Build an Idea Bank

I’ve always been one of those people that jots down the random ideas that float in my head.  The other day I was driving down McLean, on a route I’ve taken to work for the past four years.  For some reason, the statue of the bull marking the Chisholm Trail caught my attention, and I thought: well, I bet they had a hard time finding water.  What they needed was a water witch.  Boom!  Random idea that could potentially turn into a story with some work.

Of course, you can’t depend on those ideas to fall into your head when you need them.  That’s why it’s nice to develop a few and bank them.  I think all writers struggle with the Bright Shiny Tempting Idea appearing when we’re drudging through the middle part of the book we thought was awesome when we first started and now seems dreadfully pointless.  Hopefully we’ve all learned that the Bright Shiny Tempting Ideas are mirages.  There’s no reason you can’t write the idea down to return to later.

I like the idea of specifically developing ideas.  There’s two distinct ways I’ve learned to work on idea generation.

One: write a list of everything you like to read about.  Not only can you have fun merging some of these things together, but they can also serve to get you out of a writing bind.  Is what you’re writing about what you like to read about?   As Chris Baty puts it in his book No Plot, No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days: “The things that you appreciate as a reader are also likely the things you’ll excel at as a writer (page 86).” Keep the list and build on it over time. Baty also recommends writing a list of things you don’t like, as those are often the things we think are “important” and we “should” like, and for that reason we try to include them in our works.  “If you won’t enjoy reading it, you won’t enjoy writing it (page 88).”

Two: write a list of 50 first sentences.  Don’t spend too much time at it – take about an hour.  Later on, pick about half of those sentences and write the first paragraph.  From there, you will probably generate about 10 stories.  I first encountered this process in a workshop lead by Kelly Link, an acclaimed short-story author (Magic for Beginners).  For me, inspiration can come from the exercise itself or from knowing that I’ve generated ideas before and can do so again.  I never have to stare at a blank screen because I always have some idea to put there. I might play around with it and find I don’t like it – but by that time, something will have come along.

Here are some of the first sentences I shared at the January meeting.  If they inspire you, please feel free to use them.

  • There was a man who wore out two pair of shoes looking for his woman.
  • Bridget Anwar never got around to telling me what the color of my aura meant.
  • It all started when Maisie Tompkins sat on a squirrel.
  • Sorceresses are notoriously bad at cooking.  Consider Circe, turning all of those men into pigs.  Luckily I didn’t do anything quite so spectacular.  I only turned some of the men green.  And a few grew tails.  I was taken off the duty roster the next day.

If you have other methods you use, please leave them in the comments!  We’d love to hear about them!

November Means?

November is an awesome month. I look forward to it every year, and not because of Turkey day and not because it’s fall. Nope! I look forward to it because as soon as the first comes around I have a perfect excuse to avoid all responsibilities, like feeding children and cleaning house.

November means it’s also National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, and gives the chance to complete a novel-length work (50,000 words) in 30 days.  You can join your local region for write-ins and miscellaneous writing support, or even hook up with your writing buddies and have a friendly competition on who can get to the 50,000 word mark first and/or the fastest. The options are endless.

Writers around the world use this time to kick their inner editors to the curb to push out a frantically written, thrown together novel in 30 days or less.  This is the perfect chance to hone those skills and write something that could be the next best-seller, like Night Circus.

But there’s no pressure.

Just sit back, have fun, and let your muse take control. You may want to have some icepacks on the side though, fingers don’t like the abuse!

A caution to be heeded: NaNoWriMo is very addicting. Side effects include, but are not limited to, sleepless nights, sore fingers, euphoric highs, bankrupt coffee industry, disgruntled children and spouse, dirty house and laundry, sense of immense accomplishment, and others.  Participation in this activity is voluntary and upon sign up, you agree to the pros and cons and will not hold anyone other than yourself accountable for undesirable counter measures taken in order for your attention to be gained by anything other than your novel.

Disclaimer: This is a fun, informative, and slightly fictional post. My children are not harmed or neglected during the month of November and are quite convincing when they want attention from me. The fingers, however, are another story…

Business Cards for Creative Types

Business card

A writer wants their words to be memorable, but there’s another item they want everyone to notice…their business card.

 Your name, email address, photo and website are sufficient introductory information. Experts argue if you really need to add your writing genre. If your website has links to your Facebook fan page, Pinterest page and Twitter feed, there is no need to include those items on your card. Likewise, your home address and phone number are superfluous.

