Archive for the ‘writers’ Category

How To Find Story Ideas When You Feel Uninspired

You’re staring at a blank screen. You want to write a piece for your blog, for your writing class, or your writing project, but your fingers remain motionless on the keyboard. You know you must have something to say, but the words just won’t come. What do you do? Maybe you should give up; you’re not a “real” writer anyway, right?

Wrong!

If you’re one of the many who have difficulty getting started, here’s a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing.

keep a story idea file

I learned this in a writing class years ago, and it’s my personal favorite. Get an accordion file (or you can use a file drawer) and start collecting items of interest from the newspaper and magazines. It could be an article on a topic of interest, a picture, or even a potential character name. Or maybe it’s the location of the story that intrigues you. Get in the habit of writing notes when an idea hits you, and add these to the file as well. You can also include your own photographs that might spark an idea.

Add to your file regularly. I like the portability of an accordion file, and I’ve labeled each section in mine to help keep it organized. It won’t do you any good to collect items and not be able to find them when you want them, so develop a system that works for you.

people watch

try to collect ideas and character sketches from people you encounter in everyday life. You can start with your family and friends. Everyone knows someone who would make a great story character. If you live in a busy neighborhood, sit outside and listen and watch the activity around you. Take pictures as well. Or go to a coffee shop and observe people as you enjoy a mocha latte′. Take notes on traits or speech you find interesting. Get in the habit of noticing people you encounter throughout your day, whether it’s co-workers, the lady at the dry-cleaners, or the guy who comes to fix your leaky faucet. They all have the potential to become a fascinating character in your next writing piece.

use a writing prompt

One of my favorites is at Writer’s Digest. (http://www.writersdigest.com/TipsPrompts)

There you’ll find a daily writing tip and a writing prompt to create a 500 word (or less) piece, which you can post online at their site if you choose to do so. There is also a list of additional writing prompts for you to peruse. Try this a few times and it should generate some new thoughts.

keep a notepad and pen by the bed

What the heck was that dream about?

When you awaken, write down anything you can remember from your dreams. It doesn’t have to make any sense to be a potential story idea.

stream of consciousness

Sit quietly in a room for thirty minutes with nothing but a pen and paper. Write whatever comes into your mind. Again, it doesn’t have to make any sense or even be written in complete sentences.  If you are having trouble, pick a topic and write whatever comes into your head about that topic. You can go back later and glean writing ideas from whatever you’ve written. (You can add these to your story file for future reference).

Write back and share what sparks your writing ideas.

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Using The Track Changes and Comments Feature In Microsoft Word

I’ve used Microsoft Word for years, but when I started editing emailed manuscripts, I discovered a hidden gem I hadn’t used before– the Track Changes and Comments feature.

It allows you to revise your own work or someone else’s without changing the original document. You can also include comments or questions. The recipient of the file can then review the changes and comments, and then accept or reject the changes.

You can access it through “Tools” on the menu bar, or by opening a Word document and right-clicking on “TRK” that appears at the bottom of the page- this will add the “Reviewing ” toolbar to the top of your document screen.

Here’s a link to a document that explains the basics of how to use it, and also provides a link to Microsoft’s more in-depth documentation at the Microsoft Office Online.

http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/comments.html

It’s not a difficult tool to use, but I recommend trying it on a practice or backed-up document first-until you feel comfortable using it.

If you are a Word user and have not used this function, I suggest you consider its value in your writing and editing endeavors.

Hooked On “Hooked”

I love to read. I always have, from the time I was a young girl. These days, however, the amount of time I have to read is much less, and therefore more precious.

I see lots of stories that might be good or even great— if I could manage to get through them. How the story begins is a good indicator as to whether I’ll spend my limited time reading that particular story or not.

That is the premise of Hooked by Lee Edgerton, a great book for anyone writing a short story or novel they hope to get published.

We all know that stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but if the beginning doesn’t start in the right place, it’s not likely any agent or editor will continue reading after the first few paragraphs.

In a world where mountains of manuscripts are rejected on a regular basis, how does a writer get theirs off the proverbial heap?

Hooked was written with the intention of helping writers do just that. The secret is in the beginning of your story. This book covers modern story structure, opening scene dos and don’ts, where to put that backstory you’re just dying to fit in, and more. The last chapter contains some thoughts from editors and agents about what they’re looking for in manuscript submissions— and what they don’t want to see.

Don’t waste time polishing up your prose until you make sure you’re giving your story its best chance at success— with a beginning that’s worthy of the rest of your story.

