Inventive Writing Post Round-up #14

Here is my weekly collection of prompts from my Tumblr blog.  You can also always find prompts here.

#96 Identify three turning points in your character’s life (or yours).  Look for “road not taken” times.  How did these experiences affect the person your character (or you) are today?

#97  "There are three things that scare me," she said.  "Spiders, clowns, and jack-o-lanterns."

"Why?" he asked.

"Because when I was a little girl…….."

#98  "Pie or cake, which do you prefer?" Mandy asked the dinner table.

"Pie!"

"Cake!"

One by one they went around the table and told which they preferred and why.  The best story was the one told about the time that….

#99 Write about the most recent time your character (or you) saw his mother. Doesn’t matter if it was years ago, or yesterday.  What does she look like? How do you feel about her? What happened during this visit?

#100 Never say never, because as soon as you do, the universe will slap you in the face.  What has your character said she would never do that she later ended up doing?

#101  Write about your best Halloween and your worst Halloween.  Do this for yourself—and your main character.

#102  All Soul’s Day.  Day of the Dead.  A day to honor one’s ancestors.  Who is the most influential of your ancestor?  The most colorful?  The most scandalous? The most fun?  The most famous?  The richest? The poorest? The happiest?

Write a little bit about each one and then select an ancestor to write more about.

 How is your writing going?

Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #13

Another collection of prompts from my Tumblr blog.

#89 "I feel so overwhelmed," she said.

"Why?"

"You really want to hear?"

He nodded.

"Okay.  Here goes.  It’s because….."

#90 What’s up with that?

#91 It snowed.  Then it snowed harder.  It snowed so hard that a group of them, five in all, were stuck inside for a week.

They were old friends from college, reunited after many years, two couples and one recent widower.

What happened over the course of the week?

#92 Yoga made her feel better, no doubt about it.  So did meditation, prayer, running, and eating lots of vegetables.  But she never did any of those things.  Why, she asked herself.  And one day she figured it out.  It was because…..

#93 There were a lot of things he would put up with in the world.  Rudeness, lateness and laziness for starters.  But the one thing he could not abide was incompetence.  So when she  _______________, he _____________.

#94 Her phone dinged, indicating a text had come in and she shuddered. Sometimes she thought if she heard that sound one more time, she’d throw her phone across the room.  She turned the sound off.  But she could still sense the vibration.  And then she had a better idea what to do with the phone.  She took it and …..

#95 "I see you got yourself another one," he said.

"Yes, I like me a new admirer," she said. 

He shook his head.  ”I don’t know how you do it.”

Is your main character admired or an admirer?  

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What have you been writing this week?

Book Review: The Novel Writer’s Blueprint

Paperbackbookstanding-226x300I've got a new book for all you fledgling novel writers out there.  

It is called The Novel Writer's Blueprint: Start Writing Your Novel Today, by Kevin T. Johns.  I discovered the book when Kevin emailed me a wonderful query asking if I'd be interested in reviewing it. Since I'd just published a rant post about how often I got approached by people with terrible queries, I leapt at the chance.  

Kevin sent me the book, I read it, and now I'm reviewing it.

I like this book quite a bit.  It lays out in five steps the system that Kevin believes will allow you to write your novel.  (The genesis of the five-step system was Kevin's own struggle to write his first novel.  It took him eight years–and he swore he would not let that happen again.  Can you relate?)

The five steps are as follows:

1. Genre Selection–Learn to harness the power of genre.

2. Story Structure–Select a story structure already proven to work with readers.

3. Puzzle Work--Piece together your scenes into an indispensable beat-sheet.

4. Preparatory Regimen–Sharpen your writing skills.

5. Running the Marathon–Implement protocols to stay on track and beat the biggest challenges.

Not mentioned in this rundown is his introductory chapter, which has a lot of good information in it as well.

My favorite chapters were #2 and #4.  I love #2 on story structure, because I'm a story geek, and Kevin has a film background so he's well versed in various structures and he presents them clearly.  Chapter #4 covers a good collection of tips for writing, such as timed writing, mind mapping and brainstorming.  Kevin also mentions a technique called "Writing Down the Page" which it turns out I do all the time, but didn't have a name for.  It's when you write a sketchy outline of your chapter so you have the general flow down.

This book is perfect for the first-time novelist who wants a picture of the road ahead before launching onto the journey.  And seasoned novelists will find a few tips of use as well.  Check it out, guys.

Do you have a favorite book on novel writing?  Please share! 

Loving Your Writing Up

Heart_hand_valentine_269058_lI was in a place last week where there was much talk of getting loved up.  Which means, in case you hadn't guessed, beaming love onto a person so that they feel wonderful, amazing and fantastic.  

And this got me thinking about loving up our writing.  

