Category Archives: The Craft of Writing

Writing “rules” (to follow or break!) and reflections on the mechanics of writing

What Inspires Your Art? #Amwriting reflections

I’m always intrigued with how artists get the ideas for their stories. It’s a glimpse into creative process — but also a reminder that sometimes awesome ideas come out of nowhere!

Campfire Stories CoverMy short story, Sisters of the Lake, was recently included in the collection, Campfire Stories. This story was one that took me a number of years (maybe over a decade) to come to. I honestly can’t remember when I wrote the first draft, but I quite clearly recall the inspiration of it.

When I was growing up my family would go camping at this one particular lake. It was (and still very much is) a magical place for me, somewhere very special. It’s where I often find inspiration – and this particular story came to me as I sat out on a peninsula looking out over the lake, remembering the times I spent looking over the edge of our canoe at the lake that seemed to extend down forever (it is one of the clearest lakes in the world).

So I wrote a story, about a girl who went to a place very similar to the lake, and the world that could exist under it. But something about the story didn’t quite work – I couldn’t nail down the ending, couldn’t find the right way to tell the tale.

And then this group of people I’d gotten to know through some Camp NaNo’s decided we wanted to try our hand at a story collection. Since we were the Cabin in the Words, why not focus on the theme of Campfire Stories? And that helped me realize just how to tell the story.

One of the fun things about this collection is that they’re all such different stories, and so are the things that have inspired us.

Jill Marcotte contributed The Collector to this series. “As with much of my writing, stupid conversations with my husband made up the bulk of the inspiration. He’s the kind of person that I like to spew my unfiltered thoughts at (which makes you wonder why he married me), and we were driving down a dark road in California and swapping ideas for scary stories on our way to a campsite. We got there very late and everyone else was already asleep and so we went to bed without telling any of our creepy stories, but he made me walk in the dark by myself to go pay for the campsite. I think I heard a thousand nightmares in the trees during that ten minutes, and a few of them were made into stories.”

Kalen Williamson contributed a few stories: “With The Beast, I wanted to do something fun and a little scary. Dare I even say campy? I felt inspired by all the tales of wolves lurking in the woods like the Big Bad Wolf, werewolves, and Lycans. It’s a great tale to tell around a campfire.

Ghost Boy focused more on the emotional element of fear, and how unfair life can be. My favorite part about ghost stories is learning the history of the ghost. It was exciting to create Leonard’s ghost history. I liked thinking about why he would still be haunting Earth. I may even do a part 2!”

Melanie Endsley Francisco/Ansley Ashe wrote One Tall Tale to End Them All, and said: “I had started work on a completely different piece for Campfire Stories. I was writing a camping/ghost story about an abandoned stone house in the woods, when I left everything at home and went on vacation with my family. On our way home from South Dakota and Mount Rushmore, we went through The Badlands National Park. I loved the rugged landscape and it was over 100 F outside that day, so conditions were especially harsh. I knew then I had the makings of a story. I went home and wrote a story about a kick ass girl who didn’t let things down.”

Lucy Jayne  said Fairy Dust was inspired by the social media hashtag that we use #cabininthewords. In my mind it grew into a series of vivid images, the story then emerged through the events that needed to happen in order to pass through those images. One of the most important things was the teeth, this fairy needed to be the opposite to a fairy inspired story that I’d written a few months earlier.

Where do you draw your artistic inspiration from?  What’s one of your favorite inspiration moments?

 

Interested in reading the stories that grew out of these seeds of ideas?  Be sure to check out Campfire Stories!

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Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Not Insecure!

 

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

It’s strange to be writing a post about insecurity as a writer when I haven’t been writing.

I’m still trying to get back to it, reclaim my drive and get writing – it’s taking its own sweet time but lately I’ve been being hit by a strange feeling.

Although I haven’t written fiction in MONTHS, and my non-fiction has remained in the stage of theoretical thoughts, I am NOT feeling Insecure about claiming the title of “writer.”  Though the words are not flowing from me to the page like they sometimes have — there are ideas gathering in my head.  I am finding myself people watching, imagining story-points, crafting images in my head that might end up translated to a story.

There are a lot of pieces that go into being a writer, and we all go through different phases at different times — it’s nice to, for once, be comfortable in the stage of writing I’m currently in. To not be worried that I am, somehow, doing it wrong.

Where are you in your writing this month?


