Write Poetically, Write Simply

by Joe Bunting | 223 comments

This post was first published in September 2012.

Are you intentionally using complex, that is, “refined” vocabulary in your writing? Is it because you feel it sounds better, sophisticated, cultured?

minimalism in life, simplicity, simple, minimal

Photo by Yogendra Joshi

For quite some time now, I've noticed that the best authors write using simple vocabulary. Yet, even though their choice of words is rather simple, the thoughts they are expressing and the way of expression they use is what makes their writing special.

“Less is more,” right? The expansion of minimalism in the past decade tells us that people are pursuing a more simplified life, far away from the stresses of modern society.

The Age of Minimalism in Writing

So, if everyone seeks ‘the simple’, why is it that so many aspiring writers tend to complicate their work with heaviness?

Consider the start of Julian Barnes’s latest novella, The Sense of an Ending, for which he won the Man Booker Prize 2011:

We live in time – it holds us and moulds us – but I’ve never felt I understood it very well. And I’m not referring to theories about how it bends and doubles back, or may exist elsewhere in parallel versions. No, I mean ordinary, everyday time, which clocks and watches assure us passes regularly: tick-tock, click-clock.

Is there anything more plausible than a second hand? And yet it takes only the smallest pleasure or pain to teach us time’s malleability. Some emotions speed it up, others slow it down; occasionally, it seems to go missing – until the eventual point when it really does go missing, never to return.

Isn’t it beautiful with all its plainness? If you follow the development of any experienced writer, you may notice that he moves from a cluttered expression of ideas, as a result of wanting to say so many things at once, to a briefer and simplified manifestation of thought. Indeed, very often one can tell the difference between a beginner and an experienced writer only by this very fact.

What about the very start of Jon McGregor’s debut novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, which made him quite famous:

If you listen, you can hear it.
The city, it sings.
If you stand quietly, at the foot of a garden, in the middle of a street, on the roof of a house.
It’s clearest at night, when the sun cuts more sharply across the surface of things, when the song reaches out to a place inside you.
It’s a wordless song, for the most, but it’s a song all the same, and nobody hearing it can doubt what it sings.
And the song sings the loudest when you pick out each note.

The critics characterized his whole first chapter as lyrical, “poetic prose,” and he achieved this effect without needing to use any weight and cultured terminology. The romanticism and lyricism comes from the expressed emotions and the style of course, but rarely the word choice.

Granted, our natural thought processes dictate how and what we write, because what ultimately matters is staying true to oneself. But if you feel the urge to “upgrade” words and consult a thesaurus, don’t succumb. I mean give in.

Let’s leave James Joyce and Gustav Flaubert to the time they belong, and mark ours within the individual modernism of the simple and majestic.

Do you like to read simple, minimalistic writing or writing that's thick and complex? Do you like to write in a simple or more ornate style?

PRACTICE

Write for fifteen minutes in the simplest style. If you come to a “bigger” word, try to think of a simpler one that can replace it. Share your practice in the comments section and make sure you support your fellow writers.

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.

223 Comments

  1. Kate

    No idea if I have achieved the brief or not with this, but I did take out some of the ‘heavier’ words…

    Abigail scooped up the kitten and placed it on her lap. She
    stroked its soft fur with her chubby hands, and listened to it purr. She
    wondered if the kitten loved sitting on her lap the way she loved sitting on
    her mother’s lap at bed time, curled up, head resting on mother’s chest,
    listening to the mixed sounds of her heart beat and her voice as she told a bed
    time story.

    She wanted to be able to keep this little ball of grey
    fluff, with its pink tongue and sing-song meow. She could keep it in her
    bedroom, it could sleep in a box by her bed. She would promise to help mother
    with the dishes and feeding the chickens, she would even mind her little brat of
    a brother, if only she could keep this kitten.

    Abigail hadn’t been allowed to keep the puppies when their
    fat lazy spaniel had popped them out, one by one, last summer. They were not very
    pretty puppies, but anything ‘baby’ is cute when you are 5 years old. Abigail
    liked to dress them up in her old baby bonnets and tie ribbons on their ears.
    But her father had taken them away one day in a box in the back of his truck,
    calling them ‘ugly mutts’ and not good enough to keep.  Mother told her they had been taken to a new
    home with a large garden and lots of butterflies to chase. Abigail hoped rather
    than believed this to be true.

    The kitten was pretty though…and it would be useful! It
    could catch the mice and rats that ate the chicken feed in the back yard!
    Surely her father and mother would let her keep it if she told them this?

    She bent forwards and buried her face in the kitten’s fur. She
    said a silent prayer…and then made a wish, just for luck.

    Reply
    • Plumjoppa

      This piece speaks to me as I had a father who made sacks of barn kittens disappear every Spring.   I always love stories told from a child’s view.  It’s interesting that the first 3 posts all feature country scenes, when asked to simplify our word choices. 

    • Kate

      thank you. And yeah, that is interesting…I wonder what that says about our views about country living. I’ve lived in cities AND the country, and I can’t say that either is less complicated…

    • Plumjoppa

       Very true!  Writing with simple words is also as difficult as writing with complicated words. 

    • Suzie Gallagher

      Lovely Kate – nothing heavy here except the underlying topic. love the prayer -wish thing – covering all bases.
      Language suitably simple.

    • Kate

      Thank Suzie! i just wasn’t sure if I was cheating by making it almost a child’s tale..

    • Sophie Novak

      Oh this brought back memories of hiding kittens and puppies taken from the street under my bed. My parents weren’t very approving. Nice job Kate. 

    • Kate

      thank you Sophie!

    • Marla4

       What a beautiful child’s POV.  So good.  Is this part of a larger piece?

    • Kate

      thank you, and no…well, not yet anyway!

    • Eileen Knowles

       I enjoyed this.  You do a great job with simple description.  I struggle with description.  Simple or not simple. 🙂

    • Mariaanne

      That must be what a million little girls think when they find a kitten.  I thought it was really well written and totally forgot that it was supposed to be “simple” as I read it.

    • Kate

      Thanks Mariaanne! I did take out some of the heavier words that drifted out of my pen as I wrote!

    • wendy2020

      I love the juxtaposition between the narrator matter of fact perspective “not very pretty puppies” and how just being babies makes them cute to Abigail.  And the harsh tone of the dad, hauling them away because they don’t matter, even though they matter to Abigail.

      I really loved it.  I think you might have been up against the 15 minute time clock for the ending. (I usually, cheat, not by hours, but certainly by minutes if I think it will make a difference).  Would have liked Abigail to feel the purr of the kitten against her lips as she mouthed a silent prayer.  Or how the kitten smelled liked a keeper.  Or how impossible it would be to ever let go of anything that soft.  If you flesh this out into something you’d like to publish, I’d drop the “wish for luck” part.  You say so many things in such original ways, I know you can end the story the same way.  (Only my opinion, so don’t give it much credence if you don’t want to.  You are a talented writer regardless of my edit!!).

    • Kate

      Thank you! I’m happy to take any suggestions – I’m here to improve my writing, and everyone has a different point of view. Thanks for the compliment!

  2. Zoe Beech

    She was leaving.  

    Her eyes looked about the room, looking for a starting point.  The porcelain doll she’d received from Nana, who made her promise to give it to her grandchildren one day.  The duvet with little blue flowers, the first duvet her and Jacob slept under, that warmed her from the chill of a Free State winter.  The medal for runner-up-to-dux, the one her father never thought she’d get.  What would she take?

    She had known no other room but that one for twenty five years. She wanted every piece of it packed into her bag with her, lying just behind her heart.  But instead of taking anything, she smoothed her hair and took her wedding ring off, leaving it on the dresser in front of the mirror.  

    Right now, Jacob’s spade would be breaking up dirt.  Or perhaps he’d be crouching down under the thorn tree with the other men.  He’d be sweating, probably watching everybody else talk as he bit deep bites into the egg mayonaise sandwich she’d sliced that morning.  The crusts were in the rubbish bin.

    Kate’s feet thudded down the wooden steps, making them sound heavier.  She gripped the bannister, dizzy.  Sally and Malcom were at Jacob’s parents, playing in the dirt.  She sighed angrily.  She couldn’t even kiss them goodbye – that would raise everybody’s attention.  

    She looked out of the open kitchen window onto the farm.  The smell of faint soil was so familiar, and now so sad.  The sun was on it’s journey home, making every colour stronger.  Her garden never looked so beautiful, the sunflowers like pure gold.  They painted a  picture for her as if they knew she’d never return.

    Reply
    • Plumjoppa

       My heart aches for Sally and Malcom.  I want to hear more!

    • Sophie Novak

      No, she didn’t actually leave right? Just joking; it’s quite emotional though. The last paragraph especially. 

    • Marla4

       Zoe,

      Gorgeous writing, again!  The last paragraph is like poetry.  Keep writing this!  Please.

      Marla

    • Mariaanne

      How beautiful Zoe.  I wish I understood why she was leaving.  I think the most touching detail is the one about the egg salad sandwich. I’m not sure why that resonates with me.  It certainly isn’t because I like egg salad. 

    • wendy2020

      Hello, Zoe, my friend.

      How can she leave her kids without saying good-bye?  Or better yet, how could she leave her kids at all?  What would make her do this?  Do you as the author know, or are you still fleshing this out?

      I’m with Mariaanne on the egg salad.  I really got the sense of how much she caters to him through that sentence alone.

      Very vivid use of multiple senses.  So, what happens??? 🙂

  3. Plumjoppa

     
    If you rode your horse past the red
    roofed barn where daylight shutters through the wood planks, you
    would not guess what lies just up the cow path out of sight in the
    woods. You would not know that bones lay on the moss beside the dry
    creek bed past the field of ferns. Only Carl knows the name of
    every animal that lies here, which skull belongs to Midnight the cat,
    which bone fragment came from Kelly the dog. It is not a crime that
    these animals lie here. Dogs die every day in the country from
    chasing the wrong chicken. Black cats die every night in the bright
    beams of a Ford F150 truck. Still, a small tremor starts where his
    fingers touch the leather reins and slips upward until his elbow
    jerks. He shifts in the saddle, and nudges Smokey’s ribs turning him
    homeward. The horse raises his nose, flicks his ears forward, and
    starts to trot toward the grain he knows is waiting in the bucket
    hung on the wall of his stall. This is when the rain begins, and
    turns the fine layer of dust on the saddle to mud.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Very interesting. I urge you to continue writing this story. It intrigues the reader from the very beginning. 

