8 Ways to Blow Up Your Writing Brain by Journaling (+ Tips)

I'm an off-and-on journaler.  I've had periods in my life–long stretches, like ten years–when I got up every day and wrote in a journal first thing.  (And to prove it, I've got three huge tubs of them.) I've also had journaling droughts, where I don't actively write in a diary. Copy_reflexion_author_260936_l

Article after article suggests that journaling is good for you in a number of ways, including your mental health. Studies show that journaling is linked to reducing stress, helping to deal with traumatic events, and  increasing your physical health (it boosts your immune system and lowers blood pressure). It has even been shown to help in sports performance and reduce employee absenteeism.  (You can read more about these studies here.)  And that is all well and good–really good, actually–but the bottom line for me is whether or not journaling helps me with my writing.

And  I'm here to tell you that the times when I am writing in my journal regularly are much more productive and creative for me than the times when I am not.  I actually thing journaling is good for everybody from writers to visual artists to musicians to business people.  Journaling helps you sort things out, process life, and come up with ideas.  And I don't care what you do in the world, those are valuable processes for everyone .  For writers, one of the biggest benefits I see is that it helps us see life as story, and that stories abound in life.

But sometimes, I will admit, I open my journal and my pen hovers over the page and I can't think of anything to write.  So over the last few months I've been keeping track of the various ways I use my journal and I now present them to you.  I've also included some handy journaling tips at the end of this post.

So you can blow up your writing brain (I mean this in the best of ways) and your creativity.

Account of day to day life.  This is probably the most traditional kind of journaling, the kind of activity we used to call writing in a diary.  It can be a great starting point for a journal entry (see below).  Austin Kleon calls it keeping a logbook, and makes a case for doing it regularly. It is probably the kind of journaling I do least, but when I do do it, I love looking back on the accounts of my days..

Idea incubator.  One of the best reasons to keep a journal as a writer.   I think every writer should have some kind of notebook where you record ideas, things they've seen, books to read, etc., even if you don't actively write journal entries.  (You might like the bullet journal idea below for this.)  For a fantastic post on using the writer's notebook, check out this post.  I love it so much I'm going to print it out and put it in my bullet journal.

To sort things out.  This is the kind of journaling the mental health professionals want you to do, and with good reason–because it works.  Process your crap on the page and deal with it, instead of waiting for it to come out at an inopportune moment.  (Talkin' to myself here, too.)

As a vessel for the spiritual.  Those of us on a spiritual path know that writing in a journal can help you figure out your relationship with the divine, talk to God, converse with angels or spirits–whatever you desire.  I would go so far as to suggest that journaling can become a form or meditation or prayer.  I know it often is for me.  My favorite writer for this is Janet Connor.

As a bullet journal.  This is how I organize myself, and until I found this system I was constantly searching for the best way to keep my life together on paper.  (No, I do not use a digital system.  I hate phone and computer calendars.)  But the bullet journal is much more than just an organizer or planner–it can hold all your thoughts and ideas.  Mine has become a hybrid which I use for my journaling entries as well.  If you are interested in this system start with the original link, and then google "bullet journal."  You'll find a ton of helpful post and articles about it, complete with clever hacks.  I find mine works best, though, if I keep it as simple as possible.

Morning pages.  Julia Cameron popularized this version of journaling in her book, The Artist's Way, and it is a perennial favorite because it works.  The process is simple–you get up and you write three pages without thinking.  That's it.  You don't have to craft beautiful sentences or write about how your boyfriend stood you up.  Just write and see what comes up.  Not only is it helpful to get your ya-yas out, over time, certain themes will emerge that may help you see your life more clearly.

A space for free writing.  Sometimes you don't know what to write but you know you want to write.  Your journal is the perfect place for this.  Grab yourself a prompt and have at it.  Set a timer and write for 20 minutes without lifting the pen from the page.  Miraculous things will emerge.

A place to write about your current WIP.  I spend a lot of time writing about my current novel.  If I get lost in the plot, I write about where I might go.  I write about characters and their back story.  I write about the homes they live in and the places they work.  Writing in a journal is a godsend for helping you figure out your story.  You may want to keep a separate notebook for this, so you can easily access the information when you need it.

Those are just some of the ways I use my journals, and there are a ton more that I don't have room for–like making lists or mind mapping.  You'll come up with your own favorites.