 When designing your own calling card, keep in mind your primary objective. There are three types of literary business cards: trade, personal and marketing.

 Trade business cards are best for self-published authors or freelance writers. These could include email address and website, so potential clients can contact you for jobs.

 Personal business cards work for authors linked to a traditional publishing house, where they want name recognition. These are perfect for networking with readers and other writers. This card should contain information about you, not your books. Social media links could also be included on a personal card.

 Marketing business cards focus on the product you are promoting, rather than the genre or author. This type of card is for each successive book you produce and market.

 A photo helps people remember you. However, make sure it’s a head-shot only. You may have a fabulous body, but a business card is no place to flaunt it.

 Lauren Ruth, literary agent of Slush Pile Tales, throws away generic business cards she receives from authors. The types she keeps are the ones with the author’s photo and a printed pitch on the back of the card. “I knew exactly who this author was,” she said.

 You may want to include the main tagline from your pitch on the front of your business card. “Non-preachy inspirational fiction” and “quirky small-town romance” might be two fun examples.

 Vista Print is usually the first place new writers go for business cards. They have tons of choices and bargain-basement prices. A simple set of 500 is under $25. Staples.com is having a sale right now, 250 full-color, matte finish business cards for $20 (regularly $30), with free shipping. Other printers are Zazzle.com, Uprinting.com and Printrunner.com.

 A template makes designing your own business card a snap. Most printers have several to choose from, depending on your needs. Once you have decided on a style for your card, color and content can be addressed. Simple, but memorable, are the watch words.

 Who should you give these fabulous communication creations to? Everyone! Friends, family and acquaintances can share your business cards with people they know. Fellow writers meet industry professionals all the time. They might remember you would be a perfect fit for a certain agent or publisher. The networking ripples could extend beyond the whole literary pond.

 “If you can’t write your idea on the back of my calling card, you don’t have a clear idea. “–David Belasco, the Bishop of Broadway

Credits: Author Business Cards, Lauren Ruth, from www.slushpiletales.wordpress.com; The Best Business Cards for Creative Writers, Jennifer Stone, from www.ehow.com; Author Business Cards are Different, Jennifer Hudson Taylor, from www.jenniferswriting.blogspot.com.

Party On, Wayne: Gathering Research From Area Festivals and Cultural Events

Wayne's WorldWriting conferences and conventions are informative and helpful in the quest for publication. However, there are a slew of cultural and fun events in this area that can enrich your prose with flavor, color and depth. You may want to attend these festivals and research subjects of interest to your readers. Make sure to get contact information from event organizers and participants to use in future projects.

Historical Fiction

Steamboating in Missouri and Iowa, exhibit and lecture, opens April 27, 2013, National Archives Central Plains Region, Kansas City, MO; Night at the Museum II, April 2014, National Frontier Trails Museum, Independence, MO; 23rd Annual Chuck Wagon Gathering & Children’s Cowboy Festival, May 25-26, 2013, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City, OK; Oklahoma Renaissance Festival, May 4-June 2, 2013, The Castle of Muskogee, Muskogee, OK.

Hobbies

30th Annual Kansas Numismatic Association Coin & Stamp Show, June 15, 2013 at the Cessna Activity Center in Wichita, KS; Wichita Flight Festival, September 28, 2013, at Col. James Jabara Airport, Wichita, KS; Red Slough Birding Convention, May 2014, Idabel, OK.

Foods

Prague Kolache Festival, May 2014, Main Street, Prague, OK; Italian Wine Tasting, May 21, 2013, Ciao Italian Kitchen, Wichita, KS; Tabouleh Fest, May 11, 2013, Main Street, Bristow, OK; Ethnic Enrichment Festival, August 16-18, 2013, Swope Park, Kansas City, MO.

Paranormal and Science Fiction

Fort Reno Ghost Tour, May 18, 2013, El Reno, OK; Tombstone Tales, May 19, 2013, Newkirk, OK; Kansas City Ghost & Gangsters Tour, every Friday and Saturday through July 2013, Kansas City, MO; Steampunk Day, May 25, 2013, Old Cowtown Museum, Wichita, KS.

People and Lifestyles

Kid Fest, May 2014 at Century II Expo Hall, Wichita, KS; 2013 Homeschool Conference, May 31-June 1, Century II, Wichita, KS; Just For her Expo Kansas, organized by HERLIFE Magazine, June 7-9, 2013, Overland Park Convention Center, Overland Park, KS; Festa Italiana 2013, June 2013, Zona Rosa, Kansas City, MO; Germanfest, May 3-5, 2013, Tulsa, OK; 1800s Lawn Social, May 2014, George M. Murrell Home, Park Hill, OK.

