Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #23

Hey, we made it to 2015! Woot woot!  I know its going to be a great year because New Year's day was the best first day of the year ever around here.  I got some work done on my novel rewrite in the morning, watched the Ducks annihilate the FSU Seminoles in the afternoon, and ended up having an impromptu party to boot.

But the party is over–the New Year's day party and the whole loooooong party of the holiday season. And it's time for prompts.  Oh wait, one more thing.  If you happen to live in Portland, come to my book signing next week.  It's at Rain or Shine coffeehouse on SE 60th and Division, across from Mt. Tabor and I'll be there with Tam Holland, who you might know from this post.  Another woot woot!  

Okay, prompts for real this time.  These are taken from my daily Tumblr blog, which I started on a whim last summer and has kept going all this time quite to my amazement.  Here's this week's selection:

#157 Was it the emotional turmoil of their parting? Or the overindulgence from the holidays?  Or sheer exhaustion?  Didn't matter because the end result was the same.  She took to her bed and could not be convinced to get up.

#158  The one thing she wanted more than anything was the one thing she couldn’t have.  What was it?

#159  And then she discovered the most amazing thing: that most often if she asked for what she wanted, she got it.

#160  Goodbye to all that.  What does your main character want to take with him into the new year?  What does he want to leave behind?

#161  A bright shiny new thing.  A bright shiny new year.  What will you (or your main character) do with it?

#162  And with the new year, came the cold that everyone had.  What does your character do when sick?  Carry on, gut it out, go to work, power through? Or take to her bed for days on end?

#163  Already it was old hat.  And she liked it that way.  The soothing habits of her routine enabled her to….

That's it!  That's all for now! Go write!

Oh–heehee, I forgot, one more thing–Go download my free prompt book here.  I will take you all the way through January in your writing.

 

Wednesday Within: The Virus of Obsessing About Stupid Things

Often sometimes I obsess about stupid things.  Like what top to buy, or if I should take a certain class, or how to totally and completely change my life.  This doesn't sound so bad, but I swear at times it clogs up my whole mind and my brain gets stuck thinking about this stupid stuff. Estock_commonswiki_278333_l

I'm convinced its a virus.

And when I think really dark thoughts about this virus, I'm convinced it was let loose by some evil overlord trying to subdue the human race by making them waste time on petty thoughts. (Should you doubt this theory, go read your Facebook news feed.  The stupidity of the things people post there is appalling.)

My theory is akin to one I've heard bandied about on women, which I actually believe: that we are sold a bill of goods about how we should look through a constant stream of adverstisements, features in magazines on beauty, and articles.  This keeps us relatively powerless because we waste time on crap like this rather than running the world, for instance.

Maybe this is a virus, too?

Or maybe none of it is.  Rather, it is just our poor tired brains running on overload all the time, what with the bombardment of information they handle.  But I sure wish I knew how to deal with it better, because while I'm obsessing about what sweater pattern to knit, another writer is turning that obsessing into a novel about knitters.  Or something.  

And I want to be that writer.

Ideas?  What do you do when your brain starts into overload obsesssion mode?  (Oh crap, please tell me I'm not the only one whose brain does this.)

Photo by Geejo.

The Magic Formula For Getting Tons of Writing Done

Okay, guys, Nanowrimo is on the horizon, swiftly approaching…just four more days!  I know many of you like to torture yourself with the task of writing a 50,000-word novel in a month.  And even those of you not participating this year (I'm sitting it out) still would like to know the magic formula for getting tons of writing done.

Amiright? Crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafb

I thought so.

I shall share it with you, and bear in mind there is good news and bad news that comes along with it. The good news being that a magic formula exists.  The bad news being that magic formulas don't work unless you use them.

So, here it is: 

Commitment + Consistency + Courage = Creativity

And guess what? Creativity equals words on the page and words on the page result in a finished book. So let's look at each element in turn.

1. Commitment.  For most people, this is likely the hardest part of the formula.  I know it is for me. You tell yourself you're going to get up at 5:30 and get those words written….and then you see something interesting on Facebook (Or CNN if you're a newshound like me). And instead of writing, you're browsing the internet.  If this happens once or twice, give yourself a break, maybe your brain needs a rest.  But if it is a regular occurrence, take a look at yourself.  Where's your integrity? Ouch.  I hate calling you (and myself) on the carpet.  But, sometimes it is necessary.  So, do yourself a big favor. If you say you're going to write, by God, go write.  Integrity feeds on integrity.  And procrastination feeds on procrastination. (As in, I've blown it now, why bother? This is the same sentiment that derails diets.  Don't ask me how I know this, just trust me, okay?)

