Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #41

This week's collection of writing prompts from my Tumblr blog:

#281 If your protagonist could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?

#282 You can’t go home again.  Or can you?  Has your main character stayed home? Or was he a person who couldn’t wait to move as far away as possible?

#283 They were sad when it was over.  So they started up again.

#284 The plane rose in the air.  She looked out the window at the landscape below, trying not to grip the armrests quite so hard.  Then a noise, like a pop, and the plane shook.  “Don’t worry, its just turbulence,” the man beside her said.  But she didn’t know whether to believe him or not.  Should she? 

#285 Oh God, not that.  Anything but that.

#286 Two men walk into a bar and realize there are only women inside.  Tall women, short women, gorgeous women, plain women.  What gives?  Is it a gigantic book club meeting?  A lesbian bar?  A feminist convention? Do the men stay? What happens if they do?

#287 She opened the window to let the cool morning air in, but instead, what rushed past her was …..

 I love it when you guys post starts from these prompts in the comments!

 


From Spark to Story Workshop Report

SBCApril2015
Scarritt Bennett Center

I am back from Nashville, y'all.  

I went there to teach a workshop with my good writing friend Terry Price.  We called it From Spark to Story, and planned it to be just that: a journey from gathering inspiration, to getting it onto the page, to shaping it into a story.  

It worked brilliantly.

Well, okay, so maybe I exaggerate just a little.  But the 17 people who were there (20 signed up but several had last minute snafus) seemed to enjoy it and get a lot out of it.  And I know that Terry and I loved teaching it.  Here are some of my main take-aways:

--15 minutes a day is all it takes.  Both Terry and I came to this separately and planned to present it as a method to find your way back to your writing and, just as important, sustain a writing practice. It resonated deeply with the participants, and many of them tweeted and posted on Facebook on Sunday morning that they'd done their 15 minutes.  (We created a hashtag for it if you're so inclined: #15minsday.)

If you were to, starting now, write 15 minutes a day every day you could have a novel written in a year.  Really.  I'm not kidding.  Do the math.  And the other thing is that often when you tell yourself all you have to do is 15 minutes, you get so engrossed that you end up writing longer.  But that's not even necessary.

--Prompts are good.  We worked some with a variety of prompts on Friday night and Saturday morning and our writers found them useful as portals to all kinds of inspiration and epiphanies.  So often writers sniff at prompts as being the province of beginners, but I use them all the time (hence, my prompt blog).  If you've not had luck with them in the past, try again.  Just remember to keep your pen moving across the page.  Its when you stop to ponder and stare out the window that prompts aren't as effective.

--Clustering can unleash you from your left brain.  More often now called mind-mapping (I like clustering better), this technique was popularized by the late Gabriel Rico in her book Writing the Natural Way.  To tell you the truth, I'd forgotten about it, but Terry is a fan and he made people try it.  Since I was icing my foot (I had a terrible attack of plantar fascitis while there) I didn't do it in the workshop, but I've been playing with it since and I can see its value.  Give it a whirl.

--Get thee to a labyrinth.  Scarritt Bennett Center, where I stayed, and where we held the workshop, has a labyrinth modeled on the one at Chartes, France.  It is a marvelous creativity jogger.  You ask a question or think of a problem before you enter, walk to the center, pause to listen, then walk back out again.  Note that a labyrinth is different from a maze.  With a maze, you're trying to find your way out.  With a labyrinth, you're finding your way in.  Take a journal with you because you'll likely have an inspiration or two to write down.  It has never failed me yet.  To find a labyrinth in your area, try Labyrinth Locator.

I'm sure more thoughts will bubble up over the next few days and weeks and I'll report.  For me, it was a rejuvenating experience to be back in Nashville and reconnect with a city I love and so many of the people I know and love who live there.  Southern hospitality truly is the most generous in the world and I've always been welcomed so warmly.

And stay tuned--because we are cooking up a Spark to Story Part Two to be held in the near future!

 


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #40

Hello from Nashville, y'all!  Here's my latest collection of writing prompts from my Tumblr blog.

#274  Use the words cat, rain jacket and orchid in a sentence.  Now use that sentence as a prompt.

#275  Write about what your main character did yesterday, from the time he woke up until the time he went to bed.

#276  Her cat was the most annoying cat in the world, especially when he.....

#277  The biggest difference between southerners and northerners is....

#278  Is your main character a walker or runner?  How often does he exercise? Or is he an exercise slacker?

#279  Does your main character procrastinate or get things done quickly and efficiently?

#280   When the drumming started, she couldn't help but dance.

Feel free to post any results from the prompts in the comments!


Amp Up Your Writing With A Travel Mindset

Nashville_skyline_before_earth_hourI'm in Nashville this week, teaching a workshop called From Spark to Story, with my dear, wonderful friend Terry Price.  I used to come to Nashville at least twice a year, sometimes more often, in order to teach at the Writer's Loft, (now called Write. ) But lately the orientations have fallen at the same time that I'm in France, for my Let's Go Write workshops.  So, um, much as I love Nashville, I chose France.

Wherever I decide to go, I love to travel, and it informs and inspires my writing.  (The idea for my just-about-to-be-submitted-to-publishers novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery, was inspired by one of my trips to France.)  I believe travel opens up my brain to all kinds of new ideas and inspirations that I wouldn't find any other way. However, it has come to my attention that some people really don't like to travel.  They much prefer to stay home.  

I get this.  I really do.  After all, to travel is to catapult yourself into the great unknown.  There's the hassle of airplane travel.  And a hotel or motel that might be iffy at best.  Maybe landing somewhere you don't know the language.  You may will say something wrong.  You'll feel like people are laughing at you. The food will be strange, and God only knows what is actually in that dish of stew. 

