Jilly: Powerful Shots of Story

Michaeline’s post yesterday (Story Bites for When You Just Can’t) was exactly what I needed. I’m tantalizingly close to the end of my draft, and I know what I need to do, but this last handful of scenes is driving me bananas.

I’m not the fastest writer, but once I’ve figured out what’s supposed to happen in a scene, I can normally nail a decent draft in a day or two. Right now, each one is taking me a week or more: write, delete, rinse and repeat.

My problem is that all the key players are coming together and the stakes are high. In my head the scenes are great, but capturing that intensity on the page is hard. My lack of progress has been making me very cranky indeed, so I thought I’d take Micki’s advice and see if approaching the problem from a different angle would boost my spirits and improve my productivity.

I already have a playlist and a collage for Alexis, so I decided to try something different and write a haiku for each main character at this critical stage of the story.

I’m no expert on haiku, but what I know is this: they should be three lines long, comprising seventeen syllables in a five-seven-five pattern. And ideally they should provide an insight by juxtaposing two contrasting—or conflicting—ideas.

That sounds like the perfect structure for a brief story shot that aims to capture the essence of the character and their conflict.

I’m pleased to report that Continue reading

Michaeline: Story Bites for When You Just Can’t

There are a lot of excuses and reasons for not writing, and let’s face it: they are boring, often similar, and people will try and talk you out of them. You know your own business best, and if you say you can’t write today, I believe you. Some days are like that. Hell, some years are like that.

But, if you have a story that you are feeling guilty about, there are little things you can do that don’t take up much time at all – things that will help you feel better, and may even provide some of that spark and energy you need to find the time to write the rest.

If you’ve got five minutes . . . . (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

If you have five minutes:
Find a song, listen to it, and decide to add it to your playlist (or not). Either way, you are thinking about your story and the basic building blocks that define it. We’ve talked about playlists on this blog before. Nancy: A Little Mood Music (March 16, 2015) and Jilly: Building a Playlist (March 6, 2016)
Find a picture for your picture file. You may want to set a timer for this so you don’t drop down some Google Image Rabbit Hole. My heroine, Bunny Blavatsky, mostly sprang from a picture search, and you can find some sketches and flash fiction about her and her world right here on this blog. Michaeline: Bunny Blavatsky Arrives in New York (December 26, 2015)
Write a haiku. Again, set a timer, and this time, turn off your inner censor. You might be able to whip out three or four haiku in five minutes, and who knows where that will lead? You might get a glimpse at some of the interesting things your subconscious is working through, but didn’t want to bother you with yet. Michaeline: Autumn Haiku (September 26, 2015)

If you’ve got ten minutes . . . . (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

If you’ve got ten minutes:
Flip through your picture file for one of your WIPs, or look at a random section of your story notes document. Refresh your memory about your story every day. It’s kind of like watering a needy plant. More info on collage? Try the search box here, or Nancy: My Story in Pictures (October 27, 2014)
Write a paragraph that you know will dead end. Yes, I know you know it isn’t going to work – but for some reason, your subconscious has thrown it up there. Take ten minutes to write it anyway, and then think about why it doesn’t really work. You might be surprised to find something that does work.

If you’ve got twenty minutes:
OK, now we’re talking about some real, meaty time.
You can write 500 words. Why 500 words is a good goal: Kay: Adding Words (June 26, 2014). And crunching some numbers: Kay: Better Productivity Through Mathematics (November 14, 2013)
You can read an article about something connected to your story and take story notes, as well as copy links to your story notes document.
Listen to your playlist. Bonus guilt-assuager: do some housework while you are doing it. Something mindless like

And if you’ve got twenty minutes, make like Grand Central Station, and get busy! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

sweeping or dusting. Or clean out your purse or computer bag.
Take a power nap while listening to a quick creativity meditation from YouTube or MARC. Elizabeth: Discovering One-Moment Meditation (January 28, 2015), Michaeline: You Are Feeling Strong and Confident (September 13, 2014) and MARC is the Mindful Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Even if you can’t sit down and write for two hours, you can still keep your head in your story, and nurture your creativity. Some time, that two-hour window is going to happen for you – or you’ll be so possessed by your own creativity, you’ll grab that two-hour window. Give yourself and your story the gift of five minutes every day, and see what happens. Would love to hear from you about what does!

Elizabeth: Friday Writing Sprints – The 3-Day Weekend Edition

Here in the states, we’re getting ready to celebrate Memorial Day, a day established to remember people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces (and often just deceased loved ones in general).

