Category Archives: Writing ideas

My writing albatross

Why can’t I write this blog post? It’s been pressing on my shoulders for three weeks now. Coleridge’s damn albatross. The emails from my fellow Restless Writers were initially gentle reminders, but have now become electrified prods like I’m a cow to be herded back to my quarters. (OK, they’re not that mean, but I am feeling the pressure.)

Every time I sit down in hopes the “grand inspiration” will come, the screen sits in silence. The keys remain idle. My fingers await their commands.

And alas, when a few words do splatter on the screen they are out of focus, blurry like a…like a…what? The simile alludes me. My muse is clearly on vacation enjoying steamy weather and sunlight, while I freeze in this record cold winter, surrounded by greying snow and the greying sky out my window reflecting the current grey in my brain.

fireplace

Where is the light in my thoughts? Where is just a spark of an idea? I’m sitting beside a fire for God’s sake! Nothing?

Have I left it too long? Have the distractions of my life stolen my ability to create something new? Perhaps I have starved Calliope for too long and she has found refuge in another writer’s home.

What’s a writer to do when a fog has descended on her creativity? Here’s are some ideas:

  • Try a writing prompt to start you off and help focus your brain.
  • Write something, anything every day – even if it’s crap – at least you’re writing.
  • Read. Read anything – about writing, a novel, a blog, poetry. Read…a lot.
  • Schedule your writing time and be disciplined to make it happen with no distractions.
  • Take a step back for a moment and set some goals. Maybe it’s time to regroup and figure out what you want to achieve with your writing. Check in to ensure you are heading in the direction you want to be with your writing. Maybe it’s time for a left-hand turn to stir things up.
  • Stop and have a good look at your life recently.  What needs to shift? Where are you out of balance? (This one’s mine. My life’s been spazzy these last months and my writing has suffered because of it.)

Writing takes persistence, perseverance and patience, and each ‘p’ word comes in waves. Sadly my surf board has been stuck behind my snow shovel lately. I haven’t been  I know I have to dig it out, once I dig my car out of the driveway. The worst ‘p’ for me is the third one. Damn that patience thing. It’s the new albatross around my neck now that this blog post is done.

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Filed under Blogging, Inspiration, Life and stuff, Motivation, Starting up, Writing ideas

Get up close and personal with your character on a field trip

Baboons at the zooOne of the characters in my newest short story is mute. Not on purpose—it’s just that I don’t know enough about him to get him to say anything. So far, all I’ve got out of him is “yep,” “nope,” and a couple of nods and glares. And he’s kind of important. He’s a great, big, gaping cipher in the middle of my story, and I need to figure him out before I can move forward.

It shouldn’t be this hard, right? He’s an imaginary person, and I can pretty much get him to do or say what I want.

Whatever he does or says, it has to jive with the choices he makes within the story. His actions and the things he says have to be authentic and honest, even if they are all imaginary.

I recently re-read an interview with Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus. She said that she was bored with her original story and decided to send the characters to the circus to stir things up. I was inspired, and decided to see if sending my character on a field trip would help me figure him out.

Field trip # 1: The zoo

Okay, it’s a lot like the circus, so no points for originality–but it’s definitely a destination where almost anything can happen. I found out that my character is “that guy” who will jump into the baboon enclosure if someone dared him to and if there was an audience.

Field trip # 2: A job interview

Not exactly a walk in the park, but this helped get my character talking about himself and his past, and helped me understand how he would react under stress. I found out he’s a bit of a showman in an interview, and adept at highlighting his accomplishments. But he is stymied when questions about organization and prioritization come up. Maybe I should get him to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator next. Hmm…

Field trip # 3: A funeral

This was a bit of a downer, but it helped me get a grip on how well my character would mingle with other people in a more somber, emotional environment. It turns out he is uncomfortable with displays of emotion, and doesn’t want to be relied on to help other people manage their problems or their grief. He prefers to work through his own emotions by himself, and he expects other people to do the same. Sheesh. No wonder his girlfriend is on the fence.

So will any of this help? I think the exercise was valuable. As I continue to flesh out the scenes in my story, these tidbits about my character will help me figure out how he reacts to events, how he interacts with other people, and why he makes certain decisions. It might even change where my story ends up. And I hope that will help make my story better.

What about you? Where will you take your characters?

Maria

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Filed under Inspiration, Trials and Tribulations, Writing ideas

Are you super talented or just crazy?

Like many of you, I procrastinate by watching videos on You Tube.

Instead of writing, I find myself watching funny Jennifer Lawrence clips (that Katniss cracks me up) or the latest in Sophia Grace and Rosie (cuz I kinda love female rappers, even if they are only 8 yrs old—thank you, Ellen!). But have you ever tried to find a GOOD video about writing fiction? Book trailers do not count, plus, they are just weird.

