Category Archives: Making Progress as a Writer

Opening Your Imagination

Generating ideas is easy, but generating the kinds of ideas that move YOU can be more of a challenge. Most of us have had at least one person tell us an idea and suggest we write it, but that never works because it’s their vision, not yours. So how do you find that idea that’s worth hours and hours of time and effort? Relax, look for it, and don’t let crazy and stupid be a deterrent.

First, relax. Soon after I started writing for publication, I had a panic moment. “What if I’m one of those writers who only has one good idea in them?” Now, even then this was utterly ridiculous, because I’d had quite a few ideas come to me and had even started short stories on a couple of them, but I hadn’t thought of any new ideas for a while, which is exactly where I’m at now. I’ve come to realize that when I’m focused on my current story, my imagination tends to stay close to the projects at hand and I don’t usually generate a lot of new ideas. That’s just the way I work, but I had to quit freaking out so I could figure that out. Relax, if the idea was in you for one story, there are more to come.

Second, look for it. Worried that my imagination-well might run dry, I started looking for ideas. When driving, I paid more attention to my surroundings. On the radio, in the news, even the magazines I picked up in the dentist’s office, I looked for ideas. Reading books, I tried to think of off-the-wall variations on its premise, or some concept in the book, and what kinds of stories would come. Even in talking to friends and family, I would look for thematic elements from our conversations that would lend focus to a story.

Which leads to our third point: don’t let crazy and stupid be a deterrent. I did come up with stories, utterly ridiculous ones. But if I relaxed, played around with them, and let them develop into other ideas or themes, I found myself coming up with some unique and interesting concepts. Did I suddenly start selling to top magazines and agents? No. But I wrote more stories that intrigued me, with characters that had depth, and my writing ability improved. I didn’t have to worry about ideas because when I needed them, they would come. Ideas would pop into my head while driving, in my sleep, and the most embarrassing, in the middle of conversations. “Um, yes, I was listening. What was that again?”

So, how about you? What kinds of activities get your imagination and your best ideas flowing?

Critiques ““ Part 2 ““ What? How?

In Part 1, we talked about why critiques are needed and how hard it sometimes is to accept the feedback. But what exactly is a critique? The word itself reminds us of critics – you know, those dreaded experts who review movies, theaters and books, who are known to publicly humiliate artists. It also reminds us of those nasty teachers who rarely said anything positive except how good their red ink looked scribbled across your work.

A critique is about critical analysis but unfortunately, some focus only on the critical part. A critique is about feedback, providing constructive criticism which makes every facet of the unpolished gem shine. Sometimes it means explaining why certain things don’t work well to help the writer see and understand where the writing can be made stronger; plot holes, logic gaps, unsympathetic protagonist, craft issues. Other times it’s about pointing out the things that work well because those are the writer’s strengths and they must be encouraged so the writer doesn’t lose sight of what he does well.

Here are some basic points to remember:

  • Ask the writer what is wanted? A readers critique that identifies what is and isn’t working in terms of plot and character? Or line by line polishing?
  • Ask what prevents this work from being salable? Asking helps both the writer and critique approach the work constructively.
  • Be respectful – DO NOT say – “Lousy writing’ or “You never seem to get it!’ We all have fatal flaws that we repeat. There may be a certain eloquence or lack of, dangling participles, dialogue, plot problems, setting or description issues, flat characters – most of us need to become aware of these things over and over until we get it!
  • Remind the author that this is your personal opinion and not gospel. Remember that your comments are only suggestions and the author has no obligation to put them into action.
  • Focus on how to improve the work rather than what’s wrong with it. State the problem. State why is it a problem. Provide example(s) of improvements.
  • Tell the author what works well (a line, a character, what made you laugh). When I started writing, I went to a workshop and felt like I’d been shredded to death. It was horrible. Yet, one person said that I wrote plot well. That was all the encouragement I needed to continue writing and to constructively use the other comments.
  • Focus on what is important. If addressing a major problem may cause several small ones to disappear, don’t spend time on the small problems.
  • Never dismiss the intended story. It can be fun to suggest alternate directions (constructive), but never dismiss an author’s intentions – they have their own story to tell.
  • Don’t overwhelm the writer. Too many nits can be discouraging rather than helpful. To this end, tailor your comments to the author’s skill level. For example, for new writers, focus on the main thing to improve rather than a laundry list of everything that’s wrong.

I’ve seen critiques which ruined a good story because the author didn’t have enough confidence in what his story was about, didn’t know the good parts, took everyone’s suggestions to heart and ended up with a mish-mash that incorporated everyone’s ideas but ended up pleasing no one. In Part 3, we’ll be talking about how such a disaster can be avoided.

Cheers and happy writing!


Can Goldfish Channel Muse?