In other words, it's scary out there, people!  

But if you are the sort who likes to stay at home but you still want to jazz up your writing, I have a few suggestions on how you can apply a travel mindset to your writing.  

 1.  Seek discomfort.  This is the number one reason people don't travel.  Because, as mentioned above, you will have moments of extreme discomfort.  Plain and simple.  In 2013, the first year I traveled to Europe alone, I was terrified.  When last I'd been to Paris, waiters sneered at my feeble attempts to speak French and everyone was rude.  But once I realized that what I was really afraid of was discomfort, my whole attitude changed (and I actually have found the French to be lovely).  So, quit being so damned self-protective and catapult yourself out of your comfort zone.  Since I don't know what your particular comfort zone is, I can't offer any recommendations.  But you know.  I know you do.

2.  Cultivate a different mindset.  Part of the reason travel is so fun is that your usual boundaries and filters are off.  While you might hesitate to talk to a stranger at home, when traveling you might be forced to ask directions of one.  You become fearless because you have to be. You walk long distances because you get stranded miles away from your hotel and you don't know how to hail a cab.  You stay up late because you're having so much fun.  You eat sweets when you usually don't allow yourself to touch them at home.  And so on.  You can just as easily do this at home, it's just that we forget this and get mired in our regular routine.

3.  Seek out new sights and sounds.  Pretend you're a tourist in your own town and go visit new places.  We've got a fabulous Chinese garden here in Portland, and I'm embarrassed to admit that until I attended a wedding there a couple years ago, I'd never been there.  So visit tourist traps. Take part in corny local festivities. Drive to a different part of town, park the car, and walk. Seek out a new coffee shop.  Go hear a band you've never heard of perform.  Sit in a different part of the sanctuary at church.  Even the smallest change can give you a new viewpoint.

4.  Try different food.  Part of the fun of travel is sampling different foods. Food is a portal to sensory stimulation and sensory stimulation is a portal to inspiration.  Bear in mind, much of my recent overseas travel has been to France, where "different" means chocolate croissants for breakfast, Croque Monsieurs for lunch, and macarons for dessert.  Um, yeah.  But, as noted earlier, eating macarons in Ceret, France inspired a whole novel for me.  And I still recall the lamb dinner I ate at a small cafe on the Boulevard Montparnasse, after walking miles and miles on a sore knee. (The wine was damn good, also.) Surely your town has some wonderful restaurants that feature different cuisines.  Try them out!

5. Take your journal and go sit somewhere and write.  (This works especially well if you tend to stay tied to your desk at home, as I do.)  Record what is going on around you.  Write a description of the barista with purple hair.  Describe the dialogue you can hear at the table next door.  Hell, be really brave and strike up a conversation with the people at the table next door.  One of my fondest memories of being in Paris last year was all the people my husband and I met at bus stops, in our hotel lobby,  and on the street--people from Montreal, from Australia, from London, from all over!  There's no reason you can't do the same without leaving home.

6.  Change up your habits.  This is, in many ways, the easiest way to encourage a travel mindset., because most habits involve relatively small things.  But in some ways, it is the hardest, too. Because even though habits are small, they are deeply ingrained.  Here are a few modest suggestions: Drive a different way to work. Take a shower at night instead of in the morning. (Or don't shower at all!)  Go grocery shopping at 7 AM in the morning.  Drink tea instead of coffee.  Drink beer instead of tea. Drive through McDonald's for a burger instead of eating dinner at that luscious 5 star restaurant. Stay up late! Rise early!  You get the idea.

The point of all this is, of course, to shake up your brain and get some new synopses firing, which in turn should get those words flowing onto the page.

As always, I'd love to hear from you.  Do you like to travel?  Does it inspire your writing?


Guest Post: How to Write a Novel Without Even Realizing It

I wrote a post a couple weeks ago in which I trumpeted the value of writing for even a few minutes every day--and Amanda commented on her success in following that prescription.  I was emailing her to write a guest post before I even finished reading her comment!  And here it is, and I find it very inspiring.  Amanda has appeared on these pages before--you can read the interview I did with her last year here.  Scroll down and read more about her wonderful novels!
 
Clock-clocks-alarm-546827-lWrite before you wake up…or, how I got so far into my next novel without even realizing I was writing it.
 
Recently, Charlotte wrote a post about writing every day. In it, she said, “So, how important is it to write every day?
 
Well, I think its every thing.  Every damn thing.  I do.  I believe that writing every day is what we should all strive for. … And that is what it really boils down to.  Whether or not you actually want to write.”
 
I’ve read similar articles before. I’ve heard similar advice. I usually reply with “but…but…but…”
 
I want to write every day, but I have 2 kids.
I want to write every day, but I have two other jobs.
I want to write every day, but I volunteer.
I want to write every day, but it’s the weekend.
I want to write every day, but the last season of Mad Men is finally on Netflix.
 
A week before Charlotte’s article I watched a webinar with the founder of The Organized Artist Company, Samantha Bennett (she’s also a former SNL writer!) and she gave a lot of similar advice. Just. Do. It.
 
That week, with my husband away at a conference and my children running around like the banshees they are, and my first week in a brand new job at a company, where everyone was away for the same conference my husband was at, I thought I was losing my mind. I hadn’t been writing in my journal, much less working on any creative writing. I was in the place in between projects where it’s easy to get stagnant: waiting for feedback on one manuscript but not sure how to start the next. Sam said that all creative work can be accomplished in 15 minutes a day, as long as you’re consistent with it. In the morning, before you check your email, before you turn the TV on, before you see Facebook or any part of the internet…15 minutes. Before your brain has time to think.
 
