Monday, August 30th, 2010

A Blog Award – Seven Things About Me

Versatile Blogger Award

As my good friend Trish (who nominated me) says, this is really just a cute little meme disguised as a blog award, but it seems like fun so…

I’m supposed to tell you seven things about myself that you don’t already know – and then pass this award on to some other folks. Here goes:

  1. I play the tenor saxophone (…and several other wind instruments. But the tenor is my favorite.)
  2. I’ve marched with three different marching bands: my high school band (Go Hawks!), The Mighty Sound of Maryland (University of Maryland Marching Band) and the Baltimore Ravens Marching Band.
  3. I’ve broken only one bone (in my body. Ahem.)…and if I’m reading this chart correctly…it was the tiny little bone above the distal phalanges joint (the distal phalanges bone?) on the middle finger of my left hand.
  4. The broken bone was a direct result of a marching band incident.
    (I can hear you now: “Enough with the marching band stuff!”

    Okay. 😉 )
  5. I never eat Italian out.
  6. I believe hot dogs are a gourmet food.
  7. I have visited “the oldest recorded sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world, ” founded September 03, 301. (San Marino. I made it the setting of my story, The Dragon’s Clause.)

The award requires that I nominate some other blogs for the same honor…but all the blogs that immediately come to mind have already been nominated! Seriously.


I promise I’ll give it some thought and come up with list another time. I know there are some I’m not thinking of immediately…but it’s it’s getting late, and I want to go write!

Thanks, Trish!

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

Guest Interview: Please Welcome Cate Masters

I first met Cate through the Eternal Press author boards. Friendly, always willing to answer a question, Cate was the first of many at EP who took the time to show me the ropes. Her writing is fabulous, proven by the sheer number of books she’s published. Please welcome Cate.

Cate Masters
Who is Cate Masters?
Hm, interesting question. Married for 33 years to her best friend, Cate Masters is one lucky woman. She loves great stories, music and all forms of art. A lifelong writer, she’s continually evolving, always reaching for the next level. Ms. Masters is the author of twenty-seven published works of fiction, ranging from fantasy/dark fantasy, historical, contemporary and speculative, from flash to novel length. Reviewers have described her work as “so compelling, I did not want to put it down,” “such romantic tales that really touch your soul,” “filled with action scenes which made it a riveting story,” and “the author weaves a great tale with a creative way of using words that makes the story refreshing to read.” She has finally come into her own, I think.

Tell us your latest news?

It’s been another busy year! Last month, Freya’s Bower released a historical adventure romance set in 1850s Key West titled Angels, Sinners and Madmen, and Eternal Press released Winning, a short with magical realism elements. This month, EP released Follow the Stars Home, a historical centered on the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Also this month, Whiskey Creek Press released Surfacing, a contemporary fantasy about an indie rocker and a mermaid, and WCP will later release a contemporary mainstream, The Bridge Between. I recently signed a contract with Lyrical Press for Rock Bottom, another contemporary novel.
When and why did you begin writing? Because I have a very vivid imagination, I began to set images on paper through poems at the tender age of ten. My friends were all artists or poets, and I still have some of the poems we collaborated on. In my twenties, I experimented with short stories, some of which appeared in various literary or web zines. Ideas tend to pile up in my head, and if I don’t write, there’s a serious risk of explosion. 🙂

What inspired you to write this book?
Another author mentioned she hadn’t seen a mermaid story in awhile, so I trolled the Internet for mermaid lore. I’m a research addict, so can get lost in it, especially when fascinating legends abound. When I came across a video of the mermaid show in Weeki Wachee Springs, it seemed the perfect place for an authentic mermaid to surface without too much notice. Mermaids love handsome guys with great voices, so AJ Dillon was born.

Surfacing by Cate MastersHere’s the blurb for Surfacing:
AJ Dillon is trouble. The former lead singer of an indie band has no home, no money and no future. His grandfather is the only relative willing to take another chance on him. AJ arrives in Weeki Wachee, Florida, with his guitar, a few clothes and a bad attitude. The only good thing about Weeki Wachee is the ocean — the one place AJ feels at home. Grandpa lines up a job for AJ at Weeki Wachee Springs, where beautiful women perform as mermaids. Grandpa says real mermaids exist, but AJ doesn’t believe – until he meets Cassiopeia, and his passion for music resurfaces. But then greedy Chaz finds out, and threatens to kill them if AJ doesn’t go along with his plan to make a fortune with a real mermaid show. Can AJ save Cassie, even if it means losing her?