I’m A Left-Handed Gemini and I’m Okay

When I started this blog not quite three weeks ago, I knew I wanted it to be about writing and books. I didn’t want to bore people with ramblings about my life or random thoughts.

But as I travel around WordPress, I see that there is a definite social component to most of the blogs. I also see from my blog stats that my “About Me” page gets hit fairly often. Although I am not one to bare my soul to virtual strangers (I’ll blame it on my upbringing), I do not want to appear reluctant to be communal. I will share my opinions, as respectfully as possible, in my posts and in the comments I leave around WordPress.

So, in the interest of satisfying any curiosity about myself, let me start by saying that I am indeed a true Gemini. No, I’m not an astrology nut (I mean astrology buff), but it’s fun to consider its merits.

(from www.astrology.com)

Gemini is the third Sign of the Zodiac, and those born under this Sign will be quick to tell you all about it. That’s because they love to talk! It’s not just idle chatter with these folks, either. The driving force behind a Gemini’s conversation is their mind. The Gemini-born are intellectually inclined, forever probing people and places in search of information. The more information a Gemini collects, the better. Sharing that information later on with those they love is also a lot of fun, for Geminis are supremely interested in developing their relationships. Dalliances with these folks are always enjoyable, since Geminis are bright, quick-witted and the proverbial life of the party. Even though their intellectual minds can rationalize forever and a day, Geminis also have a surplus of imagination waiting to be tapped. Can a Gemini be boring? Never!

Since Geminis are a mix of the yin and the yang, they are represented perfectly by the Twins. The Gemini-born can easily see both sides of an issue, a wonderfully practical quality. Less practical is the fact that you’re not sure which Twin will show up half the time. Geminis may not know who’s showing up either, which can prompt others to consider them fickle and restless.

They can be wishy-washy, too, changing their mood on a simple whim. It’s this characteristic which readily suggests the Mutable Quality assigned to this Sign. Mutable folks are flexible and go with the flow. Further, the Twins are adaptable and dexterous and can tackle many things at once. It’s a good thing, too, when you consider their myriad interests. The downside of such a curious mind, however, can be a lack of follow-through. How much can any one person do, anyway?

Yup that’s pretty much me, although I take exception to the wishy-washy part.

I love to talk, to read, to write, and I have been told that I have good communication skills. I get bored fairly easily, so I have to keep mixing it up— some of you who’ve been here before may have noticed that I’ve already edited my blog’s design template and probably will do so again, so don’t be surprised when you visit. I may even start another blog in the future about something else (or not), but writing is my true passion. I love to learn new things and I’m a technology junkie; I like toys- the cooler the better.

I’m also a leftie; did you know that only one in ten people are left-handed? I like to think that makes me special. 🙂

It also means I grew up with ink along the side of my left hand from dragging it across the paper as I wrote (clearly another advantage of personal computers), using left-handed scissors (unless I wanted to feel searing pain along my left thumb from right-handed scissors digging in), jamming the door lock in my parents’ home (by turning the door knob in the opposite direction from everyone else), and sitting at the end of the table at mealtime (to prevent knocking elbows with my right-handed sisters). I also had to learn to reverse everything I was taught to make it work for me like knitting, batting and catching (baseball), bowling, etc.

So, that’s me in a nutshell. (Did I say nut again?) All in all, I think I’m pretty normal. And until someone tells me otherwise and offers irrefutable proof, I’m gonna keep thinking it.


All Aboard the Glimmer Train!

If you like to write (or read) short fiction, I recommend checking out Glimmer Train Press, an independent quarterly literary journal started in 1990 by two sisters in Portland, Oregon who personally read all submissions.

www.glimmertrain.com is packed with information about the journal and detailed writing guidelines and FAQ’s about submitting your work for consideration for publication.

Submissions must be original, unpublished fiction. They do not publish novels, poems, or stories for children.

You can select either standard or competition submission. There are no reading fees for standard submission and you receive $700 if your story is accepted for publication. There is a $15-20 reading fee for competition submissions, but the payout is higher.

You can also purchase a subscription to Glimmer Train for $36/yr or $58 for two years. Each issue is about 200 pages (8-12 stories). Back issues are available for $12 each.

They also publish Writers Ask, a quarterly 16 page non-newsletter for writers packed with information on writing from accomplished literary writers and mentors. A one year subscription is $20, or $33 for two years. Back issues are available for $6 each.

