I’m taking a 4-week Fiction Lab with Darnell Arnoult, that started right on the heels of Hindman finishing. I got home from Hindman at about 8:30 on Saturday, 24 July, and Darnell’s Fiction Lab started at 10 a.m. that morning.

So, what is a Fiction Lab? It’s a writing experiment in fiction. We learn various techniques such as “Lists of 100,” “the 500-1000 word sentence” and we apply those to our own writing, to get the juices flowing quickly, to get our brains moving faster than our fingers. We also set daily appointments with ourselves to write for at least 15 minutes. It sounds crazy, I know, but I have found that I am much more likely to follow-through with writing daily if I approach it as an appointment and as a 15-minute appointment. I almost always write longer than 15 minutes when I sit down to write, but that 15-minute appointment seems less stressful than saying that I’m going to write for 1-2 hours. Darnell keeps us accountable in this way, but creates a sense of freedom that has really helped me keep my focus.

I started out with my manuscript for The Chrissy Chronicles for this class, but coming off the Hindman High, and being told by Adriana Trigiani in her Hindman Keynote Address that we should be writing our passion, I realized that I needed to switch stories. So I have been working with characters from a short story used in my first book, “Four Good Reasons.” This was also the first manuscript that I submitted to get into Hindman, eleven years ago, for Short Story with Crystal Wilkinson, who told me back then that it was bigger than a short story when I talked with her about it.

In the three weeks that I’ve been working on it in Darnell’s class, several things about it have changed. I have several additional scenes. Thanks to a prompt from Jim Minick at the Virginia Highlands Community College Writing Day, which I attended online on 31 July, I have a whole new character, a character who is pivotal to the story, who didn’t even exist before this class. Thanks to a short story contest I was working on for the Chautauqua Festival Writing Contests the last week of July, I also have an answer to how an earlier event took place in the tale, the whole scene having played out for me while I was writing for the contest one evening. And thanks to Darnell, I find myself writing Lists of 100 everywhere in my spare time — a List of 100 Annoying Things About People materialized at the beach, as did a List of 100 Things at the Beach. The second list won’t help me much, if at all, with the project for Darnell’s class, but it’s a great demonstration of how there are things to observe no matter where we are, no matter what we’re doing. I was also able to add a couple of partial scenes from Wendy Dinwiddie’s “Creating Character Out of Chaos” class this weekend online. Opportunities abound at every turn, every day, once you’re working on the right project and have sufficient tools to do your work!

So I highly recommend working with Darnell Arnoult if you ever get a chance. She breaks things down in such a way that they not only seem possible, but they seem absolutely non-negotiable! I CAN write this book. I’m working on it in some way every day. I just have to continue working