Home – Haiku, book recommend and Journey Notes for Writers

I’m currently reading Herman Charles Bosman’s short story collection: The Collected Works of Herman Charles Bosman. If you want a peek into a version of early South Africa, then I recommend it. Beautiful stories. Some very funny, some achingly poignant. South Africa has her battles, but she’s come a long, long way since those early colonial days.

Here’s a little Haiku called Home:

 

Leopard in the grass
Dawn to dust, sun on his back
The door is open

 

Journey Notes for Writers: Writing a novel takes as long as it takes. Some people crack their nut in the first year – like they were born with a clear path. Others wander through all sorts of hills and valleys on the road to getting there.

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about the size of your canvas. Some artists paint intricate scenes on an inch square tile in minute and exquisite detail. Others need the side of a building.

So if you’re a “journey writer” then take a moment to consider the canvas you’re working on. Some writers work well within the rules and confines of a tight genre. Some don’t. So if what you’re doing isn’t working, consider whether your story needs more space. Perhaps you should be writing an epic that stretches over generations and worlds. Just a thought…

Recipe for a Great Stew

In writing, don’t rush into anything. Especially not to trash almost 2 years worth of work. Here’s a little Haiku called “Recipe for a Great Stew”. Below is a note to writers.

Fill your fireside pot
Stand to live then sit to write
Time makes perfect stew

JOURNEY NOTE FOR WRITERS: 
As you may know, I trashed the last version of FF. I’d worked on it for almost 2 years and it came back from my awesome editor with so many holes that I decided it had to go. I really did consign it to the Lessons Learned bin and moved on.

Then this morning I glanced at the editor’s additional notes and realised I’d been a little hasty. Yes, the plot is mostly rubbish, the location isn’t quite right, sequencing is out, and completely illogical and all too convenient things happen all through the story that just don’t tie up. But I like the premise and most of the characters are really great.

Now, here’s the realisation… If you “put your book aside for a while”, it’ll stew. That’s true. And when you come back to it you’ll see holes and inconsistencies and you’ll make some changes. But if you really let it go – if you genuinely trash it – then when you come back to it, nothing will be precious. You’ll see all the gaps and issues and starting over (from the very beginning if necessary) won’t feel so hard. Sometimes we have to really let something go before we see it for what it really is.

That’s it. Happy stewing today, folks.
Tina

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.

Writing Rules!

Writing RulesWhether you’re writing your first novel or your tenth, you still have to deal with writing rules: things the writing world says are so important to the writing process that they have been elevated from “things to be aware of” to “A RULE”.

– Show Don’t Tell
– Avoid Excessive (Or All) Use Of Adverbs
– Don’t Use Passive Voice
– Write What You Know

To mention a few…

These are good and wonderful, and paying attention to them will make you a better writer, but if you tie yourself to rules, you’ll forget the most important and probably the only REAL writing rule there is.

Write What You Love! Write what rocks your socks! Write what wakes you up at night! Write what freaks you out in the dark! Write what makes you want to pee your pants because you’re laughing and crying so hard!!

If you write what thrills you then it goes without saying that you will Show Not Tell, Kill The Adverbs, Annihilate Passive Voice and Write What You Know.

So read advice on rules, regulations and whatever it takes to be a great writer with caution. There are folk out there who will tell you that if you don’t do XYZ you’ll never make it. CRAP, basically. If all we did was follow the rules then we’d all be doing the writing equivalent of paint by numbers and that’s about as interesting as soggy leaves stuck in the sole of a farmer’s wellie boot.

Write with passion and joy and for the hell of it. Get that right and everything else will fall into place.

You need no other reason and no other rule.

Break plates today!
Tina

Write a story you love. Not one you think people will like you for.

Write a story you love - more than anything elseWe do enough in this world with the single purpose of making other people happy. It’s how many folk are raised: don’t say anything to upset anyone; don’t make people uncomfortable; give people what they ask for; step out of your way to be nice so folk will like you. So when you write a story, you have all of that upbringing to battle against which means you will most likely create characters who are nice, following plots that don’t rock too many ships, boats or other sailing vessels and use language easy on the ear. Why?

Because you want people to like you.

Here’s the odd thing. Most folk are so damn sick of “being nice” in the real world that one of the reasons they pick up a book is to delve into a world where people do what they want and get away with it. They don’t wait for the police to deal with a noisy neighbour, they burn their garage down. They don’t have a quiet chat with the parents of kids terrorising the streets, they terrorise the kids and teach them a lesson they’ll never forget.

In the books we love, our favourite characters have the courage of their convictions. They say what’s on their minds even if it means the wrath of an entire nation of believers. The books we love most allow us to experience (just for a moment and deep in our imaginations) what it would be like to act with absolute abandon, to survive and to fight. Doesn’t matter what it’s for. Whether for love or for life. We know when we crack the first page of a book we love that our character will win. One way or another. They will be victorious. 

So, why then, when we sit down to write a story, our own piece of fiction, do we play it safe?

