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?
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.
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.
Book signings. They are one of the sweet benefits of an author’s life. While we write, we seclude ourselves away from the world with only our characters for company. However, after publication we welcome the public to come.
And the 518 Publishing Company savored a sweet last weekend with their first book signing at the ‘Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza’. Our premier anthology, ‘Dark & Bitter’ was front and center and was well received. Four of the 518 authors read excerpts from their stories, welcomed readers, and signed copies of the book. It was such a crush.
But no matter how much you plan and prepare for an event, there is always something that would work better. For instance, the flow of customers coming into the book store was not to our advantage. Even though we were right in front by the door, people would come in look at what we were doing, then keep going. Customers had to be invited into the book signing. Not that it was a bad thing, but the 518 staff had to be diligent. Maybe a big sign by the door inviting people to come sit and listen to the stories would help. I guess it’s a lesson learned.
All and all, it was a smashing success and we like to thank the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza for hosting us. And if you missed it, no worries, there are many in the future.
I like to keep a lot of different writing goals going at the same time. Last year I had eight, and this year I've tried to narrow it down to the most important five. In fact two of those goals are six month goals, so it's only four at a time, and the big goal is to fully edit the novel I wrote for NaNo last year.
It's been taking up all of my writing time for the last three months and I've made some great progress. But I went to check in with my goals I realized that I hadn't been writing any flash fiction.
So this weekend I sat my butt down in a chair with a pen and paper and wrote three pieces of flash fiction. I could feel the cogs starting up again, parts of my brain getting oiled and used for the first time in too many months. But then, it all started to click. The words flowed and I ended the day thinking, "This is what I've been missing. Writing my heart out and not worrying about an outline or the next scene or even the next chapter."
I didn't mean to get into a writer's block, I was simply too focused on a goal I considered more important for my writing career at the time. Now that I see what it was I'm glad to get out of it. Writing is in my blood, and writing every day is my meditation, and if I don't switch gears occasionally I forget that.
In the last few weeks I have had a series of disasters. I managed to break to cars in the same week I got a $46 paycheck! I also came unbelievable close to losing something very important, my novel.
I let my husband borrow my lap top for a few days to work from home during a snow storm. The lap top was also doing a major hardware update. In the middle of this update he called to me from the other room. The screen had frozen. The machine wouldn’t do anything, not even turn off. I began to panic.
Not only do I use this computer for work, but all of novels and stories are saved on it. In the first second of panic I realized that my latest work, one new novel, one edited novel, and my updated encyclopedia, were not backed up! I was terrified that al of this work was gone.
Thankfully I was able to get the computer working again. The first thing I did was e-mail my work to myself. I will never again forget to back up my stories, they are too important to lose.
Let my story serve as a reminder to you. No matter what way you choose to do it. Whether you use e-mail, a flash drive, google drive, a hard copy, anything. DO NOT FORGET TO BACK UP YOUR WORK. I was lucky, but not everyone is, and I know no one wants to lose their stories.
A Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry. It has 17 beats, 3 lines with 5 beats in the 1st and 3rd lines and 7 beats in the middle. It's the only type of poetry I have any success writing. They are quick and easy for anyone to dabble in, even me.
Here are a few examples on the Japanese Haiku.