Posts Tagged ‘ideas’

An Endless Font of Inspiration

I think, Squiders, that all creative types, especially writers, sometimes hit a point where they worry that they’ve run out of ideas. That they’ve reached the end of useable ones. That their best work is behind them.

(I admit that I feel this way about this blog sometimes, but here we are, two and a half years later…)

Then, luckily, the feeling passes.

It is, however, always a bit disconcerting to go through. I find it’s best, when the mood hits, to think about where you are, and where you’ve come from. Sure, maybe you’re not getting anything right this second, but how long have you been working on things? The first story I can remember writing, I was 8. It’s been two decades–twenty years–now, and if I haven’t run out of ideas yet, why should I ever?

And if you’re really, truly, not getting anything, look at what you’re doing. Are you reading, experiencing, learning? Inspiration can lurk anywhere, from the latest scientific or archeological find written up in National Geographic to the person you see walking down the street, a haunted look in their eyes. How did they get there? What makes their heart ache? What will the effects on society be because of this new discovery?

Hey, that dream you had last night was kind of funky. Maybe there’s something there. Your friend has posted a photo of a forest on facebook that is so perfect it looks fake. What would live there? What secrets do the trees hide?

The fact is, most creative types are also inquisitive types. So many ideas can come from asking questions, and then making up the answer yourself. What if? What if? What if? And the fact of the matter is, there are always more questions. There are always more answers. Your inspiration is out there, as long as you keep one eye open for it.

(If nothing else, you might try diagramming things you like. This is a free association activity, where you write down things that appeal to you as they come to you. My list includes things like mirrors, hidden portals, old keys, labyrinths, ancient places, overgrown forests, etc. And then you can choose a few and combine them into different story ideas.)

What’s your no-fail source of inspiration, Squiders?

It’s Oddly Comfortable to Have a Turtle on Your Head

Just to be absolutely clear, we are not talking about ceiling turtles. Ceiling turtles are vicious and will eat your ears. We’re talking your average, run-of-the-mill, preferably stuffed turtle.

Stuffed as in plush. Not in a turtle-that-was-once-alive-but-now-is-not sort of way.

We all know that writers aren’t the most stable crayons in the box. We all have weird quirks. One of mine is named Matthias. He’s a stuffed turtle that I’ve had since about the age of 16 or so. Most of the time he sits on top of my editing books and stares at me with his beady, little eyes, asking why I haven’t rewritten that chapter from that other character’s POV by now. But sometimes when I’m stuck, it doesn’t hurt to reach over and put him on my head.

Say, when I’m a bit short on blog post ideas.

He’s actually very comfortable. He’s just heavy enough to exert a calming force across the whole of the top of my head. And I have heard from associates with their own stuffed turtle that the effect seems universal, as long as your turtle is of a general size and is somewhat floppy in its limbs.

I’m not guaranteeing that placing a turtle on your head will solve all your problems, but it probably will be somewhat calming and may help spark something.

Or you may just look like a crazy person with a turtle on your head. Jury’s out.

Photo courtesy of the infamous Ian Dudley

Productive Ways to Procrastinate Writing

Procrastination is generally bad, yes, but sometimes you can’t write for whatever reason.  You don’t have a large enough block of time, you’re waiting on feedback or something from someone else, you’re in need of inspiration, etc.

Here’s some things you can do that are useful for your writing projects so you can feel minorly productive:

1. Playlists
Actually what made me think of this blog.  I wrote a blog post earlier about how playlists can be beneficial for your writing.  For my trilogy, I have an entire playlist, with songs specific to characters, books, scenes, etc, and I’ve found that listening to my trilogy playlist while I’m writing or planning the trilogy actually will give me flashes of scenes and an idea of direction.  Some people can’t write to music, it’s true, but I strongly believe that there is the right music for every project; you just need to figure out what it is.  (I have spent some time today listening to songs by this band I was just introduced to, because they have a nice tribal sound that will be a perfect addition to the trilogy playlist.)

2. Character Pictures/Icons/Banners/Covers
While some people take their inspiration aurally (like me), a lot of other people work visually.  If you need some inspiration, why not see if you can’t find your characters’ pictures?  Personally, I like this website – there’s a ton of interesting portraits to look at for something that clicks.  You can draw your characters.  Or, if you know your characters inside or out, you could put together an icon, banner, or cover for your book.  It helps you focus on what the strongest plot points are when you’ve got a limited space to explore.

3. Mind Maps
A mind map is a visual representation of something, usually represented by circles connected by lines.  Usually there is a central concept that all other ideas branch off of.  You can use these for characterization, brainstorming, or plotting.  Just remember to let it flow without thinking about it too much.  Mind maps work as a free-thought activity.  Who knows?  Maybe your subconscious has the perfect solution to that ginormous plot hole.

