Life Stories, which I now intend to repeat many times.

Excercise 1: Mapmaking

Please make a map of the earliest neighborhood you can remember living in.  Include as much detail as you can.  Who lived where?  What were the secret places?  Where were your friends?  Where did the weird people live?  Where were the friends of your brothers and sisters?  Where were the off-limit places?  Where did good things happen?  Where did you get in trouble?

I’m not a very visual person, so I wasn’t sure what this exercise would do for me, but I was shocked at some of the random things that came back to me as I sketched the earliest neighborhood I remembered.  First, I can hardly say I remembered the neighborhood.  I was only 5, and my brain doesn’t seem to have been able to recognize space outside the main intersection our house sat on.  We didn’t live there for long, so most of my memories were fragments, single moments in time.  Exercise 2 is to tell a story from your map.  I’m going to dive in right here, so this may not come out sounding like a story, since my mind only retained bits and pieces, a little out of context, not connected by much other than the setting.

The house we rented was across the street from a tavern.  The door opened on the kitchen, where I see my grandmother making hot cereal for us for breakfast.  When she asked what she should bring us to eat that morning, we’d said “Cocoa Puffs!,” thinking we’d be able to sneak one past Mom and fill our little bodies with sugar to kick off our day.  She meant to indulge us, but somehow mistakenly settled on chocolate Cream of Wheat.  It could’ve been worse.  It could’ve been plain Cream of Wheat.

The street in front of our house is the street I learned to ride my bike on.  I remember the training wheels, riding barefoot, relatives hollering encouragement as I took on this classic childhood challenge.

Running around barefoot in the grass between our house and the neighbors, I stepped on a honey bee who immediately took umbrage and stung the bottom of my small foot.  I screamed my head off, paralyzed, with one foot in the air, until someone I didn’t know scooped me up and ran me to my back door to hand me off to whoever was home.

There was a kid that lived around a corner and down another street that couldn’t say the word “towel” correctly.  She insisted it was “tolow,” and I never was able to convince her she was wrong.

Behind the bar across the street was a baseball diamond and a small playground.  I see two kids on the teeter totter – one bigger than the other.  When the older kid descended hard, the smaller kid flew over his head, right off the teeter totter, like something out of Tom & Jerry.

At a birthday party when I turned five, a little girl put our kitten in a dresser drawer because he was so little she was afraid he’d get lost.  It took us a day to find him.

One day after school, I came home and gave my mother her wisdom teeth in the little plastic box the dentist provided.  She looked at me with utter confusion.  “What are you doing with these?,” she asked.  “I took them to school for show and tell.”

When the babysitter told us in the afternoon we had to go take a nap, we dutifully went upstairs to bed.  We laid around for a while, bored, not able to fall asleep, but we weren’t allowed to get up again until we’d napped.  When I heard her coming up the stairs to check on us, I hung over the edge of the top bunk and whispered down to my sister, “Hurry.  Close your eyes.  Pretend you’re asleep.”  She didn’t get it.  Five minutes after we were checked on, I crawled out of bed and headed back downstairs.  My sister was stuck in our room until she actually fell asleep, sometimes for a whole afternoon.

We had a small playroom at the top of the stairs, mom’s bedroom on one side, ours on the other.  I see the ragged-edged holes punched through black construction paper for the Lite Brite.  I feel the wobbly nausea from a long turn on the Sit-n-Spin.  I remember fumbling with the nylon bands on the Loop N Loom so we could make garishly colored hot pads for every adult we knew.

My sister never flushed the toilet after she went to the bathroom.  One day, my uncle, who lived with us, heard her flush, and thought it odd.  She’d grabbed a handful of candy from the kitchen and was hiding in the bathroom eating it, flushing one wrapper at a time.


If I ever want to get anything done, I have to have a list.  I actually have a list all the time, but sometimes it finds a temporary home in a stack of things to ignore.  When I’m ignoring my list, my days ramble.  It’s not that I don’t accomplish anything – I do (I have many obsessions, and one of them is being productive), but my life becomes reactive.  That said, I never let it get too far out of hand.  Often enough, I kick myself in the butt and realize it’s time to resurrect the list.  When I get into list mode, I go a little overboard.

First, I rewrite the list on a new, clean sheet of paper, carrying over only the things that didn’t get done last time.  Somehow this makes it seem fresh and like I will do all the things that are on the list.  Sometimes I have to do this more than once, because I obsess over organizing items on the list in some way that seems sensible to me in the moment, but then I realize it’s not, or I have to add something and there’s no room in the section I created for things of that type.    Sometimes I write things on the list that are already done just so I can mark them off.

