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Posts from the ‘Writing Life’ Category

Start a project notebook for NaNoWriMo and beyond

Part of my love (vice) of books includes an addiction to notebooks and journals. I imagine it goes along with my deep need to write, which showed itself on the walls of my childhood home. (Sorry mom.)

For each new writing project, I like to select a notebook to track my wild digressions, character ideas, and anything else that could be important for building in themes, plot, or subplots. When I was writing my memoir, I kept a list of research and ideas I wanted to pursue and questions that I needed to answer. I used my project notebook as a place to park them so I could free up my brain for the task at hand.

A NaNoWriMo notebook is especially helpful because in the heat of writing 50,000 words, the ideas will be springing out of your brain and you likely can’t address each one in the month of November. So having a place to track them will free up your brain. And if you freeze up somewhere along the 50,000 mad word dash of NaNoWriMo, you can look in your notebook for a jolt of inspiration.

If you’ve been writing your ideas on scraps of paper, just tape them onto a page of your notebook. Once you finish your draft and are ready to go into revision mode, your notebook entries create a sense of direction. If you come to a place where you aren’t sure what to do next, you may find a clue in your notebook.

I like to pick a notebook that has a distinctive color or style, so I can spot it in the avalanche of paper that can accumulate on my desk. It helps if you can carry the notebook around when you go out, so pick a size that suits you, whether it needs to go in a pocket, purse, or computer bag. Many of my best ideas and insights happen after I’ve stepped away from the keyboard.

Do you have notebook love? What is your current favorite notebook? Describe it in the comments below.

For more NaNoWriMo tips, check out Three posts to keep the words flowing.

Try this mental trick to combat blank page freeze

Fight the blank page!

In previous posts, I’ve suggested ways to pre-plan for National Novel Writing Month, where writers strive to produce a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. While some writers create an outline, nail down character sketches, devise a story question, and outline their novel’s setting, others like to dive in on day 1  and just start typing.

Regardless of where you’re at, the blank page can be a terrible thing.

You may be saying, “How can I not have a blank page? It starts out that way — blank.” True. But just don’t let it stop you.

Don’t let the blank page stay blank for more than a second. Type something. Anything.

  • The date
  • A random sentence
  • A description or a few words of the setting where your novel begins or your first scene takes place.
  • A list of your characters’ names
  • A working title for your novel
  • A logline if you’ve created one.

By the way, this mental trick can be a great way to start any writing project. A letter, an essay, a marketing piece, a work assignment, or a blog post. Write something that you already know will be in the piece, even if it’s just a paragraph or a random idea about the project. If you don’t know the beginning, start in the middle or the end. You’ll come back later and fill in the gaps, because every piece of writing begins as a draft.

Don’t let the blank page deter you from your NaNoWriMo or any other writing goal.

Now type.

Planning for NaNoWriMo: Sketch out your novel’s setting

NaNoWriMo is two days away and counting down. If you’re going to use the month of November to write a draft of a novel, now is a good time to sketch out ideas so you’ll be prepared to dive in when the clock strikes midnight.

In the past, I’ve been tripped up when I started to write because I wasn’t grounded in the key elements of my story. A basic framework will propel you towards your NaNoWriMo goal.

In my last post, I wrote about choosing your novel’s story question. Today, consider how you can sketch out the setting of your story — the environment where your story takes place.

Besides geographic location, setting details include information about the time period your story occurs. What time frame does your story take place in — the present? Future? Past? Some novels take place over years and some the space of several weeks.

In your notes about setting, consider the time of year and the weather. Sometimes these details can drive your story in new directions and create complications that add conflict. The weather can also contribute to the mood and tone of a story. Your setting can even become another character in a story and create momentum that drives the action. Read more

How to stay creative in an age of distraction

I love owning my own home-based business. I sleep until I’m done (mostly) and schedule my day any way I want. Can I take a day off to go shopping in my favorite little artist-colony town? You bet. Can I spend the middle of my day visiting with a friend? No problem.

What I find most difficult, believe it or not, is scheduling time to write. In my business, I get e-mails and phone calls on a daily basis that I need to respond to. Often, when I’m writing, I may hear the phone ring or see an e-mail has landed, and I’ll be tempted to answer it because it will “just take a minute.” Or, I may think it’s better to answer it now then have to return the call or email later.

