I got this from my daughter Merideth Rose Ashe’s site, Run, Leap, Dance, Peace. It’s about uncluttering your life. I think it has a lot to say that is good. Let me know what you think.
I heard an Angel speak last night, and he said, “Write!”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
A few years ago I was stuck in the middle of my story, bored with the direction it had taken and feeling stale. Nothing I wrote felt fresh or amazing. I didn’t care what my characters were doing or saying. It wasn’t that the story was bad or I was going in the wrong direction, it was me; I was stale.
One of the first things I did when I started writing was subscribe to Writer’s Digest and its affiliated book club Writer’s Digest Shop. While looking through the site one day I came across A Creative Writer’s Kit by Judy Reeves. It is a kit of writing prompts and practices for every day of the year and some cards to keep you motivated. I really needed something to kick start me again and perhaps this would be it. I bought the kit.
I have never been sorry. In the course of the last several years I have written on jealousy, explored loves won, lost, and won again, hidden characters in a dark hold while their ship was being searched. and watched the world go by from behind a lace curtain. I went on a Shopping Spree that turned into some of the best writing I ever did and became the first chapter for my current work in progress, now known as Energy Weavers. I’ve written about Shoes and Something Eaten, and A Borrowed Dress. This week I was inspired by the snowstorm that has hit the Seattle area and dumped ten inches of snow in my yard to write a story based on “A Cold and Snowy January Day”.
I’ve gone from a Regency period mystery to a present-day alternate world to far into the future and explored everywhere in between. These little prompts (for example, December 6 is “This is what she said.”) give me scope for all sorts of imagination. They are like a wind blowing through the sameness of my writing amd brightening things up.
Writing prompts and practices is what I call priming the pump. I don’t do it every day, but I do it often enough to stay fresh. Sometimes I use the prompts in this kit or other books and sometimes I just find other ideas around me, challenge myself to write a story out of mundane everyday objects: A pot, a pan, a knife, a hat. What about a hatbox? I just got one of those for Christmas. What would you do if you found an old trunk in an attic? Write a story about a blank piece of paper. I once wrote a story on an iceberg that had broken free — from the iceberg’s point of view.
Anything and everything can become inspiration for a story, a poem, a map, or an article. Sometimes it’s really good, sometimes it is just worth writing it for the exercise of it. The point is to write, write, write; whatever catches your eye, write about it for ten minutes, thirty minutes, whatever you have. I am always surprised by what comes out the end of my pen and rarely disappointed. I’m not looking for golden prose, just something new and different and fresh.
My question: How do you prime your writing pump? Do you use writing prompts or do something else?
It is still a cold and snowy January day here, but with the promise of a Pineapple Express coming in from Hawaii and dumping 3-4″ of rain on top of all our gorgeous snow. I feel a little storm writing coming on.
Happy writing, everyone.
I tried NaNoWriMo for the first time in November. I wasn’t planning on it until I talked to my daughter Meredith Rose Ashe and she challenged me. So, two days before the end of October, there I was wracking my brains for something I could easily turn into a novel — or at least 50,000 words of a novel. I write long, so 50,000 words is really the first half of a novel for me.
I didn’t find anything I liked in my usual writing prompts, but Meredith and I had developed some characters for a pirate spoof we called Avast. Why not do that? I called her and asked if she minded. She said go for it. So I scribbled some quick notes, threw them into One Note (one of the best programmes in Office 2010 for organizing I’ve ever run across), bought myself a 4″ binder and some dividers, and hit the ground running.
Normally I don’t write by word count but by number of pages. I set a goal of so many pages a day and try to hit it. NaNoWriMo’s goal is 1667 words a day. Every day. Seven days a week. If you miss a day you have to make those words up! Like any writing, there are good days where the writing flows easily and others where the words are jammed at the fingertips, refusing to come out. And of course, life happens while you are trying to write. Not only that, but there is Thanksgiving to plan and Christmas…
Meredith hooked me up with a writer’s group on Facebook. Most if not all of us were doing NaNo. It helped to join Word Wars — challenges to find out how many words we could write in an hour. It kept me focused and writing.
So what did I learn through this tremendous month?
I learned I can start a project quickly.
I learned I can write well even when I’m going on sketchy notes. I didn’t have a lot of plotting going into my chapters, just sort of wrote a beginning and ending idea and some vague thoughts and then went for it. This is not how I usually write, but I realized I can trust my creative side to know what to say when the editor is forced to stay in the background.
I learned I am capable of writing a lot of words quickly. I easily averaged my 1667 words, one day writing 4500 words because I was behind. I found that I could write between 900-1200 words an hour with ten minute breaks in between. So now I’m setting my goals every day of 2000-2500 words and reaching or exceeding them.
I took weekends for me. I needed the downtime. So in the end I didn’t get my 50,000 words written. I wrote 42,500. I’m okay with that for this first time. Next year I’ll actually make my goal because I won’t take every weekend.
