Making Time to Write

Time to make the donuts! Making time to write

Time to make the donuts!

I’m really scared to write this post about making time to write, because I’m going to share my goals here and if I don’t reach my goal I’m going to feel ashamed and disappointed! People might actually look down on me. They might say “Hey, she failed.

But I also want to be a published novelist and if that happens I’m going to be ready for all kinds of negative comments so why not start building a thick skin now?

My goal is to rise early and write before the rest of the day begins.

During the summer I gave myself a pass on working on my novel every day. I also gave myself a pass on running every day. I was spending more time with the kids, spent more time volunteering, and went on some excellent vacations with my family. I found it very hard to take time away from these moments to refocus my brain on the world of my novel. Maybe I’m just lazy or maybe I was scared I’d miss something in my other world, the one I where I actually live. Whatever it was, I wasn’t making time to write my novel. And it’s time to change things.

School has started now and I’m trying to help my boys build habits and behaviors that will help them be successful. So I’m going to do the same with myself. I need to change some habits to get better at making time to write.

My goal

The first step is to state my goal, or what I want to do.

I want to wake up at 6:15am and be out of bed by 6:30am. I want to have at least half and hour to write before I need to get the family moving on their daily activities. 

It takes about 21 days to form a new habit and nothing happens overnight. So I’m going to work on this in stages. The second step is to state HOW I plan to make my goal happen.

  • Week 1: Go to bed before 11pm. Set alarm for 6:15am. Allow myself to hit snooze a few times. Be out of bed before 7am. If possible, write a sentence in journal.
  • Week 2: Go to bed before 10:45pm. Set alarm for 6:15am. Monitor the time I’m out of bed, aim for 6:30am. Write a minimum of a sentence in journal, aim for paragraph.
  • Week 3: Bed by 10:30pm. Set alarm for 6:15am. Out of bed by 6:30am. Write a paragraph, aim for a page!
  • Week 4: Bed by 10:15pm, earlier if needed. 6:15am alarm. Out of bed and writing by 6:30am. Page minimum even if it’s crap.

Can I keep this up on the weekends? I feel I have to try even if it means I take a nap. If I can do four weeks of this, that’s 28 days and I should be well on my way to making this new habit work for me.

Don’t get me wrong – I get a lot of writing done during the day. But it’s mostly writing for other people and projects. My novel has taken a backseat and I need to change that.

If I can get my novel writing done earlier in the day, perhaps I can increase the time I am able to spend on other writing projects. I can write in the morning, revise after my run. I can finally get this draft submission ready and send it off to my five hand-selected, carefully researched, appropriately targeted agents. Then I can get ready to work on my next project just in time for NaNo!!

This is about thwarting my tendency to procrastinating and prioritize making time to write.

I’m in the beginning of week 1 today, and while I haven’t actually written any sentences in my journal I have been up and out of bed by 6:40am both days. I’m going to count that as success and put my journal next to my bed tonight.

I’ll post updates as I go so you can hold me accountable. You can praise my success or point out where I went wrong. What are the secrets to your success in making time to write?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

How to Beat Writer’s Block

  “I don’t have any ideas,” moaned my middle son. If he were a novelist, he might have said he had writer’s block. He wanted to work on his new boardgame idea but he was in the midst of a creative crisis. He didn”t know how to  get from his basic idea into the drawing stages and from there into the production stages. It seemed overwhelming. And he couldn’t stop thinking that in the end, his idea would not be as good as the games his older brother had created. 
I really detest the phrase writer’s block. It’s such a vague term and sounds like a horrible disease. Hang on – a good disease anaolgy could be made to anemia. Anemia isn’t a disease, it’s a symptom of a larger problem. In the same way, writer’s block isn’t actually the problem, it’s a symptom of a larger problem. In a novel or a story, the larger problem might be a weak plot, characters who don’t want something badly, or not enough obstacles. With enough hard work on those elements it becomes evident that writer’s block is actually a useful sign of a underlying problem that needs to be fixed.

So what was the underlying problem for my son? In his case, since he’s only 8, he was overwhelmed by the number of ideas he wanted to capture and not sure how to outline the elements of the game he had swirling in his brain. When he gets frustrated, this kid can go off the deep end and refuse to listen to any suggestions. Luckily I caught him in time and introduced the spider web concept of brainstorming and capturing ideas. He really got into it. It helped him jot down the ideas he already had AND generate new ones! I don’t want to brag but it was pretty much a parenting win. 

I have known about this technique for awhile but my participation in Kidlit Summer School refreshed my willingness to try new story creation strategies. And it helped with my own version of writer’s block, which again had nothing to do with not being able to write. My version had to do with creating an interesting story with a twist in the end. I wrote about a boy caring for caterpillars. I wrote all of the dialogue and the chronology of events. But like the funny meme on the internet right now, the surprise isn’t that the caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

In order to address the symptom of writer’s block which really indicated I didn’t have a good enough obstacle in my story, I started brainstorming. What obstacles could prevent my main character from reaching his goal?