This is a pitfall that I’m learning to avoid. It’s my big danger zone. Another danger zone is the whole social media distraction. You know: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. One second spent to check Facebook and twenty minutes later…you know the drill.

In Adam Popescu’s post “How Neil Gaiman Stays Creative in an Age of Constant Distraction,” Gaiman reveals that he sometimes uses social media like Twitter for a short break from writing. Read more

Poetic inspiration for your writing

We’ve all faced the need to clean out our closets and finetune our possessions, whether we’re making a move, downsizing our living space, or just reorganizing.

We have to make hard decisions about what to keep and what to toss or give away. And sometimes the decisions aren’t hard. We wonder why we still have that stack of papers or miscellaneous junk that we never should have saved to begin with.

Exercise: Think about a time when you sorted through your stuff and had to decide what to get rid of and what to save. Think about how you felt. What were the emotions? What tugged at you and why? What was hard? What was easy? Now, write a poem, story, essay, or scene about it.

For inspiration and one poet’s take on getting rid of stuff, read the poem below from the American Life in Poetry project. Visit the American Life in Poetry website to sign up to receive a free weekly poem in your e-mail inbox.

American Life in Poetry: Column 497

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

I’d guess everybody reading this has felt the guilt of getting rid of belongings that meant more to somebody else than they did to you. Here’s a poem by Jennifer Maier, who lives in Seattle. Don’t call her up. All her stuff is gone.

Rummage Sale

Forgive me, Aunt Phyllis, for rejecting the cut
glass dishes—the odd set you gathered piece
by piece from thirteen boxes of Lux laundry soap.

Pardon me, eggbeater, for preferring the whisk;
and you, small ship in a bottle, for the diminutive
size of your ocean. Please don’t tell my mother,

hideous lamp, that the light you provided
was never enough. Domestic deities, do not be angry
that my counters are not white with flour;

no one is sorrier than I, iron skillet, for the heavy
longing for lightness directing my mortal hand.
And my apologies, to you, above all,

forsaken dresses, that sway from a rod between
ladders behind me, clicking your plastic tongues
at the girl you once made beautiful,

and the woman, with a hard heart and
softening body, who stands in the driveway
making change.

————————

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2013 by Jennifer Maier from her most recent book of poems, Now, Now, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013. Poem reprinted by permission of Jennifer Maier and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2014 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

Fiction writing: A lie that tells the truth

“We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” –Pablo Picasso

 

In his Ted Talk, “Why a Good Book is a Secret Door,” children’s author Mac Barnett quotes Picasso and says he loves writing for children because they make the best audience. Children are so willing to enter other worlds.

He says good fiction will leave us with the feeling that the characters are real even though we know that they are not.

As a kid, he loved reading fantasy stories like the “Chronicles of Narnia,” and he was always looking in the real world for doorways to the fictional worlds he’d read about.

He talks about a writing technique called metafiction, which is a story about a story but he says instead of the audience breaking the fourth wall into the story, he prefers to have his books break the wall and enter reality. He wants his fiction to open up into the real world, to create a doorway into our world. Read more

How to stay passionate in your life and writing, Part one

Some days I feel as if I’m still twelve and other days a hundred and twelve. Some days I feel young because I have so many things I want to do in the time I have left. And other days, I feel old because I’ve already done so much—I survived my childhood, graduated college, raised a family, worked for somebody else, ran my own business, went back to graduate school, changed businesses, buried my parents, and lost two aunts, two uncles, and two cousins in the span of two years.

So when I heard that one of my favorite authors Isabel Allende was giving a Ted Talk on aging, I couldn’t wait to watch it. In “How to live passionately—no matter your age,” Allende begins by quoting poet Mary Oliver in one of her poems: “Tell me, what are you going to do with your own wild and precious life?” Allende says she wants to live passionately. How does she do this? By saying “yes” to life.

Staying young is often a matter of attitude, according to Allende. She says, “Our souls are ageless.”

After watching Allende’s Ted Talk, which you can view below, I was inspired to make a list of things I’m passionate about. I have many passions but some of my top ones are: spending time with my family, helping people with my business, writing, reading, being in nature, learning Spanish, and listening to music.

What are you passionate about? How do you live passionately? What are you doing with your one and only life?

For more on passion by Allende, see my previous post, “Igniting passion as an artist.”

In my next post, I’ll give tips for staying passionately connected to your writing.

 

 

 

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