‘Releasing the Creative Writer in You’ – Lesson 2

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LESSON # 2: IN THE BEGINNING

Introductory Thoughts, Answers to Frequently Asked Questions, And Fun Ideas to Get You Started

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QUESTION: Where Do Good Writing Ideas Come From?

Successful Writing Rule # 1: If you are a writer, you’re full of ideas.

Ideas come from a myriad of directions, but two of the most common places – two that you can always depend on – are the following:

A. We have a storehouse of ideas inside us. Sometimes they just need a trigger in order to cause those ideas to “go off” enough to ignite a story. What are the subjects that you care about in the various aspects of your life? What do you feel passionate about? What do you like to discuss with friends or colleagues? What do you argue about most ardently? What makes you happy? What makes you sad?

The answers to all of these personal questions can be the key to a successful writing venture – whether fiction or non-fiction.

Do not accept the position of a “would-be” writer who feels he has to run around and ask other people for ideas because he has none of his own. The very idea that you have no ideas is a deception. So your first rule in fulfilling your writing goals is to recognize that you do, indeed, have ideas of your own, and if they are not rising to the surface, start digging as deeply as necessary until you find them.

B. We can see ideas and themes for writing all around us in life itself. How can we be sure we don’t miss them? Simply make a habit of deliberately allowing your curiosity and your imagination to exist unfettered. When your curiosity is free, and it latches onto something, then let your imagination go to work on that subject.

Author/Editor Micheal Seidman discusses this subject in his book Fiction: The Art and Craft of Writing and Getting Published (p. 20., Pomegranate Press, Ltd. ). He believes that often we can find ideas most easily when we are not looking for them. He shares about an army lieutenant who trained Seidman’s unit in the expert use of rifles – particularly regarding sniper fire. Seidman quotes his lieutenant as saying, “Don’t stare directly in front of you; you won’t see anything … or you’ll see things that aren’t there. Either is deadly. What you do, gentlemen, is watch the horizon … use your peripheral vision. That’s how you’ll see the movement you have to be aware of.” Seidman often tells writing students of his own that the advice from his lieutenant can be applied to the writer’s craft as well.

And most writers would agree. Those of us who follow the advice proffered by the lieutenant often find that it is a great help in becoming an expert with our own weapon – the pen.

cartoon-writer-with-nin-quoteWhen you get up every morning, get up as a writer. Intentionally go through your day seeking to learn something you did not know previously – or learn more about a subject you thought you did know. Be open and expectant. Allow yourself to ask questions concerning the things you see people do or the things you hear them say. You will not always be in a position to ask the questions of others. In fact, only rarely will that plan work. But you can search your own conscious and subconscious mind for answers.

Apply the principle to events as well as people. When you find yourself involved in an event, ask yourself how and why things are happening as they are – or what would happen if one aspect of the event were opposite of what is taking place in reality. Once you learn to operate this way on a regular basis, you will be surprised at all the questions you will come up with, as well as some of the answers you receive. And remember, you are not necessarily stuck with the “real” answers. Often they are a great catalyst for a story or a non-fiction piece. But just as often the ideas that your own imagination comes up with in answer to those questions will be just as effective.

And always keep in mind that there are some basic questions that every generation has asked, since the beginning of time – and there are as many different answers as there have been generations. But it’s those questions – the ones that apply to every human being just because he’s a human being – that have a universality about them. And, as a result, those very questions often provide great subject matter for the stories we write.

Author Wally Lamb quoted one of his former writing teachers during an interview for Writer’s Digest recently. His teacher said, “You’re never going to tell an original story. … The world is a very old place and all the stories that matter to people have been told over and over.” (Writer’s Digest, March/April, 2014, p.43). The key to your success, dear writer, is to find a fresh way to tell those same stories. But you must begin by asking the same questions that caused them to be written in previous generations.

A word of caution: Bear in mind that writing a story with a universal theme does not mean that every person who reads your work will like it. He will not. And that is a good thing. If everyone liked everything that every great writer published, the human race would be nothing but a mass of confused, undecided, and uncommitted people. You want to live in a world – and write for a world – that is made up of people who are real individuals. They have ideologies, prejudices, and emotional attachments that differ astronomically. Some of them will find your writing exactly to their taste because it agrees with their ideologies, touches their emotional roots, and satisfies their longings. Those who do not find your work to their liking will like someone else’s work – and that simple fact, dear writers, is what makes the literary world – and the literary market – go round.

Successful Writing Rule # 2: Never throw anything away.

If you write a sentence that records how you feel about one brief conversation, keep it. If you try to write a short story for an assignment, but it just won’t fit into the assignment requirements, don’t wad it up and toss it into the trash. That currently disqualified story may be the root of your finest novel some day. Create a file and keep everything you write that came from your own creativity. In fact, you can also keep quotes from many other writers as well, because they may spark ideas in the future. Remember, of course, that you are not allowed to “borrow” their ideas – just let them spark brand new ideas in you.