1. He is grounded and caring for the caterpillars is his punishment.

2. He wants to start a lawn mowing business but can only get this job.

3. He’s scared of bugs and caterpillars and butterflies and doesn’t want people to know.

The story isn’t about the caterpillars now. It’s about the boy and how he changes and overcomes these obstacles. So how could he change?

1. He  learns to love nature and enjoys the caterpillars. He even misses them when they fly away.

2. He realizes how great the job is and begins raising them.

3. He gets over his fear and loves the butterflies. 

Number 1 and 3 are similar. What if he wants a real pet but his test is to keep the caterpillars alive? Or what if they are part of a summer school assignment? 

There are lots of ideas here now. And the problem isn’t not knowing what to write, it’s knowing which one is right. But I won’t sit around pondering. I’ll pick one and write it out because the max word count for my target publication is less than 1000 words. Then I’ll write out another, and maybe a third. 

When you have writer’s block, what is it warning you about in your writing?

How do you beat writer’s block?

Which butterfly boy story do you like best?

(Hey, Butterfly Boy! That’s a good title! I’m liking the boy who is scared of butterflies tackles a job of raising caterpillars…)

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Dinosaur words

 
I’m chugging away on the final stages of my new ebook for kids about dinosaurs! As part of the brainstorm process I made lists and lists of dinosaur words. Need some? Help yourself! 

horns
snout
spike
plate
claw
frill
feather
spine
tails
armor
club tail
beak
bones
fossils
rocks
nest
egg
tracks

jump
hunt
roar
growl
howl
swoop
screech
sneak
leap
stomp
thump
stalk
hunt
tear
stare
rip
climb
prowl

prehistoric
jurassic
fossilized
jurassic
triassic
cretaceaus
evolution
lizard hipped
bird hipped
omnivore
herbivore
carnivore
carrion eater
extinct
What words would you add? Send them to me and I’ll post them! 

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

KidLit Summer School: The Plot Thickens

Sorry I’ve been absent from the blog lately, but things have gotten hot and heavy this summer thanks to an amazing free online class I’m taking hosted by Nerdy Chicks Rule. It’s called KidLit Summer School: The Plot Thickens.

klss-2015-badge

There are blog posts coming at me every DAY! With exercises! I’ve found all of the posts and exercises to be informative and helpful, even if I learn that the tools and techniques don’t really work for me. I think learning what doesn’t work is often as valuable as learning what does work.

Is this just for picture books? Chapter books? Nope. In fact, I’ve used the exercises for my middle grade manuscript and my current favorite picture book manuscript. I’m pretty sure I’ll use some of the exercises as I plan out my 2015 NaNoWriMo project and refine a second manuscript into submission-ready status.

In addition to KidLit Summer School, I’m also trying to keep up with the monthly goals set by Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Challenge. Can you write 12 picture book manuscripts in 12 months? You can if you want to make it happen! This is my first year in 12×12, and although I’ve been pretty successful at revising manuscripts each month, I haven’t been able to draft a new manuscript every month. I have ideas but I often run out of the time and mental clarity to put down the words.

So what is keeping you busy this summer?

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Critique My Writing – April 29, 2012 Prompt

I subscribe via email to Sarah Selecky‘s writing prompts. I don’t always respond to a prompt every day, but I do eventually sit down and write. Sarah’s instructions are to write by hand, in a notebook, for at least 10 minutes, so each piece I share will be relatively short. 

 

I stared at the wax seal on the envelope, remembering the time we visited that colonial village, a re-enactment village actually, designed to make as much money off the tourists curious about the single mud and log cabin remaining in the field. The cabin itself was a dusty skeleton of it’s former self which was probably never very impressive but a clever group of local citizens full of pride and economic verve knew they could erect a tiny bustling empire around summer visitors. We were there for the food and craft festival, she loved going out of the way for those events and finding something to adore about the earnest enthusiasm of the planning committee’s results even if it barely resembled the product promised in the promotional photos.

We stood in the doorway of the little cabin as the breeze sighed through the holes in the walls. Sunlight stripes drew a parquet floor over dirt and laughter passed through a doorway small enough for children but not much more. Not big enough to dream of full bellies and rich clothes, just enough to get by.

She shivered and said, “Did you see that ghost that passed through me?”

I laughed.

“Harvest time, probably.”

“Probably,” she agreed. “Let’s go find something to buy. I saw a booth selling quill pens and leather books. I’ll write you something and save it to send you when I’m a ghost passing through you.”