 

This is my monthly post as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a great group of supportive writers, helping one another through our writing ups-and-downs.
There is also a great Facebook Community for more daily connection!  More posts from the group are tagged on Twitter at #IWSG.

Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Fresh Starts Aren’t Just for January

I’m pleased to be a Co-Host of this months Insecure Writer’s Support Group Posting Day!  It’s actually a really good month for me to be doing this, because if I weren’t co-hosting I would have been seriously tempted not to post at all.

Why?

Well, Confession time.

I set out in January with a goal to write 15 minutes of fiction everyday.  Free-writing, it could be anything – just writing fiction in hopes of “getting back to basics.”

Who can guess how successful I was at that?

Yeah… January had ups and downs, bits and pieces of projects old and new got completed.  A lot of organizing happened, but… very minimal fiction writing.

The longer I allow myself to stay away from fiction the more frightening the idea of going back.  When your writing is already something you’re unsure about it doesn’t take much to tip it over the edge.

I think the trick is to have clear goals and accountability.  Yes, there is a level of forgiveness to myself for not always meeting goals, but it can reach the point of excuses.

I spent a number of years not writing — always half working on a project, but never putting in real energy. It was easy to let go of that drive I once had, to allow it to fade to the background and bury myself in other projects.  If it was so easy, I ask myself, then does it mean I’m not actually driven to write the same way that those people who say they must write are?

No… it just means I write differently.  We all move at our own pace, and I need to allow myself to keep to the pace that is reasonable for me. It’s okay to give myself a break from writing if I am not feeling particularly motivated to write (particularly if I am feeling motivated to do things like read, or otherwise fill my creativity-coffers).

But I have spent a few months now letting myself refill those coffers (and binge-watch a few TV series as well).  I’ve stumbled a few times, made a few false starts on new fiction projects, and keep falling back to not-writing.  It’s reached the point where it’s painfully clear to me that I’m really just trying to procrastinate.  I’m holding myself back from making progress on the novel project I had been working on all summer and spring.

See, I hit this point in revisions where I realized there were some serious changes that I needed to make. Revisions and rewrites (again.. more…). It was important to take a break, but now I really do need to focus back in, put the real energy and effort into it that it deserves. It’s frightening to do so – what if I can’t get it right? What if it’s a terrible story? What if it’s just ALL wrong?

What if?  Well, yes, it might be terrible, it might be all wrong and I might fail at it… but I certainly will fail if I don’t put in the effort to do the rewrite, now won’t I?

 


 

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeThis is my monthly post as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a great group of supportive writers, helping one another through our writing ups-and-downs.
There is also a great Facebook Community for more daily connection!  More posts from the group are tagged on Twitter at #IWSG.

Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Back to “Basics”

January.

This is the month when a lot of us spend some time looking back on the previous year and figuring out what we want to set as goals (or plans) for the coming year.

I’ve been doing this, certainly, and when it comes to my writing the year didn’t go as I planned (it never really does). I will admit, I spent some time in the end of 2015 feeling a bit uncertain about myself as a writer.

I did complete a draft of a novel – and one round of revision notes on it — but I know that it’s going to require a fair amount of rewriting and reworking before it’s ready to go anywhere and had to put it aside for a little while while I figure that out.

The Middle-Grade novel that I had drafted out and planned to draft in November is sitting, waiting, while I find my way into the head of the MC, and figure out some details that I want to have a grasp on before I start writing.

These two things have made it hard for me to feel very confident about my fiction writing.  At the same time, though, I’ve been feeling pretty good about my blogging… although I don’t like how often I get down-to-the-wire with it.

Taking this all into account has brought me to a conclusion about my fiction writing – for a while I need to “Get Back To Basics.”

What does this mean? Well, it means a few things to me. I feel like part of the problem I encountered this past year and a half was that, for a long time, my fiction writing had been sitting on the sidelines, largely ignored. When I jumped back in it was kind of like… well, like riding a bike after not being on one for many, many, many years. I know how to do it, but the muscles aren’t used to it and a bit (or more than a bit) rusty.

So I’m putting the novel-projects aside for now.  At least for the start of the year I’m going to not worry about writing stories that have plots, or even about completing a story. I’ll push myself to write for at least 15-minutes every day, a fiction free-write on whatever comes to my mind.  Through the week this is all I’ll worry about when it comes to fiction, opening up my little free time to focus on other things.  On the weekends I’ll try doing some of the various writing exercises that are buried in the pages of the many writing-books that I’ve collected through the years – and a few I remember from creative writing classes of the past.