2. Consistency.  Another difficult one.  If you're anything like me, you get a good momentum going and then rebel against it.  A little rebellion is okay–it allows your ego to thing its in charge.  But only a little! Because consistently showing up at the page, day after day after day is how you get tons of writing done.  I knew a writer who scheduled writing days once a month.  Didn't work, because in the vast distance between writing dates he lost the threads of his project and it took hours to get caught up again.  Last I heard, he wasn't writing any more.  Don't be him!  Write as often as you can!

3. Courage.  You need it.  Period.  You need it for when you dredge up those old dormant emotions in order to inject realism into your characters.  And you need it for when your kids want your attention and you just need to finish a paragraph.  Or for when your spouse tells you he misses you sitting next to him on the couch at night, watching TV.  Or for when your mother makes a snide remark about how much time you're spending on that dumb-novel-that's-not-going-anywhere.  You need it to persevere, to commit and be consistent.

Put those three elements together and you get:

Creativity.  The mad delight of putting words on the page.  The feeling that all is right with the world.  The joy of being so in the moment that you don't even realize time has passed.  The satisfaction of meeting your word count.  Yeah, some days it is hard to convince yourself to get to the page, but oh my goodness, it is worth it!

So dive in!  The words and sentences don't have to be perfect, they just have to be.  Get them out of you and onto the computer, or typewriter, or spiral or whatever you write in.

(By the way, this magic formula is taken from a little Ebook I wrote called Set the Words Free, which I will be releasing soon.) 

Do you have a magic formula for getting your writing done?  Please share in the comments!

I snitched the image from the Nanowrimo website.  I don't think they'll mind too much.

Writing Mindset: Art or Business?

Keyboard_controls_writing_238875_lHere's how an author's career used to look: said author would get her first book accepted by a big New York publisher, and said publisher would tell said author not to worry about a thing, marketing-wise.   The happy author would be given a schedule for a tour and appearances and told to focus on what she does best–writing the next book.

Here's how an author's career looks now: said author's book may or may not be published by a big New York publisher.  More likely, his book was put out by a small press, or maybe he published it himself.   And said author knows that his publishers will do little, if anything, to market her work. He'll be calling bookstores, arranging guest posts, tracking down book reviewers himself.  Writing the next book?  That's something that will have to wait.

My first example is, clearly, art.

The second, business.

Two aspects of a writing career that exist side by side.  And more and more these days, we hear how authors need to master both. Gone are the days when we writers could lavish all our time on the first aspect.   This tends to upset us.  We mutter dark invectives about having to focus on the business side of our careers.  We begrudge time spent away from our writing.  

And yeah, I get it.  Every once in awhile I like to fantasize about having nothing to do but work on my novels.  And then I realize I'd hate that.  I like being on social media. (At least most sites.  You can take Facebook and shove it as far as I'm concerned.) I love working with my clients. (Please don't tell them, but I learn as much from them as they learn from me.)  I don't love cold-calling bookstores or seeking out reviewers, but hey, if it keeps me from working a real job, I'll deal.

And that's just it.  In this brave new world of publishing that shifts daily, we really do have to master both the art and business sides of writing.  I wish I had better news for you, but there it is.  I may not have the news you want to hear, but I do have suggestions for how to make it as painless as possible. Here goes:

1. Always put your writing first.  It's the basis of everything and if you're not doing it, you ultimately will not have a career because you won't have anything to market.  So do the work, then worry about putting it out in the world.  I mean this in a couple of ways:

a. Write your book before you worry about contacting an agent.

b. Put your writing before your marketing efforts on a daily basis. (For me, this means writing first thing in the morning.  Then I feel good about what I've accomplished all day long and that gives me energy to do the crap I hate.)

2. Realize that business is not a dirty word.  When we whisper the "b" word as if it were tainted, we do ourselves and our work a disservice.  Remember, people exist in the world who actually think business–and the dreaded "m" word (marketing)–are fun. You and I may not fall into that category, but realize that business can be every bit as creative as putting words together on the page.

3. Know that the situation is not going to change soon.  Don't waste your energy wishing you didn't have to master social media, or figuring out techie tools, or mastering marketing.  Don't spend time longing for the old days, described above.  Because they aren't coming back.  As I used to tell my kids when they complained about doing something, "With all the energy you've wasted kvetching about it, you could have been done by now."

4.  Get help.  Everyone can benefit from coaching, whether its for your writing or your marketing efforts.  If you're struggling, get help!  There are tons of wonderful teachers out there who can help you master the skills you don't yet have.

5. Do it with everything you've got.  You throw yourself at the page every day, right?  You express your deepest feelings and fears and truths, right?  Use the same mindset for the business side of things. Throw yourself at it, and give it everything you've got.  Approach it with the reverence you give your writing and you will do just fine.  More than that, you'll do great.

How do you reconcile the business and art side of your career?

(By the way, I have an email conversation with J.D. Frost to thank for the topic of this article. Thanks, J.D.!)