Start where you are.  I had a friend who found journaling a great help when she went through cancer, but then she stopped.  She wanted to get started again, but felt she had to commit to the page everything that had happened since she had last written.  Nope.  Just start where you are, with whatever you want to write about.

Index!  This sounds tedious and overly organized, but it is a lifesaver.  It is a key part of the bullet journal and I've started using it for my all my journals.   Label a page at the front or back of the book as an index, then number your pages and when you write something you want to keep track of, note it.  Oh, and I recently found the Leuchtturm journals, which not only have page numbers already printed on them, but also a pen strap and a gorgeous rainbow of colors! I can't wait to order one.

Keep at it.  As with everything we do, at first it can seem awkward and useless.  But the more you write in a journal, the more you'll see the various benefits and keep at it.

Maintain a list of prompts.  It's really helpful to have a page in your journal where you write down prompts and then if you don't know what to write about, there you are.  Feel free to use mine–there's a ton of them here.

If you really get stuck, go back to day before and write what happened. It's as good a starting point as any!

Do you keep a journal?  What's your favorite technique for journal writing?  Please comment!


Are You An Idea Generating Machine?

Idea-funny-electricity-124522-lAre you an idea generating machine? Ha! Me either.  But if you're a writer, you better be.  I don't think I am by nature.  But I have trained myself to be better at it–and you can too.

Generating ideas is on my mind because  I'm writing synopses for my next two books.  (And by the way, yes I did deliver the rewrite on Friday!) I have the basic idea for each of them, but there's a lot to figure out in a novel.

(Let me pause right here and admit that I'm a plotter, not a pantser.  I like to have at least a loose idea of where the story is going.  This is serving me in good stead now that I'm writing synopses.)

But this whole thing of figuring out the plot of the novel–to say nothing of the characters and setting–can be a bit overwhelming.  Contrary to the belief of non-writers, one does not just sit down and write out a plot that will work.  

So what does one do?  I have learned to come at it from a lot of different angles.  I have to, because that's how ideas form for me.  So maybe some of these angles will be helpful for you.

1.  Write about it. I know. Duh. But I think sometimes we tend to sit at our desks and stare at the monitor–or out the window, hoping the words will form themselves.  Ha!  A nice free writing session can be infinitely helpful in figuring stuff out.  You can use prompts or just plunge in and write.

2.  Make lists.  this has been very helpful to me.  Some current examples: "What I know about _____ novel."  "What I don't know about ________ novel."  Do the same thing for characters, and setting.  Once, long ago, I wrote a mystery (not a great idea, as I don't generally read a lot of mysteries).  One of my lists was "Burning Questions to Answer."  And there's always the tried and true, "What if?"

3.  Walk.  I've been walking around the house lately.  I'm healing my hips from some issues and if I go for too long outside, I get pain.  So I'm getting my steps in by walking in short spurts around the house.  And this is very helpful for ideas.  The more I pace, the more ideas I get.  Makes the idea of getting up off my butt much more palatable.

4.  Take a shower.  The idea for my novel The Bonne Chance Bakery came to me, nearly fully formed, in the shower.  And I have smaller ideas all the time when standing under the water.  We just got a new water heater (not by choice, the old one sprang a leak) and so now I have more hot water than I've ever dreamed of.  Best thing ever!  And, I can tell my husband I have to take long hot showers to get ideas.  I haven't actually tried that yet.  Not sure he'll believe me.

5.  Remember that every story comes to you differently.  As mentioned above, I've had the lovely experience with both Emma Jean and the Bonne Chance that they came to me in nearly whole cloth form.  So now I fight the expectation that this will always happen.  Conversely, I have to remind myself that's its okay if the idea doesn't download itself that way.  It will still be a good novel.  (And in truth, I still had to do quite a bit of idea gathering to complete the ones that came to me all at once.  But do I remember that? Of course not.)

6.  Research.  This can spark so many ideas.  But don't get bogged down in it, which is very easy to do.

7.  Journal.  Or do morning pages.  When I'm in the middle of figuring out a novel, I wake up and go right to the journal to do morning pages.  (Okay, I do stop to get coffee and water.)  I start writing about any old thing, but most days, my words morph into thoughts on the current novel.  And there I am, figuring things out and creating ideas!

