Tag brainstorming

Writing Inspiration in Everyday Items

brainstorming2As a writer, I have many ideas. They come to me in different shapes and forms and strike me at the weirdest times. I try to keep a notepad by my side, but it’s not always possible.

There are other times when ideas just don’t seem to freely come anymore. It’s like hitting a sandbox while running on a highway. It slows me down. It bothers me.

Normally I work on multiple projects at any given time, so I can switch between them, but every week I make a point to have a brainstorming session and get some fresh ideas for my idea binder.

Recently, I attended a free workshop organized by the Gotham Writers. They partnered with Bryant Park in New York City and during the summer they organize workshops and readings outdoors. I recommend these meetings to any writer living in New York. You get to meet a lot of interesting people and learn a lot of good things.

Anyway, at this workshop the presenter gave us a system for coming up with ideas. He attributed this method to Ray Bradbury, but I wasn’t able to find a proof for that. It could be. Either way, I took that idea and I made it mine by changing it a little bit. So, here I am to share with you: How to get endless ideas?

First of all, go to a place that is less familiar. This means get out of your usual environment. If you work in your home office, or your business, just go someplace else. If you are inside, go outside, if you are outside, go inside. Even better- try to use the opportunity of being in a place that is completely unfamiliar, like visiting something new, or a place that changes often, like a flea market. The goal here is to get away from all the things that are too usual to your day to day life.

Step One: Root Item

Once in this place, look around. Do a 360 and allow your eyes to feast on the sights. What do you see? You don’t have to look for things out of the ordinary, but if you happen to see one, take note of it. Start writing down the things that catch your eye. Stop at 10. You now have a list of 10 items. Here’s an example:

Bus, Pole, Bench, Tree, Statue, Calculator, Flag, Bush, Pebble, Bird

Step Two: Making it specific

In the course of doing this, your eyes might fall on the same thing in different sessions. To make it more diverse, we will take each item and make it specific. This is where you will use your senses. Listen. Look. Smell. Touch what is near you (make sure it’s not a person, though!). Feel with your body. Is there a vibration in the air? Is there a sublime calm? Use all your senses and come up with qualifiers, like this:

Blue, Shivering, Lean, Loud, Rude, Stiff, Enormous, Stinky, Flat, Snug

Step Three: Connect Them

Now, draw random lines connecting one root item with one modifier. Add a “The” in front of them and watch the results. Don’t over-think it and try to keep it random. Here’s mine:

brainstorming

Results:
“The Enormous Bus”
“The Blue Pole”
“The Flat Bench”
“The Lean Tree”
“The Shivering Statue”
“The Stiff Calculator”
“The Stinky Flag”
“The Rude Bush”
“The Loud Pebble”
“The Snug Bird”

Now that you have this list, you might want to pick the top five. Reading these potential titles, which ones begin to give you some idea of a potential story? Here are my selections, from my example:

“The Flat Bench”
“The Lean Tree”
“The Shivering Statue”
“The Rude Bush”
“The Loud Pebble”

Step Four: Characters (optional)

If you want to take it a step further, you can add some characters to these ideas. If you happen to be in a place with people, it’s all good. If you are home, maybe turn on the news channel and wait to see something. Otherwise, maybe you can just imagine some characters, or borrow characters that you love from your favorite stories. Write just a couple of lines and give them a name, like this:

Steve ParkseTall, skinny, messy hair, but perfect business suit. Nice polished leather suitcase, but worn-down shoes. He smiles but there’s something dark in his eyes.

Angela DawsonSporty and short, with long hair in a high pony tail. Perfectly manicured nails. Too much make-up. She walks with confidence, head held high.

Tim McNealyStocky guy, wears suspenders. Walks sluggishly holding a sub in one hand and Fitness magazine in the other. He’s dressed in gym clothes.

Now that we got a few characters, let’s throw them in the mix:

“Tim And The Flat Bench”
“Steve And The Lean Tree”
“Angela And The Shivering Statue”
“Frodo And The Rude Bush”
“Sherlock Holmes And The Loud Pebble”

Did you see what I did there?

Step Five: Write!

