Reving Your Writing Engine: Ideas

There are so many sources for ideas.  Instead of sitting in front of your blank screen staring at your keyboard do some of the following activities:

1.  Go through your card file where you recorded your notes about people you observed, places you described, stories you overheard, conversations, etc.

2. Read the newspaper, especially the personal ads.  They are full of mysterious tidbits.  Even the articles can give you ideas.   Social notices such as weddings, parties and obituaries are full of material.

3.  Photos of your family, especially old photos of grandparents are fabulous resources.  Magazines also are full of interesting faces and situations in photos.

4.  Current events in your community such as local politics and neighbourhood dramas can prove to be great starting points for short stories or novels ( changing the people sufficiently so that they are not recognizable.

5.  Historical happenings are gold mines for interesting ideas.  Visit the library and check out the local history books.  Monuments and tombstones are also fascinating.

6.  Mine your own life for memories of school days, family stories and interesting characters.

7.  Strange fashions, traditions and new trends can also spark an idea, especially for interesting articles.

8.  Take a walk around your neighbourhood and observe what is happening.  Is someone moving out or moving in?  Who is the reclusive neighbour no one ever sees?  What things do the teens do for amusement?  etc.

9.  Look through an art gallery or a book on art in the library.  What stories are behind the drawings and paintings?  Check out statues and sculptures.  What do you imagine when you look at them?

10.  Bible stories, myths, legends, fairy tales and even Mother Goose rhymes can suggest stories.  Set a myth in a modern setting.  Write a legend about a local landmark.

11.  Music can suggest amazing ideas.  Play a classical piece or your favourite jazz and write while you listen.  Take a song title and use it as the title of your story.  Read a poem and write the prose account that it suggests to you.

12.  Look through an atlas and choose a strange place name to set a story in.   Travel magazines and National Geographic magazines are full of wonderful pictures of far away places that would make great settings for a story.

13.  HIstoric journals, your own diaries and the diaries of famous people can prompt interesting ideas. Even the phone book can lead to imaginative plots and interesting names for characters.

14.  Old postcards can inspire in two ways.  The pictures on the front depict vacation destinations from the past and the hand written notes on the back can be a fun start to a story.  Period ads and old catalogue pictures can suggest historical articles or stories.

15.  Colours can suggest moods and emotions, even events.  Patterns and textures can stir memories.

16.  Unusual objects, especially antiques, can suggest situations and characters.  Old jewelry and souvenirs can prompt an idea.  Empty your pocket or purse and see what the contents suggest to you.

17.  Television ads, movie clips and titles can be the beginning of a plot.

18.  Even the weather report can start your imagination humming.

These are just a few activities or objects that you can use when you sit down to write.  There are a lot of good writing sites on the internet that offer daily or weekly prompts.  So don’t just sit there and stew.  Explore!

Categorized as Pen

Mining for Gold

Now that you have kicked your Editor out of the office (or as my friend Effie would say “into the parking lot”) it is time to jump start your imagination.  Let’s face it, the imagination is the most incredible tool you have in your inventory and all too often we don’t feed it often enough.  The all time greatest quick starter is to read.  Read everything you can get a hand on.  Old books, new books, fiction and non-fiction, classics and garbage.  Read it all, otherwise how are you going to know what makes good writing good or why a classic became a classic?

The next best quick start is experience.  We writers need to meet new people and listen to their stories.  Everyone has a story.  Sometimes they might think their life story is boring, but not true.

Everyone is unique and we have all had experiences in our life that are worth hearing about.  I once interviewed an eighty-five year old man who swore he’d lived a very mundane life and then proceeded to tell me about the barn raisings he’d been too and the  trip he’d made out west during the 1940’s to help with the harvest during the war.

Our own lives are full of interesting discoveries too.  Not everyone has lived where you have lived or have done what you have done.  Search your memories for ideas that may lead you down interesting byways.  These memories are treasure troves for short stories, even novels.  They can lead to good articles too.  Remember the old grocer you knew who came from Ireland.  Was he living in the southern republic or in the northern Ireland area governed by the Uk?  Perhaps he would describe the difficulties encountered during the worst of the Troubles.  Maybe the local piano teacher has had a very successful student or won some prestigious prize themselves.  Older people are gold mines of story opportunities.  Did one of your elderly neighbours ever work in a munitions factory or fly as a bush pilot?  You will be surprised at the fascinating lives your neighbours have led.

Make sure you carry a notebook every where you go and I do mean everywhere.  The dollar stores have lots of small notebooks that can be slipped into a coat pocket or a purse.  Writers need to become eavesdroppers, not for gossip, but for story ideas and bits of conversation that can be used in a short story or novel.  People tend to tell their life stories to total strangers on buses, planes and trains.  Also, it is good to note down brief descriptions of interesting characters that can become models for your protagonists or villains.  Note down the names of shops you pass or descriptions of the beautiful or derelict buildings you see.  This notebook will become very valuable for the times you sit down to write.  You should go through your notebooks (plural, they should accumulate) regularly for details and conversation that you can turn into stories or that can be filed in on a recipe card in a filing box marked “ideas”.

Always begin your writing sessions with some timed free writing.  Set an egg time for ten minutes and write until the timer rings.  You must begin writing immediately, even if you are only writing your own name and continue writing non-stop until the buzzer goes, or if all goes as planned you will get so enthralled with what you are writing you will continue until it is done.

