3 Common Mistakes Writers Make (And How to Avoid Them)

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Today's guest post is by Blake Powell. Blake is on a mission to help writers overcome their doubts and create work that matters. Download his FREE guide “12 Stupidly-Simple Ways Guaranteed to Cure Writer’s Block Forever” to get your writing working for you again today.

Writers are a funny bunch.

3 Common Mistakes Writers Make (And How to Avoid Them)

On one point, we are driven and self-aware, capable of exercising massive amounts of discipline when we need to focus on the task at hand.

Yet at other times, we’re distracted, self-critical, and destructive.

Part of the doubt writers face comes up because the creative process isn’t an easy thing to experience. It’s incredibly difficult to create something out of nothing day in and day out.

Even when we do get the courage to sit down and write, we find new and creative ways to avoid doing the important work we know we need to do. It’s a classic case of self-sabotage.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Because if you can identify these three crucial—but alarmingly common—mistakes writers make early on, then you’ll be way ahead of the pack.

Mistake #1: You Write Down Every Idea You Can Think Of (You’re a Rabid Note-Taker)

“There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky. . . . Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.

—Stephen King

You read somewhere that you should be taking down every idea you ever thought, especially if one of them happens to be good later on.

So every day you diligently take notes as they come to you.

But one day as you’re cleaning and organizing, you see all of the notebooks around your house. They’re scattered on your nightstand, your coffee table and in your drawers, and when you scroll through them you can even remember the times you scribbled them down in a frantic mess, desperate to catch onto the brilliance they might carry for your writing.

Even as you wonder about all these great ideas you once had, you wonder:

“Am I doing enough?”

The problem is, as King reminds us, that usually the good ideas just come to us. In fact, we often inherently know when an idea is “good” or “bad” at the moment we have it.

One of the biggest problems with being a rabid note-taker is that it can be easy to feel overwhelmed with all the ideas you’ve had but never taken action on and maybe never will.

The other problem with taking notes is that it simulates a feeling of writing when you’re not actually writing. And if you’re always checking your smartphone and capturing everything around you in Evernote, then you’re liable to miss engaging in the moments around you which will be the center of all the experiences you can use to shape your writing path.

While taking down notes is important, be wary of when you’re doing it and always make a plan to revisit these notes later if you can’t use them right away.

Be careful not to replace the cathartic effect of writing with note-taking, as it can trick your brain into feeling like you’ve already done the hard work of writing your story when all you’ve done is written down what you’d like to write later.

Instead, try going for a brisk walk without your phone and see how many ideas stick with you after that. You might be surprised at the result.

Mistake #2: You Do Too Much Research

Have you ever told someone, “Well, I would start writing my book, but I just need to do more research first.”

We’re all guilty of that, right?

Here’s the thing, though: do you really need to do more research first, or are you simply putting off doing the writing that needs to get done now?

If you’re getting bogged down in the outlining and planning stage of your book, ask yourself when your research is going to be enough.

If the answer isn’t in the foreseeable future then start writing now, because your story won’t get written by planning out everything that might happen as you’re working on your project. The best details usually come up in the spur of the moment and it’s up to you to include them in your story as you can.

You see, being a writer isn’t about having all the answers in life and being the smartest person in the room, but it’s about having the courage to step forward despite not having the confidence to comfortably do so.

Let’s look at it another way: If you were to look for an answer to every question you may have about the world, how long do you think that would take you?

A really, really long time. Probably forever.

Best to spend that time writing and make a note of any further information you’ll need to collect when you edit it later.

Imagine that you’re writing a paper for English class. After you gathered your sources and done a brief outline, you’d have no choice but to write the paper to get a good grade in the class. See if you can find a way to create some consequences for not doing your work in order to help the words flow more easily when you need to get your projects done.

Mistake #3: You Constantly Give in to Distractions Instead of Writing

You know that time when you needed more information to verify something before you could write that difficult part in your book, so you typed some questions into Google or Quora to see what came up for you?

Well, before you go ahead and dive into the many resources online to help you answer those questions, let me stop you. Because you’re about to enter into a dangerous rabbit hole indeed.

The truth is, the time you spend writing is sacred and it should be interrupted for emergencies only. Anything else is a threat to your productivity.

If you don’t create a distraction-free zone where your creativity can thrive, then you position yourself to easily give into distractions as they come. And if you’re constantly being pulled away from the task of writing at hand, your work in progress will suffer and you will feel like you’re falling behind every day because you can’t focus when you need to most.

Especially in the days of 24/7 access to anything we might need online, the ways we get distracted are endless. It’s harder than ever to stay focused—but not impossible.

Consider installing an internet-blocker like Freedom or use a free tool like Calmly Writer to remove the need to give into these meddling distractions that will pull time away from your writing instead.

Because these days, you’ll need all the help you can get to focus on your work at hand.

Try keeping a pen and paper by your trusty laptop, so every time you feel a distracting thought come up you can record it down and keep writing. This will help prevent you from acting on the impulses as they come.

Are You Ready to Be a Writer Again?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of these writing mistakes.

But once you’re aware of them, you’ll be able to easily identify them when they come up in your life and circumvent them with the solutions here.

You’ll find your writing will thank you as a result.

What problems hinder your writing? Can you think of any other common mistakes writers make? Let us know in the comments.

PRACTICE

Pull out your current work in progress and spend fifteen minutes working on it right now. Don’t allow your research to prevent you from getting moving; instead, pick one chapter or scene you can write now and just get started.

