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Posts from the ‘Writing Life’ Category

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?

One of the prompts suggested writing a poem from the point of view of an animal giving advice. I mulled around for some suitable prospects—a field mouse? Diamondback snake? Pink Fairy Armadillo? (Look it up—there is such a creature.)

Nothing sparked my creative juices until I happened upon an article featuring one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman, and his project with the Bookend Trust, which runs environmental educational programs in Tasmanian schools. Turns out they’re shooting a documentary on the Tasmanian cave spider.

Ah! Now, that’s interesting—especially when you picture Mr. Gaiman communing with cave spiders, perhaps drawing inspiration for a future novel….

Anyway, enough drooling. Here’s the poem. Hope you enjoy it! And, if you want to try the prompt, I would love to see your poem.

Advice from a Male Tasmanian Cave Spider

Spin gracefully. Feed on anything big enough or dumb
enough to jump, fly or fall into your web. Don’t be a glutton.
Save some for later or invite friends for a feast.

Create strong structures. Hang by your own thread.
Practice disjointedness whenever you can. Save
your venom for special occasions.

Perpetuate your mythos of mystery and doom.
Scuttle across cave ceilings. Lurk in darkness.
Spend time in your inner cave. Throw shadows

across the walls to scare scientists studying you
for their documentary. Haunt the author
of “Coraline” so he writes you into his next novel.

Cultivate a following. Flaunt your prehistoric nature.
Don’t worry if smaller-minded relatives make fun of you.
They don’t live for decades or stretch the length of a dinner plate.

Develop a fondness for large-bellied females. Pluck your web
nightly to attract a mate. Knead her softly with your long legs.
Spread her fangs apart so she can’t kill you.

Remember, you have eight legs, but sixteen when making love.
Learn to embrace change in case one day you find yourself
squinting into the light.

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

Five ways to build your curious nature

I’m a curious person.

My intense curiosity propelled me into a writing career. So when I read Bernadette Jiwa’s post, The Relationship Between Curiosity and Business Growth, my curiosity meter spiked into the red zone.

Jiwa tells about going to her local florist one Friday night and being surprised by the sheer number of roses she found in the shop. Buckets of roses filled almost all the floor space. She assumed they were for a wedding the next day and questioned the florist. The florist explained that the roses were for a customer who bought 110 bunches of 10 roses every Friday evening. The florist didn’t know what the customer did with them.

As a person who lives a life of curiosity, I could hardly stand not having the answer to this question.

Curiosity is what drives children to develop skills, scientists to devise groundbreaking inventions, and writers to write best selling novels by asking “why,” “how,” and “what if.”

The good news is we’re all born with this trait and developing and embracing it can make us better writers. Exercising our creativity can help us be attuned to story ideas, build out better characters, and think of more creative plots.

Make a practice of pursuing your inquisitive nature each day with these tips: Read more

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.

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