For some, this weekend is the unofficial start of the summer season.  Sure, summer isn’t for a few weeks yet and the current weather is foggy and brisk, but this three-day weekend is bound to have its share of picnics, shorts, water sports, and the occasional adult beverage.

I’m looking forward to the time off work, though it does mean that next week will be packed extra-full of things to do.  Ah well, for now, this three-day weekend means a few extra hours of napping, reading, and writing time.  What better way to kick all that off than with a little Random Word Improv?

Who’s with me? Continue reading

Kay: Ode to Critique Groups

This week I met with my critique group, Beth and Patricia. We usually meet monthly at somebody’s house, although lately we’ve hit it big at a Mexican restaurant with a waitress we love, who listens only to audio books and prefers science fiction. This meeting was fun and productive, as it always is. Beth, as always, said about my section, “It needs more emotion! I want to know how she feels!” And Patricia said, as she usually does, “This part just doesn’t make sense.”

I love it when that happens.

I’ve met with Beth and Patricia for the longest time—years and years—but even my newest beta readers are godsends. Every one has flawlessly pointed out the weaknesses in my work—the overwriting, inconsistencies, confusing passages, and character or emotional underachieving. They’ve done so with humor and kindness, intelligence and bravery, and I’m more grateful to them than I can say. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Write for your Health

In my healthcare-related day job, we talk about “Mind – Body – Spirit” when addressing how to help patients (and communities) achieve long-term health and wellness goals.  There is a big banner with those words on the wall of one of our buildings and the phrase often appears on PowerPoint slides, especially in strategy and planning meetings.  While the idea is sound, I’m afraid the over-used phrase tends to inspire a bit of eye-rolling on occasion, though maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, the prevalence of the phrase at work explains why, when I came across an article the other day talking about how Writing improves your Mind, Body, and Spirit, my first response was an eye-roll.   The article, however, had some good points, as did the variety of other related articles I found when I started googling the subject.

Turns out, writing doesn’t just result in stories that can be shared with readers, it also provides some tangible “mind, body, and spirit” related benefits for the writer.  As a note:  those benefits apply to creative pursuits in general, rather than being tied solely to writing.  While it is by no means exhaustive, here is a list of some of the benefits of living a creative (writing) life: Continue reading

Nancy: Can Creativity Be Scheduled?

Week 1 of My 12-Week Year Creativity Schedule. I might have gotten a little carried away…Note that I did not schedule transition time between major activities. Or  lunch time.

There many, many schools of thought regarding creativity, grasshopper. Looking specifically at writing, there are pantsers and plotters, planners and wingers, outline enthusiasts, outline eschewers, thumbnail sketch makers, muse-seeking free spirits, spreadsheet weirdos (raises hand). It seems creativity refuses to be contained. You can’t put creativity in a corner!

But can you put creativity in a time block on a calendar?

Ever willing to be a cautionary tale, I threw myself on the sword of research with an intense productivity system, called the 12-Week Year, so I can report my findings. For more information about this system and how to implement it, there are books, courses, and seminars. Boiling it down for you, the idea is based on data that suggest companies (and individual employees), when aligning to their annual plans, see a burst of productivity and forward progress during the last three months of their fiscal years. Why? Continue reading

Jilly: Making Good Use of Critical Reviews

Do you read reviews when you’re thinking about buying a book? How do you use them to help your decision-making?

I never take account of the star ratings, but I used to spend quite a lot of time sifting through the reviews themselves, trying to find ones that I thought were written by a reader with tastes similar to mine, who’d bought the book with their own hard-earned money and reviewed it because they wanted to discuss what worked for them and what didn’t.

That’s become almost impossible of late, because reviews are so important that publishers and authors will do whatever they legitimately can to collect as many high-scoring, positive reviews as possible. Searching for the few that might be useful to me has become a needle/haystack exercise, and linking reviews to verified purchases has, if anything, made the problem worse.

Now, if I see a book with hundreds or even thousands of five-star reviews, it does not make me think the book is likely to be good. I start with the expectation that the book is very probably the beneficiary of a well-executed and possibly expensive marketing campaign, and that I should disregard most if not all of the enthusiastic endorsement.

So I’ve been trying a new tactic lately—if it’s a book I like the sound of, but there are so many unhelpfully positive reviews that I can’t use them to form an opinion, I read the detailed critical reviews instead. Perhaps that sounds odd, but it’s been working quite well, for three reasons. Continue reading