Because much of the time we don't.  Instead we critique it, let it be rejected, revise it, rewrite it, delete it, don't finish it, leave it in a drawer (metaphorical or otherwise).

And yes, we do need to be discerning about our writing.  All of the above steps are necessary (except for leaving it in a drawer).  But shouldn't we be giving our writing a bit of love, too?

Yeah, I know–you're afraid its egotistical to do that.  But I'm not talking about the kind of puffed-up, fake love that the ego gives.  I'm talking about just loving our writing.

Loving (and honoring) the impulse that makes us rise early or stay up late to throw words at the page.

Loving the times the words are coming so fast that we can barely get them onto the computer.

Loving the times we gaze out the window because the words won't come.

Loving the times in between those two poles (which is what writing most often is for me).

Loving the finished product, be it short story, poem, novel, article or memoir.  

Loving it all.

Because, this:

You're at a cocktail party and someone asks you what you do.  You say, "I'm a writer."  The person's eyes light up and they say, "Oh really?  What do you write?  Have I read anything of yours?"  

Do you think people at cocktail parties get that excited when they are told most other occupations? No, they do not.  People get excited to meet writers because writing is hard.  And sometimes easy.  And wonderful.  And an amazing way to spend your time.  People get excited to meet writers because what we do is special.

Don't ever forget that.

And now go love your writing up.

You could also leave a comment and tell what you're working on as a way of loving it up!

Photo by brokenarts. 

How I Wrote (Almost) 10K Words Yesterday

I finally did it.

I cleared away appointments (except for one) and committed to participating in Milli Thornton's 10K writing day.  (Regular readers will remember the guest post Milli recently wrote for me.)

I've wanted to do this forever but other commitments kept getting in the way.  Until yesterday.  

And so, I rose at my usual time of 5:30 (I know, it's crazy to get up that early–but it's what time I naturally wake up) and started writing.  

By 8:30, I had amassed 3,000 words.  I took a break to shower and read the paper and drink some more coffee.

Back at it by 9:30–and by noon I was up to 6,000.  I'd finished a novella I've been working on and was ready for lunch.  Not just ready–famished beyond words.  Writing that much takes a lot of mental energy.

I have to admit, this is where my energy started flagging.  6,000 words and completing a project seemed like a good day's work to me.  And later when I thought back over the day, I realized that in a perfect world, if I were devoting every day all day to fiction writing, 3,000-5,000 words a day would be a great goal for me.

But I really wanted to see how far I could get, so back to the computer I went.  I took a break for a client appointment mid-afternoon and then continued writing, finishing up by about 5, when I needed to feed the cats, cook dinner, and get ready for an evening meeting.

My final word count? 9, 247 words.  

Yeah, I know, I was floored too.

And my head was about ready to explode as well.  I have a bit of a headache today and I suspect it's from staring at the screen so much yesterday.

Now, bear in mind–these are rough draft words, people.  Those 9K + words were pure glumping onto the page and will need rewriting and editing and polishing and all that stuff we do before we send our work out into the world.

But–I have over 9,000 more words on the page than I did on Tuesday.  And that makes me happy.

By the way–Milli is hosting another 10K day this Saturday.  I found the support of the blog and the others participating invaluable–and a lot of fun.  (I also learned about Bounty bars, which I am now desperate to try.)  I can't participate this Saturday, but I sure plan to set aside time to do another 10K day next month.  

What's the most words you've ever written in a day?  Does the idea of writing 10K words in a day sound like fun or make you want to run for your life?  Please share.

Creating Characters: Compassion and Conflict

I was quite taken with this post from Sandra Pawula on compassion when I read it last weekend. (I'm actually quite often taken with admiration for Sandra's posts.  If you haven't discovered her blog, go read it now.) Paper-pink-texture-64137-l

In the post, Sandra writes about how compassion is linked to boundless, deep love and then, and this is what really blew me away,  she defines love. "This is one truth I have come to know with certainty: When you love completely from the depth of your heart, your wish for another person’s happiness becomes greater than your own perceived needs, wants, and desires."

So, because anything I read or think about eventually gets connected to my writing, I started to think about how we authors feel deep compassion for our characters.  We fall in love with them, and want the best for them.  We want them to be happy.

But, then we have the other C word.  You know what I'm going to say: conflict.

The basis of all story is conflict (or tension, if you prefer).  In order to create a story, be it short story, memoir, or novel, there must be conflict.  And lots of it.  The more the better.

But we love our characters!  How can we show them the compassion they deserve (and in my mind, need if we're going to write them) and still create the conflict the story requires?

There's actually conflict in that there dilemma, which is a bit of a starting point.  And, I think for me it helps to remind myself that conflict is the crucible through which we deepen ourselves, our lives, and our capacity to love.  And if it's true for humans, it's true for the human characters about which we write.

