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

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.

POCKET NOTEBOOKS

Yellow notebookI have low shopping resistance to little notebooks. You know the ones…they’re about 4×6 inches big (small) or smaller, fit into a pocket or purse, can sit perfectly on a nightstand, wait patiently in the glove compartment of a car, and could be tucked inside a file folder for in-progress stories.

I learned the hard way that my memory isn’t programmed for instant recall. After I experience an event, I hold a jotted blurb of it in my head, and when time permits, I sit at my computer and try to hammer out a flawless, detail-packed recollection. While I’m typing, I believe what I’m writing is moment to moment perfect, but in actuality, the finer details and impressions the event made on me weigh in at a fraction.  I wouldn’t have believed this if it weren’t for one event in my life.

In the few days before my father’s death at 93, I wrote an extensive list of the countless ways he touched my life, helped shape my life, boosted me up, patiently listened, and cheered me on. My father was my mentor, my hero, my teacher, and my best friend. I wished I could stop time. I couldn’t stand the thought of facing a day without him. Each night, although we lived only 20 minutes apart, we hung on the phone for an hour or so, sharing our day with each other, telling jokes, laughing and remembering old times. And then he was gone.

During his last days, I couldn’t be moved from his side. My left hand held his hand while my right hand never stopped writing in a little, yellow, 4×6 notebook on my lap. I wrote a letter to my dad. I recalled memories as they rushed back to me, and I wrote of the heart-breaking experience of losing him. And then a month later I misplaced the notebook.

Time passed. I sat at my computer, trying to type the events as I remembered them happening. I tried to remember the thoughts and feeling I had…. Then I read what I had written, satisfied I captured my father’s last days perfectly.

Yesterday while straightening out my notes for a story, I found a little, yellow notebook. I almost didn’t want to open it. I found a quiet place to sit while I turned the pages and returned to three of the hardest days of my life. What I read touched my heart. My own words made me cry. I read—stunned—at the critical pieces time had taken away from my memory. What I had recreated on my computer was a fraction of the event.

Since that day, I have purchased and made many more pocket-size notebooks. Important moments can happen at any time of the day, and I never want to risk leaving the details to memory for later when they have softened.

If we are going to tap into our lives for emotional events to bring into our writing, those events must be faithfully recorded—in the moment or as close to it if possible.

What I learned from what I had written in my yellow notebook and what I captured later on my computer is this: The pages I filled while sitting beside my father were a perfect example of showing, and the pages I typed later were nearly 100% telling. Showing vs. telling. Emotional vs. distant. Three dimensional vs. flat.

Do you keep notebooks everywhere you go? Do you write your thoughts on anything handy from backs of receipts to napkins? Is there an event in your life you are glad you were able to write about in the moment?