This is the same concept that Julia Cameron uses for working on Artists Pages right away in the morning— you’re not awake enough to self-sensor. First-thing Artists Pages don't work for me, because I’m not engaged enough with it and fall back to sleep. But, with two days left until my hubby got home, I decided to give actual writing a shot. 15 minutes, immediately, before I did anything else. Which meant I had to write long hand, because if I’m near my computer I must check email and Facebook, just as I must breathe.
 
I woke up, stumbled down the stairs, told my son to go back to bed, it was too early to be up (when he asked why I was up I said I was writing. In our house, this is code for leave me alone. I’ve trained them well.) and I started to write. 
 
I did it again the next day.
 
And the next. 
 
After about a week, started waking up before my alarm, knowing what I was going to write. I had my first book dream, in which I was one of the characters. 
 
It’s been a little over a month now, I haven’t been perfect, but I’ve done it almost every day since. I have a full notebook of handwritten scenes. As I’ve re-read them, I’m kind of amazed. They’re a lot better than most of my first draft stuff. More direct. Less tangents. I have to wonder if it’s because I was more focused while I was writing. This isn’t the fastest I’ve written, but it feels different. More complete in some way. And I’m in a MUCH better mood each day for getting the words on the page, first thing.
 
It’s not hard to get up 15 minutes earlier. If you’re not a morning person, (I’m totally not one) it will feel hard, I know, but just tell yourself it isn’t. You can program your coffee pot so it’s ready when you get to the kitchen, pour your cup, and go. Or sleep with your notebook or computer next to your bed, so you don’t even have to get up to get writing. It’s just 15 minutes. You can totally do it. 
 
Amanda_Moon_Headshot-Smaller_FileAmanda Michelle Moon writes novels inspired by real events. Her first two novels, The Thief and The Damage, tell the true-life unsolved mystery of a pair of Wizard of Oz worn ruby slippers from the perspective first of a fictional criminal, and then of the people affected by the theft. In May she is launching her first audiobook! Both books can be found at www.stealingtherubyslippers.com. When she’s not writing, she lives with her family in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and works for NoiseTrade Books. Connect with her at www.amandamichellemoon.com.


Alarm clock photo from alan_cleaver2000.  Author photo from Amanda! 

What do you think?  Can you find 15 minutes in your day to write? Can you rise a little early?


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #39

Here's the latest collection of prompts from my Tumblr.  Enjoy!

#267  It’s a beautiful, warm evening, what’s your character’s pleasure: dinner al fresco; a hike; taking the children to the park; ignoring the weather and turning on the TV or something else entirely?

#268  Is your main character a talker or a listener?

#269 And then, once the bill had been totaled and she had paid, the guilt set in.

#270  Happy Earth Day! Does your main character recycle? Drive a non-polluting car or take mass transit?  Or maybe he is just the opposite–throws trash in the recycling bucket and roars around town in a Hummer? Whichever the case, write about their green, or not-so-green habits.

#271 Write about your, or your character’s first kiss.

#272 What’s the worst thing your character has ever done? Murder, adultery, theft? Does the world know about this thing or does your character keep it secret? 

#273  What is the best thing your character has ever done? Raise a child up right, write a book, run a business, take care of an ailing parent, what?  

 How's your writing going?  And, as always, if you get inspired by one of these prompts and want to share in the comments, feel free.

 


I've Invented a Writing Machine

Everystockphoto-nasa-space-64361-hJust for you, because I love ya, I've invented a new writing machine.  Here's what it does: with a long metal robotic arm, it reaches out, grabs paper and pen, and plops it down in front of you.  You can also program it to grab your laptop, tablet, or computer keyboard.  There's an optional feature that will, if you so choose, chain you to your chair for a set period of time.  

Here's the rub: that's as much as the machine does.  After that it is up to you to start writing.  This may be a bit of a news flash to you, but in order to write something like a novel, a short story, or a memoir, you have to ... write.

Dude. Imagine that.

But, you know what?  We forget that.  Even I, who have been making my living doing this for years, forget that.  Lately, I've been very stern with myself.  I've had so very many important things to get done.  Manuscripts to read, a rewrite to finish, workshops to plan.  And so I laid down the law. There is no time for writing.  We must work.  And work hard.  Nose to the grindstone and all that.

Yesterday I awoke in a brain fog, staring off into space, overwhelmed by the week ahead.  Out of the corner of my eye, I spied my pink journal which had been unopened for a couple of weeks.  I stared at it, with one eye squinting until it occurred to me....perhaps I should write. 

And so I did.

And it was exactly what I needed to do.

But my journal practically had to jump up and down in front of me to get me to open it and start writing, which is why I'm inventing the writing machine for all of us.  Because it's one of those crazy paradoxes: when you're blocked in your writing, the solution is to write. 

I think what happens is that we crank ourselves into perfectionist mode.  When I'm not writing, it starts to seem like this big impossible thing that I can't do because I start imagining that every word I write has to be stellar.  But if I can just get myself to write one word...and then a sentence..and then a paragraph, I remember:

  • All I have to is put words on the page.
  • I don't have to write well.
  • I can write crappy sentences
  • Nothing has to make sense.

Because once I do put words on the page, things start to flow.  Ideas form and spill off my fingers. Crappy sentences straighten themselves out.  Scenes begin to write themselves. And I am writing.

So, yeah, that writing machine should be going into production soon.  In the meantime, I've got the next best thing here.

What do you do to get yourself to write?


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #38

Here's this week's corral of my daily prompts:

#259 If only….she thought.  We all have a lot of “if onlies” in our life.  What is your character’s biggest if only?