Going forward, i know I can write a lot of words and do it well. it has helped me in the writing of my current work in progress. I’m still learning to trust my creative self and tell the editor to go play on this first pass (my inner editor is very picky about what I put on paper). It’s okay not to be perfect the first time round, but I know I’m going in the right direction. And it’s FUN!
I’m nearly at the end of the current manuscript and struggling to finish it. I know it’s because I love my characters and don’t want to let them go, even for a little while. NaNoWriMo helped me learn to finish what I start, too, even though I’m only in the middle of what I wrote in November. I’ll go back and finish Avast, and I’ll finish Energy Weavers, hopefully this month.
My goals going forward are to finish the last two chapters of Energy Weavers, finish a historical called Now and Then, and then start the sequel to Energy Weavers. I’d also like to rewrite a book I wrote and had published back in 2002, perhaps publish it as an e-book. That’s a lot for one year in which I have abdominal surgery at the beginning of the year and two months of recovery. We’ll see what happens. But at least I have the goals and something to strive for. That’s all good.
“Throw yourself into the hurly-burly of life. it doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make, what unhappiness you have to undergo. it is all your matierial. don’t wiat for experience to come to you; go out after experience. Expericence your material.” W Somerset Maugham
I don’t normally make goals. It don’t like them. They just set you up for failure. I tend to be a woman who says I’d like to get such and such accomplished and we’ll see.
But in November I did NaNoWriMo and the goal was 50,000 words in a month. That was 1667 words a day. I normally write a certain number of pages, say 5-10 pages, depending on how I feel and if the words are flowing. NaNo skips all that and goes to word count.
I had never thought of writing in terms of word count before, except as a finished product. it really changed the way I looked at things. It made me write differently. Normally I’m a very overly-organized writer, everything documented and outlined, nearly plotted to death lest I fall off the path and into the trees and get lost. NaNo, I discovered, had me doing a quick general plot for each chapter and then just writing as fast as I could to get as many words written for that day.
I learned to set my inner editor outside to go play somewhere else and just write. I learned to trust my creative self. I learned I could do some really good writing without my picky inner editor hanging around looking over my shoulder. I gained some new best friends from a writer’s group my daughter hooked me up with on Facebook. Thanks, Leah.
I didn’t quite make my goal of 50,000 words. I took weekends off and then we had Thanksgiving in the end of it and I had a bad Fibromyalgia flare up. I wrote 42,500 words and called it good enough. Next year I will be better prepared and make that 50,000 word goal.
Doing NaNo, as stressful as it was — my poor hubby barely saw me for the whole month — taught me a lot about my writing and about making goals. So I decided to make a couple for 2012.
I will finish my current manuscript either this month or next. It only has about two more chapters, but I’m facing abdominal surgery in the middle of the month, so we’ll see which gets done first.
I want to finish my historical novel, Now and Then and send it out to beta readers.
I want to start the sequel to Energy Weavers.
Lastly, I have a book I wrote in 2002, to which I now have my rights back. I want to rewrite it and look at e-publishing this novel.
So those are the goals and it’s a lot of work. I’ll see how it goes with surgery starting the year. But I am looking forward to a good writing year and I wish all my readers the best 2012 whatever your goals and aspirations.
New Worlds at Your Fingertips
I have this image in my head of a library I visited when I was a small child. The building was old, massive and built of stone. The doors were wood. Inside the floors were marble and there was a big librarian’s highly polished desk going on forever. Oh the mysteries! If only I was tall enough to peek over it!
But best of all were the books. Books everywhere, going up to the ceiling on the second floor. You ahd to get to that second floor by means of stone staircases with elaborate floral black metal railings.. I didn’t care that I couldn’t read a word of the books on that second floor, I jsut wanted to be in their presence, as if by being there I could absorb what was inside the covers.
I finally made my way down to the childrens section to look for things I could read but I couldn’t wait to get old enough to read the “big people’s” books.
Now that I’m old enough I still love walking into the library, breathing in the scent of old books: ink and paper, wooden shelves, and whatever else it is that makes a library special. I love knowing tere are worlds of possibilities on the shelves, sometimes it is a search for something elusive for a novel; sometimes it’s a favourite author; and sometimes it’s something new and different.
I always make sure to have plenty of time to browse. There is nothing worse than possibly missing something good you could have read.
What do you look for in your library experiences? What inspires you, makes your heart happy? For me, it’s just being around books and words.
I’m sure we all have a library of favourite books at home, books we simply cannot do without. If we’re writers I don’t think we can help ourselves. At least I can’t. Walking past a bookstore without stopping in… well, it can’t be done. I’m like iron shavings to a magnet where books are concerned. Fortunately, my husband understand s and indulges my love of all things books.
My love of books started early. My parents read to me, my aunts read to me, even my uncles read to me. There was nothing better on a cold, rainy evening than a warm fire, a cup of cocoa, and a blanket while my parents read aloud some adventurous story. Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, The Sugar Creek Gang, The Jungle Book. My imagination took flight.
