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.
During my day job as a teacher one of the things I often work on with my students is creative writing. It often amazes me how creative these kids can be. The plot lines they come up with are sometimes better than the ones I read in published books! That being said, there is one thing they struggle with, description.
My students are very good at knowing what is going to happen in a story, but they don’t know to say it. They often simply write out their plot. This ends up being more like an outline than a story. As such I came up with a phrase that I teach them and then stress throughout the process. That phrase is “show not tell”. What I mean by that is rather than just say what is happening you need to make the reader see it, live it. You need to use all five senses to make your writing feel real.
Many students, and in fact many people, have trouble with this idea. They would rather tell the story as it happened, much like they would while talking to a friend. What I do to combat this is to show them a simple story written both ways. Once they see how boring a “tell” story is they are more able to “show.”
Another thing I do with my students is to make sense charts. These charts lists the five senses and the students must fill it out about a character or setting. This helps them think of adjectives to use while writing.
While I typically use this technique with teenagers it could also easily be applied to any author. Any time you feel like you’re writing needs something more try using a sense chart. You would be surprised what this can add to a story.
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.
Sitting down to actually write is sometimes the hardest part of the process. Through more trial and error than I would have liked I have found three ways to get around it, and one that I have yet to try.
The method I use the most is the twenty minute sprint. Sit down, set a timer for twenty minutes, start the timer, and write. Don't stop for food, water, Facebook, or research. If something needs to get added later then put it in caps. The first draft of my novel is full of LOOK UP PURPLE PLANT NAME or WHAT COLOR WAS HIS EYES ANYWAYS notes. After the timer goes off set it again, this time, twenty minutes of anything that isn't writing! Some of my writer friends use the time to fill in the capitalized words and research that needs to get done. I will usually watch part of a TV show, read a book, or get up and do some housework. When the timer goes off its time for another twenty minutes of writing. Keep going until the whole novel is done!
The second option is to write at the same time every day. For some it's in the morning with their cup of coffee, for others, it's right after a trip to the gym. Some are only able to find the time to write during their lunch break, and they often make excellent use of that time. Using the same time every day makes the brain anticipate the time. It'll have the story planned to write because it knows that time is coming. There also seems to be less resistance to the idea of writing. Even if there is some writer's block, it's still time to write something, and the brain will fill it in.
Another option is to tie one's writing to an item, food, or drink. If you only write when having a cup of coffee, tea, while eating a banana, or wearing a purple hat your brain will notice and respond by making the writing easier every time to you use the trick. There is a load of scientific research on this, and it sounds silly, but it totally works.
The last one is often talked about by big name writers who have a lot more time than I do to write every day. They sit down and they don't get up until their goal for the day has been completed. Usually, that goal is nice and high, close to the 2000 word mark.
Until I am a full-time writer I won't be using the last trick myself. The first three I use as much as possible to get words on the page, and they definitely help!
Writers block. That moment when you’re rolling right along, writing your story, and suddenly nothing. Your characters stop talking to you, stop moving. It’s like you’re watching a movie and someone hit the pause button. The problem is, you’ve lost the remote and can’t get it moving again.
So what can we do to get the story going? Well many people suggest skipping to another spot in the story. For some people this can help them figure out what needs to go in the middle. This method is great for a plotter. But for a pantser like me this is simply impossible. I don’t know what is going to happen later in the story so how can I write it?
Instead I usually try to work on something else. I begin another story, or edit a previous one. I try to work with other characters. Often times the block is caused by spending too much time in one world and I need to take a break from it in order to get back on track. Other times a new story has just taken that spot in my brain and needs to get out before I can go back.
Sometimes I take a break from writing altogether. I’ve discovered that, no matter how much I love it, occasionally I just can’t write. So I’ll do some work, read a book, spend time with family and friends. Eventually my head clears enough that I can go back to the story and characters I love.
Everyone who writes, whether for work or for fun or something in between, needs to remember that blocks happen. There is no way to prevent them. The key is to figure out how to find that remote and hit that play button. The last thing you want to do is keep that story paused forever. What method do you use?
Here are the top seven writing habits repeatedly mentioned by big time writers including Bryce Courtney, Stephen King, Maya Angelou, Neil Gaiman, and Agatha Christie.
- Be consistent. Some authors write at a given time, some only on given days, but all of them make writing important and consistent.
- Never justify. If you want purple grass and seven moons, go for it. If your characters are exceptionally goody-goody, or sociopathic, then that is what makes the story yours.
- Let it go. At some point, put the story, poem, song, play, out into the world. Give it wings. If it crashes and burns, follow point four below.
- Never stop writing. If the first one flops, write the second, and the third and the seven thousandth. You actually never know when someone (see final point below) will read something you’ve written and it really does make it big.
- Balance your weakness. If you can’t make a deadline, write well. If you are submitting crap, turn it in on time. Write drunk, edit sober. Once you have figured out your personal crazy, make sure it isn’t so dysfunctional that you become your own worst enemy.
- Be flexible. If you can’t find a publisher, find another way. If you are getting a backache writing at your desk, write somewhere, anywhere, else. If you hate computers, figure out voice recognition. Work arounds keep life interesting, and productive.
- It’s who you know. Meet people, be friendly. You never know who will make the call that you’ve been waiting for.
As a writer with a day job, I often struggle to find the time to actually write. Sure I spend night and day with ideas and characters swimming around in my head, occasionally keeping me up at night. But the time to actually sit down in front of the blank screen of my laptop and put those ideas on paper, it simply doesn’t exist. Add into that family and friends and forget it. My novel may just stay in my head.
This is how it went for years. My novel sat in my head, sleeping, just waiting for me to find the time. Then I found NaNoWriMo. What a great idea I thought, a way to force myself into putting my ideas on paper (or screen as the case may be). And it was only for a month, so if it didn’t work, no big deal.
Well, it did work. Here I sit, almost four years later, having written two and half novels and numerous short stories, and most importantly having found a group of friends who get it. Every week we MAKE time for writing. We leave our jobs, family, and friends for the night and write. Sure we talk and gossip, but when it comes down to it this diverse group of people is there for one thing, to write. Thanks to this group I now feel like I can truly call myself a writer, my words are on paper. I have written something.
My advice to all of you out there who say, “well, I have all these ideas but when am I going to have time” is to just do it. Find a group, or a space, or anything that motivates you, and write!