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Critique My Writing – 2003 Creative Writing Class

“Charm City”

“This place will never be the same without her,” said Tawnee. She was carrying a box of black garbage bags.

Tawnee and I had been across-the-hall neighbors for about three years now. We were about the same age, single women just doing the day to day. She was a nurse who worked the nightshift at Mercy. I was a security guard at the city college. We often came home when the streetlights were clicking off and the sky was that silvery city dawn. Back home, dawn was always red and gold. Sometimes we’d have a ladies night out. We’d go to the bar down the block to harass unsuspecting men. We’d have a few drinks, get loud and rude, and laugh ourselves home.

Today were heading up to Mrs. DeMaro’s apartment. She died a week ago and the building manager said we could clear out her place. “Take what you want, donate what you don’t. Do this for me,” Lois said, “and I’ll cut you a break on the rent.”

“Remember how great the place would smell when she made those cookies?” Tawnee reminisced.

“It was a relief to smell something other than mildew and sweat,” I replied. I put my hand against the wall as we made our way up the stairs. How could this damn wall be so cool on such a sweltering day?

“You’re right,” Tawnee laughed. “We should bake some cookies to give ourselves relief.”

“You cook. My place is too hot.”

“Mine, too. Wish we could get some air conditioners. Hey Kate, think Lois would let us get window units instead of a rent break?”

“No. Then other tenants would want them. Too much drain on the wiring and electricity. Fire hazard. Yadda yadda. And besides, I would need the rent break to afford the window unit.” We were at Mrs. DeMaro’s door. “Hey, there are the boxes Lois said she would leave for us.” I pushed the key in and jiggled the lock. The door stuck in the frame. I put my shoulder against the wood and pushed it open. “All the wood in this place is expanding,” I said. “Sometimes I get stuck in my own bathroom.”

“Nice,” said Tawnee. She dragged some boxes in after her.

I had never been inside the apartment. Tawnee said she had helped the old lady reach a few things out of closets. It looked the same as all the units. The main rooms were all pretty small but each one had an interesting feature. For instance, DeMaro’s place had a fancy lintel over the archway into the kitchen. The bathroom was a long narrow space attached to the bedroom.

“It’s spooky in here. I don’t like going through someone else’s stuff. It’s like spying on her,” said Tawnee.

“She’s dead, we’re not spying.”

“Still, it feels weird. Like she’s still here watching us.”

“Cut it out,” I said.

“Well,” said Tawnee, “Let’s get started.”

She turned away and I was the only one who saw the spider crawl out of the teapot.

We hit the kitchen first. The plates, utensils, glasses, pots and pans all went into boxes. Placemats, slotted spoons, coasters, and potholders went in, too. Cheap acrylics on wood came off the walls and into boxes.

“These could be valuable,” laughed Tawnee.

“Who’s going through her underwear drawer?” I asked and peeked at Tawnee out of the corner of my eye.

She shrieked – bull’s-eye.

“You can do it, pervert!” She chucked a knickknack at me. I ducked (must be my law enforcement training). The knickknack hit the wall and broke.

Tawnee and I stopped laughing. We picked up the little ceramic cat. It once used to raise its paw in a pleading gesture. Now it looked like it was ready for a heart transplant. I held the broken pieces back together. Damn.

“CPR?” I asked.

“I think it signed a DNR,” said Tawnee. We couldn’t help it. We busted out laughing again and I tossed the cat into a garbage bag.

“We should be more respectful,” said Tawnee after almost an hour of work. “She was a nice old lady.”

“She was,” I said. “She always had a kind word. Not like some of the new renters. You know those people on the first floor? They get so pissy if a package of mine is lying anywhere near their front door. Like I can help where the mail carrier drops it.”

“I know. They never say hello even when I say it first. I mean, how hard is it to say hi?”

“It’s just a generational thing. People are much less polite in this generation.” I puffed out all my air as I hefted a full box from the living room into the hallway. I brushed my hands off on my shorts as I came back into the apartment. “I think the main room’s done. Let’s head into the bedroom.”

“I never knew you felt that way,” said Tawnee, tossing her hair seductively.

“If I were a lesbian I would so not date you,” I said as I walked by her.

“What? Why the hell not? I’m sexy!” She poked me in the shoulder.

“You’re high maintenance.” I took a deep breath and opened the top drawer.

“And you’re brave,” she said, nodding at the old ladies’ underwear I was steadily and quickly moving from drawer to bag. “I’ll open the window.”

“Consider it my penance for the year.”

We cleared the room out as quickly as we could. It was a little sad, because DeMaro didn’t have any photos of family members to save. She only had a few books. Everything seemed so generic, so un-individual. It was like this lady left nothing of herself.

“I hope to God when I die I have kids to do this,” said Tawnee.

