Can you force story ideas?

Can you force story ideas?Sometimes story ideas seem to blossom out of the ether. One moment your mind is wondering about the to-dos of daily life and the next you have an idea for a story that seems complete from beginning to end. Nice. Sweeeeeeeet! 

But what happens when these ideas just aren’t there and it’s been days and weeks and, like an addict, you feel the need for a bit of flash? What do you do?!! Can you force story ideas? Do you wrestle an idea from your imagination like some premature pimple or do you chill, sit back, relax and wait for it to mature and explode fully formed?

A bit of each, I think.

If your head seems void of story words, you need to feed it, fill it up, then switch on the tap and keep it flowing until all the dregs run out and pure water flows.

From my experience, here are a few things to keep the process flowing and story worlds building.

ONE: READ. Dammit! Just READ! Read fiction. Read flash fiction. Read short stories. Read story magazine. Read novels. Read newspapers (another kind of fiction all together).

TWO: Don’t bother about word count. If you get stuck on a short story that feels like it needs to end but you’re only 500 words in, then end it! The right length for a story is as long as it takes to tell. No more, no less.

THREE: Ask questions about what you see around you. It’ll spark story after story…

Examples:

If you want stories to flow, you need to give them something to feed on, then open the lid, switch on the tap, spill the bucket… whatever metaphor works for you, and write. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 140 character twitter story or a novel. A story is a story, no matter how long it takes to tell.

Be awesome folks.
Tina K.

Meditation makes you a better writer – tips from a layman

Can meditation make you a better writer?Have you ever taken a moment to stop and pay attention to what’s going on in your head? Do it sometime. On a random day, at a random time, just tune into the flow barreling through your mind. The noise might surprise you.

You’re likely to find a constant barrage of ideas, commentary, things to do, repeated conversations, wishful thinking, arguments (ones you’ve had, ones you want to have, ones you lost and what you could have done to win). It’s little wonder that when you want to write, it takes a moment to get into it. The writer in you needs a break from the normal chaos in your life. That’s what meditation is for.

Now, how to do it is something else…

The amount of information and how-to on meditation that you’ll find on bookshelves, let alone the net, will add so much to the noise in your head that you’re likely to quit before you start! Views range from “It’s the hardest thing to get right and it’ll take you a lifetime to learn” to “Just sit and breathe and hey presto, that’s meditation”.

Meditation tips from a layman

ONE: I don’t believe you need to twist yourself into a knotted lotus. In my own experience, pain is a distraction. So sit comfortably. Find a spot you can be a little while without falling asleep. I have a chair in our conservatory that seems to be my sleeping chair. No matter what I intend to do in that chair, I fall asleep. Sit anywhere else, and I’m fine – bright, shiny and alert. So don’t try meditate in bed or your sleeping chair.

TWO: Spend what time you can. Even a minute helps. Use the app (see below – there are plenty in various app stores, but I really like this one), set the timer for what time you have, then go Zen. One minute, 60 minutes. Doesn’t matter. It’s better to do one really good minute than struggle to do 60 and end up using your meditation session as a “fret about what I’m not doing” session.

THREE: A ton of stuff will fly into your head from issues in your life to characters and story lines. The whole “empty your head” thing is something that comes with time I guess. I sure as hot-coals-on-bare-feet haven’t got it yet. In the beginning, noise will fill a vacuum so instead of trying to empty your head, find you can’t, get frustrated and give in, focus on your breathing. Really get into your lungs. Make a physical commitment to following your breath – follow it into your body, around your body and out again.

FOUR: Beware of your creative mind! Follow your breath, as above, but you’re a writer so be careful where that little trip takes you. If you find you’ve followed your breath from your lungs, into your limbs, out the soles of your feet, into the earth, through the planet all the way to Australia (or wherever is opposite you on the globe) and into a bar where “your breath” is slinging a few back with the locals, then you’ve lost it! Come back to your lungs and follow your breath in the confines of your own body.

Cool site, an app and a one-minute meditation “how to”

Here are my favourite resources. Hope they help.

ONE: This is a site simple, gentle, no messing site about what meditation is. I find any time I’m struggling with it or just not finding time, I pick a random page and have a read. It’s a gentle site that doesn’t bully you into anything.