Successful Writing Rule # 3: Make frequent use of writing exercises.

Below are some examples of successful writing exercises that generations of writers have found helpful:

A. This first exercise is similar to the process followed in some party games, but it is also a never-fail story starter. Make yourself a collection of 1, 2 or 3-word phrases, single sentences, or longer, specifically detailed single sentences. (If you have opportunity to have someone else create the lists, that will be even more challenging.) Write them in a tablet you do not use frequently, or, better yet, write each one on a separate piece of paper, fold it, and put it in a box or jar, or sandwich bag – whatever your style. When in need of an exercise for your creativity, draw one folded suggestion from the collection and sit down at your computer (or notebook) and begin writing. Write non-stop for a pre-specified time (5-10 minutes). Do not stop to edit or even think for any significant amount of time. This is a time when you are letting the creativity in your subconscious have its way without hindrance. (If, after 10 minutes, you find you’re onto a good thing, just keep writing.)

B. Take an hour or so in a public place: restaurant, mall, grocery store, department store, book store, civic event – any place where you can observe people and listen to conversation. Watch how they act and interact; pay attention to what they show interest in or what they purchase. Listen to them converse. Jot down excerpts of their conversations that grab your attention. One particularly interesting writing exercise involves jotting down the last sentence you hear in an overheard conversation and, for the next five minutes (or tomorrow if necessary), sit quietly and let your imagination pick up at that point and continue the conversation, taking it whatever direction your own muse leads. It’s these times of faithful observation of “real” life that lead to the creation of believable characters who act and speak like “real” people.

One of the major earmarks of poor fiction is the creation of characters who often tend to move and speak as some programmed components of the book. They do what the author needs them to do, but they are not interacting and conversing in ways that real human beings would act and speak without the author’s contrivance. But many an observant author has watched and listened to an individual in a restaurant or public event and discovered the main character of his next successful novel in that person’s “real” behavior and speech. The character so conceived has the potential to grab the reader’s attention – and possibly his heart – and stay with him long after the last page of the book as been turned.

But back to the specific exercise: now take the notes you’ve made during observation and write a character sketch or a flash fiction story about what you’ve observed. Keep it and be on the alert to recognize a place where you can use that material in future work.

C. The third exercise is helpful for writers who are already involved in creating a story but are having trouble with one aspect or one scene. Take the scene you’ve been having trouble with and meditate on it during a long period of quiet and rest. Forget about what you originally intended to do with the scene and set your imagination free with it. It is important to be relaxed in this exercise. Even if you doze off, it is not a problem. Often in those moments between sleeping and waking, ideas rise to the surface of our minds easily because there is less conscious restraint on them at that time. More than once, I’ve wakened in the middle of a brilliant, technicolor action scene playing in my mind – a scene that I doubt I would have imagined with as much quality had I been awake to start with. Let your mind wonder and meander through as many pathways and mazes as it wants during this exercise, and see where your subconscious may take you. You may find that you have a whole new avenue for using the scene in that story – and you just might find that you have an entirely new story altogether.

dreaming-man-with-pencil-blueDeciding on Genre

A. Write what you are hooked on – what you read all the time or think about all the time. Many of you will read various genres, but there are one or two that really spark your interest or give you the greatest pleasure. Focus your own writing in those directions – at least to begin with.

B. Do Not try to write to fit what seems to be selling in the marketplace. Some writers/editors/publisher will tell you the opposite. But when all is said and done – particularly if you are interested in publishing with a mainstream publishing house – what you submit to a publisher today will not see a marketplace bookshelf in less than one full year and sometimes two. Self publishing will get your work out faster in the initial stages, but getting wide-spread distribution may take a lot longer.

As a result you cannot count on the best-selling genre this year to still be the best-selling two years from now, when your book is finally sitting in the bookstore or on the Internet retailer’s site. Some genres, of course (such as romance) are best sellers all the time. However, if you cannot write great stories in those particular genres, then your competition is going to be too stiff. Look for the niche that you and your creative talents fit, and you will have the best chance of capturing your share of the market.

C. Another point to consider: How important is personal satisfaction with your work in your estimate of whether or not you are a success? Do you see yourself as a strong individual – a leader? Or do you see yourself as a good follower – perhaps even a clone? There are possible sales for both kinds of writers, but the personal satisfaction with your work can be significantly lacking if you are a leader at the core of your being, but expend all your time and talent just following the crowd.


Examples of Non-Fiction Genres & Categories

Essays
Academic Assignments
Literary Anthologies

These may fall into various categories, including
descriptive, analytical, expository, persuasive, comic, etc.