If you don't have a work in progress, start a new story based on this prompt: a child discovers a toad in an unexpected place.

Make sure you keep a pen and paper beside you so you can write down the distracting thoughts as they come. When you’re done, share your writing in the comments below, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!

This article is by a guest blogger. Would you like to write for The Write Practice? Check out our guest post guidelines.

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71 Comments

  1. Rag Mars

    Anybody who needs this kind
    of advice, may ask, what else in the Universe could I do. I take the next Bus
    to Andromeda, they say, the Pizza is ok there—-

    Reply
  2. Charles Henderson

    the distraction thing is the worst for me

    Reply
    • Blake Powell

      Oh, I know that feeling all too well Charles. But it’s important to protect our writing time as it’s the most sacred time we as writers have!

      Reply
      • Juliana

        Same! I’m always complaining that I don’t have enought time to write, but when I do, I get distracted so easily that it’s frustrating =/ Need to adress this ASAP

        Reply
        • Blake Powell

          Yes Juliana, same here.

          Here’s a couple things that work for me:
          -Installing an internet-blocker like Freedom (Cold Turkey is good too)
          -Turning off the internet
          -Just leaving the house and writing in a coffee shop or library. If you write at home, try changing up your environment or vice versa.
          -Exercise for 20 mins before writing as it helps to free up your brain and bring you closer to flow
          -Or maybe try installing write or die? It’s a free program you can set to delete your words as you write, even allowing you to disable the backspace key (Writeordie.com)

          Hope that helps. Let me know if I can support further! 🙂

          Reply
          • Juliana

            Thanks for all the tips! I will sure try some of them, starting with the internet-blocker — I need this ASAP!!

          • Blake Powell

            You’re welcome Juliana. Glad I could help.

            Let me know how it goes!

  3. Joe Volkel

    On his way home from school, Jamie eyed the fence around the small forested lot that was silently calling to him and decided that it might make a good shortcut.
    Oh crap – the phone is ringing! … Oh no, the cat just fell into the toilet!
    Now, what the hell was I thinking about before????

    Reply
    • Blake Powell

      Nice Joe! Thank you for sharing.
      Is this past of a short story, or anything you’re working on now?

      Reply
      • Joe Volkel

        Nothing special, just a silly idea about a story alluding to your prompt of finding a toad in an unexpected place – but I got distracted! I enjoy getting silly every once in a while. Thanks for your comments.

        Reply
        • Blake Powell

          That’s awesome Joe. And silly is good. It helps to keep the mood low when life gets too serious.

          So glad the prompt helped spark something great.

          Reply
  4. Dale Jennings

    The Toad in the Toilet.
    Timmy wanted to pee.
    He’d been holding it since before the last class, almost an hour, and all the way home on the bus. Every time it went over a bump he had to cross his legs a little more, just to hold it in. He squirmed on the seat, the plastic making his bum feel sticky through his trousers. Nearly there now; one more stop until his house. He was nearly home.
    He grabbed his bags and slung them both over his shoulder, then stood gripping the railing, swaying as the bus maneuvered past parked cars. He almost lost his footing as the bus lurched to a sudden, sharp stop outside his house. His bladder reminded him it was over full again. As he let go he left a small sweaty hand print on the steel railing.
    Moving through the other kids, bumping and scraping through the packed standees, who barely register the child pushing through, he made his way off the bus and walked briskly to his front door. Throwing it open, with a cry of “Mum, I’m home!”, he launched his book bag and gym kit to the floor. He was heading up the stairs, two at a time, almost before the bags settled on the carpet. As he reached the landing he was unzipping his trousers, ready to pee. His right hand grabbing the end, his left hand lifting the toilet seat, he can almost feel the relief as he’s about to…
    “What the hell is that!”, he thinks, the wee almost seeming to pee back into his belly.
    Sitting in the toilet is the biggest frog he’s ever seen in his life. Frog? Or maybe it’s a toad? How do you even tell the difference? Is there any difference? There must be, they have different names, don’t they?
    Suddenly the urge to pee is back, more desperate than ever. He can’t pee on the toad can he? He might hurt it somehow, and besides it just seems rude. The bath! Every once in a while, not often, you understand, he pees in the shower, even though it feels a bit dirty, yet somehow liberating at the same time. Stepping gingerly, still holding, he crosses to the bath, and with his left hand, turns on the nearer hot tap. As soon as the water begins to run he has to let go. The relief is intense, a simple release of pressure, and as he pees, unknowingly he sighs.
    “Ahh.”
    Once he’s finished he quickly shakes, then turns off the tap, after rinsing the pee away.
    A toad!? An enormous toad!? An enormous toad, in his toilet!? Where had it come from? What was it doing there? He had to get it out, and yet didn’t want to touch it.
    He edged back toward the toilet. It still sat there staring at him, its’ eyes following him as he moved. It looked slimy, and glistening sat there in the toilet. It must be wet from the toilet water. Eww. Cautiously he extended a finger toward the toad, reaching down into the toilet. As his hand neared the toad his finger slowed, moving almost on its own, as if to avoid the creature altogether. He didn’t want to get warts, after all. He willed it to work, and touch the toad, dammit. It was rough, coarse, and quite dry, completely unlike it appeared.
    “Croak”, went the toad. Timmy gave a little stifled yelp.

    Reply
    • Dale Jennings

      PS First post. Dipping my toe, so to speak. Any feedback, thoughts, criticism etc.welcome. Thanks.