    • Plumjoppa

       Thank you.  I am encouraged to continue with this.

    • Sarah Hood

      Yes, this is very intriguing. I want to know what happens next!

    • Marla4

       My gosh, this is lovely.  I have chickens, so I laughed at that line. I’ve been tempted, but I never could hurt a dog, I don’t think.

      Beautiful writing.

    • Plumjoppa

       Thanks Marla.  I am personally after the squirrels in my yard, but I don’t THINK I could hurt them either. 

    • Kate

      Very atmospheric! I like the horse descriptions. Wondering what it could be about a chicken that makes it the wrong one…

    • Plumjoppa

       Thanks Kate.  I think Marla answered that one.  The wrong chicken would be the one with the owner who has a gun, but good advice to clarify that.

    • wendy2020

      Carl sounds like “the bone whisperer.”  I think he is the one riding the horse, but am not sure?  So does he bring road kill to a proper resting place?  Kind of a macabre form of “animal lover” but I like it.

    • Plumjoppa

       I’m still figuring out exactly who Carl is, but yes something like that.  Yes, Carl is on the horse, but I left that a little unclear.  Thanks for the input! 

  4. Jim Woods

    You are introduced to the one. 
    A relationship begins. It’s simple. It’s true. You flow together. 

    Enter conflict: be it a substance or a viewpoint, a friend or an ex-lover. 

    The perfect picture slowly falls apart. The frame has been broken.

    The glass is shattered. The picture has been torn.
    Effort is made to restore it in vain. It’s over.

    Or is it? 

    Conflict slowly resolves through reconciliation. Pride is swallowed.

    A new picture frame is made. The perfect, torn picture is up one again.

    Life is renewed.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Conflict forgotten. I hope. Great job Jim. Simple and memorable. 

    • Jim Woods

      Thanks Sophie, fantastic post!! 

    • Sophie Novak

      Thanks; I’m glad to hear you liked it!

    • Marla4

       What a brilliant way to describe love.

    • Jim Woods

      Thanks so much Marla-I really appreciate that! 

    • Kate

      VERY simple, and to the point. If there was a prize for this, i think you’d win it!

    • Jim Woods

      Haha. Thanks Kate. I’m very flattered and honored. So kind of you to say! 

    • Eileen Knowles

       “The perfect picture slowly falls apart. The frame has been broken.”  I like that line, Jim.  Nice job.

    • Jim Woods

      Thanks so much Eileen. I think that’s my favorite line I think too. I appreciate your encouragement!!!!! 

    • wendy2020

      Hey Jim… can I borrow some tape? 

      Love the effortless analogy you created.

    • Jim Woods

      Thanks so much Wendy! I’m honored!! Thank you for the kind words!!

  5. Suzie Gallagher

    the drone from the radio cut through the silence
    the letter with the diagnosis lay on the table surrounded by crumbs and spittle
    grace lay still, on the floor where she had slid off the chair
    mother, carer, confidence – she sat at the table
    glancing at the letter, glancing at grace
    eating her breakfast.

    Yesterday like any other she was up at seven, getting Grace out of bed, washing her face, pulling on her clothes, making her laugh.
    Yesterday at nine the man came to take Grace to the therapy centre, she went three times a week since she finished school.
    Yesterday she wrote another article on advocacy of children with disabilities, posting it on her way to the clinic.
    Yesterday she was positive – Grace was a blessing, teaching her so much about life, even battling cancer with a lighter touch.

    BUT

    that was Yesterday and today there is a letter. 
    the letter came in the early morning post
    she had no support to lean against whilst she read the damning report
    husbands vanished, parents dead, siblings elsewhere
    friends – people come and go as it suits them
    she long ago stopped trying to keep them
    grace didn’t move, she was never going to move again
    she was half way through her breakfast
    had she forgotten anything?

    THE LIST
    read letter again – three weeks to live
    dress grace
    make breakfast
    add in enough valium to kill an elephant
    feed grace
    pray
    feed self
    ring ex
    die

    ARTICLE (published in newspaper following week)
    Watching my daughter interact with the world fills me with such pride. She cannot walk or hold her head up, she has no sight and can only respond to certain sounds, but, she loves her life. Her smile lights up the room, melting the coldest of hearts. She was born too early, with not enough immediate care, but she doesn’t know that. She has no concept of light and shape, she doesn’t know what the ground feels like as she walks on the grass. But to say she isn’t viable is wrong. To tell me that I made a wrong choice is a bad comment. My daughter and I live a different life and yet very similar to your own. We get up, we do chores, we eat breakfast and we go to work and school. Later we eat dinner and watch bad soaps on television and eat ice cream. Do not judge us if we make too much noise in the mall, if we can’t get through the doors that are not wide enough for the chair. Think before you speak. Befriend a parent with a disabled child. Speak to them – you may be the only one to do so all week. Most of all care, not pity but care about them.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Great second paragraph Suzie. Using the same word at the start of each line makes a very emotional and emphatic effect. Interesting concept all throughout – way to go. 

    • Marla4

       The list KILLED me, Suzie.  So, so good.  How do you do this?

    • Marla4

       You made me laugh!

    • Suzie Gallagher

      Not wishing to gossip or spread rumours that may not be true, this was written in response to a news item that may potentially involve a friend of mine. I guess I needed to make sense of it, find a reason I could live (no pun intended) with. So I imagined a very very loving mother with nothing left to lose except their lives.

    • Mirelba

       Amazing!  Great job.  and just a thought:  Several of best selling novelist Naomi Ragen’s books were prompted by news items that she tried to make sense of.  (I interviewed her today.  Now I’m reading and posting here instead of writing it up…)

    • Kate

      Very sad, and very poignant…wow. 

    • Mariaanne

      I like the way you are empathetic but not pitying in this.  My favorite line is the very simple “to tell me I made a wrong choice is a bad comment”.  

    • Ernest

      as always … brilliant !

    • jenn_kn

      Off the cuff Amazing!

    • wendy2020

      This read so true, I was almost convinced it was auto-biographical.  I guess that is the truest form of compliment when  reader suspends his/her disbelief so much that she just accepts it as fact?

      Love this phrase, as it is such a modern-day slice of life thing to do:  Yesterday she wrote another article on advocacy of children with disabilities, posting it on her way to the clinic.
      So did the parent take her own life and her child’s to avoid a more painful end of life?  Or was the valium just to deaden the pain.  Wonder what she was planning on telling the ex on the phone after she took the valium?

      Someone in my family is disabled, though very differently from the daughter in this story.  I can really appreciate the context of this story.

  6. Robert

    Darcy’s plan to get even with Marcy took root.  She would take her to the water fountain where the birds swooped and pooped.  That pretty little white dress should have been her’s and Marcy knew it.

    “Marcy, let’s get some water, c’mon over here” Darcy said.

    “Ha Ha, Darcy, I know what you’re up to, I’m not going anywhere near that fountain and those birds.” Marcy said, and promptly stormed off.

    Not to worry Darcy thought, I’ll get her at lunch.  Time stood still for most of the morning until the wonderful sound of the lunchtime bell.  Ding-dong the bell sang, ding-dong and it was off to the playground.

    The wait was agonizing, but finally Marcy arrived at her self appointed seat across the table from Darcy and her girls. 

    “Marcy, would you like some ketchup on those fries?”

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Oh those happy and playful childish days eh? I liked the brief peek into Darcy and Marcy’s world. 

    • Robert

      I love the simple way children speak to each other … 

    • Sophie Novak

      It’s amazing. And we tend to forget how it was and felt. Perhaps going to write at a playground may flash memories. 

    • Marla4

       Wonderful.  Loved swooped and pooped!

    • Sophie Novak

      Me too. So funny. 

    • Robert

      Thank you … it was just gonna be pooped … lol 

    • wendy2020

      I thought that was great phrasing, also.  Why should the dress be Darcy’s and not Marcy’s?
       
      Also loved the line about sitting with Darcy “and her girls”. So reminds me of how school girls almost sit in squadrons at lunch.

    • Robert

      Thanks Wendy … the backstory is not in this exerpt but the short of it is that Darcy is jealous of her little sister who always get’s ‘everything’ …  

    • Kate

      haha, loved that!!! Thats funny…poor Marcy…great writing!

    • Robert

      Thanks! 

    • Mariaanne

      I love it! She would have been better off with the water than the ketchup.  I like the the birds swooping and pooping also, and birds do seem to aim at white sometimes.  

  7. Chihuahua Zero

    I walked to the scrapyard with a gun in my hand. I walked through the streets, passing through the lamp lights and avoiding the strong light of the moon. No window lights were on and no one stood behind the glass. It was only me and the gun.

    I didn’t hide the gun, instead holding it out for the town to see, react to, and pick up the phone to call the police to take me away before I could make the worst decision of my life. That wouldn’t happen. No one cared except me and who I was going to meet.

    At the scrapyard, I opened the unlocked gate and entered, letting the metal creak. My shoes made prints in the dir. The metal piles laid everywhere. They were the perfect seers for the body I was going to leave behind.

    I stepped into the center of the yard and looked right ahead. She stood across from me, gun in hand also, but she held it at me, smiling.

    “I thought you wouldn’t come,” she said.

    “I keep my promises.” I said.

    “If that was the case, we wouldn’t be here. We would be…together.” 

    She gave me the old wink and fired.

    I fired too.

    Blood painted the ground.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      I want to know more. Who were these women and why were they shooting at each other? 

    • Chihuahua Zero

      To be honest, I wrote the narrator as a man but hey, why not? 😉

    • Sophie Novak

      Well I guess my imagination went in a different direction 🙂 Good job by the way. 