These bits of advice are not new to writers, but they are well used for a good reason.  They usually work. However, if you are still stuck there are many other ways to prod your imagination into action. Those ways are the topic of my next blog.

Write A Contract For Your Inner Critic

As the chairperson of a local Writers’ group, the Valley Writers’ Guild, I volunteered to be the first speaker at our January meeting.  It will be the first time we have met in the library and so I wanted to address a topic of common concern to writers.  The frustrating experience of writer’s block is certainly one every writer has from time to time.  The problem stems from self-doubt and sensitivity to the inner critic hovering around as soon as a writer applies the seat of his or her pants to the seat of the office chair.  The inner critic is rather like a nasty tiny black devil sitting on the shoulder and making snide comments each time a writer tries to make a mark on the blank screen (or paper) on the desk.  Nothing will come of the session if this menace is not promptly put in its place.  After all, you, the writer, are in charge.  Don’t allow this dictator take command.  It’s a case for disciplining your inner discourager.

I propose, instead of suffering through this misery, that you, the writer in question, make a strict contract with your self-doubt (aka the “editor”).  I think that is very important that you actually write this contract up and post it above your desk.  As a matter of fact, print it out on a bright colour like lime green and frame it so that it is prominently in your line of vision.  This is so that every time you feel attacked by self doubt you can re-read the “riot act” to your editor.

Okay, now what should this contract say?

First of all make a statement of your intentions:

eg: I will write for at least an hour every day, no matter what.

or  I will write a short story (skit, chapter, article, song or poem) each week.

Then write the following rules for the Editor:

1.   Acknowledge and affirm that you are a Writer!  This is very important because otherwise spending time in this activity will just be a waste of time.  You need to acknowledge that you are a legitimate writer because a) you write, b) every writer has doubts c) no one has the right to criticize your ambition and d) you need to be patient with the learning curve of your skills.

2. The Editor is only helpful after the first draft is finished.  This is crucial to the writing process.  Anything judged before it is any more than an idea is still in the raw state, like crude ore before the refining process.  You need to allow yourself time to actually mine the ore (more about this process in a later blog).  Therefore judgement before this process is completed is grossly unfair and for your purposes not allowed.

3.  The Editor is not allowed to set foot in your head space until he or she is called upon to do so.

You must have control and so you must agree to be incommunicado until “editing day”.  Editing day is a day you choose either at the end of each week or the end of each month (your choice) when you review the material you have written and decide what to do with it.  You should never edit anything too soon after writing it unless you are on a tight schedule for a deadline.  Time gives the Editor in your head an opportunity to see what is written with fresh eyes.

4. Anything said to you by the Editor is invalid unless you accept it.  This is very important for your self esteem.  Any criticisms that insult your own intelligence such as :  “this is stupid tripe”, “this is just garbage” or “your writing sucks” should not be given any credence.  They are simply unhelpful.  Only specific criticism such as “that’s a dangling participle”, “don’t use that double negative” or “this is redundancy” should be heeded.

5.  Post your successes rather than your rejections (no matter how minor they seem).  Self-encouragement feeds your confidence.  Confidence defeats writer’s block.  The more confidence you have the more submissions you will make.  The more submissions you make the greater chance you have for successful publication.

6.  You have the right to “fire” the Editor without notice.  This may happen on a daily or weekly basis until you have learn to apply the Editor gag whenever necessary.  If you need a second opinion after a decent interval of time you might consider a different pair of friendly eyes.  Choose this person carefully.  It should be someone who’s opinion you trust , someone who will only offer helpful criticism and frank tactful advice.  Getting input from a group of writers who are experienced in critiquing each others work will be immensely therapeutic.  In that way you are able to weigh the overall criticism of your work by noting the commonality of their comments.

This is the contract you need to make with the Editor and when he or she starts whispering or screaming in your ear simply refer to the posted contract.

You are now empowered to write as much “junk” or “garbage” as necessary until you find the gold, your “voice” as a writer.

Welcome to My World

You have probably come to my page because you are a writer or an artist or just curious.  Please pull up a chair and just relax, because as a rule I’m somewhat laid back.  I tend to be an optimist about people, time and life in general.  At the moment, snow is piled in great heaps outside our door, but under that snow is another spring, summer, and fall.  I love the sparkle of winter, though I’m not so keen about the temperature.  Brr!  As the years go on, the speed at which the next season arrives seems to be much faster, so I just bundle up and drink the hot chocolate while time marches on.

As a writer, I enjoy reading short stories as well as novels.  I presently edit and publish a local magazine called “s.m.i.l.e.” for the residents of seniors’ homes, nursing homes and hospice patients.  Through the magazine I have learned to write articles as well as short stories and the feed back we get from the readers is so far enthusiastic.  We also include humour, puzzles, and poetry.  I like putting all the elements together with photos and art to make an attractive page and a interesting read.  Our magazine is completely filled with volunteered contributions and I send it in PDF format wherever it needs to go.  This way the institutions and groups are able to print up as many copies as they need at the time.

I also write monologue, skits and plays, mostly, but not wholly, for church.  And I have begun to write

hymns and songs in the past few years.  I want to share some of my writing, art and spirit in this blog and hopefully make it interesting enough to get you writing back.  What do you think ?

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