#260  The wind blew and blew.  It blew so hard and so long she thought she’d go crazy from it.  And then, all of a sudden, it just stopped.

#261  A screen door slamming shut is an iconic sound of summer for me.  Do you (or your character) have any sounds that immediately provoke memories?

#262  So what?  I mean, really, so what?

#263  It’s tax day!  Are your taxes finished?  Are your main character’s?  While we’re at it, how does your main character deal with money?

#264  My father insisted, loudly and often, that the best way to live was to work for oneself.  Even though his business eventually went bankrupt, he at least upheld his own standards.  What about your main character?  Does he/she have the entrepreneurial instinct? Or does he prefer the structure of a 9 to 5 job? 

#265  The ways of the world are capricious.  Take, for instance….

#266  Ugh.  Being sick is the worst thing ever.  Except for….

 How's your writing going?  I'm still working on rewrite #2 with my agent.  And feeling really ready to be done with it and get back to some plain old-fashioned writing.  But I am NOT complaining!  Leave a comment about what's up with you.  And have a great weekend.

 


Why a Writer Needs a Cat

CaptainandLieutenant
Cats are good at crossword puzzles, too!

I have decided that there's one VERY IMPORTANT piece of writing advice that often goes unmentioned.  It is sort of a secret writer thing, but I am dedicated to bringing such things out in the open, because I'm dedicated to helping you find success as a writer.  (You can thank me from your yacht in the Riviera, where you are celebrating your most recent bestseller.)  Here goes:

Get a cat.

Why?  I shall tell you why.

1.  Because a cat anchors a room.  There's something so grounding about walking into a room with a cat sleeping in it.  Writers need to be grounded.  We need to be in our bodies as we work.  Otherwise we'll be wafting about the room with no sense of where we are--and so will our characters.  If you don't have a cat to help you with this, try some other ways, like meditation, yoga, or Qi Gong, my current favorite.  Or take a walk.

2. Because you can talk about plot points with your cat.   One of my cats, Captain, is in training to be a human in his next life.  As such, he listens carefully to everything humans talk about and pays close attention to what we do.  This makes him the perfect writer's companion.  He listens to every word I say about my WIP.  Writers need to brainstorm.  Maybe you don't, but I do.  I do a lot of brainstorming, with my clients, other writers, my agent.  And I do a ton of it on the page, in my journal.  If you're stuck, find a cat (or human, or piece of paper) to brainstorm with.

3. Because cats are cozy, soft and warm to cuddle up next to.   And they often purr when they sleep on you.  Few things are better in this world than taking a nap on a lazy Sunday afternoon with a cat snoozing away on top of you.  But my larger point is: writers need rest.  Throw that old image of writers burning the midnight oil, and creating for long stretches of time without food, water or drink out the window.  That kind of schedule does not foster creativity.  More and more science is coming out to support the idea that we need a consistent amount of sleep--like eight hours a night--to perform our best.  This means you, too.  And if part of that sleep comes through curling up next to your cat for a nap, so be it.  

4. Because they will get hungry and wake you up at the crack of dawn or earlier.  Chop chop.  Rise and shine.  You've got words to get on the page!  If your cats are anything like ours, they will meow at their first sign of hunger, which will likely be early.  Very early.  My two felines have my husband well trained to rise and feed them, but I follow soon thereafter, grab coffee and hit the page.  You will make yourself very happy if you get the most important thing in your life--your writing--done first.  There's nothing better than the satisfying feeling you'll have all day if you've accomplished your most important goal first.

5.  Because a cat will keep you humble.  Cats are the original and best arrogant pets. Sometimes the afore-mentioned Captain stares at me while I'm discussing my novel with him, and then shakes his head as if I've said the stupidest thing ever.  Other times, he breaks out in a giant yawn.  I'm telling you, its humbling. And don't even get me started on the antics of his goofy brother, Lieutenant.  (For the record, they were rescues from our local Humane Society and we did not name them.) Writers need a dash of humility.  This is a topic not often discussed, but I've seen good writers ruined by their ego.  I've seen them get all puffed up and ruin book deals. I've seen them let their ego convince them a manuscript is ready when it isn't, and thus ruin a good potential contact by sending too soon.  Enough said.  Get a cat.

What's that you say?  You don't like cats? Excuse me while I cover the ears of my two tubwads.  Such shocking words coming out of your mouth.  Heavy sigh.  I suppose if you absolutely cannot see your way to get a cat, you could pay attention to the writing tips that are highlighted in bold above.  

But I still think there's nothing like a cat to keep you company throughout the day.  Unless its a pug. But that's a story for another day.

Which do you prefer--dog or cat?


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #37

Good morning and happy Saturday!  Here is the latest collection of prompts from my Tumblr blog, wherein I write a prompt a day.  (And yes, some days I do kick myself for starting this project.  But most days I enjoy it a lot.)  Here goes:

#253  A sudden rainstorm.  Your character is stuck out in it, with no shelter in sight. What does she do?  Revel in it, or huddle miserably? What kinds of memories and emotions does the storm bring?

#254  Every morning, without fail, first thing she did upon rising was….

#255 Do you (or your character) favor yoga or Qi Gong? Running or walking? Going to the gym or working out at home?

#256 One more time, with feeling…

#257 New life.  Cause for celebration.  Where is there new life in your character’s world these days?

#258 A foggy morning.  What was revealed when it cleared?

#259 If only….she thought.  We all have a lot of “if onlies” in our life.  What is your character’s biggest if only?

Happy writing!  As always, share snippets below if you are so inspired.


Guest Post: Who Will Read My Writing?