Platform Building: Identify, Engage and Commit to Your Tribe

New home construction framing.Building a strong and successful author’s platform is every bit as vital as the construction of a dream home. It takes the raw materials of discipline and dedication to your tribe, or audience. As a writer, you are the proprietor of Company You, and must take control of your own marketing and public relations. Counting on a literary agent or publisher to handle this for you is antiquated thinking.

Pillars of an author’s platform include: book/blog writing, guest posting on other blogs, vlog/podcasts, published articles in magazines or periodicals, public speaking and networking via traditional or social media.

Identify your tribe/reader. Add value to your website/web presence for the audience. What are their characteristics?

Engage your tribe. Reply to comments and questions promptly. Write a blog. Let them know your speaking calendar. Post daily content on a Facebook fan page, Twitter feed, Google+ profile, or Pinterest page.

Commit to your tribe. Like a skilled juggler, keep the balls of social media in the air with discipline. Make a commitment to your brand and audience. Don’t let too much time go by without connecting with them. As your platform grows, the stronger it will become.

If you are unpublished, Michael Hyatt’s latest book, Platform, recommends you spend 90 percent of your time writing and 10 percent on platform building. This is true for fiction or non-fiction genres; however, non-fiction writers should have a strong online presence. You want to be considered an expert in your field.

The most important thing is to keep your numbers growing. Even if you only have 15 minutes a day, you can use the time efficiently. Post content or ask questions on your Twitter feed, Pinterest or Facebook fan page, then read two or three other’s blog posts, and give feedback.

Write a guest post on other author’s blogs, especially those who share your genre. If you offer space on your blog, most writers are happy to reciprocate. The Biblical adage, “Do unto others…” fits nicely in this case.

My blog’s focus is encouragement, so I post an inspirational quote and Scripture every day on my Facebook fan page. Consider what might add value to your online presence for your readers. Use organizational and scheduling tools like HootSuite. It’s a huge timesaver.

Check out the social media presence of authors in your genre, or one you respect. Glean what speaks to you, and then find your own niche. The time to build your platform is now, before you sell your first book. At least have the structure in place, so you can hit the ground running when your time comes.

“If you want to get a publishing deal, you need a platform to prove your books will sell.”—Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn

Sources: Who Needs a Platform?, Are You Hitting a Bulls Eye With Your Target Audience?, From Blog to Book: Building an Online Platform, Should Unpublished Novelists Be Platform-Building? www.rachellegardner.com; The 15-Minute Writer (Part 3): Building Your Platform, Building Your Author Platform Before The Contract, 4 Pillars to Build an Effective Social Media Platform, www.wordservewatercooler.com.

Dear Diary: Journaling for Writers

Girl's DiaryThe Hubster and I recently spent time with our daughter in Dallas, and took the opportunity to visit the Holocaust Museum. There was an exhibit of Otto Frank’s family photographs, father of noted diarist Anne Frank.  Diary of a Young Girl was a life-changing book for me, along with many other adolescents. Anne’s naïve, yet honest account of her time spent hiding from the Nazis is one of the best-selling diaries in history.

Journaling is useful for increased creativity for writers, documenting personal milestones and information to be used in future projects, and synthesizing personal stress. It’s a terrific way to create balance in your life. The sheer act of venting your pent-up emotions on paper is cathartic.

Writing in a diary gives you an opportunity to separate yourself from the events of the day and place them in their proper perspective. When you see a problem written out on paper, it becomes more bite-sized. The space that nebulous thoughts take up in your brain pan could be put to good use thinking about a new story line or lead character.

Noted personal productivity speaker David Allen wrote an article titled, “Finding Your Inside Time,” at www.writersdigest.com. This piece shares insights into fighting stress and frustration in your work and personal life through journaling. “Sometimes core-dumping is the best way to get started when nothing else is flowing—just an objectification of what is on my internal landscape,” said Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (Viking).

In addition to Diary of a Young Girl, other famous diaries are The Journals of Sylvia Plath, Notebooks by Tennessee Williams and Go Ask Alice. Historical journals belonging to Lewis & Clark and several U.S. presidents are held in high esteem.

Group journaling is another avenue to make time for writing and networking with other writers. Each person in the group can take a turn conjuring up writing prompts. Reading aloud to the group should not be compulsory, but encouraged. New insights into self and others will be discovered and bonds formed through sharing your inner life.

