Category Archives: Writing ideas

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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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

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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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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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The time and space to write

Image from Write by the Lake, Taylor’s Wave http://woodsgood.ca/Taylor/

The Restless Writers share something very similar: the burning desire to write. And let’s face it, an equally burning desire to escape the familiar. Announcement: we just booked our first-ever literary adventure—beyond the home office!

The most common problem writers have is not writing. But this fall, we’re giving a gift to ourselves: a writing retreat. Not a conference where our time is allocated to instruction, awkward introductions, and scheduled meals, but private time, where we can connect with our literary vision and avoid the distractions that intrude on a writer’s day.

We all have manuscripts on the go and our characters are screaming at us to spend some time with them. We’ll be answering their call from the comfort and privacy of a Bed and Breakfast on the sunny shores of Lake Huron. That is, until we qualify for the Berton House Writers’ Retreat or perhaps Writing Immersion in Sustainable Tuscany or even La Muse in France. Yeah, dream a little writer’s dream, you get the picture.

While writing demands solitude and focus, it doesn’t have to mean isolation and deprivation (note to self: it can mean 400 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets). Our upcoming adventure will supply us with an ambience conducive to creativity, plus fellowship and inspiration. Our retreat promises to contribute to a sense of luxury well-being and provide us with the opportunity to learn while propelling us to reach our writing goals—individually and as a critique group.

This is new to us and already we’re bursting with ideas for our upcoming retreat. Here’s a good resource if you’re exploring this idea too, the Writing Retreat Guide: a guide to writers retreat centers and events, for writing groups or your own renewal and exploration. Give it a try, and may the time and space to write be yours for the taking!

Have YOU experienced a writing retreat? Any advice? We’d love to hear about it!

BJas

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Your Beta Readers Don’t Have to be Toilet-Trained

For a variety of reason, we Restless Writers have been a bit lax of late, both in our meetings and pages, so I’ve been e-mailing my WIP (a chapter book aimed at those aged 7 to 10) to the ladies for some eFeedback.

This latest project is very dear to my heart, not to mention heaps of fun, because the entire family is involved: my husband came up with the initial character; my three-year-old daughter coined some catch phrases; and my eight-year-old son has provided me with key plot points.

When I received suggestions from Beckie and Maria, they were as usual, spot on. However I’ve noticed after reading the outline to my son that he had very similar comments regarding the pacing, characterization and even setting.

Obviously he didn’t use these terms; more often than not they were along the lines of, “That part’s boring, mommy…” or “Why wouldn’t they do (insert his better idea here) instead of (my idea)?”

I mentioned my son’s critiques to Beckie and she offered me some sage advice: “Listen to your kid!” I’ve decided to do just that. He doesn’t realize it, but my son and I have been having regular editorial meetings at bedtime.

I’ll still need my Restless Writers as I complete this manuscript, but they won’t see any pages that haven’t already passed the kid test.

LD

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The Fascination of a Name

rolodexIt’s a shame that we don’t get to choose our own names. At different points in my life I wanted to change my name to something that had meaning for me. (Thank the stars I didn’t—I can’t imagine going through life now as “Morgana” just because I read The Mists of Avalon one too many times.)

But when it comes to writing, I get to name people whatever I want. I’m at the point in my WIP where I am thinking hard about whether or not the working names I have been using as placeholders are my characters’ real names. I’m working on a contemporary re-telling of an epic poem, so I’m pretty much stuck with some names—but others I get to have fun with.

Sometimes the working name I choose turns out to be just right. But sometimes a name in my literary Rolodex ends up feeling off for some reason. Here are some things that I’m considering as I narrow down my choices:

Personal history: I could take the name of my tyrannical elementary-school French teacher and apply it to the mythical hag in my WIP. Or I could name my protagonist after that cool barista who always remembers how I take my coffee. A word to the wise: read up on libel law before you go naming your villain after an evil boss or a malicious ex-boyfriend.

Sound and emotion: The sound of a name can sometimes evoke a feeling. Try reading your characters’ names out loud—do the s sounds make you suspicious of your character? Do the big, broad o’s make him seem gregarious and wise? Do first-name, last-name combinations of single syllables, like Jane Doe, make your character seem anonymous or ineffectual?

Alliteration or assonance: This can be a fun, although potentially fatally distracting trick. You may like the sound of Suzie Schwartzman, Angelina Alomar, or Peter Pumpkineater, but, by golly, you better have a reason for it. Some duplication of sounds can be pleasing and realistic, but too much can be hard for a reader to get past.

Connotation: There are some names that carry the weight of historical, literary, religious or mythological meaning. Not just the biggies—like Moses, Adolf or Osama—but also seemingly benign names like Adam, Dorothy, Diana, Russell, Carrie, Percival, Harry, or Kate can mean different things to different readers, depending on geography, age, or even level of media savvy. The well-read writer will recognize this and either combat the connotations or use them to her advantage.