So that's what I'm up to at the moment.  How do you find your ideas?  Leave a comment!

**Don't forget that I'm teaching a workshop in Nashville this spring!  You can find all the details here.

Photo by ubik2010.

Where Writers Get Ideas

Letters-blue-isolated-109051-lOn Wednesday, I gave a presentation at a local retirement center.  I talked about how and where writers get ideas, and interspersed readings from Emma Jean's Bad Behavior.  Afterwards, I got to sell books. It was a lot of fun!  Anne, the organizer (an amazing dynamo of a woman) told me that the room could take up to 50 people, and every chair was full, with more folks in the back, so it was a crowded house. You guys, they were the warmest, most welcoming group ever.  I met wonderful people like Carolyn, who researched me and started writing in her journal after reading my blog (Hi, Carolyn!) and shocked me when she revealed her age.  I adored her, and honestly, I loved them all. Absolutely wonderful! Plus, I got paid.  (Thank you, Watermark Retirement Communities for being willing to support local writers.)  

And, I thought the talk came out pretty well.  So I decided to reproduce it here in slightly edited form (minus the interspersed readings, for one thing).  I based my talk on the questions I get asked most often as a writer.

The Two Most Common Questions

When people find out I'm a writer, they generally ask one of two things, (besides "Have I heard of you?"):

1. Where do you get your ideas?

2. How much of your novel is true/based on your own life?

And the answers to both, are:

Everywhere and all of it.

But neither of these answers tells the whole story.

So let me explain.

Emma Jean's Bad Behavior, features a 48-year-old bestselling novelist, happily married and proudly childless, who goes to L.A. on a book tour, has a mad, passionate affair with a younger man, gets pregnant and watches her entire world fall apart.  

Now, I don't hate babies, I adore them and have two grandbabies of my own.  I never got pregnant at age 48, though I do have two children (I bore them in my 20s).   I've never had a passionate affair with a younger man, never been on a book tour, and despite my best efforts, I don't happen to be a bestselling author—yet.  But still, Emma Jean could not exist without my life experiences and proclivities.   Emma Jean and I are not exactly alike, but we share a lot of similarities. 

So I think its fair to say that ideas are a combination of the writer's life experience and, most important, her imagination.  But for me, and I think this is true of many others, my imagination is sparked by something that happens to me in my life and from there I form a story.

Ideas Are Everywhere.

Ideas are everywhere, all around us all the time, and if you ask most writers where they get ideas they will say just that—"everywhere."  Which is true, though isn't really a very helpful explanation.  So I sat down and pondered and came up with a list of 7 different ways that I get ideas.

1.  People

For me, all stories start with characters, and I get ideas for my characters from real life people.  Emma Jean, for instance, is loosely based on one of my professors in graduate school.  This woman is quite a well-known writer and so I dare not reveal her name—but she shares Emma Jean's brash, self-centered ways, and also her love of wine.  Oh, does she share her love of wine.

But it's not as if I lifted this real-life person's personality wholesale and assigned it to Emma Jean.  No, I took bits and pieces of it, her essence, if you will.

And I often think that Emma Jean is me on steroids. Emma Jean says the things I think, but she is always more clever than I am by far, and also, alas, quite snarky.  So, as I mentioned, though we share many traits, Emma Jean is not me.  I'm far nicer than she is, for one thing.  Or at least I hope so!

2.  Setting

The next area I get inspiration from is place.  I am greatly influenced and inspired by places around the world.  Emma Jean takes place in Portland, L.A., and Sun Valley, Idaho.  I live in and love Portland, so that's obvious.  And I visit L.A. a lot as I have friends there.  I have a love-hate relationship with the place, as does Emma Jean in the book.  And, at the time I wrote the novel, my daughter was living in Sun Valley, Idaho, working at an art gallery-which also found its way into the story.

It's funny, though, a place has to grab me in some way in order to make it into a book.  I've been to lots of cities across the country, for instance, and none of them have made it to my stories.  And I've tried a million different times to set a story in Ashland, Oregon, a town I love, but I can't ever make it work.  I'm not sure why that is.  One of those weird writer's quirks.