How to Keep Writing When the World is Falling Apart

It's been a tough summer, news-wise.  I'm not going to name everything that's happened, because you're as aware of it as I am–likely over-aware.  I've managed to keep my distance from most news stories.  Not that I'm not empathetic, I am.  But if I got worked up about every horrible news story I saw, I'd be a sniveling mess. Fountain_pencil_writing_238392_l

A couple days ago, though, I realized how much the combined weight of these horror stories had begun to affect me.  I watched this story about members of the Iraqi air force bringing relief supplies to Yazidis, and found myself unable to stop crying as I watched desperate family members throwing their children and elderly onto the helicopter.

I closed the page and sat staring at the computer.  Suddenly, the novel I've been obsessing over didn't seem so important.  The blog post I'd planned on writing didn't resonate much, either.  Because how could I focus on my petty little entertainments when people all over the world are suffering and dying?

That might sound overly dramatic, but I do think its s legitimate question: what is the role of the writer in times of strife?  

I believe one answer to that question is this: it is our job to bear witness.  Sometimes we may not know exactly how to do this, but let me tell you a little story.  In the days after September 11, I walked about in a haze, like everyone in this country.  I couldn't write then, couldn't focus on much of anything. What I did do was pick up my knitting, my favorite craft that I'd been out of touch with forever. Somehow holding yarn and needles was comforting.  The only thing, besides wine, that did the job. 

The knitting was all well and good but my lack of contribution to the world, besides attending a candlelight vigil, rankled me.  My initial training was in journalism, and that part of me still desired to bear witness in some way.  Finally, I picked up my pen and scribbled a few notes about knitting, how it made me feel connected to other women in my lineage, and how it was my response to 911.  A few months later, that essay was published in Interweave Knits, my first national magazine piece.

I had borne witness, and that made me feel like I was doing what I was supposed to do.

But odds are good that neither you nor I are going to be in Iraq to witness the current atrocities agains the Yazidis. Or in Gaza, or the Ukraine, or any number of other places that are full of strife.  So what's a writer to do?

Write.

Write because the world needs your story.

Write because you have something to say.

Write because its the only thing you can do.

Write because you think you can't.

Write.

Write because you are a chronicler.

Write because writing is what you do.

Write because so many others can't write.

Write because you are a writer.

And it's all you can do.

What do you think? How do you keep writing when the world is falling apart?

Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #2

Here is my weekly round-up of prompts from my daily Tumblr blog.

For inventive ways to use writing prompts, click here.

Now go write tons with them.

#11  A garden is hard to leave.

#12 The worst vacation you've ever had.

#13 The offer that was so good it couldn’t be refused, and the terrible things that happened because it was accepted.

#14 In a country just short of regret,

In the state of bittersweet oranges,

In a city of lonely blue skies.

#15 Out walking in the crepuscular evening, that time of day when lights start coming on in houses and you can see into them. And then, in that one house, something amazing.  What do you see?

#16 You’re in the middle of the worst party you’ve ever attended, but you’ve not been there long enough to leave without being rude.   Look around. Who’s there?  What’s going on? Why is the party so awful? 

#17  "Beware of advice—even this."  Carl Sandburg

Let’s ignore Carl, shall we? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?  What’s the worst?

Here's the link to the round-up from last week.

If you write something interesting or fun to one of these prompts, come back and share a snipped if you like!  Happy writing! 

 

 

What to do When Your Writing Stalls

English_door_blue_223130_lYou're sitting at your desk, staring at your computer.  Maybe the chapter of your current project is up on the screen.   Perhaps you don't have the freaking slightest of clues what to write next. 

Your brain is empty.  It's like there's a brick wall between it and what comes next.  You simply can't figure it out.  Your writing is stalled.  We won't go so far as to call it blocked, as in writer's block, because that term is big and scary and implies people burying their heads and not writing for years. 

But, you are stuck.

And you don't know how to get yourself unstuck.  

However, I do.

Because, over my many years of writing, I have figured out a thing or two about getting stuck. Namely, that there's always a reason.

Always.

So all  you have to do is figure out the reason, and voila, you will be writing again!  

I know.  It's not always that easy.  What follows are some suggestions for discerning why your writing progress is stalled.  

1.  Look at location.   This is the first thing to check.  Is the scene set in the right place? Sometimes moving a scene makes all the difference and it is an easy, quick fix, which is why I say to look at it first. Can you move the scene outside and make it more active? Does it need to be in the bedroom rather than the kitchen, or vice-versa?  You'd be surprised at how much insight looking at setting can bring when you're stalled.

2.  Is the scene necessary?  This week, I was working with a client who'd gotten stalled.  We looked at the beginning of her next chapter with an eye toward moving the location (see #1) and realized that there was no reason for the scene.  Everything that came out in the first part could be fed in later in flashbacky dribs and drabs or through dialogue.  Sometimes you are blocked because you're trying to make something work that simply doesn't need to be there.