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Most of my stories have an underlying theme of encouragement to follow your bliss. I’m always in awe of women who write when their kids were young, plus hold down a job. I only wrote sporadically while my kids were little. Now they’re grown, and I am following my own advice, and it’s the best time of my life.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

(Has anyone ever realized it?) No, I’m too big a believer in karma to use real experiences or people. 🙂 Though I do sometimes use names of people I love. For instance, the editor in Picture. This is named for my sister Claudia. In Angels Sinners and Madmen, Annette and Julian are dolls, but in real life, they’re my sister and brother-in-law. The hero in Rock Bottom is Jerry Trently, a dear friend who was an inspiration to everyone he met.
What books have most influenced your life most? Tolkien’s Rings trilogy made a huge impression on me when I was 13, and I couldn’t get enough Ray Bradbury or HP Lovecraft after that. Authors such as Margaret Atwood, TC Boyle, Alice Hoffman and Michael Chabon showed me writers could incorporate fantasy in a realistic setting, in a literary style. I’m in awe of them all.

What book are you reading now? What do you like, or not, about it?

I have a stack of books waiting to be read! The most current is Gena Showalter’s The Darkest Night. I have a feeling I’ll be sending for the next two in the trilogy. I love urban fantasies, and this novel is a gripping, fast-paced read.

Do you ever have problems with writers block?
If so how do you get through it? My biggest problem is lack of time. I have so many more ideas than I can possibly follow through on. I find that working on several projects at once lends greater perspective, so if I run into a wall on one, I pick up on another and eventually the problem comes clear on the other.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Stopping. I love these characters.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I’d love to hear from you!

My web site’s
Facebook fan page:

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Writing Prompt – Weather, the Number 1 News Story Daily

Lightning Bolt and TwisterWhen I was a freshman journalism major, the teacher asked what I thought was a trick question:

What’s the number-one news story today ?

(It was a big deal to get this question right: the professor worked at a large radio station and always had lots of swag to give away. The person who responded correctly would receive a coffee mug.)

I don’t remember the various answers that were called out. But I do remember the hunky guy across the aisle asking if it were about rain.

He almost got the mug.

The answer: the weather.

Weather is all the rage. It’s the first thing people want to know when they get up in the morning. It’s what they wait for on the evening news each night. Some folks get email alerts or install browser plugins so that they’ll always know what to expect. It’s imperative to know whether or not to carry an umbrella tomorrow, or if they should stay in for lunch. Vacations are planned around it.

Sunset on the Beach with Kids Playing
(I myself have driven as many as six hours in pursuit of sunshine.)

We no longer think of weather as a gift (or scourge) of the gods, yet the elements are still credited with significance in our lives. On the eve of my wedding, during the rehearsal and dinner afterward, the skies opened up and rain came down so hard and fast that the streets of Baltimore were flooded. Water rose atop the curbs and gushed over the sidewalks.

Worried. I was worried about the morning. Okay, I was a little excited about the storm, I admit, but I certainly didn’t want a torrential downpour on the day of my wedding. What would that signify? I thought. Who wants to begin a life of marital bliss with that kind of omen?

Here’s Your Prompt: Think of a time when the weather — or the elements in general — played a major role in your life. You don’t have to choose a significant event, like a wedding, but any situation in which the weather was pivotal.

Be creative. Discard the first three events that come to mind (I’ll bet they’ll be similar to my own weak example: it rained when I was looking for sunshine). Maybe you got snowed in at a friend’s house. What happened? Maybe February has been 27 days of bleak, watery daylight and sleet, but the 28th dawned bright and clear and seventy-two degrees. How did you take advantage of it? Maybe that flash-flood washed away the pick-up, but it saved the crops.

