Over the past few weeks I’ve been such a slacker. Dust has been collecting on my laptop, and my writing inspiration has left me. No matter how long I sit down and try to get the words, nothing comes out of my fingers.
This is where writing prompts can get the juices flowing. I was recently ‘Hanging Out’ with my critique group and did the prompt, ‘Describe a Spider’. In just 10 minutes I had the start of a flash fiction or short story.
I reached out one of my long thin arms and touched the cool surface of the stucco wall. The rough texture prickled my claw. This was not a good place for me. The last time I spun a web here, the little human that screams smashed it after its mom wouldn’t give him any ice cream. I hate humans, especially little boys. There wasn’t anything nice about the bipeds and most didn’t like spiders.
Hairs on the back of my legs raised as the swish of wind from the back door swung open. I scurried up the stucco wall, and a large nub of stucco scratched my under belly. The little human that screams didn’t have a chance to catch me. I could see him coming in any directions. My posterior row of eyes didn’t miss anything.
The sun was setting and silken thread spewed from my spinneret. It felt soothing. I know my web won’t last long, which was a shame. Works of art lost forever.
Not bad, huh? I can feel the words churning and I’m slipping back into form. Happy writing and until next week.
1) Fill the tanks with ideas from other creative sources. The most important part of this is making sure you watch or read something new. Read a book, watch a movie, listen to some new music, etc. It's all going to add up in the back of your brain into something new.
2) Fill the tanks with ideas from real life. Tolkien created LotR from religion, Nordic, Finnish, and Greek influences. Find a topic you really like and go deep. If you find it interesting then you can make it an interesting part of your next story. I've personally been looking into 1600s Italy lately, but any particular time, place, or culture can work! Not sure what to look into? Try reading random articles on Wikipedia until one sets the sparks flying.
3) Fill the tanks with ideas from nature. All books have a setting, so the more in depth and detailed it is the more interesting it would be. Battling with nature's wrath can be just as interesting as a main character and their rival having a duel. This could be as simple as going out for a walk or watching a documentary on Youtube.
4) Read inspiration from other authors. No one understands the trials and tribulations of writing like other writers. Feeling like you aren't alone might be the exact thing you need to spark an idea or sit your butt into a chair to write. My favorites include Neil Gaiman, Rob Sawyer, and Brandon Sanderson.
5) Talk to your character, where are they living? What are they worried about? Maybe you don't know, but that guy who has been talking in your head all night does. Or the alien. Or the sentient space ship. Sit down and set a timer for five minutes and answer those questions. Perhaps the answer itself is an interesting idea.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about point of view. It is one the first things you must decide when you begin to write. It can change everything about a novel. Does your narrator know all? Or just what one character sees? Are they a character in the story? This is a critical question.
Most of my stories are written in a third-person limited point of view. For those who can’t remember, like many of my students, this is a he/she/they narration that can only see one person’s thoughts. I choose a character and the narrator, who is not involved in the story, tells what they see and think. I like this point of view because it allows for exposition while still keeping some things secret from the reader. A similar form of this is third-person omniscient, where the narrator can see inside all characters heads. I tend not to like this one for my writing. This is because in my mysteries I do not want my reader to be able to see the killers thoughts!
Once, I attempted to write in the rarely used second-person, or “you” point of view. This was an interesting experience. It was an assignment for a creative writing class in college. I hated it. Even though I was using characters I was familiar with, the flow of the story was off and it was difficult to understand. I am glad that I experimented, but it is not something I would choose to do again.
The last point of view, first person, is the one that I have been thinking about. In this POV your narrator is a character in the story. You experience the story as the live it. While I do not typically write this way I recently came up with a new story idea that I think will be best served by a first-person point of view. That is really the key, picking which POV is best for that particular story.
Well, there you have it, a tour through the four different POV’s and my experience with them. What about you? What POV do you typically use? Why? Is there any you would like to try?
Photo credit: pixabay.com
I was, as usual, doing laundry, folding a (large) pile of t-shirts. Eyjafjallajökull, ACK, Acadia Park, Don't Move Firewood, Fringe Festival, Hope, Griffyndor; representing my family's work and play, our life. Many were soft to the touch (because, me), some were spotted with paint or oil from my husband's tinkering and building, a few were soccer themed for the boy. From Iceland and Scotland, British Columbia, Maine and Nantucket, pull it from the drawer and remember what that felt like, that moment when you stepped from the ferry or plane or car and see this place for the very first time. The new smells, structures, people, and opportunities for adventure. That whale we saw, climbing in the scree of a volcano, Hogwarts Castle.