Whether you’re an experienced writer or a novice, this journal provides an opportunity for you to get your short fiction published. Give it a try, and drop me a line if your submission is accepted for publication- I’ll be cheering for you!

How To Maximize Your Writing Productivity

We’ve all been there- you need to get some writing done, and this little thing called “life” keeps getting in your way. Here are some tips to help you make the most of the time you have.

Location, location, location!

Where do you do your best writing? Be honest with yourself. It might sound intriguing to go to a local cafe´and immerse yourself in its ambiance, but can you actually focus there and write? Or do you need solitude to turn out something worthwhile? Think about the best pieces you’ve written and where you wrote them. If you write in several locations, try to identify common characteristics they share.

If you’re just starting out as a writer, experiment a little and find the place that works best for you. There will always be those writers who claim to be able to write anywhere, but for most of us, that probably isn’t the case.

Time of Day

Are you an early-bird, a night-owl, or something in between? Again, think about your best writing pieces and when they were written. I find I do my best writing either at night in my dining room in total darkness (except for the glow of my laptop screen), or in early morning, sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea nearby.

Set a Time Limit

Before you sit down to write, decide how much time you can afford to spend. And stick to it. Even if you’re struggling with the words, commit to write for the duration of the time you alloted. You’ll usually find that you get more accomplished if you force yourself to stay put. If you have a significant amount of time to spend, break it into reasonable chunks and schedule short breaks. Just be careful not to let the breaks exceed the time you scheduled.

Minimize Distractions

Even if you’re the type of writer who requires total solitude, there will always be things that pop up to distract your attention. Address your own needs before you begin to write: food, drink, bathroom, etc. and do not incorporate these things into your writing time or you run the risk of running out of time before you get your first words typed.

If necessary, turn off the phone, TV, or stereo. If you write at home like I do and other family members are about, let them know you will be writing, and ask them not to disturb you unless there is an emergency. (They can also take any phone messages while you are busy). I find my husband and teenage daughter do quite well on their own, but sometimes need to be reminded that mom is not on duty 24/7.

Avoid Temptation

When you’re writing, resist the urge to check your email, instant message, or surf the net. It’s best to close any applications on your computer other than the one you are using to write. If you need the internet for research, do that first, then close your browser. It’s just too easy to tell yourself that you’re only taking a short break from your writing- that can turn into hours if you’re not careful.

Less Is More

Regardless of where you choose to work, less stuff=more focus

Clutter in your writing space not only contributes to disorganization, it can be very distracting- especially when you’re contemplating that next perfect turn of words. Try to keep only what you need within your field of view and reach.

Be Flexible

Whatever you identify as your most productive writing scenario, realize that stuff happens, and when it does, be prepared to adjust. If your favorite writing spot becomes unavailable, have a back-up ready. If you have to be somewhere else during your usual writing time, try to plan for it by scheduling another time or doubling up on your time another day. As much as we love to write, we all have a life to live outside of writing. Make your best effort to maximize your productivity and it should help you keep on track to achieve your writing goals.

Online Writer’s Groups- Are They For You?

As someone who has joined various local writers’ groups only to be disappointed time and time again, online groups may be an attractive alternative. That is not to say that all local groups are worthless- I’m sure there are some fine ones out there. The problem is that they can be difficult to find, and the best ones limit the number of people (and sometimes genre) for practical purposes, so they may not be available when you’re ready to join.

Online groups have the advantage of convenience; log in whenever and wherever you want, and spend as much or as little time as you want. They also hold an appeal to writers who want to receive a critique of their work but don’t want to actually face their critics. There is the added advantage of not having to critique pieces in which you have no interest (although generally, the more you critique, the more feedback you will receive in return). And for some, it’s easier to give an honest written critique than to face someone and try to tell them what isn’t working.

It’s never a good idea to tell a writer how great their piece is just to spare their feelings… or your own. Strive to give thoughtful, helpful feedback and be prepared to receive the same. Writers groups are not intended for people who only want to hear how wonderful they are, and if you find a group where that is the general practice, run! That kind of interaction might feed your ego, but it’s not going to help you grow as either a writer or critic.

There are many groups who welcome writers of all levels and interests. One I found just by doing a simple Google search is called Critique Circle (www.critiquecircle.com) You can join for free, or upgrade to their premium service for $24/year . The web site is loaded with FAQ’s on how their site works and how to critique- there are even critique templates available to use. It’s worth a look if you think a group might be right for you.

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