A lack of ideas is not the problem

Last night, during a phone conversation with my youngest sister, she asked what I’m writing now. My answer was, “Nothing.” Her response, “Do you want me to give you some ideas?” You can probably guess my answer.

Last night, during a phone conversation with my youngest sister, she asked what I’m writing now. My answer was, “Nothing.” Her response, “Do you want me to give you some ideas?” You can probably guess my answer.

I don’t have a lack of ideas. I have a file full of story ideas, some with opening lines or paragraphs, and maybe the ending. Unlike for many of you, it’s not even a lack of time that keeps me from developing those ideas. I have plenty of that.

It’s also not a lack of motivation keeping those stories unwritten. To be a successful self-published author, you need to put out good work often, at least until you’ve built up a reasonably sized back catalogue. That’s serious motivation.

I’m just waiting on that spark of inspiration. Wait! Don’t roll your eyes. I know the only way to write is to write. I know writing is work. Hard work. I know you have to get your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard. But for me, a lot has to happen before I get to that point.

Yes, I could review the notes I’ve made on one of these ideas and just start typing. I might get something solid—a paragraph of narrative, a bit of dialogue—but I’d also get a lot of garbage. I get impatient—overwhelmed—by garbage. I’m lazy. For me, it’s too much work to cull the few salvable bits from the reams of dross. That’s why I can’t participate in NaNoWriMo.

I think one of the hardest things for me as a beginning writers was to discover what method to use. Some authors write longhand on paper. Some write, then rewrite starting from scratch. Others plan out their entire story in detail before they write the first word. Still others, keep writing to the end of a draft without even a glance back at what they’ve previously written. It took me awhile to discover none of those worked best for me.

As I began writing this post, I had a particular short story niggling at my brain. I’ve been stuck writing it because I need to make a decision about the villain. However, halfway through writing this post, another story came to mind. It’s one I wrote almost seven years ago, but never felt satisfied with. I don’t know why it resurfaced now, but suddenly I have an idea how to revise it. I’m excited to get to work. My Muse will sort out that villain another day.

Be ready. You never know when inspiration will inspire strike.

As the twig is bent? Does your writing reflect your inner child?

I’m reading Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, which is a collection of his essays. He mentions frequently the source of his story ideas, tracing them back to childhood loves and events. In that sense, he shows that he started writing his stories years, even decades, before he typed them out. He writes:

I’m reading Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, which is a collection of his essays. He mentions frequently the source of his story ideas, tracing them back to childhood loves and events. In that sense, he shows that he started writing his stories years, even decades, before he typed them out.

He writes:

“I was in love, then, with monsters and skeletons and circuses and carnivals and dinosaurs and, at last, the red planet, Mars.

From these primitive bricks I have built a life and a career. By my staying in love with all of these amazing things, all of the good things in my existence have come about.”

And in another essay:

“Do not, for money, turn away from all the stuff you have collected in a lifetime.

Do not, for the vanity of intellectual publications, turn away from what you are—the material within you which makes you individual, and therefore indispensable to others.

To feed your Muse, then, you should always have been hungry about life since you were a child.”

With that in mind, this past week, I’ve thought a good bit about my childhood interests—my “primitive bricks”. At first glance, I don’t see evidence that I fed my Muse the seeds that grew into Brevity. Maybe I just need to look deeper into my first loves. Or maybe that novel was an aberration. Maybe my next novel should be completely different.

What do you think about Bradbury’s thoughts on childhood loves being the true well from which you draw your story ideas?

Friday Fruit Salad

Today’s post is both literal and figurative … and yet, the whole thing is virtual because this resides on the Internet, which doesn’t really exist. Yes, I’m going to talk about how I make fruit salad in my kitchen, but I’m serving up a mixture of topics, so it’s also another kind of salad. You can figure out the Internet on your own.

Today’s post is both literal and figurative … and yet, the whole thing is virtual because this resides on the Internet, which doesn’t really exist. Yes, I’m going to talk about how I make fruit salad in my kitchen, but I’m serving up a mixture of topics, so it’s also another kind of salad. You can figure out the Internet on your own.