4. Maps
It’s not just fantasy stories that can use a good map.  Where is your character’s house relative to the store they work at?  How close does that cute neighbor live?  Is there a coffee table in the middle of the living room to conveniently trip that would-be murderer?  Maps help you keep your facts straight.  It can be hard to keep everything in your head while you’re working on a story, and having an easy-to-reference map with the information can be easier than trying to find where you last talked about something in your manuscript or guessing and having to fix things in later drafts.

Hope your holidays plans are coming along swimmingly, Squiders!

Inside Writing Jokes (and the Importance of New Eyes Periodically)

I have the privilege of belonging to a close-knit writing community.  This is awesome.  I suggest you find a writing community and join it too, because they are invaluable in many ways.

What I have found, though, is sometimes things can get too familiar.  We’ll be celebrating our fifth anniversary in a few months, and in that time period many of us have worked on and off on the same novels, completing new drafts and critiquing drafts for others, and it’s gotten to the point where I know some of my fellow writers’ stories almost as well as I know my own.

As such, we’ve developed a thoroughly ridiculous number of in-jokes – about different stories, characters, and the community at large.  And sometimes, when things are so comfortable for us, it’s hard to remember that we’re not writing for just ourselves.

A good reader is priceless, but sometimes, when one person has looked at different drafts of the same story over and over, they can get as bogged down in it as the author does, with vague memories of scenes from past versions and characters that have since been written out.  This is not to say that it’s bad to have the same person read different drafts, because they can let you know if the story is becoming more solid and that you’re heading in the right direction.

If you bring in a new reader periodically, someone who has never seen your story before, it’ll give you an idea what someone picking your book up from the shelf in a bookstore might think.  A repeat reader will say “Your plot is much tighter, and I really enjoyed this scene in the forest.  Also, have you thought about adding in more foreshadowing earlier in the story?”  A new reader will have a much more instinctual reaction to the story, since they’re unfamiliar with its twists and turns.

Both types of readers are excellent and provide different sorts of feedback.  Plus, it’s nice to have someone familiar enough with your story to bounce story fixes off of.

Luckily, our community gains new people periodically, giving me, thus far, a self-replicating collection of possible readers to foist things upon.  Bwha.

What do you look for in a reader?  How many do you prefer, and what ratio do you like for second+ drafts?

Get Out and Live

As we speak, my husband and I are somewhere deep in the Rocky Mountains.  I’m using his cell phone as a modem – it’s like being on dial-up again – and we’re jamming to Falconer as my husband drives my automatic Subaru Forester like a manual.  (Previously we were unaware that this was possible, so we’ve already learned something this trip.)

Most of the other writers I’ve met tend to be similar to me – introverted, like to spend an evening curled up with a good book, perfectly happy to be left to their own devices.  (Not saying all writers are like this, but it certainly seems to be a decent majority.)

I think some level of introversion is necessary – it takes some time to write a book, and it’s hard to do in a social setting – but I feel like you have to go out and live a little, or you don’t have the experience needed to weave a believable story.  If you’ve never experienced love and loss, it’s much harder to have your characters portray it.  If you’ve never stood at the top of a mountain and wondered at the might of nature, if you’ve never had a conversation with someone without use of a mutual language, if you’ve never jumped off a waterfall into the frigid natural pool below, I think you lose something.

The world is great and wonderful.  As nice as it is at home, it’s worth it to go out and do and accomplish.  Take every opportunity you get.  Anything can help you out later.

As for me, I’m going to spend my weekend in canyons and mountains, wineries and dinosaurs.

For those of you in the States, I hope you have a lovely holiday weekend full of adventure and experiences.

When is a Story Truly Dead?

I hear it in interviews, from my writer friends, at book signings – the novel that went into a drawer, never to come out again.  Their first or third or eighth novel that was so bad it didn’t deserve to see the light of day.  The novel that, for all intents and purposes, was dead.

But do stories ever truly die?

I admit I can be somewhat unfocused.  For every finished story I have there lies four more abandoned, forgotten, lost to time and space.  They’re dead, right?  If I haven’t thought about them in a decade, then obviously they’ve kicked the bucket, shuffled off their mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleeding choir invisible, right?

Wrong.  So very very wrong.

It seems that any story I put real thought into, where I spent any time at all thinking about plot and/or characters, whether I got two pages or ten chapters, never dies.

Recently my muse blessed me with a plot for a story that I considered so dead I had already stolen two of the main characters for another story.  The scifi series I worked on as a teenager continues to give me scenebunnies.

Perhaps most telling of all, the dragon story I wrote when I was twelve (starring my and my cousins’ extremely thinly veiled counterparts) occasionally rears its head, bringing promises of intrigue and betrayal.

What do you do when old stories won’t die?  Maybe it’s not worth it to kill them, but I feel bad when I’ve got a story idea that’s been sitting there for a decade and I haven’t gotten around to it.