      Reply
      • KG

        (I replied to your story here, because for some reason it’s showing your original post as awaiting moderation and won’t let me reply to it.)

        Wow you got a lot down in 15 minutes, nice job! Since it’s zero draft
        you’re fine, but you could probably cut most of that out if you decide
        to carry the story anywhere. I think you did a good job making Timmy
        seem believable, and you definitely did a good job making your audience
        (or at least me) squirm with your description of poor Timmy trying to
        hold it (may or may not have been there myself). I also liked the
        solution (that’s such a male solution, isn’t it? Pee in the shower if
        the toilet isn’t available, ha).

        Reply
        • Dale Jennings

          Thanks KG. If I’m honest it was more like half an hour. i guess I got a bit carried away. It was just writing for the sake of it, see where it goes kind of thing.

          Reply
          • Blake Powell

            I do agree you could cut a lot of it out. But that’s the beauty of editing, right? You have something to work with here which is worth pursuing 🙂

    • gemma feltovich

      It’s very good writing, and Timmy is sort of adorable (hehe), but there isn’t a whole lot keeping the reader on your story in the beginning. Try for some tension! Needing to pee is sort of tension; maybe you could make him worried about peeing on the bus because there’s a mean kid behind him, or something. The exclamation points are a little excessive.

      Reply
  5. Hindra Saputra

    I guess the other side of me is the biggest problem since most people around me prefer to watch movies instead reading stories so I kept asking is my story believable ? Do I already showed it instead of told it ? Is there any details I missed ? Etc .. Etc and the list will go on then I stop writing and do more research then it ended with no progress.

    Reply
    • Blake Powell

      Hey Hindra, what are some things you’re wanting to write? It helps to know who you’re trying to reach when you write something. That can help you find clarity in your voice and your message. But it’s always important just to start with no expectations of where the writing will take you once you start it. Just make sure to write instead of edit it! That’s where I run into trouble the most by constantly switching between the two.

      Let me know if I can support you further and thanks for sharing 🙂

      Reply
      • Hindra Saputra

        Thanks Blake 🙂 this is really helpful. Actually your post here remind me to stop myself for being such a retarded perfectionist and just finished what I’m started.

        Once again, thank you for this post. It’s like a fresh air 😀

        Reply
  6. Nuwamanya Mategyero

    As I read through the article, I thought for a moment if the author was using me as case study!

    Reply
    • Juliana

      You’re not alone lol

      Reply
    • Blake Powell

      Haha! I love hearing that as a writer. What has been your struggle in writing lately, Nuwamanya? Maybe I can help 🙂

      Reply
      • Nuwamanya Mategyero

        Sometimes I fell that I need to do more research (which turns out to be an excuse because the research never gets done.) But the biggest of them all are the distractions. My God!

        I tend to lose myself and when I realise it, I have clicked through about three websites that are unrelated to the job at hand. ;-(

        Reply
        • Blake Powell

          Yes, the distractions are my biggest challenge too! I find the days fly by if I don’t get a handle on them quick.

          You can try using an extreme internet blocker like Cold Turkey that will force you to work on the page, or maybe just turning your internet off?

          I find writing in a coffee shop almost easier, as if the sounds of the conversations around me help to get the words flowing as well as the added accountability of not wanting to be found slacking off in public (it’s weird, but it can work).

          My advice would be to try different things and see what works for you. Always improvise and do the best you can. And if nothing else works, there’s always pen and paper! 🙂

          Reply
          • Nuwamanya Mategyero

            Thanks a bunch! I will try the internet blocker and “writing out”, maybe a public library.

          • Blake Powell

            Awesome 🙂
            Let me know how it goes!

  7. gemma feltovich

    Mara shivered, pulling her ratty, practically obsolete sweater closer around her torso. Tevrah was cold this time of year. And drizzly. A drop of rain landed on her nose, freezing and unexpected. She wished she had warm pants instead of her school dress and her mother’s cardigan.

    Her younger brother, Deo, tugged on her hand and pulled her off-course toward a stand selling jewelry. A young woman was standing behind the tables, smiling benevolently at her customers. She eyed Mara and Deo. “We don’t have long,” Mara warned him in their language, trying to smile innocently at the shopkeeper. It wasn’t as if they were going to steal something, but they certainly had the stink of poverty around them, accentuated especially by their thin, dark features. Deo’s hair was sticking up all over the place, his face the only inch of cleanliness on his body. Their mother was quite persistent about the need for washing your face twice a day, even if nothing else was clean. “It is important to make a good impression,” she had warned. Mara could only imagine what the people of this town thought of her and Deo, as she surely looked just the same as her six-year-old brother. She wished she hadn’t disregarded the necessity of neatness that morning. Every sort of person on earth could be observed in this market. The rich, the seedy, the fine, the poor, the gaudy, the drab. And Mara and Deo looked like beggars.

    She still had a few coins left in the pockets of her sweater. Her bag was filled with day-old bread, bruised apples, and several rolls of bandages. They still hadn’t found someplace selling sponges for cheap, which was unfortunate since the younger kids cried when you scrubbed them with the rougher brush. And that was Mara’s job. She would have taken a used oil cloth by now to avoid Skya Menyon’s sharp glance whenever she heard the wail of her toddler, who was the whiniest child Mara had ever met.