TWO: I love this app. It’s called Insight Timer. It’s a free app for Android and Apple. You can join the meditation community if you like, or just use the timer itself. You can set different tones for sessions. A “Piiiiinnnnnggg” to start your sessions and deep, resonating “Bonnnnnnnnnnnggg” to close your session. Up to you! It’s no nonsense and easy to use. Last thing you need if you want a 1 minute meditation session is to spend 5 minutes setting the timer!

THREE: This a really cool little video on how to meditate for just a minute. Time is the biggest excuse not to do just about anything. Well you have a minute! Here’s the truth… When I’m wigging out or just can’t shut my head up, I find a loo somewhere, lock the door, set my timer for a minute and breathe. A minute really is all it takes. Build from there. A lack of time can’t be an excuse. If you meditate for just one minute, chances are, you’ll shut the crazy stuff out your head for hours. Time saved right there.

Happy Zen today
Tina

P.S. If you want to find your characters, you need to be quiet and give them space.

For character development on steroids, put your character through a personality test!

Dig deep into your character's mindNever entered my mind to do this! I like it! Seriously, try it out… Put your characters through a personality test.

Below is a list of a few of the free personality tests you’ll find online. You can pay for a really thorough test, but for a quick and dirty one, these work fine.

I tried out the MBTI test (MMDI and Jung) because I know a bit about that already. When I read the results I was stunned at how clearly my main character stood out. I was also able to see why some scenes didn’t work. It just gives you a totally different insight into your story world.

Now, you might think that you know your characters really well, and you probably do. But take a moment to think about your best friend or even yourself. If you’ve ever taken one of these test, or read one your friend has taken, you’ll know that there are insights into your inner world that make you go “Oohhhhhh, that’s right… never thought of it that way, but that’s true!”

Character development personality tests…

Here are the tests – there are dozens more if you dig around. The first link (Similar Minds) has a whole list you can explore. Some of them a bit odd, I grant you:

– Similar Minds: This one has a whole bunch of different test on one page. I haven’t explored them all yet.
– MMDI: Very similar to Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). I’ve tried this one. You can pay for the full report.
– Jung test: This is also an MBTI test. It doesn’t give you as much information as MMDI but you can take the test, get the 4 letters you need (you’ll know them when you see them), then pick up a book on MBTI and read up on it.

Happy digging around your head today!
Tina

How to build an IRRESISTIBLE story world

Build an irrisistable story world

Why bother with your story world? What’s the big deal?

I was 13 when I decided to be a writer. It happened the day I sat in a hot school hall with 800 other kids and listened to a live story teller tell Herman Charles Bosman stories. One guy dressed in baggy blue dungarees sat on a rocking chair on our school stage and hypnotised 800 kids on a warm, blue-sky South African summer day. I WANT TO BE ABLE TO DO THAT! I said to my 13-year-old self and she agreed.

Now, I didn’t necessarily want to don blue dungarees and travel around the globe telling Bosman stories, but I did want to be able to transport people from where they were into where I wanted them to be. I wanted to learn how to make the story world so sharp and real that people would phone up to book a long weekend in the local hotel or call our best restaurant to book a table for 12.

We’ve all read books that do that. Books that draw us so tightly into the mind of the characters that we could get hit by a bus and not notice. It’s powerful.

Articles from people who’ve thought about this a great deal

ONE: 7 Deadly Sins of World Building by Charlie Jane Anders: In short – DETAIL. This particular article discusses the mistakes writers make when they don’t go into enough detail on everything from the history or the world to daily functions.

TWO: Article by Holly Lisle: How much of the world do I build? Holly starts off saying you should build only what you need and imply the rest, and ends by saying you shouldn’t beat yourself up about the details of your world. She has a point. It’s easy to get caught up in building up every detail and point of history of your world instead of just sitting down and writing and working it out as you go. Despite different approaches, Holly and Charlie Jane Anders have DETAIL in common.

THREE: Creating Story World by Melinda Evaul: In this article Melinda talks about how to gather research and understand the inner workings of your character by putting them through a Myers-Briggs personality tests. Never thought of trying that. Very cool. She also suggests you gather pictures, images, shapes and sounds that make up your world and surround your writing space with it.

Happy Building
Tina

Is it writer’s block or are you suffering from information overload?

Information overload or writer's block??!One of the traps you fall into while deep in writer’s block is to keep yourself busy researching everything, from the genre you’re writing about, to how to write, to why you can’t.