If you’ve never been affected in your life (really?) by the weather, make something up:

  • Pretend you’re in high school serving detention with someone you despise and a freak storm blows the electricity. The teacher goes off to find some flashlights and you’re stuck with that person, in the dark, and it’s getting stuffy in the classroom without any airflow. Write the conversation you might have.
  • Pretend it’s October and you’re walking outside in a crisp autumn night. Is there a moon in the sky, or cloud cover? What do you hear and smell? Are leaves burning? Does the wind rustle the leaves? Are you scared? Or, does the cool air invigorate you? What goes through your mind as you experience the elements?
  • It’s snowing: tiny flurries spiraling down out of the sky, blanketing the ground and lessening visibility. Three feet or more has been predicted, and you can’t help yourself, you’re as giddy as a kid. With that kind of weather, you know that secondary roads will be blocked: you won’t have to go to work. But you wake up in the morning and there’s only a dusting. You’re groggy and disappointed, and you have to head off to work. Write all about it.
  • Etc.
Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Poor Dick Filthey, Or, Rules for Character Names Part II

I’m continuing my discussion on naming characters for your novels. If you missed Part I, and the reference to poor Dick Filthey, see this post.

A Few Special Rules for Writers of Fantasy and Science Fiction

There are a few special rules pertaining to writers of fantasy and science fiction that authors should consider before settling on a name. These are:

  1. Choose a Name that Readers Can Pronounce
    This goes for both genre and non-genre characters, but I’m cataloging it here because I think authors often shoot for inventive, alien-sounding names for characters when they’re building their stories from the ground up. If you’re creating an entire world or planet, surely you’ll be creating names, too, eh?

    So, if you make it up, please, make certain it’s pronounceable.

    Even if you don’t make it up, it pays to choose wisely. If your story is set, for example, in Italy or Ireland (or a locale that resembles Italy or Ireland), it’s too easy to pick an “exotic” sounding name (ahem, like Salvagia or Theodicar) which may bother some readers.

    (An aside: even run-of-the-mill names can become unpronounceable after a while. Try reading Benjamin or Kristiana over and over again. It becomes tiresome. Your readers may nickname your characters Ben and Kris – completely negating what you had in mind.)

  2. Nix the Apostrophes
    Why ‘do some fantasy writers in’ject so many ap’ostro’phes in their char’acter n’ames? Author James Clemen’s Banished and Banned series begins with Wi’tch Fire. In Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, the wise wizard is named Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander.

    The problem is not with the apostrophe, per se, but 1) where they’re placed in the word (Wi’tch, really ?) and 2) the frequency in which they’re used…not to mention they’re just one more stumbling block for the reader. Why make it hard?

    (Another aside: a few years ago the Evil Overlady decreed that all apostrophes in the middle of fantasy names are to be pronounced, “boing.” Thus James Clemen’s book becomes Wi-boing-tch and Goodkin’s wizard becomes Zu-boing-l Zorander. I find this endlessly hilarious. You should, too.)

  3. Don’t Mix Exotic with Prosaic
    Using the Goodkind example again: he’s named the wizard Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander, and a witch Shota, but the wielder of the sword is named plain ol’ Richard. In worldbuilding, the author should look at the whole…which isn’t to say that the names can’t be different. In my novella, Blood Soup, the Omarans have Italian-sounding names, the Borgunds are all Germanic. They’re different, but the rules of my world allow for that.

As I said last time, just because I refer to these as “rules,” it’s not necessary to adhere to anyone of them – but keeping them in mind while naming characters can only be helpful to the process, and perhaps prevent a few embarrassing names.

Next Time: Naming Resources

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

Poor Dick Filthey, or, Rules for Character Names Part 1

Dick Filthey Logic Puzzle

I love logic puzzles.

They’re are often written tongue-in-cheek and rely heavily on puns, but I guffawed over the moniker, “Dick Filthey” in this puzzle I worked recently about bad reporters writing for the Daily Muckraker. It led me to thinking about naming the characters in my stories and novels.

Character names are vital. A good one becomes part of the character’s entire persona, lending credibility, resonating with readers, even adding subtly to the subtext or theme of the story. A bad name will toss a reader out of the story and have them laughing, or cringing, each time it’s read. It may even turn your book into a wallbanger.