“You read my mind,” I said. “Did she ever have any?”

“Like I would know.”

“You were closer to her than I was.”

“I wasn’t close with her though,” said Tawnee. “I was up here maybe five times tops in three years for a total of 15 minutes. I know as much as you do about her life.”

“That’s the other problem with today’s generation. We never know anything about each other. We never take the time to get to know one another. Nobody cares about anyone else. DeMaro was lucky Lois had to get into her place to check the wiring. She could’ve been dead for weeks.”

“Creepy,” said Tawnee.

“I’m serious, though. Who in the building would know if something happened to those jerks on the first floor? If it weren’t for you, no one here would give a shit about me.”

“Same,” she answered. “This sucks.”

“It’s this city,” I said.

“It’s every city.”

“Well, T, I think we’re done in here, too. She didn’t have much and she ain’t leaving us much. Goodwill should have fun with all of it. Want to help me move the mattresses into the front room?”

“Sure.”

We grabbed opposite corners of the thin single bed and lifted it onto the floor. We slid it over the polished hardwood planks and leaned it against the wall near the front door.

“Box spring next,” said Tawnee.

Back in the bedroom, I saw the book on the box spring.

“Check it out,” I said. “Old lady diary. You think it’s full of erotic fantasies?” I scooped the book up and settled down on the floor. Tawnee sprawled on her back and stared at the ceiling.

“Isn’t heat supposed to rise? Why aren’t I cooler here?”

“We’re on the third floor.”

I flipped through the pages looking for a place to start. There really weren’t any dates to indicate how old the diary was.

“Well?” Tawnee nudged my leg with her toe. “Are you gonna read me some old lady sex or what?”

“Sure,” I said. “Let’s see…ok here’s one. Today I visited my physician. She had quite a lot of health advice for me. I am an old lady. If the Lord calls me home, I will go.”

 “Jesus, Kate, that was depressing! Read something better!” Tawnee rolled onto her stomach.

“Oh my God, T, listen to this! This old lady was a real spy… That James is a real fucker! He thinks no one knows what he does but I do. I’ve seen and heard just about every sick thing in life until that little bastard moved into my building…”

Tawnee screamed and slapped her hand on the floor and laughed.

“That’s the kind of dirt I want to hear! Is there more?”

“Yeah, it goes on. Let’s see…every sick thing in life until that little bastard moved into my building. But the photographs he has mailed to him are disgusting! I never knew in all my life that men would do that to poor innocent little-”

“Little what?!” Tawnee screeched.

“I don’t know,” I said, laughing. “The page is torn!”

“Shit, that was just getting good. Wow, she read his mail? That’s a criminal offense. This lady was into some deep shit. Man, this book is a gold mine. We can find out more about our neighbors than we ever wanted to know! Read more!”

“Ok.” I flipped the pages and stopped on a random page and began to read out loud. “If she’s dealing and tricking then I think we all deserve a cut to make up for that crap. I think I’ll write her a little note. ‘I saw you last night, you and that married man. And I know where you get your rent money, honey. Don’t think you’ll get away with it for long Tawnee…’”

I stopped reading and looked up at Tawnee. She was staring at me, looking right into my eyes. I snapped the book closed.

“Trash pile,” I said.

I tore the pages out of the book and ripped them into tiny shreds. Tawnee sat on the floor and watched. I tied the bags shut and one by one we carried them to the garbage chute. I moved the boxes out into the hallway. We left the apartment, locked the door behind us and went down the stairs.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Critique My Writing – Aug 24 2012 Writing Prompt.

Aug 24 2012 Writing Prompt.


How to Survive a Broken Heart: A Manual


1. First you must love someone incredibly deeply and commit much of you life to their needs and desires. But this can’t be a hardship for you, it must be something you do willingly, you may almost be compelled to do it.

2. Then you must be rejected and cast aside by this person that had consumed your thoughts and dreams.

3. Next you weep and allow feelings of disbelief wash over you. Ask yourself: Is this really happening? Ask your love: Is this really happening? Then be filled with fear. Be frightened that you will never love or be loved again.

4. Whimper.

5. Wail.

6. Live in a fog for weeks where food is tasteless, nothing amuses or interests you and bodily hygiene is an afterthought. Dedicate yourself to a rigorous schedule of sleep punctuated by bouts of crying.

7. Reject the support of a sympathetic and compassionate friends who claim to understand your grief. Accuse them of hiding prior knowledge that your love was planning to destroy yourself. Point out their failings and flaws if necessary to reduce your own pain.

8. On a day when your schedule is light, allow anger and rage to well up inside you and mutilate or dismantle every physical reminder in your home of your love. Pile these items in a box and take a photo. Text your love the photo with the phrase “You broke my heart. I broke your shit.”

