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Posts Tagged ‘creative writing’

One type of writing that I enjoy is journaling. While it’s similar to a diary of events or thoughts, a journal typically includes introspection on what is written.

There are many reasons to keep a journal. Here are some that I think are helpful for writers:

  • Prods our creativity
  • Helps develop writing skills
  • Captures experiences we can use in stories
  • Keeps us in the habit of writing regularly

There are many benefits for non-writers, too, and for me these are even better reasons to keep a journal:

  • Allows us to see how our attitudes and thoughts have changed over time
  • Becomes a record of our lives that others may one day appreciate reading
  • Helps us sort out our feelings
  • Relieves stress by clearing out the clutter in our minds

 

A journal doesn’t have to follow rules. It can be as detailed or vague as we want it. Whether we are writing whatever comes to mind, or following a structured theme, it can help us discover more about ourselves as well as document our thoughts and experiences.

Whether your journaling is autobiographical, free-writing, focused on a particular topic, or a mixture of those things, it can be a useful and fun hobby. There are many sites that provide creative suggestions for journal topics, as well as ideas for creating personal journals.

Here are 2 sites with articles about journaling that I found helpful:

Your Life is Your Story  On starting a journal; has many helpful links.

Infed: Writing and Keeping Journals  Discusses learning from the journals we keep.

 

I haven’t kept a regular journal for a year or two, but started a new one this week as part of a study course I’m taking. Although I usually keep my entries in Word documents, I’m also going to print off the ones for this journal and keep them in a 3-ring binder. I only have a few entries so far, and the binder isn’t fancy—but I like it. It feels right for what I want to accomplish, and easy.

My journal on Revelation

Do you keep a journal? What topics do you write about? Do you use bound journals, notebooks, binders, or computer files for your journal entries? Do you have any tips, or know of helpful sites for more information on keeping a journal?

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I’ve come up with a great idea for a story about Mr. Chair. Here’s a picture of him.

Mr. Chair

Right now my idea is sort of vague, so you may have trouble telling him apart from his brothers. After I give him a few unique characteristics, I’m sure he will be a guy you’ll enjoy as much as I do.

I think he needs to be a little older to fit the story I have in mind, and perhaps a new wardrobe will make him stand out from the crowd. A few accessories that help readers infer something about his personality, a distinctive setting, and a plot that wouldn’t be as interesting without him will all help Mr. Chair serve a useful purpose in my story—as well as on my deck.

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Here he is, full of life and ready for the spotlight. He has a supporting cast, a setting that fits his personality, and a sexy, off-the-shoulder shirt that will entice passers-by to give him a second look. A combination of rugged strength and a hint of softness add to his appeal. Maybe I’ll even change his name to Reed Decker. Wouldn’t he look great on the cover of a book?

Reed Decker

Do your characters blend in with the crowd, or are they easily recognized by their unique qualities? How do you come up with distinctive character traits? What characteristics make a protagonist likeable or unlikeable? Can villains have some of the same traits as heroes; and if so, which ones?

(Yes, I realize this is a silly post. Blame Barbara Ann.)

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Everyone thinks and writes in a unique way, and there isn’t one method of writing that will perfectly fit each person’s needs. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, though, there are a few things you can do to help organize your ideas and get your first draft completed.

1. Read widely in the genre or niche in which you plan to write. Take notes on what works for you and what doesn’t. For example, how much dialog is there compared to narrative? How does the author speed up or slow down the pace to build tension? When does the first conflict appear, and is it believable? In nonfiction, how is the material organized?

2. Keep a notebook or computer file of things you see, hear, or read that are unusual, amazing, thought-provoking, or inspirational. These tidbits of life may spark ideas to use in your work, adding a unique touch to a scene or giving you an interesting angle to approach an old topic.

3. Consider making a flexible outline or storyboard before you start. Jot down key points you think should be developed, and a basic timeline. When you aren’t sure what happens at a particular spot on the timeline, simply phrase a question to show your uncertainty and list a couple of possible answers to generate ideas to work on later. Keep that information handy in case your writing feels like it’s moving off track, but if it’s moving in a better direction don’t hesitate to change your outline. It’s supposed to be a guide, not a law.

