Jilly: Which Story Would You Tell?

“Where do you get your ideas?” is supposedly the question most asked of successful authors.

I collect and hoard story starters from here, there and everywhere (Alexis grew from the juxtaposition of two fascinating anecdotes shared by my hairdresser), but my all-time favorite source is the BBC website.

Most weeks I stumble across something weird or wonderful that makes my brain fizz. I bookmark them in a folder called ‘story stuff’ and forget about them until I’m looking for ideas or inspiration or just something a little different to get the wheels turning.

I had one of those days today, so I took a stroll through my story stuff file. There are more than a hundred nuggets in there, but here are a trio of good ones.

A sci-fi classic: Continue reading

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

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

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

Nancy: The Days That Make Writing Worthwhile

Why do writers write? It’s a question non-writers often ask us, a topic we sometimes approach with fellow scribes over a drinks at the bar during conferences, and one we sometimes ask ourselves – accompanied by gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair – when we’re having a dark night of the soul. (Writers suspect we have more dark nights of the soul than non-writers; non-writers suspect writers are just being dramatic when having what normal people call bad days.)

Bad things sometimes happen during those dark nights of the soul. Creativity runs dry. The writing stalls. Imposter syndrome sets in. Or maybe it’s always there, and this is just its chance to step out of the shadows and taunt us. The story dies on the vine. We question ‘why write’, as well as ‘why not quit’. Yeah, drama.

But it’s always darkest before the dawn, the sun also rises, there’s got to be a morning after, etc., etc., insert favorite cliche here. (That’s another writerly thing. Don’t worry, it’s just a placeholder we’ll fix in the rewrite.) When the words start flowing and the story gains new life after a few days or weeks or months of tough slogging, it’s nothing less than euphoric. There’s nothing like a day of story breakthroughs to make a writer say ‘I can’t quit you’ to writing all over again.

I had one of these wonderful days recently, but it only came after weeks and weeks of false starts and what felt like hour after hour of wasted time. Continue reading

Michaeline: Gordon Ramsay Crossover Writing Lessons, Part Two

A pastry chef rolling out a crust while a young girl looks on.

Put your heart into your work, and others will notice.

When Gordon Ramsay walked into the Hot Potato Cafe, little did he know that he’d be walking right out again that evening for the first time in the history of Kitchen Nightmares.

(Am I naive to believe that these shows aren’t totally scripted? Or am I just cute? Cue the dramatic music as we cross the suspension bridge of belief.)

Anyway, we’re at the Hot Potato Cafe, where Gordon is served frozen, half-warmed potato skins – a fitting metaphor for the owners and workers of this family-owned restaurant. Mistakes have left them hollow shells, their despairing wails echoing around the space their heart and their guts should be. “Help us, Gordon! We don’t know what to do!”

The chef is the owners’ niece. I can only assume that in an effort to save money, they brought in this young girl who has potential, but no formal training in cookery. She’s expected to follow the old menus and help keep the restaurant afloat. She says that the restaurant business isn’t her first choice of a career; she’s only here to help out the family.

Gordon storms out that evening because nobody seems to care if the business stays alive or not. And I think this is the first important lesson that this episode teaches: you can have money, you can have your basic materials and a venue, but if you don’t have the enthusiasm, it’s really hard to keep a business going. They beg him in the street for help, and he promises to come back the next day.

He creates a little excitement by having a baked potato contest. (Yes, I hear that bridge of belief creaking a little bit, but honestly, it’s pretty exciting.) The winner’s baked potato will make it on the menu that very evening, and bring back a touch of fresh, good cooking to the Hot Potato Cafe. Our young chef wins the contest, and she’s inspired to do a better job.

After a menu re-vamp, a free supply of Idaho potatoes, redecoration of the dining room and a good week-long pep talk, our cafe has its heart and guts back, and is ready to provide the best in potato dining in Fishtown. (See the menu for delicious chowder, that merges the cafe’s mission with the area’s history.)

So, this is what I learned: remember the enthusiasm that brought you to your art. Bring it back with short challenges, and then put your whole heart into your business.

The YouTube comments tell the story of what happened after Gordon Ramsay left. But that’s another story. For now, it’s enough to sit and write a little something that makes you happy, and represents what you really want to do as a writer. No half-baked empty potato skins. (If you do make literary potato skins, though, make ‘em fresh and beautiful and absolutely tasty. They have to work harder to impress, but they can outshine a plain ol’ baked potato when they are done with love and vision.)

Michaeline: Gordon Ramsay Crossover Writing Lessons, Part One

Gordon Ramsay with a lamb around his neck and shoulders.

Gordon Ramsay took this little lamb to school. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

WARNING: Profanity. (It involves Gordon Ramsay. What did you fucking expect?)

To a certain extent, art is art is art. Still, I was surprised how applicable some of the lessons Gordon Ramsay taught his restauranteurs were to the art of writing.

Here’s the deal: I’ve avoided Kitchen Nightmares and that kind of reality show because I heard there’s a lot of yelling, and humiliation just isn’t my jam. But I was feeling depressed, spending entirely too much time on YouTube, and the only interesting thing in my recommended feed was a clip from such a show. I’d seen Gordon Ramsay on things like Jimmy Fallon, so I decided three minutes of my time was not too big of a loss.

Dear Readers, three minutes turned into hours and hours of binge-watching over the last couple of weeks. Thanks to the miracle of YouTube, I’ve seen British Kitchen Nightmares, American Kitchen Nightmares, clips and full episodes, and an assorted chocolate box of Gordon Ramsay all over the modern media. And I regret nothing.

Yes, there’s yelling and sometimes humiliation. But there’s also a combination of mystery Continue reading