Names should be accepted  by the reader, not analyzed or dissected for meaning. They should enhance without being obvious.

Here are some things I try to keep in mind when choosing names:

  1. Choose a name that reflects the character.
    If your hero is (for example) strong and charismatic, name him something that sounds, or can be perceived as, strong or charismatic. Of course there’s a bit of a judgment call here, but Robert or James beats Biff any day of the week in my book.

    This logic applies to the heroine in the book as well. If she totes a gun or drives a starship, you probably don’t want to name her Sissy.

  2. Choose a name that reflects the time period.
    Do your research. If you write steampunk, for example, you’ll want to choose Victorian-age names such as Liza or Benedict and refrain from using modern appellations such as Aiden or Britney. (Here’s a fun Steampunk Name Generator.)
  3. Choose a name that reflects the region or ethnicity of your story.
    This should go without saying, but if your story is set in Italy (for example) you’ll want your character’s names to reflect the region (unless they are simply visiting  Italy). Name your character Paulo instead of Paul or Lucia instead of Lucy.
  4. Don’t name your characters with similar sounding names.
    This is especially terrible if you have more than a few characters. Similar sounding names can cause confusion, making it difficult to keep them separate (not to mention that it gets hard on the ears) to read only about, John, Jacob and Jessica.
  5. Don’t worry about the hidden meanings of names.
    Many baby name lists also supply an origin or meaning of a name…but limiting yourself to choosing a name that means “strong” or “pretty” or “wise” can lead to bad choices. Keep in mind: how many people actually know the hidden meanings of names?

Minor Rules
These rules are less important (in my opinion) than those above, but still valid.

  1. Don’t use names ending in “s.”
    Names ending in “s” can be difficult when using the possessive form. (Do you use ‘s or s’?)
  2. Don’t use the name of someone famous.
    It’s not a bad idea to check out the name you’ve chosen in a good internet search engine. You may have picked a famous (or infamous!) name without realizing it. Maybe the reason your name sounds “so perfect” is because you’ve heard it before.

  3. Avoid “Cute” Spellings.
    It’s trendy to find an alternate spelling for common names these days, but why make the reader figure out that “Chehllie” is pronounced “Kelly”?

  4. Avoid Gender Neutral Names
    Who’s the male lead, Chris or Pat or Sam? Maybe it’s Terry? This list grows yearly as names such as Taylor and McKenzie are added to the mix. Androgynous names really only pose a problem at the beginning of the story, until the reader sorts out who is who…but again, why make it hard for the reader?

Although I’ve called these “the rules,” it’s not necessary to abide by any of them. In fact, I’ve broken more than one or two of these in many of the stories I’ve written. It’s when more than a few of them are broken in the same story that trouble starts to happen. It pays to be cognizant of the overall picture when you’re naming your characters.

Next Time: Genre Writing and Names


Resources: – A long list of name resources on the internet.

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Writing Prompt – Invent Something

August is National Inventor’s Month.

I wish I’d heard about that sooner. Just thinking about inventions makes my mind spark with ideas.

Here’s a photo of the insides of a robot built in 1960. Note the gun in his right hand. This robot’s sole purpose was to draw that gun and fire more quickly than a human. I like the fact that in 1960, the inventor took the time to pretty the thing up.

Pistol-Toting Robot

Interesting that the robot was a cowboy, but (I believe) cowboy TV shows were popular in the US in the 1960s. I’m assuming the inventor was American. There’s always been a certain level of coolness associated with cowboys, yet I think it’s incredibly stupid (irresponsible? dangerous?) to invent a robot for dueling. I’d much rather have a rifle-toting guard-robot walking the perimeter of my house. Or standing sentry at the front door.

This robot was popular enough that it made the cover of Life Magazine. I can’t find any data on whether or not it could  outshoot a human opponent, but the photo looks pretty convincing that it at least did what was intended: fire a pistol.

