It is currently “Back to School” time, something the stores and advertisements won’t let us forget. This means different things for different people. For parents it means no more kids around all day to worry about and find things for them to do. For kids it means going back to friends and learning, and waking up earlier! For teachers it means planning, grading, and an end to relaxation. It can also be a chance for us writers to go “back to school”.
For writers there are two things that come to mind when I say this. The first is more literal. Take a workshop. There are many offered all over the area, and farther. One friend even attended one in Scotland! They are often run by groups of writers such as RWA (the romance writers association). Some are offered online. Teachers can include well known authors, editors, or your fellow local writer. These workshops cover all kinds of things. They can help you work on character, plot, setting, anything you could think of, in a welcoming place. You can listen to others talk about their problems with writing and get help with your own. Workshops are a great place to learn to be a better writer.
The second way to “go back to school” is to work on something on your own. Take a look at your writing. You will know what areas you have trouble with, whether that be a story element, or a type of grammar, or anything. Then practice. Try re-writing a section, or maybe giving a character a backstory. Anything you can find to help yourself.
Just because we are now adults does not mean that we can’t go “back to school.” Take advantage of the daily reminders and make your writing better.
In order to write your story you first need to have the idea, the inspiration. This can come from many different places. Sometimes it comes from the submission guidelines to an anthology you are interested in, other times it’s from another work (movie, play, book, etc.). Something you overhear can be inspiring, or it can just pop into your head. I have even dreamed my ideas! All of these places are useful, it just depends on you to make them great.
For me my main source of inspiration is from plays. As many of you know my main series is set in a theatre. There is a play being rehearsed and performed in the background of each book. As such I take much of the inspiration for the plot of the book itself (or at least the crime) from the play. The idea for the first novel actually came while I was working on the play in question. I was watching the show one day and just though, “What if this happened instead?” And so a book was born. For the second I used the title of a play as inspiration for the victim. While my books do not copy the plots of these plays, they do use a lot of similar ideas and themes.
I combined two of these methods to come up with idea for my short story. When we agreed on a theme for our anthology (Dark and Bitter) and were discussing black coffee, I immediately thought of the song “Coffee, Black” from the musical “Big”. Using younger versions of the characters from my novels I was able to successfully create something that both fit the anthology and stayed true to my series.
My other two novels had very different inspirations. The first was a young adult novel based vaguely on my own life as a questioning adolescent. The second is the one that sometimes gets me strange looks. My main character literally came to me in a dream. He just showed up one night and said “My name is Louis, tell my story.” He actually said this, I didn’t dream the story, I dreamt him telling me! In fact, I keep a notebook next to my bed in case it happens again!
Inspiration can come from many places and things. One minute you are staring at a blank page and the next you have a new world, just waiting to explored. Wherever your inspiration comes from, the world is waiting for your story.
We’ve talked briefly before about write-ins. They are a great place to work and to make yourself write. That’s not all they are good for though. One of the best things about write-ins is the people!
For the last three years we have been meeting at Denny’s in Latham every Sunday night. Over this time a steady group of about eight to ten people has developed. That number can grow to over thirty during writing months (November, April and July). Over the past three years these people have become some of my closest friends. Four of us even started this company together.
While we of course do writing sprints of twenty minutes at a time, we also spend the twenty minutes in between writing talking. Sometimes we help someone with a writing problem, but more often than not we just talk. This has led to some, let’s say interesting, conversations, dendrophilia for example!
Spending time with such a diverse and stimulating group of people has another benefit, characters! I often use the people in this group as the basis for certain characters in novels. This gives me a great place to start from with the characters appearance, profession, and motivation. Sometimes this is subtle, a simple nod to someone I know. Occasionally I don’t even know I have done this until it is pointed out by someone else. Other times it is overt and intentional. The best example of this is our own Lizette! In fact, you will find a character named Lizette in many novels written in the 518. She requested to be someone sassy, so for me she is a waitress in the local diner.
It is always fun to come to Denny’s, no matter what kind of mood I am in. I know that I will be among friends and that I will get work done, and even get inspired. Everyone is welcome to join us at any time, and I hope you do.
Footsteps, silent or echoing, can leave us chilled to the bone. I recently ate lunch at the Eagle and Child, or the Bird and the Babe as the Inklings called it. The deep amber wood, creaky floorboards, and foaming ale brought me to the table where sat Clive Lewis, his brother Warren, and John Tolkien, among many, crowded around those sticky tables in the Rabbit Room. It was smoky and dim, and the men were brash, loud, laughing. I wanted to write it, and then my fish and chips arrived. The table I sat at, near the tables of those great writers of afore, got loud with laughter and banter and I felt it. The knowing that our own great efforts are no less in potential than theirs. They were men, hard working and inspired, yes, but also full of bad jokes, and laughing a little too loudly. They feared failure but stuck out their necks anyway- because they had to.
Visiting the places where writers have worked and grown, from J.K. Rowling to Shakespeare, it becomes clear that the process is very personal, the muse tender and fickle. There is no recipe for process, except to open up and let in the world - the chill of inspiration and the warmth of friendship. And keep learning. Curiosity itself brings inspiration, sparking the muse. Walking in someone else's footsteps is interesting, and fun, but our floodgates open because we feel the call, the silent whisperings no one else can hear, and we give them sound. We shape them into Golem, Snape, Peter Rabbit, The Artful Dodger, Othello. No one else can hear them until we give them a voice. If these newly formed personalities struggle and fail, they have still, in the way of fictional characters, had life. If they thrive, establishing themselves in the lexicon of best loved/hated characters, we rejoice, but we plot and plan. Until we no longer hear the whisperings and echoes from the past, or the future, or from other worlds entirely, we write.