Do you have stories that are really, truly, dead?  What was it that killed them – plot, characters, marauding alpaca? What’s the longest you’ve gone from putting a story away for “good” and when they reared their head again?  (It’s 16 years for me on the dragon story.)

What Ifs

Yesterday I took my first business trip with my new job.  I fly fairly often, but it makes me nervous.  (Unnecessarily so.  I am, as I have mentioned before, an aerospace engineer.  I know how commercial aircraft work.  In terms of safety, a jet beats just about everything except sitting still not doing anything, and even then you have to worry about things like blood clots and obesity and muscle degradation.)

With my old job, I traveled much more often, but I was only going from the San Francisco Bay Area to LA.

Reasons why this was the best airtravel commute ever:
1.  Same time zone
2. Less than an hour actually in the air
3. Low probability of turbulence
4. If you have to stay through the weekend, you can go to Disneyland

Disneyland!  Happiest place on Earth.

Anyway.  Now I no longer live in California nor travel to California and the whole business trip thing is more of a big deal.  (Also, I had to go to a facility I’ve never been before and I didn’t know what building I was supposed to be in and I was late.  Rawr.)  That’s why this entry is again on Tuesday instead of Monday.  I bet you guys didn’t even know I was supposed to be posting on Mondays, based on my success rate.

Anyway, flying always brings out the worst in me.  I begin to think of things that could go wrong.  Not things like “Oh God what if the plane falls out of the sky?” because realistically I know that doesn’t happen.  Things like “I have a giant, swollen bruise on my leg (because I knocked it hard against the corner of a flatbed cart at Home Depot because I was paying more attention to moving the 120 lb grill than as to where the cart was) – what if it sends a blood clot to my brain?” or “If you were pregnant and didn’t know it would the x-ray scanners damage the embryo?”  My imagination gets very grim around airports.

Even though I find it kind of disturbing, these “what ifs” are one of the greatest tools a speculative fiction writer – or any writer, really – have in their arsenal.  What if there were a secret magical society hidden within our own?  What if the ancient gods were real?  What if our country declared war on China?

The answers to these questions and others have produced some amazing works of literature.  As distressful as my imagination can be at times, I would still take that over not questioning anything at all.

Turning on the Backburner

I’ll let you in on a secret.  I’m not here.  When this goes up Friday morning, I will be far away from here, hopefully most if not all the way up a mountain.

“What does that have to do with anything?” you might ask the Landsquid who is manning the customer service desk and wishes you would go away so he can go back to watching QI episodes on YouTube.

I believe it was Holly Lisle who said to identify a problem and then go do something else.  By not thinking about an issue, your subconscious takes over and works on the problem while you get your dishes done or finally fold your laundry.

Shortly before I sat down to write this, I took a walk.  I’ve been doing this around lunch every day since the beginning of the year.  There’s a two mile loop outside my building.  Mostly I do this because if I don’t escape for the office for a few minutes I will go insane, but I’ve found this is a wonderful time to work on things.  Often I will plot out whatever my writing for the day is (blog posts, scenes, shorts, etc) or ponder plot issues I’ve run into on my larger works.

I’ve found hiking tends to be a wonderful way to let things simmer.  It’s a decent amount of time and you can turn your brain off and just frolic through nature.  There’s nothing quite as freeing as feeling the sun on your face and the wind in your hair and knowing that you can just relax and let things happen because you’ve got some time before you can to return to the real world.

And then when I do sit down to write, things tend to have worked themselves out.  At the end of my walk earlier, I’d figured out the next portion of my serial, come up with several ways to improve on a YA fantasy, and planned out this blog post.   All without really thinking about any of them.  It is brilliant.  The human brain is amazing.

What’s your favorite thing to do while letting your subconscious take over?

Reluctant Muses

Turns out it’s hard to follow Alpaca Poetry.

Ever had a story you really want to write – premise, characters, setting, the whole nine yards – but something was missing that was keeping you from actual writing.

Aggravating, isn’t it?

As best I can figure, this missing bit is the feeling.  Even that is unnecessarily vague so let’s see if I can explain myself a little better.  I have a story I am planning.  It is the third book in a very loose trilogy.  I have my characters, my setting, the premise.  I know it will be dark fantasy but I can’t seem to put my finger on how it will be dark.

Admittedly a lot of that will be sorted out by actually writing the thing, but I feel like I can’t start until I figure out this…feeling.

No, I am still incomprehensible.  Alas.

I am not sure I believe in the concept of a “muse” – a being or whatever that guides your creativity.  Closest I have is a character that makes snarky commentary in my head about near everything.

But it’s times like this where I wish I did have one, so I could blame my problems on it.

Any advice, Squiders?  What do you do when a story just won’t gel?  The last one I had an issue with took two years to fix itself.