Pistol-Toting Robot

Ideas seldom change, but the execution often does. In 1960, the robot’s inventor took pains to make it look human. Attractive, but not really necessary. More than four decades later, inventors used the same idea, but gave over form to function. Check out these gun-toting “soldiers” from 2005. There’s nothing human about them, nothing attractive, nothing soft and warm:

Gun Toting Robots in 2005


Here’s Your Prompt: Invent something. Since we’re only doing this on paper, it doesn’t matter if you think the invention will work or not. We don’t care about the science – we’re only interested in the idea. Be outlandish. Be creative. Design something you’ve always wanted. Be certain to describe how it looks as well as what it does (are you building a 1960 model or a 2005 model?). How much does it cost to build? How long does it take? Does anyone help or is this a solitary invention?

Have you told anyone about your invention? Do they consider the idea crazy? Do they think you’re mad for even attempting such a thing?

You could write a newspaper story about this new invention (“just the facts”) or a feature article about the inventor: why did they create this new thing? How was it conceived? What did it take to build it? If you like to sketch, skip the narrative and draw a sales poster: a large picture of the invention with all the reasons why someone should buy: it will make your life easier by doing what?   It will make what job more efficient? It will save a person time or money (or aggravation, etc.) by doing … what?

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

A Fair is a Veritable Smorgasbord…

I went to the county fair on Saturday. Cool and overcast, the day was perfect for strolling.

Anytime I think of a fair, Charlotte’s Web pops into my mind and I start singing ala Templeton the rat:

A fair is a veritable smorgasbord orgasbord orgasbord…

Melon rinds and bits of hotdogs
Cookie crumbs and rotton cotton candy
Melted ice cream, mustard dripplings
Moldy goodies everywhere

Lots of popcorn, apple cores
Bananna peels and soggy sadwiches
And gobs of gorgeous gook to gobble at the fair

There’s more, but you get the idea, right?

Like Templeton, I’m on a mission when those gates open: to sample whatever I can. Alas, this year, there were no deep-fried oreos or twinkies, so I had to settle for regular fare.

But who doesn’t like pit beef, chocolate-dipped soft ice cream, funnel cake and french fries…?

And yet: I was there for more than the food. I was looking for story ideas…

(What, do you think I can go anywhere and not  think about writing?)

I chalk up all the story sleuthing to my journalism training wherein I learned: there could be a story in anything…

…even odors.

I walked by a vendor and remarked to my Husband of Awesome™, “Something smells lemony and sweet and… mmmm.” (Unintentionally, it sounded kinda sexy, but falls flat in the re-telling. Just pretend for a moment, ‘k?)

I’m still trying to find the words to describe that fragrance. They’ll come.

A few steps later, we walked by an obvious patch of vomit. Remember I mentioned it was cloudy? The odor was obnoxious, but not as bad as it could have been on a humid, sunny day.

What if it were lemony, sweet…vomit? There’s a story there, I know.

And take this chicken, for example:

Chicken Pulling Out His Own Feathers

In the fowl barn, lined with cages and cages of gorgeous, plump roosters and hens and ducks, this poor specimen was pulling his own feathers out. I snapped a few photos. The flash startled him up to face me, but he returned to his picking almost immediately. (Was it the two prize hens on either side causing him grief? Maybe he just didn’t like being caged…?)

The rabbit barn sported one empty cage with a sign on it, “Gone home to have babies! Have a happy fair!”

How about this sheep? It’s called a Jacob Sheep (I’d never seen one before. Aren’t all those horns cool?) Both the males and females sprout horns, and some of them will grow six at once.

Jacob Sheep

I also fired my camera into the crowd to see what turns up. I’m not publishing those photos here, but looking at them reveals a host of ideas in a single image: the 4-H girls in their short-shorts and shi–stomping boots, the disheveled carny folk with their bright orange shirts and world-weary expressions, an amazing number of very young children wandering by themselves.

My favorite photo is of a group of teens, perhaps 20, sitting on benches watching the crowd stroll by. Each of them had a notebook and was writing furiously. School’s not in session until next week. What were they writing about?

Even if there’s no complete story in what I witnessed at the fair, there are scads of images I can pepper my stories with, and I’ve got the pictures to prove it.

What can you find at your local coffee shop? Or see on the bus? On campus? At the ballpark?

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Writing Prompt – A New Place

A New Place Art Exhibit PosterLast night I left the house to get some writing done.

That’s not my usual M.O.