Our sense of smell is so strong it can be prompted to pull out decades old memories, a scent that reminds of great-grandmother's old-world soap, grandfather's hair pomade, that first boy/girl friend's sweat. The first time I made thanksgiving turkey (the smell of cooking giblets), the first bath I gave my first baby, these are things I don't have photos or t-shirts for, but I remember them all the same, and they prick my imagination, each in a different way; a mixture of poignancy and nostalgia and regret, or joy and longing and laughter.
All these mixes, each reminder, is what I think of as a life spice. It makes our lives interesting, gives us things to process long after the events are over. They give us germs of ideas, some develop and others flit away. Some come well earned, like the mountain bike ride up Mount Washington. Others fall into our laps, like the trip my mom took me on to St. Maartin Island (thanks, Mom!), and the time someone pulled the fire alarm in college and the whole dorm emptied out into the snow in February in the pajamas (or less!).
If I were to build Hogwarts, what would I do differently? Write the fanfic and try! If I went back to Martha's Vinyard, what would I most like to do? Write a short story and do it! Bring out the stench of fish along the dock, the salt drying on your eyelids, sand in the heel of your shoes making it hard to walk, even just thirty yards to the pub.
Writing gives us outlets for all the strange and wonderful thoughts that hop along after seeing a plot bunny, that evolve after an experience. But without these events (good and bad, frightening, humbling, even horrifying), adventures, people, places, smells, the textures of our lives would leave little for us to ponder, or for the reader to digest. Enjoy those spicy memories, and keep making them!
One of my favorite things to do is to free write. It unleashes my inner creativity, and a great way to break through writer’s block. It’s not hard but you have to prep yourself.
Set a time limit for your free write. I find that 20 minutes works best. Remove yourself from all distractions and listen to the pulse around you. Release each cell of your body and roam, touch, feel and experience with your mind following close behind. Each thought, sound, and smell becomes a new discovery. It’s similar to meditation but instead of looking for inner peace, you are exploring your environment. Feel the energy and with a gentle tug inside, the words will start to gather and spill out of your fingertips.
One night sitting at the kitchen table while the house was empty, I came up with a beginning of a short story.
Lizette’s Free Write at the Kitchen Table
Sitting on a chair at the kitchen table, I watch and listen. Stillness. No, that is not true. There is movement. The clock pendulum swings back and forth. Tick, tick, tick with each arc.
The air doesn’t stir. Stuffy and stagnate. A whiff of toast lingers and reaches my nostrils. It invokes memories of my toasted tomato sandwich I had for dinner.
Humming from the refrigerator is low and constant. A cacophony of night sounds drifts in from an open window. Chirping, trilling, and clicks. Tires rolling over the road pavement from a passing car.
The lighting is low, only the light over the sink is on. I need to vacuum the floor. I need to wipe the counters.
I focus on the clock, it draws me. The rhythmic movement is soothing and hypnotizing. I feel somewhat anxious and at peace at the same time. My mind is combing through the list of things I need to do tomorrow but the ticking of the clock draws me back.
Remember not to go back and edit. I’m guilty of doing this, but somehow I restrained myself. This is what I transformed the above free write into.
The Intruder by Lizette Strait
Sitting at the kitchen table, I watched and listened. Stillness. The light over the sink cast shadows throughout the dimly lit room. De Ja Vu swept over me as the day’s events flooded my mind.
I focused on the mantle clock. Tick, tick, tick. The rhythmic movement was soothing and hypnotizing. I felt anxious and at peace at the same time. How odd.
The rustle of clothing drew me away from my thoughts. I looked down at the man lying on the floor and watched him stir. It surprised me he stayed unconscious this long. I didn’t hit him that hard, did I?
So what do you think? Would you want to turn the page to read what happens next? I hope so. Give free writing a try. It’s fun and shakes the words up when the things get a bit boring.
The days are long and hot. Yard work calls with the temptation of the after work lemonade. House repairs that have been waiting for months are finally finding the right conditions to work. Through all of this where is the time to write?
Right now I'm editing and the most productive way to work on these summer days is to read over the scene that I'm intending to edit before going outside. Then I'll tend to my flowers and continue to chop up the trees that fell over the winter, all while thinking about what needs to go into those edits. By the time my physical work is done I'm ready to drink my lemonade and work on the mental task of editing.
Some days I try to get up early to edit. I know that work that day is going to take up a lot of my energy, so I take some time while drinking my morning coffee to edit a scene or two. This has the added bonus of leaving the whole afternoon to enjoy the sunshine and relax.