    It had been her job back at the village, at least three hundred kilometers from Tevrah’s town of North Market. They were three hundred kilometers from the place Mara had never left in her life– until now. The people were different here, even not so far away. The area was drizzly and brown and green, filled with grays. The people here had lighter hair, while the skin on Mara’s arm was dark as a macadamia nut’s shell. Her village was all but disappeared, nothing but ashes on the gods’ gentle breeze.

    The day after the fires, the women of the village had shorn their hair to shoulder length, Mara included since her fifteenth birthday had passed two weeks prior. She wasn’t used to it. She liked to twirl strands of her hair, mindlessly twist them together as a nervous habit, and with it so short it was hard to wrap her black locks around her index finger. She kept reaching up only for her hand to stop short and sink back down to her side.

    Deo was gawking at a gold necklace. The shopkeeper’s hawk eyes stayed locked on him, drawn as a moth to a flame. She was clearly suspicious. “Deo,” Mara hissed. He barely looked up.

    “What?” he muttered.
    “Stop it.”

    “Huh?”

    Mara tugged him a few feet away from the necklace, the shopkeeper still watching them. “Stop looking at that like you’re going to grab it.”

    “I wasn’t going–”
    “She doesn’t know that!” Mara protested. Deo frowned, looking at his grubby hands curiously.

    “Is it time for lunch yet?”

    “Deo!” she chastised. The woman had begun to emerge from behind the booth. Mara turned toward her, widening her eyes. “Yes?” she inquired politely, switching to Tevranian for the shopkeeper’s sake.

    “You kids like my jewelry?” she demanded.

    Mara smiled shakily. “I apologize, miss, but my brother, he is not so smart,” she said, patting Deo’s hair and shushing his protests with a hand over his mouth. She tried to adjust the bag on her hip so the woman could peer into it and see there was nothing out of the ordinary inside.

    “Oh?” the woman said, raising an eyebrow.

    “He does not know how much the necklace does cost, you see?”

    She grunted again.

    “The cost is too much for us, anyway, because you see–” Mara saw something out of the corner of her eye. A glint of silver. A flash of crimson red. She stopped short, aware of the shopkeeper’s eyes trained on her dubiously. A girl had slipped in behind the stand, wearing vibrant red pants and a gray shirt, hair that must have been white as ivory when it was clean hanging in strands down her back.

    “Yes?” the woman prompted.

    “Yes…” Mara forced herself to look away. “I, um, we were not taking the necklace.” The fair-haired girl’s hand danced out of her pocket and hooked the bracelet onto a finger. She stuffed it into her overcoat.

    Mara stared for a second before coming to her senses. “Hey!”

    The shopkeeper whirled around. “What–”

    The girl’s green eyes darted up to meet her accuser’s, and then she nimbly slipped into the crowd, that white hair a blur behind her. Mara began to run after her, leaving Deo and the shopkeeper behind, but stumbled over a man’s shoe. He sneered at her. “S-sorry,” she stammered. “Sir.”

    A warm, dry hand grasped Mara’s hand in its grip. She looked down to see Deo staring up at her, his hair wet from the rain. “Deo,” she said , trying to see over the crowd’s heads, “go… go find Thyme and Yuri.” She shoved the basket of goods into his hands.

    He began to whine, but Mara was already gone. She darted around a fruit cart, a few berries falling to the ground as she bumped it. The boy selling the fruits cursed at her in a language she didn’t understand. Mara kept going. Where had that girl gone? And why hadn’t she yelled “Thief!” and left other people to take care of it?

    She was an idiot, Mara reminded herself, that’s why.

    She tripped over her own shoes, a size and a half too large, not once but twice. Her gray dress was small on her, barely modest as it ended a few inches above her knees. The only reason Mara could get away with it was because she didn’t look her age. She’d kept a bit of baby fat, and she hadn’t shot up like a bamboo stalk. At least, not yet.

    Ah. Under that bridge over there, stretching across the rushing river below, its banks mossy and wet. Mara saw a flash of blonde hair and those strange red pants the girl was wearing before she took off again. By now, the rain was coming down hard, clumping Mara’s dark eyelashes together and blurring her vision. She stumbled over the muddy ground beyond the market, the sounds of the city disappearing from her ears, and ducked under the cover of the old bridge.

    It was quiet but for the sound of rain pattering the stone above.

    “Hello?” Mara called out softly. There were no footprints in the mud leading off into the forest on the other side of the tunnel, but she couldn’t see where else the girl could have gone. Perhaps she’d disappeared, like in the Yaba’s stories back home. “Hello?” Mara said again, louder this time. She took a tentative step forward, then froze in her tracks when a voice responded.

    “It’s not worth that much.”

    Mara startled, whirling around. No one. “What?”

    “The bracelet,” the voice explained. “Didn’t cost as much as that lady was selling it for.”

    “Ay.” Mara didn’t know what to say to an invisible person. The distant sounds of shouting salesman only just reached her ears.

    “You can leave and pretend this never happened.”

    Mara seethed. “No.”

    “Why not?” the disembodied voice challenged.

    “You took it!”

    “I stole something deserving of a halved coin.”

    “What in ny anaran’Andriamanitra is a half coin?” Mara retorted. She wrung the rainwater out of her hair, and it splattered on her already-soaked dress, hanging limp around her knees. She wasn’t sure where to look, as she couldn’t see the person she was talking to.

    “Oh, you know.” Mara didn’t. “A copper. Not even a single silver. She was marking it three times its worth.” They didn’t have much of silver where Mara was from.

