Latest Entries »

Have you ever encountered a character like this while reading fiction?

Melinda is a founding-partner at a local law firm handing work that she loves: environmental law. She only has to work part-time, and because of this, she has freedom to spend time with her two healthy, well-adjusted children, one boy and one girl. She is happily married to her college sweetheart, a handsome, investment banker with washboard abs, a perfect smile and who worships Melinda and the kids. He never works over 40 hours a week and doesn’t miss a single concert or soccer game. He romances her with exotic vacations and weekends away, and the sex with him is dynamic and fulfilling. They have more than enough money to meet their every need and have over one million dollars in the bank for a rainy day.

She is 5’8″ with big blue eyes, flawless skin and glossy brown shoulder-length hair. She is a fit size 4 who can eat whatever she wants and never gains any weight. She has many interesting friends and has an active social life with many interests and hobbies which she pursues at her leisure. She is well loved and respected for her environmental work, and even won a coveted “Mom of the Year” award in her town. She lives in her dream home which she designed and furnished and feels completely at peace in it.

I bet you hate Melinda. You hate Melinda because she has the perfect life. She has no discernible flaws based on my short summary of her. She has everything she ever needs, has the perfect family, husband, and career. She has the perfect body, has enough money to meet any of her needs, and plenty of leisure time. How wonderful for her. And how boring for you. Melinda has nothing that you, as a reader, can connect to.

So why is Melinda so worthy of contempt? She has no fatal flaw. She is a character that has it all; looks, money, a happy family, etc. Who among us have everything we want? Perfect characters are boring. We can’t relate to them.

Each of us has flaws: we might need to lose 10 or 20 lbs, struggle with addiction, or have a parent or child that struggles with it. We experience unplanned pregnancies, contract diseases like cancer and diabetes, have affairs, get divorced, lose jobs, and hide secrets from the world. We all struggle with our flaws and imperfections in our lives, so our characters must struggle too. Your job as a writer is to create an interesting, flawed character, and then make that character’s life absolutely miserable.

So let’s change a few details about Melinda’s life. Maybe instead of having a part-time job that she loves practicing environmental law, maybe her job is a full-time position at a law firm specializing in divorce. She brings in a lot of business, but is repeatedly passed over for partnership at the firm, because the partners are sexist pigs who know that promoting her will give them less control of her and make them have to work harder. Meanwhile her husband, the investment banker, has been away on business a lot the last several months, and even when he is home, still works 60 to 80 hours a week, leaving Melinda to handle the bulk of the childcare and household management. Her son has recently been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder that requires intensive therapy for him to ever have a chance at living a normal life. To deal with the stress, and to lose the last 30 pounds of stubborn weight gain from her last pregnancy, she started working with a buff personal trainer who is 10 years younger, and the sexual tension between them is building and she is tempted…

Which Melinda is more interesting to you?

This is Part 2 of a two part article. To read Part 1, click: Where I Get My Ideas – My 7 Sources to Keep the Creative Juices Flowing (Part 1) ‎

 

4.  Lifehacker  — I am a Lifehacker junkie. I love this site. It can always be counted on for new productivity tips, great new products and existing products used in new and innovative ways. I bookmark at least one article from this site daily. It might not be a wellspring of new story ideas, but it does help me in other ways, by presenting new ways to look at my thinking and the world in lifehacker_Logogeneral. Like How to Cultivate a Creative Thinking Habit  or How To Use Evernote for Writing Fiction.  Another feature I enjoy at Lifehacker is the How We Work series, where the Lifehacker staff interviews someone “famous” about their work habits and tools. I always learn something new here that will help me in my writing life, around the house, or to help keep me sane and organized.

 


 

5.  Mental Floss  — Based on the monthly magazine with the same name, Mental Floss is a treasure trove of off-beat pop culture stories that you just will not find anywhere else. These delve into our love of nostalgia (The History of the Trapper Keeper), fun facts about favorite books, movies and TV shows that we all love (18 Facts About ‘The Silence of the Lambs’), and the truly bizarre 39 Mental_Floss LogoWeird Books That Really Exist; 10 Very Costly Typos and Where Are They Now? 8 Things That Terrified Us in the ’90s. This site provides just the right combination of interesting and random that often sparks my imagination for a new story, character or setting for a story.