All right, now we got some cool ideas. Are they stories yet? Not really, but they do start to point towards a story, don’t they? That was the goal of this exercise- to get you started.

Keep these notes, accumulate them in a binder or your favorite software and every time you hit a rough spot, take them out and start writing. Don’t judge, don’t edit. Your goal is to fire up your imagination. Take any of these one line titles and write about them. You don’t even have to write the entire story. A scene, or a paragraph is enough. You’ll thank yourself.

I am curious to hear what you think about this method? Do you use any similar systems to fire up your imagination? If so, share with us!

Also, please help me spread this article by tweeting it:

[Tweet “Writing Inspiration in Everyday Items #fictionwriting”]

Thank you and keep at it!

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Writer’s Block or Will-Power Block

writer's block

Tips to Overcome Writer’s Block

If you are a writer it’s almost a certainty that at one point in your writing life you experienced what’s called a “writer’s block”. I say “what’s called,” and I quote it because I am not 100% certain that writer’s block, per se, is a phenomenon exclusively dedicated to writers.

Let me back up a bit and explain what I am talking about. I’ve been in writer’s block hell, more than once, and this is how it has manifested for me: all day I’d run around doing my things, my work, my chores, and so on, but never stop thinking about writing. I feel excited about it, I think of new plot lines, new scenes, new characters and settings. During my commute I read books on writing or my favorite authors and observe the way they worked their craft.

The Black Hole

The whole day is basically a preamble for my evening writing. Then I finally get home, chat with my wife about our day, eat, take a shower, put my child to bed, drink some tea or a glass of wine, and eventually sit down at my desk. Turn on the computer, fix the keyboard, fire up my writing software and Bam! That’s when it starts. A feeling of emptiness, a deep black whole inside my brain and my body, a twirling sand trap in which I am slowly sinking, deeper and deeper. The sand fetters my feet, then my arms and eventually covers my face, fills my nostrils and mouth and suffocates me.

My fingers feel stiff. I type a sentence. I can’t write another one, I have to read the first one first. I read it. It sounds stupid, puerile, idiotic. I delete it. I write a line of dialogue, ending it with XYZ said. Now I read the name of the protagonist. It sounds childish and dumb. Now I am thinking I have to go back and change the name throughout the entire manuscript. Now I am panicked. What if everything else sucks as well? Do I have to change everything? What do I do???

An hour later I am still staring at the screen, just three shy words crawling in front of the blinking cursor, mocking me with his joyous flicker. So, I turn everything off and I go away and that’s when it happens… the worst thing ever. I say to myself: “it’s ok, I probably didn’t feel it today. I’ll do it tomorrow.”

That is Doom, with capital “F”. Because the truth is this: tomorrow is never easier. Tomorrow you carry on the weight of the doubts of today. Tomorrow you won’t forget the panic you set in today. Tomorrow will be worse. And just saying that “I didn’t feel like it” is a defense mechanism. It’s a way for me to be at peace with myself. It’s a lie, I lie to myself trying to sugarcoat my lack of will power.

Everyday Block

And we do this in all aspects of life, don’t we? Have you had one of those days in the office where you just don’t feel like doing anything? And you roam around the office, dragging folders and files around, looking busy, making copies of blank papers and faxing doodles to non-existent numbers? No, it’s just me? Ok… But you did experience something similar to that. And at the end of the day you had a friend or family member close and you said: “You know, today I just didn’t feel like doing shit.” And you feel good. You feel redeemed. You didn’t lose the day. You just didn’t feel it. You’ll pick it up tomorrow, you say, forgetting you now have a pile of stuff to catch up with.

So, let me return to my point: the writer’s block is not a write’s block, it’s just a human block. It’s a part of our being, it’s our procrastination baggage that we carry everywhere. It’s almost the same as leaving the dirty dish on the table, because it’s easier to wash it tomorrow. It’s not a writer’s block, it’s just you being lazy!

Ok, so what can you do about it? I created my own plan of breaking out of this deadly locked out state. I needed a way to free my mind and my body from this lazy glue that covers me like a death cloud and slows down every bit of my being. I found that the secret to that is to 1) change focus and 2) do it fast.