3.  Do you know everything you need to know about the plot?  I got stalled on my WIP novel at the start of the summer.  I'm a believer in having lots of irons in the fire, so I moved over to working on some shorter pieces and continued to ponder.  And as I pondered, things started popping.  A new character introduced herself, as did a crucial plot element in the form of a rolling pin.  (It makes sense in context, truly.)  My main character confided a deeply-held desire that changed everything. And I realized I had needed to take a break in order for this information to come through.  I likely wouldn't have thought of any of it without the mental bandwidth stopping working on it gave me. This might be the case with you, as well.  

4.  What about your characters?  I write somewhat on a "need to know" basis.  I'm a big believer in planning, but I abhor over-planning.  So I start out writing character dossiers, figuring out what I need to know about my characters to get rolling.  And then, as I write, I'll realize I'm in a place where I need to learn more about a character and I go back to my dossier or character backstory and fill more in.  So maybe you need to get to know your people better if you're stuck.   Use prompts and freewriting to uncover their secrets.

5.  Do you need to do more research?  Maybe you don't know enough about something important to the novel.  Do you need to study rocket science? Practice tying five different kinds of knots? Learn more about the genre you're writing in?  Find out what kind of grass grows in Louisiana? The smallest of things can trip up a writing session.  Learn what you need to know and it will enhance the novel.

A couple bonus pieces of advice:

6.  Trust the story.  You're stalled for a reason, and the story knows what.  It's also trying to tell you, if you'll but listen.  Look at all the elements and see which one wants changing.  Trust your story. Which leads me to the reminder that:

7.  What you resist, persists.  So if your writing stalls, be Zen.  Go with the flow.  Move over to working on something else.  Let thoughts percolate.  Sometimes you just can't rush the creative process.

What's your favorite way to get unstuck? 

Photo by val-j.

Creation and Implementation: Two Distinct Stages of the Process

Sometimes you gotta spend most of your time writing, and some times you gotta spend most of your time doing all the stuff that surrounds it.  This is something all creatives (do we like calling us that? I can't decide) struggle with at times.  And I believe if you can master the art of separating the two, you'll have a lot more success.   Desi-question-mark-817928-l

Or at least be happier.

I'm talking about the acts of creation and implementation.  

They are two distinct stages of the creative process, and need to be treated as such.  And yet, we–myself included–tend to muck them up and mix them up and try to do them at the same time and that just doesn't work.

Creation.  I think of creation as anything related to the actual act of putting words on the page, like:

  • Writing
  • Writing exercises
  • Editing
  • Journaling
  • Brainstorming

Implementation is anything related to the act of getting your work out in the world, such as:

  • Researching publication
  • Querying agents or editors
  • Proof-reading
  • Formatting a manuscript for publication
  • Promotion and author platform

You may not even realize you are mixing up the two.  You might find yourself spending long hours on researching potential agents before your novel is completed, for instance, or learning everything there is to know about self-publishing before you've written a single word.  Or you might find yourself adding words to a short story even after you've decreed it finished and are in the process of sending it out.

The thing is, you need to make time for each aspect. At different stages, one will take precedence over the other.  When you've polished your novel, for instance, and are ready for it to take the world by storm, you'll either begin that agent search or start the self-publishing process, and you'll likely spend more time doing this than actual writing.  Or when first you begin a blog, you'll spend a lot of time setting it up and not quite so much writing blog posts.

Ultimately, however, if you're not spending most of your time in creation, then you're not going to have anything worth implementing.  I know this is obvious, but in our crazy social media, information-obsessed world, its easy to convince yourself that its more important to write a Facebook post than get a few more hundred words ranked up on the novel.

So here's my simple rule:

Creation, first, implementation second.

If you live by it, you'll be a happy creative.

Discussion?  How do you get sidelined in the creation versus implementation teeter-totter? 

 

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. 

Just Write It

As you all know, I teach writing, and I coach writers and I write about writing on this here blog.

There's seven years worth of posts here–over a thousand of them last time I looked–and they all have something to do with writing.  In truth, I don't write a whole lot about the actual mechanics of writing. What I tend to focus on the most is helping people get the writing done. 

And here's a true confession:

The advice I offer to my clients, my students and my readers is one and the same:

Just write it.      Shadow-nike-3912603-h

If only it were that easy, right?

Why is it so damn hard to sit down and just write it?  

If I had the answer to that, I'd be a millionaire many times over.

There's a million reasons why we don't write.

But bear in mind, all you really have to do to be a writer is get yourself to the page, and write one word.  Then another.  And another.

Sometimes the simplest reminders are what propel me back to my work again.

What helps you get back to the page?

Photo by ktylerconk.