 


 

6.  The Huffington Post  — This offbeat site can be counted on for a great blend of current news, opinion and the random oddball story that no other site would probably would ever come up with, and covering it in depth with good writing. HuffPost also covers the literary, publishing and writing world with surprising depth with articles of interest to writers such as Huff_Post_LogoWhat Even Great Writers Do Badly: How to Up Your Game as an Author or 10 Famous Writers Who Hated Writing  along with the oddball motivational opinion piece such as 19 Incredibly Successful People Who Started Out As Failures  or How to Get Flat Abs, Have Amazing Sex and Rule the World in 8 Easy Steps.

 


 

7.  Facebook — While it is true that this site is the most evil, privacy-invading, time-suck with an endless ocean of distraction, game requests, irrelevant sponsored posts, and mundane updates from people you barely know or remember, FB is a great barometer of the trending culture, fads and political gimmickry that just cannot be ignored.

FBLet’s face it. Other people’s lives are interesting and for every person out there who posts their latest CrossFit workout update, you find another who gives us a honest glimpse into the struggles and small victories of being human in the 21st Century. People encourage you and send you leads during your job searches, and wish you Happy Birthday even though you (well, in this case, I) rarely reciprocate. (Rude, I know… this is one of my many failings…)

They post interesting articles, funny cat videos, and a lot of unverified propaganda that any 30 second visit to Snopes.com can debunk (but yet a lot of mindless propaganda still manages to live long and prosper for weeks and months on the internet despite the lack of facts behind it), and often driven by pure wishful thinking.

The more these thoughts confirm the beliefs that YOU already KNOW to be true–despite all of the evidence to the contrary–the longer they live on. You can always chalk up the contrary evidence as a brainwashing conspiracy of the mainstream media, Fox News, the Koch Brothers, UN jackbooted thugs, radical tree huggers who hate America, or other unknown special-interests with some DC politician in their back-pocket.

FB is a pop-culture juggernaut which has connected everyone and allowed the culture of over-sharing to go viral, and as a writer, you cannot afford to ignore it…

 


 

So these are my top secret, well-oiled, cogs in my sinister idea generation machine.  What are some of yours? Note them in the comments below.

 

 

This is Part 1 of a two part article. To read Part 2, click: Where I Get My Ideas – My 7 Sources to Keep the Creative Juices Flowing (Part 2)

One of the most common questions that any writer who has been at a book signing, a writer’s conference or been interviewed gets asked is: “Where do you get your ideas?”

And some writers have clever answers, such as Stephen King: “From a small, bloodthirsty elf who lives in a hole under my desk.”  Or Lawrence Block: “From Viable Fictional Notions, a bureau that provides upwards of a dozen ideas a month to subscribers. If you see one you like, you register it and they take it off the table.”

But I don’t have access to a bloodthirsty elf, so I’ve had to settle for more conventional sources for my ideas. Over the last couple of years I’ve discovered several great sites that I can count on again and again for a kick in the creative ass when it comes to new ideas and thinking, or just plain entertaining reading.

  1. Cracked  — When I was growing up, I remember Cracked as being the ugly blond-headed stepchild of Mad Magazine (Does anyone remember Sylvester P. Smythe?) But it has reincarnated Cracked Logoitself into one of the most entertaining curators of pop culture facts, trivia and nostalgia. It is the current king of the list post, with esoteric topics such as 8 Plans that Went to Hell Before They Ever Even Got Started, or 40 Myths We Believe Now Due to Tiny Mistakes Years Ago.They explore sociology and life experiences in articles such as the 6 Life Lessons Learned from Working as a Carny or interesting self-improvement articles such as 5 Ways Your Brain Tricks You into Sticking With Bad Habits . The site also features a weekly podcast: The Cracked Podcast where panels of smart, snarky people discuss interesting topics surrounding history, science, entertainment and heated debates about pop-culture and living in the 21st Century.

  2. Brain Pickings  — This site curated by Maria Popova specializes in exploring art, creativity and the individuals who practice these crafts. Ms. Popova distills interesting tidbits out of books Brain_Pickings_Logoand articles on the lives of writers, artists and other great thinkers, shares insights and wisdom directly from gifted individuals as writing advice, exploring the nature of creativity and so much more. These articles are in-depth explorations of the writing life and the nature of creativity and any writer should have this site bookmarked and return often.