I finally stumbled on a good writing video. If you’re a writer and have two minutes to chuckle (your protagonist can wait), check out John Hodgman’s advice to writers via the You Tube Channel known as THNKR. You might know him as an American actor, author and humourist, and he’s also been on The Daily Show and Attach of the Show (G4 TV) as a guest many times.

So, which category do you fall into? Crazy, mediocre, or super talented?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

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Filed under Author Interviews, Books and stuff, Getting published, Inspiration, Motivation, Writing ideas

Me & CBC

This Huffington Post article by Amy Wruble, 40 Effed Up Things About Being 40, is making the rounds on my Facebook feed. It made me laugh. I just turned 40 last year but found myself relating to many of Amy’s observations – the correlation between the ingestion of pancakes and my waist size in particular. May my old metabolism rest in peace.

There is one more item I would add to this list – not so much “effed up” but definitely in the category of a “new trend” for me since I turned forty. I have become a fan of CBC Radio. That’s right, I said it, I am a late bloomer to CBC Radio.

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It’s not that I didn’t know it existed, it’s just that growing up I largely considered CBC Radio to be “boring” and for “old” people. I like to think I was just wrong all these years, of course it may be that now I am old and boring but either way CBC Radio is suddenly appealing to me and often the first thing I put on the radio when I get into the car.

I’m still learning my way around the programming schedule but am super happy when I land on shows like The Next Chapter with Shelagh Rogers or Writers & Company hosted by Eleanor Watchel. These programs offer up a great forum for discussions with authors. I love hearing about what compels them to write and inspires their stories and characters. Studio Q with Jian Ghomeshi is also a great place to hear fantastic interviews like this one with Khaled Hosseini  (Kite Runner, And the Mountains Echoed) last week.

Turns out there’s a whole world of radio/talk shows for writers out there, just opening up to boring-old-40-year-old me. Here are just a few that I found. I’d love to hear from others about their favourites.

Talk Shows for Writers (www.freelancewriting.com)

Best Podcasts for Authors (http://www.bookbuzzr.com)

5 Must-hear Podcasts for Writers (http://www.fromthewriteangle.com)

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Filed under Author Interviews, Inspiration, Writing ideas, Writing resources

Fighting writer’s block

Oh the dreaded writer’s block. Just the word “block” itself is enough to make any writer cringe – like saying the word ‘castration’ to any human male. It’s physically painful, mentally stressful and emotionally draining.

And it happens when you know you have something brilliant brewing inside you. You can feel it churning and hear its silent screams of agony pleading with your brain to get out of the way so it can take over control of your fingers and guide them to a perfect, eloquent expression that will alter existence as we know it. But there are simply too many luscious words to choose from and your brain is overwhelmed by the possibility.

Well, I say, “Block, be damned!” Instead of fighting you, I will embrace you. Instead of fearing you, I will call to you and dare you to enter my being. For I am writer. Hear me roar (figuratively in your face using my onslaught of carefully chosen words and cunning turns of phrase.)

And how will I do that, you may ask? How do I dare speak so boldly to the invisible one who appears without sign or warning? How will I fight an immortal foe who has plagued every writer in history of writers? How will I conjure such brilliance in the presence of one who appears all powerful?

With the element of surprise, that’s how. I will take the unexpected road. I will diverge from my usual routine. I will break the walls around me and step outside my comfort zone. I will release my secure blankey of the known and explore unchartered territory. Simply put, I will try something new.

And how do I know it will work? How can I speak with such confidence? Well, just think of those times when you can’t for the life of you remember someone’s name, or the name of that damn song, or that friggin’ actor from that friggin’ movie. Your forehead strains. Your mind hurts as you beg in vain for the name to appear on your tongue. And when it doesn’t come, what do you do? You walk away. You let it go and move on, until a time when you are completely immersed in something else, or just about to fall asleep, and the name uncontrollably – with a volume that startles even you – blurts from your lips.

That’s what writers need to do too. Lose the block by becoming immersed in something else, in something that takes you outside of your usual approach to writing – like writing in a different style; writing about a subject that is foreign to you; writing a different genre. It will help you let go of the stress you have built up and explore a new path if only for a little while. You might even surprise yourself by finding something new you are good at, or at the very least, breathe new life into your current composition.