9. Laugh.

10. Repair anything valuable that you could re-sell.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Critique My Writing – Feb 4 2013

Feb 4 2013 Studio30 Writing Prompt


“That was Awkward”


They walked around the mall for a short while until they came to a store specializing in clothes that would actually work for her. Holding hands they entered and spoke with a saleslady. It only took a few minutes before she had assembled a lovely suit jacket, blouse, skirt and a broach to hold a silky scarf in place or accent the lapel.

“Your wife will really wow everyone at the office in this outfit,” the saleslady told Daddy as she totaled the purchase on the register. “Won’t your mommy look beautiful?” she asked the young girl. The girl smiled and nodded. She was glad Mommy’s birthday was today so they didn’t have to wait to surprise her.

That evening after dinner and cake, Daddy disappeared into the garage and returned with his present still in the beige plastic bag over the hanger.

“What’s this?” asked Mommy without getting up.

“A birthday present,” the girl squealed.

“What did you do?” Mommy asked Daddy.

“Nothing big,” answered Daddy. “Just something for your birthday.” He made his way clumsily around the dining room table trying to squeeze between the walls and the dining room chairs without bothering to push them in. The table shook when he bumped it and Pepsi sloshed over the tops of the glasses.

“I wish you’d be more careful,” Mommy said. She stood and laid napkins on the spilled liquid then sat down heavily and sighed.

Daddy stood near her chair and held the hanger high.

“Happy Birthday!”

The little girl was disappointed there were no bows or wrapping paper. She watched her mother put a hand on the table to push herself to stand. She wasn’t smiling.

Daddy held the hanger while Mommy struggled to untie the knot at the bottom of the plastic bag. Finally she lifted the bag up, a little at a time, but she still wasn’t smiling. She didn’t unwrap her present the way the little girl usually unwrapped them. And Mommy didn’t gasp or smile the way other people unwrapped presents.

Mommy looked at the suit, still held in the air by Daddy but he was now leaning on a chair. He watched Mommy’s face and pushed the hanger a little toward her. She sat down and cried.

“This isn’t what I wanted,” she muttered. “This is not what I wanted. I told you I wanted a new dishwasher.”

“Well, that’s not a birthday present,” Daddy said, still holding up the suit.

“I’m never going to wear it,” she said and didn’t look at him, the suit, or her little girl. When she cried, she didn’t look like the women from commercials who cried when they opened jewelry boxes and brushed twinkling tears from smooth cheeks that were a little pink. Her mom’s tears ran over cheeks with brown spots and red splotches. Her mom cried loud and her chest heaved and she covered her face with her hands.

“I don’t know what you were thinking,” Mommy wailed, each word punctuated by a sob. “You never think about what I want. It’s always about you!” she shouted.

“I’m sorry,” he said but it sounded fake to the little girl. “I thought you would like this!” He shook the suit in the air and leaned his body over her crying one but she didn’t look at him.

“When do I ever dress like that?” she swatted the suit away. “When do I ever even look at those kind of clothes? No one in my office dresses like that! I’d look ridiculous!” She pushed away from the table and stood, still crying and grabbed the box of tissues from the windowsill. She blew her nose loudly and moved away from her husband and the empty suit. The little girl sat quietly and watched.

Mommy pushed the pile of unfolded laundry to one side of the couch and sat down, shading her eyes with one hand. She used tissue after tissue to wipe her eyes and nose and the sweat from her forehead.

Daddy hung the suit on the doorknob of the coat closet that still needed the old hook holes spackeled and painted not to mention the new hooks hung up. Coats laid in a small pile on the closet floor mostly covering their shoes. The broken umbrella still leaned in the back corner of the closet.

Daddy lumbered into the living room and fell into his armchair, his body expanding until it completely filled the seat. The cushions that were supposed to decorate the chair,  stayed stuffed under the chair basically hidden by the overflowing newspaper rack next to Daddy’s chair.

“Well, you can just return it,” he said and reached for the remote.

She laughed with her eyes still covered.

“And why can’t you return it?” she dropped her hand and jabbed a finger in the air at him. “Now I have to walk in there with this…this…outfit that I would never wear and stand there and make up some stupid reason why it won’t work for me or isn’t my color. You always do things like this to me.”

He continued watching TV and the little girl sat at the dining room table sticking her finger through a hole in the vinyl tablecloth. It was soft and fuzzy underneath and she liked how it felt.

“I’ll take it back later,” he said after a long time of quiet but without looking at her.


You can’t ‘take it back later.’ there are limits on how long they’ll take clothes back but you wouldn’t know that because you never buy your own clothes, or the kid’s clothes, you always expect me to do it. Like I’m your personal shopper. I have to know what you like and don’t like, your favorite color or what looks too much like the colors of some stupid sports team I’m supposed to know about.” She waved her arms in the air in a helpless way. “And then I have to listen to you complain about how nothing I picked out fits you right and that’s might fault, too.”

