Why I Love the Internet, Reason #432

So I’m just starting to think about how to tell a big, BIG story based on a real-world scandal. Given that I’ve done nothing but medical/technical writing for my entire adult life, developing a semi-nonfiction book seems like a nice bridge. But I know nothing about writing other types of material. What to do?

io9’s Free Advice to Struggling Writers to the rescue. Plot, story, characters, tropes, avoiding cliches–it’s all here. What a great resource. Thanks to Charlie Jane Anders for putting this out there for us noobs.

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Negative Feedback

WriteNow! PromptWriteNow! Prompt:
All of a sudden, the cubicle wall fell in on him.

“Are you kidding me?! ‘Needs Improvement’? What the hell is this?” Tom’s voice rose with every syllable.

“Now Tom, this isn’t an indictment, you know.” Susan said. “There are just some areas…”

“What areas? Who said that?” He continued to sputter, his face an alarming shade of maroon.

“We’ve had feedback from several of our clients, who’ve told us that it can be difficult working with you,” Susan explained. “Specifically, that you don’t take criticism well and that you tend to fly off the handle.”

“I. Can’t. Believe. It.” Tom pounded his fist into his thigh in time with the words. “I bet it was that new design group, wasn’t it? I KNEW they were going to screw me over. And now I have to live with this crap for the next year, just because they didn’t ‘like’ me? Unreal!” Tom got up and began to pace around Susan’s office.

“Tom, I need you to sit down and calm down,” Susan said firmly. “I need you to hear me out.”

“But I don’t need squat from you, Susan.” Tom turned to face her. “Like the song says, ‘take this job and shove it.’ I’ve fucking had it.” He stormed out of her office, slamming the door on the way.


Tom didn’t wait for the security guards to come get him; he started cleaning out his cube the minute he got back to it. He picked up his wastebasket, dumped all the crap out of it, and started hurling his things into it–his coffee cup, his thumb drives, penknife. He was so angry he could hardly see. But throwing this stuff just wasn’t doing it for him.

Then he spied the company calendar hanging on his cube wall, with that douchebag CEO smiling down at him. Tom grabbed it with both hands and went to rip it away from the barrier. In his rage, he forgot about its industrial-strength fasteners. Next thing he knew, he was buried under the cubicle wall. This did not improve his mood, as the security guards shortly found out.


“The charges are disturbing the peace, simple assault, and destroying company property,” the judge said. “How do you plead?”

“Guilty,” Tom gritted out. He couldn’t wait to get out of here and go have a beer. Or five.

“I hereby sentence you to 100 hours of community service, a $200 fine, and attendance at an anger-management class.”

“Thank you, Your Honor,” said Tom’s lawyer. He began packing up his papers.

“I can’t believe this shit,” Tom said. “I lose my job, and now I have to go do this other crap?”

“Yes, unless you’d like to go to jail.” The lawyer was putting on his coat now.

“And now I have a record that will follow me everywhere,” Tom whined. “How am I supposed to find a job now?”

“Maybe you should have thought of that before you hit the security guard,” his lawyer said, starting to walk away.

“You asshole–you’re just like them!” Tom cocked back his fist.

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New Age

WriteNow! PromptWriteNow! Prompt:
She refused to open her eyes until she could remember every part of the dream.

“Yeah, I was married to one of those once.” Maggie slid another beer across the counter to Pete.

“No way!” Pete said. “When was that?”

“Oh, that was back before I got into rehab, got clean,” Maggie said. “I was a real mess in those days.”

“Is that how you hooked up with a New Ager?” asked Pete, taking his first sip of the stout.

“Yeah,” Maggie said, wiping up some spilled lemon juice. “Back then, I was a total sucker for anything in tight pants. Met him in a frou-frou grocery store, he smiled at me, and that was all she wrote.”

“How long did it last?” Pete reached for the bar nuts, not giving a shit that they probably were covered with other peoples’ spit.

“Only about 6 months,” said Maggie. “I was willing to go along with the crystals, the chanting, the incense, the past life regressions, all of it. But when he started to get into dream analysis, things just went into the shitter. I mean, we couldn’t ever make plans for in the morning because he’d have to write down his dreams into this little journal thing, and that could take anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour and a half. The straw that broke the camel was the day my little sister got married. We were supposed to be there early so I could practice my readings, but Mr. New Age flat-out refused to open his eyes until he could remember every part of the dream. So I walked out and just kept walking, you know?”

“I hear you,” said Pete, raising his glass. “Here’s to this Age. We don’t need a new one.”

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Blurred Lines

WriteNow! PromptWriteNow! Prompt:
She signed the document first, then he signed next to her name.

Two little pink lines, that’s all it takes. You wouldn’t think that somebody’s whole world could hinge on two little pink lines, but you’d be wrong. Two little pink lines can mean the difference between being welcome at home and being forced out, between going to school full-time and picking up a job, and between being a “good girl” and being the other kind.

You also find out pretty quickly who your friends are and what your real support network is. In Ann Marie’s case, the network consisted of her mother, her advisor at the college, her boyfriend Jim, and, oddest of all, her priest. But that was only after. After The Decision.

* * *

Ann Marie knew all of the arguments for abortion, and even agreed with them. She was too young, too immature, not ready. She was not in “a stable place” in her life, whatever that means these days. But every time she imagined going to Heaven and having to face God if she went through with it, she’d burst into tears.

“So what’re we going to do?” she asked Jim.

“I dunno–what do you want?” he said.