    • wendy2020

      The last section  had the least words, but I think said the most and said it best.  The scene setting was good, too, but punchiness of the dialog and the quick sentences reeled me in moreso than the description of the apathetic streets and empty scrapyard.

      I’d love it if you would punch me in the face a little sooner next time. 🙂 

    • Chihuahua Zero

      I fixated over the dialogue more than the rest of the piece and I added a couple of words while transcripting it from paper-to-computer. Maybe that minor bit of revision made the punch.

      Now, maybe this piece is a keeper, if I can figure out what other direction I can take it in while retaining the same simple voice.

    • Marla4

       Great, great scene.

    • Kate

      Whoa! i wasn’t expecting that…great story!

    • Kate

      Whoa! i wasn’t expecting that…great story!

    • Mariaanne

      Wow! Blood painted the ground what a good example of simple and vivid writing. Well done!

    • Chihuahua Zero

      Once I left the computer and went to class, I thought about simplifying it down to “blood was on the ground”, but on further thought, maybe this splash of color creates a more vivid contrast with the rest of the narration.

    • Sophie Novak

      Blood painted the ground is a great choice. Fantastic ending. 

  8. BronsonOquinn

    I just read John Gardner’s book On Becoming a Novelist. He makes a great point that writers need faster access to everyday words rather than fancy GRE words. I find my writing too stilted because I can’t think of better ways to say things like “He laughed.” or “She glanced his way.” or any other action I repeat over and over again.

    Although I agree that “simple” writing (albeit in appearance, not in craft) is often more effective, I think it’s helpful to increase your daily vocabulary with common words you might not use that everyone else does. I started going through the dictionary and jotting down verbs I like on note cards. I’ve amassed quite a collection, but can’t say how much it’s helped my writing so far.

    Great article! Really got me thinking.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Thanks Bronson! Building up the daily vocabulary with common words that aren’t frequently used sounds amazing. The more, the merrier. Words are our tools right? 

  9. wendy2020

    I flew down to Atlanta to visit my friend.  She had cancer.  She’d had cancer for four years.
     
    I first heard hint of it while both our families were side-by-side watching our town’s Fourth of July parade.
     
    “I don’t get why my boob is itchy?  I stopped breast-feeding months ago,” Lila said to me.
     
    Lila often got plugged ducts or red blotches on her boobs.  The doctor would write a script to kill the germs that had gotten into her tits, and it would be over.
     
    But this wasn’t that.  This was breast cancer, stage four.
     
    I’d moved to New Jersey when she was two-thirds through her fight with cancer.  But when I got word that cancer had her liver and wasn’t letting go, I went back.
     
    I didn’t get to see her my first night.
     
    “Tomorrow morning would be better,” Lila’s husband , Grant, told me over the phone.
     
    Okay.
     
    When tomorrow morning came, I got a text message:  Sorry.  Maybe you can see Lila this afternoon. We are moving her into Hospice. (Unfortunately, there is no simpler word for Hospice, and using a thesaurus or dictionary to dumb-down a word is probably just as bad as using one to smarten it up)
     
    Okay.
     
    I text Mary.  Mary is Lila’s good friend, maybe best friend.  I only know Mary because Mary knows Lila.  I don’t even know why I have Mary’s number programmed into my iPhone, but I do.  I text her because I know she will know what is going on, and I do not know what the hell is going on other than that my friend Lila is dying quickly.
     
    Mary, I don’t want to bother Grant.   Let me know if I can come visit Lila in Hospice around 5pm. Okay?
     
    Mary says, okay.  I say okay, see you at 5.
     
    We all keep trading “okays” when nothing is okay.
     
    At 5pm, my friend Rachel comes with me to visit Lila.  She is my ride and a mutual friend of Lila’s.
     
    Lila is sleeping.  Lila does not look like Lila.  Lila has glitter on her face and no one knows for sure how it got there.
     
    Rachel talks to Lila in a low tone without tears.
     
    I have a loud voice, even when I am trying to be quiet.  I use it when I talk to Lila.  I talk about how we met in breast-feeding class.  How of the four couples there, her husband was the only one not named Joe, and so when it came time to introduce himself he said his name was “not Joe.”  I talk about parades we watched and Easter egg hunts our kids did in her backyard. 
     
    I tell Lila the potted plant she gave me last summer when she came up to visit has grown to be four feet by four feet.  Rachel says she is surprised I didn’t kill it, which hurts.  We are all hurting in this room.  That comment is Rachel’s way of hurting less.  Mine is talking in a voice that sucks at whispering. 
     
    And Lila’s way of hurting less is dying.
     
    I give her a hug.  I am not the type that gives girl on girl hugs often.  They make me uncomfortable.  Not because I am anti-gay, because I am not.  Just boobs against my boobs don’t feel right.
     
    “I love you, Lila,” I say all up close into her ear.
     
    Lila opens her eyes and says “I love you, too.”  Then she is asleep again, otherwise known as dying.
     
    Like I said, I don’t do girl hugs.  But, this time I don’t want to let go.  But I have to.  It’s time to leave, and I can’t make time any longer than it is.

    Reply
    • Marla4

       Wendy,

      This is heartbreakingly beautiful.  I love the line about the glitter, and I feel the same way about hugs where boobs connect!  The part about the plant just about did me in.

      Powerful.  You should keep writing this!

      Marla

    • wendy2020

      Oh good, glad I am not the only one who feels that way about booby hugs.  I’d like to think I will be okay with it for my own daughters once they hit puberty, as they are still in single digits now.  Something I will work on overcoming…

      I may flesh this out some, but the story kind of ended in a very real way.

      Thank you for your feedback.

    • Sophie Novak

      Very touching Wendy. I can almost feel the pain of a friend’s dying. 

    • Plumjoppa

      The original details in this make it so believable.  You reveal so much about the character with lines like the “voice that sucks at whispering.” 

    • wendy2020

      Kind of easy to make this one believable, because really, the only parts that are fiction are the names.  Thank you for reading and commenting.

    • Kate

      This is very well written and unbearably sad…I couldn’t bear to lose any of my girl friends.

    • wendy2020

      Thank you, Kate.  And yep, this kind of loss is one of the suckiest.

    • Mariaanne

      That really made me cry.  “I can’t make time any longer than it is”  what a simple and perfect use of words.  Man!

    • wendy2020

      Thank you for kind feedback.  Don’t I wish I could manipulate the length of years or moments!  I find I appreciate too few of the good ones.

    • Suzie Gallagher

      wendy – this is so good, particularly like the discussion on using hospice

    • wendy2020

      Thank you, Suzie.  In a story-telling sense, I would probably leave that out.  But in the context of the prompt and the flow of my words, I felt the need to say “I am using the word Hospice… I might not be simple, but I am keeping it”.

    • Ernest

      wow!! so touching..

    • wendy2020

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Ernest.

    • Eileen Knowles

       Wendy, this is beautiful.  So many powerful and simple parts.  “Mary says, okay.  I say okay, see you at 5.  We all keep trading “okays” when nothing is okay.”

    • Mirelba

       I enjoy reading your practices so much- you simply have a wonderful way with words.

    • wendy2020

      Thank you (2 years belated)!

    • Tom Wideman

      Powerfully simple! My wife’s a 10-year breast cancer survivor, so this hit close to home.

    • Susan Anderson

      I really like this. I like the ‘boob on boob’ sentence. We’ve all thought this, but don’t think of saying it aloud. I tend to pride myself on saying what others think. I also like the part of the man saying, “My name is not Joe.” That was cute. You did an excellent job of telling a story, short and with flowing prose. I can relate to this story.

    • Wordilocks

      Very nice work! Poignant but not overwrought. It reflects the dictum of the title of the essay.

    • wendy2020

      Wow, what a nice surprise to find a “thumbs up” comment on something I wrote 2 years ago. 🙂 I have to thank this prompt. This exercise became my first published story, titled, Simply Lila, by Every Day Fiction. While it went through a couple rewrites to get there, the original might still be my favorite.

    • Susan W. A.

      Wendy, I see this was posted two years ago, but I definitely need to respond. This was spot on…touches my heart with my experience of my sister going to hospice, dying from melanoma. You brought the tension of time, making your reader wonder if you were going to get to see your friend in time. Love, too, the everyday topics shared with Lila, in an attempt for “normalcy” and a platform to share your voice and your love. The part that is shocking for some who haven’t experienced it is the “I love you” that comes back so unexpectedly.

    • wendy2020

      This is based on a true story, and yes, though her responding “I love you” did actually occur, when I submitted a later version for publication one editor told me that would never really happen.

  10. Marina Sofia

    Guilty as charged!  I do often use complicated words – although, to be fair, I tend to use them when I talk as well. But that only happens in English.
    The funny thing is that in my home country, Romania, they think my language is very simplistic, because they expect and demand three-four syllable words in literary fiction (or book reviews or articles).  Otherwise, you are obviously not ‘intellectual’ enough.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Ha, tell me about it. It’s the same in my country, Macedonia. For this reason, I tend to write in a different style, depending on whether it’s in Macedonian or in English. Once you practice, it gets natural. Thanks for sharing Marina. 

  11. Marla4

    We are a loud people, sleeping often with the TV on, and
    shouting out across crowded rooms.  On
    treadmills, we wear earbuds, the music playing only for us. At movies, the booms
    and blasts from the screen are so loud the chairs vibrate beneath us. 

    As a people, we’ve cluttered the earth with our noise.  The hills where deer run shake from
    four-wheelers that have invaded the space where no tire tracks had been before.
     The streambeds fill with traffic,
    weekenders catching a glimpse of nature. 
    And our cities hum with sound, the subways rumbling below.  Jets overhead.  People everywhere.

    Recently, someone sought out real silence in the U.S. And
    the only place he found it was in the mountains of Olympic National Park in
    Washington.  Try to find a spot where
    only the birds sing and the wind rustles through the treetops.  Try to find a place where the water rumbles
    without being overcome by our own devices.