I have a nice roomy office with a ceiling fan, a comfortable chair and wi-fi. Not only that, I’m only a trip down the staircase to the refrigerator, coffee pot or microwave. On really good days, the Husband of Awesome™ will skim silently up the steps into my room and deposit a martini by my right elbow.

What’s not to love?

I can think of three things right away:

  1. Physical Distractions – It doesn’t matter how often I straighten up the desk, there’s always a hundred things on it to take me away from the task at hand: my prized paper clip collection, photos, desk toys, a new pen, etc. I’ll take a moment to think about something in the manuscript and all of a sudden I’m carried away by something shiny in the vicinity. (Or by a new pen.)
  2. Baggage – I’m at home, right? It won’t take but a moment to put in a load of laundry, inventory the refrigerator for my next grocery trip, sew a button on a shirt, empty the dishwasher. Being at home means being bombarded with the message of a hundred things that “need doing right now.” It’s tough to produce against that kind of pressure. (And hard to ignore it.)
  3. People/Pets – This only counts if you have someone living with you, of course. Even if they’re not invading your space while you’re writing, it may be difficult to block them from your mind. If your house is small enough, you may not be able to dismiss their physical presence. For me, it’s usually the mental clutter that gets to me. I start that inner dialogue with myself: Have I ignored my spouse for too long? Have I fed the dog?

So yesterday’s trip out to do some writing was ideal.

I found a coffee shop I’d never patronized before and set to work. My space was limited, as were the desk toys, and after a few moments, the homogenous decor of the establishment proved easily ignorable. I got a lot of work done. So much so, that I think I’ll be getting out a couple times a month for writing.

Here’s your prompt: This week’s prompt is two-fold. Pick and choose, or do both. Either way, begin by visiting a place you’ve never been to. If you can, go somewhere you’ve heard very little (or nothing!) about. (The reason for this will become clear in a moment.) One more thing: although I chose a coffee shop, you could you choose any kind of location which offers an opportunity to write: a mountain vista, a park bench, a national monument, a graveyard.

  1. Now that you’re here, write. Write about whatever you want. See if you can be more productive here than in your usual haunt. If you are, examine what’s working for you. Can you take that home with you? If you’re not, find out what’s not working. Could that — or something related — be affecting you at home, too? Create a list of changes you can incorporate at home to make the atmosphere more conducive to writing.
  2. For those of you thinking, “that’s not a prompt,” this one’s for you: take in these new surroundings. You should have no preconceived notions of the area: after all, you’ve never been here before, and I hope you’ve not heard many specific details about it. Do you love it or hate it? What resonates with you? What rubs you wrong? Write a story using this location and incorporate the details of what you’ve examined.

*Today’s photo comes from the Kemistry Gallery Web site, the Anthony Burrill “In a New Place” exhibit.

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Autumn Already? ‘Tis the Start of Something New…

On my way to work this morning I saw a leaf fall, and then several more.

Autumn already? I thought, accelerating around a curve only to find three deer in my path. I slowed, and they leaped into a nearby hayfield.

So…I’m seeing deer in the morning again, leaves are beginning to brown and drop from trees, and school is starting. It’s early yet, I know, but I’m thinking of new beginnings.

I usually feel this way in January, when like countless others, I try to get my act together.

Maybe it was prompted by a blogpost by fellow Broad, Hunter Liguore, of Sword and Saga Press. Her article, The Fear of Writing struck a chord within me. It begins as an essay discussing the various reasons people don’t allow themselves to write, but morphs into a strategic plan for getting writing done. For folks who are already writing, but (perhaps) lament their lack of time or discipline, the tail-end of Hunter’s post is where the real meat is.

I’ve always advocated using little bits of “found time” to get writing tasks done, but Hunter goes so far as to suggest stealing time from other activities in order to gain a large block of time you can devote to your writing. It’s a different way of looking at things, and makes a lot of sense.

And it all starts with a making a list. Hunter refers to it as a “writing actions” list, but in my mind, it’s a to-do list. When you wake in the morning, you should plot out all the writing items you want to accomplish during the day. For example, this might be a typical list for me:

  1. Write 500 words.
  2. Plot chapter 2.
  3. Research five possible agents.
  4. Draft a query letter.
  5. Find a market for a completed short story.
  6. Edit a previous chapter.

