Jilly: Tips for Creative Problem Solving

What do you do when you’re chewing on a problem, any problem, and you can’t seem to find your way to an answer?

I’m just back from a routine trip to visit my mum in Derbyshire. The return journey involves a minimum of six hours driving, closer to eight hours this weekend. It almost always results in some brainwave, useful insight about my WIP, or some other problem if Real Life is getting in the way of my writing.

I don’t consciously use my driving time to problem solve—I try to keep my eyes on the road and my wits about me—but somehow when my surface concentration is fully occupied watching the traffic, the deeper levels of my mind feel free to work on knottier problems.

I write sequentially, which means that I use each scene I write to provide the impetus for the next one. The good thing about my process is that the story grows organically. The downside is that when I hit a problem, I grind to a halt and spin my wheels. I can’t move forward until I resolve it.

Over the last few years I’ve tried various tactics to rescue myself when I get stuck. Here are a selection of the ones which work best for me, though your mileage may vary. Continue reading

Kay: Kill Your Darlings

This word cloud was built from the text of this post.

Last week my critique group talked about “empty” words—the words we don’t need and don’t notice we use too often. My go-to favorite unnecessary word is “just,” a word I discovered that I’d used 368 times in a 127-page (so far) manuscript. By the time I finished searching and replacing it with a blank space, I’d cut 250 words from my text. Other favorite empty words we found: really, actually, and well.

The problem with finding empty and overused words is that unless you know your favorites and keep a diligent eye out for them, you don’t really (see what I mean?) notice them as you type. They’re in there before you realize it, and they’re invisible to you when you reread your work.

A fun way to discover what words you’re using a lot is to build a word cloud, which shows you at a glance which words you’re using most in your text. Scrivener has a built-in feature for this purpose, but if you’re not a Scrivener user, there are other ways to do it.

Several free programs will build word clouds for you. Continue reading

Michaeline: My Favorite Tip of the Year

A Venus Pencil advertisement

Grab your pencil! Let’s write for the love of the game! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

My favorite trick of the year is a mind trick. Remember when I made a word puzzle full of happy words to prime my subconscious? If not, I talked about it and the scientific evidence supporting the technique here on Eight Ladies Writing. This is purely anecdotal evidence, but I had a great writing week after I did it (see results here on 8LW), and I meant to do it again. Can you believe it’s been just a smidge over 11 months since we tried this? Well, here’s trial two, just in time to give your new year a little writing boost.

Will it really work? Well, it depends on how you work. Priming experiments haven’t been reliably replicated, but . . . it may work. A Psychology Today blog here explains how priming may be the first step in “canalization”; in other words, the first step in creating a track for your thoughts to flow down. If you can channel your thoughts in the same direction enough times, they will begin to flow in that direction naturally. But like the placebo that works if you think it will work (and there is scientific evidence to prove that it might), it just might work.

Here’s the game: I’ve jumbled up some positive words. Your task is to unjumble them, and then see what happens to your writing. I’ll report back next week with my results. Here we go: Continue reading

Jilly: Christmas and Community

christmas-and-communityJust three weeks of 2016 left!

The first few days of December are always the calm before the storm. I’ve been inching forward with my WIP; wrestling with my synopsis, which needs to be totally rewritten; working on the edit of my first 50 pages; and thinking some more about how to keep my story alive when the holidays are in full swing.

Last Sunday I put together a list of ways to stay in touch your story on a daily basis – quick tricks that could be squeezed into the most packed schedule. Then, on Thursday, Kay tracked down some productivity insights offered by the prolific film and TV writer-producer-director, Joss Whedon. I’m especially grateful for the tip about the importance of rewarding oneself early and often. 🙂

Yesterday, to my surprise, I added another strand to my holiday week WIP survival plan. Continue reading

Jilly: Don’t Leave Your Story in the Cold Over the Holidays

dont-leave-your-story-in-the-coldCan you believe it’s December already? How’s your month looking? Busy?

May I add something to your schedule? Earmark a few minutes each day – five, ten, fifteen, whatever you can shoehorn in – to make sure your story doesn’t get lost in the seasonal brouhaha.

Even for a holiday humbug like me, December is a time sink. It was worse when I had a day job – closing the payroll ten days early with the extra headache of bonuses to calculate and pay; a year end to prepare for; and in the middle of the financial scramble, parties to organize and/or attend for staff, clients and suppliers.

I’m glad I don’t have to do that any more. My life is also relatively quiet on the family front, but my calendar is still filling up. Multiple catch-ups with friends and ex-colleagues who are home for the holidays. A birthday trip to see the Abstract Expressionists at the Royal Academy. A night at the theatre. A few days with my mum, even though she doesn’t really know it’s Christmas anymore. Visits on mum’s behalf to her friends and ex-neighbors. A haircut. Gift and grocery shopping. A rare opportunity to see my expat brother, who’s flying home for a couple of weeks.

In the midst of all this activity, my immediate writing priority Continue reading

Justine: Slow Burn in Romance

11347342 - burning candle. an ancient candlestick, a dark background

This past Sunday, Jilly brought up a “blunder” with her recent contest entry. She’s writing a romance, but the relationship between her H&H is a slow burn. However, she got dinged by a few of the judges because there was little evidence of romance in her story (at least the first 50 or so pages) and none in her synopsis, yet this was a contest for romance writers.

I find it coincidental that Jilly got this feedback recently, because I’ve just read two books by Sarah MacLean (in her new Scandal and Scoundrel series) and one by Lenora Bell where there isn’t much evidence of romance right off the bat, either. Yet Continue reading

Justine: Foreshadowing, Part 2

shadows

About a year ago, I wrote this post about foreshadowing. My husband had started watching “Sons of Anarchy” and from the get-go, I knew who the bad baddie was going to be. I wasn’t much interested in watching the show, but I was even less interested when the obvious became TOO obvious.

I was disappointed again this weekend (there have been lots of disappointing Continue reading