3. Travel

Which brings us to….travel.   Seeing new places and new cultures has a huge impact on my ideas.  The novel I'm currently working on is set in a Portland macaron bakery.  (Yes, macaron—the French cookies, not the sickly sweet American macaroon made with coconut.)  The inspiration for it came two summers ago, when I was in France.  My biz partner, Debbie and I, teach writing workshops in France every summer and it was during one of these that a student introduced me to the macaron.  Later that week, I visited a famous macaron bakery in Paris.

Now, I didn't look at the macarons and automatically think, I should write a novel about them, but about a month later I was at home in the shower when the idea for the novel hit me.  (And I hasten to add that I'm not writing about macarons so much as a character who bakes them.)  So travel has a big impact on my writing and stories.

4.  Dreams

This doesn't happen often, but once in awhile I have such a vivid dream that it turns into a story.  One of the first short stories I ever wrote happened this way.  We were at the beach on a family vacation and I dreamed of a long-ago boyfriend who had been a bit of a roustabout and a cad.  I woke up and wrote a story about a woman who'd had a similar boyfriend and then run into him years later and how different he was from who she thought he would become.  

But I think most often dreams influence my stories through imagery and vague ideas that are stored in my subconscious, things I'm not fully aware of that surprise me when I write.  More on this in a bit.

5.  Work details

The first writing class I ever took was from a writer named Craig Lesley, who I think is one of the best Northwest authors and sadly underrated and not known nationally.  Craig started out his classes by having students write a story based on work details, his contention being that many of us have had jobs about which we know a ton—but others know very little.  I wrote a story about two people working in a printing plant because when I was younger my Dad owned one and I basically grew up in it.

You might also remember the novels of Arthur Hailey, who wrote books like Hotel and Airport—all of which were based on our fascination with the work details of other people's lives.

6.  Hobbies/passions

I am a woman of great passions, some of them passing, but many of them show up in my fiction.  In Emma Jean, for instance, her husband is a winemaker, and I am a great lover of wine.  I'm writing a mystery series set in a yarn shop—because I'm an avid knitter.  The occasional Pug shows up in my work as well, because they are my favorite pet.  And it helps to know something about what you write starting out.

 7.  Out of the ether/subconscious

 This is the most mysterious thing that happens: sometimes things just show up in your writing and you have no idea where they came from.  An example of this is the character Ava in my novel.   She just walked on one day and made herself known.  A similar thing happened with the novel I'm currently working on—a character named Daisie, also a young girl, appeared, sitting in the back room of the bakery, being wordly wise far beyond her years.  She's my favorite character in the new novel, as was Ava in the old one.

8.  Technique for Producing and Idea

Finally, I want to share with you a sure-fire system for getting ideas that I learned many years ago.  It came from a little book called Technique for Producing Ideas that was written by a Madison Avenue Adman.  (News flash: the book was written by James Webb Young and it is still available.) He needed to produce a lot of creative ideas on demand as an adman, and came up with this system, which I've used in a variety of ways.  Basically, its this:

 –You think and take notes and write about the problem/thing you need an idea for.

–You research every aspect of it.

–Do both of the above until your brain is so full up of information you think it might burst.

–And then walk away.  He recommended to go golfing.  I say go for a walk, or do some dishes, or cook, or knit.  Or something.

–When you least expect it, an idea will pop up!  Why? Because you've given your subconscious plenty of material and then let it do its thing, which is to compost and digest said material into a new form.

 And let me just give you an example of this.  I've been thinking about this talk for quite awhile.  I came up with the idea to talk to you about ideas about a month ago, but for a long time, the shape of the talk didn't come to me.  So I looked through notes I'd used for other classes and talks, and I did some research on the internet about what other writers said.  And then, sure enough, Sunday morning I was in the shower when the entire outline for this talk downloaded itself to my brain.  So utilizing the subconscious really does work.

 A couple of suggestions for working with ideas, whether you want to write or need them for other areas of your life:

 1.  Write them down!  Always!  You think you will remember them but you likely won't.

 2.  If you get stuck, get up.  Time and time again I've hit a roadblock and decided to get up for food or drink—only to have an idea two steps away from the computer that sends me running back to my desk.

 3.  Showering, walking, and repetitive motion activities like knitting, weeding, and vacuuming are great for producing ideas.  They let your mind roam free.