Here are some ideas. Pick one and let it surprise you with what you may discover about yourself:

5 ideas to step outside your writing comfort zone

  1. If you’re not a poet, write a poem. If you are a poet, give yourself a challenge to write a completely different style of poetry.
  2. Open a book to a random page and make the opening line of your new piece the sentence your finger touches. Or write one based on a random tweet. Lots of great material there. (This one is thanks to @thegrahammilne.)
  3. Write about a first experience (e.g., first sexual experience – these are usually juicy with awkwardness)
  4. Write the opposite of what you usually do (e.g., write a fictional story vs a non-fiction essay)
  5. Set the timer for 30 minutes and don’t let your pen stop moving. Write any and all words that come to your head regardless if they make sense, come in full sentences, or are the same word repeated over and over again for the full half hour (in fact – that might very well tell you what you should be writing about.)

We write to discover more deeply who we are and what it means to be human, but this discovery can become stilted when our reliance on our usual writing routines and styles becomes more powerful than the freedom we demand as artists to express ourselves.

Try it. Have the courage to let the element of surprise be both your guide and your weapon – and tell us at Restless Writers how it went.

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A picture paints a thousand words: how to use Pinterest as a writer

pinterest-catsThe last thing I want as a writer is another social networking platform to worry about. I have enough distractions, thank you very much. And so it begins…

With a little persuasion from Maria, I have started “Pinning.” I’m using Pinterest for my writing research. Sure, I’m creating personalized boards and pinning my favourite DIY ideas but I’m also pinning research visuals and catching on to why this popular online space might just be a useful resource for me as a writer.

Unlike most social media platforms, Pinterest is all about the imagery, and not the text. And who doesn’t love pictures! With its visual focus, it may seem counterintuitive that Pinterest would be great for writers, but I’m quickly learning how this tactic is proving to be a rich resource, particularly in the creative stages.

Creating visual pin boards can be a great way to help fuel your imagination and give readers a glimpse into your creative process. Here’s a glimpse at my board to give you an idea.

Now it’s your turn to “Pin It!”

Here are 8 ways that Pinterest can be useful to you as a writer.

1. Research. People (actors that represent your characters). Places (images of similar settings). Things (objects or time period references). Mood (scenes that create atmosphere and emotional overtones).

2. Motivation. Inspirational quotes and wisdom as a way to inspire and remind yourself why you write and what you want to accomplish.

3. Collaboration. Invite other writers to pin to your board and make comments. Organize writing teams and pitch ideas. Provide incentives (free books) to fellow writers.

4. Booklists. Market research and comparables to your book. Or books you want to read!

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5. Promotion. Images of your blog, posters, flyers, business cards, book covers, and book tour photos.

6. The Writing Life. Pin the view out the window from your desk. Your bookshelf. Your real-life storyboard/pin board. Or even your cat asleep on your laptop.

7. Stay current. Using the “Popular” feature on the Pinterest home page, you can instantly access the latest trends from all genres.

8. Connect with your fans. Pin boards show your personality and interests. It’s a great way to connect with others and express what you care about.

How do you use Pinterest? Feel free to share links to your pin boards in the comment section. We’d love to check them out!

B Jas

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It’s Been a PITCH of a Summer

The Restless Writers have had some challenges this summer.

The pages and word counts have evaporated kinda like sweat. It’s been a summer of renos, indexes, puppies, and house hunting. Our meetings have gone down more like patio parties and opportunities to kvetch about our lives and ‘honey-do’ lists. But there is hope! We have all managed to share new ideas and bring the early workings of new-fangled projects to the table (along with brie and butter tarts).

We have pitches. Four of them.

Creating a pitch can be a bit like peeling back the layers of an onion. We all know a well-crafted pitch begins with a brief sentence that describes the book. So we started there, then followed it with character and situation information. We did this while taking into consideration three key story sparks and of course, the ultimate hook. We managed to come up with a structure that worked for us, while keeping in mind that we were pitching to each other as a writing group and not agents. We were pitching ideas, not complete projects.

And this is how we did it.

THE PERFECT PITCH:

  1. WORKING TITLE
  2. LOGLINE (i.e. one sentence summary)
  3. GENRE (i.e. YA/Women’s Fiction)
  4. WORD COUNT
  5. SIMILAR BOOK TITLES (or similar author’s style)
  6. MAIN CHARACTER (and main character’s goal)
  7. SITUATION
  8. CONFLICT
  9. DISASTER
  10. STORY RESOLUTION

Perhaps this is a template that you too can use while you pitch your new project to your peers. Try it for a few different projects before you settle on one. While it is a bit scary, it’s totally worth it.

Now the real work begins. We are about to begin plot summaries and outlines.

Our pitch of a Summer is setting us up for a fantastic Fall!

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Filed under Getting published, Group meetings, Inspiration, Motivation, Writing ideas

Spread the Light

Do you like to write poetry? Are you on Twitter?

Consider joining in a collaborative Twitter poem Wednesday June 20, 8 – 10 pm EST, in celebration of the solstice. The theme, naturally, is Light.