I’ve been craving fruit salad lately. Everyone has their own recipe. The mixture of fruits in mine changes, depending on what’s in season and what I have in my refrigerator and pantry. Pineapple, mandarin oranges, and bananas are staples in my salad, but it also contains one or more of these: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, grapes, kiwi, apple, pear, peach in natural juices maybe with a bit of the syrup from the canned mandarin segments. Simple, colorful, delicious.

I’m deep in the beginnings of a new novel, but I have only this weekend to work on it before I take a break. Family activities will take precedence during the month of July. I may have a few normal working days, but for the most part, I’ll probably only manage to keep up with blogging and email during the next five weeks.

What will happen to my fledgling book? I’m going to trust that my Muse will keep working on it. From experience, I know that sometimes, when you take the pressure off, fantastic things happen: a plot problem unknots; a key scene, clear and complete, slides into view; a brilliant twist is revealed; a perfect line of dialogue floats to the surface. Stealth writing.

Okay, time for a little fun. I’ve been following Cathy Yardley’s series at Rock Your Writing on forming a profile of the “right reader” for your work. One of the ways she suggests doing this is to know which authors’ work is similar to yours. She shared a link to this tool: Gnooks Literature Map.

Actually, the Literature Map was designed to help readers find authors they might like. When you type in your favorite author’s name, it will appear in the middle, with the names of similar authors floating around it. Books by the authors who hover closest to your fave, should be ones you’ll most enjoy. Go now, play with it.

Crank up the cello and listen for the words!

A sick seven-year-old has graced me with her full-day presence the past two days. Now, I’m behind on all things computer based, including email. I’m not complaining about the time spent with my little prolific reader. She’s amazing. (That’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.)

Of course, since I had no time to write during the days,  The Muse picked that time to come calling. I’d been mulling over a short story idea for a while, but suddenly a few key pieces fell into place.

So the last two nights, when I disconnected and slipped some YoYo Ma cds in the player, the words flowed along with the notes. The first night I totaled 902 words. Last night I added 436 more.

I know some of you knock out more words than that daily, and I have too in the past, but I’ve had some trouble getting back in the groove. I’m please with my progress on this story. Whether this story will end up a winner is still open. As stubborn as I am, I won’t give up on it easily.

By the way, I’m unclear on using a famous person in fiction. I’m using an actor’s name and likeness, but he only exists in my MC’s dreams. Anyone know the rules on that?

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Unmasking the Muse

I’ve been pondering the nature of the Muse lately. (Give me credit for not saying musing about the Muse.) If I took the time to search my old blog posts, I’m fairly certain I’d find I’m contradicting myself today, so let’s just say my concept of the Muse has changed. Evolved.

I haven’t always been aware of the concept of a Muse. For most of my life, I wrote without wonder at the origin of the words. Sure, I’d heard the word and had a vague knowledge of the Muses of Greek mythology, but felt no connection, no need, for one in my life. Then, I started hanging out with other writers.

Writers love to refer to The Muse. We praise her, curse her, petition, beg, bribe, and worship her. She is friend and foe. Temperamental beyond reason, she inspires a great flow one minute, and refuses to dole out a single word the next. A beneficent Muse is the object of every writer’s desire.

So, I asked, who is she, where does she reside, and how can I get better access to her? Would I tap into the Muse if only I did, said, learned the right thing? I thought of her as something other, some ethereal being—The Force in this writerverse. And if I was one of the Chosen Few, the powers that be would declare, “The Muse is strong in this one.” Ummm … no.

I don’t think this way any longer because I unmasked my Muse. She looked quite familiar. Spirit? Yes, but only my own. I don’t need to look outside myself. Everything I need to write is within. Inspiration may appear to come from outside, but these external things only echo what is already within myself. They serve to call up a memory, an emotion, a desire, a fear and then, because I’m a writer, these echoes are released in words. If the Muse is strong in me, it’s only because I’m listening. If the Muse has “deserted” me, it’s only because I’m too busy looking for her out there. I’m too busy looking, period. Just. Be. Still.

Maybe you already knew this. Maybe you have already grasped this power. If not, go look in the mirror now and introduce yourself to “The Muse.”