I’ll tell you now, if you didn’t figure it out from the title and the picture, this post is a bit silly. Which is kind of sad since we’ve just had two amazing, interesting, and informative posts. And no, it’s not about the band, though I do have “Uprising” as my ringtone.

The thing is, I had my son’s goldfish nearby for quite a while. First, in my study. Then, in his room next door. The water sloshed through the filter creating white noise, the little goldfish swam around as I came in and out of the room, and occasionally I stopped to give them an extra snack while they kissed at the edge of the glass.

They died.

No, I didn’t overfeed them. My daughter brought home a couple of new fish she’d won at a school fair or something. We put them in with the others. Buttercup survived her initiation, though she swam sideways for a while. The other wimps didn’t have her evasive abilities. They failed their mount wannahockaloogie test, and the rest of the fish ate them. Even Buttercup eventually succumbed. We should have cleaned the tank as soon as I found the first skeleton stuck to the filter’s intake. I was busy, my husband was busy, and my son thought it looked cool. It was like something out of a Fringe episode. Within hours the whole tank was black and all the fish had died.

I had trouble focusing on my writing after that. I liked writing when it was quiet, with no background noise, not even light music. But without the fish tank, it was too quiet. Even the trees waving outside my window didn’t dispel the eerie silence.

I needed my muse back. In the nick of time, summer came, and I discovered a tall floor fan makes great white noise.

But eventually summer will be over– though since I live in southern Arizona it may take a while–and I’ll have to turn the fan off. Maybe it’s time I had my own pet, instead of the numerous ones my kids take care of. Or maybe I’ll just set up the tank and forget the fish. Any suggestions?

Oh, and yes, after it went black I put on some gloves and cleaned the tank. My bio-hazard disaster will not be blamed for an upcoming apocalypse, nor will it be a source of a post-apocalyptic story. Although….


8 Things to Keep You Writing

You are a writer – whether you write something every day or not doesn’t change what’s in your soul. Deny it all you want. Procrastinate, make excuses, let life control your agenda, but deep down inside you know you’re driven to write because for you every written word is oxygen. Denying yourself oxygen is silly, even stupid, because to do so kills you. So here are eight things to do to keep you writing:

1) expect to rewrite

Perfect prose isn’t achieved with the first tapping of the keys. Good writing is complicated and may take a few tries to get all the aspects right and that includes things like grammar, the plot, character motivation, character interaction, voice, point of view and the hook. Writing is a creative process and creativity evolves and grows. Nothing is ever perfect the first time so get over it and write!

2) don’t get frustrated by your responsibilities

Family and work are responsibilities we all must honour. On that ride to work dictate your thoughts to a recorder. Go to work a half hour earlier and spend that extra time writing – every word counts! Don’t watch TV to relax after the kids have gone to bed – read a book (that’s research), work on your story or write a blog. And when the kids are doing their homework, do yours! There are days and months when demands are high and you can’t write but that’s not a reason to totally abandon your passion!

3) set goals and celebrate

Set realistic goals. 50 words a day, a week? Research and brainstorming for a month? Meet the deadline for a workshop or submission. Goals can be a moving target and that can be frustrating. But no goal means nothing to strive for and nothing will be achieved. Always celebrate when you reach a goal be it small or large. You’ve done something no one else has and that’s worth celebrating!

4) write what moves you

Don’t put off writing the novel because you’ve heard there are more markets for short stories. Don’t limit yourself to a novel when it’s a trilogy you want to write. And, write what moves you. If it’s the current popular fiction which sparks you, write that. If it’s something way out there, write it. If you’re not passionate about your story, the reader won’t be either.

5) don’t worry about the publishing industry

If you have a finished product, research the options for selling your work. BUT, if you’re still working on the first draft, don’t worry about it. The industry is changing and what you figure out today may not apply tomorrow. So write now. Worry later.

6) conquer your fears

Fear of failure, fear of sounding stupid, fear of being criticized because you’ve put your heart and soul into your creation and someone may not like it. Everyone has an opinion (including you) and it’s valid. For whatever reason, a publisher may not want your first book but that doesn’t mean it’s not publishable. Sometimes it’s the second or third book which gets published first and then the rest follow.

7) keep learning your craft

Expressing our creativity is a lifelong learning skill – that’s what makes it so exciting! Every time we learn another trick to hook and keep the reader, we’re closer to achieving our goal. Every new piece of information on craft, background research, on the publishing industry keeps our grey cells spinning and the oxygen flowing.

 8) love the kid in yourself

Sounds corny, I know. But remember, we’re just grown up kids with responsibilities. Using our magnified lenses called imagination and twisting our heads this way and that, we writers explore our world with wonder and excitement – just like kids do. And we have a fantastic tool, the written word, to relay that wonder to the rest of the world. So cherish that kid inside and let your imagination build those new and wonderful worlds.

And most importantly, have fun! Creating new worlds and sharing them with readers is the greatest fun any of us can ever have!

Keep writing!