  3. IO9 — This site is a content aggregator that casts a long, wide, net over the Internet and reels in interesting subjects and topics to those with an interest in science fiction, technology, science, history and just weird ephemera such as entertaining photos and viral videos for the individuals who lean toward the cult of utter geekery. These articles run the gamut to covering recent io9 logonews and rumors on fantasy/sci-fi TV and movies (Morning Spoilers), presenting interesting infographics such as A Chart Comparing Publication Dates To When A Story Takes Place  and interesting news and information that you just won’t find anywhere else.

 

To read Part 2 of this article, click: Where I Get My Ideas – My 7 Sources to Keep the Creative Juices Flowing (Part 2)

 

250 Things You Should Know About Writing by Chuck Wendig

250 Things You Should Know About Writing actually has 275 things listed (as Chuck explains in the Introduction) and neatly divides them down into sections of 25 on topics such as: Being a Writer; Writing a Novel; Storytelling; Character; Plot; Dialog; Description; Editing, Revising, Rewriting; Getting Published; Writing a Fucking Sentence, and even a section on Writing a Screenplay.

The advice contained within the book is not unlike that we’ve all heard before, but has that special, profane-Wendig-style turns of phrase that makes this advice memorable.

Such as this gem describing a character that is “meaner than two rattlesnakes fucking in a boot…” or on conflict: “conflict is the food that feeds the reader. It’s a spicy hell-broth that nourishes. A story without conflict is a story without a story.

250_Things_CoverOne of the best bits of advice is in the first section of the book, 25 Things You Should Know About… Being a Writer #21 Everything Can Be Fixed In Post:

“Stop stressing out. You get the one thing few others get: a constant array of do-overs. Writing is rewriting. You know the saying, ‘Drink till she’s pretty/till he’s handsome?’ This is like that. Edit till she’s pretty. Rewrite until it doesn’t suck. You have an endless supply of blowtorches, hacksaws, scalpels, chainsaws, M80s and orbital lasers to constantly destroy and rebuild.”

Our Inner Critic is so powerful during the initial stages of writing and it is very easy to forget that everything can be fixed in post.

The book has been constructed by his prolific ability to produce list posts for his blog terribleminds.com, along with additional content created specifically for the book, so it delivers the advice in quick, easy-to-digest chunks. Don’t expect any in-depth delves into technical specifics of the writing craft and techniques. But it does deliver good advice on all of these topics and gives you a good swift kick in the ass, by boot filled with fucking rattlesnakes.

Humorous, yet practical and motivational advice that is well worth the the $.99 cover price. So check it out.

Buy it from Amazon Here: 250 Things You Should Know About Writing by Chuck Wendig

Rating: ***** Well Worth it at Full Retail Price [$.99 for a Kindle or Nook eBook, or buy it direct from the author at: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/portfolio/250-things-you-should-know-about-writing/]

About Ratings: ***** — Well Worth it at Full Retail Price; **** — Buy on Sale/Discounted; *** — Buy Used; ** — Borrow It from the Library; * — Waste of a Good Tree

 

 

Write Better, Faster: How To Triple Your Writing Speed and Write More Every Day (Growth Hacking For Storytellers #1) by Monica Leonelle

I downloaded this book back in August because, as you might guess based on the content of this blog, I am very interested in any advice about increasing your writing speed and horde these kinds of books shamelessly. What got me to read it recently was her guest appearance on episode 186 of the Self Publishing Podcast (one of my current favorite podcasts) where Ms. Leonelle discussed her process and techniques.

Monica Leonelle has brought some proven productivity techniques to bear on what is commonly considered to be a “creative process.” By tracking your word count and steadily trying to increase it is a great approach for giving your writing a baseline metric. I too use a word count tracking spreadsheet (that tracks strictly word count), but Leonelle stresses the importance of tracking the amount of time you spend generating that word count as well as adding in some qualitative metrics within your tracking mechanism such as where you wrote during the session, how you felt during the writing session, and a general summary of what you worked on. This brought me to the conclusion that I need to revamp my tracking system and refine it to work better for me so that productivity can be tracked easier. So I added these metrics to my word count spreadsheet, and it really works. I’ve increased my weekly word count steadily each week, cracking the 7000 word barrier last week.Write_Better_Faster_Cover

The sections on short timed writing sessions, using the Pomodoro method for writing, and how she uses pre-writing and outlining to supercharge her word count are particularly helpful.
These pre-writing tasks tend to be glossed over a bit. She doesn’t really go into detail about the amount of time that she spends working on the tasks such as outlining, setting up “beats” and planning the whole process out. I believe that this is covered in her other books The 8-Minute Writing Habit and Nail Your Story,  two other books that are now on my reading list, but I would have liked just a little more detail about what she does and how she does it. I also wonder why she didn’t seem to count the pre-writing work toward her word count totals. I consider all of my writing to count toward my word count totals, and can’t imagine that her pre-writing wasn’t just as valuable as her “draft” prose.

