New Year’s Resolutions for Writers – Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AThis time last year I made a list of New Year’s resolutions I was determined to keep. For a good stretch of the year I stayed focused, kept on top of the mental list I’d made, and drove forward with great stamina and persistence. Then, about four months later, I found I could sing the words to the same song countless other people were singing, too. You know…the one about how I got distracted by the daily to-do’s, got a mild case of writer’s block, had obligations outside my writing career that took center stage, and how I had a home repair project needing attention. Somewhere along the way, my resolutions faded away.

For this Wednesday’s Writer’s Prompts and Inspirations we’re going to write our resolutions and post them beside our computers. Better still, print several copies. Tape one beside your computer, another on your bathroom mirror, and keep the third in your wallet or purse.

Here are my 2015 New Year’s resolutions.

1. Get rid of writer’s block.

Writer’s block is unproductive and annoying. I’m not giving it a comfy seat ever again. An easy trick to say goodbye to writer’s block…write in a completely different genre than you’ve ever attempted.

2. Read more. 

To improve one’s writing it is imperative to read–a lot. Find books written in a similar vein to those you like to write. Twenty minutes a day isn’t much.  That comes out to two hours and twenty minutes a week or…a little over 121 hours a year! Twenty minutes of reading is easy to add at bedtime! Reading time could also fit in during a commercial break. Mute the TV and read. Wait! Why are you making time to watch TV when you could be writing? Imagine how empty our art museums would be if TV existed hundreds of years ago… Without TV, artists created. Creating was not only a form of entertainment for them, it was their life. Make it yours.

3. Keep pocket notebooks in more places.

Pocket notebooks are small, they fit in countless places: a purse, the glove compartment of your car, on a nightstand, by your computer, beside the telephone, on the coffee table, and in your coat pocket. Never leave to memory those great and often fleeting inspirations.

4. UFO’s.

Yes, you read that right, but UFO doesn’t stand for Unidentified Flying Objects. UFO stands for Unfinished Objects…in my case, unfinished novels and short stories. I get an idea for a new story, I dive into it, but those UFO’s keep nagging me. It’s easier to write with greater focus and enthusiasm when loose ends aren’t trailing you.

5. Daily appointment to write.

Yes! Appointment. We mark other appointments on our calendars: dentist, oil change, dinner with friends, school play to attend, fertilize lawn, etc… Writing is our life. Time for it should be scheduled daily.

6. Take an on-line class or make time to attend a seminar.

Sure we read every writing magazine we can get our hands on, frequent the writer section of our local bookstore, read other writer’s blog posts, but there is more to gain from an on-line writing class or seminar. We gain camaraderie with fellow writers. We receive another writer’s perspective and knowledge. We can have valuable conversations with a published writer/instructor. Through the on-line class or seminar we often gain access to a Facebook group where we can connect to other writers.

7. Submit.

Without this biggie, publication remains an unrealized dream. Go through your computer, read, re-read, edit, and polish everything nearly publishable you’ve written. Now make a list of potential publishers for each piece. Make it your goal to submit 4-5 times each month to magazines, contests, agents, and publishing houses.

What is on your New Year’s Resolution list for 2015? I’d love to hear from you.

Happy New Year!

Leslie

Do You Hear What I Hear? Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-ALast week at my daughter’s Christmas coir concert, I found a seat up in the balcony with a fairly good view of the stage, better, I was told by my daughter, than any seat on the ground level. Minus the small area blocked by the bouffant, out-dated hairdo of the woman seated before me, I had a fairly good view of the stage, the clock, the entrance, exit, and steady stream of parents.

Off topic, but as memory serves me, didn’t parents simply watch their children perform at school plays? Nowadays, parents watch their children through an iPhone or iPad held before their face as they record the show.

Back to the point of my blog post. Fifteen minutes before the show, I wondered if an elementary school auditorium would make a good story setting, and if so, what sounds belonged there. I took out my handy pocket notebook and compiled a list of sounds I could hear.

1. Shuffling feet

2. Squeaking seats as people adjusted their positions

3. The rustling of hats and coats

4. The white noise of a hundred, simultaneous conversations

5.The turning of program pages

6. Conversations on iPhones

7. Children warming up their voices behind the stage curtains

8. Tapping feet

9. sneezes and coughs

10. The 5 minute before show announcement

Sound is an important part of our writing. Life isn’t silent. When we write, we mention the cozy smell of cinnamon in a warm kitchen, the sight of delicate, drifting snow flakes, the sticky feel of sugar between our fingers from the sticky bun we ate in my earlier Wednesday post, and the taste of paprika in the beef stew we ordered at a Hungarian restaurant.

What can I hear as I type this blog post?

I hear my daughter shuffling through our stack of Christmas CD’s in the living room, my dog whining for something better than the canned swill in his bowl, my husband in the basement, turning wood on his lathe, the bubbling sound the fish tank filter makes, the hum of the dishwasher, the beeping of the completed dryer cycle, the heat kicking back on, the chirp of our birds, the other chirping of crickets I raise to feed my tree frogs, the click of my fingers on the keyboard, cars driving over the wet street, and rain falling when, on the day before Christmas, it should be snowing. Yikes! With all this noise, it’s a wonder I can get any work done at all. But most days, these sounds disappear. I don’t notice them. These are the sounds of my typical life and, for the most part, I have tuned them out.

For this Wednesday’s Writer’s Prompts and Inspirations, I want you to tune in to the sounds around you. Concentrate on what you can hear. As we know, a little sound here and there can add a level of richness or reality to our writing. Take out your notebook and make a list of what you hear where you are right now, what you hear at the coffee shop you pop into later today, at work, at the gym, in line at the grocery store, and wherever else your day carries you. Try closing your eyes when you tune into your surroundings, you might hear more without the distraction of sight. Can you list ten sounds in each location?