Then I went to school. First day and we went to the library. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Books everywhere. The smell of paper and ink! I could have stayed there all day. Unfortunately we had to go back to class. I made up all kinds of excuses, got all kinds of extra privileges and managed to spend hours in that library. I doubt it was all that big, but for me it encompassed worlds.
My dad, also a voracious reader, took us to the big public library in the city. I spent hours working my way through the books in the children’s section, then moved on to higher readers and eventually the young adult section. I was only eight, but I couldn’t read fast enough to get through all those books.
After grade three we went back to Ethiopia and I started boarding school. Our system of education said you learned. Period. No excuses and no lagging behind. Part of learning was reading. A lot! The small library was amazingly well-stocked with both Classics and more popular fiction as well as a great set of encyclopedias and magazines from various countries. We could read the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Margaret Mitchell and others. I loved to go in a corner between the stacks and read the double books that were the Wizard of Oz on one side and The Jungle Book on the other. In my opinion, those books were genius; if you got tired of one, you could flip the book over and read the other one and go back and forth till you finished both. I still often read two or more books at once.
Everywhere I went there were books to read: HQ with its quiet lounge and old hardbacks, Bishoftu where our parents took R&R with its Readers Digest condensed versions and more old hardbacks, school, home. My life has seemed surrounded by books old and new.
I’m not sure when I began to write. I’d always woven stories in my head, and the feel of a pencil in my hand hovering over a blank paper was both sheer joy and sheer terror, something akin to standing on a high bank about to jump into a lake. It’s going to be a blast but you have to nerve yourself up for it first.
In fifth grade we were allowed to write some sort of short story. I don’t recall what I wrote, just that I finally felt I could fly. I didn’t do any more actual stories until high school when a friend wrote a romantic novella that got passed around the room. Now this I could do, I thought. I spent hours scribbling on loose-leaf paper in my room. My college papers were more like short novels than term papers. Where everyone else brought in ten pages, I wrote twenty-five! I couldn’t seem to help myself. My English Lit teacher wrote on my Macbeth paper, “Very enlightening. You were born to be a novelist.” Okay, we were writing about the three witches and I was inspired by a huge storm we were dealing with that day.
When I finally started writing earnestly in 1983, another writer asked me what books on writing I had in my library. I looked at her blankly. “I’m supposed to have books?” I didn’t even know such things existed. A writer just sat down and wrote. My friend gave me her copy of Writers Digest and the latest newsletter from Writers Digest Book Club (now www.writersdigestshop.com), as well as a book on writing romances to get me started.
I didn’t always have a lot of money to buy books but over the last twenty-eight years I’ve collected over 100 writing books of various sorts. I’d like to share some with you. Perhaps you will share some of yours with me.
Note: Not all of these are in print anymore. I would look on one of the on-line stores to see if I could find them, or in bookstores specializing in old books.
Writing the Novel from Plot to Print by Lawrence Block
The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray
Fiction is Folks by Robert Newton Peck
The Writer’s Compass by Nancy Ellen Dodd
The Mind of your Story by Lisa Lenard-Cook
Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich
How to Write Irresistable Query Letters by Lisa Collier Cool
How to Write a Romance and Get it Published by Kathryn Falk (my very first writing book!)
Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel by Hallie Ephron
Aliens and Alien Societies by Stanley Schmidt
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
Any of the You Can Write A … Series by various authors (See Writer Digest Shop)
Writing Prompts and Practices
Every writer should have one or more books of prompts and practices in their libraries for those days when the words just will not flow from brain to fingers.
The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley
The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron
A Creative Writer’s Kit by Judy Reeves
A Writer’s Retreat Kit by Judy Reeves
A Picture is Worth 1000 Words by Phillip Sexton (photos by Tricia Bateman)
Take Ten for Writers by Bonnie Neubauer
A must for anyone seriously trying to publish their work. The come out every year in various forms.
2012 Writer’s Market by Writers Digest (and an accompanying subscription to www.writersmarket.com)
2012 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market
General Reading and Research
The Story about the Story: Great Authors Explore Great Literature edited by J.C. Hallman
The Daily Reader by Fred White
Victorian London by Liza Picard
Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku
Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku
Read in your genre and out of it. Some novelists will only read non-fiction when they are writing a manuscript, others only read in whatever genre they are writing. I read everything I can get my hands on: romance, mystery, science fiction, classics, non-fiction. It keeps my mind stimulated and the words flowing.
Here’s are a couple of other sources of inspiration for me:
Velvet Skies blog by Meredith Rose Ashe http://fireflyfly.wordpress.com/2011/08/16/books-every-writer-ought-to-own/
Welcome to the Asylum blog by J S Chancellor http://welcometotheasylum.net/ (A bit irreverent at times, but well worth reading).
Let me know what’s in your library and let’s start a conversation. The more we read the better we are as human beings and as writers.