Articles
Newspapers
Magazines
Educational Journals
Literary Anthologies

These may fall into various categories, including
descriptive, analytical, expository, persuasive, comic, etc.

Books
Autobiographies
Biographies
Travel Journals
Analysis/Expository
How To/Self Help
Histories

Media Reviews
Books
Movies/Plays
Music

Miscellaneous Categories
Precis
Book Report
Letters
Business Reports


Examples of Fiction Genres & Categories

Commercial Fiction Category

This genre makes up a large part of the books found on
mainstream mass-market bookstore shelves and Internet sales sites.
Often plot-driven more than character-driven, but can sometimes
cross over into the Literary Fiction Market.

Literary Fiction Category

Often more character-driven than plot-driven and generally
considered a little more “intellectual” than commercial fiction. However, more and
more writers are crossing the barriers between these two categories.

Some of the Most Common Genres From Both Categories
Romance
Women’s Fiction
Mystery
Horror
Thriller/Psychological Thriller
Political Intrigue/Espionage
Science Fiction
Memoirs
Humor


*Releasing the Creative Writer in You, © 2013 by Sandra Pavloff Conner

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How the Quiver Got Its Arrows: The Writing of a Novel

BOW & ARROW -- QUIVER COVER FOR KINDLE - beige - NARROWEDWell, it all started one night when I was bored with every story/novel/poem I’d been working on over the past several months. I wasn’t suffering from that somewhat vague malady known as “writer’s block.” No – I was just bored. I couldn’t seem to make myself work on any one piece that was currently under construction, yet I didn’t want to give up and walk away from the keyboard in a funk. Now, I did walk away from the keyboard, but it was mainly for the purpose of walking around in order to think better.

Suddenly, it hit me! “Sandra,” I said to myself out loud, “you are constantly telling your students that if they find themselves struggling to write on a current project, then that’s an excellent time to pull out one of those writing exercises and throw themselves into it with abandon. So practice what you preach, girl. Just clear your head of everything you’ve been struggling with, sit down at the keyboard, and write down the first two words that pop into your mind. After that you know the rules keep writing until you feel like you’re done.”

Now, this particular exercise is one that I enjoy using in my creative writing classes because I am always amazed at what my students come up with in the end. Of course, there are a few students who hold themselves back and don’t give their imagination totally free rein, but most of them throw themselves into the exercise whole-heartedly to get all the fun out of it that they can. I’ve made myself do such exercises a number of times and have had some really good results and some not so good, but each time, I at least felt refreshed after having done the work-out. And, in all honesty, a work-out is exactly what we’re talking about. These kinds of exercises do the same for a writer’s mind, imagination, and creativity as a physical work-out does for his body. And I keep reminding my students that sometimes the simplest, “silliest” writing exercise can end up netting them one of the best books they will ever write.

So I did it! Now, I do keep lists of words, phrases, and short sentences that I can go to and use as prompts for such exercises, but that particular night, I felt that if I took time to hunt for one of my lists (and at my house, I have to hunt for anything that hasn’t been used in the last three days), I might give up before I got started. So, trying to keep my mind in neutral, I sat down, and instantly grabbed the first two words that popped up when my bottom hit the seat. And – wouldn’t you know – the first two words that popped into my mind came at me out of nowhere: “peanut shells.”

Don’t anyone ask me why. I haven’t a clue. I hadn’t been eating peanuts, nor had I been craving them. In fact, I would have said they were the farthest thing from my mind. But, all of a sudden, out of the clear blue, here I was – faced with those two stupid words to write about. Well, I’m not a wimp, and I hate to accept defeat without even fighting, so I opened a new document, sat up straighter in my chair, took a deep breath, and wrote – literally not pausing to think about what I was writing – but just tapping out one word after another as it rushed out.

Within ten minutes, I realized that I had the kernel of a whole story, but it wasn’t until I had written for about 30 minutes that I realized I had the makings of a complete novel in front of me. The story unfolded, one part after another, in my mind, and by the time I’d finished typing the first chapter, I was captivated with it.

To be honest, I felt slightly guilty for putting aside all the other things I had been working on, but that guilt didn’t last long. I tell my students that they need to go with the flow of their own creativity. No matter how many pieces they are working to complete, if, suddenly, something new rises up out of their soul, and it is truly alive and growing, then they need to give themselves to it and see where it takes them.

Now, that is not to say that I don’t teach them discipline as well. There are times when we do have to take the bull by the horns, so to speak, and just make ourselves complete a task we’ve started. However, we have to recognize, as well, that every single thing we begin to write may not be a piece that has enough life in it to keep growing and come to maturity. There’s also a time and place to say, “This piece is not what I thought it was, and I don’t want to devote any more of my time and creativity to trying to make it into something it can’t become.”