Did you hear/notice a sound that surprised you? Did you hear a sound for the first time that has been around you always, but one you never noticed until now?  Again, this is part of the showing not telling that brings our readers into the world our story takes place in.

This is a sharing place. I would love to hear from you.

Character Soup – Wednesday Writer’s Prompts and Inspiration

chalkboard-3-AAs writers, we all have a natural tendency to people watch. Each day we sit beside, pass on the street, get honked at, speak to, and get called on the phone by possible characters for our stories. Our world is a veritable character soup!

Some of my favorite places to jot details in my pocket notebook are coffee shops, train stations, and, nearly everyone’s favorite people-watching location…the airport.

Have you ever sat across from a group of people and absent mindedly stared at one person in particular? What was it about his appearance that set him apart? His advanced age? his dated clothes? Something resting on his lap or clutched to his chest? A look in his eyes filled with joy and contentment of having lived a good life?

Next time you’re wondering about someone, reach for your notebook and begin speculating.

Start by describing their appearance.

* The fashion-conscious woman–she wears the latest in Vogue, her gold necklace rests perfectly above the neckline of her designer dress, her carry-on bag matches her purse, and her polished nails match her lipstick and belt.

* The confident man– he wears a button-down, white shirt with jeans–worn at the knees. His back pocket is loosened at one corner and bulges with the outline of his wallet. He finger-styles his hair, and when he sits you notice his western boots.

* The homeless woman–she wears several layers of clothes, a torn garbage bag nests in the protection of the grocery cart she rests her hand upon. Her shoes have holes in the sides and the heels are worn. Her tangled, brown hair is pulled back under a frayed, knit cap.

What does the individual have with them? A briefcase? Purse? Stack of folders? A puppy in a pet carrier? A stroller with an infant? A letter? Absolutely nothing? What can you tell about the person from this?

What is this person doing? Checking e-mails on their mobile device? Scribbling details of you in their pocket notebook? (Yeah! A fellow writer.) Feeling in their coat pocket occasionally to check on something. (Hmmmm, possibly suspicious…)

If you’re at the train station or airport, can you speculate where the individual might be going, what awaits him/her there, and what they might need to do there? Are they returning home or beginning their journey? Who did they see? What business brought them to this point?

What about their activity can begin to paint a picture of their personality? If they are writing, do they crumple a sheet of paper with only a few marks on it, or do they use every possible writing space available on that page? Wasteful vs. Frugal.

BEFORE TODAY IS THROUGH, see how many new character sketches you can create.

And maybe one more…(?)

Observe yourself. Yes, you are a potential character for your stories, too. Do you know anyone better? How are you dressed today? What do your clothing choices say about you? What do you carry with you that others can observe? Is the tone in your voice irritated, hostile, happy, or pensive? When in public, what do you talk about that others might overhear? What do you say that a fellow writer in the crowd might document as an example of REAL dialogue?

And while you are creating fresh characters, keep in mind that the details you include are a fine exercise for show don’t tell.

Don’t tell us the man is old…show us his time-worn facial features, shaky hands, and dependency of his cane.

Don’t tell us the woman is stylish…show us her designer outfit, her long-legged, confident stride, and the shiny, silver heels of her black pumps.

Do you already keep a notebook for on-location character sketches? Have you ever been a character in one of your stories?

I’d love to hear from you.

Adding Another Level To Our Writing – Wednesday Writer’s Prompt and Inspiration

chalkboard-3-ALet’s start with a quote from the great Hemingway.Hemingway quote

My week is filled, same as yours, with all the daily to-do’s and little extras that wedge their way between an already full schedule. But somehow, when a friend calls to chat and asks what I’ve been up to, I quickly answer, “Same ole stuff. Not much is new.”

But that isn’t true for any of us. Lots of things happen each day.

Remember my Wednesday Prompt and Inspiration about recording the events of the day, including the many details involving your five senses?

This Wednesday’s Prompt and Inspiration will ask you to document your day again. This time, add your emotions. Instead of writing how the sticky bun felt in your fingers, tasted with your coffee, smelled, or looked on your plate beside your paper napkin (half scribbled over with ideas for your next novel), give your reader some of what’s going on behind the scene. And by the way, the sticky bun scenario is just an example… However, if you feel like dropping in at your local coffee shop, buying a sticky bun and a cup of coffee for this exercise, I wish you a bon appetite!)

Let’s keep going with an example of what I mean by “behind the scene.”

As you bring the flaky, honey-dripping, icing-coated, delicacy to your lips, the caramel-coated, almond slices touch your tongue. Your taste buds awaken. Unexpectedly, you find yourself reminiscing about a snowy afternoon at your Grandmother’s house when you were ten. You recall the red and white, checkered, oil cloth draped over her old, wood table. You can still smell the cherry tobacco from your Grandpa’s pipe as he sits in his favorite chair, puffing softly and thoughtfully. You can still see out the window beside you. Three of Grandpa’s cows are grazing under the Willow tree his father planted. And in addition to these cozy vignettes, you recall your grandmother setting a plate before you with a warm sticky bun, fresh from her oven with icing melting down the sides.

There is always more happening while we go about our daily to-do’s. Our thoughts are active and fleeting, but often the details provided by our memories can add a new level to our writing (or a nice way to work in a little piece of important back story).

Are you ready to grab you notebook and see where the day leads you?

As always, I’d love to hear from you.