    I tried last night. 
    My backyard was loud with tree frogs; it sang with the neighbor’s
    dogs.  The wind whooshed across my porch
    and I sank into my chair and drank it in. 
    But behind it all was the road that winds up the hill where I live.  A truck backfired and then stalled, the young
    driver cussing so loud I could hear him swear. 
    The sound started the dogs, and they barked and finally howled, the four
    of them together, a kind of canine choir in the night. 

    Farther away, a train whistle wept. The Arkansas Missouri
    engine runs through my little town where we used to have enough industry to
    need a train.  Now it doesn’t even stop,
    only signals as it crosses over to a place not felled by this economy, wherever
    that may be.

    In the Olympic National Forest, in a spot high on a
    mountain, no planes pass overhead.  The
    roads are so far away no sound reaches in. 
    There is no crisscross of power lines to blur the view.  In this spot, this one last sanctuary of the
    U.S. man, you can lie on the forest floor, you can lie there and listen to the
    owl hoot. You can hear squirrels skitter in the trees and hear streams rushing
    by, the trout unaware that you exist.

    I want to go there. I would leave today, if I thought I
    could pull it off.  I would stand in that
    glory.  I would lie on the leaves, fallen
    now for centuries, and feel them crush beneath me.  I would feel like men used to feel before we
    made everything better.

     

     
     

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Wow, this blew me away. It’s very poetic and flowing. I like the paragraph with this the most: “The wind whooshed across my porch and I sank into my chair and drank it in. But behind it all was the road that winds up the hill where I live”. But, all of it is just fantastic really.  

    • Marla4

       Thank you so much Sophie!  I guess I’ve been needing some quiet.

    • Kate

      Yeah, I can sympathise with this. I live in the countryside in England, but it is the same here. I walk my dog down the fen every day, and we are right in the middle of fields, but you can still hear the traffic from the A17, and the trains and planes and so on.
      Anyway – nice piece. I like the squirrels skittering and the stream rushing, and the trout ‘unaware that you exist’.

    • Mariaanne

      Beautiful writing like you always produce Marla. I love the last line. 

    • wendy2020

      This:  The Arkansas Missouri engine runs through my little town where we used to have enough industry to need a train.  Now it doesn’t even stop,only signals as it crosses over to a place not felled by this economy, whereverthat may be.

      And this:  I would feel like men used to feel before we made everything better.

      Only thing I might change if you flesh this into something longer is to keep the reference to Olympic National Park altogether.  Because geek-researcher me Googled olympic national park + silence and found out it was a real place and really is the most silent place and that is so cool!

      But, I really loved it and thought it was so originally phrased in many parts and well developed and written.

    • Suzie Gallagher

      Marla we have that silence craved in this piece. It is great till you think about it…

    • Jrumrill

      Wow, Marla4. This really resonated with me today. I had to turn off the radio on the way to work because all I wanted was rain and quiet before a noisy day of 11 year olds!
      I like that you used simple language, but not a simple voice, if that makes sense. The images are so clear and your word choices were perfect: “felled by this economy” and the bittersweet “before we made everything better” at the end. Just right.
      Thanks!

    • Mirelba

       As I read this, two helicopters suddenly appeared in the night sky, providing the appropriate? background noise to underline the longing for quieter and simpler so beautifully expressed.

    • Marla4

      Thank you so much. I used to work in a news room with 4 police scanners going all the time. We also have video/audio feeds coming in. I would turn off the radio on my drive home just to get all that buzz out of my head.

    • Sophie Novak

      News room on its own is quite loud, but police scanners….speaking of seeking silence. You must have a great training to survive in noise. 

  12. Sarah Hood

    This is from the perspective of a character I have in mind for a fantasy novel I hope to write someday:

    “They say that death is a blessing. You spend a few years out of eternity laboring upon this cursed land before you’re blessed with the opportunity to enter another. That land separated from the living by an endless supply of saltwater, a beautiful land, not a desert like ours, but a paradise. Everyone goes there eventually. And when someone you love dies, you’re supposed to be happy for them. Because they are free from the curse of this dead land, and you’ll join them some day and the pain of separation will be gone.

     But right now, it’s very near to me. I can’t feel happy. Death is painful. Because I’m left here, alone in this desert. My brother has gone onto that blessed land, taking with him any hope I once felt and leaving me with a destiny I can neither escape nor fulfill. Fear is my only friend, and death has no interest in me. It has taken my family, but it leaves me here. Alone. I’ll see them again some day. Maybe. But I don’t want to hear about that, it won’t help me now. I need them now.”

    Reply
  13. Sarah Hood

    This is from the perspective of a character I have in mind for a fantasy novel.

    “They say that death is a blessing. You spend a few years out of eternity laboring upon this cursed land before you’re blessed with the opportunity to enter another. That land separated from the living by an endless supply of saltwater, a beautiful land, not a desert like ours, but a paradise. Everyone goes there sooner or later. And when someone you love dies, you’re supposed to be happy for them. Because they are free from the curse of this barren land, and you’ll join them some day and the pain of separation will be gone.

    But right now, it’s very near to me. I can’t feel happy. Death is painful. Because I’m left here, alone in this desert. My brother has gone onto that blessed land, taking with him any hope I once felt and leaving me with a destiny I can neither escape nor fulfill. For his sake I am glad. Glad that he, that the rest of our family, aren’t stuck here like I am. Fear is my best friend, and death has no interest in me. It has taken my family, but it leaves me here. Alone. I’ll see them again some day. Maybe. But I don’t want to hear about that, it won’t help me now. I need them now.”

    Reply
  14. Eileen Knowles

    I’m not sure if this qualifies as simple.  It’s just what’s been on my heart today.

     
    I see myself in my son. Even at 8
    years old, I can see this desire he has to be somebody. He wants to
    make a difference. He doesn’t want to be normal or average. He
    wants to shine and excel at something cool. He wants to have a
    unique talent or ability.

    I was reminded of this yesterday on our
    drive home from church. He was telling me that there are some kids
    in his class that aren’t allowed to watch the TV shows he is allowed
    to watch and then there are other kids who DO get to watch what he
    watches, plus even more shows than we allow him to watch.

    “What’s wrong with that, Honey?”
    I ask. “That’s normal. You’re in the middle between the two.”

    Yeah, I know,” he said, quietly.
    “Normal is what I’m afraid of.”

    And then I understand. We aren’t
    talking about TV shows anymore.

    Lord, why did I have to use the word
    normal?

    “Oh, Honey. You aren’t just
    normal. You are so special. Do you know how many people have told
    me what an incredible kid you are?”

    I glance in the rearview mirror just as
    his lip begins to quiver and his little blue eyes moisten up.

    Lord, how can he doubt this? My
    husband and I tell him all the time how special he is. Why does he
    doubt?

    “But
    Mom, how many kids are told that they’re special?” he
    asks me.

    I know
    what he’s getting at. If everyone is told they are special…then
    how can they be special?

    “Honey,”
    I tell. “I HOPE that every kid on this planet is told that they
    are special. There is NO ONE who is exactly like you. God created
    you to be uniquely YOU. THAT makes you special.”

    Reply
    • Mariaanne

      I enjoyed that.  It reminded me of my daughter when she was that young.   

    • wendy2020

      I truly think it IS very special for child of his young age to want to be more than normal.  So many kids cry because they feel anything but normal, and here the son in this story is striving to stand out.

      Bravo to him!

    • Sophie Novak

      Exactly my thoughts! A great kid, no doubt. Thanks for sharing Eileen. 

  15. Elaine Cougler

    I love it, Sophie. Simply. There is nothing like sparse adjectives but rich ideas. elainecougler.wordpress.com

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Thanks Elaine! We’re definitely on the same page. 

  16. Brendan

    Ok guys, this is autobiographical

    It’s been 4 years.

    I can still remember.

    10:21 september 21 2008.

    Mom opened the door and I knew.

    Go back, February. Super bowl sunday.

    Patriots, 18-0 going in. We lost. My brother, my dad and myself were crushed.

    Still mourning the fresh wound. The next day we learned dad had cancer. Nothing too serious. Surgery, radiation, chemo. All was well within a couple months.

    So we thought. June 17th. We all sit down. Turns out not all is well. Dad has to go. Two years, I remember the tears, the hugs, the feeling of impending grief. Self-hatred for taking things for granted. Two years turned to a year turned to six months. Then a few months. Weeks. Any day now. 

    Back to that night. Downstairs. Silence. He was still, peaceful. His body drained, eaten on the inside. Surreal was the feeling that he, my dad, who was so alive, so influential, so necessary. Gone. The candle had gone out. 

    Reply
    • Mariaanne

      That’s so sad.  I’m sorry for you.  “my dad, who as so alive, so influential, so necessary. Gone” makes me think of my own father.   That was told so simply but so well.  

    • Joe Bunting

      “The candle had gone out. ” 
      This was beautiful, Brendan. I’m so sorry.

    • wendy2020

      Wow, the countdown is what really touched me.  The running out of time really sucks.

    • Sophie Novak

      Very sad, Brendan. Sorry about your loss. The story on the other hand, really, really good. 

    • Mirelba

       So sorry for your loss, so simply and beautifully expressed. 

    • Brendan

      Thanks guys, but don’t feel sorry for me. Yeah, it sucked, but it really opened my artistic side (in music as well as writing)

  17. Brendan

    They were outside. Ma on the porch, man on the steps. I didn’t know him, but he looked nice. I didn’t know him, but I saw him through the window on my tip-toes, and he looked nice. 

    I want a little brother.

    He turned away and went, his hair flapped and shined and waved to me. I looked bak and saw Ma’s eyes, looking at me, kind of angry-sad and running, like they did when Uncle Alan left. 

    Uncle Alan just went for a while she said
    Never you mind where
    Maybe he’ll come for Christmas– With Santy Claus!

    But he didn’t, and her eyes ran and her voice bang and rang and shot through the walls, big on her side, little on mine. 

    WHY did you let them why why didn’t you stop them they’re gone now and wont come back you could’ve stopped them but no no you let them
    They’re men, I couldn’t
    Yes yes you could, but no no theyre not here long gone damn you all of you

    She come in and lay down. She lay heavy, I didn’t see but I felt her breathing and eyes running like the did when Uncle Alan left.