Change Focus

writer's blockI strongly believe that as a writer you should never stop at working on only one project. Of course, you may have your “big” project, the book, the novel or what have you. But alongside that project you should always keep writing other things. You should always flex your writing brain by reaching out into other genres, into non-fiction, or even into poetry.

This is how I do it: I have an ongoing Word file where I do my writing exercises. I don’t even separate it by anything because it’s basically just a dump of writing bits whose purpose is exclusively to fire up my brain.

When you feel like you don’t “feel like it”, don’t argue with that feeling. It’s hard wired into your brain. The more you fight it, the deeper you will go. Instead, change focus. Stop the work that you’re doing and turn yourself to a different project. Open up the ongoing file and write a page long sentence. Do not stop until you completely fill-in a page. Do not put a period until you reach the end.

Do you need writing prompts? Ideally I’d like you to think of something yourself; for example, go back to your entire day. Start from the morning and do a fast-forward in your head. Did anything capture you during the day? A person, a place, an event, a sound, anything? Make the story about that. If you are really stuck and you don’t know what to write about, use a writing prompt. On this site I present (almost) daily a new writing prompt. Get some from here: Writing Prompts.

After you finished with this page, don’t waste time reading it. Go to the next page and write one page in a genre that you hate. For example, if you are Sci-Fi author, try to write a romance page. Or even better, dwell into erotica or murder mystery. Anything that you are 100% not comfortable writing. Guess what: nobody cares what you write because nobody will read it, probably not even you.

What do these exercises accomplish: one, is getting your hand to answer to your brain. You are putting words on paper. You are generating content. Second, it forces your brain to go outside of the comfort zone. Just like your biceps lifting 15 pounds everyday and getting to a plateau, so does your creative side of your brain. Sometimes it needs a jolt of something different. Sometimes, writing into a genre that you genuinely dislike may remind you how much you like your genre. Now you are again excited about getting back to your project.

Regardless of the type of exercise you use, try to make it to 1000 words. It’s not a lot, but just enough to get you going.

Do It Fast

Whenever you feel the block taking over, don’t try to fight it. You will only dig a deeper hole. Change focus right away and stay away from your project for those 1000 words. Then try to get back to it. If you still can’t you have two options: do it all over again or start from the beginning. I hope you will excuse me for being coy, but the reality is this: your block is a mental state that you accept. If you accept it, soon it will become a part of who you are. Don’t let that happen. Act fast, act now.

Change your focus and reframe yourself. Do it as many times as it takes until you feel you climbed back out of the sand.

Keep at it!

writer's blockIn reality, depending on the severity, it may take a few days, but I guarantee that if you keep at it and you do not let yourself trapped into the downspiral, you will overcome the block and you will be back at writing in no time.

And let me share a little secret with you: this post was me changing focus. As a matter of fact, I find that non-fiction is a great way to completely shift focus. If you are a blogger you can use that to your advantage. Write some posts, post some comments. Keep writing something different every time. You will not only pull yourself out of the blackness of the block, but in the same time you will improve your writing craft and you will flex those little brain cells and take your creativity to new levels.

Your story

Do you have any writer’s block horror stories? What happened, how did it manifest? What did you do to get out of it? Did you get out of it? Use the comment box below to share your story or thoughts with us and help the community!

All the best,

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Writing when busy

busy writer
If you are like most beginning writers, you probably have a job. Something that brings you money, maybe a lot of money or just enough to keep you going. However, regardless of your job, your dream is to write, publish, and maybe one day be able to quit that job and replace your income with royalties. Good thoughts, shared by many, but not as easy as you might think.

The truth is that even the best writers need practice, just like every athlete and every musician need to exercise a lot to maintain their level. Writing is an art and just like any art, it needs work. You may have an inherent talent and that’s great, but you become excellent through practice. After all, our brain is the most complex part of our organism, so it’s not difficult to see why it needs practice.

And that is where the two worlds usually clash. You must divide yourself between your job, family and your writing. Unfortunately, the latter will always suffer. Your job needs you. After all, those reports will not write themselves, and you can’t loose your job–how will you live? Your family needs you. You will not tell your wife, mother or children that you don’t have time for them. They don’t see you the whole week, will you ditch them during the weekend too? How’s that fair?