 4.  Fill the well.  Read a lot, listen to music, go on a field trip, get outside.  Do things that will fill your brain with images and ideas.

5.  Keep an idea book.

6.  Stay open.  The idea that looks craziest may just be the one that ends up working.

Okay, so that's it.  If you live in Portland, especially east Portland, check out the reading series at Watermark.  It is open to the public, though space is limited so you need to get on Anne's mailing list. Email me and I'll hook you up.

And, do tell–where and how do you get ideas? 

10 Ways to Cultivate Writing Ideas

Light Bulb Man

This is you, with all your ideas aglow in your head.

It's a shiny new year and many of us have worked hard to note goals and dreams for 2014.  No matter what your writing goals, they are all dependent on one thing: a plethora of ideas.  So I thought it might be a good time to look at ways to cultivate them.

Observation. Open thouest eyes and gaze upon the world.  We're too often so wrapped up in ourselves that we don't see what's right in front of us.  As Deepak Chopra once said, "All our misery comes from our own self importance."  I would amend that to say: "Our lack of writing ideas comes from our own self importance."  Quit worrying about yourself and pay attention to what's going on in the world.

Listening.  We all talk too damn much. Open your ears and listen to what's going on around you–that dialogue between the two cowboys in the corner (hey, I live in Oregon, we get us some cowboys, especially on the east side of the state), the dialect your neighbor speaks, the cadence and flow of your minister's sermon or your professor's lecture.

Speculation.  So, because you have your eyes wide open, you notice a man walking down the street wearing a skirt.  (Don't laugh, my neighbor does this all the time.  Really.  I'm not kidding. He runs barefoot, too.  Sometimes while wearing the skirt.) And what you do is speculate: he's wearing the skirt because he wants to be a woman.  He's wearing the skirt because he's mad at his wife and he's trying to embarrass her.  He's wearing the skirt because a friend dared him.  Now we're cooking, huh?  Couldn't any one of these be a story?

Making connections. It's been said (by who, I don't know) that creativity is the combining of two disparate things that might not otherwise go together.  In other words, it's about making connections.  So it stands to reason if you put two odd things together you'll come up with something new.  You know, like Jane Austen and Kitties, or Jane Austen and Zombies, or…oh never mind.

Force the Issue.  Sometimes when you are grasping for an idea, you have to nudge it.  A lot. This is especially true when you need an idea for a WIP.  Like that time when you get into the muddle middle of your novel and you have no idea what happens next.  This is when you force the issue. And the best way to force the issue?  Why, write about it, of course.  And a good way to force the issue in writing is:

Ask What If.  The tried and true writer's question: what if?  Ask that question over and over again and see what happens.  What if my protagonist jumped off that cliff?  But there was no water below as she thought?  And then she survived but she was in the middle of a desert with a broken leg?  And then a lion came?  Well, okay, the last part doesn't make sense, but that doesn't matter–just let your brain rove freely over the what ifs.  You never know what idea might be tweakable for the perfect plot point.

Write Things Down.  I find, over and over again, that ideas comes to me in the middle of the writing process.  I think I don't know where I'm going on the page, but then I write one word and then another.  And before I know it, without even thinking about it, my fingers are flying across the keyboard with idea.  So make yourself start writing, even if you think you can't.  Oh, and also? Please don't forget to write an idea down as soon as you have it.  Don't tell yourself you'll remember.  Because you won't.  Smart phones are great for this, because admit it, you always have yours with you so you can make a note on it.

Steal Things.  But don't plagiarize, please.  When I say to steal things I mean it in the metaphorical sense of the word–as in there's nothing new under the sun anyway, so your take on the two sisters, one of whom is ugly and one gorgeous is going to be different than mine.  Go ahead and steal that idea for your novel, by the way–I dare you to.

Vary Your Routine.  Drive a different route to work or cook a new dish for dinner.  Better yet–go out and try a new restaurant.   Dance the Macarena or sing sad country songs.  Watch a foreign film that makes you feel stupid because you don't get it or try a TV show you've not seen before. Take a hike, visit an art gallery–you get the idea.

Have a Sense of Adventure.  If you head out into the world with the idea that life's an adventure, it will be–and you'll have so many wonderful experiences to write about that you'll never lack for ideas.  I will admit this falls into the age-old dilemma of, do I sit at how and write or go out in the world so I have something to write about?  For me the answer is to find a balance between the two.  Of course, you can have a sense of adventure while sitting at your desk, too.

