Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thoughts on writing—where do ideas come from?

photo from sxc.hu by christgr
One of the first questions people tend to ask when you revealed the terrible secret that you’re a writer is, Where do you get your ideas. (After, What do you write, at which point you have to decide whether to say you’re working on the great American novel or books about vampires.) it’s an interesting question, and one I’m never sure how to answer.

I get ideas everywhere. I carry little notebooks in my purse so I can jot ideas down when they drop by. I have notebooks, folders, filing cabinets, binders full of ideas. I wake up in the middle of the night with ideas. My best friend feeds me ideas, usually as part of a nefarious plan to get me hooked on hockey.

I think most writers suffer not from a lack of ideas, but from idea overload. When I’m starting a new project, sometimes I look at the pile of ideas and have no idea where to start. Which one is the most marketable? Which one can I sell right away? Which one is most likely to land me an agent? It’s enough to paralyze the creative mind.

Capturing ideas can be tricky, too. Thus the notebooks. But how do you jot down an idea that comes as an image, or a feeling? Sometimes you can’t. Then you have to let the idea move where it will, in and out of consciousness, until it appears in a form you can easily add to your idea pool.

Or what about that idea that just gets away from you? The one that came to you at 2 a.m and you couldn’t wake up enough to write it down? If you’d written it down, it definitely would have been a bestseller, right?

Maybe, maybe not. My theory is that if it really was a good idea, and one I was meant to have, then it’ll come back. It’s like that old saying: If you love something, set it free. Some people aren’t comfortable with that idea. It used to bug me, too. Now I’m on medication.

Ideas come from everywhere, but the best ones can be elusive, or hard-won. These are the ideas that come back again and again, demanding to be written, each time with a few more layers, a bit more guidance about how the story should take shape. These are the ideas that are worth gold. When you find those, you’ll know. Capture them and let them grow.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Links

Gigaom: Kindle Lending: Book Publishers Still Not Getting It. And a lot of writers, too, it seems, based on my Twitter feed and other sources.

Jane Friedman: 10 Phrases to Purge from Your Speech and Writing. I mildly disagree to a couple of these, but others are high on my list of pet peeves. And seriously, how could anybody not care about ice hockey? I mean really.

Write2Publish: What's Wrong With Traditional Publishing and How to Save It. Discussion of changing business models and the disadvantages of venture capital approaches.

Glimmer Train: Territory. Discussion of thinking about the "territory" of your work--common themes you keep coming back to. I tend to keep writing about bitter divorcees. What is that about?

Findability: Twitter Automation Tools. Honestly, I debated including this link because it looks to me like THIS is the person who doesn't "get" Twitter. I mean, why the heck can't I tweet about what I had for dinner? (Last night it was Sonic. Again.) And OMG, don't use automatic DMs when people follow you. That's just annoying. But there are some tidbits here that I think I'm going to poke around with and see what falls out, so I'm passing the link along. Your mileage may vary.

Puck Daddy: Cool First-Person Hockey Practice, Now With Stick-Cam! This is just cool. You're welcome.

Jeff Goins: Why You Should Tell the Ugly Parts of Your Story.

Novel Publicity & Co: Look at Your Writing Through Somebody Else's Eyes. Thoughts on distancing yourself from the work during the editing process. And part II of this post is also a good read.

TN Tobias: 10 Ways to Create a Plot Twist. Has some spoilers for some films, so avoid if you're spoiler-phobic.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What I'm Reading--The Audio Book Experience

photo from www.sxc.hu, by royalshot
I like audio books. I started listening to them a few years ago more as an experiment than anything else, and discovered it was a great way to spend my commute. Now that my commute involves rolling out of bed—and sometimes not even that—I listen to them at the gym or when I head out to the library to work or down the hill to run errands.

The experience of listening to a book is unquestionably different than that of reading it. Some books just don’t work well for me in audio. I don’t like to listen to nonfiction, for example. And a poor reader could make a book very difficult to follow. A good reader, though—and there are a lot of them—can turn the book into a performance that transcends the written version.

I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a mediocre book that was made awesome by a good reader. I have found some good books that were made less good by a flat, boring or, in my opinion, clueless reader. Some readers managed to mispronounce things, or put emphasis on the wrong words in such a way that it changes the meaning of the sentence.

With a really good reader, though, you can feel like you’re sitting across the table from a friend who’s just telling you an awesome story. That’s when audio books really take off for me, and become an experience I wouldn’t want to miss.

Some of my favorite audio books and readers:

  • The Outlander series, read by Davina Porter
  • Neil Gaiman—self-read and Anansi Boys
  • Sookie Stackhouse series
  • The Help
  • Davina Porter—Hamish Macbeth series

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Linky McLinkerson

photo from sxc.hu by hugoslv
The Guardian: Don't Fear the Reader: How Technology can Benefit Children's Books. Needs more cowbell

Baekdal: Busted: The 99 Cents Book Failed Miserably.  The title is misleading, imo. Read the whole article for the important part down at the end.