I loved that she included her personal diary of her struggles to implement the techniques she came up with to vastly increase her word count and writing productivity. This showed the readers that she is not perfect and subject to the many distractions, resistance and unpredictable challenges of life that often manage to derail us. These challenges often cause us to give up for the day and promise that we’ll do better tomorrow and then don’t do anything at all–an all-too-common trap that many writers fall into.

I would be curious to see some of the drafts she wrote while keeping this diary, so I can see how rough these writing sessions are, what type of rework and preparation was involved within the process, and see examples of how she would “beat out” a story. I’d also love to see a couple of works go from a rough idea, to outline, to story draft, and then finished product.

Ms. Leonelle also goes a little bit into how to use dictation to increase your word count, but not really enough to explain how it works and the type of preparation she does to make it work well for her. Again, this is covered in more depth in another one of her books: Dictating Your Book.

In many ways this book is a gateway drug into Monica Leonelle’s work philosophy and methods, and as such, it serves its purpose well. Write Better Faster is well worth the price of $2.99 for the productivity tips it provides and links to other resources alone.

I’ve implemented some of these techniques already and have had some of my highest weekly word count totals ever. I highly recommend this book for anyone struggling to find the time to write or might be having trouble getting production rolling. The advice is clear, practical and easy to implement immediately.

So be sure to check out this book as well as the others available in her Growth Hacking for Storytellers series.

Buy it from Amazon Here: Write Better Faster by Monica Leonelle

Rating: ***** — Well Worth it at Full Retail Price — $2.99 Kindle eBook  (Also available in an audio book edition on Audible)

 

Word count is the only measure of productivity a writer has. Page counts are variable because of the manuscript formatting (are you double spacing the text?) the margins on the page (1″ or 1.5″), or the font choice and size. Using Courier at 12pt size will place far fewer words on the page than a 14 point Arial Narrow font.

Photo courtesy of Chris Devers via Flickr

Plus page count in publishing can be deceiving. Large print books have the same content as the regular size print, but far more pages to accomodate the weak eyes of the reader. Book formating might also play a role. The manuscript you submit that is 200 double-paged pages, might be spread out to 250 or 300 pages in a trade paperback with a modern format that uses a lot of white space with room for you to take notes in the margin. Or maybe that epic paperback squeezes 300 or 400 words on a page in a microscopic font size to reduce printing cost.

Word count is a raw figure. Especially for first drafts. You crank out words and do it fast. Writing fast engages the mind in a race with itself and (hopefully) as a result, leaves your Inner Critic in the dust gasping for breath. I want to write faster in this session than in the one yesterday. I want to prove that my touch typing skills are getting better and better, and don’t require me to go back and fix my errors so often. It doesn’t happen, but I like to think that I’m getting better. Plus knowing that I’m working against a time limit (15 minutes) and a daily word count goal (of 500 words or more) pushes me onward. I would love to be able to write 1000 words every 15 minutes. That would be almost inhuman to me. But if I can get up to 500 words, I’m halfway to being inhuman.

Tracking the daily word count on a project is essential because it helps you see the big picture, especially on large or book-length projects. If you are slogging away, adding 500 or 1000 words to the book each day, it is hard to remember that you are building onto something. Especially if you write chapters in separate files. Track that project word count so you can see the progress.

I have been tracking my project word count for CT4CW each time I add content to the file. My word count has steadily grown from about 20,000 words (the rough manuscript word count before I started tracking the word count daily) back in November of 2012, to the almost 94,000 words that the first draft is now. Do I work on this every day? No. I work on other side projects (such as blog posts) when I know that I’m not ready to write a section of the book. I like to keep a consistent flow of new words even when I’m heavily involved in edits or research, so I work on smaller projects or other ongoing projects to keep my daily word count up.

The important thing here is to set a daily word count goal. It doesn’t matter what it is 100 words, 250, 500 or 1000. Make it a reasonable number, one that you feel you can easily beat each day, and then keep that writing streak going. If you don’t meet that goal one day, do the best that you can, even if you only write a paragraph or two, and track it. Keep moving forward. According to Newton’s First Law (loosely paraphrased here), an object at rest, stays at rest, an object in motion tends to stay in motion, so keep moving, even if you are moving slowly.