However, in my case, I knew I would return to all the projects that I had set aside. They were stories that I believed in and actually wanted to finish – but not right then – because this new story – the “Peanut Shell” story, had captured my heart, and I wasn’t about to throw away such a jewel or let it lie on the shelf to collect dust.

For several weeks, I wrote on the story, using the working title “Peanut Shells.” I knew, of course, that the final title would be something different, and before too long, I knew exactly what it would be. I won’t give away the reason for choosing that title, because I want the readers to discover it for themselves as they move through the story. But, needless to say, it has something to do with God’s Word and His promises. Yes, A Quiver Full of Arrows is another of my inspirational novels that lets us see God at work in our every-day lives, caring about all the little things that matter to us, and giving us help and deliverance through the power of His Word when we need it.

I tell my students that when they give themselves to a writing exercise such as the one I’ve described and make themselves keep writing without stopping to plan or make decisions – and without stopping to make corrections – they are allowing things from deep inside of them to come to the surface and come out in what they write. When they abandon themselves, with no restraints and no rules except to keep writing, ideas and images pop up inside and come rushing out while no one is standing guard with the normal rules of “good writing.”

Because I pray regularly for the Lord to give me the stories He wants me to write – and to help me create the works that will fulfill His will and His desire to help people – and that will give Him glory – I believe that when I end up with a story like A Quiver Full Of Arrows, I have the Lord Himself to thank for it. I may have been engaging in a writing exercise, but as I freed myself from all the self-imposed restraints of “good writing,” I allowed His Spirit to pour through me all the ideas that He wanted to include in that story.

So, there you have it, dear readers. That’s exactly how it happened. I can’t take credit for a whole lot of it. Of course, in the weeks that followed day one, I did have to start thinking and planning and checking on facts — especially for a couple of events that needed to take place. And, once the story was finished, I had to do the normal pruning and polishing. But none of that activity would have been possible if I had not sat down and played around with that simple exercise. I started with peanuts; somewhere before the end of chapter two, I had a quiver; and by the time I got to the words “The End,” my quiver was full of arrows.

I do hope my readers enjoy the book. Personally, I think it’s one of the best novels I’ve ever written.  And it’s the kind of book that almost anyone will enjoy – unless your appetite is for horror or moral degeneration. But I have to warn you: as you read it, you just might find yourself getting hungry for some peanuts, so better stock up when you buy the book.

St. Ellen Press has just recently published it in digital format as well, and you can find it at the Kindle Store on Amazon for only $2.99. If you purchase a copy and read it, please go on the site and write a brief review for me. Buy one for a friend as well. And don’t forget to get your friend a bag of peanuts.

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P. S.  By the way, if you do not have an e-reader, but would like to read digital books, you can download a free app from Amazon that will let you read any and all e-books on your own personal computer.

The Hodge-Podge Writing Challenge

HAND WRITING - PINK BCKGD
What is a “hodge-podge”?  According to the dictionary, it is a mixture of dissimilar ingredients.  So let’s mix up some dissimilar things today and write about them. Here’s your challenge:

Choose a book — any book, as long as it has at least 100 pages. Pick up a pencil or pen. (If you’re using a pencil, use the eraser tip. If you’re using a pen, make sure the ink point is retracted.) Open the book to page 1, and, without looking over the text first, close your eyes and swirl the pencil around over the page so as to lose any sense of the placement of words you may have inadvertently read. Then drop the eraser end of the pencil down onto the page. Look at the word the pencil is touching, and write the word down.

Now, turn to page 50 of the same book and do the same thing.  Write the word down.

Finally, go to page 100 and follow the same instructions.

Once you have your three words, your challenge is to write a sentence using all three words, in any order,  in the SAME SENTENCE.

Then write an entirely different sentence also using all three of the words.

And, lastly, write a third sentence using all three words.

It’s just a little exercise in discipline and creativity that is good for the brain and for the soul. It forces us to look at words from totally different perspectives, and we’ll sometimes find they have unexpected things to say to us. Another added incentive: you just might find the seeds of your next novel in one of these sentences. It’s been known to happen.

Post your 3 sentences (with a link to this challenge) on your own site.
Then come back here, and, in the “Comments” section, tell us your three words, and paste the link to your article where you wrote your sentences.

Remember, you don’t write a separate sentence for each word. You have to use all three words in all three sentences.  Also, please remember that my blog is for general audiences.

I’ll start things off with my own three words: curls, lifted, eternity.

Sentence # 1: The breeze lifted her golden curls away from her face and neck, and he caught his breath, knowing he would remember her beauty for eternity.

Sentence # 2:  Watching the smoke being lifted by the wind as it curls toward his face,  Howard feels as though he has been waiting an eternity for help to arrive.

Sentence # 3:  She curls her fingers around his as he’s lifted into the ambulance, knowing that he is about to leave her to go into eternity.

 

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