The Idea Generator — Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AMaybe you’re a writer or perhaps an avid reader who wonders where writers get their ideas. I started thinking about this recently when I spoke to a friend who challenges herself to come up with one new picture book idea every day. Every day! How many picture book manuscripts did I think of last year? Easy answer. Twelve. My goal has been one new idea I develop into a manuscript each month.

Like other writers, I stay tuned in to life. I also pay close attention to everything my daughter tells me. (She’s nine, and although most parents have learned to tune out the nonsensical babblings of their kids by that age, I find her “babblings” spark story ideas. After all, she’s close in age to the group I’m writing for, so the things she takes notice of and gets curious about are the topics I need to focus on. I admit, she’s a little more serious in her thinking than a typical nine-year old. There are times when the answers to her questions would better be left unanswered until she was, oh, say… sixteen or more. Like the time I nearly drove through the garage door when she asked how two married men can make a baby.

So what happens when the stream of creative ideas stops? How does a writer get the damn to burst and the idea stream flowing again?

Although many writers tap into  their dreams, I can tell you flat-out that I don’t. Probably because what goes on in my head when it’s lights out doesn’t make sense in the real world.

“So, I was walking through a convention in a church which was really my childhood house when I heard a noise in the living room, which was really the pet shop around the corner. I saw a hundred children drawing pictures of floating houses with crayons that were made from candy canes. Then my friend Sam showed up, but it was really John disguised to look like Sam. He gave me a little jade statue of a goddess. I set it down and watched it morph into a green doll with movable arms and legs. When I picked the doll up, it’s eyes flicked open, it turned into a snarling tiger, and tried to grab me.”

See what I mean about my dreams?

When that idea stream isn’t flowing, ask yourself these questions:

What if?

I woke with wings and could fly? My brother turned into a moose? The backdoor of my house led to another dimension?

Wouldn’t it be incredible if?

Rain fell as dark chocolate drops? (I’m okay with that.) I were chosen to go to the moon? Everything I saw or read stayed with me in perfect clarity?

What would people think if?

I had super-human powers? Could change myself into anything I imagined? Knew how to speak every language in the world?

What would happen if?

The most distant planet with life where close enough to visit? Aliens attended school with us? Animals shared our level of intelligence?

or, taking it a step further…

We know that when lightning strikes a tree it will split it in half, blacken it, or turn it to ashes.  But what if when lightning struck something it gave life to that otherwise inanimate object?

How or where do you get your ideas for your writing?

Chime in. This is a place to share!

A Game For Writers — Wednesday Writer’s Prompts and Inspirations

chalkboard-3-AWhen my daughter and I think of things to do when she comes home from school, one of us (okay… usually me) often suggests playing the writing game. What can I say, writing is something I always want to do. And by the way, you can play this game alone as an exercise to limber your brain. This is a great way to say goodbye to writer’s block, too.

Further down, I’ve included a printable pdf file to get you started with the Writing Game.

1. Start a word list. Include places, both real and fictitious, near and far.

Wisconsin, California, Egypt, Norway, London, Chicago, Planet Zorg, Ball Park, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Hawaii, North Pole, Coffee shop, Antique store, Thrift store, Dentist office, Bookshop, etc… 

2. List things you might find in these places.

Lakes, rivers, parks, oceans, boats, cruise ship, tamales, cappuccino, chocolate, pyramid, tombs, ancient writing, prison, secrets, red phone booth, Big Ben, aliens, laser blasters, slime, base-ball, hot dog, stadium, pine trees, fish, lizards, rock cliffs, blazing sunset, Hula dancers, poi, pineapple, surfers, tidal waves, snow, ice, cappuccino, doughnuts, vintage lamp, crumbling book, painted vase, roll-top desk, used clothes, torn handbag, musty comforter, toothpaste, drill, protective glasses, chairs, fish tank, rare first edition books, collector books, latest novel, magazines, etc…

3. List things you could find in a city, in the country, on a farm, in a house, in a haunted house, at a carnival, in a bank, in a boutique, in your purse or wallet, at your friend’s house, etc…

Skyscrapers, taxi cabs, boutiques, restaurants, diners, hot dog vendors, rats, litter, trash cans, pigs, cows, barn, silo, hay bales, chicken coop, farmer, bacon frying, grease spatters, wooden tables, milking stool, hay loft, rope swing, cobwebs, rusty plumbing, broken windows, dust, dilapidated garden, abandoned car, cotton candy, rides, roller coaster, judges, tractor pulls, parking lot, money, tellers, pens, lollipop dish, deposit slip, cashmere sweater, silk blouse, rhinestone necklace, pumps, lipstick, nail file, loose change, dollar bills, credit cards, snack bar, grandfather clock, candles, tea-cup collection, sports gear, etc…

4. Make a list of types of people.

fireman, police officer, visitor, friend, ex-husband, ex-wife, neighbor, alien, baker, thief, conductor, gardener, student, teacher, magician, King, Queen, Duke, knight, clown, messenger, mailman, grocer, etc…

5. Other lists could include: favorite words, sounds, holidays, famous artists, gift ideas, things found in a car, at a bus stop, train station, great words you came across in books, etc…

Here is the promised pdf file you can print to get you started.