Make word count a competition with yourself, by comparing today’s word count from yesterday, or to the word count on the same day a week ago. Compete in a word war with other writing friends and see who produce the most words in a writing session, a day or a week. Gamify the process (check out this article from Lifehacker for details: Gamify Your Life: A Guide to Incentivizing Everything) or whatever you have to do to keep motivated and keep your word count up.

Think quantity, not quality right now, because it will never be quality if you don’t get that quantity down on the page.

 

 

The problem with me is that I’m stubborn and forgetful. I forget to practice what I preach, even though I know what I teach is true and backed up with statistics. Lately, I’ve been working hard to increase my production speed and reading a book; Ryan Healy’s Speed Writing for Nonfiction Writers, reminded me of the importance of timed writing sessions. I’ve always tended to use timed writing sessions for writing practice, where I’m just screwing around. Using random prompts or working with a class, very seldom using timed sessions for actual draft project work.

This very post is written against a 15 minute timer. I hope to crank out at least 500 words on this topic and then polish it up for posting within the next week or so. Setting a timer puts you up against a deadline and forces you to keep moving along, writing fast and (trying) not to worry about your typos and mispelled words that are being sluffed off like auto parts off of a beater car racing down the highway at 90 MPH. I hate it. And I still backspace and type over what I don’t like from time to time, but I do this far less than I would if the timer wasn’t ticking.

timer

 

What are some of the other benefits of this?

  • Competition — I want to keep a productive pace during a 15 minute session. Right now it is averaging between 320 and 370 words. I want to jack this up to at least 500 words in 15 minutes. Racing against the clock and previous “personal bests” is always a way that your brain likes to engage in. making writing like a game to it, forcing it to pick up the speed to do better.
  • Tracking Productivity — I like to know how well I’m doing on a given day. Am I writing well during a 15 minute session in the morning? Or am I doing better in the afternoon? Is my productivity steadily increasing?
  • Spontaneous Surprises — This section was completely unplanned. I had no idea that I would create a section on the benefits of timed writing, but at the end of the deadline paragraph, it just seemed to be a natural fit into the draft. A lot of times your unconscious mind will take a session into a particular direction that you could have never planned for or considered. It goes outside of the outline and often enhances the content produced.

Before reading Healy’s book, I was frustrated with my slow output. I recently cut my word count goal from 1000 words a day to 500 words a day. This seemed much more managable to me, and I didn’t stress as much about the word count flipping back to zero each day, knowing that at some point during the day I had to produce 1000 words. But yet, there were days where 500 words was a challenge. I seemed to drag out the writing periods longer and longer as I slogged slowly through, but I also found that when I used a timer, this wasn’t as difficult.

So use that timer. The first draft of this post set a new personal best of 505 words for a 15 minute session. Granted, the final draft published here is not the same as the rough cut first draft, but the content is pretty close. Never doubt the power of a timed writing draft.

 

Here are your Provocative Writing Prompts for Friday, February 20, 2015:

Photo courtesy of Bikerock via Flickr
  • I’m afraid of the dark.
  • You won’t soon forget…
  • Paul has a summer job…
  • Don’t get discouraged…
  • We have learned a lot…
  • I see it a certain way…
  • When you tucker out…
  • She’s sick.
  • Does he have a…
  • I want to yell…
  • There’s no one left to blame.

 

 

Here are your Provocative Writing Prompts for Friday, December 5, 2014 :

Photo Courtesy of zen via Flickr

  • Who is the mysterious man?
  • Where are we going?
  • But she begged…
  • How do you see…
  • We wanted her to say more…
  • Nothing is simple.
  • You’ll see the pain.
  • Why can’t we stop…
  • Only one way to find out…
  • It’s nobody’s family…
  • I read something somewhere…
  • I don’t know what to think about that.

 

 

Here are your Provocative Writing Prompts for Friday, November 29, 2014 :

Photo courtesy of Sophia Louise via Flickr

  • You’ve been down…
  • If it was free…
  • When violence…
  • For the price of a 10-acre plot on the moon…
  • Have sensitivity to or are bothered by sound?
  • We are all about…
  • How effective is…
  • It’s clobberin’ time…
  • On my way out…
  • We were just going to…
  • You must feel terrible
  • After 18 years in the lab…