Trends: I’m sure at some point, names like Gertrude, Matilda, Eunice and Harold were considered the baby names of the year. In the future, we’ll look back and wonder why there were so many children named Justin or Emma, or why someone chose to inflict their offspring with something like Apple or Moroccan. You probably have a sense of what names are fads and which are classics, so go with your gut—and turn on E! once in a while.

Hidden messages: I’m reminded of my third-year seminar in American literature, and a particular class in which we were studying Henry James’s The Bostonians. When the class was asked about James’s choice of naming one his characters Olive, one classmate said, “Maybe James is telling his character, who is pretty repressed, to “O, live!” The rest of the class laughed, but I thought he was on to something.

Whether your goal is to find a name that is contemporary, classic and connotation-free, or to give your reader insight into your story by choosing a name with many layers of meaning, don’t take naming lightly.

How have you had fun with names in your work?

Maria

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Just Duet. Tips for working with a writing partner

For two weeks now I have been in La-La land…really, truly. I have been writing my pants off with a writing partner, and let me tell you—it’s scrupulous and painstaking, yet incredibly rewarding.

Writing is generally considered to be a solitary occupation, but not always. Collaboration can be an intimate creative relationship, a lot like love, friendship, or even film in its experiential nature. And you never really know if it will work with someone until you try it.

First, you will need a partner with similar sensibilities and a complementary strength. This is what gives the collaboration a unique richness and a range of talent. This person should be a writer you respect (and vice versa). It should also be someone who “plays well with others,” recognizing that disagreement is an invaluable part of the collaborative process.

There are many reasons why a partnership can be beneficial. Inspiration for one—there is a certain rush from bouncing creative ideas around with others. Perspective as well. Often a second opinion can help clarify plot inconsistencies or typos and keep the story on track. 

The most important factor in a writing collaboration is the ability to trust your partner. You are trusting them with your creative vision and that they will carry their share of the workload. You need to be able to compromise and settle disagreements. And you need to trust that they will handle the story with a style and creative flair that complements yours. 

One of the best places to look for a writing partner is online, perhaps a writer’s group or a workshop. This type of forum gives you a chance to get to know other writers and evaluate their style of writing before jumping into a partnership. Or you can always tap the blogging community, Twitter, or perhaps duet with say, a spouse, a friend, or an ex-boyfriend (gah!). Choose the most promising partner and see if it clicks. The journey of collaboration begins with one story. Here’s more on how to find your perfect writing partner.

Before your efforts begin, be sure to set a few simple ground rules; this will leave little room for miscommunication that could cause hard feelings and ruin not only the friendship but the writing partnership as well.

THE GROUND RULES:

1) Ego: Leave your ego at the door. Writing is deeply personal for a lot of writers and inviting another person in on that creative process isn’t easy. You have to be able to communicate your interests for the shared work. This isn’t a time for egos, but a time to share equally.

2) Responsibility: Who will be responsible for writing each portion of the work? Will you write together? How? (in person, by phone, online chat)? Will each person write a chapter at a time? Will one partner do most of the writing and the other partner most of the rewrites?

3) Deadlines: Set a deadline for each portion of the work. This should be a team effort, and you should be working to a schedule that mutually suits you and your partner.

4) Revisions: Any editing or alteration of the manuscript or characters should be agreed upon (where possible) by all authors.

5) Payment: Have a written agreement for how payment will be divided. Decide up front and before any writing has begun. If this can’t be agreed upon then there is no point to writing together.

6) Next steps: Decide who gets control of the finished work, who will be responsible for marketing and where. Who will find an agent or publisher?

A collaboration can teach you much about your own writing and can be a very rewarding experience—both for you and for your writing career. Just be sure you select your accomplice carefully!

BJas

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I’m Having an Affair. With My Pen.

My jobs have always involved writing in some capacity and over the years I’ve become adept at hunkering down and getting the job done when deadlines loom. Since beginning my foray into creative-writing-for-myself-and-hopefully-a-paycheck-one-day, however, my capacity to write whenever and wherever has been severely stretched.

Working from home (part-time with flexible hours) while taking care of my kids (double-time with sucky hours) does not an easy writing day make. For instance, this post is being written in bed at seven o’clock on Sunday morning. My husband usually takes the kids to let me sleep in, but lately I’ve been hiding up here to write for thirty precious, uninterrupted minutes while he thinks I’m sleeping.

When my mom was visiting last week I would drop my son off at school while she watched my daughter and I’d pick up a coffee for her on the way home. Guess who was hiding in the parking lot of Tim Horton’s, madly scribbling on a napkin?

During our New Year’s celebrations I had my iPhone handy throughout the night, not because I was afraid of missing a call from home if something went wrong, but because I needed to take notes (good thing, too – mama had a few cocktails and events were blurry).

So if we ever go for lunch and I disappear into the bathroom for twenty minutes or longer? Never fear – chances are good that the only thing I’m cranking out is a revision on chapter six.

LD

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