    I want a little brother

    Reply
    • Mariaanne

      This has such an empty, lonely, gray feeling to it.  It seems like a family who was meant to be abandoned. Very sad.  I like this part the best “and he voice bang and rang and shot through the walls, big on her side, little on mine.”

    • Brendan

      Thanks, this is part from my first novel, as a young writer (only 16) I love getting feedback, I’ve posted a few passages from the book. Let me know if you want more! 🙂

  18. Steve Mathisen

    Less
    is More By Steve Mathisen

    On my way to writing this
    article, I was knocked over by the idea of it all. How can something that is
    less be better than something that is more? How can something simple be better
    than something else that is not?

     

    Then this thing
    exploded in my brain! Just because something is simple, doesn’t mean that it is
    too simple. Things that are made up of lots of other things, don’t always work
    well together.

     

    When I try to do too
    many things at once, I break things. Things go wrong. Things go bad. That is
    not good. Perhaps only doing one thing at a time and doing it well is smarter
    than multi…multi…multi…doing lots of things at the same time and doing none of
    them well.

     

    In this article, I
    will just say one thing. Less is more because it is less likely to be broken,
    wrong or bad

     

    And that is all I have to say
    today…

     

    Reply
    • Mariaanne

      Makes perfect sense to me.  It’s also a good way to avoid malapropisms ; ). 

    • wendy2020

      Thought this was a pretty clever line:  Things that are made up of lots of other things, don’t always work well together.

      Proof that simple words can still be sharp.  They don’t have to result in something simplistic.

      Good insight, and nice sign off in the end!  I liked that matter of fact, “I’m done” ending.

    • Sophie Novak

      Awesome Steve.  You captured the thought of “less is more” perfectly. 

  19. Jack Dowden

    I like this advice, I really do. I try to maintain a minimalist approach to writing myself. However, I think some people become too obsessed with it. They write so simply that the words feel odd.
    It’s hard to explain. Most of the time, a simplistic approach is best. Sometimes though, it feels jilted. I can read a short sentence, using simple words, and it feels disjointed. Rather than natural, it feels like the writer tried his damndest to be minimalist.
    Everyone should strive to make each word count. But if you do so, make sure not to lose your own voice in the process.

    Reply
    • wendy2020

      I think your point is well made. 

      Simplifying for the sake of being minimal or tossing in impressive vocab just to dress things up, both in the end have the same result:  affected writing that doesn’t read true, or doesn’t get read at all.

    • Sophie Novak

      Thanks Jack. Your point makes sense indeed. Simplifying things can be as superficial as pumping them. This advice goes only for those who are trying hard to use smart words, I guess, and also as a reminder of how great literature isn’t about complicated sentences and pompous words. Every word should count, in a way that feels natural to the writer. 

  20. Jen

    Hello writers, I started reading this blog in August and am always so impressed by how good everyone’s practice writing is. I have a hard time just thinking of a good idea to begin with, let alone finishing it in around 15 minutes. Today for the practice I wrote about my dying potted plant because I just wanted to write something and because it is sitting in front of me. But eventually I will run out of objects in my room to talk about so…

    How do you do it? Do most of you think of an ending before you start these practices? Or do you just manage to come up with something as time runs out?

    I suppose this is exactly why I need to be practicing more!

    Reply
    • Chihuahua Zero

      Hey Jen!

      Personally, I don’t really have an ending in mind when I first start. I just write down the prompt on the top of the paper and go with it.

      Try describing more than what’s in your room. Let yourself think about an issue or rant about or just an aspect of life to describe. Or try more of the fiction mindset. You have a character in a situation. What happens next?

      Also, remember that fifteen minutes isn’t a stone-hard rule. Considering I do most of these practices during the school day, I can’t really use the same frame of time than I would do in a less dynamatic setting. (I just fill up a page or two.) Remember, fifteen minutes is a suggestion.

    • Joe Bunting

      Hi Jen. 🙂

      This is just me, but I usually try to write about something I’m already working on, a short story, or sliver of a novel. And as Suzie said, I try to write off the cuff as much as I can. Sometimes I will go back and edit a bit, but this isn’t a performance. 

      This is… (do I have to say it?) practice.

    • Katie Axelson

      Hey, Jen, you should post your practice about your plant. 😉

      When I’m writing a post, honestly, the practices usually come easier than the topic for the post. Most of my posts I write backwards.

      As for completing a practice, it really depends. Sometimes I have something on my heart/mind and I run with it other days it’s a huge struggle to put words after each other. When writing, I like to have a guess at where it’s going to end up but I let my practices run free if they choose to.

      Katie

    • jenn_kn

      Thank you for your replies! I know it is a silly question but I struggle with getting ideas and writing quickly. It is nice to know how some of you go about things for your practice. 🙂

    • Tina Riddle

      You can always move to a different room. I find if I am truly stuck for an idea that going for a walk helps. I’ll see something or hear something. It’s important to have a pen and a tiny notebook when you do this.  Or sometimes just change where you write if you can. I will go to the library and get a cubicle when I can’t stand the idea of sitting at my own desk. 
      Hope this helps.

    • jenn_kn

      These are great suggestions. I usually feel helpless when I am stuck but a change in scenery could be very inspiring! Thanks 🙂

    • Sophie Novak

      Hi Jen, my suggestion would be to free-write on daily basis and just get used to putting words to paper. Once you get used to this, it may actually feel even easier when there’s a practice to help you frame your thoughts on a topic. Thanks for sharing your practice today; it’s an important step, and I hope this place makes you feel nice, supportive and inspiring. 

    • jenn_kn

      You’re right. I definitely need to free write much more often.

      It’s interesting how we (I) can decide we are free writing and then still restrict ourselves and judge ourselves instead of just being free to simply write, especially when we might share it with others.

      This is a very supportive place though!

    • Plumjoppa

      Hi Jen!   I am also new to this blog.  I haven’t written anything in years.  For a few weeks now, I have been making myself find at least 15 minutes to write something.  I try to do it at the same time of day for now, just to make it a habit.  I find that I do better with the more specific writing prompts, because it forces me to focus and draws out what I really want to say.   The ideas will start coming to you, the more you do it.  Keep using this blog, and seek out any writing prompts you can find.  You will be amazed at the ideas that start coming to you.  I also want to hear about about the fate of your plant.

    • Mirelba

       Sometimes I put on the timer and begin writing, especially for free flow.  But usually  I think about the prompt and then put on the timer and write.  I never have an end, just a beginning, and then I go with it.  Sometimes the end surprises me, because I wouldn’t have suspected that the piece was going in that direction…

      BTW, when I’m stumped I find washing the dishes or other mindless tasks are great triggers for creative thought (and the house ends up looking a bit better too).,

  21. Ernest

    Fatherhood is not something you understand until your own baby tries to grab your little finger with its whole hand, and having achieved it after a lot of effort, smugly smiles up at you with its toothless “full-toothed” smile. 

    For nine long months you refer to the baby as “it” – “It will need…”, “It’s food…”, “It- this…”, “It that…” – but at that moment the babe, gently griping your hand, truly becomes your son or your daughter. 

    Your child adds a new dimension to your life and your personality;  a dimension you had never known. You strive for excellence for his/her sake and you spend every second of your day trying to become a better father. 

    Your seemingly infinite love for your wife now gets split unevenly into two halves; the greater part reserved for the little soul.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      Awe! This is precious!

    • Ernest

      🙂 

      thanks!

    • Sophie Novak

      Jesus, you sound like an amazing dad! Bravo Ernest!

    • Ernest

      um… it’s fictional….

      but thanks anyway for the VERY VERY VERY distant future!!

    • Sophie Novak

      Well, even better. Your fiction is so convincing. 

    • Ernest

      thanks :->

    • Susan W. A.

      Wow…fiction?! You’re very insightful. It is love when those precious little fingers wrap around your finger.

  22. Katie Axelson

    This is very real, very honest, Sarah. I like it.

    Reply
  23. jenn_kn

    Keep style Simple:
    My plant is dying. I do not know why. It’s leaves and long stems have all become limp. It looks deflated, lifeless but not yet dead. Now some of the green has turned yellow, a beautiful shade in and of itself but sad on flowerless foliage. The turquoise pot, small and round still stands tall as if it were holding up the same level of natural beauty as when it first entered my home. I do not know what is wrong. The soil is dark and looks moist. Good. I touch my finger to its surface and dig in just a little. It is less soil than dirt, hard and grainy. The amount of dirt seems to have decreased at some point. I think, that cannot be possible, can it? A decorative watering bulb has been empty now for months. I water the plant on my own, with my own senses and without the help of this gadget. When it was nurturing the plant everything looked a lot better, though.

    Glass bulbs can be dangerous, they can smash in your hands when you are holding them, this is what I was told when my mother gave me this vibrant plant attached to its very own glass bomb. I have neglected refilling the bulb because of this warning, perhaps to the detriment of this little leafy life. Gently I pull the delicate glass out of position. I fill it up, it is like a huge fossilized dew drop. Sure of my impending doom I stick the bobble back into the warm sandy soil. It does not go off. I let go. Bubbles of air fly to the surface inside, burst and repeat. The plant gulps and gulps. I sit and watch for a bit. The bulb is empty again but the terra-cotta tray below is now full. I do not know what this means. Maybe I should buy some fertilizer tomorrow. I pluck a few yellow leaves and hope for the best.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      My plant is dying too. Good job on the simplification Jenn!

    • jenn_kn

      Thanks Sophie 🙂

    • Plumjoppa

       From your earlier post, I know that you struggled to find a topic before you chose your plant.  What is so amazing to me, is that you seem to really warm up by the second paragraph, just with a little bit of practice.   I love the “fossilized dew drop” and  the “gulping plant.  Hope to see more of your posts here. 

    • jenn_kn

      Thanks for the encouragement! I really appreciate it.