“That’s enough,” he said.

“Don’t tell me that’s enough,” she said. “I know your family blames me. Your mother has said it more than once. ‘Why did you let him get like this?’ she asked me. And I didn’t say anything. I didn’t tell her how you buy crap food and make us eat it and how you buy too much and tell me it shouldn’t go to waste or put too much on my plate and act offended if I don’t finish it. I didn’t tell her how you drink a six pack of beer in one night sometimes and eat a whole pizza and then lay around the next day like you’re some poor sick baby!” Her voice rose higher and higher. He sat there and watched TV and finally she leaned back into the couch and cried.

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Critique My Writing

Where I share my fiction writing, accept critiques and suggestions, and be bold. 

August 29 2013 Studio 30 Writing Prompt


“Scratch”

Did you ever have one of those workouts that seems off before you even start? The other day the universe just seemed to be telling me to stay home. I stumbled around the house like a zombie, bumping into furniture, misplacing my water bottle and car keys. I forgot my Garmin. But I had a big race in a month and I was in the height of my training.  Finally after one last visit to the powder room, I stared at myself in the mirror.


“Run. Run. Run.” I chanted. I left the house.


On the way there I got a text from my husband,  he couldn’t meet me to run. So now I was stuck doing an evening run by myself. I drove to the huge wooded park where we often ran trails and pulled into the dirt lot of the little corner store that carried live bait, rented cheap bikes and sold candy bars. I saw the old guy behind the counter at the bait shop. I waved and he gave me a wink and laughed. Creepy old guy. But I did appreciate the ice cream Snickers bars after a long run.


One of my friends from the running club called our normal road route the “loop of monotony and despair.” He was right, after endless miles on that road you do kind of dread it. It was hard enough getting out there today so I decided to try one of the wooded trails. Tranquility Trail sounded nice. I had done it a few times with the club and knew to follow the white paint blazes on the trees.


After all the delays and distractions I was out there running smooth and easy. I kept thinking I’d run into someone I knew. It wasn’t that unlikely to see someone on these trails. But I didn’t mind being on my own, setting my own pace, getting some peace.


Somewhere in the first mile my ear phones started dropping out sound and then the music cut out all together. I was irritated but at least the app was still tracking my run so I tucked the ear phones into my inside pocket and kept running.


It was actually nice to hear the sounds of the forest, the cicadas and the birds. They were loud and cheerful and I pretended they were cheering me on. Every once in awhile I’d hear a rustling noise in the leaves. I couldn’t see them but I guessed it was squirrels or chipmunks. Probably.


I spotted little clouds of gnats swirling in the sunlight that broke through the trees but I couldn’t look around too much. I had to watch where I was going because there are lot of roots and rocks on the trail. I’m not that surefooted to begin with, I’m one of those runners who holds on to trees and branches going down a steep descent. When I run with my husband he just rolls down the hills at breakneck pace but I always hold back and slow down. It’s too scary to just let go and hope I’ll make it to the bottom alive.


I came around a bend in the trail and there was a huge mud puddle so I veered off into the woods and ran up onto a small ridge to avoid it. I ran along the ridge a bit until it was clear for me to jump back down on the path. The spot I picked seemed clear but I didn’t see the spiderweb spun between the trees and ran right into it.


I yelled “shit!” and didn’t care who heard me. The spiderweb grabbed me everywhere, I was totally tangled in tiny invisible threads. They clung to my face, my neck, my sweaty arms and legs. I danced around a little trying to wipe them all away but it’s impossible. You can’t escape. So I kept running. But I was still distracted and trying to pull the strands out of my hair, off the back of my neck. Finally I was able to run and not think about the webs and the size of the spider that spun something the size of my body. Only then did I realize I didn’t know this part of the trail. I ran on, expecting to see a white blaze, the paint marks that indicated Tranquility Trail, any moment. But it never came. And then I heard footsteps behind me.


I glanced back but no one was there. So I kept running.


A few minutes later I was sure I heard someone running hard right near me, almost in time with my own steps. I stopped and turned, but again there was no one there.


Should I have turned around, gone back the way I came? Maybe. But the woods looked darker that way. And besides, the trail couldn’t be that long. I’d already been running awhile, I figured I’d hit the road quicker if I went forward.  I started again, first at a jog, then picked up the pace. The trail was narrow here, only wide enough for one person. The ground to my right rose up sharply and off to my left dropped down a steep slope. I hated running on ledges like that and tried to stay calm and get to a flatter spot.


