Dips and Spinning and Demons, Oh My!

I'll say it. Today was a vicious day. What started so small and unassuming turned into this festering puss ball of unfinished work and distractions. I had about 15 projects on my desk (meaning my laptop since my desk is my lap these days) and only about three or four items had been completed by lunch time. This is not progress. I plugged away, pushed, shoved, bribed, all of the above, and when we sat down for dinner it felt like I had gotten nowhere.

That's when I realized I kept taking dips. Dipping into one project, moving away, and dipping into another. Have you ever done this? Are we crazy? I was working in small bites round and round, but never getting any one thing really pushed in the right direction. My sister and I call this spinning -- you have all this momentum and movement, yet you're not actually moving forward.  If this one day was bad, it would be okay, but that seems to have been the theme for the week and no one let me in on it. Suckaroo.  

*Not actual demon.
It's like I was distracting myself, "oh, shiny," and going back to the document from an hour earlier only to leap frog over to something else ten minutes later. Like I was being possessed by some writing demon that didn't approve of final drafts or rereading pieces to edit them. Perhaps this demon needs to be named for the times when I do this, or perhaps he deserves to go nameless through the room as it makes messes of my work. Oh, wait! Let me open a new document and we can make a list to name him... Suggestions?

7 Ways to Make Inspiration Come to You

As a writer, what inspires you? Is it a great book you just finished reading? Did you sit at the park and "people watch" during your lunch break and get some ideas there? Were you meditating on margaritas to set the inner writer free? It's always interesting where different authors get their ideas. Some get more ideas the more they write, while others draw a blank in front of the page but excel after taking a jog to get the creative juices flowing.

I know I tend to find inspiration in examining life and relationships. I think about how people relate to each other, how they talk to each other, whether or not they touch, etc. If I want an idea for a story sometimes I think about or go to public places, the mall, the movie theater, the park. Sometimes just being alone and engaging in the five senses will spark some creativity. Other times I hear some bit of dialogue or read a line and a couple of paired words really grab me and that prompt is enough to build a story around.

Is your mind still blank? Here are seven other suggestions that might provide a spark you can turn into a fire.

1. Watch a film, read a book, or listen to a CD that puts you in the mood for writing or sets the tone for the writing you need to do. I find there are some stories that have a soundtrack and listening to a specific CD while I work on them adds to the experience. 

2. Take a walk. Think about writing as you stroll down the street. This is a great way to work out plot holes, dialogue issues, or character backstories.

3. Take a walk. Don't think about writing at all. Be present in the moment to observe the sounds of running water or birds, the look of sunlight filtering through trees, or even the smell of the earth under fallen leaves.

4. "Business lunch." Take yourself out to eat alone or with a writer friend. Giving yourself a break from the computer or pen and paper and shutting to doors on your writer's mindset can often give you the freedom to let new information in that the internal editor wasn't allowing.

5. Free write like no one is watching. Open a new document or pull out a scrap piece of paper and write as fast as you can all the horrible things you can't write into your current story. If you're working on a romance novel, then quickly zip out a 500 word scene of someone stumbling in on a murder in progress. Write high-tech science fiction? Give yourself a 300 word description of an open meadow at sunrise.

6. Keep a journal. Often writing about the thoughts in your head and sorting through them can release that part of you that has been trying to be inspired but couldn't under all the clutter in your mind. Whether you write in a journal every day or only when you need to sort out plot points and characters, a lot can be uncovered in the process.

7. Exercise. Sitting still for hours on end can be exhausting, but while your brain is working a mile a minute, your legs, back, arms, heart, and core are in reality just sitting around going unused. Regular exercise can push your body and turn off your brain for a while. More than likely this will also improve your sleep. (See how I assume you're not getting enough sleep? Most of us aren't.)

Wherever you find your muse the important thing to remember is to keep writing whether they find you today or not. There will be days without inspiration but that doesn't mean it won't come to you. Once you realize where to find your inspiration, remember to go back to that place often to make the inspiration come to you.

Now it's your turn. Share where you find your inspiration in the comments section.

Confessions: Small Complaint about the Kindle

My dad gave me a Kindle for Christmas. I love it. It made me want to cry just opening it because it's something that I've considered getting, but would never buy for myself. With a child you stop thinking anything over about $25 is worthy of your own wants, so it wouldn't have ever happened. Since then I've downloaded a bazillion free titles and even a couple of games my daughter and I can play together. I've also been checking out a few samples of books that I'm not sure I want to read. A sample gives you the first however many pages of a book without purchase (like standing in the bookstore)--enough to wet your whistle or turn you off entirely from buying the book.

Well, I was thinking about Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. I've read other stuff by Hurston, but wasn't sure about getting this one since I would have to pay for it. So, I downloaded the sample with introduction by Edwidge Danticat (who I also enjoy as an author). Here's the problem: 100% of the sample is the introduction! I'd like to think someone at the wheel could make it so samples were the actual text of the story and not the first physical pages of the book, but I know that ship sailed with computer automation in control of just about everything these days.

I'm not mad, just disappointed. It's no secret Amazon has had some questionable issues in the past like selling pedophile how-to books and allowing authors to post 43 positive reviews of their own books to boost their star rating, but this is disappointing on a different front. If I went into an ice cream shop and wanted a sample they wouldn't show me the cone, they would give me some of the ice cream. Likewise, I don't want to sample an introduction to a literary work, I want to sample the actual work. Granted, this is the first sample where this has been a problem, but something tells me it won't be the last...

Critique Groups: The Writing Mirror You Need

I applied and was accepted into a writing critique group last week thanks to some amazing information from a very inspiring writer. I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am for this group and how remarkable they are at picking apart a story or chapter and guiding the rebuilding process.

To be clear, this isn't my first writing group. I was a part of several workshops through both undergrad and grad school, and knew what I liked and what I didn't. My problem over the last few years has been trying to find a group of writers that wanted to publish and who were tough with their critiques. If you ever want to get better at your writing, then you need a set of people that are willing to tell you when you're holding back, writing crap, or blowing the reader away with crisp dialogue or realistic description.

This is where a critique group can be amazing, because a writing group is the equivalent of holding up a mirror to your writing. You're going to see your own errors in other members' stories, you're going to get called on it when you haven't given something your all, and your going to, as a consequence of it all, keep plot, character, voice, and other aspects of story in the forefront of your mind as you work.

If you feel like you're writing in a vacuum and don't know if your story is really coming across the way you think it is, then it might just be time to start looking for a group that will be that mirror or reality.