It’s always a good idea to reread your diary entries, if only to see how your voice has evolved over the years. Keep the focus on your talent, not the busyness of everyday life. Besides, the contents of your personal journal will make a juicy memoir some day!

We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.”—Anais Nin

Sources: “Keep Your Hand Moving,” Christa Allan, guest blogger on www.rachellegardner.com; “The Power of Group Journaling,” Suzanne C. Goodsell, www.writersdigest.com

Scene 2013 Conference Fast Approaches

Scene 2013If you missed the KWA meeting in February, HB Berlow–president, fills us in.  Discussing the idea of Writers Conferences, HB pointed out that there are “three primary reasons to go to a writer’s conference: learning, networking, socializing.”

A conference is a great opportunity to learn from other writers, to see what has worked.  Their experiences can provide great insight into what can be a very isolating experiencing.  April Pameticky notes that it was a presentation by Malena Lott at a previous conference that really inspired her to pursue and develop a blog.

A conference can be a great tool for networking as well.  It is recommended to have a business card ready and according to HB, “be prepared to talk about something interesting.”

A conference can also be an excellent opportunity to socialize with other writers.  Who else to better understand the isolating experience of wrestling with our muses than another writer?

The Scene Conference 2013 is uniquely designed to afford writers the chance to rub shoulders and learn from each other.  Interested in learning more?  Visit: https://kwawriters.org/scene/

The Best Books on Writing

I realize that many of the writers in the KWA have found their personal strides.  But I am a writer still exploring my creative voice.  As both a writer of fiction and a poet, there are several books that I return to time and again to refuel and bring zest to my work.   Hopefully a suggestion here will bring you some inspiration as well.

Each of these books is available for sale, but for ease I linked each book cover image to the Amazon listing.  Please keep in mind that many of MY copies were borrowed from the public library, but I highly recommend supporting Wichita’s own Watermark Books.

Letters to a Young Poet
by Rainer Maria Rilke

Rilke“Seek those [themes] which your own everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, passing thoughts and the belief in some sort of beauty—describe all these with loving, quiet, humble sincerity, and use, to express yourself, the things in your environment, the images from your dreams, and the objects of your memory.”

These letters are available in a variety of translations, the best of which is the M.D. Herter volume. The advice shared with a wider audience in 1932 remains timeless.  A writer doesn’t have to be a poet to appreciate the sentiment that writing is difficult and that writers should find the courage from within to continue.

 

Writing Down the Bones
by Natalie Goldberg

GoldbergGoldberg is my favorite writer for practical writing advice.  She combines her Zen practice with her devotion to daily writing, and the result is gracious encouragement for every writer.  One of the early chapters, “First Thoughts,” describes the daily writing exercise, even down to choosing a pen that gets you excited about writing..  Goldberg believes you must write through the bad results to get to the good.  And writing everyday is the ticket.

 

The Artist’s Way
by Julia Cameron

This book literally describes a course of action that aspiring artists and creative people can execute to unleash their own Cameroncreativity.  On a week-by-week plan, The Artist’s Way retrains the brain to look and see the world in new ways, which will begin to feed into the creative life.  While written more for the ‘artist,’ each week’s efforts are beneficial for writers.  For example, toward the end of week 2 [in the chapter “Recovering a Sense of Identity”], one exercise is to “List your five major activities this week.  How much time did you give to each one?  Which were what you wanted to do and which were should?  How much of your time is spent helping others and ignoring your own desires?”  Sometimes acknowledging what keeps me from working on a project motivates me more to manage my time differently.

The Art of Fiction
by John Gardner

gardnerIf you write fiction, you must read this book.  I had written stories for years before I realized that I was making some basic mistakes by violating the reader’s sense of psychic distance.  I am embarrassed to say that I was also quite happily attached to clichés.  Gardner essentially breaks down elements of a story, providing great samples and examples of what works AND what NOT to do.  Ironically, there are popular genres where certain things Gardner determined were errors are actually acceptable forms—like in Romance, readers accept the easy slide between one point-of-view and another.

 Tell us what YOU read!

This list is not exhaustive.  There are many other books available to inspire the writer within.  The best resources are often other writers.  What is your must-have book?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

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DSCN0574 A Poet and a writer, April Pameticky tries to find balance between her professional life as a writer, teacher, wife, and mother.  Her chapbook of poetry, Sand River and Other Places I’ve Been will soon be released by Finishing Line Press.