Please welcome my friend and fellow writer Anthony J. Mohr to the blog today.  This post made me laugh out loud--probably because I'm all too familiar with the sentiment behind it.  And I've been an admirer of Anthony's essays about growing up in Hollywood back in the day when it was still truly glamorous for quite some time now.  (He does write about other things, too, and just as gracefully.)  Enjoy!

Sometimes (okay--all the time) when I’m writing, I wonder who will read my work. Not just whether the audience will consist of millennials or astronauts, but whether an old friend or a long lost crush will happen to see it thanks to a Google search or, better yet, because someone will tell her, “Hey, you used to know that guy Mohr? You’ve got to read what he just published in the Left Toe Review.”

That hasn’t occurred yet. Everything I’ve published seems to have vanished, passing by the earth’s seven billion souls without touching anyone. I understand. After all, how many people subscribe to the Left Toe Review? But I did make it, once, into the Christian Science Monitor and, twice, into Chicken Soup for the Soul. And still nothing from the long losts.

Twenty-five years ago, I walked by a news truck that was parked along a West Los Angeles street. When I stopped to see what they were doing, the reporter asked for my view on some issue of the day. Of course I agreed to say something on camera. I was a lawyer, then, and thought the exposure would land me a client. I answered the question; they broadcast five seconds of my brilliance; and that night, my phone began ringing. At least ten friends saw me. So did a potential client, who never paid his bill.

For years my friend Amber has been struggling to escape from her reporting job at one of those tabloids, the type that runs headlines like “Cheerleader Becomes Dear Leader’s Sex Slave.” Amber longed to write something meaningful, an essay that would spark debates across the chattering class. It took four years of research and at least forty drafts, but one of the nation’s most cerebral journals accepted her piece about – if I remember right -- the transformation of Asian society and its impact on post cold war diplomacy. The day it hit the newsstands, Amber stayed home by her phone, waiting to hear from the world.

Her phone rang once.

It was the wimpy nerd who had bothered her through high school, a kid who’d been too dense to take a hint. She hadn’t been able to shake free of him until graduation. Now, twenty years later, thanks to Amber’s assiduous efforts, he was back, still trying to cadge a date.

So I ask once more: why do I bother to write? Other than attaboys from close friends to whom I send links to my stuff, I’ve resolved to hear from precisely nobody. I use my imagination – the same imagination I call on to write -- in order to envision someone reading my story. I imagine that person showing it to her spouse, who at the end blinks back a tear or falls asleep thinking about my stunning last line instead of his kid’s dental bill. I refuse to imagine that person tossing my pages on the floor before he turns out the light.

Photo Judge MohrAnthony J. Mohr’s work has appeared in or is upcoming in, among other places, California Prose Directory, The Christian Science Monitor, DIAGRAM, EclecticaFront Porch JournalHippocampusThe MacGuffinWar, Literature & the Arts, andZYZZYVA. Three of his pieces have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. By day he is a judge on the Superior Court in Los Angeles. Once upon a time, he was a member of The L.A. Connection, an improv theater group.


Forced, Kicking and Screaming, To a New Blog Design

Drawing-sketch-doodles-339634-lYou may have noticed something slightly different upon landing here today.  Yeah, that's right, I've got a new blog design.

This was not entirely my choice.  I've known for quite some time that my old design looked dated and it is one of my goals for this year to update it and redesign it.  But 2015 has been a whirlwind, and I'm now working on rewrite #2 for my agent, and THAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER. So in my thinking, the blog re-design could wait.  

But the Google Gods had other plans for me.  Apparently, by the end of this month, if you have a blog or website that is not responsive (i.e., not configured to be easily read on a tablet or smartphone), you are going to the bottom of the Google search engine heap.  And Google has always been good to me, so I didn't want that to happen.

In truth, I would have been blissfully unaware of all of this, were it not for my most amazing and wonderful VA, Elizabeth Jackson.  (VA stands for Virtual Assistant.  Its the best invention ever. Elizabeth lives in Spain and I live in Portland, but we work together nearly every day.) Somehow, she knows this stuff.  And then she figures out how to deal with it and save me from the wrath of Google.

So here we are with a new design.  I will tell you straight out that it is not my favorite, but it will do for now. Once I have a chance to sort things out in my brain and figure out what I really want, it will change again.  But that won't be for awhile.  

What do you think? Like it or hate it?  Are you changing your blog design to be responsive?

Image by Dan4th.


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #36

Here's the latest collection of posts from my Tumblr blog, where I post a prompt daily.

#246 As a child did you (or your main character) go to church? Sunday school or sitting in the service with the adults?  What was your experience—love or hate? Character building or destroying?

#247 And then she had to start over again….

#248 Scissors, watchband, rabbit.  Use these three words in a sentence and then use that sentence as a prompt.

#249 Happy April Fool’s Day!  Write about a time somebody fooled you and what happened.  How did you feel about it?  Some people think pranking is hysterical, others, not so much.

#250 What’s your character’s favorite kind of weather? (Not everyone likes endless stretches of warm, sunny days.) 

#251 It’s Good Friday.  What are your character’s beliefs around religion?

#252 How does your character feel about technology? Luddite or early adopter?  Or somewhere in between?

 Happy writing!  What are you working on?  Do you use prompts often as you write?

 


Should You Write Every Day?

HappywritingI was at a gathering of writers last night (Portlanders, we meet every last Monday of the month for Literary Libations, join us) and Angela Sanders, an accomplished mystery writer who is doing very well with her books (can you say number one on all Kindle sales?) was talking about her career.

Angela talked about how she does very little social media, sends one newsletter out a month (subscribe here, its definitely worth it), and beyond that, "I write every day."