While you are reading and researching you keep finding people who have already published their first or tenth novel and the advice they all spout is “Write every day. You must write every day.”

They might be correct. You know they probably are. But you still want to smack them for saying it, because you can’t write! That’s the problem! What part of writer’s BLOCK don’t they get?!

But are you suffering from writer’s block or is it information overload?

Considering most of my non-fiction books are on speed-reading and information overload, I’m a little embarrassed to say I’ve fallen foul of an overload funk a few times. Here are some of the symptoms…

  • If you feel buzzed and happy until you sit down at your desk to write – at which point the energy in your body drains into a miserable puddle around your feet… you probably have information overload.
  • If you can’t write a sentence without feeling compelled to dig out every fact needed to write the next sentence, you might have an issue with information overload. For example: Your character picks up a gun. You’ve seen a gun in the movies, perhaps even held one, but you don’t know anything about guns, so you shut down your novel to pick up a dozen gun magazines, go to a gun show and join a shooting range. You are most likely addicted to information overload (it’s a great excuse for not being able to write).
  • If your novel is so full of facts that you’ve lost the story but don’t care because you’re sure your readers will love the details as much as you, then you’re suffering from information overload.
  • If you feel that no matter how much you read and study, you will never know enough, then you’re suffering from information overload.

Quick tips on how to get out of the research trap, escape writer’s block (!!) and get on with your writing:

ONE: Ask how much information your CHARACTERS need, and find out that and only that.
TWO: If you’re writing on a subject you know nothing about, write it from the point of view of a character who knows nothing. See what happens.
THREE: Limit your research to an hour a day – maximum. When time is limited you’ll get smarter about how you do it.

No matter how great your facts are, if your plot is a mess and your characters are weak, no one will get past your first beautifully crafted page. If someone really wants to know the entire history of China or the metal make-over of an AK47, they’ll Google it themselves.

Dump the research today and just write.
Tina

When you’re stuck in writer’s block, TV isn’t the answer!

When you're stuck in writer's block, TV isn't the answer.Another cunning trick writer’s block plays is to lock you in your own head. It feels like you’ve lost the anchor on your vision or dream and you’re drifting in a current taking you nowhere.

Because you can’t focus on anything, you go a little numb. The condition puts you on a flat, calm, windless, featureless ocean. All the ideas and inspiration and magic is under the surface, but all you can see when you look over the edge of your boat is your reflection and damn, it’s not a pretty sight!

If your ocean was tossing and wild, threatening to throw you onto the rocks of some savage and uncharted island, then you could do something with that. Adrenalin would see you through. You’d spend your days and nights, hours and minutes keeping your boat afloat and off the rocks. But when you’re in the dead flat calm of writer’s block, with not even a hint or a whisper of a breeze and no sodding paddle, you struggle to keep your eyes open and look any further than your next coffee break distraction.

So instead of building up the energy to create your own waves, you hide from your life and bury your head in TV or some other mind numbing excuse for non-existence.

TV really is Writer’s Block’s best friend. The bit of you that is too chicken to stare your challenge down, loves TV. This is an excuse and an escape all in one.

You’re a writer, right? Well, TV is all about fiction, isn’t it? So if you’re writing a thriller, watch back-to-back detective shows! What better research is there than re-runs of CSI or NCIS, or Monk or Murder She Wrote or Poirot or Wallander or The Killing or any of the other hundreds of series leading to thousands of hours of “research”?

The bad news is that watching hours of TV is absolutely not valid research.

Your mind turns to porridge and your body effectively goes to sleep.

But what if you want to write for TV? What if that’s your dream? Fine, then dig out the scripts to these series and read them, break them apart, and analyze them. Do yourself a favor and limit yourself to just one hour of TV drug a day, and for the rest of the hours left to you, read the TV screenplays. Eventually, the style, form, and nature of screenplays will sink in and you’ll WANT to write your own!

Watching back-to-back Dexter won’t get your work done.

Read. Write. Think. Walk in the rain.
Tina

Still stuck with writer’s block? Then ask yourself the tough questions!

