Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Making a List--and Checking it Twice!

The last few weeks have been incredibly hectic as I prepare Overtaken for publication.  Each time I bring a book to this last stage of the journey I'm reminded how very difficult the work really is.  Checking for word repetition, making sure the timeline is consistent, assuring myself that I really have gone as far as I can go with the editing--it's a lot to do.  And if I didn't have a series of lists to follow, I shudder to think how far behind I'd be right now.

I love writing lists.  As you've probably noticed by now, most of my blog posts are comprised of, or include, one or more lists somewhere in the text.  I think it's the organization I find so compelling, my brain just seems to thrive on list-making.  It's also about the only way I can multi-task.  Keeping lists close by can remind me where I am in my manuscript, how many times my heroine has worn a pink dress, and what kind of pictures I want to feature in my book trailer.

That said, I also have to admit "to do" lists are my least favorite.  I often find myself abandoning them halfway through, that is if I even get that far.  A much better system for me is to make a "have done" list, especially as a journaling theme.  The other kinds of lists I enjoy making are ones I can refer to many times over and that can even be expanded.  For instance:
  • Repetitive word lists--things to avoid, e.g., buzz words such as "just," "only," "nice."
  • Synonyms:  how can I take my buzz words to a new level?
  • Interesting, active verbs:  same as above.
  • Interesting scenes to write.
  • Tips and checklists for making a scene "work."
  • Character names:  the more variety, the better.
  • Unusual professions--go for the weird.
  • Little known locations, cultures, and customs.
  • Colors, e.g. rather than green, how about "spinach"?
  • Future book titles.  Nothing like being prepared!
  • Rare phobias.
  • Rare health disorders.
  • Interesting hobbies.
  • Unusual character goals.
  • Bizarre opening lines.
  • Little known facts/trivia.
  • Strange items/objects.
  • Ideas to write, paint, or collage.
  • Lines of poetry--my own, to add to a future piece of work.
  • Lines of poetry from others, to act as prompts, themes, idea starters.
  • Unusual animals and their habitats. (Naked mole rats, anyone?)
  • Food--past, present, and future.
  • Memories.
  • Dreams.
  • Things to learn more about.
Whew.  And that's just the beginning.  The best way I've found to keep all these lists in order is to have a special journal or notebook just for list making.  Not only is it a great way to "keep writing" on the "blah" days, the finished product can also be one of the most useful reference books on your writing shelf.

Tip of the Day:  Create some lists of your own, perhaps using some of the ideas I've suggested here.  The next time you're stuck for a freewriting prompt, choose one item each from at least three lists, e.g., a character name, a strange profession, and a bizarre opening line.  Put them all together, and presto--it's story time!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Scenes from an Experimental Art Class


For the last five weeks I've been taking an art class:  Experimental Drawing.  And what an experiment it's been!  The best way I can describe what we're doing is by calling it "free painting," the visual equivalent of "freewriting." 

Personally I've found the approach both difficult and oddly liberating--a constant struggle between wanting to create the "picture in my mind" and then having to give in to what the images dictate.  It's a lot like wanting to write a contemporary romance only to have it turn into a Norse saga in iambic pentameter with science fiction elements.  All you can do is stand back and say:  "Oooh-kaaay..."

On a more technical note, the materials we are using for this grand experiment include:
  • Stonehenge and watercolor papers, as well as Bristol board.
  • Acrylic paints.
  • Watercolor paints.
  • Pastels in both stick and loose, powdered forms.
  • Acrylic mediums/grounds/gels.
  • Fixative.  (Lots of fixative between each layer of pastel or paint.)
  • Ink.
  • Collage papers.
  • Graphite pencils.
  • And just about anything else that makes, or takes, a mark.
So here's my small gallery of works to date (including the picture at the top.  I like that one in particular because I threw in some words: "The Art of Placing."  I love combining text with visuals.)

Perhaps the hardest thing for me right now is to stop assigning meaning to the work, in other words, to simply let the pieces be.  They are what they are:  surprising, foreign, challenging, and miles--light years--away from the Polyvore creations that usually illustrate my blog posts. 