Those are my ideas about gleaning ideas for your writing.  What are yours?  Please leave a comment.

Photo from PhotoExpress.

The World is Your Writing Oyster

Oyster_shell_pearl_265851_lA couple weeks ago I was greatly taken by a lecture I heard about the writing life, given by Helena Kriel at the Spalding MFA spring residency.

The talk was, essentially, about how everything in the world feeds into our writing lives and our writing–if we are but present to the world.  Further, when we are being present, seeking our deepest thoughts within and putting them onto the page, we are involved in the same sorts of transformation that sages and gurus and lamas and mystics have sought for millennia.

Being Present

Ever since I heard this lecture, this is what I have strived to do.  I have done my best to be present during my writing time, and not give in to the distractions of email, Twitter, or news stories on the Internet. And beyond that, I've really been working on an awareness of how I interact with the world when I'm not writing.

No Such Thing As Boring

For instance, when I'm doing something "boring."  I put that word in quotes because I truly believe that boring is all in the mind of the person being bored.  Instead of giving into the boredom, I try to find something in front of me that makes the event interesting.  This could be the smallest of detail–a splash of red geranium while weeding the garden, a jet flying overhead that causes me to wonder where its headed and who is on it, that person walking by with a scowl on her face.

Cultivating Ideas

It is this kind of attitude that will feed a constant flow of ideas into your writing.  And ideas are the lifeblood of the creative person, aren't they?  We need a constant flow of them, not only for new projects but for our WIPs.  Ideas come from the world around us joining with what's already within, and for this to happen one must be present, observe and practice deep listening.

Other Ideas for Ideas

–Keep an idea book.  Because if you don't write them down, they will disappear.  Ideas are sneaky creatures that like to be recognized.  I find my ideas tend to get lost if I write them only in my journal, so I keep a spiral notebook devoted solely to ideas.  I swear, once I close the cover they breed and have babies–which is exactly what you want to happen.

–Put them on the page, nowhere else.  This is not true for everybody, but it's true for a lot of creative people–talking about ideas dissipates them.  They belong on the page, not in conversation with your spouse or BFF.  Ideas are fragile and need care and tending, which is best done with pen and paper.

–Let them flow.  Ideas tend to morph.  If we exert too much control over them, say, not letting them go in a new direction when they want to, they stagnate.  You may think your book is really about robots but your idea mind suddenly says its about aliens.  Go with it.  You may get back to the robots eventually.  Or not.

When you cultivate an attitude like this, and take good care of your ideas, the world truly will be your oyster–you'll be inundated with so many ideas you won't know what to do with them.  And not only is this wonderful for your writing, it's an amazing way to live in the times when you're not writing.

What's your best tip for cultivating ideas?

Photo by roym.

Where Do Ideas Come From?

I've been doing some interviews (I'll have links soon–like tomorrow soon)for the release of Emma Jean, and one of the things that comes up is how I got the idea for the novel.  I always have to stop and think about this because there's not one clear light bulb moment.  It was more like an aggregation of ideas that reached critical mass.  And then, voila, Emma Jean burst upon the scene.

Ideas are mysterious.

And to me, they involve a process.  This + this + this + this = THIS.  And then there you are, writing a novel. Or a story. Or an essay.

But to get to THIS you have to be mindful. 



An observer.

Because if you're not, you might miss one of the thises.

Ideas are like money, they come when you already have some and aren't worrying about them.  Thus the best way to get more ideas is to have ideas in the first place.  Yet another one of the wonderful paradoxes of the writer's life.

But there are ways to encourage the getting of ideas to start with, and I list them here:

Ask questions.  When you see that guy walking down the street wearing a skirt (this is actually not the most unusual of sights in my town) ask yourself, why?  Did he just break up with his girl friend and is trying to embarrass her?  Or make himself feel worse?  Does he come from a long line of skirt-wearing men?  All the "W" questions are good for this.

Daydream.  Stuck at a traffic light?  Make up a story about something you see.  Waiting at the doctor's office?  Look at your fellow patients and begin to wonder about their lives.

Write ideas down.  Ideas respond to coddling.  Maybe you have the nudge of an idea but it's not in the least fully formed.  Write it down anyway. 

