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!

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

Michaeline: When Words Fail

The Oblique Strategy of the Day was “State the problem in words as simply as possible”.

A girl gagged in a laboratory, watching a gooey liquid man experiment with test tubes

When words fail, sometimes you have to use other tools to define the problem. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

And you’d think this would be an easy-peasy strategy for the writer, since what we do is words. But there are two sides of every argument, and there are two sides to every brain, and sometimes, just sometimes, the problem isn’t from the verbal half of the brain, but that mysterious, artsy-fartsy, swirly-whirly half of the brain that sends us dreams of hairbrushes and neglects to make clear exactly what that means.

So, when you don’t even have clear images to base your words on, it’s time to dig in the toolbox and look for other techniques to make the problem more clear – because half of solving any problem is knowing exactly what the problem is. Continue reading

Jilly: Relaxed, Entertained, Informed, Inspired

How do you like to spend your evenings?

I’ve always been a morning person. I find that I do my best writing from breakfast time until early afternoon, when I slow down and eventually grind to a halt. Then I’m usually good for business or household challenges until dinnertime. After that I have an hour, maybe two or three, when my brain doesn’t seem to want to work, but is oddly susceptible to ideas and impressions. If I use this downtime well, it can be incredibly useful later.

Continue reading

Michaeline: Weird Intersections of Creativity

A young man with curly beard and long curly hair, holding a hoe and surrounded by small people and horses.

“St. Isidore the Laborer” — who knows what he’ll dig up? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

More than anything, this is a post to encourage you to pay attention to the care and feeding of the Girls and Boys in your Basement – the busy little muses who send up your ideas.

I find initial ideas to be easy. I think it’s because I consume so much information – I’m on the internet for at least two hours a day, and I spend a lot of time listening to music. I used to follow a few podcasts (writing, news, pop culture), and I used to read at least two to four books a week. The podcasts got replaced by music (my commute is usually 30 minutes each way, and that’s my main listening time), and the books got replaced by news articles, cultural pieces and YouTube clips of late night news shows. I do miss the books, but my information input is much faster, more timely and I’m able to squeeze odd bits of information-intake into little bits of time I never used before. I’d never pull out a novel while I was waiting in a long check-out line; I knew better. I knew I’d get to a good part, and then be interrupted by Real Life. But with my phone, a short article about forsythia pruning is enough to while away the minutes.

So my Girls in the Basement are fat and happy; absolutely replete with trivia and deep thoughts and societal systems. They send up five or six ideas, and I sort through them, and watch where they bump together. That’s what I mean about weird intersections of creativity – who else would care about why my forsythia bushes are only blooming at the bottom? And the closet of old Agatha Christie books I’ve got stored way in the back of my forebrain is the same stockpile any number of mystery fans have in theirs. But when those two ideas bump together, I get a Continue reading

Jilly: Secret Sauce

It’s a holiday weekend here in London. Spring is in the air. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the city is full of flowers, and my husband just offered to take me out to dinner. Nothing but good times ahead 😉 .

I was planning a Good Book Squee, but that will have to wait until next week. All of a sudden, my head is full of lobster cocktail, shrimp tempura, steak, cheesecake, great conversations and lots of laughter. I’m smiling just thinking about it.

We’ve been going regularly to Goodman Mayfair since it opened in 2008. It’s been my favorite restaurant for almost nine years now and I don’t expect that to change any time soon. Every time I go, I’m blown away by the excellence of their offering, and I always think about what it takes to keep their customers coming back for more, year after year.

A superb steakhouse has a lot in common with an outstanding piece of genre fiction. Continue reading

Michaeline: Love Narratives in Six Minutes or Less

Whirl around as love makes you dizzy! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I fell off the “No YouTube” wagon hard this morning, but my shame is your game! I found two great videos that capture that thrilling, fizzy bit of fictional love, all condensed down into a short dose that you can watch while you have a nice cup of soothing beverage.

You may remember the anime clip of “Helpless” from Hamilton that I introduced last fall. (Sadly, the user has closed their YouTube account, and I can’t find it anymore.) However, I found a whole slew of other versions this morning. Artists *love* Hamilton, and a lot of them are doing animatics (which are either primitive animation or elaborate moving story boards, depending on your point of view and the clip in question) that allow people to draw and share their own visions of the popular musical. Here’s a new one from Szin on YouTube (4:09). Lots of blushing and twirling around as Alexander courts Eliza and wins her hand.

If you prefer your fictional romance with a little more live action, here’s a wonderful skit that Anne Hathaway and James Corden performed on The Late Late Show with James Corden (April 20, 2017; 5:28). If there’s any irony, you have to dig it out yourself. What they do here is distill the typical rom com film down to the key plot points, and they’ve chosen to sing little snippets of songs that perfectly reinforce each turn and twist. It’s all there: establishing shot of heroine alone, the cute meet, the big fall, the major problem, the dark night, the flight from love, and the chase that ends in reconciliation. Lots of lingering looks and more twirling around. (-: For me, it’s not a romance unless it puts my head into a whirl.

One think I really love about James Corden is that he’s not ashamed to be an old softie. He gladly embraces the happiness and the little pains, and encourages the rest of us to not be so hard and condescending.

I hope you enjoy the videos. May Day is around the corner, and in that certain temperate zone in the northern hemisphere, that means romance is in the air – the flowers are blooming, the bees are buzzing and the May Poles (at least symbolically) are popping up. Let your heart turn light with a little spring fancy this week. I certainly intend to!