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Don’t know what to write about? Write about your obsessions

In all the writing classes I teach, this writing lament comes up at least once from a student: “I don’t know where to start.”

Maybe they’ve started something and it didn’t pan out. The story didn’t hold their interest. Or they have this need gnawing at them to write, but they haven’t figured out what to write about.

Most of us have moments of writer’s freeze. Most of us get stuck at some point because we get into a mindset of being too orderly. But the birth of a story or poem or essay is a messy, disorderly act and imposing too much order in the beginning doesn’t work so well when you’re capturing the energy of a first draft.

It begins with letting go of your analytical mind. Ultimately every writer has to find their own way into that well. But identifying your obsessions can be a powerful way to figure out what to write about.

The beauty of writing about your obsessions is that you will fully engage, feel completely alive, and have energy to write to the end. The passionate force of your obsessions turns your writing into a transformative act.

So how do you tap these obsessions? One sure way to open the well of words and ideas is by simply writing. It always starts with moving our fingers on the keys or notebook. And in that act, our deepest fears, desires, and obsessions come to light. Try these ideas: Read more

How one piece of writing can morph into something else

A few of my writing friends and I meet up occasionally to read our work and give each other feedback. One day, I read a poem I’d written about an encounter with a woman who had Alzheimer’s.

When I finished reading it, one of my friends said, “I really like that character. I want to know more about her. I think you should write a story about her.”

I’m not sure why, but when I get a writing idea, I usually know exactly what format it should take: poem, short story, novel, flash fiction. But I realized that one format CAN evolve into something else.

It really made me think. Maybe some of the writing we do is a warm up that can take us in a new direction. My poem still stood on its own as a complete poem, but my friend inspired me to learn more about my character and where I could take her story.

So I was especially interested in a blog post by Roz Morris, on her blog Nail Your Novel.com. Morris suggests that if you want to see if you can turn a short story into a novel, start by doing some planning. Whether you sketch out general ideas or a detailed outline, this plan will help you see the possibilities. Next, “climb in and explore” your story. See if and what you can enlarge in your story. For more excellent tips, read the whole blog post, How to turn a short story into a novel.

Roz also has a series of Nail Your Novel books that you can check out on her blog.

Exercise: Look at your body of writing. Do you have a piece that could be the beginning of something different? Write on.

 

Writing advice from a Tasmanian cave spider, or how to get your creative juices flowing

Ok, I lied. This post isn’t really about writing advice from a Tasmanian cave spider—more like life advice.

Hang with me for a moment. You’ll see what I mean.

After taking nearly a year off from writing poetry, I had an idea to kick start 2015 with the goal of writing two to three new poems a week for the month of January. But I wasn’t feeling very inspired. Some pretty heavy stuff was going on in my life, and I felt drained.

Then, a gift arrived in the mail.

My blogging partner Carly sent me The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop, by Diane Lockward (I hadn’t even mentioned my goal to her…scary how we think alike, isn’t it?)

Now, I’m normally NOT a “prompt” person but being the good friend that I am, I felt I should at least flip through the book so I could extend my sincere gratitude to her. (Wink. Wink). Late one night, I dragged the book to bed with me and the strangest thing happened—the pages reached out and grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.

Hands down, best poetry craft and prompt book. Ever. Nine of the ten poems I’ve written so far this month were inspired by the book.

But what does this have to do with a Tasmanian cave spider? Read more

Are you stymied by a scene? Duck and cover

It happens to all of us.

You’re working on your manuscript and you get stuck. The writing feels clunky. Something isn’t working. This is when you must duck and cover.

“Duck and cover” is the term author Pam Lewis coined to describe her process of jumpstarting her writing when she’s become stuck.

“I open a blank page on my computer and ask myself, ‘What’s going on in the scene?’ I close my eyes and watch the characters and hear them.”