      I think I am finally understanding why this practicing stuff is so important. 🙂

  24. Tina Riddle

    THE WORD

    The word was so simple, so basic, that at first he didn’t understand it. He looked at her confused. Julia’s face had been a blank, but now a flash of anger passed over it. He felt his stomach clench. He thought about asking her to repeat what she said, but then he decided that was not the way to go. If he didn’t say anything perhaps she would forget whatever it was that had made her say that. It would be as if it had never happened. He liked that idea. It had never happened. She hadn’t said that. A corner of his mouth tilted up. 

    “You think this is a joke?” she asked him. 

    His heart stopped beating. He held his breath. He had forgotten to be still. He shouldn’t have moved. She needed to forget him, not forever, but just long enough for her to remember why she loved him. He could even settle for like at this point. They stared at each other. She said it again.

    “Go.”

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Tina, I like the building of tension until the very end, when the word is finally said. Well done. 

    • Tina Riddle

      Thanks. 

  25. Cho

    At Himmelburg
    Academy, it was easy for me to forget that I was the poor kid. There was a
    uniform of sorts. I say “of sorts” because the only things that made
    it any different from ordinary clothes were the school crest on the jacket and
    the (somehow) higher collars.

     

    Anyway, I felt
    pretty damn fancy for a while. It was a hell lot nicer than anything I had ever
    worn in my life. That’s not saying much. I spent my first ten years in an
    orphanage, reading in bed or running errands for the greengrocer across the
    street. Friends were an alien concept to us. It was every child for him or
    herself. If you didn’t know “let’s be friends” was just an excuse to
    pilfer your shit, you were fucked. We clung to everything, from spare clothes
    to windup toys, with our cold, red fingers. Always looking for someone who
    still didn’t know how things were run around here. Always wanting to be the one
    to pounce first.

     

    After my mother
    found me, I started living in the countryside, and worked in my stepfather’s
    bakery. The other boys quietly accepted me, even though I was city, because I
    wasn’t rich. I made friends. Our parents patched up our clothes instead of
    buying new ones whenever they could. Sometimes we looked more like we were
    wearing quilts than shirts. A handful of rock sugar made you royalty. But we
    never felt poor. We raided apple orchards and wrestled in the mud and went
    swimming and played marbles and we even got our hands on cards and dice
    eventually.

     

    It was only a
    year, but it was the best year of my life.

     

    So unlike my
    classmates at Himmelburg, I had never touched silk or ermine and I didn’t have
    soft hands. I was there because I was smart. The books I hoarded in the
    orphanage had done their job. My mother and stepfather were so proud of me
    passing the exams that they opened their savings to buy me a pair of glasses,
    just when I had resigned myself to squinting through life.

     

    I told myself
    that being there on my own merits meant that I was the one who belonged there. Besides,
    we had the uniforms. My parents and a few teachers told me much the same, but
    everyone knew it wasn’t true. You could see how we held ourselves. What you did
    with your shoulders. And the hands. Always the hands. If you had burns and
    scars on your fingers, if the skin was anything other than soft whiteness, they
    knew you spent your life working when you weren’t studying to be here. I bet
    they trained the teachers to pick us out even from the other side of the room. I
    made it easy. Burns everywhere because I wasn’t exactly a master baker after
    one year. And the way my fingers curled in even when I held nothing. That spoke of my years scrabbling for something resembling happiness at the orphange.

     

    When I’m feeling
    generous, I try to tell myself that the favoritism was just so the more
    powerful fathers, the politicians, wouldn’t come and stir shit up. We all know
    better. Well, that
    wasn’t a problem. At least not for me. I’m no fucking quitter. I gritted my
    teeth and worked my ass off with my “poor” hands. Now look at me. I’m a doctor.

     

    Look at your
    hands, boy. They’ll know what you are. But don’t call yourself poor. Those
    hands make you rich. You think like someone who needs them. When you look at
    those hands and look into your eyes in the mirror, think about me. I got here
    with hands and a look like those. You can go wherever those hands take you.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      I don’t know if this is fiction or non-fiction, but in any case it resonates with me very well. When I read about poor people’s experiences, I always cry. George Orwell has a great essay on his childhood days, where he was the poor boy among the rich. A very recommended read: 
      http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/joys/english/e_joys

  26. Sophie Novak

    Very simple and effective Sarah. I love this: “You spend a few years out of eternity laboring upon this cursed land before you’re blessed with the opportunity to enter another”. Great work; get that novel forward – I want to read it. 

    Reply
  27. Jrumrill

    Simple Gifts

    by J. Rumrill

                My college
    German teacher told me once that the word gift means “poison” in German. I
    don’t know if he was pulling my leg. Maybe it’s some German joke I didn’t get,
    but it must have some truth to it. Gift buying these days is like a curse. If I
    could trade Black Friday for a plague of locusts, I would. Well, maybe not,
    because if I’m really bad in this life, I’ll probably have to spend the next
    life in a crowded food court at the Ninth Circle Outlet Mall.

                You know,
    we used to live by the change in the actual seasons. Now we set up separate
    bank accounts just for “shopping season.” Don’t get me wrong! I love giving
    people little things that say, “Hey, I was thinking of you.” But it’s that time
    of year, where you feel obligated to shop for all sorts of people who might
    have talked to you twice at work, but who you share a dead end hallway with, or
    you cross paths at the coffee machine, 
    and you wave stupidly as you pass their door as if you haven’t already
    seen them four times that morning. And they know that that sparkly bottle of
    apple-pumpkin-plum lotion was a two-for-one deal at the mall. And they got you
    the same thing, but in some scent that makes you sneeze. You both coo and
    smile, eyes watering, but you both wish that you could have honestly said, “Why
    don’t we just share a relaxed cup of coffee some morning?” about a month ago.

                You’d think
    that buying gifts for your family would be easy then, right? You know them
    pretty well, they call you every week, so you know what’s going on in their
    lives. You can ask them bluntly what they want. But all of that doesn’t mean
    that you’ll get them what they really want for Christmas. At least
    that’s true for my parents.

                Even if I
    get them exactly what’s on their list, there’s always a comparison with someone
    else’s gift. “Those wool hiking socks for your dad must have been pretty
    pricey, dear.” What does that even mean? That I should have gotten you hiking
    socks, too? Or that yours should have been nicer than his? God only knows. Or
    maybe God is just as baffled as I am about what Christmas has become.

                So, that
    makes “shopping season” complicated. In my head, it should be simple. You tell
    your friends, “You know what? Thanks for everything you’ve done for me this
    year and I look forward to paying you back in kind.” Then you hug, share some
    eggnog, and stand around smiling drunkenly at the Christmas tree.

                This year,
    maybe I’ll be that person. I’ll donate to a charity in your name.
    I’ll spend hours baking you cookies while your other friends buy them at
    P&C. I’ll give only handmade gifts, wrapped in the Sunday funnies. I’ll
    painstakingly write you a card listing all our fun times from this year,
    telling you how much I love our friendship. It will be personal, it will be
    heartfelt, and you will write me off as not even having tried to find the stuff
    on your list. You’ll say to your other friends, “Did she even go to the
    mall?” and you’ll give me the silent treatment for the next month. At least
    until your birthday, when I give in and get you a gift card to Amazon.

                Anyway,
    what’s the use? There’s a good sale coming up at Bath & Body Works. Maybe
    you’ll get just what you want: proof that I suffered at the mall just as much
    as you did.

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Christmas shopping is quite stressful indeed. Perhaps it’s the unlimited choice of products we have nowadays. Great work; you managed to transport me to that season with your writing.

  28. Brendan

    I never saw, but I knew what was, and she wasnt anymore. But Buck was, and I suppose thats pretty close. Maybe Id have done good with him. She wouldve, I know. Maybe she was right, I couldve

    Sip

    Bastards have bastard children. Michael. He wouldnt have done much good, but she wouldve with him. Waste. All of it, waste. Except Buck, but I dunno if Im any good

    Sip

    No she wasnt I was I couldnt they were men and men make their own decisions as they see fit, worthwhile or wasteful. They made and they wasted, I couldnt, like my knees

    Reply
  29. JHM

    I’m going to come out and say this right now: This article irks me. It annoys me intensely that so often brevity is automatically equated with effectiveness and simplicity with power. What set my teeth even further on edge was that patronising imprecation about Joyce and Flaubert, not only disavowing that style with what amounts to the “old fogey” brush-off but saying it as if it is something new and important rather than the continued flogging of a long-dead horse. People have been praising “minimal” writing to the marmalade skies and mocking “purple prose” since Hemingway; to say otherwise would be fallacious.

    But does that make that kind of writing inherently any better than a more ornate style?

    No.

    Now, I can understand why one would want to advise new writers to keep things simple; amateur attempts at baroque prose are often painful to read, especially if they are forced. I can also understand wanting to dissuade others from making the mistake of consciously primping up their language in an attempt to seem clever. But I feel that the tone of your article, rather than encouraging others to go their own way—as you suggest in the second-to-last paragraph—merely enforces the current orthodoxy that writers must not use the full palette of their vocabulary lest they seem too hoity-toity.

    Maybe I could have said this more simply, but I wrote these words as they came to mind, and I have no inclination to pretend that I am something that I am not. Speaking as a writer, and for no-one but myself, if what I write requires my prose to be lean, then lean it shall be; if not, then not. The story is the master. I am merely the scribe.

    To pretend to anything more would be pretentious.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      You make some excellent points, JHM. Any time you make a generalization, there are bound to be holes. You have found them and revealed them beautifully. Personally, I love Faulkner and Joyce. Cormac McCarthy, that master of complexity, is my favorite author. All that’s to say, I agree with you that arbitrarily brushing off complex language isn’t helpful.

      However, I don’t think that’s what Sophie is doing here. “Are you inten­tion­ally using com­plex, that is, ‘refined’ vocab­u­lary in your writ­ing… because you feel it sounds bet­ter, sophis­ti­cated, cultured?” she says. Here she is talking about complexity for the sake of show and sophistication, the very pretention you’re arguing against. I agree with your points but not your target. I appreciate your honesty, your willingness to present yourself, as you say, as you are. To me, it seems like we’re on the same team.

    • JHM

      Thank you for your response. I appreciate it.