4. Set a goal of being as productive as possible whenever you sit down to write. Don’t worry about the quality when you’re working on a first draft, focus on quantity. You’ll never finish if you keep going back to revise what you’ve already written. Editing is step 2, not step 1.

An interesting idea I read about but haven’t tried is to turn off the computer monitor while you’re writing. That prevents those with no self-discipline from editing as they write. The thing that would worry me about that, though, is the possibility my fingers were not positioned correctly on the keyboard and everything I wrote might be unreadable. (That happened to me a lot in typing class my freshman year in high school.)

5. Write regularly and keep the flow going forward. Don’t skip back to change things when a better idea for a scene, character, or setting comes to mind. Just annotate the change so you can find the spot when you start revising, and write everything from that point on as if the change had taken place earlier.

6. Don’t let others read your first draft until after you reach the end. No one else will be able to steer you in the right direction until they know where you want to go. Ask for suggestions on a particular problem if necessary, but until your manuscript is complete you won’t know exactly what problems and strengths it contains. (If you’re co-authoring a book or article, this advice wouldn’t apply. Communication with the other person would be essential in that situation.)

7. Don’t give up following your dream. Most people never finish writing the first draft of a novel or nonfiction book, but some do. Be one of those who succeed.

Rather than writing a book on this topic, let me just refer you to several articles that offer advice I think is helpful:

http://hollylisle.com/fm/Articles/wc2-1.html  How to start a novel

http://www.karenmiller.net/index.cfm?page=20  Author Karen Miller on writing the first draft of a novel

http://www.storyinsight.com/techniques/creative/writing.html  Developing a rough draft

http://jerz.setonhill.edu/writing/creative/shortstory/#tension  Tips for developing short stories

http://www.spacejock.com.au/WriteANovel.html  How to write a novel, by Simon Haynes, the developer of ywriter5 (which I use for my novels)

 

Getting ideas from head to paper.

    

 

What preparations do you make, if any, before writing a story, article, or book? Do you follow a certain formula for writing—like the Snowflake method, detailed outline, etc? How many rough drafts have you completed? How many have you started but still not finished?

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My kids have given me many gifts to treasure. One I’m appreciating this morning is a nail buffer my son got me for Christmas last year.

On the rough, dark green side, in big print that I can read without my glasses, it says ATTITUDE. Underneath that it says: ULTRA NATURAL SHINE BUFFER. Farther down it lists the instructions for each side of this handy little tool:

1. Aqua—remove ridges

2. Light green—buff

3. White—miracle shining

I have a tendency to neglect my nails, not noticing the condition they’re in until I snag something or rip the end off one. A quick trim with the clippers can improve them but it takes the 3-step buffing process to make them look their best.

 

Does Your Attitude Need Polishing?

 

The same is true with writing. We start out with the basics of an idea, but if we want to share it with others we need to remove the rough ridges by putting our thoughts down on paper and refining them into something recognizable. Then we buff that rough draft, shaping it into a coherent, interesting manuscript. The last step turns our manuscript into something special—a polished, unique expression of the original idea. Leaving out any of those 3 steps keeps that great idea from reaching its full potential.

Our attitudes toward writing will determine how much polishing we’re willing to do, and will affect whether or not we attain our goals. If we write simply to satisfy our own desire to put our thoughts on paper, we can stop at step 1. If we want to share our thoughts with others, we need to proceed at least to step 2. For us to stand out from the crowd of writers hoping to attract readers, we have to complete step 3.

Tomorrow (or the next day, depending on how long it takes to polish my idea) I’ll post some tips on how to turn an idea into a rough draft. Steps 2 and 3 will be covered in subsequent posts.

 

What do you do when you get a great idea—jot it down in a notebook, put it in a file on your computer to work on later, or start working on it immediately? What’s one of the most helpful gifts you’ve received? How’s your attitude today—rough, buffed, or brightly shining?