“I can’t keep it.” Ann Marie shook her head firmly. “I can’t. There’s no way. I would kill it within the first month, and my mom’s too scared of my dad to help.”

“Well, I can’t keep it, either,” said Jim. “You know I’m probably going to be sent to Iraq once I get done with Basic.”

Silence. Impasse.

“So if we’re not going to get rid of it, and we’re not going to keep it, I guess there’s only one choice left,” Jim said. “Adoption.”

More silence. Then a nod.

* * *

The weeks turned into months. The loose pants turned tight, then were substituted for elastic. The whispers and looks and snubs continued nonstop. Jim stayed by her side right up until he left, but it got hard afterward. She found herself waiting until the last possible second to slip into the back of the lecture halls, hoping to cut off the worst of the sniggering and pointing. She got so tired of people checking for a ring at the store checkout that she took to wearing gloves.

What kept her going was what the lady at the adoption agency had told her. “You have the power to give someone the most precious gift of all.” Ann Marie repeated it, almost like a mantra, every time someone sniffed at her in disdain, wouldn’t make eye contact, or refused to wait on her.

* * *

Her water broke while Jim was home on leave. They made it to the hospital with plenty of time to spare, which meant plenty of time to be scared. But things happened just the way Doctor Harrison said they would, with no surprises or complications. He wasn’t supposed to tell Ann Marie whether the baby was a boy or a girl, but she heard him whisper, “Girl,” to the resident assisting him. She didn’t tell Jim.

The next day, the lady from the adoption agency showed up with the paperwork. “I’m required by law to read you this statement and then have you sign this form,” she said, “which indicates that your are relinquishing your rights to the baby voluntarily and permanently.”

Ann Marie and Jim looked at each other for a long moment, and then nodded together. “Let’s get this over with,” she said. She signed the document first, then he signed next to her name. Just some squiggles on another set of lines.

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WriteNow! PromptWrite Now! Prompt:

“A letter came for you today; it’s from some attorney’s office.”

“A letter came for you today; it’s from some attorney’s office.”

“Yeah, that’s the thirteenth one in the past 3 days. I guess the lawyers have an automatic feed into the court system.”

“What do you mean, ‘court system’? What have you done now?”

“Oh, Ma, it’s no big deal. I just got a speeding ticket.”

“How bad is it?”

“They said I was going 63 in a 45 zone. But no way was I going that fast.”

“That’s what you always say. No wonder your insurance rates are through the roof. Well, all I have to say is, I’m glad your father isn’t here to see this. He’d be so ashamed.”

“Nice, Ma. Real nice.”

“And now you’ll have to go to traffic school, and they’ll probably take your license for a while, and how are you supposed to get to work?”

“I already got it all figured out. Joey’ll pick me up on the way to the quarry, and Sammy’ll bring me home. No worries, Ma.”

“That Sammy is bad news. Make sure he doesn’t stop by that bar on your way home, or you’ll be adding drunk and disorderly to that speeding ticket.”

“Jeez, Ma, way to pile it on! Sammy’s in AA these days–ever since he met Darlene, he’s been on the straight and narrow.”

“That’s what you need to do, Francis. Get yourself a nice girl, settle down, maybe think about giving me some grandchildren to spoil.”

“Ma, how do you get from speeding ticket to grandkids? For real, how does your brain work?”

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2014’s Anti-Resolutions

WriteNow! Prompt


Your 10 Anti-Resolutions:
1. List ten things you resolve NOT to do in the upcoming year.
2. Be as creative as possible.

  1. I will not continue to check NYC apartment listings as part of my plan to expand my Mothers Against Drunk Walking project.
  2. I will not moonlight as a Scottish party clown to get enough money to buy All of the Seeds (not to grow, you understand; just to have).
  3. I will not encourage Calvin to keep a buzz cut just so I can exfoliate my facial skin gently but thoroughly.
  4. I will not generate fake Out Of Office responses when I just don’t want to talk to those pesky bill collectors and Mr. Pitt.
  5. I will not try to model Lady Gaga’s commitment to reducing the national debt by purchasing separate wigs for every hour of each day. I will cut out the middleman and go for separate heads.
  6. In a stunning reversal for mankind’s devolution, I will vaccinate everyone against Jenny McCarthy.
  7. I will not seek the NSA’s assistance in rewriting my life story by having them track down all of my previous boyfriends, but Barack’s drones can take it from there, once they’re located.
  8. I will not publish a paper titled “America’s Reality Shows: Model for Our Government?” in the Journal of Irreproducible Results.
  9. I will not ring in the New Year by scraping nails of various lengths against a chalkboard on YouTube.
  10. I will not create a line of fashion footwear out of recycled Plackers and Sugrue.
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Limited Vision

Today’s Author Write Now! Prompt: Suddenly, he remembered why he had not been back to the old neighborhood for so many years.

“And it was such a stupid prompt. Ready?”

“Lay it on me.”

‘Suddenly, he remembered why he had not been back to the old neighborhood for so many years.'”


“Right? I mean, we’re not talking about suddenly remembering why you don’t eat onions after 9 at night, you know? We’re talking about a place you lived, spent some time in, am I right?”

“Well, I–”

“Unless you go the sci-fi route, with the memories being covered up but they’re starting to come back, like in that Dollhouse show. But that’s pretty tired, these days.”

“But how about–”

“I don’t know. I mean, sometimes the prompts are fun–really let me crank out some words. But ones like this just aren’t worth my time. We’ll see. So what’s up with you?”

“Oh, I’ve been doing some freelance work for an educational company. They’ve got me writing prompts for some of their classes, and also grading the papers.”

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