Take a moment to look at book trends. There is always a “first of it’s kind” that makes it HUGE. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Hunger Games, Twilight Saga… Then a few months after these book hit the waves, look at what follows. A thousand copycats. A thousand books written by folk who say “ohhhhhh, people like (fill the blank)” and merrily go and write one just like it. Those books, at best, end up average. They might be expertly written – perhaps even better than the author they’re aspiring to. But it’s still an imitation in a shadow.

So instead of writing what you think people will like, write what YOU LOVE. Write a story whose characters make you want to laugh, cry and climb trees. Write plots that tie you in knots, break your heart, sweat, scream and believe.

Because that’s what people really want.

Break the rules today!
Tina

 

 

How to get from the real world to a story idea?

How to go from real world to story ideasfind story ideas in the real worldThe short story is a fiction microcosm. A Petri dish where all the elements of a good read, from story idea to the afterglow you get when it stays with you, are present, but in small pieces.

As part of my own exploration into that Petri dish, I’m reading a lot of short stories by some very good writers, including Joanne Harris’s collection, “A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String.”

Before the start of each short story she writes a short paragraph introducing the story and sometimes describes what inspired it. In many cases, the leap from the real world to the story idea is a big one.

I looked at my own short stories and realised that similarly, many of them bear little resemblance to what inspired them in the first place.

As I let that idea stroll around my head I began to see the “intangible something” that fills that gap between the real world and the story idea. After all that strolling and thinking, I also finally accepted that any time I tried to force the leap from “real world” to “story idea” the story just didn’t work. 

Hence the question: How to get from real world to story idea? What happens in the gap between real life and fiction? Where does the story evolve from? What is that spark that forms the bridge between fact and fiction? Where does it come from?

In the quest for a great story idea, the most elusive of all writing tools, inspiration, clearly plays a part. 

So I did some web research into inspiration. Here are a few views from other people:

ONE: I like this one most… From a blog by Ariel Constantinof: How to find inspiration for writing? Don’t: Ariel says you don’t find it, you make it. It’s not some magic that floats into your head. You seek it out and if it doesn’t happen, just start writing anyway. I agree. I do this a lot. Start with a few words and sometimes an image, and it goes from there. The ending, you’ll find, is as much a surprise to you as your audience.

TWO: Write to Done gives 31 ways to find inspiration, from blogs to people watching. The common factor with most of these suggestions is that you get into the world! Why? Because more often than not the conversations we have with ourselves are nonsense. If you’re looking for inspiration, you need to get out of your own head!

THREE: Another approach is taken by Henri Junttila in his article Inspire to Write. Meditation, silence, quietude. Getting out of your own head by going deeper into it 🙂 Very cool.

To be inspired, you need raw material.

Stephen King’s famous comment on reading, I think, sums it up: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

When all that raw material from a thousand different sources stews and simmers in our minds, the ideas, no matter now disparate merge and a story idea blossoms whether we like it or not.

This blooming happens at the most random of times (in the shower, in a hot tub, walking the dogs, washing dishes…) which is why, perhaps, we think there is some magic behind inspiration. The truth is, if you read and think, explore and converse with the world, then inspiration is inevitable. All those small ideas bind together making it possible to make the leap from carpets to cats.

Make magic today folks.
Tina

Death in fiction! If your writing has a high body count, you’ll love this!

Death in fiction: Read this if your writing has a high body count.If your story lines tend towards a high body count, here’s a book you’ll really enjoy! It’s called “Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers” by Mary Roach and is a wonderful resource for anyone who dallies with death in fiction!

It covers (among other things…) what plastic surgeons practice on, the life cycle of a dead body (maggots included), human decay in all its gory (not a typo) and the story bodies tell.

For instance, did you know:

ONE:  When a head is cut off so plastic surgeons can practice their crafts on it, the decapitation takes place directly below the chin. Why? So someone else can make use of the neck.

TWO: Nineteenth-century operating theatres had more to do with instruction than saving lives and were done without any anaethesia. The first time ether was used was 1846.

THREE: Some medical training schools use anesthetized dogs to practice tracheal intubations and catheterisations.

FOUR: There is a facility situated on a Knoxville hillside that is dedicated to the study of human decay. If you get to visit it, you’ll find bodies stretched out on the lawn in various state of dress, covered in everything from plastic to concrete, left in the shade, left in the sun… all to determine how different conditions impact decay.

FIVE: The bit of us that maggots love most is fat.

SIX: As a body decays, it dissolves into the ground. By analyzing chemicals in soil investigators will be able to tell if the body has been moved or if it decayed there.

SEVEN: Dogs trained to locate human remains can pinpoint body parts at the bottom of a lake from the fats and gasses that float up as the flesh rots.

So if people die in your books and you’re interested in what happens to them in the minutes, hours, months and years after their last breath, then get this book and have a read.

It’s excellently written, hugely entertaining (despite the subject matter) and full of some very awesome content.

Enjoy! And watch out for buses…
Tina

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.