    “And who are you,” Mara said, “to judge?”

    “And who are you?” the voice echoed.

    “I–” Mara started, then cut herself off. “You are a criminal.”

    “Hm.” The girl’s body dropped from the top of the bridge, and she landed perfectly balanced, wearing that red sweater and brown, unfitted pants. Mara stumbled back, surprised at the girl’s entrance, and almost tripped over a rock behind her. “I disagree,” the girl said.

    “Y-you–”

    “Are quite good at climbing things,” the girl said. She stared at Mara unblinkingly, her green eyes startling against the gray of the day. A gust of wind picked up her wispy blonde hair on its wings. “I’ll tell you what. You let me go, I’ll give you this bracelet.”

    “That is not a deal!” Mara said, indignant. “You took it! Here is the idea: give it back and I will not… tell. Tell the police.”

    The girl chuckled, flashing a crooked smile, dimples appearing at the corners of her mouth. “Let me guess. You aren’t from around here?”

    Reply
    • Dale Jennings

      I like this piece of writing Gemma, and want to know more about the characters. I’m guessing you’ve been writing for a while? It feels quite polished. Is it part of a larger work? Good stuff anyway. Kudos on this piece.

      Reply
      • gemma feltovich

        Actually, no! I’m fourteen. Absolutely flattered, though. I do have a bit of an obsession with editing, however, which might explain the polished feeling (I know it’s not a good thing; can’t help it). Thank you in any case.

        Reply
        • Blake Powell

          That’s impressive!

          Follow your gifts. I’m excited to see where it takes you 🙂

          Reply
    • KG

      I really liked the world building in this story; I felt like I was in the marketplace with the children. Maybe you could add the sense of smell (what does it smell like there?) to really bring the scene to life? I too would be interested in reading more.

      Reply
    • EndlessExposition

      I really liked this! It’s a very engaging setting, great world building as KG said. I also really liked the green eyed girl, she seems like a fun character. One thing I would nitpick though is sentence clarity. For example, there’s one passage where you said the women in Mara’s village cut their hair to shoulder length, but then you also said she can’t put her fingers through her hair anymore. There were a few spots like that where I had to reread a few times to understand what was going on, so I would edit for that later on. Overall though, good piece!

      Reply
      • Blake Powell

        I liked it too, Gemma! Thanks for sharing it with the rest of us. I loved Mara’s reactions to the things around her and how the world builds as we see more of her personality and thoughts.

        I can’t seem to reply to the original comment so I’m leaving my thoughts here 🙂

        Reply
      • gemma feltovich

        Thank you! I will keep the sentence clarity in mind; my English teacher says that too (hehe).

        Reply
  8. EndlessExposition

    Briar Creek was once featured on the cover of a coffee table book titled New England Magic, as every business advert in town was only too happy to tell you. The town was renowned for its autumn foliage, historic houses, and picturesque downtown shopping district. Popular hobbies included quilting, antiquing, and attending church fundraisers. It was not uncommon for the baristas in the corner coffee shop to know every customer by name. Strangers waved hello on the street. Briar Creek was quiet, quaint, and close-knit. It was a nice change of pace from the last few years in Boston, but I hadn’t been brought there for the sewing circles. My new job was owing to the town’s less celebrated title: murder capital of the northeast.

    To be clear, the murder rate was far below that of larger cities in other parts of the state. The problem was that the ratio was disproportionately high given the population. Morton County, where Briar Creek was located, was so small that ordinarily it would be left to depend on the nearest forensic facilities for its crime-related needs. But as the number of murders continued to climb with no signs of changing anytime soon, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner decided that rather than continually taking resources away from larger counties, they would just give Morton its own lab. Which created the need for a new medical examiner. That’s where I came in. Dr. Alexandra MacBride: recently certified forensic pathologist in need of corpses.

    My new apartment was only a few blocks’ walk from Dr. Abbott’s office. The wind stung my cheeks as I hurried along. It had been an uncharacteristically dry winter for Massachusetts, but no less cold. The snow from our one big blizzard in January had since weathered down to an impenetrable layer of icy frost, constricting buildings, sidewalks, emaciated trees, and deadened grass. The Earth toed the line between seasons. Temperatures had risen slightly, but not enough to start the spring thaw. Dark clouds continually threatened, but rain never came. There was a pervasive sense that the world was holding its breath.

    My apartment was located in the dead center of downtown. Between the chill in the air and it being a Sunday, the streets were relatively empty. That was fine by me. I was still adjusting from city-slicker reserve to small town gregariousness. Briar Creek wasn’t so insular that the arrival of a newcomer was instantly noticeable, but I didn’t have that aura of belonging longtime residents were so adept at sniffing out. My automatic response to a cheerful “Good morning!” was a tight lipped smile and quickened pace. Fortunately, the few people I passed were busy loading groceries into their cars or engrossed in conversation about the bookstore’s window display, and no one bothered to accost me as I drew closer to my destination.

    The Brewing Gale – the corner coffee shop mentioned earlier that I now lived above – looked to be the busiest place in town that day. Understandable. Not even the most harrowing weather could keep a true New Englander from their caffeine. I stopped outside the door, weighing my options: tea versus avoiding human interaction. My post-therapy routine typically consisted of hiding away in my bed and curling up with a book. The lives of people who didn’t exist were always preferable to my own. But then I thought about my kettle, hidden somewhere in the pile of tightly sealed boxes upstairs. Tea won.