Basically I’m giving myself a year to play and learn, to explore the craft without putting the pressures of “complete a novel” over my head — getting more comfortable with my fiction-writing self, my own voice and style, before I return to the challenge of crafting a novel (or editing one).


 

 

IWSG badge

This is my monthly post as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a great group of supportive writers, helping one another through our writing ups-and-downs.
There is also a great Facebook Community for more daily connection!  More posts from the group are tagged on Twitter at #IWSG.

Do We Ever Fully Know Our Worlds?

Recently I’ve seen articles floating around about J.K. Rowling saying that she supports a theory in Harry Potter that has Dumbledore representing Death. One, in particular caught my eye because of a quote at the end:

“The world [J.K. Rowling] created is as surprising to her at times as it is for all of us.” – Kevin O’Keeffe

Does any author ever really know the worlds they are writing completely? I feel like there are always hidden corners and endless possibilities in worlds – they are as vast as our imaginations will allow and there are always hidden corners and unexplored spaces. It’s impossible to know everything about the world we live in, why would fictional worlds be any different?

I’m also struck, constantly, by the reality that readers will always have their own interpretations. No matter how well an author knows their work, how thoroughly they think through metaphor, symbolism and meaning, readers are going to find their own meanings in the writing.  That is part of the power of a good story, it allows the reader to run with it – to imagine themselves not only in the world but also to want to dig deeper — keeping the story alive long after the last page has turned and to revisit those pages again and again for even more depth, more meaning.

These are things I love about writing.  What I put on the page, what I intend readers to understand, my not be what they end up understanding.  Sometimes they can find so much more in what I’ve written — I have loved instances when beta-readers had asked questions or made comments about their expectations of the story which aren’t what I originally intended, but fit so perfectly. Another set of eyes looking at the worlds I’m writing about with fresh perspective, able to see things that I may have overlooked.

The worlds of fiction are amazing living things that grow, shift, change and are always full of surprises.  It’s part of their power.

“I Should….” The Way to Write?

Some lessons appear in so many different parts of your life that it’s hard to ignore them. Over the past few years I have been downright hit over the head with the message, “We all travel our own paths, at our own paces.” If my life were a novel I would accuse the author of being a bit to obvious and heavy-handed with that point.

Today I see it in writing.  I’ve been having a lot of conversations with other writers about the act of writing. I see people who can push out thousands of words a day (and not just by chaining themselves to their computers). I talk to people who write multiple novels a year, and people who can juggle novels, short stories, blogs and freelance writing all at the same time. Then there are the different ways that everyone writes, from the medium we use for our first drafts, to our methods of planning (or not), the order in which we write the story, and how the editing process occurs. So many different ways to go about things.

It can be hard to not fall into the trap of “I should…” I should be able to write x-many words a day.  I should be able to work on the novel, the blog AND this other project.  I should be outlining this or that.  I should… I should… I should…

However, I have learned some very important things about my writing, and now shuffle those I should…’s aside.

I have a tendency to immerse myself in what I am writing. When I was younger I would spend hours playing out scenes in my mind, creating different versions of the story I was writing, exploring the lives of side-characters.  I would imagine dialogue, and sometimes even find myself wandering the story in my dreams. I was all in.

I was reminded of this a few months ago. I’ve talked about it some, around my decision to stop working on Disparate Threads.  For a year I had been trying to work on both Bria Lana (a novel that still needs a proper title) and Disparate Threads.  In Disparate Threads I had four different characters telling the story, and Bria Lana has a decently extensive cast-of-characters. Trying to get into all of their heads was too much for me, they were all starting to sound alike and none were getting the attention they needed.

Since I stopped working on Disparate Threads it’s been amazing. I’ve been able to focus on Bria Lana’s story, really digging into her mindset (and the mindset of some of the major supporting characters). I can sit and imagine the conversations she’d have, think about why she is doing things the way she is, and explore the deeper motivations of those she is encountering. Bria Lana’s story is so much richer for it.

I’m learning a lot in the process of working on this novel, and I know I will be sharing more about what I’m learning with you all, but this is a hugely important insight for me.  While other people may be able to have many stories in the works at one time, I am a one-story-at-a-time gal.  At least if it’s a story with any real depth to it (I can still have fun with shorts, it seems).