I told myself the woods were empty, it was just me and the trees. I was just hearing things. And then it dawned on me that
I wasn’t hearing things, there were no bird sounds, no cicadas, no leaves rustling in the wind. It was totally silent. And then I absolutely heard it again, pounding feet. I glanced around and suddenly in front of me something jumped on the trail.


I yelped. Was it a deer? A coyote? But no, it was a woman, about my age, about my height.


“You really freaked me out,” I accused.


“Running on your own?” she asked.


“No, my friend is waiting for me,” I lied. My heart was beating fast and I just wanted to finish my run. I wiped the sweat from under my nose. She stood there like she was waiting for me to say something. I looked at my watch.


“Well, I better go catch him,” I said.


“I’ll run with you,” she said.


“Great,” I muttered and started out harder than I wanted to in the hopes I might lose her.


She ran close behind me even though I kept the pace high. This is partly why I hated running with the club. Lots of runners want to turn even long slow distance runs into a contest. Very shortly we left the ledge portion of the trail and came to a flat stretch where we could run two abreast. She came up along side me and then we got into a great rhythm, our feet barely touching the soft dirt and pine needles beneath us, gliding past the trees, a slight breeze cooling my arms. For the moment, I felt good. Maybe having a running partner wasn’t so bad.


I glanced at her, evaluating her form. She ran smooth and strong but she was so very thin. Thin in a way that grossed me out. I’m not saying I don’t have sympathy for people with eating disorders but I could see her bones and her muscles looked all ropey under her skin in a painful way. Even her fingers looked extra long. And her skin wasn’t really healthy looking, it was very pale and almost greenish. I wondered how much she worked out. I bet she had some pure diet and ate only raw green veggies and drank expensive protein shakes. It wasn’t helping with her hair, which was stringy and wispy and so light it was almost white. I told myself again, starving myself wasn’t worth it if you looked like some kind of ghoul.


“I almost didn’t make it out here today,” I said.


She said nothing. So I went on.


“I’m a mom. Sometimes I’m so tired I don’t feel like running, but other days I have to run to get away from the craziness.” I laughed, hoping that would be her cue to tell me about herself. But she was silent.


“But I’m glad I came out today. I feel good now.”


“How fast can you run?” she asked suddenly.


“What?” I asked.


“How fast can you run?” she repeated.


“Not that fast. But my 10K is under fifty minutes,” I said modestly.


“There’s a bridge about a quarter mile away. I’ll give you a $100 if you beat me to that bridge.”


“That’s a lot of money,” I laughed. “I’d have to see it to believe it.” I wasn’t trying to accuse her, just show her I wasn’t gullible.


“Here it is,” she stopped. I jogged next to her and watched her pull a folded hundred-dollar bill out of her pocket.


“You’re running with a hundred dollars?” I asked.


“Beat me and you can have it,” she smiled.

“For reals?” I tried to act casual.


“Totes,” she winked. Her eyes were really abnormally enormous in her skull. Seriously, she looked like a skeleton. I wondered if she went to one of those ana-friendly gyms. Did they have those in this town?


“Let’s see what I’ve got,” I shook out my legs.


“Go!” she cried and we took off. I held back a little in the beginning to see if she would sprint and this was truly a stupid idea. But I was hanging with her. So I pushed it faster and faster. We were even, and then I was ahead. I could see the bridge. I tried to move my arms, quicken my turnover. We were steps away and out of nowhere she took a giant leap and damn it, she beat me.


I stopped and put my hands on my hips and walked in a little circle, trying to catch my breath. She pretty much stood there and I couldn’t even hear her breathing hard at all.


“That was a good race,” I said. “You’ve got quite a long stride.”


“Was that your fastest?” she asked.


“Pretty much,” I nodded and started jogging again. Now I really just wanted to go home.


“Want to go double or nothing?”


I glanced over at her.


“Double, like $200? You have $200 on you right now?”


She pulled the cash out of her sports bra and held it out between her two fingers. Who was this lady?


“What’s the finish line this time?” I asked.


“There’s an old cabin about a half-mile away,” she said.


“A half-mile?” I sighed. At the very least it would end the run quicker. “What the hell, why not.”


“Go!” she yelled with no warning and we were off again.

We flew through the forest, my breath filling my ears, my feet pounding on the ground, sweat pouring down my back. I was starting to feel the lactic acid in my muscles. My triceps actually started to ache and I wished I hadn’t done so many planks the day before.


Next to me, this strange woman who carried big bucks on a trail run barely made a sound. She seemed to glide through trees, her pale skin and white hair visible even in the dim shadows of the woods.

I glanced at my watch. We had been racing for about three minutes, we had to be closing in on the cabin. My legs hurt.


“You sure only a half-mile?” I gasped. She didn’t answer, she just kept running.