How does this copoem work? Simply get on Twitter and tweet a line or two of original poetry. Make sure to include the hashtag keyword #copoem in your tweet so it doesn’t get lost. (If you search using the hashtag key you will be able to see what others have written too.)

Afterwards, the tweets will be gathered and stitched together – perhaps with an edit or two – and the final poem will be posted at www.karenkachra.com. Who knows what we’ll come up with…it’s an experiment!

Thanks to Tara T. @tara_in_canada for this fun idea and Karen Kachra @karenkachra for organizing everything!

Happy Solstice,
The Restless Writers

ls

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Filed under Author events, Calls for submissions, Inspiration, poetry, Writing ideas, Writing resources

Your life in 6 words

Not Quite What I Was Thinking

According to the literary legend, novelist Ernest Hemingway was once challenged in a bar to write a story in only six words. He wrote, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

If you were asked to sum up your life in six words, could you do it? I was challenged with this recently and it’s been an interesting exercise. I wrote a bunch of bios, then a bunch more. It was surprising how many I could come up with, some poetic, some funny, and some that resembled silly haikus. All of them a bit out of the ordinary, yet candid and concise.

Here’s one of them:

Artist trapped in civil servant’s body. ~ Beckie

After jotting down a dozen for myself, I took it further and extended the challenge to the Restless Writers and here’s what I got:

Strives for perfection, stymied by procrastination. ~ Maria

Writer wannabe, ‘cuz I hate housework. ~ Lori

Of course, I stumbled upon many more (like this) out there. The online magazine Smith asked its readers to do the same. The result was Not Quite What I Was Planning, a collection of six-word memoirs by famous and not-so-famous writers, artists, and musicians.

Here are a few of them:

No future, no past. Not lost. ~ Matt Brensilver

Catholic school backfired. Sin is in! ~ Nikki Beland

Well, I thought it was funny. ~ Stephen Colbert

Deceptively simple. Surprisingly addictive. The profound brevity of these bios leaves you knowing so much, and yet somehow leaves you wanting more. Give it a try, the experience of capturing real-life stories in six words is an insightful one.

What’s your six-word bio? We invite you to leave it in the comments section.

BJas

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Filed under Inspiration, Life and stuff, Motivation, Writing ideas

On food, wine and words

Wine glass with a reflection of the sky in it.When my husband went back to school to become a chef, I had visions of dining daily on home-cooked gourmet meals. While that may not have happened exactly as planned (a word to the wise: chefs don’t cook at home), my vocabulary at least has been well-fed. Words like vol-au-vent, panna cotta, semi freddo and brown butter have found their way into my brain.

Words are so many things to me: the worker-bees of communication, miniature works of art, capsules of history, subjects of debate, and the way I earn a living. When I learn a new word—and I’m always learning—I like to get to know it better, consider its etymology, understand its grammatical role and then gently introduce it to its pals and the sentence I’ll be using it in.

It’s a bit like tasting a new wine. The Chef—who’s taken a few sommelier classes—wouldn’t dream of serving a new wine without first tasting it, knowing about the terroir of its region and the history of its winemaker, and learning which foods it can be paired with.

Aside from the tasty terms I’ve absorbed from the Chef, I learn new words primarily through reading. Here are a few words I’ve picked up recently:

  • Stochastic: Refers to systems whose behaviour is intrinsically non-deterministic, and is used in fields of mathematics, artificial intelligence and science. From J.G. Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition.
  • Greige: An icky nail polish colour that was trendy last year and is now (hopefully and thankfully) out of fashion. From InStyle, circa 2010.
  • Social movements: As defined by Sidney Tarrow, social movements are collective challenges [to elites, authorities, other groups or cultural codes] by people with common purposes and solidarity in sustained interactions with elites, opponents and authorities. For example, the global justice movement or the women’s movement. From a textbook I indexed for a Canadian publisher.
  • Aligoté: A type of grape used to make white wine, traditionally in house blends (or what the Chef and I call “plonk”). From Natalie Maclean’s Red, White and Drunk All Over (my number 1 reading pick this summer–I highly recommend it).

I would argue that the best way to build a gourmet vocabulary is by reading. A lot. Another way is, of course, through research for your writing. If one of your characters is, say, an art historian, you should be able to use words specific to that profession—and use them effectively and accurately. Improper or awkward usage is the hallmark of a word that has been hastily found through a word processor’s thesaurus function.

And finally, you can expand your vocabulary simply by listening to the people around you and being open to the great expanse of knowledge in the world. A curiosity about language and how it relates to real-life experiences is a writer’s most important tool.

What delectable words have you discovered recently?

Maria

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