Because--that's the most important thing.

Writing.  

As often as humanly possible.

And yes, while writing in a journal, or writing a blog post, or ad copy for your next class, or whatever, is all terribly important, when we talk about writing every day, we're talking about writing on that project of yours.  You know the one--the novel that keeps you awake at night.  The one where the characters keep doing things that delight you.  The one you have in your head.  Or hopefully in a collection of notes carefully stored somewhere.

So, how important is it to write every day?

Well, I think its every thing.  Every damn thing.  I do.  I believe that writing every day is what we should all strive for.

But people scowl at me when I say this.  They throw things, like rotten apples, at me.  They yell and scream.  Okay, maybe they don't really, but I can see by the look in their eyes that they are wishing they could.  Because they really don't want to write every freaking day.

And that is what it really boils down to.  Whether or not you actually want to write.

I'm sorry, but that's the plain, hard truth of the matter.  (And for the record, I'm lecturing myself here as much as anybody.)  Once, years ago, I read something that bears on this.  I believe it was in a Julia Cameron book.  She said something to the effect that if a man is in love with you, no matter if he's the busiest executive in the world, he'll find time to call you.

So, ahem.  If you're in love with your writing (and you should be) you will freaking find time to do it, even a little, even if you're just thinking about it, every day.

And here's a little tip to help you do it every day:

At the above-mentioned Happy Hour wherein we discussed every aspect of writing, one of my most favorite writers (and human beings) in the whole world piped up and said she'd been writing every day.  

Gasp.  This required a huge gulp of wine to process.  Because Jenni, (who is likely reading this and rolling her eyes) has not written for months.  This has been the cause of much consternation and hand-wringing between my biz partner Debbie and I, because Jenni is a damn good writer, writing a really fun mystery.

So to hear her announce that she was now writing regularly again was amazing.  And we found out her secret, which is.....

Write for ten minutes a day.

C'mon, everyone can find ten minutes.  And the bigger trick to this is that once you start writing, you often look up and realize that an hour, not ten minutes has gone by and you've really not felt like stopping.

So, the moral of the story is that, yes, I do think every one should write every day if at all possible and that really, everything will fall into place for us all if we just write as often as possible.  

Please share what you think in the comments!

Image by Jem.


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #35

Here's the latest collection of prompts from my Tumblr blog (minus one, because I forgot to do one on Sunday).

#240 She sat up quickly.  She forgot!  She had totally forgotten about it!  

#241  What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?  Write about it.  Work details can enliven fiction.

#242  Your character’s eating habits tell a lot about him.  Write about them.  Does he drive through McDonald’s every day for breakfast?  Cook lavish meals at home? Dine in the finest restaurants? 

#243  Doing new things is hard.  It is also brain-expanding.  What have you (or your main character) done that is new and different lately?

#244  TGIF.  What does your main character like to do on Friday night?  Date night? Stay home and watch a movie? Go to Happy Hour with friends? Get in bed early and read?

#245  Water.  Are you (or your character) afraid of it or do you revel in it?  Good swimmer or dog paddler?

 How is your writing going?  Do prompts help you write?

 


Books I've Been Reading

Books_Olympus_ompc_79830_hI started this series of posts at the end of January with a blog post titled, Books I Read in January. And I fully intended to do one post a month.

But then my life blew up, I got an agent, and I needed to turn my attention to rewriting my book.  So my blog posts suffered.  So did my reading--at least a little bit.  I haven't been reading quite as much as usual, but I've still been reading a lot.  And, let me tell you, reading novels helped me with the rewrite.

I'll explain in a minute, but first, let's discuss: do you read similar books to yours while you are in the process of writing or rewriting?  I do.  Let me explain.  I likely would not read another novel set in a macaron bakery (and I'm hoping to God there isn't another one) but I do read women's fiction, and lots of it.  I know some writers fear that if they read novels that are too similar to their's, they will be unduly influenced.  But I'm the opposite.  I often feel like I need to inhale words in order to spit them back out on the page.  And while I'm inhaling those words, I'm continuing the lifelong process of learning how to put a decent novel together.

While I was rewriting, for instance, I read How to Knit a Heart Back Home.  (See below.)  Rachael Herron, the author, did some things with description that were active and engaging, not just dead on the page.  And since my agent and her reader both felt I needed to work on my descriptions of characters (and ironically, macarons), I studied what Rachael did and copied her a little.  Of course, it came out completely different because I'm writing a completely different book with different characters.  What I copied was her approach to craft. 

And that, my friends, is why we writers read.  Because it teaches us about writing.  So here's what I've been reading since January.

Fiction.

How to Knit a Heart Back Home, by Rachael Herron.  I love this series of books set in Cypress Hollow, a fictional small town in California.  All the characters are knitters in one way or another, and she has a knack for creating characters you love.  She's recently branched out into stand-alone books, and her latest book, just released, is Splinters of Light.  I also recommend Pack Up the Moon.

At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon.  I read the most recent book in the series after I got it for Christmas, and have now gone back and started at the beginning of the series.  The books are gentle, sweet, and yet have a depth to them based on the protagonist, Father Tim, who is and Episcopal priest.  Plus, my Mom loved them.  She'd be thrilled I'm finally reading them.

The Lanvin Murders, by Angela Sanders.  Angie is a local author, and a friend.  She is doing very well with this series set in a vintage clothing shop.  (This novel is the first in the series; there are two more already.) Subscribe to her monthly newsletter for all kinds of cool info!

The Financial Lives of the Poets, by Jess Walter.  A fun book, but I wasn't as impressed with it as I was with his novel, Beautiful Ruins (which we used as our teaching book the first year in France).  Not sure why this one didn't hit with me.