    Reply
    • Justine Manzano

      I am so impressed that you managed to spin this out in 15 minutes. This creates such a strong setting. I feel like I know this town, I’ve been to this town now and then, and felt very uncomfortable there, because I’m a New York City woman and everyone there was so darn friendly. Alexandra definitely resonates with me. What a strong start!

      Reply
      • EndlessExposition

        It’s part of my WIP, so it’s all been germinating for awhile. I’m glad you liked it!

        Reply
    • Blake Powell

      Hey Endless Exposition, I liked reading this and agree it’s impressive you typed it up in 15 minutes! I’d definitely be interested in reading further. I liked the introduction to the setting of the small, yet isolated and unfriendly to an outsider’s perspective and would be interested in reading more about the character.

      Thank you for sharing!

      Reply
  9. KG

    (I’m really bad at distractions; probably my biggest being YouTube.)

    Why is there a toad in my lunchbox? I look around at the other kids in case this is some kind of prank, but they’re all busy digging into sandwiches, fruit and juice boxes. Or in the case of Taka, rice and small bits of fish. He grins at me and a cluster of rice clings to his lip.

    I look up. Ms. Benson is standing at the front of the classroom and clears her throat, her gaze sweeping over everyone. I give my best nothing-unusual-here smile and she glances at me, then moves along. She’s in charge of all 26 of us and has her hands full, especially with the kids in the back. Last week we learned a new vocabulary word: harried. I immediately thought of the sentence it could go in: Ms. Benson is constantly harried.

    I open the lid again to make sure I’m not crazy or seeing things. The toad blinks up at me, unimpressed. He’s squatting between my sandwich and banana, leaving an unappealing slick spot on the peel. Usually lunch is a bologna sandwich with wilted lettuce and a quick smear of mustard, not a biology lesson.

    From the back of the room, there’s a yell and Ms. Benson sails past, flapping her hands in distress. Taka leans over and catches sight of the toad. He’s already done with his lunch and wants me to hurry up so we can get first pick of the playground balls. If you don’t get there early you’ll end up with the flat, deflated balls that kind of bounce once, then start to roll away before giving up two feet later.

    “Why did your mom pack you a frog?” Taka wrinkles his nose. I hunch forward.

    “How should I know?” I whisper back. “Besides, your mom packs you weird stuff all the time.”

    “Yeah, but it’s actually food.” Taka sniffs.

    He has a point.

    “Actually, I’m a toad.” The voice that floats out of the partially closed lunchbox is dry and raspy, like my Aunt Judith who smokes and has a voice that sounds like sandpaper.

    Our heads both snap downwards as though physically yanked to see the toad with one slippery foot resting on my sandwich. The toad’s large, bulbous eyes look up at us, first taking in Taka and then me. We look at each other, then down at the toad.

    “Did you just speak?” I can physically feel the blood draining out of my face. Taka nearly falls out of his seat, saving himself by gripping the edge of his desk at the last moment.

    “Yes. Are you going to let me out of this box or not?”

    Reply
    • EndlessExposition

      I loved this! The characters are so well drawn in a short space of time. One question though: how old are they? The voice is very mature for a kid who’s young enough to have recess. Just something to consider as you develop the character.

      Reply
    • Dale Jennings

      Just read your short story. I really like it. I was going to go for the talking toad too, but I ran out of time and just fizzled out… And doesn’t everyone get distracted by Youtube though?

      Reply
    • Justine Manzano

      This is wonderful! I felt like I was back in school, fighting for the good ball during recess. You set the scene very well and the characters are strong. What grade level is this for? I get the feeling my son would love reading this, which would be great, because I would love to read it to him. I do have to agree with Endless Exposition, however. The voice has some very mature places, like when he’s describing the teacher.

      Reply
    • Blake Powell

      Hey KG, thanks for sharing. Loved this story and the characters. I felt like we learned a lot about Taka even though he barely says anything, which is the mark of great characterization. Nice work!

      Reply
  10. Justine Manzano

    This is the start to Chapter 5 of my WIP, which is a YA Romantic Comedy. Here goes!

    School went by relatively quickly the following day. I immersed myself in my work and, aside from catching Nina and Val up on what had transpired, I forced myself not to think about what had happened. It was in Dad’s hands now, and he and Mom would figure it out. I would just have to deal with whatever came out of it.
    By the time my shift at Scoopy Doo was up, I had managed to fake the funk enough that my mood was a bit lighter. That was a very good thing, because the moment Val and I arrived for our shift, we were reminded of what was in store for us.
    Standing beside Sammy was Craig, the new employee. He was just starting today, Friday, and I couldn’t imagine why. Sammy liked to help people, even when what they asked for was unreasonable or stupid. Sweet for Sammy, but why would he agree to a trainee before a busy weekend? There was no way we’d have him weekend ready by the end of this shift, even if he was God’s gift to ice cream scoops.
    Sammy tapped Craig on the shoulder, muttering something to him. Craig turned to greet us, hand outstretched.
    Craig was cute, with shaggy blonde hair and freckles across his nose, and the minute I saw him I remembered why his name was so familiar. He was in junior year at Birchwood High, and he had once taken a required music class with me. He had sung a pretty decent tenor, and I had warbled a questionable alto. I grinned at the sight of him.
    “Hey man!” I reached out to shake his hand. “How are you?”
    His eyebrow raised and he held his hand out tentatively. “Do I know you?”
    Of course. “Brynn. Stark. I was in chorus with you. I used to have brown hair. You know, before the dye bottle accident.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw Val’s eyes dart back and forth between us.

