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D. A. Ratliff: Confessions of an Obsessed Writer

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Writers Unite! is fortunate to have among its members, many bloggers, and essayists who write content about the writing process or their author’s journey or both. We will be posting their articles for your information and enjoyment. Please read and comment, visit the author’s website, blog, or Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram and share!

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Confessions of an Obsessed Writer

By D. A. Ratliff

Every so often, in a writing group that I am a member of, someone will ask this question. What is your favorite writing spot? I invariably and blithely answer: Have laptop, will travel. Then it dawned on me that my laptop does indeed travel where I do. 

I am an obsessed writer.

I began reading at an early age, and in elementary school, I discovered writing. My efforts were admittedly short stories about my Chihuahua, Henry, but I was writing. I was that rare student who loved having essays and term paper assignments, relishing in the research as well as the composing. My lust for writing had begun. 

Then I graduated college and well, had to act like an adult. I continued to read, but my writing efforts were work related and, while important, certainly not imaginative. Difficult to make a policy-and-procedures or a training manual fun, but I did love writing newsletters where I could be a bit more creative.

During these years, a gnawing urge began to develop. I wanted to write fiction. As a child, I had a vivid imagination that followed me to adulthood. However, I had doubts as to whether I could write a story good enough to attract readers. I had taken creative writing courses, but college was behind me, and I was unsure I had the skills. I needed practice, but how?

I started writing fanfiction.

I know – it’s fanfiction, but I deduced that with developed characters and show canon already in place, I could concentrate on how to construct a story and write dialog. It was fanfiction, easy, and all the fans of the show would love all the stories. Wrong. Critique in the world of fanfic can be brutal. Fortunately, most were kind to me.

But it worked, I gained confidence and discovered the weaknesses I needed to address by writing over eighty stories about a canceled science fiction show. Yes, eighty. You see, I couldn’t stop writing. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to write. And once I began to believe I could write, I left fanfic behind and started writing my first novel, a science fiction story. I haven’t stopped since.

Writers understand the call of the keyboard. I do take my laptop with me practically everywhere. No, not to the grocery store but the doctor’s office, or on a plane, any place where I have downtime with nothing else to do. Okay, maybe when I did have other things to do as well.  I only know that I need to create.

Writing every day is not a challenge for me. I hesitate to think of how many words I do write per day as an administrator for a large writing group, or on Facebook Messenger and email, and when I can, my fiction works in progress. (Yes, works. Okay, I have a few going at the same time.) I have worn out a few keyboards in the last few years. It’s when I’m not writing that the need to write manifests itself. I have a sense that I forgot something, that nagging urgency that I should be doing something. It is as if a part of me is incomplete.

If you write, you know that feeling. You have a new idea, the plot, the title, and the characters start to develop in your head. How it begins and ends. I am a pantser style writer, meaning that I don’t plan my stories before writing them. I start writing, and then the fun begins.

One of my favorite quotes about writing is from British author, Terry Pratchett:

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

If that opening line falls into place, then so does everything else. There is such a feeling of satisfaction to watch letters appear on the screen as fingers move about the keys. Hours pass like minutes as the story unfolds and, when I finally stop, there is a sense of accomplishment that today I created something. That feeling is what makes writing so obsessive for me.

Not all days are so satisfying. All writers have those days when the words won’t come, or the plot stalls or transition between scenes is elusive. When this happens, doubt begins to creep in. Is this story good enough, will anyone like it? Why am I writing? I have learned never to force the words, for those are never the right words. Taking a step back, working on another project, taking a walk, or cleaning the house (the last resort) always helps me to find my muse again, because I have to write.

I write to tell myself the story.

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D. A. (Deborah) Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and a love of writing. A career in science and human resources provided the opportunity to write policies/procedures and training manuals, articles, and newsletters, but her lifelong love of mystery and science fiction novels beckoned. Deborah began writing mysteries and her first novel, Crescent City Lies, will be published in late spring 2020 with a second novel, One of Those Days, to follow. Deborah regularly contributes articles on writing to the blog, Writers Unite! and serves as an administrator on the Facebook writing site, Writers Unite! which has 57,000+ members from around the globe.


Doug Blackford: The Menagerie

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms. Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support!