      The thing is, I understand that Ms. Novak was trying to address people that do that, but I feel that she spoke in such broad strokes that it came off as condemning a natural use of more intricate or dense language. It’s a matter of nuance and implication—things that I see as benefits to more detailed writing styles, amusingly enough.

      I will admit that I was a little unfair. This subject is a frustrating one for me, for writerly and readerly reasons alike, and I get caught up in the passion of it. But  then again, what is writing without feeling?

      Also, Cormac McCarthy is wonderful.

    • Brendan

      Personally, and I don’t know if this is relevant, but I like to employ both styles. I feel it helps in characterization.

    • Joe Bunting

      Nice point, Brendan.

    • Sophie Novak

      Thanks JHM for making these points to the topic. It helps the discussion and clarifies. I had no intention in disregarding the styles of Joyce or Faulkner, or pushing simple prose as the utmost virtue. The only thing I am saying is that many writers feel their writing is too simple, not worth it, and they compare themselves to certain literary giants as if that’s the only standard of being good. Like I said, whatever feels natural is the right way. However, I don’t see how replacing every word with a more pumped one using thesaurus will make it a natural writing process. The examples I’ve used were meant to help with showing how something simple can sound very powerful. 

      Surely, everybody has a unique way of writing and nobody should judge and preach what’s good or bad, but if many don’t write just because they think they’re not suited to be in the writing world only because their writing sounds simple, then encouragement can go a long way. 

    • JHM

      And I completely agree with that. A writer should recognise that their voice is their own, and that to judge it against other works—particularly when the comparison is apples to oranges—is counterproductive. If anything, the motivating ideal should be finding a way to tell a story that is one’s own and one’s own alone.

      Which is not to say that one should not develop a personal set of standards. But making someone else’s work that standard (rather than, say, something to be judged by that standard) is just not a good path to go down.

      Thank you for clarifying that. I’m happy that you did.

    • Suzie Gallagher

      Jack Sprat could eat no fat.His wife could eat no lean.And so between them both, you see,They licked the platter cleanI think if we could develop the tension here it would be a crucial piece of crit on modern lit. Paring stuff down to the bone is what MuckyD’s do to get meat for burgers. Gastronomic fluffy food full of zest and zing. Sometimes you just need a BigMac (or vege equivalent)There is a place for all kinds of writing and though it pains me to say this including M&B.JHM I would agree that we cannot disregard those who have gone before but if we don’t “get it” then we don’t.

  30. jenn_kn

    Glad that practicing has already been making a difference for you, that is encouraging for me to hear.
    I did post the practice about my plant and this morning I noticed that it is actually looking way healthier. 🙂

    Reply
  31. Helltank

    [12 year old kid here, newcomer on the block. I think we need more fantasy stories. Don’t run yourself ragged trying to understand what’s going on here, I don’t know either. This is actually two practices in one, because I also mixed in the “write like a sweaty toothed madman’ thing.]

    Said the madman to the wolf, “Why do you despair?” And the wolf stood up, howled at the blue moon. The madman strolled over to the forest, and plucked a sapling. The wolf sniffed at it, and the madman slit its throat with the sapling’s branches. Then he broke the sapling into two.
    The cops came around the corner and shot at the madman. The madman danced ballet and the bullets all missed. A brave sergeant walked up and clicked a pair of handcuffs shut around the madman’s bony wrists.
    Three point five four six quarters of five heartbeats later he was dead, strangled to death by the handcuffs.
    The policemen had come in force, in groups of five, six, seven, but they all broke and ran. The lieutenant marched up and demanded to know what was happening. They told him and he ran, too.

    Reply
  32. Joe Bunting

    What is writing without feeling, indeed! 🙂

    I affirm your frustration and think you should write a guest post advocating language intricate in its complexities in response.

    Reply
    • JHM

      Thank you for the offer; I’d love to.

      Where do I sign up for this shindig?

    • Joe Bunting

      Awesome! Write up a post and email me through the contact form at the top. 

  33. Joshua

    They don’t say, “You’re not supposed to do that,” But they look at you as if you were a puppy who just dug a hole in the mud.

    They don’t say, “You’re crazy.” But they lean their bodies a little bit further back than normal to ensure the disease doesn’t spread.

    No, they offer sympathy.

    “I’d help you if I could.”

    “Will you be safe?”

    “That’s a pain.”

    But they don’t know.

    They don’t know what it feels like to break the rules – to act in a way that ever since the age of twelve, we’re told we can’t do.

    They don’t know the feel of a hundred thousand raindrops – a hundred thousand blessings – falling upon you.

    They don’t know the thrill of dogging puddles, branches, and old ladies.

    They don’t know how your heart rate jumps when your brakes get wet and you can’t stop quite as fast as you normally do.

    They don’t know what it’s like to walk inside dripping wet and covered in mud with the biggest smile on your face.

    But that’s OK.

    I do. I’ve biked through the pouring rain, and I think I’m going to do it again.

    Reply
    • zo-zo

      I love the heart of this piece!  You’ve opened up the joy of life in some very simple things, with some great sentences. ‘they don’t know the feel of a hundred thousand raindrops – a hundred thousand blessings – falling on you’ ‘they don’t know the thrill of dodging puddles, branches and old ladies.’  So fresh and fun!

    • Joshua

      Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad you liked it.

  34. Mirelba

    Friends should be there for you when you need them.  And yet, when the article hit the newspaper,
    they were quick to condemn.  She would
    walk to services, and suddenly, the seat beside her would remain empty.  People who had once smiled and begun
    conversations with her now looked her up and down, judging her with their
    eyes.  The phone kept ringing, but now
    there were lawyers and reporters on the other end.  Where were the invitations that had once come
    in?  The friendly gossiping?  Where were her friends? 

     

    Once she had sparked conversations with her wit, now she
    seemed to stop them as she walked by.  As
    the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months, there was little
    change.  At first, she had been surprised
    by the reaction of her friends.  But as
    more time passed, what surprised her even more were the few individuals who had
    retained their faith in her.  Her best
    friend, gone.  Her gym buddy?  Must have exercised herself away for she
    never saw her anymore.  But the woman
    from around the corner, the one she really hadn’t been close to, had made it a
    point to come over and let her know that she believed that the trial would
    surely prove her innocence.  Or the
    friend she hadn’t seen in ages who had dropped her a line with some words of
    comfort. Those were the pleasant surprises, discovering true friends she never
    knew she had. 

    It made life simpler narrowed the lists.  Now, her phone book was lighter, but each
    name inside it was special.  Each name
    inside was a person whom she treasured, not just a name of an empty smile, but the
    name of a person of good heart, one who had trusted her, believed in her.  Each name had proved herself a true treasure,
    for what is of greater worth than a true friend?

     

    Reply
    • Sophie Novak

      Love it. Those moments when you discover who your true friends are, and get disappointed about the rest of them, happen to everyone in life, and you’ve pictured it quite realistically. Great job Mirelba. 

    • Mirelba

      Thanks! Actually an experience a friend of mine went through. (I’m still in her phone book).

  35. Tom Wideman

    As I watched her walk across the bedroom, I thought, that can’t be my wife. The woman I married had long blonde hair and a figure that rivaled Jessica Rabbit. But this person walking through the room didn’t. From the left she looked like her dad, bald and flat chested. But as she returned from puking I caught her right side and recognized her surviving boob bouncing inside her thin t-shirt. Yes, it was my wife after all, and she was beautiful in my eyes.

    She collapsed in the bed beside me and groaned. I looked into her eyes. A blood vessel had burst in her right. No eyelashes on either. Her nose was bright red from puking and her breath smelled like shit, and she wsa beautiful in my eyes.

    We didnt speak at first. We just stared. I thought to myself, why didn’t we do this before the cancer? Her lips were cracked as she spoke. 

    “I need to tell you something.”

    Her red eyes filled with tears and dropped on her pillow. My stomach flip-flopped in fear. I clinched tight and closed my eyes not wanting to hear what came next.

    “I had an affair with John.”

    A wave of hot ice shot up my spine and I got dizzy as I sat up and turned away. A sound came from my gut and out my mouth that scared both of us. Like a car crash would sound in slow motion. Wave after wave of grief came out like acid dry heave.

    She cried silently in shared sorrow and regret.

    I ran away for a while, but then came back. I brought her flowers.

    “I was told to act out my forgiveness,” I said and I threw the flowers at her.

    We talked for days. But how many days did we have?

    God gave us many days, many months, many years.

    Ten years. Surviving cancer. Ten years. Surviving betrayal. Ten years. Surviving marriage.

    And she’s more beautiful in my eyes.

    Reply
  36. Susan Anderson

    What does it mean to be simple? What does it mean to be complex? Can we both at once? Of course. We hear the loudest, when it’s quiet. The tick of a clock. The coo of a dove. Our thoughts at midnight when everyone else is asleep.

    If there are too many knick-knacks on a marble surface, I miss the demure ceramic statue of Mary. She doesn’t draw attention to herself, anyway.

    Checking in on on the Facebook news feed, a well-meaning friend posts ten emphatic political cartoons. I scroll past all ten.

    Painted black eye-liner and blue gaudy eye-shadow shouts to the guy as the lady leans away with one arm holding desperately onto a street lamp. He doesn’t notice.

    He walks into a coffee shop and catches a profile of a natural blonde. She’s wearing topaz readers and a pearl ring. One ring.

    He buys her a cup of coffee.

    Reply
  37. Susan Chambers

    I don’t agree that we should leave behind the style of Joyce and Flaubert to “the time they belong”. If all writing were minimalistic, it would be boring. And if all writing were grandiose, it would be boring. I agree that a lot of beginners tend to overwrite in the hopes of sounding like “real writers”, but that doesn’t mean all non-minimalistic writing is for greenhorns. I love the minimalist style, but if you write in the style of Joyce — and do it well — then there is a market and readership for you, and your style is valid and valuable.

    That said, I think it’s always less about having a big/small word and more about having that right word at the right moment.

    For example, I came across this line in my reading yesterday, “After his first night on the airship Joshua awoke feeling full of diamonds.”