Writing Game Word List

When making your list, add ten spaces between words and double space your rows. This allows room to cut the words apart. Next, fold word tags in half and place them in a dish beside your computer. For each writing warm-up, take 3-5 tags to help you create a short story or opening paragraph.

Of course everyone’s list will be different. My daughter made a list with such words as: crayons, playground, friends, ice cream, dragons, princess, and dolls.

My husband suggested these words: wood, chisel, box of nails, wrench, computer, mouse pad, and vacation.

To broaden your word choices, make these lists with others. Ask a friend, a co-worker, spouse, significant other, person sitting next to you on a bus or in a plane what their favorite places are, what strange items they keep in their house, their favorite keepsake from a vacation, the most memorable gift they ever received, the weirdest things they found at a garage sale or estate sale, their most prized possession, etc…  Of course, you’ll want to let them know you’re a writer, seeking inspiring words for a future novel, so they don’t question your motives. Most people jump at the chance to help someone with something fun like this.

Years ago, I got in a conversation with some friends about the kinds of candy bars we ate as children. Our list started to grow. What surprised us was the number of people in the restaurant we were in, listening to our conversation. As people strode by our table, some would stop and offer a few types of candy they loved when they were children. So, as it turns out, this list making project can turn into a great way to meet new people as well as getting the word out that you’re a writer.

Do you have any great words you’d like to share?

Happy writing!

Leslie

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

The Death of Writer’s Block — Wednesday Prompts and Inspirations

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THE DEATH OF WRITER’S BLOCK

You’re in the middle of writing your novel and gasp! The worst thing possible happens…a mind-numbing case of writer’s block takes over. I’ve been there. You’ve (probably) been there, too.

Picture it…the keys are warm under your fingers, your coffee or  tea is cooling because the ideas are flowing, and you’re too focused to take a sip. And then Brrrrrrrrrrpt! You freeze. The idea well you’ve been dipping into dries up, and you can’t imagine how to solve your main character’s problem.

Time to move away from your computer. And if you’re like me, that sounds unthinkable. But trust me on this. Grab a sheet of paper and pencil.  (Oooooooo, how old-fashioned.)

Let’s turn the situation in your manuscript around. Forget how you are going to get your main character out of his/her scrape, dilemma, situation,complication, entanglement, trouble, crisis, predicament, hitch, glitch, quandary, jam, pickle, impasse, plight, corner, kettle of fish, stew, Pandora’s box, can of worms, or put more simply…mess.  (Don’t you just love the thesaurus?)

Let’s shift our minds into a fresh gear.

READY?

Write your character’s problem in the middle of the page. Draw a circle around it. Next draw spider legs jutting around the circle and draw more circles–one at the end of each spider leg. In each of these circles write how you could make your main character’s problem even worse.

That’s right. Think backwards. When you can’t find a solution to a problem it often works if you reverse the problem.

EXAMPLE OF EVERYDAY THINKING:  

PROBLEM: Ben wanders away from the annual company picnic and gets lost.

TASK: How can we help him find his way back?

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: He could shout for help. He could backtrack. He could climb a tree and look around.

RESULT: BORING!

 

EXAMPLE OF THE THOUGHT PROCESS OF A WRITER:

SAME PROBLEM: Ben wanders away from the annual company picnic and gets lost.

TASK: How can we up the tension and make his situation worse?

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS: He could wander in a forest, stumble over a low vine, twist his ankle, hit his head on a rock, go unconscious, not gain consciousness until midnight, awaken to the sound of gruff voices nearby, recognize some of the voices of his co-workers he thought were his friends, plotting to set him up at work and get him fired.

RESULT: A page-turner novel!

Time for this Wednesday’s Prompt and Inspiration!

Either think up a problem and work out how to make it worse using the spider technique, or take a problem in the novel you are currently writing and see if you can up the tension. REALLY up the tension! With this technique, you might find you never get writer’s block again.

What are some of your ideas?