Let’s not panic, I feel you are getting there… There is a simple answer to this conundrum and it’s called: divide et impera, or divide and rule. If you take your life as a whole and try to back out like a fast movie camera and pan left to right over it, you will be overwhelmed with its vastness and complexity. But once you start breaking it down into smaller pieces, you will soon learn how to rule those parts, and when you put them back together into the puzzle, now you have a structure you can work with.

As a writer, this is exactly what I want you to do. I want you to divide your life into small pieces and ‘conquer’ them. We will start with a day.

Writer’s Weekday

Depending on your job and situation, your day may look different, but for the purposes of this explanation we will assume that you have a 9-5 job, you wake up at around 6:30 to get ready and return home around 7:30. Then late at night you go to bed at around 11:30PM.

Morning Brain Exercise

Beginning tomorrow you will start waking up 15 minutes earlier. I promise you that 15 minutes will not alter your behavior or get you more tired during the day. So, you wake up 15 minutes earlier, you get out of your bed and you go straight to your writing place. Don’t turn the radio or TV on, don’t look at the newspaper and by all mighty Gods in the Universe, do not, I repeat, do not check your email! Simply open up your favorite writing tool (which, by the way, can very well be a pen and paper) and start writing. You will write for 10 minutes without stop. Once you finished, read your work out loud (or whispered) and make short notes. That should only take you 5 minutes.

What does this do for you? It will fire up your brain. Over night our mind works in the background. Sometimes we get a peek by having a vivid dream or deja vu sympthoms the next day, but most of the time it’s just working on it’s own. Your goal is to resurrect those thoughts from the depth and bring them to your fingers and onto the paper. This repeated exercise will do wonders for your idea factory and will help improve your style, voice and craft in general.

Writing During Commute

This obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, but it does apply to some. For example, I commute via bus and I have 30-45 minutes every day, each way. So, I can use those precious minutes to improve my writing. All you need is a portable writing device, and I highly recommend it, because it is not that easy to write with a pen and paper on a bus or train. Get yourself a cheap and simple writing device, something that works for you. I have a Neo Alphasmart.

In this situation you have a few options, but I will start with the one that I prefer. Remember that all fiction and all your ideas are somehow, in their basic form, driven from reality. No matter how twisted and fantastic your writing is, it still comes from your life experience in this world. So, one important skill that you must develop is the ability to take things from real life and put them in your fiction.

When you commute you are outside or otherwise surrounded by other people. Look around and pick something. May it be a building, a field, a car, a person, anything that your eyes stop over in the first 3-5 minutes. Start writing a scene about that. Use that item as your central point, it will give you something to write around. That sort of hook is very powerful because it allows your brain to hang on to something and then develop a story around it.

You don’t have a lot of time so start writing. Again, you don’t have to edit your work or agonize over every word. Your goal here is to push your imagination to take reality and make it into powerful fiction. So just write as fast as you can.

If you cannot write during your commute because you are driving our it’s too short and you can never get a seat, you this time wisely to improve your craft by reading or listening to audio books on writing craft. So far I bought and read about 100 books and I still enjoy any new one that falls in my hands. They’re a great resource and the more you read the more those words will get fixated in your brain and drive your craft toward excellency.

Writing At Work

Again, this depends a lot on your own environment, but pretty much every job has a lunch break. Most people mingle with their co-workers, go outside to take a walk, read the news, watch the scores, or check their personal email. Forget all of those. If you have a precious hour in the middle of your work day, use it wisely.

The way I like to use my half an hour of lunch is by creating what I call a “job novel.” It’s basically a main idea for a book, nothing too fancy, nothing ground-breaking, since that is not the focus. What I want to do is get used to continuity. It’s fun and nice to keep writing new random scenes, but it is a different skill to learn continuity. So, I pick a subject and decide how long it would be. Let’s say a murder mystery on 100 pages. Then I write as much as I can each day during my lunch hour, making sure that I stop when a scene or chapter is over.