I still have four classes left to attend, including one tonight, and I must say I'm filled with curiosity to know what's coming next.  It's kind of like waiting for the next chapter of a very strange book--one that I'm writing in my sleep!  Stay tuned. 

Tip of the Day:  S-t-r-e-t-c-h.  Take a class, join a group, buy a how-to book in a new-to-you subject.  It may not be in your comfort zone, but there's nothing like a little creative risk-taking to liven up the "tried and true" and get your mind going in a brand new--and exciting--direction.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Write Every Day--Even When You Can't

It's summer and the days are filled with distractions, heat waves, parties, holidays, vacations...yet we still have to "write every day," right?  But how?  How do we stay true to word count quotas, personal page goals, editorial deadlines--and still enjoy the season?

One way I've learned to solve the problem and take the pressure off is to at least do my best to "communicate with the manuscript" every day.  To me, the important thing is to stay in touch with my writing, especially on the days when I think I can't.  For instance, on my busy or "blah" days, I can still find 15-30 minutes or more to:
  • Doodle on book cover ideas.
  • Brainstorm a book "blurb."
  • Design new postcards or bookmarks.
  • Draw, paint, or collage my characters' homes, wardrobes, and story scenes.
  • Freewrite in a "no thinking allowed" manner to create back stories, memories, and dreams for my characters regardless of their usability in a final draft.
But those things can be accomplished anywhere, from sitting at my office desk to lounging in bed propped up against a stack of pillows.  The real challenge is to still "call home" when I'm miles away from my writing space.  Some solutions I've discovered include: 
  • Use waiting time for creative time.  Nerves can make it difficult to write while you're waiting for the doctor, dentist, or hairdresser, but that doesn't mean you have to sit in total boredom or frozen terror waiting for your appointment.  Reception lobbies and waiting rooms are full of magazines.  Pick one or two and ask someone at the desk if you can keep them--the answer for me has always been "yes."  Now instead of aimlessly waiting, you can start searching out pictures to illustrate your manuscript--a very active way to stay in touch with your story (and to stop worrying about your appointment).
  • The next time you're at a social gathering and feeling guilty for not working on your manuscript, try this:  ask the people you're with for some "what-if" suggestions.  Welcome as many ideas as everyone can think of, the more outrageous the better.  Write the ideas down on slips of paper and save them for your next writing session.  If they're really good and you use some of them, you can always thank your friends in print when your manuscript is published.
  • Rather than lugging a laptop computer or other device along with your luggage or picnic basket, go back to basics:  tuck a hard-backed journal or sketchbook into your bag along with your favorite pens.  Writing by hand is easy and of course quite wonderful for instant idea transcription.  It can also encourage you to explore some new perspectives and insights you may be losing if you depend solely on typing.
  • While you're traveling or sightseeing, imagine your trip through your characters' eyes.  What details are important to them?  Why?  What tourist site would they want to visit?  What foods would they order?  What places would they avoid?
  • Another travel idea is to purchase souvenirs or items that can somehow relate to your WIP.  Whether they are items your heroine would buy for sentimental reasons, or they're objects that can make your story setting more vivid once you return home, the point is to shop with your plot in mind.
  • Heat and humidity can make you sleepy--so take advantage of the lethargy and lie down.  But before you turn out the lights, make sure you have an open journal or some blank pages by your side together with a smooth-flowing pen.  As soon as you close your eyes, ask yourself a question relevant to your story and then drift off with the intention of having the answer when you wake up.  This works particularly well for those seemingly "unsolvable" story dilemmas that plague even the best outline.  And if by chance your dreams go off onto a tangent unrelated to your current WIP, see if there's a way you can incorporate them anyway.
  • Find a new time of day or night to write.  Rearrange your schedule to either get up earlier or go to bed later and use those times just for writing.  With any luck the hours you pick will be cooler, quieter, and the new times may also stimulate new ways of thinking and working.
Tip of the Day:  Rather than abandon your manuscript for the summer, consider these months to be some of the most creative times you'll have available all year.  The next time you think you're too busy or hot to write, try one or more of the suggestions listed above.  Personally I find writing in shorts, T's, and bare feet so comfortable I wish summer could last forever.