Every writer working on a story can tell you about the time she woke at 3AM with the key to fixing a failing plot. Or maybe it was a brand new story idea that interrupted a peaceful slumber. Perhaps, it was just before sleep took over, and he was distracted with that scene in chapter whatever about the guy and that situation...
Whatever it may be, a writer's mind thrives when it's quiet, and it's no quieter than the middle of the night.
If you want to tap into the midnight creative juice pool, take the time to quiet your mind.
As we are sensory input and output machines, there are a variety of ways to discover your inner peace. Here are my two favorites.
Tune Out. Do your best to create a silent world around you. Buy some inexpensive squishy earplugs used to drown out snoring partners or spend more money on sound-reducing headphones. If they sound of your own breathing is too much. Plug yourself into the music of someone like LIQUID MIND.
Black Out. I'm not suggesting typing with a blindfold--but if you can do that, try it! At the very least, place yourself in a space with no art work, no windows to the outside world, and no Internet. Rid your outer mind of external visuals and fall deep within your own imagination. Remember when you were little, and you would hide under your bedcovers to read or draw? Recreate that child's world if you can.
Try both of these suggestions for a week or more and share your results. Is your writing any better? Any easier? Any different at all?
Sometimes, we need sensory input. If you are seeking that help, try these previous blogs:
Employing the senses
The turn of weather is a great time to take your writing through a poetic carwash. Fall is my absolute favorite season, and I love the poetry inspired by the leaves' changing colors, the biting cold that whips through my hair, and the dulling sun in the late afternoon sky.
Take a moment to visit these sites, read some verse, and give your writing a seasonal lift.
Here are my go-to sites and a few seasonal writings that offer dimensional imagery and language to my writing.
1. The Poetry Foundation
Grace Paley's Autumn.
2. Academy of American Poets
Noah Falck's from "You are in Nearly Every Future"
3. The Poem Hunter
John Keats' Ode to Autumn (I recommend you mute the computer-generated narration)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's The Autumn
If you are participating in NaNoWriMo and need an infusion of color and life or if you simply wish to take in the beauty of this season, discover again the color of poetry and let it drench your prose with folly.
Share your whimsy here. Do you have a favorite verse or site you like? I'd love to know.
I have been working on my third YA novel for nearly seven months. About four weeks ago, I reached a pivotal point, just over what I believe is the halfway mark. I’m still there. Okay, maybe I’ve added another 700 words or so.
Basically, I’m stuck (was stuck).
I usually have lots of tricks to unstick myself, but none of those seemed to be helping. Not until I tried something new.
I knew that.
Thing is, there’s no formula that works for every story. So although #8 worked this time, it might not work in my next roadblock. I’ve read some great ideas from fabulous writers that worked on other pieces, but not on this one.
That’s because I needed to do something different.
I plan on getting stuck again. In anticipation of this inevitable event, I decided to make a list of possible unstickers; more importantly, I wanted to share them with you.
1. Introduce a new character – major or minor, doesn’t matter; someone who will interact with your protagonist (or antagonist); could be a store clerk, a cop, long-lost cousin, former teacher, mailman.
2. Change the weather – move in storm clouds or clear them away; feel a sudden gust kick up; notice a funnel cloud in the distance.
3. Hear something – a dog bark, a siren, a scream, a laugh, glass breaking.
4. See something – a child’s bike, scattered playing cards, a woman’s scarf, the back of someone’s head, a red car turn the corner.
5. Smell something – burning, sweet, bitter.
6. Remember something – someone’s birthday, a dental appointment.
7. Forget something – locking the backdoor, charging a cell phone, someone’s birthday, a dental appointment.
8. Have your MC do something ordinary - ring the doorbell or the phone.
9. Have your MC do something unordinary – order a redeye instead of a decaf, stop in the dollar store instead of the usual liquor store.
10. Have your MC do something extraordinary – run in the street to save a kid from being hit, chase a purse-snatcher, scare away a bear.
Once you begin this new event or action, let it unfold. Continue adding detail – sensory detail – and watch where it takes your plot. You might be surprised.
I’m sure your wheels are turning and you’ve already thought of another handful to add to this list. Please do! Add your ideas in the comments section. What works for you?
