writing flow

Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #22

Here we are again, having survived (I hope) Christmas 2014.  Maybe you're like me and still a bit foggy from so much going on and, oh yeah, the sugar content of every single thing we eat this time of year.  Maybe, like me, you're feeling a bit disconnected from your writing.  If not, more power to you. What's your secret?  If so, here you go–my latest collection of writing prompts.

But first, I would like to let you know that you can get a ton more prompts (like over a hundred of them and counting) on my Tumblr blog.  AND, do not forget that you can download a free book of prompts over at Noisetrade.  (And read more about it here.)

Okay then.  Here we go:

#150 The best time of day is ____________, because ________________, duh.

#151  Only three days until Christmas and so much left to do.  But for her, it wasn’t last minute Christmas gifts and activities that she obsessed about it.  Rather, it was…..

 #152  Alone.  He had never liked it, but being alone at Christmas was the worst. Now, with just two days to go until the big day, he determined to change his situation.  The first thing he did was….

 #153  Silent night, holy night.  All is calm, all is bright.  Or is it?  What is going on in the dark of this holy eve?

 #154  Write about what is happening in the photo below from the penguin's point of view.



#155 The day after.  What will you do with that ugly dress your husband gave you?  How will you return it without hurting his feelings? 

#156 Her brain felt cloudy and vague.  Too many Christmas cookies. Too much wine. To make herself fell better, she….

 That's it!  The next prompt round-up will be in 2015.  Crazy, man.  In the meantime, I'd love to hear what you did on Christmas.  Was it good?  Fun? Any crazy stories to share?


Photo by Jackie. 



Melbourne_victoria_australia_1021810_hI was driving on the freeway yesterday, when a car approaching on an on ramp didn't know how to merge correctly.  You know the kind–they don't anticipate where you are already on the road and adjust their speed accordingly.  This driver just plowed along ahead, oblivious.

I honked the horn and yelled slammed on my brakes to let her in ahead of me. And I thought of the days when I first started driving, probably because I spent an hour at the DMV on Friday renewing my driver's license.  (Now I can breathe when I pass a cop on the road, I've been illegal for over a month.)

Back then, when I was learning to drive, I was terrified of merging onto the freeway.  Terr-i-fied.  I thought it was the most hare-brained idea anybody had ever had, this merging thing.

But now, it doesn't bother me in the least bit.  (That's what a gazillion years of driving does for you.) And yesterday, after I thought about all this, I started thinking about all the ways we merge when we write.  To wit:

We merge with our characters.  We see the world through their eyes, become them, totally blend with them so we can write in their viewpoint.  Sometimes when I write, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and will myself, ever so gently to be my character.  Then I ask, what does Emma Jean see?  What is Jemima experiencing in this moment?

We merge with the setting.  This is uppermost on my mind at the moment, because tomorrow night's novel writing class is on this topic. I think its a bit more subtle, but the place we set our fiction (and non-fiction) has a huge impact on the story.  Think about it: you're probably so merged with the place you live, you don't even think about it. 

We merge with our creativity.  This is the biggie. When we're totally merged with our creativity, we are in flow and it is magic.  Magic.  It's the state when time passes and you don't even realize it, when you're one with the words that are spewing onto the page.  It is the state, I'd venture to guess, that we all aspire to in our work. 

And that's as far as I got with my little merging metaphor, because I reached my destination.  So, what think you?  How do you merge with your writing or your creativity?  Is it a worthy goal?

Just wanted to let you know that the next session of my Get Your Novel Written Now class begins October 9th.  You'll learne everything you need to do to prep to write a novel, just in time for Nanowrimo on November 1st!

Photo by SplaTT.

Putting Joy Back Into It

I've been slogging through the "final" rewrite of my novel lately.  

Its a funny thing with working on a long extended piece over time, such as a novel or a memoir.  You rearrange one chapter and this rearrangement uncovers other things that need attention.  Thus, more work and more rewriting.

As the days I've allotted for the rewrite stretch into weeks and then months, my will flags.  I want to get this novel published more than anything in the world.  It has been a lifelong goal to be a novelist.  And I think I have a better shot at it with this one than ever before.

But, dear lord, I'm tired of working on it.

The thing is, I also see that this rewrite is making my book into the novel it truly was meant to be.  With every rewrite, the novel's characters become truer and the plot gets stronger.   Civilians (ie, non-writers) tell me that if an agent likes it, he or she will forgive all the problems and take me on. But I know that the publishing world has always been a tough nut to crack, and now even more so now.  While it is tempting to take the civilians' well-meaning advice, throw up my hands and just send it out, as is, I'm holding out to finish this one last rewrite.  I know that agents look for the smallest excuse not to take on a client.  I know we have to send in our absolute best work.  And I'm willing.

But for the last couple of weeks, I've had to flog myself to work on it.  Honestly, it is hard enough to fit in time to work on the novel when I'm excited about it, but when the joy is gone its nearly impossible.    (The great irony in all of this, of course, is that I teach and coach this stuff–how to make time to write, no matter where you are in the process.)