I’ve been in ‘ignore list’ mode for a while, now, and I’m just on the cusp of switching back into ‘pay attention to list’ mode.  I have a memoir in progress that I’ve been ignoring in order to get some perspective, and I think it’s really starting to pay off.  I have more than 350 pages – and, I am starting to see I probably only need half that.  When I started writing, I was writing from a list – a list of topics that represented my life.  It covered mostly my growing up years, but it was a laundry list, and the resulting full story seems a bit like a big pot of spaghetti.  Perhaps the biggest issue with where I left off is that my story had no ending, and I’ve come to believe that’s because it had no central theme.

So, as I get ready to resurrect my list, it will have a significantly different focus than it did the last time around.  It was incredibly helpful to do a brain dump of all the things I wrote about, but now I am excited to start to sift through it, make decisions about what is important and what isn’t, and find the real story within all the writing.  For those of you that have done memoir or creative non-fiction writing, what does your process look like?

Give me a memory of the color red… or not.

I am one of those people that likes to follow the rules.  Pretty much all the rules – all the time.  I take rule following to a ridiculous level that annoys the hell out of many people that associate with me.  I’m lucky they like me enough to let it go, but seriously, the term rule-bound was invented just to describe me.  I abhor being late to anything – in fact, if I’m not at least fifteen minutes early, that qualifies as late.  I always put the shopping cart away in a parking lot.  I never miss a deadline of any sort.  I don’ ride a bicycle much, but if I did, I would wear my bike helmet, use the correct turn signals, and never ride through a stop sign or light even if no one else were coming.  I wait for the walk sign even when the street is empty.  You get the point.

This came up for me today because I was about to sit down and work on another writing prompt from Old Friend from Far Away.  The prompt was ‘Give me a memory of the color red…’  I read the prompt and an example the author provided.  I was to describe a memory of red, without using the word red.  I pulled up a new post and titled it, ready to sit down and see what I could crank out in ten minutes.  Nothing…   More nothing…  Even more nothing…  It seems the color red triggers absolutely zilch in my brain.  After staring at my screen for a few minutes, I thought to myself – well, maybe I should just skip this one.  Then the rule-follower in me screamed, “No!  What are you thinking?  You have to do every exercise in this book!  And you have to do them in order!”  So I got up and went outside for a cup of coffee and a cigarette.  This is a tactic that often works for me when I need to mull something over in my head for a bit.  Not this time.  I came back, sat down, and stared some more.  The only thing that came to mind was an apple, and I don’t feel like writing about apples at all.  I have no interesting stories that involve apples.  Grapes, maybe, but apples?  No.

So, I am taking a leap here – I’m going to break the rules.  I’m not going to come up with a memory of the color red for today’s writing prompt.  I’m going to skip it – at least for now – and see how I feel about the next prompt, which is “Give me a memory of a sound…”  This one I think may come a little easier.  If someday, the color red sparks something in my mind, maybe I’ll come back to it, but I’m going to try to force myself NOT to write about things that don’t spark anything for me just because I normally feel I need to do every single exercise in front of me.  We’ll see how well that works out.  I didn’t go to Catholic school in the days where a nun could whack you on the knuckles with a ruler if you disobeyed – but, I think my inner rule-follower was one of those nuns, and she retired into my brain in order to keep me in line.  I may have a real battle on my hands, here, but I’m giving it a shot.  Wish me luck.

More exercise

On Sunday, killing time and surfing various writing websites, I decided to check for free contests to see if there was anything fitting for me to submit something from my memoir to.  I have no illusions that I’ll win – I’m too new at this, or at least, I’ve been on hiatus so long, I might as well be new at it.  I think it’s good practice, though. Anyway, I saw that there was a memoir contest – 10,000 word maximum – at Memoir (and). I was inspired – then I saw the deadline was today at Noon Pacific time and thought I might be crazy to even try. I had no time free Sunday to start, and had a job interview at 10am on Monday that lasted 3 hours. I’d have less than 24 hours to pull it off. Plus, the current draft of my memoir is more than 80,000 words – probably at least 20,000 words too long, but that’s where it stands at the moment, while I wait for feedback from my editor friend.

I decided to go for it, despite the little time I had to pull something together. I wanted to use some of the material I’d already written, so I flipped through the pages and attempted to pull out what I thought would be a cohesive, but much shorter, story. The stuff I chose was initially 20k words and some change. I spent 6 or so hours trimming it down to 15k – because my brain failed me and for some reason, morphed the max word requirements into 15k instead of 10k. When that much was done, I went back to the contest submission guidelines with a feeling of triumph. That changed to a strong desire to stick a pen in my eye when I realized I really needed to get it down to 10k. I didn’t give up, though. I kept pushing and cutting and trimming and editing, and I came up with something I was comfortable submitting – another 6 hours later. I let it sit overnight, made a few last minute tweaks this morning, and submitted it. I’m exhausted, but my instinct was right – it was really great practice. The word limit made me re-examine every word in every sentence and make tough decisions about which memories and anecdotes really carried the main thread of my story. I recommend going through exercises like this when you get the chance. It’s tough work, but it told me a lot about just how loose some of my writing was, and how much room there was to tighten it up. Mission accomplished.