Kids love to share memories. Nothing beats a 10-year-old saying, "When I was little...". Memory defies time; even though as we age, we define our memories by time.
When I was a kid...
Last year, I remember...
This reminds me of when I was in college, and...
Memory defines us. Memory is experience, emotion, friendship. It is the collection of moments that form who we were and who we have become. There is an importance to memory.
So it shouldn't really surprise me when a young child wants to share her memories. Memories connect us.
This past month, I've been fortunate to spend several hours visiting and reading to elementary students. I have shared various chapters from my middle grade narrative, "This Girl Climbs Trees". In one class, I was moved to laughter and tears as students shared memories of trees in their lives. One girl told of a beautiful lemon tree that sat in the yard, from which they did not remove the fruit but which offered a place of shade and beauty until her father cut it down. Another boy told of a tree at his former home that the neighbor insisted be removed due to its invasive roots and dead leaves on their property. This injustice troubled the boy, and he insisted his family's next home have a tree further from any neighbor's yard. They just planted a Birch.
They have a wide front yard.
The students' stories inspired me. I had no idea that Eliza Mills (the central character) had so much in common with real live kids. I made up Eliza. I made up the entire story. Yet real children (and adults) continue to share with me their memories of a favorite tree.
So I'd like to offer this challenge: In 150 words or less, write a memory of your tree. How did you connect with it? What do you now observe as the importance of this tree, this memory? Post your short passage here or on your own site. Paste a link in the comments below so that we can read it.
You might be surprised what comes up as you explore the importance of memory. I'll post mine this week. You have forever, but I will shout out my favorite on Twitter next Sunday. Please connect with me there and leave your Twitter handle here. If you are under 18, please let me know so you can get your own awesome shout out!
Thanks! Good luck.
Sitting down to write for hours sends many authors into a prison-like world. We fall into a spiraling abyss of fantasy and imagination as we search for the right words to convey our stories. More often than not, these tales began in the real world. Yet as writers we shut ourselves out of this world in order to dive deeper inside our imagination. We push away what's real in order to create our own realty. We become more and more detached.
We can't push it all away, though; we need to take much of it with us.
It's true that artists need to create a sensory deprivation in order to allow rich creative juices to flow freely; but at some point, we need to return to the here and now. We need to restock our library of imagination.
When I'm not writing - when I'm living my daily life - I try to be present to the sensory input around me. Each smell, taste and sound is a potential element in my next chapter. I try to take full advantage of this reality. Part of writing is observing what's real so that we can embed it in our stories of fiction.
When outside, be present to the sun's warming rays on your cool skin; embrace the vibratory rattle of a passing car's bass; savor the sweet squirt of juice as you bite into a tender orange; behold the bitter stench of skunk as it wafts through the backyard air. Writers must embrace each sensory experience so that we can recall it when needed in our stories. Try these ideas to heighten your senses.
The next time you are stuck in your story, step outside and feel the warm sun or bitter chill. Stand there and absorb it, embrace it, taste it, smell it. Bring it all into your tale so that your story comes alive.
Whenever I'm stuck in my writing, I take a moment to step outside. I join in as life's spectator and observe the real world around me.
Typically, most of us write inside, at a table, on a chair, maybe in bed. With a pen and paper, tablet or laptop, or a typewriter. Doesn't matter. We are set indoors with our 21st century tools.
That doesn't mean we are locked in. Everywhere I've set myself up for writing, I've arranged my desk at a window.
I need to see out so that I can grow what is within.
I'm not distracted. Rather, I'm inspired. And I'm reminded of what is real. This connection to the world keeps me tethered in my fantasy. I can stretch as far out as I need while keeping an anchor on what is real and possible.
If my character is stuck (read: I'm stuck), a gaze out my window at a car passing by or a small boy walking a big dog or postman carting a heavy bag usually does the trick. Life has given me a new event to help my plot along. If this particular character is searching for something, maybe a letter arrives in the mail. Or a child asks him to help find his lost dog. Or he crashes his car into a light post and a stranger who comes to help knows something about what it is he's searching for. Anything is possible. You are the magician; you just need to reach down inside that magic bag.
When you are stuck, look outside your window. Step outside your fixed world of metal and keyboards and paper and pens. If art is to imitate life, we must participate in life. Start off as the spectator, the rest will fall into place.