But this morning, I felt it again–that joy.  The energy, the connection, the lift off the page to my heart. So, how did I get it back?  And how can you?  When I stopped to think about why this might have happened, I realized that I did, in fact, have some suggestions.

1.  Show up at the page.  This is far and away the most important thing.  There's a famous quote by Woody Allen, something to the effect that "90% of success is just showing up." So true.  Some days I showed up and sat and stared, but such effort is eventually rewarded with a flow of words.  The universe and the muses look kindly upon consistency.

2.  Take a break.  I know, I know, contradictory advice.  First I tell you to show up, then I tell you to not show up.  What I'm advocating here is taking a planned break.  Allow yourself to get totally and completely away from it without guilt and do something replenishing. (Julia Cameron calls it the artist's date.)  The key here is the planning.   I fall into the bad habit daily of taking an accidental break by checking out the latest news on the internet.  But  this is far less renewing than if I actually stepped away from the computer and took a planned break.  Figure out what relaxes and renews you and then go do it.  You can take a big break–like a whole morning off–or a little break, like a quick walk around the block.

3.  Accept you are in a different place.  If you are in the rewriting phase, like me, It is not the initial place of invention and excitement, but rather an area of discernment and editing.  If you need invention and excitement, take notes for another project.  Being in this different place you are not necessarily going to feel the joy of creation as when you first began it.  For me, just realizing this in a conscious manner paved the way to get back to work.

So those are my suggestions and if anyone has any more, I'd love to hear them.  All of this pondering on getting the joy back has brought up another topic in my mind, namely, when is it time to quit the tinkering and let it go? 

Ah, but that is a subject for another time.

Techniques for Writing Flow

The Big, Scary Beast and the Ancient, Frail Feline are both asleep (in separate rooms, I might add) and so I have a moment to ponder techniques to keep access to the muse alive and well.  This is on my mind because at the recent Loft orientation, my fellow mentor and old friend Betsy Woods gave me the details on a new-to-me technique.

It is called a Weather Journal, and its a bit like writing morning pages, only more so.  With Morning Pages, you write down a stream of consciousness account of anything and everything, just to get it out on the page.  A Weather Journal is more crafted, more reactive, more of the moment.  With the Weather Journal, you start from where you are at the moment you sit down, and you write about that place, every blessed bit of it, starting with the things you are experiencing through your senses.

This invariably leads to more writing, perhaps an account of something that happened to you the day before, or an inquiry into an emotional upset.  The Weather Journal is very Zen in that it starts in the present moment and assumes that the entire universe exists in that moment.  And, well, every writer knows that its all in the details.   Keeping a Weather Journal is an excellent way to begin noting the details.  I've noticed this magical effect of the Weather Journal, which is that when you start by noting the details of the present moment, it is much easier to put on the page details of the scene that happened to you the day before when you were at the coffee shop and the barista with the red hair gave you a Frappucino with whipped cream on it instead of your usual grande latte.

While I'm at it, I'm going to run down a list of my Top Techniques for Writing Flow.  So here goes:

1.  Weather Journal–see above.  And let me know if you come up with a better name for it, would you please?

2.  Morning Pages–I did these faithfully for years.  They are the brainchild of Julia Cameron, who advocates their use in her book, The Artist's Way.  To do Morning Pages, often called MPs by devotees, you get up, grab your coffee or tea, and sit down with paper and pen in hand.  And then you write three pages, no more, no less, and get your ya-yas out so you can get on with the real business of life.  MPs are also a great way to track the desires of your true self.  So, if over the course of a month you realize you've written, I want to move to Africa and be a missionary, 5 times, it might be time to start checking airfare to Rwanda.  My problem with MPs is that they tend to devolve into a laundry list of things to do, and thus they end up feeding an obsessive thinking trait I'm trying to end.

3.  Free Writing--Sit down with your journal, set a timer for 20 minutes, choose a prompt and write until the timer goes off.  No lifting the pen from the page, no stopping, even if you are writing I hate free writing over and over again.  There is no shortage of books chock-full of prompts for free writing.  Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones,is probably the most famous advocate of this type of journaling.  The problem with free writing is that it is easy to get lost in it and end up with a bunch of useless writing that goes nowhere.  One way to get around this is to take prompts from your own current writing project.  This can be a great technique for solving thorny plot or character issues.

4. Lists--The lazy writer's way to keep a journal.  Not surprisingly, I love this one.  Say you find yourself on vacation in the Yucatan in Mexico and everything is exotic and different.  But you're on vacation and you end up spending most of it on the beach, drinking Pina Coladas from the beach-side bar.  Who has time to write in their journal in such a situation?  Especially when there are silly floor shows to attend every night?  And more Pina Coladas? Should you find yourself in such a jam, remember the benefits of writing a list.  It can be words or phrases, or whatever you want it to be, related or unrelated.  The key is to just get down descriptive words that you can later go back to and write from.  (And can I just say that I'm glad I visited Chichen Itza, back in the day, not so long ago, when you could still climb to the top of the ruins, even if I did only get halfway up before my fear or heights kicked in.)

That's it.  That's all I got on techniques for writing flow, and I think you'll find all of them useful in different situations.  If anybody has any other good ones, leave a comment so we can all steal it and use it!