Catch up at AprilinWichita.

How to Write a Killer Author Bio in Three Easy Steps

A clean, concise author biography is your calling card, and can mean the difference between future sales and languishing in the bookstore bargain bin. Creative writing may be your bread and butter, but tooting your own horn can be a difficult task. Here are three categories to consider:

  1. Short form: Two sentences. In third person. Name, book title, publisher, where they can find you online. Around 25 words.
  2. Medium form: For speaking engagements, magazine articles, brochures. In third person. Name, book title, publisher, where they can find you, education, and background, if it pertains to your writing. Around 50 words.
  3. Long form: For query letters. In first person. One quarter (around 50 words) of the page for fiction. A little longer for non-fiction (add your platform and credentials). Push the current project, not your life story.

Make it professional, but with your personality; include memberships in literary associations, degrees in literature or creative writing, book awards and reviews.

Make a list of all possible facts, then start paring it down. Choose three credits to highlight. Keep personal information to a minimum. Readers want to know where to find you on the internet and other books you have written.

Share your newly-crafted bio with your critique group. Members can give you input on what to work on.

Don’t mistake this accomplishment, “Jane recently trained her tom cat, Sir Licksalot, to fetch the evening paper,” with this one, “Jane received second place for her essay titled, ‘Jambalaya,’ in the Deep South Gazette’s annual literary competition.”

Don’t talk about this life experience, “Hortense spent her teen years in and out of Juvenile Hall,” when this one is so much more relevant, “Hortense’s two decades as an EMT give her unique qualifications to write medical drama.”

Compose a biography like you’re writing a novel. Write and revise. Whittle it down until there is no visible fat. Your bio must be lean and mean! Below are two of mine, which I am currently crafting.

“Carol J. Martin is a veteran blogger, inspirational writer/speaker and Kansas Writers Association member. Female in Motion Devotions, her first book, received semi-finalist status in the Munce Group’s 2012 Writing Contest. Female in Motion can be found at www.fim-carol.blogspot.com.”

“While it began in 2007 as an exercise blog, Female in Motion (www.fim-carol.blogspot.com) quickly became more of a personal journal: Life as a Midwestern wife, empty-nester, inspirational writer/speaker, cancer survivor and most notably, Christian. Female in Motion Devotions, my first book, was a semi-finalist in the Munce Group’s 2012 Writing Contest. My faith simply wraps itself around everything I write and I consider it my mission to encourage women to seek God’s will for their lives.”

“Biography lends to death a new terror.”—Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Credits: www.rachellegardner.com, www.ehow.com, www.wordservewatercooler.com, www.freelancewriting.com, www.lulu.com/blog

Incorporating the Five Senses in Your Writing

I’m a foodie. The anticipation and joy in my heart that I experience while waiting for a restaurant entrée or homemade dinner is ridiculous. When the steaming plate is finally placed before me, I’m blissful. It is a feast for the senses.

If you want to engage a reader into your written world, you must incorporate sensory data, so their imaginations will ignite. Sense memory is one of the quickest ways to transport an audience into your novel. When describing the plate of Mexican food above, I could say that it looked good…but what does “good” look like? “The enchiladas were covered with melted cheese and spicy ranchero sauce,” immediately transports you south of the border.

Let’s go further, using all five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste and touch.

 

The combo plate included four enchiladas and a taco.

The combination enchilada plate at Carmelita’s was generous enough to feed four hungry lumberjacks.

The food smelled good.

As the server set the fragrant offering before me, the chile relleno’s spicy aroma tickled my nose.

 I heard music playing.

The mariachi band’s salsa tune was accented by the syncopated rhythm of the electronic cash register.

I ate my dinner.

My mouth discovered the creamy center of the queso blanco and spinach enchilada, while a hint of nutmeg in the béchamel sauce intrigued my tongue.

I grabbed my plate.

The stoneware platter was sizzling hot; I placed my blistered finger on the icy margarita glass.

 

Adding sensory details to a piece of prose imparts multidimensional imagery that readers crave. Jessica Bell, author of Show & Tell in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Transitions from Telling to Showing, says that her writing changed when she added concreteness. “My writing had become cinematic, it had movement, my characters were three dimensional and I didn’t even have to mention their personality traits because I was showing them. But above all, my writing evoked emotion.”

 “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”–Anton Chekhov

 

Sources: WordServe Water Cooler, WritersDigest.com, novel-writing-help.com, writingcenterunderground.wordpress.com.