Then we rolled up and over a small hill and there was the cabin. I found something deep inside and surged ahead of her. I was a good five strides in front, she was far enough behind me to be out of my peripheral vision and I actually found the energy to smile – you might call it a grimace – two hundred bucks for three minutes of work ain’t bad! And then out of nowhere that creepy skinny woman leapt through the air again and I’m telling you she flew! I had never seen anyone jump so far! And again she finished ahead of me!


I stumbled to a stop in front of the decomposing wooden cabin, breathing hard. I stared at that woman as she stood there, not winded at all. Something wasn’t right here.


“That was quite a finish,” the words came out of mein short bursts. No one could jump like that. No one normal. I decided to leave before things got worse. “Think I’ll head home.”


I walked and then eased into a very slow jog. I was tired but luckily I wasn’t completely dead. To my dismay, she fell into step next to me.


“Ready for the next race?” she asked.


“Actually I don’t think I could race again.”


“Come on, one more.”


“Carrying more money in that bra?” I joked even though I believed by now she could pull out anything.


“How about a race for something money can’t buy?”


“I like racing as much as the next one woman,” I said as we both scrambled over a fallen log then resumed our pace. “But you seem to be getting some extra help to beat me.”


For the first time during the entire run, the woman laughed. It was a much deeper laugh than you’d expect from such a frail woman, and it made me cold.


“No tricks this time,” she said. “Just you, me, the trail.”


“What are you offering?”


“Life,” she said. “A long happy life.”


I had been expecting something like this. I wasn’t a total fool.


“And if I lose?” I asked.


“Your soul.”


We ran side by side for several moments. I couldn’t look at her.


“Do I have a choice?” I asked.


“Not really,” she laughed again, a deep,

smoky chuckle.


“How far this time?”


“One mile. To the end of the trail.”


“You swear to God, no tricks!”


She smiled. Then she shouted, “Go!”


 We picked up the pace and again I was breathing hard and but she made no sound. Soon enough my quads were burning, my back was tired, my mouth was dry. But I kept running. I couldn’t even think about the trail in front of me, I stumbled over roots and rocks and kept running.


Then my tired foot hit a big rock and I bit it hard, slamming into the ground. My face was full of gravel and dirt, my hands scratched and bleeding, the wind was knocked out of me.


“Looks like I might win again,” she called as she ran away.


“Like hell you will,” I whispered and pulled myself up. With each step I closed in on her, eating the ground alive with my strides. My lungs burned, my quads burned, I didn’t breathe – I devoured air. I could see her stringy white hair, her greenish skin gleaming in the dark woods, her boney calves and arms moving in front of me and then suddenly we were abreast and I was pulling away from her. We came to a hill that was so steep I couldn’t stand up straight to ascend so I used my hands and fingernails and toes and every muscle in my body to force myself up the hill ahead of her. I got to the top before her and saw her a few feet below me. I considered waiting to push her down but she looked up at that moment and I felt a chill down deep in my stomach. I turned and fled down the hill, sliding, heedless of the steep ground, I just let it all go, and gave it everything I had to beat her down the hill. And then in the distance ahead of me I saw the end of the trail, the bait shop and my car parked in the lot.


I couldn’t see that running woman out of the corner of my eye, but I could feel her close behind me, hear her footsteps. She said no tricks but I couldn’t trust her. I waited, dreading the moment where she’d leap again and claim my soul for all eternity. But I couldn’t give up. I gave my entire body over to the final push out of the woods, to put myself between her and the finish.


“I win!” I cried, and collapsed. On my hands and knees I looked around the lot for her, ready to defend my victory. But it was empty, I couldn’t see her anywhere.


“Where are you?” I shouted. But there was no one there. Then the little old man from the bait shop shambled out of his store. He stared at me and I stared at him.


“You alright?” he asked.


“Did you see a woman, a skinny, scary woman? Running with me? She was right there, next to me, the whole way! I beat her here – but she was right next to me! ” I waved my arm at the woods, but I still couldn’t move my legs.


“Hang on there, lady, you’re all right now,” he said. He helped me stand and I took mincing steps over to the wooden bench outside his shop. “There’s nobody else here. I saw you come out of them woods and you screamed like a banshee, but you was all alone. There wasn’t any other woman there with you. You were alone, lady. Alone.”

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.

Summer Reading for Kids

A few years ago I hosted a book club at the summer camp my boys attended. The kids in the club were in the Kindergarten through second grade age group. Each week we read two books and then worked on a literacy activity.

The books are a mix of fiction and non-fiction and the activities are accessible for both literate and pre-literate readers.

If you’re looking for fun summer reading for kids, here’s the list.

summer reading kids

Page-turners!

About Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan

Writer, Author, Social Media Coach, Reader, Runner, Triathlete, Wife, Mother.