Unfortunately you will find that this is not always possible because of the unpredictable character of general jobs. What you need to do is write as much as you can in that time, BUT, and that’s a big but: do not jeopardize your job. If it is not possible for you to use your lunch hour to write, just don’t do it. Remember, you cannot steal corporate time and use it for personal things. That is a privilege that belongs exclusively to your boss…

Evening Writing – The Main Event

So during the day you’ve been pumping your brain. You started in the morning, during your commute and, if possible, during your free time at work. Now you are home and you can dedicate some time to your larger project. A larger project is a novel, a series of short stories, anything that you want to finish and aim to publish one day.

Ideally you should be able to allocate one hour or as much as you need to write 2000 words. If your life situation doesn’t allow, try to shoot at least for 30 minutes and 1000 words. If possible do it when you feel the most comfortable and less pressured. If you need to put your kids to sleep in one hour, maybe it’s best you do your writing right after. If you have a tradition of dinner in the family, don’t break it, work around it. The goal here is for you to find the best time to allocate to your writing.

Writer’s Weekends and Holidays

You may think that you have a lot of free time during the weekend, but as we all know, that’s not true. You try to cram one million things in your weekend and you wake up Saturday morning, you blink and it’s Sunday night. So you need to divide and conquer the weekends as well.

I think that a reasonable time to allocate during a weekend day would be 3 hours. My guess is that you can do an hour early morning, one in the afternoon and one at night. You can also do them all three in one shot. I actually prefer it that way. Whatever works for you, but make sure you allocate those hours and you stick to that plan.

Putting it all together

So, we got a workday with 10 minutes of brainstorming, 30 to 60 of putting reality into fiction, about 30 minutes of story-telling, and one hour of working on your main project. In a weekend day we got 6 hours of working on your project. Let’s bring it forward (some items are rounded down to account for diminished productivity):

Period Brainstorming Practice Practice Project
Weekday  10 min. 30 min. 15 min. 1 hr. / 2000 w.
Weekend 6 hr. / 6000 w.
Week  50 min. 2.5 hr. 1.25 hr. 7 hr. / 8000 w.
Month  3 hr. 10 hr. 5 hr. 30 hr. / 30,000 w.
Year  40 hr. 130 hr. 65 hr. 360 hr. / 350,000 w.

Of course, these are just calculated numbers. They don’t take into account vacation, time off, etc. They are ideal numbers obtained mathematically. The point is, that if you were to stick to this strong regimen during one entire year, you should be able to write not one book, but three!

But let’s make it more realistic. Let’s call 200,000 words for the year, with the rest being left for self-editing. But still, with this method of dividing your time, you should still be able to put at least two complete manuscripts out in one year.

Even in a worst case scenario where you can only allocate half of that, you should still be able to produce one complete manuscript in one year.

Tracking Your Writing

Tracking is paramount, without it you will lose track of your progress and you won’t know where you stand. It keeps you focused and it helps you achieve your goals. First of, let me say this: daily goals are difficult, you should aim for weekly goals. That means that if one day you cannot do the 10 minutes of brainstorming, maybe you can catch-up during the weekend. Either way, you must achieve your weekly quotas.

So, open an excel or use a notebook and draw a table like the one above. Under the period put the date for each day and fill in that row with minutes and words. After each Sunday make a subtotal for the week. After each month-end make a subtotal for the month. Very soon you will start feeling proud of the table getting longer and longer and those total number of words climbing up.

You CAN Do It!

As you can see the writing process for a busy person with a job is definitely not easy but absolutely doable. It takes a lot of concentration, will power and ability to be in control of your life. This routine will actually help not only your writing skills but will also help you with your time management in general. It will teach you how to be realistic with your time, how to reduce the amount of time spent on unnecessary things and allocate more time to what is important to you.

But most importantly, the continuous alternation between brainstorming, story telling, adapting reality, continuing a story line, and working on a large project, will tickle your brain from all sides and will drive your imagination and writing craft.

One mistake that beginning writers do, and I am very guilty of that sometimes, is to think that if they managed to write a good page, scene or chapter, it means that they are now accomplished as writers and they can duplicate that result any time. Wrong. You need practice, you need will power, and most of all you need to be realistic with your self and with your time. Keep your perseverance up and on track and you will succeed!

Now, go back to writing!!

Enjoy,

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