Lindsey Donner: 4 Clear Facts About the Future of Digital Content. Aimed more at businesses, but still an interesting read.

iamnoveling: NaNoWriMo: Breaking Through Writer's Block.

CIA Tracks Revolt by Tweet, Facebook. Fascinating read. Makes me wonder if you could write an entire international espionage novel that was nothing but Tweets and Facebook posts...

Writer Unboxed: On Rejection. Guest post about one writer's struggle after her first publication.

Drunk Writer Talk: Building a Platform. Should you? Shouldn't you? When should you? Why should you? Why am I not drunk right now?

Bubblecow: Editing Your Own Book: Top Ten Tips.

Steven Pressfield: The 10,000 Hour Rule. What it really means.

The Fall of Print: Why Future Self-Publishers May Tend to Earn More by Writing Less. Interesting breakdown of the evolving self-publishing model.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Good Grief Not Another Sports Metaphor

ABOVE: Duncan Keith, hot hockey dude who works out a lot.

Athletes train. Well, duh, you say. Of course athletes train. Everybody knows that.

I knew that, too. But until my Evil Best Friend dragged me into the dubious clutches of hockey fandom, I didn't realize how extensive, pervasive and consuming that training was.

I don't know what I thought, really. Maybe that they worked out an hour or so per day on off-season, maybe a little harder during the regular season, made sure they didn't gain too much weight, etc., etc. Honestly, I hadn't thought about it that much.

Then, between the end of last season and the beginning of Blackhawks training camp, I watched some video that was released into the wild documenting the regimens of several hockey players during the off-season. Heavy, carefully targeted workouts to help recover from injuries or surgeries. Skating while attached to bungee cords. Balance exercises. Yoga. Pilates. Shoving an entire weight rack across a parking lot (with the weights still on it, I might add). Eating 7 to 8,000 calories a day, mostly chicken and protein shakes, to deliberately build 20 pounds of muscle. Weightlifting—while wearing skates in the gym.

Seriously. These dudes are hard-core. Duncan Keith spent the summer working out with a trainer, and when he showed up for medical testing before training camp, he broke the bike. (That part isn't a metaphor. There was a bike. He broke it.)

The workout and training portion is every bit as important as the part where they go out on the ice and fight over the puck. Maybe more so. Because without that extra muscle, without the heavy conditioning and the balance and coordination and stick-handling drills, they can't perform when the puck is dropped.

My question, then, is why don't writers pursue the same kind of practice? Musicians do—they spend hours and hours at the practice space working through every detail of a song before they take it on stage. Painters spend years learning basic shapes and forms and emulating the work of established classical artists. But all too often, writers just scribble a story down and send it out, without considering the elements that make it work, or the basic skills they give a story strength and staying power.

I think many of us should reconsider this. Where are your weaknesses in your writing? Where could you focus to refine your abilities?

There are a lot of ways you could develop this training program. Take a workshop, online or in person. Read a book about craft. Read someone else's book and analyze their techniques. Figure out what works for you in other people's writing and incorporate it into your own. Pick a successful author and emulate his or her style for a short piece to see how it “feels.”

I think too often we get wrapped up in producing work to sell, and don't think about writing as a practice. Try it for a while—intersperse some craft building activities into your regular writing schedule and see what happens. Do it in the gym, on skates. Break that damn bike. And if you figure out how to work in that eating 7000 calories a day thing, let me know

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Linky Lingage

A cool mix of links this week, imo. Enjoy!

Patricia C. Wrede: To Sell Out... Thoughts on writers who think they have to "sell out" to land a best-seller or a contract. (To the commenter--no, that shouldn't be a comma. If it were, it'd be a comma splice, and comma splices are the work of Satan.)

Blue Rose Girls: How I Edit. An interesting breakdown of a professional editor's process. Mine's a little different, often because my deadlines are tighter than a bass player's leather pants.

Gigaom: On the Death of Book Publishers and Other Middlemen. Interesting discussion of self-publishing as well as the new models represented by Amazon and Kobo's direct contracts with authors.

Justine Musk: One Reason you Should Give Yourself Permission to Work on Your Badass Creative Project. Sing it, sister. Starting to realize I really, really like this blog.

paidContent.org: Kindle Free Book Lending Holy Sh*t! I'm seeing a lot of mixed feelings about this development. Me? I think it's awesome. Still some kinks to work out, of course, but yeah. Awesome.

Write for Your Life: Open Your Writing Mind with the Morning Papers. A discussion of the benefits of writing morning pages, a la Julia Cameron and The Artist's Way. I've tried these before with mixed results. Any insight from those who've had success with this practice?

Justine Musk: Are Fiction Writers Screwed, Part 2. This is about building platform, except it's not. Excellent post.

Jane Friedman: Self-Published Authors Have Great Power, But Are They Taking Responsibility? Didja really think we were going to make it through the week without a Jane Friedman link? If you did, you were sadly mistaken.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Information Overload Part II

Last week, I talked about organizing all the articles and blog posts I read throughout the week and turning them into mini-courses in Professional Development in order to develop myself professionally. However, there’s also a ton of material on these topics that’s only available in video or audio form. So how do you handle that?