If you're still stuck in writer's block, it's time to ask the tough questions.If writer’s block has you by the brain and you’re on the verge of deciding to go into the dog walking business and never writing another word that doesn’t appear on a pet pampering menu, then ask yourself these questions…

ONE: Do you really want to be a novelist? Yes or no. It’s digital. “Maybe” isn’t allowed. If the answer is yes, then move to question 2. And if the answer is No, then stop here and go have fun with the french fries.

TWO: Are you writing for the right age group? Yes or no? Do you like the age group you’re writing for? Are you writing for kids? Do you understand them? It’s hard to write for an age group you don’t understand and can’t relate to. So, are you writing for the right age group? If yes, fine. If no, then stop messing around and choose an age group you do understand. Writing for children is no easier than writing for adults. Don’t kid yourself!

THREE: Are you writing in the right genre? Do you watch movies in your chosen genre? When you turn the TV on, what are you attracted to, time after time after time? What is the guilty pleasure you’ll never admit to? Chances are, that’s the genre you should be writing in.

FOUR: Can you say why you want to be a novelist? What’s in it for you? What will you get out of it? What are you willing to put into it?

FIVE: Do you really know your characters? Do you know their dreams, passions, fears, and desires? Do you know what they look like, feel like, and smell like? Do you know where their birth marks and secret tattoos are?

SIX: Would you keep doing this even if you never got published? Would you do this if you never got paid?

SEVEN: Is this worth the sacrifice to your family and friends? Who believes in you? Who trusts you?

EIGHT: Have you done your research? Do you have enough information? Do you know what questions to ask? Are you making it up because it’s easier than finding out? How much artistic license are you applying?

NINE: Can you write? Are you any good? Can you string more than six words together without boring yourself?

TEN: Is the plot you’ve been working on solid? Is it packed with clichés? Is it predicable or unbelievable? Is it worth your time and your readers’ imagination?

ELEVEN: Are you writing something only you can write? Is the story world you’re creating something only you could create?

Be honest. Answer these questions. If you can’t answer them, then take the time to think until you can. Don’t mess about. It’s your life you’re choosing to spend on this. Make it count.

Be good to yourself today!
Tina

If you want to flourish in the book world, then GROW A THICK SKIN!

Grow a think skin or you'll bleed out on the pitch!This is the only way to survive the game without bleeding out on the pitch.

Imagine this… You’re eight years old and you’ve just written your first short story. It’s about a crab who hitches a ride to the top of a mountain on the tail of a leopard. It’s a story about trust and risk and making friends.

You show it to your mom, your dad, and your grandma and they LOVE IT! You’re a genius. You get hugged and your story is plastered on the fridge. Enthused, you go back and write and your work keeps getting this response until you get to high school and for the first time, someone other than Mom, Dad, and Grandma gets to see it. This time, it’s an English teacher and for the first time, instead of hugs, your “work of genius” comes back lined with red ink.

“Be creative as you like,” she says, “but abide by the rules of grammar.”

Unbelievable! How is this possible?

You fight a good fight, but your grade doesn’t change from that D to the A+++++++ (and a hug) your grandma would have given you.

You have two choices – you can give up right there and never write another word (unless it’s for work or to update your CV), or you can recognize that there are rules to the game and if you want to break them, you have to learn them first.

Congratulations. You’ve just grown 1.23 mm of skin. You’re a writer. You’ve got what it takes. But 1.23 mm of skin might be enough for school. It’s not enough for the world.

To stay the course, you need to welcome and relish criticism. You need to bask in its blistering heat. You need to learn to stand up to it, hold it in your hand, and say “Foooeeee, I kiss the cheeks of your critique!” Because, you’ll admit, there is a lot of truth in that criticism/feedback/whatever you want to call it.

There are hundreds of courses that will teach you how to write. Thousands of books with advice on what to do and how to do it and whom to send it to when it’s done. But only you can grow your skin so thick that it doesn’t hurt when you put your heart on the table so people with sharp and shiny forks can prod and peel your layers off.

When you let them prick, stab, and shred your work while you stand strong, then you will have won.

If you collapse into tears at the first sign of negativity, then no matter how good your work is, chances are, publishers and agents will walk away. Why? This is a grown-up world with grown-up money at stake along with grown-up reputations. There is little space for eight-year-olds who need hugs every time they pee in the right pot.

So grow your skin. It’s the only way to really love this glorious, imperfect, painfully subjective business.

Kick some ass today!
Tina