    I was FLOORED. I thought about how I may have written it, remarking how he felt crystalline, perhaps. In many ways, “crystalline” is a better word than “diamonds” — it’s already an adjective, we could jettison three words for just one. Plus, it’s much clearer — I know what it means to be crystalline much more readily than I know what it means to be “full of diamonds”. But, in this case, “crystalline” is so much WORSE. To be “full of diamonds” is perfect. It is unique and beautiful and fits the moment. It is ambiguous, but also completely clear.

    As I said, I think this is more the lesson than being minimalist or not: choose wisely.

    But also, do stay away from the thesaurus as suggested. That rarely ends well.

    Reply
  38. Dawn Atkin

    Tonight there is only one sound. One constant rhythmic drip upon the tin roofed verandah. A metronome of lonely gutter water seeking attention. It has mine. I cannot turn my ear away from it nor control it’s volume to a less annoying decibel. I am under its spell. My mood, now a victim to its insistent mono melody, becomes ragged with distraction. And as if sensing this, the drip becomes louder.

    The water drop explodes now. My ear tells me that it shatters into a slip of silver aqua bullets before sliding toward the down pipe. I begin to time the pause between explosions. The spindly red second-hand on my wristwatch pulses the white circular dial. A melody of sorts, yawns awake behind my tired eyes. I hope it is a lullaby or something equally as sweet. I need to sleep before the morning symphonies her way back in and the birds start singing.

    Reply
    • LisaYang

      ” I need to sleep before the morning symphonies her way back…”
      Simple and poetic, I think the word “symphonies” harmonizes perfectly with “morning” 😉

  39. LisaYang

    I love simple and poetic:)

    Something about the TV makes me sad today. It’s dark in my room and the flickering screen reminds me of a candle that is about to fade into darkness. It’s funny how often things are connected in life. A TV leads to a candle, a candle to an emotion, an emotion to a memory and a memory to the past. Time traveling machines I’ve decided, are for our bodies and not for our minds. The mind can already relive the moments we want to feel and touch.

    It’s 1am and sleep is still fighting its way up to my eyes. I’m staring at the screen as if hypnotized and try to understand why I am, for the first time, incapable of focusing on my favorite movie. Romantic comedies are supposed to lift your mood. Tonight though, I am not swimming, but drowning in happiness, I can’t relate to a single line, can’t laugh to a single joke.

    A quote pops up in my mind: “Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eyes.”
    Tonight, my heart too is blind. I see happiness, and yet I don’t. I simply feel nothing.

    Reply
    • Dawn Atkin

      Lovely. Poetic, introspective, aware.
      I particularly enjoyed “A TV leads to a candle, a candle to an emotion, an emotion to a memory and a memory to the past.”

      Thank you for sharing Lisa.

      Warm regards
      Dawn

    • LisaYang

      Thank you Dawn!

    • Ed Pena

      I find myself somewhat confused. “Tonight though, I am not swimming, but drowning in happiness, I can’t relate to a single line, can’t laugh to a single joke.” Not sure how this line relates?

    • LisaYang

      Dear Ed,

      Thanks for reading. I think I might have wrongly translated a German expression into English. I was trying to express that the protagonist is usually, well “swimming in a sea of happiness” but is drowning on this particular night. I’ll edit the line. Thanks for bringing this up:)!

      Lisa

    • Ed Pena

      Hi Lisa. I should have been more precise. Apologies. Metaphorically, you write of seeing, sight, blindness, eyes, etc, and then of swimming and drowning. I’m suggesting you may wish to consider how to convey that within the context of sight?

    • LisaYang

      Oh, I see what you mean. Thanks again.

    • Ed Pena

      Nice. 🙂

    • LisaYang

      Just edited the line, hope it’s more clear now. 🙂

  40. Carlos Cooper

    The vessel reeked and so did its men. Not a breeze to touch them, move them.

    Lips cracked. Throats parched. Bellies groaning.

    A malaise infested the hold, spreading slowly, quietly.

    The grumbles began, first in murmurs, then in mutinous whisps.

    The captain watched it all with a practiced eye never letting on that he knew. But he knew. He’d seen it before. He’d been one of the few to hold fast, to stab his rapier forward time and again. So much blood. So much waste.

    Never again.

    For the crew, there was little to do. The grog had been portioned and the mead was now gone. Only moldy bread waited as the ship sagged and swayed. More than one hand had debated jumping into the azure, but that would waste much needed energy. No wasting allowed.

    And so they waited.

    They prayed.

    But most of all, they grumbled with mutiny taking hold on their malcontent breath.

    —-

    http://CarlosCooper.com

    Reply
  41. Ed Pena

    I am a man of ashes and dust, a child of lust and hate. My name is drifter, vagrant, vagabond, trash. I’ve lived in old refrigerators, eaten meals from cans heated over open wood flames, dressed in hand-me-downs stolen from Salvation Army drop boxes, sheltered in highway rest stops from the cold or sudden rain. I’ve passed through your life a hundred times in a hundred cities; overlooked, ignored, easily forgotten, the flotsam and jetsam of my life washed upon the shores of your vaguely distant memories.

    Tonight, the road lay dark before me. Night, a ravening beast, devoured my headlights as I chased shadows and memories down County Road 24. It had been a long run down the San Juan to Pagosa Springs. From there I’d chanced a ride with some campers down 84 to Chomo. I crossed into New Mexico just South of Edith, the Rio Prieta slow and cool as it twisted into Navajo. The faded tan Silverado I’d picked up there shuddered now and again as we limped down the highway. It was anybody’s guess how long before it went missing, and I was hoping to make Santa Clara before light. The country song coming from the speaker on the dash was mostly static, yet it was some sort of human touch and I didn’t want to turn it off. It was a long way still to the Gila.

    My Grandmother named me Trinidad Rios after the river I was birthed by. In a one room wood and adobe hovel with dirt floors the Fates began to weave the thread of Me into the tapestry of Life. I never knew my Mother, though I’d heard the stories. Of the beautiful thirteen-year-old reservation girl who had blatantly thrown herself at the nineteen year old white son of the rich South Valley Combine rancher. Of the haunted child, pregnant and penniless, who attempted to drown her shame only to end up in a coma. Funny how many of those wanton children there were before that boy was sent off to college in the East. I’m older than her faded picture I carry in my wallet.

    They say I killed that Ute girl from Durango. They found her body in the Weminuche by a small waterfall down on Needle Creek. She was two days dead. I was two days gone. None of that mattered. What was one more dead squaw? Hell, them folks wouldn’t have crossed the street to piss her out if she were on fire. Nah, all she was was the excuse they’d been looking to find. An excuse one of them made when one couldn’t be found.

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Woah. This was intense, awesome, and beautifully written, Ed. I have no feedback except to say where do I find more?

      Joe Bunting
      joebunting.com

    • Ed Pena

      TY Joe. This is the opening to a novel I am working on titled, Killer. I would be happy to share as I develop it if you are amenable to helping critique it.

    • Rhonda

      I am blown away by this writing! Coming from New Mexico and Arizona, the memories make this scene very real to me. How many wonderful American Indians have met/meet similar destinies? More than our “civilized” souls would want to know. The descriptions are so on the mark and words such as “haunted” really do capture many of the people I met growing up in close proximity to a wonderful land of people whose heritage has been mangled and tossed aside for the wolves of what white people called civilized living. It’s the part of civilized living that has almost destroyed a spiritual society that worshiped the land, the spirit, and family. Thank you for sharing the pain.

    • Ed Pena

      TY Rhonda. Words like these inspire me to succeed.

    • Sandra D

      The landscape you paint of this character is hauntingly beautiful.

  42. Sandra D

    This is my story. I am not old and perhaps if I was you would relate more. You is whoever might read this. No I am still young and I am fit and I do not have many setbacks in life. Except my past and that I have parents who loved me but also did not like me. It was mother who said you can love your children but you don’t have to like them. That and many other things have been said that sent pain, sharp black ripples into my heart. And I never had anything to do with it all, and so I held it. I have heard that parents do bad things because they are hurting. So then it gets passed onto the child. The child must process the pain of their ancestors or carry it with them for their children to process.

    When I was ten I remember I liked to take my money that I got from chores and buy candy. I lived just two blocks from my local market. The SuperJet Grocery Store. I walked down and I stood and looked at all the chocolate bars. I stood there for a minute or more thinking which one would be best. I remember when they shot from 40 cents to 50 and then the cruelest of jokes was a few weeks later when it went up to 51.

    On my way to school I would go in and get myself a chocolate, or donut, or cherry pie and eat as I walked. I was in middle school then and I wa also intermittendly dieting. Some days I would eat mainly fruit and vegetables and try to stay away from anything fattening. Other times I indulged like these days.

    My mother noticed as she’d crudely remark, “Do you wear baggy clothes because you are trying to grow into them?”

    Never answered her except a weak rebuttal, “No I’m not.”

    Othertimes she’d call me a pig. I let these times roll off me though. The thing is this type of poison can’t kill you if you don’t let it reach the heart. Just nod and agree and go about the day. Few times did she really get past my defenses. I didn’t trust her enough to get past the gates.

    Not that I want to talk about her now. I knew her and now I am older then that. This all happened a long time ago.

    Reply
  43. chloe

    suddenly the car pulls up outside his house, bringing me back to the bullshit reality I’m in. i step slowly out of the car not giving care to shut the door behind me. I wanted this horror to be over. its like a nightmare inside my head, a deadly force eating away at me and its damn near almost done. I never realized how quiet it is around here, almost to quiet I guess. I sigh leaning my head against the wall, I could barley wait any longer. he walks up and opens the door, it creeks open and hits the wall with a loud bang. I’m way to on edge and I jump almost hitting my head on the low hanging plant.

    “common let go inside” he took my hand and led me inside, my whole body was still shaking from the shock and i had a feeling it was only going to get worse.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Say Yes to Practice

Join over 450,000 readers who are saying YES to practice. You’ll also get a free copy of our eBook 14 Prompts:

Popular Resources

Books By Our Writers

Headspace
- J. D. Edwin
The Girl Who Broke the Dark
- Evelyn Puerto
21
Share to...