Keep an ideas journal.  I throw all my various ideas into one journal where they breed, I swear it.

Brainstorm.  This is helpful when you have a specific idea you need (as for a scene or chapter). Get crazy on the page.  Set a timer and write down things as fast as they come to you.

That's it.  That's all I got for now.  Because, as I mentioned earlier, ideas are mysterious and nobody really truly knows from whence they come.

Do you know where your ideas come from?  How do you coddle them?

**Next Tuesday is the release of my novel, Emma Jean's Bad Behavior!  Join me for the release party, just fill out the form here to get the info.  (I'm just collecting your email to make it easier to get you the information–no spam from these hands.)

Photo by float.


Are You Cultivating Your Creative Seeds?

Everystockphoto_174008_mAnd forgive me if that title sounds vaguely obscene.  I'm not sure if it does or not, and I don't mean it to.

So, that out of the way, let's talk about ideas.  And goals.  Awk!  The two don't go together.  Or do they?  Well, yeah, kinda they do.  Because you can have tons of ideas but they remain just that, ideas, unless you wield the hammer and create yourself some goals, too.

I know you're cringing now because you're a creative type and the idea of setting goals is anathema.  (Good word, eh?  And the definition is pretty fabulous, too:  a person or thing accursed or consigned to damnation or destruction. Doesn't get much better than that.)  But hear me out, because goals can be good.  Goals can help us turn our ideas into projects and then get them out into the world.

Ideas are the spark, goals are the engine.

And here's the deal: I'm teaching a 2-session class on ideas and goals beginning December 6th.  I purposely scheduled the class for December so that you would be ready to go when 2012 rolls around, which is going to come much faster than you think.

And here's the other deal: I just halved the price of the class, from $97 to $47.  My business coaches hate it when I do stuff like this because you're supposed to charge high prices to make it look like you're important.  I actually thought that $97 was a pretty decent price, but let's just say people aren't lining up around the block to sign up.  (My business coaches hate when I admit stuff like this, too.  Oh well.)

Here's the bottom line: I think this information is really good, and I want you to have access to it.  I know people are struggling with finances and a class devoted to your creative ideas may not be high on the budgetary list (do remember that the goal setting portion of the class may actually help you with your finances, though).  So I dropped the price of the class.

It's going to be juicy, I promise.  Two one-hour sessions, with lots of tips and exercises to throw at you, both on the idea and the goal-setting side. 

You can go here to read more and sign up.  Oh, PS–its a teleclass, so you can be anywhere in the world and take it.  And even if you can't make the times I have set, it will be recorded so you can listen to it any time.

A Writer’s Inspiration

Thus beginneth.

I woke up this morning with this post in my head and even though it was only 5:30, I jumped out of bed, Coffee_cups_mugs_241315_l grabbed a cup of coffee and started in.

Yesterday a character began talking to me.  I've had this character in my head for a year, making notes about her along the way, but I didn't have her voice.  Until she suddenly started talking to me.  I grabbed my Moleskine and started writing as fast as I could.

All of a sudden my brain is engaged and inspired.

Which is a good thing, because lately I've been wafting.  Drifting about the house when my work with clients is done.  Thinking deep, non-writing related thoughts.  Knitting.  Reading.  Sighing heavily.  Vacationing.  Wafting about some more.

It is amazing how easy it is to fill hour upon hour with wafting activities.

Meanwhile my office is still in the same awful, disorganized mess.  I've got projects I want to start, ideas for blog posts written down, inspirational business CDs to listen to.  And let us not forget a garden to put to bed for the winter, and a mountain of papers from my mother's house to sort through.

But instead I've wafted.

The good news is that this time I've been easy on myself because I had a pretty good idea why I was wafting.  After all, I recently finished a novel I've been working on for four years.  Like, finished finished it.  As in done to the absolute best of my ability.

During the time I worked on that novel, new ideas often came to me but I didn't feel I could devote myself to them, so they went in my journal, or my idea file.  I figured when I was done with my novel I would get started on them.

But instead, I wafted.

I expected a bit of wafting.  Generally when I finish a project I'm excited and I think, at last, I can read that book, take that hike, start that knitting project–all the things I've put off as I finish up.  But then when I'm actually done, suddenly nothing appeals to me and I wonder what I was so excited about.  But that usually only lasts a day or two.