Non-Fiction

Gotta Read It, by Libbie Hawker.  A quick read (and inexpensive--its a $.99 ebook) on how to write a synopsis.  It's really about how to write a pitch for a completed book, but I found it helpful in thinking through my next novel as well.  (And I just bought her book on how to outline a story, called Take Off Your Pants).

The Bible.  I took a class in February and March called Jesus as a Wisdom Teacher, in which we examined the actual words of the man, as opposed to the religions which grew up around him. Woo-ee, I learned some interesting things.  And a whole new respect for the guy.  There were a couple other books I was supposed to read for this class, but, um, I really didn't, fascinated as I was. I needed to focus on my rewrite, and there was limited bandwidth in the old brain.

In Process

How the Brain Heals Itself, by Norman Doidge.  This is a wonderful book, full of amazing research about what the brain can do.   There's a lot of medical and technical stuff in it, but the author is adept at using stories to carry the serious stuff.  Even so, I'm a bit stalled on it.  Will continue to beat away at the pages.

Start with Why, by Simon Sinek.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I was reading this last time around.  It is a great book, I just got stuck in the middle when I suddenly had to put everything aside and focus on the novel rewrite.  I'm determined to finish it.

The Bookseller, by Cynthia Swanson.  By day, Kitty, our heroine runs a book store in Denver in the 60s. But at night, her dreams lead her to a different life--one with a handsome husband and two adorable kids.  Slowly, the nighttime dreams become more and more real...I'm enjoying this debut novel a lot.

Books on Embroidery and Knitting.  For research.  Really.  I swear I don't just look at them for the pretty pictures.

Up Next

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.  I think I have the time to start this one now.  (I've been told not to open it until I have time to sink into it.)

Younger, by Suzanne Munshower, which was free as an Amazon preview for Prime subscribers.  I know her from Twitter and this book was published by and Amazon imprint which shot to the number one spot of all Kindle ebooks.  So, why not?  Plus, it looks entertaining.

So that's it for now.  Do tell: what are you reading?

Photo by Brian B.


Macaron Day (Or, Jour du Macaron)

So, last Friday, March 20 was Macaron Day worldwide. Macarons

What is Macaron Day?  It was started by the venerable Parisian baker Pierre Herme (his name has an accent mark, but I can never figure out how to do those) in 2006, and the way it works is simple: you drop into a bakery, donate money to charity, et voila, you receive a macaron in return.  This year was the first year that my fair city of Portland, Oregon, has participated in Macaron Day, and let me tell you it was a raging success!

But first, perhaps you are wondering why I am writing about macarons on my writing blog? Simple. My next novel, the one that is currently being readied for submission with my agent, is about macarons.  Or more to the point, a macaron baker.

Here's a brief synopsis:

 All Madeleine Miller wants is for her new Portland business, the Bonne Chance Bakery, to be a success. But things get off to a slow start when her husband Will runs off with an employee and starts his own rival bakery, leaving Mad in the lurch. Luckily she has the help of the bakery's accountant, Jack, and his precocious daughter Daisie. Portland foodies love the bakery's French macarons, but alas, their passion doesn't quite add up to financial success.

And then one day, world-famous entrepreneur slash actor Richard Bishop appears at the bakery and becomes smitten with Mad's macarons—and her. His offer to franchise the bakery concept feels like selling out, and Madeleine isn't interested. But then she learns of the shady financial dealings her ex-husband used to fund the bakery—and she's forced to accept his help. Soon she's catapulted into a world of luxury and excitement in Los Angeles as she supervises the opening of a second Bonne Chance in Hollywood.

But in her efforts to save the bakery, will she lose herself? Set in Portland, Los Angeles, and Paris, the novel illuminates the crazy path romance sometimes leads us on—and the circuitous route that will lead the way home. With its themes of identity, self-determination and following your dreams, The Bonne Chance Bakery is a feel-good novel with a serious message at its core.

(That description is taken straight from my query letter, by the way.  The very same query letter that got me a read of the full manuscript and a signed contract within one week.)

So, as you can see, attending Macaron Day was a must.  Luckily, my biz partner Debbie and I had scheduled a morning to do some planning on the workshop we held last weekend, and so we folded Macaron Day into it.  Our first stop was Nuvrei bakery, where rumor had it that they were giving out "starter kits."  And oh my God, what fabulous starter kits they were!  The most adorable tote bags imprinted with pink macarons.  I was so excited.  I needed one of those tote bags.  After all, I'd just finished a book about macarons!

We stood in line for probably ten minutes as person after person walked past us carrying the totes.  Yes--there were long lines for macarons!  The day for these luscious, pillowy pastel cookies has definitely come!  I got more and more excited as we neared the front of the line.  And then watched as the person in front of me got the last tote bag.

Wah wah wah.

Oh well.  I recovered.  A bite of a salted caramel macaron revived me.  After we sat downstairs and did some planning, we drove across the river to Farina Bakery, which is very special to me.  Laura Farina let me shadow her last year, back when she was still baking macarons in a commercial kitchen, so I could see how macarons are baked.  Now she has her very own place, complete with apron murals.  And she is pretty much acknowledged to be the premier macaron baker in town.  (One headline announcing the opening of her bakery read, "Portland's macaron queen gets her own palace.")

There, at Laura's place, were more people standing in lines with their cute little macaron-imprinted tote bags.   Only one sob escaped my lips as I gazed at the tote bags.  Debbie and I nabbed a whole passel of macarons in a rainbow of colors for our workshop the next day.  And I got to chat with Laura, who is probably the most cheerful, positive person I've ever met.  (Must be the macarons.)