This last option works year-round; schedule time to write! For me it works best if I say that I'm going to be at a certain place for a dedicated length of time and ask if others would like to meet me there. Even if they don't come there's the chance that they will come, and that encourages me to stay for the entire time. Just make sure to do writing sprints, because meetings like this can end up with a lot of chatting.
How do get in your summer writing?
We have talked a lot on this blog about the thought processes behind writing. From inspiration to publishing we have discussed how different people work. Today I want to talk about a different kind of process, the actual, physical, process of sitting down to write.
Just like the mental processes this can look different for everyone. We write with different materials, in different places, wearing different clothes. Some people have specific routines they follow, others wing it. But all of this can influence our work.
I’ll start with the basic, writing materials. There are tons of different computer programs to use for writing. Among the most popular are Word, Pages, GoogleDocs, and Scrivner. But these are just a few, and just on the computer. I know people who use others tools, such as pen and paper, typewriters, and a device called a Neo. I personally like to use Microsoft Word. I know that this is kind of an old program, and for my professional life I have mostly switched to google. But for my stories I prefer to use the program that I have used for ages. There is something comfortable about it.
Places to write can be important too. They can provide inspiration or distraction. For me the best place to write is at Denny’s! That may sound strange, but the camaraderie of this group of writers has helped produce some of my best work. It also helps me focus. When I am at home I have a hard time writing because of all the distractions. I am always finding something else that I need to do. When I go to a place specifically to write it helps me cool down that part of my mind.
Clothes, food, music, and other forms of atmosphere can also influence writing. I like to be comfortable when I write and it isn’t a Sunday at Denny’s without Root Beer and Mozzarella sticks! I even know a writer who eats eggs whenever she writes a sex scene! As for music, that’s easy for me. Since there is a musical in the background of each of my novels, the soundtracks give me inspiration.
So there you have it, my process. While I certainly occasionally write in other places and ways, this is what works best for me. What is your favorite way to write?
In the literary world today, book reviews are ever so important. Authors use the book review to build a following, and readers to find something new. Without them, the inundation of new novels that flood the internet daily makes things difficult.
A book review is not just a brief synopsis, but a chance to open a critical lens into the story. What did you think about the story? Did it compel you to turn the page and keep on reading? Were you satisfied at the end and would you read another book by the same author? These are just a few questions a reader should think about when writing a review.
I was recently combing Amazon searching for my next best read and found, The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. Amazon readers rated it 4.7 out of 5 stars. A rating like that caught my eye. And I wasn’t disappointed.
The book was well written and affected me in many ways. It’s so much more than a dog book, but having the story told through the eyes of a dog elevated the read into the stratosphere. Life after death, hope, and the importance of paying attention to life’s details resonated throughout the story. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone but a box of Kleenex should be within reach.
So the next time you finish a book, leave a review. The author and your fellow reader will appreciate it.
Reading a good book is one of the best, and cheapest, ways to travel to a new place. Yet as a writer actually traveling to a new place can give oneself the inspiration to write something new.
Two questions often come up:
How do I travel on the cheap?
How do I find the most interesting things to do while traveling?
I find that the answer is one and the same; stay local and find all of the unknown wonders of your town!
I recently found out about the website Atlas Obscura which lists over 40 less known local sights in the Albany area. I've really enjoyed walking new paths and seeing new places.
When looking for cheap ways to do things I found out that the local library had museum passes that I could check out for the weekend.
Between the two I've discovered amazing new places and things right in my backyard, which will surely be a part of my next story.
Recently I have had some, thankfully minor, health scares. Luckily for me they are all easily fixable and will lead to my leading a much healthier and happier life. Now, what, you might think, does this have to do with writing? Well that's easy.
One of the problems I have been having was related to sleep. While I won’t get in to all of the details, one of the doctor’s solutions was to not look at screens for two hours before sleeping. Crazy right! In this day and age how could I possibly not look at a TV, phone, or tablet for two hours? What would I do?
Turns out the answer was simple. I read! Though a lot of this has sucked I have loved getting back to the days of reading before bed. And I’m reading real books too. Holding them in my hand. None of this e-book or audio stuff.
At first I reread some of my favorite cozy series. They helped remind me why I love the genre and inspire my next novel. Then I got to go to the bookstore! Since that’s basically my favorite place in the world it was a great day. I picked up a bunch of great new stuff, much of it in new genres. And since its doctor’s orders my husband can’t tell me I spent too much money!
But in all seriousness, while the circumstances that led to this weren’t the best, I relish the chance to get back to my roots as a writer, to read again.