This time, though, I've been mega-wafting on a grand scale.  So my new theory is that the amount of wafting one does after completing a project is directly proportional to how long the project took to finish.

And I'm happy to report that the wafting seems to be over, or at least diminishing.  Creativity takes its own time, its own shape, its own form, and while we can nudge it along the way, sometimes the best thing to do is just allow it to happen.

And waft.

Writing Flow: Turning Off the Worry Faucet

A few days ago I wrote a post titled, What About Not Writing? which pondered the question of whether it was ever a good idea to take a break from writing.  As is often the case, the post garnered some interesting responses, because, well, I have fabulously interesting readers (Brief aside: as a general rule, writers are the most fabulously interesting people in the world, except for the occasional odd duck crank).

Some commenters echoed my thought that writing is so much a part of me it is hard to imagine taking a break from it.  And others mentioned the value of taking a break to refill the well (a concept which I heartily endorse, as long as that break doesn't stretch out too long).

But one commenter, Rebecca, lamented the fact that it is so easy to let the demands of daily life get in the way of writing.  She inquired how I cleared away my mind to be able to write and asked that I write a post about this topic.  So here it is.

Clear it Out.  For starters I think its really important to cultivate some way to clear your mind.  Meditate, pray, write in your journal for a few minutes to get your yas-yas out, take a quick walk, whatever helps you to clear your brain.  Even taking a few deep breaths when you sit down to write can really help.

Set an Intention.   You probably have some sort of goals for your writing, such as, finish a novel, write a screenplay whatever.  Take that goal, chunk it down into a doable task, and then set an intention.  For instance, I am going to write 3 pages today.  Or, I will finish the rewrite of chapter 10.  Then, when you sit down to write, remind yourself of this intention by closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, and repeating it several times out loud.

Ask for Help.  And I don't mean from your family.  Ask whatever higher power you might believe in to guide you and help you to stay focused.  If you don't believe in a higher power, ask your higher self.

Use Your Subconscious.  This falls into the Be Prepared category.  Take the time to look at whatever it is you want to write about the day before.  I know, I know, you don't have time.  Listen, everyone has five minutes.  Forget about the first five minutes of American Idol (it's just Ryan blabbering anyway), open your file, scan it quickly, ponder what you need to do next, close the file, go watch TV.  This helps way more than the time it takes to do it.  You'll get your brain engaged and ready to work and be focused, which makes it easier to turn off the worry faucet.

Keep a Notebook Handy.  Keep a small notebook or scratch pad right next to your computer.  If you get one of those distracting worry thoughts, pause for one minute and write it down.  You need bread at the store?  Write it down.  You remembered an appointment?  Write it down.  Then make a habit of checking over these notes at the end of your writing session and dealing with them accordingly.  Note the appointment on your calendar, make your grocery list, whatever.

Keep An Idea Notebook Nearby.  Same theory as above, only for ideas.  Many creative types start working on one project, only to think of 20 others.  I'm taking the  Complete Idealist Blissness Action Camp course from Marney Makridaris, and she talks about Complete Idealists as creative types who sometimes struggle because of how differently we think. She recommends using an idea file as a way to harness all your brilliance without losing your train of thought.  I used to keep an idea journal, but I'm so visual, if I don't see something, its gone from my mind, and all my ideas got buried.  Now I use a cool open-topped wooden file box that came from my Dad's long-defunct printing plant.  Added bonus is that I think of him every time I put in or pull out an idea.

Start With Negativity.  I know, sounds counter-intuitive, no? But the idea is to just give into it.  Rant and rave. Complain about how over-worked you are and how wretched your children are.  Wail about how much you don't want to do everything on your to-do list. Write all your negative thoughts down, or think them, or shout them, whatever you want.  Set a timer and limit it to five minutes.  There.  Now all the bad stuff is out of your brain, freeing you to write.

So there you have them, my best ideas to keep your brain clear while writing. Stay tuned, because coincidentally I have a post on a similar topic drafted.  I will put it up in the next couple days.  And, for those of you who have not subscribed to my ezine, The Creative Equation, please do, as the next issue is all about The 7 Essentials for Creative Flow, which are the bedrocks of my writing process.