I was going to write about how I discovered macarons and how I got the idea for the novel in the first place, but I'm already pushing 800 words here so I think I'll save that for another post.  

In the meantime, go get yourself a macaron (as they get more and more popular, they are more readily available.  Or, you can always mail order some here.)

Clearly, I've been writing about macarons.  What are you writing about?  Leave a comment!

I found the image of macarons on the Google.


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #34

Here's the latest collection of prompts from my Tumblr blog, all in one place for your convenience.

#233 Use the words cried, red, burp and van in a sentence.  Now use that sentence as a prompt.

#234 It happens.  You look up, and there s/he is.  The phone rings, with good or bad news.  The accident occurs.  Write about a time your life—or your character’s—changed in an instant.

#235 Write about a time you didn’t wear green.

#236 When the music’s over…turn out the lights.  Write about a time the music was over but your main character wanted more.

#237  Nothing is worse than not sleeping.  How does your main character deal with insomnia—toss and turn in bed, or get up and do something?

#238 And just when she thought she was done with all that, it came rushing back again.

#239  Every time she thought about it, she shivered in fear.  And then the day came to actually face it—and it was so much harder and scarier than she had thought. 

 Have at it!  Happy writing!  While you're writing, leave a comment and let me know how its going.


Are You An Idea Generating Machine?

Idea-funny-electricity-124522-lAre you an idea generating machine? Ha! Me either.  But if you're a writer, you better be.  I don't think I am by nature.  But I have trained myself to be better at it--and you can too.

Generating ideas is on my mind because  I'm writing synopses for my next two books.  (And by the way, yes I did deliver the rewrite on Friday!) I have the basic idea for each of them, but there's a lot to figure out in a novel.

(Let me pause right here and admit that I'm a plotter, not a pantser.  I like to have at least a loose idea of where the story is going.  This is serving me in good stead now that I'm writing synopses.)

But this whole thing of figuring out the plot of the novel--to say nothing of the characters and setting--can be a bit overwhelming.  Contrary to the belief of non-writers, one does not just sit down and write out a plot that will work.  

So what does one do?  I have learned to come at it from a lot of different angles.  I have to, because that's how ideas form for me.  So maybe some of these angles will be helpful for you.

1.  Write about it. I know. Duh. But I think sometimes we tend to sit at our desks and stare at the monitor--or out the window, hoping the words will form themselves.  Ha!  A nice free writing session can be infinitely helpful in figuring stuff out.  You can use prompts or just plunge in and write.

2.  Make lists.  this has been very helpful to me.  Some current examples: "What I know about _____ novel."  "What I don't know about ________ novel."  Do the same thing for characters, and setting.  Once, long ago, I wrote a mystery (not a great idea, as I don't generally read a lot of mysteries).  One of my lists was "Burning Questions to Answer."  And there's always the tried and true, "What if?"

3.  Walk.  I've been walking around the house lately.  I'm healing my hips from some issues and if I go for too long outside, I get pain.  So I'm getting my steps in by walking in short spurts around the house.  And this is very helpful for ideas.  The more I pace, the more ideas I get.  Makes the idea of getting up off my butt much more palatable.

4.  Take a shower.  The idea for my novel The Bonne Chance Bakery came to me, nearly fully formed, in the shower.  And I have smaller ideas all the time when standing under the water.  We just got a new water heater (not by choice, the old one sprang a leak) and so now I have more hot water than I've ever dreamed of.  Best thing ever!  And, I can tell my husband I have to take long hot showers to get ideas.  I haven't actually tried that yet.  Not sure he'll believe me.

5.  Remember that every story comes to you differently.  As mentioned above, I've had the lovely experience with both Emma Jean and the Bonne Chance that they came to me in nearly whole cloth form.  So now I fight the expectation that this will always happen.  Conversely, I have to remind myself that's its okay if the idea doesn't download itself that way.  It will still be a good novel.  (And in truth, I still had to do quite a bit of idea gathering to complete the ones that came to me all at once.  But do I remember that? Of course not.)

6.  Research.  This can spark so many ideas.  But don't get bogged down in it, which is very easy to do.

7.  Journal.  Or do morning pages.  When I'm in the middle of figuring out a novel, I wake up and go right to the journal to do morning pages.  (Okay, I do stop to get coffee and water.)  I start writing about any old thing, but most days, my words morph into thoughts on the current novel.  And there I am, figuring things out and creating ideas!

So that's what I'm up to at the moment.  How do you find your ideas?  Leave a comment!

**Don't forget that I'm teaching a workshop in Nashville this spring!  You can find all the details here.

Photo by ubik2010.


Inventive Writing Prompt Round-up #33

#226  Write about the worst weather you (or your main character) have ever experienced.

#227  After the best weekend ever, your main character now faces Monday morning.  Does she drag her feet and stay suck in memories of the weekend, or does she let the momentum of her wonderful time carry her forward?

#228  When we are small children we spend a lot of time pretending—and then when we’re adults we learn to pretend in different ways.  We pretend we are happy, for instance.  Or we pretend we don’t care.  What does your main character pretend about?

#229  Some people think it is boring, but consistency is often the key to success.  How is your character consistent?  Inconsistent?  What are the results of these actions?

#230  What have you (or your protagonist) had to leave behind in your life?

#231  Knock wood, cross fingers, think things like if I finish loading the dishwasher before this song ends, I’ll get the job, or maybe something like if I don’t step on any cracks all the way to the corner, my new love will call.  These are superstitions.  Does your character indulge in them?  Do you?

#232 When the rains came and washed it all away, she was glad, so glad.

What are you writing?