Once you know what you need to accomplish, start considering what you can do during the day (at work or between classes or kids’ naptimes) in order to leave you more time for the most important tasks. I call it using “found time,” Hunter calls it stealing. Call it what you want, it’s often all that’s needed for added productivity.

For instance, I have a clipboard filled with blank paper in the car. While I’m waiting at a stoplight, I usually plot out a scene, write 30 – 50 words or jot down some ideas for a story. You can do the same while standing in line at the bank or waiting in line at the local coffee shop.

Instead of using these “found bits,” Hunter suggests using time you may have devoted to another task. Say your morning routine takes an hour. Can you shave off 15 minutes by altering it? Use the time to plot a scene or return emails (so you won’t have to do it later and cut into your writing) or do your evening chores with that morning block of time, thus freeing it later for writing.

Hunter offers other good suggestions, and has written an oath you can take to commit more time to your writing. (Is taking an oath to silly? Perhaps you won’t feel obliged to honor it, even to yourself. But, you could print it out and leave it in strategic places around the house to remind others not to bother you while you’re writing.)

I keep a running to do list of writing items, but I like Hunter’s targeted approach. With this change of the season, I’m going to give it a try.

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Running Out of Ideas…?

No IdeasI never run out of ideas to write…they’re all around me: that conversation I heard at the coffee shop yesterday sparked an idea, so did the newspaper story on pre-teen marriages. Then there was that flash of genius I had while reading last night… the list goes on an on.

But I’m smack in the middle of the final edit on my WIP and, well, I’m a litle dry.

I want to write. I prefer to write every day…but the editing and re-writing I’m doing doesn’t leave me much time. Not only that, I feel drained by the time I complete my editing quota. (And because editing is my priority right now, I do that before I get to the fun stuff; i.e., new words.)

In that situation, it’s hard to be creative. So where do I turn?

I don’t keep a journal or carry a notebook to jot down ideas. (I know, some of you are rolling over in your figurative graves right now. Get over it. And for the record, I don’t rely on free-writing either.)

I’m currently experimenting with an idea Marcia Golub describes in her book, I’d Rather Be Writing. Her son’s second grade class used “story envelopes” to keep ideas together. They jotted down ideas and put them into an envelope for safekeeping. When they had time, out came the envelope to pick through.

Marcia talks about idea-gathering in a way that isn’t how most people think when they’re scrambling for something to say: delving into the personal.

  • that weird old woman who lived down the block when you were growing up
  • that dream in which you were making love to a mountain
  • Momma’s gefilte fish ordeal
  • the time the cops came because they thought Mom was chopping someone up
  • the smell of the basement when it rains

She also talks about paranoia, reminiscences, and old photographs and feelings to be good places to look for ideas.

She says, “I found it wonderful to learn I had this storehouse of story ideas inside me, that the misery of childhood had a purpose: to give me something to write about.”

Marcia also talks about the joys of childhood being a good place to search for ideas, too – but I digress. Let’s get back to those envelopes…

Marcia’s son had one envelope for all his ideas, but I like the idea of having several envelopes into which you can place multiple ideas which might go together. Use a different envelope for each story you might write.

For example, in one envelope you could put the smell of the basement when it rains with the old woman who lived down the block. Add the idea of some toe-pinching black shoes you were forced to wear to school as a pre-teen and what can you come up with?

(If you write genre, as I do, remember that each of these ideas could be transferred to another milieu. The smell of the basement becomes the smell of something in the forest after a deep rain. The old lady becomes the witch or the crone or the seer (or the mother-figure, nurse, angel, etc.). Those pinchy shoes become sandals, or leather boots, or a uniform, etc.)

If you don’t fancy the idea of multiple envelopes, I suppose you could write the initial idea at the top of a notebook page and add subsequent ideas below. The same could be done in a computer file. But I find that reading the words sometimes isn’t enough. The tactile sensation of opening and shuffling the ideas around forces me to consider the thought literally sitting in my hand.

What do you do when you’re looking for inspiration? How do you organize your ideas?