There are plenty of “I should…”s, but most of them aren’t true.

The only thing I SHOULD be doing is telling the story, however quickly or slowly that may come, in whatever manner that may take. I should be true to the story I am trying to tell, true to the characters who are involved. I should write in a way that makes sense, and works, for me.


I’m excited to be co-hosting this month’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group!

The Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a IWSG badgegreat group of supportive writers, helping one another through our writing ups-and-downs.
There is a great Facebook Community for more daily connection!  More posts from the group are tagged on Twitter at #IWSG. 

We’ve also put out a book, available for free, full of great articles on topics from writing to publishing, everything in-between and beyond! And, now, there is a T-shirt available!

Juggling Act

My elementary school gym teacher was also a clown, so my gym classes included things like juggling, riding a unicycle, and balancing a feather on your hand (and getting occasional opportunities to watch his ventriloquism act).  I learned valuable lessons in those classes, ones that I can readily apply to my life now — especially my writing life.

When we started juggling we used scarves.  Up goes one scarf, catch it.  Up goes one scarf, up goes another, catch, catch.  Throw, throw, catch, catch.    You learn a pattern, start out slow, and then build.  After mastering three scarves, you switch to juggling balls or bean-bags.  Throw, catch.  Throw, throw, catch, catch.  And then, when you get really good at that:  throw, throw, catch, throw, catch,  throw… or something like that.  I never quite managed to build to three very well.

I can sometimes keep three small stuffed animals in the air (enough to entertain toddlers), last time I tried a unicycle was probably about two decades ago (I think I did okay), and I still can balance a peacock feather on my hand like a pro.

But some people I know, they can juggle three, or even more exciting things.  Some of them can even do it while balancing on a unicycle.   They didn’t get there overnight, it took a lot of practice, dedication, and some amount of skill.

 As writers we’re always juggling.  There are paying jobs (writing or otherwise), families, friends, self-care, and writing to keep up with.  Within the writing itself there are often multiple characters, plot-lines, plot-snags, grammatical rules to obey (or not), scenes clamoring to be written, and scenes presenting problems.  Add to that social media, the “writer/author platforms,” networking and (if you have work already produced) marketing.  It is a lot to keep moving.

I’m early in the process.  I have to remind myself of that.  Just like juggling started out with the lightweight scarves, slowly building to more challenging things to catch.  We have to build up slowly, taking on too much at too quickly can end badly, like a novice juggler deciding to try knives or flames.

We’re all move at our own paces.  While the kid next to me may have been able to move from the scarves to the juggling balls faster than me, I might have been able to master the unicycle with more ease.

Writing is about balance.  “Just keep writing,” is bandied about as an important phrase, when you don’t feel like writing, keep writing.  But sometimes this isn’t the case.  Sometimes you need to just STOP writing, to give yourself room to breath.  When you’re juggling, if you start to lose the rhythm, you can quickly lose control, and it wont be long before they all fall.  You have to pace yourself.  You have to keep an eye to the rhythm.  Yes, it may speed up or slow down, but it is still there.

Same with writing.  Sometimes you’ll push and move fast, sometimes you’ll slow down and there will be more space between writing sessions.  There is a rhythm unique to you, and you need to learn to listen to that.

There are times when you can do it all.  When you can sit on the unicycle, juggling flaming knives while playing the kazoo and causing the tree to sing the alphabet backwards.  Embrace those moments when the world comes together and you are in “the flow” and able to do it all.  For me they are relatively rare, and I need to remember that they are not the bar to which I should hold myself, but rather a dream to reach for.

Other times you have to do things one at a time.  Start slowly and allow yourself space to breath.  There’s nothing wrong with only riding the unicycle for a while, or going back to scarves for a while to get your grounding.  Take your time.  It’s okay to have stumbles, to not get something written — because you can only do so much.  We can’t all always be juggling masters.

So.. it may be a somewhat jumbled metaphor but… I think it works.  Especially right now, in the starting stages of NaNo where I need to be reminded that, while it is a bit of a marathon, I still need to pace myself, and keep balancing in mind.


IWSG badge

  This is my monthly post as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a great group of supportive writers, helping one another through our writing ups-and-downs.
There is also a great Facebook Community for more daily connection!  More posts from the group are tagged on Twitter at #IWSG.