 

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I just ran across a short video where Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, explains her views on creativity. I’m embedding it here, and encourage anyone involved in a creative art–writing, dance, painting, whatever–to watch it. There’s nothing I can think of to add, so I’m off to find me some fairy juice…

 

 

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Do you ever worry you’ll run out of ideas, or that you’ll never accomplish as much as you have in the past? Does the fear of failure keep you from trying new things, or from sending out your work? How do you entice creativity to visit you?

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One of the search terms that keeps coming up in my blog statistics is “writing prompts,” so I thought I’d spend some time talking about them. In earlier posts I mentioned where to look for ideas to write about, but I didn’t discuss how to get started developing them into a story. Here are some suggestions on what to do with writing prompts.

Start out by spending a few minutes free writing thoughts generated by the prompt. By that I mean jotting down whatever comes to your mind, without self-editing or crossing things out. Some of the ideas will be garbage, but there may be some real gems there, too.

When the ideas stop flowing, pick one of them that seems interesting and try to write a paragraph about it. In my opinion, if you can’t come up with a paragraph within a few minutes, it will be hard to develop that idea into a story. See if something else you wrote down works better. The point is to get your writing started and to stimulate creativity. If one prompt doesn’t do that, there are plenty more to choose from.

Jot down plot points or conflicts that might be used to turn the idea into a short story, add in a character or two, and think of a potential ending. Don’t feel like you have to include everything you come up with; the idea is to generate possibilities, with a loose structure you can use to build a complete story.

Here are a couple of pictures that give me lots to think about; maybe they’ll spark ideas for you, too.

 

If you prefer written prompts, perhaps one of these will help get you started:

*  Why did your neighbors come home from their vacation 5 days early?

*  What was that guy in the red pickup doing parked in front of your house when you were leaving for work?

*  How did the squirrel get into your son’s bedroom when he wasn’t even home?

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What type of prompts do you like to use to get your creativity flowing? Where do you get your best ideas?

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I didn’t make any resolutions for 2010, but I’ve set a goal of writing and submitting at least one story or article each month this year. That sounds attainable, and it’s a lot more than I submitted last year. I’ve already started thinking of ideas and decided I’d share some of the thought-provoking sites I found so that those of you who struggle for new topics to write about can benefit, too.

I’m fascinated by the variety of celebrations and observances there are to choose from every month. While I haven’t intentionally participated, according to one site I’ve been supporting National Oatmeal Month, Hot Tea Month, Fiber Focus Month, Soup Month, Get Organized Month, Eye Care Month, and Family Fit Lifestyle Month already this year. I’m looking forward to January 20, which is Penguin Awareness Day, and I may try to write a story with penguins for this month’s writing goal.

Though I’ll probably change my mind, I’m considering using the following observances for story ideas to meet my monthly goals:

January: Penguin Awareness Day, or Squirrel Appreciation Day

February: Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month, or Wave Your Fingers Day

March: National Noodle Month

April: National Pet First Aid Awareness Month

May: Hug Your Cat Day, or Return of the Slugs Day (it’s on my birthday!)

June: National Older Americans Month, or Adopt a Shelter Cat Month

July: Dad and Daughter Take a Walk Day

August: National Lighthouse Day

September: Be Late for Something Day

October: Roller Skating Month

November: Native American Heritage Month, or Sandwich Day

December: National Stress-Free Family Holidays Month

Here are some of the sites that generated story or article ideas for me:

http://www.emotionscards.com/locations.html Dates, Info, and Trivia

http://www.sldirectory.com/cal.html  a guide to locating events

http://www.tipton-county.com/Health/National%20Observances.htm National Observances

http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/equalopportunity/Training/DiversityObservances.htm Diversity observances

http://www.healthfinder.gov/nho/nho.asp  Health related observances by month

 

 

Where do you look for new ideas to include in your writing? Do you actually participate in some of the less-known celebrations? If so, which ones do you think are worthy of recognizing?

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