In order to write multi-dimensional characters (and I just finished a novel with one-dimensional characters that ultimately disappointed me) we, their creators, must approach them with equal thought given to both conflict and compassion.

As always, I'm feeling my way through this topic as I write it, and the really juicy development of it will happen in the comments.  So, please chime in!  Do you feel compassion for your characters?  How do you bring yourself to torture them with conflict?

Photo by MeHere.

5 Ways to End Worrying and Write (Or Create)

Worrying is not good for your writing or your creativity.  Or anything else, really.  How can you write the next great American novel when you are obsessing about how to pay the bills?  Or if your marriage is going to survive?  Or if your teenager is going to make it through high school without getting kicked out?

You can't.

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Because when your brain is full of worries and obsessions, there's not a lot of room for creative thoughts or ideas.  Or fictional characters who come to life on the page.  Or lyrical descriptions of locations. 

Even little, garden-variety worries can derail a work session.  For instance, worrying about what to cook for dinner can distract you from working on a book chapter.  Pondering paying bills might derail your work on your memoir  for several days.  And so on.

What to do? How to prevent worrying from stopping your writing?  Try some of the following ideas:

1. Journal.  For writers, writing is often the cure.  If you are feeling so angsty and anxious that you can't work, grab your journal and write about it.  Even if you only do five or ten minutes it can help.  In truth, often five or ten minutes of journaling is all it takes to turn yourself around.  Write specifically about the worry.

2. Meditate or Pray.  I'm better at prayer than meditation, I'll be honest.  And when I speak of prayer, I mean it in the broadest of terms–pray to God, to the universe, to Buddha, to the goddess, to your higher self, to your boyfriend, or your ancestors.  It doesn't matter.  What matters is asking for help.  That is what makes a difference.  You can easily do this in meditation, too.  Just ask for whatever you need help with, such as ending worrying, and begin a meditation session.

3.  Active Imagination.  One of my favorite techniques, this can be like prayer on paper.  Choose who you are going to ask for help from, (any of the above will do nicely), and then write your question, with dialogue tags.  So,

Charlotte: I need help

God: What can I do for you?

And so on.  The other thing you can do that is really cool is to embody your problem and talk to it.  Give worry a personality and talk to it, ask it what it needs to be quiet and let  you work.

4.  Affirmation or Affirmative Prayer.  If you tend to worry and obsess over the same old things, identify them and write an affirmation about the positive incarnation of it.  Example:  I, Charlotte, am so happy and grateful that I now have a published novel, rather than damn it, why haven't I heard from that agent yet?  This really helps to turn obsessive and negative thoughts around.  The trick is to have identified the negative thought ahead of time and have the affirmation ready to go to counter it.

5.  Find Comfort.  You're worrying for a reason, no doubt, because all of us have problems that distract us.  Sometimes what you need to do is give yourself a little love.  Figuring out what the root cause of the worry is and do something about it helps.  But so does uncovering the emotion that is driving your obsession and tending to it.  Maybe you'll find comfort in taking a walk, or sitting by a fire for a bit.  Or petting your cat, or reading.  Taking a few minutes to ease your worries can do wonders for your attitude.

So now, if  you figured out ways to end worrying and focus on your writing, how much more could you get done?

 Photo by Shazbot, from Flickr.

Writer’s Loft Orientation Next Weekend

Yesterday I cleverly wrote a post on my new Centro phone and sent it to be published on Typepad from my backyard.  I know this is old news for those of you who have had Blackberries and Iphones for ever, but it is a major step forward for me.  I'm on the road to LA and Nashville a lot, and now, should I find myself without and internet connection, or stuck in an airport, I can check email, work on documents and even write a blog post. 

Another way to feed my internet addiction, just what I've needed.

I've been working on figuring out this phone because I'm heading off to Nashville on Tuesday.  Next weekend is the two-day orientation for the Writer's Loft, the program I co-direct with Terry Price.

The Writer's Loft is a certificate writing program that features one-on-one writing instruction that is based at Middle Tennessee State University.   Students write original work and critical essays based on their reading, and their mentors critique this work in a structured, supportive atmosphere.  You can read a lot more about it on my page about the program here.

This fall, we're doing something a little different and that is opening up the Friday portion of the orientation to non-students for the low cost of $50.  That morning, novelist Darnell Arnoult will be lecturing on, "Writing Out of Chaos, Or, How To Write a Better Story Than You Know," and in the afternoon poet Bill Brown will be presenting a workshop called, "Finding Your Pivotal Moments, Real and Imagined." 

Anyone who lives in the Nashville area and is interested in writing ought to seriously consider checking it out.  You can register directly on the website and read all about the program there, too.

I'm hoping to bring you live reports from the scene, as they say, or at least check in after the events of the day are over to bring you nuggets of writing information.  Stay tuned.