In her current manuscript, Lewis said she used the technique to figure out what a character was doing in a particular scene. But she realized the technique helped her see what mattered to the character and the character’s emotional state. With her eyes closed, Lewis saw that the character’s hands were trembling, she was sweaty, and didn’t smell good.

Duck and cover can be a way of accessing the sensory details of your scenes.

Lewis is the author of A Young Wife, Perfect Family, and Speak Softly, She Can Hear.

Watch the scenes of your novel as though they were a movie, Lewis says. Start by writing the action or what the character is thinking or feeling. Sometimes Lewis writes random dialogue to get the sentences flowing again. “It almost always offers something useful, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m writing about at the moment.”

“Even more important than what the characters say sometimes is what they do and their facial gestures,” Lewis says.

For more ideas to break through writing resistance, read Four tips to defeat your writing funk.

Four tips for setting 2015 writing goals

In the process of setting my goals for 2015, I realized how much magic there is in writing them down—and I don’t mean just randomly choosing goals and then giving ourselves a due date. That doesn’t work. The magic comes when we dig deep.

Here’s my process in case it helps you:

Tip # 1: Brainstorm and write it down

First, I grab a legal pad and have one page for each of the following areas of my life: business, writing, health, and hobbies. For each category, I write down the goals I want to have accomplished by the end of 2015. And, if necessary, I break the goals down into different categories.

For example, in my writing life, I have prose goals and poetry goals. My prose goals for 2015 are to finish and publish my fantasy novel and then edit and finish my memoir. And then to be writing down ideas for my next book. All great goals. But I need to chunk them down and make them doable.

For my fantasy manuscript, my first goal is to finish my first draft. How many words per day/per week/per month can I realistically do while I work fulltime? Figure it out and set a date. Once my first draft is done, what’s next? Implement my marketing plan while I take time to revise and edit. I continue writing down the next action step in my plan until I can see all the parts to the whole.

Tip # 2: Look forward to events

Look forward to events that can be used as goal dates. For example, the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference is in July this year. What would happen if I had my book ready and published in order to market at that event? The idea excites me! It feels good. Can I realistically meet this goal? With hard work and focus, I think it’s doable. Now, I work backwards from this date and plan accordingly.  Read more

For lasting change, vow to adopt tiny habits

The new year is here, and it’s natural to think of how we can make a fresh start. Enter New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, researchers* have found resolutions often don’t stick.

The problem with most resolutions are that they’re too general. The top five for 2014 were:

  • Lose weight
  • Get organized
  • Spend less, save more
  • Enjoy life to the fullest
  • Stay fit and healthy.

You can probably see that without specific tactics, it’s hard to achieve these resolutions.

The numbers people at Statistic Brain reported that 2014 research from University of Scranton, Journal of Clinical Psychology, indicated that only 8% of people who make resolutions achieve them, 49% have infrequent success, and 24% fail each year.

Is there something you want to do better? A habit you want to add to your daily routine? Try adopting tiny habits, a program started by social scientist and part-time Stanford professor BJ Fogg. This is the thinking behind Fogg’s Tiny Habits program:

Instead of large, sweeping goals, consider how adopting small habits over time can result in lasting, automatic behavioral changes. The beauty of habits is that they are automatic and creating more automatic behaviors makes change effortless. Read more

How limiting creative choices enhances creativity

I recently had lunch with one of my older friends who lives at a retirement community. At the table, I met Robert, 88, another resident. As our group visited, I turned to Robert and asked, “What is your creative passion?”

“I’m a sculptor,” he said.

I asked him if the retirement community had an art room to work in. No, he said. He just worked in his apartment.

“There are some limitations,” he said.

I told him, “Sometimes limitations enhance creativity.”

“That is true,” he said.

As it turned out, Robert had been a university art professor, worked as director of an art museum, and traveled extensively. As I talked to Robert, I found that he had another limitation that affected his creative pursuits. He was losing his eyesight, which affected his whole approach and experience as an artist. Read more

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