Basically the same way.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Follow the link. Watch maybe a minute of the video to see if it appeals (unless it’s really short—then watch the whole thing and see if it’s something you want to keep)
  2. Download it to a folder. Organize these folders by topic and/or presenter
  3. Collect numerous themed videos
  4. Watch later, like a lecture series
  5. Profit

Do podcasts the same way.

The only tricky part of this is the downloading bit. Some places really don’t want you downloading their video. I figure if they don’t want me downloading their video, then they’re not that committed to getting me to watch it. So I download it myself. (Please note—FOR MY OWN PERSONAL USE.)

There are several tools available to download video from YouTube and other places. Many of these work for almost any embedded video. If you’re on Firefox I recommend Download Helper or DownThemAll. If you’re not on Firefox, I apologize but you’ll have to Google your own tools. I never did find anything for Chrome that I was happy with, and if you’re on Explorer you have more problems than I can deal with here.

Anyway. There are also conversion tools you can use to convert video so you can play it on your iPod. (Some video is immediately playable on the iPod without conversion, and most podcasts are.) Going to the gym? Load up the iPod with video or podcasts on blogging success or how to turn your freakish obsession with vampires into profit and fame and plug it into the TV on the elliptical and have at it. We call that multitasking. It’s supposed to be bad for you, so I do it as often as possible. Or listen to podcasts in the car while you’re driving to the store for your vital medication (I don’t recommend watching video in the car unless someone else is driving).

I hope this helps you utilize some of the information you’re undoubtedly collecting, to make it easier to access and more relevant. Hopefully it’ll help us all get to step 6 more efficiently.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Links

A potpourri of links for this Friday:

ProBlogger: 65 Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Blog. Some of these look useful. Some just look silly... lol. Your mileage may vary.

Convince and Convert: Don't Ignore Social Media's Research Value. Interesting stuff.

Poynter: What Movies, Comic Books and Songs Teach Us About Writing Powerful Scenes.

Rachelle Gardner: Novelists, Stop Trying to Brand Yourselves. Thoughts on how to present yourself as a fiction writer.

Jane Friedman: Back to Basics: Writing a Synopsis.

Kirkus MacGowan: My Path--Why I Chose Self-Publishing.

Justine Musk: Why You Have to Give it Away to be a Successful Creative.

Emery Road: Learning to Call it "Good Enough" So You Can Grow as a Writer. Good advice. Annoying pop-up.

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Information Overload, Part I

Too much information~ Runnin’ through my brain~ Too much information~ Drivin’ me insane~
--The Police, Too Much Information

The best thing about the Information Age is that there is SO MUCH STUFF!! If you’re like me and you love STUFF, it’s a veritable gold mine.

The worst thing about the Information Age? SO MUCH STUFF!!

As evidenced by my Friday link posts, I spend a lot of time following links from Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc., looking for nuggets of Useful Information. Some of the stuff I find is great—it jumpstarts ideas, clarifies problems, helps me get my procrastinating rear end on a better path. But a lot of it is just crap.

For a while, I was sifting through blog posts and printing out everything that looked marginally interesting, then putting it in a pile. I’d read it later, I figured, and find all the wonderful nuggets of wonderfulness contained therein.

Well. That produced a really big pile of paper. So I tried a different approach.


I like Staples. I got there a lot, and I come out with notebooks, pens, folders, binders, sticky notes…it’s a sickness. But I was looking at my pile of papers, then at the bag full of folders I’d just come home with from Staples, and I had a thought.

I sorted the papers into piles according to subject: Blogging, Social Media, Writing Tips, etc. Then I punched holes in them and put them into folders. (These are the 3-hole punch folders with the metal tabs in the middle, so when you’re done you have a sort of compilation rather than a bunch of loose papers in a folder.) Sometimes I download free .pdfs of material that seems useful. The larger of these I put into separate folders.

So. That produced a large pile of folders. Next step?


Implementation is a good word here, because it sounds really important. I mean, if you’re implementing, you’re really Getting Shit Done, right?

Let’s hope. Anyway, I looked through each folder and decided what looked extra useful and what didn’t. I tossed stuff that didn’t hold up. Then I picked up one folder and started working through all the articles and blog posts there and taking notes. Everything that sparked my brain is now in a notebook, where it can foment and percolate and grow Important Intellectual Bacteria, or whatever it is that ideas do to turn themselves into Action Items. In this case, I ended up with a list of information and ideas on brand definition and development and how that ties in with platform.

I also followed a lot of links that brought me to more interesting material, which I then organized into its own folders, both on my computer and in hard copy. I’m kind of looking at each folder as a mini-course in the relevant subject. I take a “course” every few days by sorting through these themed collections.

So here’s the process, in a nutshell:

• Collect anything that looks interesting
• Cull anything that proves not interesting
• Sort by topic
• Compile notes
• Form action items and plans to implement what you’ve learned

Next time: Information Overload Part II—applying this process to video and podcasts.