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(Please note: the images used as prompts are free-use images and do not require attribution.)

The Menagerie

By Doug Blackford

It was a room, but it was as if whoever had built it had done so from a picture or painting with no idea of its purpose or what was outside of it. Actually, that was exactly the case.

It had four walls, a ceiling, and a floor, like most normal rooms. The forest green paint on the wooden walls was faded and peeling, revealing the sea green of the previous color, and the gray primer beneath that in places. The floor was bare pine, worn yellow with age. Its faint scent had disappeared long ago. The traces of hardened resin that had once sealed the nails gave silent testament to the passage of time.

One of the walls had a door and a fireplace set in it. The door was functional, as far as the function of a door was concerned. He chose not to think about the door whenever possible. It looked much like the rest of the wall, but with hinges on one side and a knob on the other. Same color, same fading and peeling, same … normal. It was what lay beyond the door that caused him to ignore it. As much as he hated this room, he hated beyond the door more.

The fireplace, however, was not functional. It was made of red brick, the mortar crumbling in several places. A single log of unburnt wood, either oak or hickory, rested within. There was no mantle to speak of, but a stone hearth was inset in the floor before it. Although the inside of the fireplace was soot-covered, and the hearth appeared touched by heat and flame, there was no scent of wood or smoke to indicate any kind of recent use, much like the pine flooring and sealing resin — much like the entire room.

It wasn’t so much the lack of scents that bothered him as much as it was the wrong ones. They weren’t strong, but they were there — antiseptic, metal, plastic. At least, that was the closest his brain could make of them. It wasn’t their fault really. They had no comparison for him, and without them, he would probably be dead by now. He wasn’t entirely sure he wouldn’t prefer that option, but they made sure he never had that kind of opportunity.

The only other thing in the room was the chair — wood and wicker, dark cherry and reeds. He hated that chair. The words to explain and express how much he hated that chair did not exist in any language he knew, and he knew a few. He contained the sum knowledge of his species, or at least as much as had been able to fit in his head. Language, music, art, history — there had been many like him sent out to the stars. They had been a last effort to preserve the species — to say, “We were here!” He had no way to know how many of them reached other civilizations, or what had become of them if they had. He didn’t even know how many years, or centuries, or longer, had passed while he drifted through the void of space in suspension. He only knew his own fate. The chair.

They had let him keep the picture, or rather, a facsimile of it. He took it out and read the caption.

A room is what you make of it.

He understood that the room stood for more than just a room. It was his mind, his life, everything over which he could exercise some control — everything that allowed him a choice. Being in this room was like being inside a representation of his will, and a reminder of how few were his choices.

He put the picture away and sat in the chair. It was better than incurring their wrath. He heard the not-quite-silent glide of the wall behind him as it opened to reveal the area on the other side. An orange ambience came through, created by the red and yellow suns in the sky. It gave the room a glow almost like a sunrise or sunset. It was strange and unvarying, but almost familiar and the sole thing that made the chair worth the effort. It was the only sunlight he ever saw, but he had made a choice that it would not be the last sunlight he saw. He didn’t know how he would resolve that choice, but he stood by it … every day.

He just sat there as the gawkers passed by, paused, then moved on. Some were more insistent and tapped or banged on the transparent wall but he didn’t acknowledge them. They seemed to be of all shapes and sizes to his untrained eyes. There were bipeds, quadrupeds, tripeds, tall, short, thin, wide, spidery, cyclopean — all sorts. The few cages he could make out opposite his own were just as varied, and at least one seemed to possess more than just an animal intelligence. He had tried communicating using his world’s universal sign language, and more primitive forms of conceptual signs, but to no avail. They were all just part of some great menagerie — some sort of zoo as far as he could tell.

Today was just another day like every other day. They wouldn’t give him anything with which he might be able to injure himself, but he had to do something to pass the time. That typically meant talking to himself, though he did it by reciting what he knew. He would speak about history and art, speak in different languages, sing songs, whatever he felt in the mood to hear out loud. Today, a way out would present itself. Today, he felt like Shakespeare.

If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?

Malcolm smiled. It was not a pleasant smile, but they wouldn’t know that.

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Please visit Doug’s blog and follow him! https://smithandscribe.wordpress.com

Write the Story: February 2019 Collection