    Reply
    • EndlessExposition

      This is great! Your character has a really strong voice and a winning sense of humor. “God’s gift to ice cream scoops” in particular made me chuckle.

      Reply
      • Justine Manzano

        Thank you so much! I was concerned people wouldn’t get her if they started in Chapter 5, but I’m so glad to see you enjoyed it. 🙂

        Reply
        • Blake Powell

          Yes! I really related to the “weekend ready” part too @justinemanzano:disqus , that’s such a common struggle in any retail environment that I know all too well… 😛

          Reply
    • Blake Powell

      Hey Justine, love how you move from scene to scene effortlessly. It makes for prose which is easy to read and doesn’t skip a beat. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
      • Justine Manzano

        Thanks for your comments and the wonderful post! 🙂

        Reply
    • Ujam Kenechukwu

      Aargh!…she didn’t finish the story. Now, provide the previous four chapters right now!….lol…just kidding, excellent read.

      Reply
      • Justine Manzano

        Thanks! 🙂

        Reply
  11. Ben

    For Mistake #3, ‘Giving Into Distractions’, shouldn’t the compound verb ‘give in’ be maintained to avoid the preposition ‘into’ i.e. ‘Giving in to Distractions’?

    Reply
    • Alice Sudlow

      Yes! You’re absolutely right. In fact, we just published a post on that, and then apparently forgot our own advice. Thanks for catching that!

      Reply
      • Blake Powell

        Thank you pointing this out Ben, and for fixing it Alice! Much appreciated 🙂

        Reply
  12. Blake Powell

    Haha, I loved this story. It was simple and humorous and relatable (haven’t we all felt like Timmy at some point?). Thanks for sharing it with us Dale.

    I am curious to know what the toad is and why it is there so I’d read further just based on that account.

    Reply
  13. Blake Powell

    Here’s my story guys. Thank you for the lively discussion around my post, it’s been awesome to see what you guys have been coming up with in your practices!

    —-
    Jake walked down the winding stairway. It was twisted and scary in the hall, and he couldn’t wait to escape this place.

    The truth is, he’d been trapped here for days. And through a couple moments of luck, he’d managed to find some sense of how to escape. Whoever had put him in here was playing some twisted game and he didn’t wish to be a part of it anymore. He never had.

    It had only been a day since the first message had come. The message spelled out by his tormentor, reading

    YOU ARE TRAPPED

    The message was scrawled in blood, inked out by the dirtiness of his captor’s fingers. But even by looking at it in that dark place, Jake could place whoever had taken him in his mind.

    And he didn’t like the look of them. Never again would he choose to look at that face unless he absolutely had to. And if he did, he didn’t know if he could…

    Jake hadn’t been this scared in his entire life. Not through middle school as the other kids tortured him for being a runt and not from his parents who detested him for being wimpy.

    You see, Jake was only 5 foot 2. And in male terms, that’s not a hell of a lot. In fact, it’s really nothing at all. Because when you’re a man in his adolescent years, you need all the help you can get. Unfortunately, Jake had been far from getting any of the help he needed from his genes and he’d continue to get blamed for it the rest of his life.

    Jake felt the damp cold of the room cling onto him walked down those never-ending stairs. He shivered and wondered when this all would end, but somehow he doubted it ever would. For he was the runt, the unlucky pick of the litter. And when you’re the runt, the rules go out the window and the world stops being yours. Instead, life just finds more reasons to bring you down and more reasons to torment you.

    The worst part for Jake was that within these last twenty-four hours, the worst had only begun. And if he hoped to see the end of this through then he’d need all the courage he could muster.
    But he didn’t have it now, for he wasn’t ready yet.

    In time, though, he would be ready to take on the world. For his story had only really started just now as you turn this page…

    Reply
  14. Lorna Robinson

    Dearest Eliza, it has been ten days now, how I have missed you my love. My only solace to the long journey ahead is that it is ten days closer until we are reunited. The ship is massive, and we are packed in like the proverbial sardine, four to a berth, last night was the first time I slept longer than an hour at a time. Sharing with forty other men ranging in age from ten to eighty is not my idea of fun and if you consider the snoring, farting, beulching …. listen to me! Nothing but complaining. I am sorry luv, I must instead think of our life ahead for this will be like a mere blink of the eye when considered in the scheme of time.

    Reply
  15. TerriblyTerrific

    Thank you for the article. I agree. We must continue….

    Reply
  16. Nivedita Senapati

    THE FAINT IMAGE
    My heart beat so fast, it felt like the heart is coming out of its safe closet. It’s quite unlike him to just wander off like that. But seeing him at that time of the day was making me restless. From a 50 meters distance also I could see his gaze upon me. I tried to pull myself from his gaze and looked around. Dad was sitting beside me and he was saying something but, couldn’t figure out a word from it. I took a quick glance at his direction to see if he is still there or gone. He was still there but now he had turned his back towards me. I could sense something was disturbing him …..but what? Suraj told me yesterday that Dheer wanted to see me but never thought it could be this urgent to drag him to me on a Sunday afternoon. I just hope Dad didn’t see him. Oh…If I could hear his thought.
    We sat at the balcony until sunset but Dheer didn’t wait that long and left. But his longing image couldn’t leave me and it still haunts me after all these years. I did all my normal duty mindlessly not to give Dad a clue on what’s going on in my mind. All through the night the memories of Dheer came to me. Those are all happy memories. Though I knew him for past few years but we became best buddies since he proposed to my sister. I was the postman (woman) in their love story. Awww….they look so cute together. I remember the time I told him about Suraj’s proposal and his blank look. Very often he had hinted that he didn’t like Suraj. He always said to me ‘You deserve much better. Suraj is not worth you.’ Thinking about all those days that I have spent with Dheer, I dozed off.
    I woke up with the sound of the calling bell. My heart beat fast at the sudden commotion of the morning. With my eyes half open I dragged myself to the front door. Suraj and Pinku were standing outside in their pajamas.
    Rubbing my eyes to open them properly I asked ‘what’s up with you guys? Going for jogging or morning class?’ When nobody said anything, I looked at them. Pinku looked at Suraj, so I look again questioningly to Suraj again.
    Suraj was panting. After a while, that felt like ever, Suraj started. But without answering any of my questions, He asked “Have you talked to Dheer Bhaiya yesterday?”
    I nodded my head in denial and relate to them that had occurred last afternoon. For a second I thought may be Dheer is with them. So I asked “why? What happened? Is he with you right now?” and looked down at the stairs for him.
    Then Suraj voice came as an explosion. “Dheer committed suicide last night. He is no more”.
    My legs tremble, the surrounding seems to whirl around me, I thought am going to faint. I hold on to the threshold tightly. That one sentence kept on rewinding in my ears. ‘How could he? Why…? What troubled him to end his life? No..It’s not true….it can’t be. He is much stronger to do something stupid like this.’ I composed myself and attacked Suraj and Pinku, “Is this some kind of joke or prank you are playing with me, ‘coz it’s not funny?” This time Pinku said, “No..It’s true. We are coming from his house seeing his body. Police is there too.” “Oh my God! How am I going to inform and console Seema? The poor girl!!! But, why….did you guys know anything?”
    Nobody has the answer and none will ever have what caused his death. But he remained in my heart as fresh as yesterday to haunt me. Oh…if only I could meet him that day, or could hear his thoughts…only if….He left the world leaving so many unanswered questions. But he did teach me a lesson for life. ‘Sometime when we are in trouble we don’t always need a helping hand, but ears to listen our sorrows.’

    Reply
    • Blake Powell

      Thank you! What were some of your take aways Charlene?

      Reply
      • CharleneBullard.com

        A few things that stayed with was the part about distraction. I can become easily distracted, not only by checking email, but also by the numerous thoughts that fill my mind. Also the research part, distracts me. I can find myself looking for a specific quote to add to my blog post, then suddenly I’m down the internet rabbit hole!
        A few of your tips about keeping a notepad to write thought and to research things later will be implemented in my writing life ASAP. Thanks again for the post.

        Reply
        • Blake Powell

          Yes, I struggle with this as well. Especially with finding external quotes, links, and sources to add to my blog posts.

          Thanks for the thoughtful response Charlene, and glad to help. Let me know how your writing journey progresses as you filter out the distracions in your life 🙂

          Reply
  17. James Alfred

    Jack woke up in what seemed to be a padded cell of some kind. There were no windows or doors that he could see. He was in a straight jacket. He couldn’t move his arm. Jack started yelling for help and running around kicking the walls in hopes that someone here him. He just wanted to know what was going on and why in the hell he was in here. After what seem to be 20 to 30 minutes, he wasnt for sure how long. Not like there was a clock in there. Hell he was even sure how long he had been in there. ” What in the Sam Hell is going on? Let me out.” Jack yelled.
    Jack sat down and started thinking about the last thing he did. ” I was at the coffee shop with some friends studying. My friends got up and left around 11pm. And i stayed to study and work on my other classes. Then I left it was about 1am in the morning.” Jack could feel the back of his head was hurting. Of course he was unable to reach it to really feel why it was hurting so bad. ” Oh yeah I left the coffee shop and started back to the dorm rooms. I cut down the alley like i always do. That it that is all i can remember.” All of the sudden the wall across made a noise like it was unlocking. Then a small spot like a doorway opened up. A lady wearing a white lab jacket walked in. ” How are you feeling Jack?’ She asked. ” My head hurt like crazy. I have a headache big as Texas and I am confused on where I am and why I am in this padded cell. Oh and WHO THE HELL ARE YOU? Jack yelled. ” Well my name is Rachel. I am the warden here at Dead Island.” She said. ” Where in the hell is Dead Island?” Jack asked. Well Jack you dont need to that right now. If you follow the rules and do as you asked you will be able to leave this place. I am not sure why anyone would want to leave……

    Sorry my Son can be a distraction for me. He seems to find me no matter where i tried to hide. And he does find me well, I gotta stop what i am doing because my brain just goes to mud. I hope you enjoy what I was able to get write or screen. lol

    Reply
    • Blake Powell

      Hey James, thank you for sharing! I liked the setting but it did jump around a lot and was a little hard to follow. I liked the concept though. Is it from one of your current Works in Progress?

      I laughed too about your son. I don’t have kids but I can imagine how hard it must be to find quiet time, especially for your writing haha.

      Reply
      • James Alfred

        Thanks for reading it. Well not really sure I like where I could take, but really I had just pulled it out as I starting writing it. I am still thinking about running with it but not sure yet. I just read it again and it sounds like crap hmmm.

        Yeah I love my kids to dead, but there are days where I just want to sit and write. Well they think I should be playing with them not writing.

        Reply

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