Friday, January 15, 2016

Writing and Life

Writing and Life. We authors can't have one without the other. While the creating aspect of writing is a solitary business we wouldn't have much to offer if we weren't - out there - living, interacting with people, experiencing new places and things. Working at jobs. Relationships. Encounters. Participating in sports, yoga, gym workouts, walking the neighborhood. Jacqueline Sewald created a great post last week about where to find ideas. It really spoke to me personally, because I would dearly love to retire and write full time. HOWEVER. I'm not quite sure how we'd manage the bills (especially health insurance, but that is another story).

Making a living with writing is tough. To hone my craft I became a feature writer for a small newspaper and interviewed some of the most wonderful people, who all found unique ways to live their lives. For example:
  • A 104-year-old woman who decided to start riding a motorcycle. 
  • A seventy-year-old woman who learned to fly a small plane. 
  • A retired airplane engineer decided to build replica hot rods and sell them. 
  • Many, many lovely seniors utilize their creativity to help others - quilts, clothing, hats and gloves. 

This is a short list of articles written about people. Ah, people. To me, that's the key to a good story.
What happened? How do the characters feel? Where did do things happen to these people? What did the characters do for a living? Who are they deep down inside? What are their dreams, aspirations, fears? Finding the answers to these questions is extremely interesting. Authors can interview their character and discover and create their story.

Authors can utilize people they know or have seen as prototypes. What did they look like? What did they wear? How did they smell? How did they talk? One of the feisty ladies in my two novels is the image of an instructor I had in college. She floated into a room, her bangles tinkling, her long hair in a braid or bun, her long skirts skimming the tops of her leather sandals. Her grace and physical presence inspired me. Whenever Regina speaks in my story I visualize Dr. Konek. If I hadn't taken a class from her I might have seen her in the bookstore or on the street and still she would have captured my imagination.

The Annabelle character is a compilation of many women I've known, my grandmother being the main one, and she lives and has adventures that my aunts and I have had in the kitchen. Flour everywhere, salt being substituted for sugar in a recipe (yes, it happens) and the ultimate response when tasted. Cherries can be spit quite far.

Whether you have a large family or small there are episodes that will no doubt find their way into stories. Verbal ones or written, it doesn't make a difference. Make it real for the listener or reader. Share your living with them. Share your humor with them. Share your feelings with them. It's what makes story "real."

And don't forget to enjoy the adventure.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Tips on Innovating and Developing New Fiction By Jacqueline Seewald

I am often asked this question by readers: where do you get the ideas for your stories and novels? I answer this question by saying I don’t just sit at my computer all day and pull ideas out of thin air. Here are a few ideas or tips on how I generate new fiction that may prove helpful.

One: Ideas for fiction originate from living life as fully as possible. I am interested in the people and places around me. I talk with friends and family. I communicate with other people. I even listen in on conversations I overhear in restaurants and at gatherings. I pay attention. I observe with all of my senses. Reality gets mixed with imagination in fiction writing. Setting, plot, theme and characterization often originate from living life in the real world and observing what is happening there.

Writers are people, many of whom live interesting and unusual lives. However, some of us tend to find the unusual in the ordinary. It all plays a part in what writers ultimately designate as “fiction.”

Two: Reading sparks ideas. I am a voracious reader as are many other authors. I read a great variety of books, magazines and newspapers. I read both fiction and nonfiction. Reading the work of other writers, both fiction and nonfiction, stirs my imagination and encourages creativity.

Some things I’ve found helpful that may help spark creativity:
·        Visit a bookstore and browse. Buy a new book or magazine you’d like to read.
·        Visit a library and browse. Borrow a print book or audio that looks interesting.

Three: Journal writing serves as a source for ideas. I faithfully write in a journal each day. It is not necessarily great literature but I use journaling to describe things, increasing my powers of observation. For example, I might describe places: houses, sidewalks, backyards and streets, cities. I consider my journal as a kind of travelogue. I often describe people, interesting or unusual, the ordinary as well.

I might jot down snatches of conversation. I think of my journal as a treasure trove or jewel box in which to place gems (quotes, pithy ideas, epigrams, insights, puns, nutshell wisdom). I write a little, think a lot.
I also consider the journal as a laboratory for experiment, a way to try  different writing styles, see what suits, what fits and what doesn't.

In journaling, I can have a record of thought associations, stream-of-consciousness. Journaling can provide fine raw material for future writing.
When I was teaching English at the high school level, I wrote in my journal regularly. A lot of those thoughts, comments, and descriptions came into play when I wrote THE TRUTH SLEUTH. Readers who have also taught commented that this mystery novel has the ring of veracity about it--not surprising since the book is the real deal, one of the benefits of writing what I actually know about. The same was true of THE INFERNO COLLECTION, the original idea for which was sparked by my time working as an academic reference librarian at the university.

Even my YA novels are sparked by real events. In THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, I’ve written reality from my own high school days mixed with the paranormal in a romantic allegorical story.

 In STACY’S SONG, the main character is a girl with a sense of humor but handling many of the insecurities I and others typically dealt with as teenagers.

Four: Exercise is important. I go for walks, paying attention to my surroundings. If the weather is too cold, I either use a treadmill or walk in a mall. My husband does interval training. Jogging works too. Some people like to swim or bicycle. Some like to dance or do yoga. It’s all good! Exercise sends blood to the brain and produces a sense of well-being that lends itself to creativity.

Five: What else can we do to spark our life force, rev up our engines? I’m not just talking about in the creative arts. Every human being needs revitalization at some point. If you’ve become discouraged, suffered a loss of productivity in your field of endeavor, there are ways to deal with it.

Get started by making some life changes in this new year. Get out of your normal rut or routine. Consider doing things you’ve never tried before or haven’t done lately. They don’t have to be dangerous or extreme either. 

Meditation is not something new but certainly beneficial. It’s been referred to as “mindfulness.” Here’s some easy ways to start:
·        Breathe deeply concentrating on the act itself
·        Hug someone, focusing on the interaction
·        Eat slowly while paying attention to what you are eating
The key is to keep focus on the activity and not let your mind wander or worry.
This is just one positive method of increasing your creativity which can lead to increased productivity.

Visit an art gallery, a museum, or travel somewhere you’ve never been before.

Six: Writers need to write. Choose a time that’s good for you and write consistently each day. I prefer the early morning when there are fewer distractions or interruptions. But you may be a night person. Do what’s comfortable. Just make writing a daily habit.

All of these things stimulate creativity which in turn helps originate new writing.

Comments welcome!

Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year's Resolutions by Susan Oleksiw

In the spirit of the New Year, I offer a few thoughts for 2016. 

It is hard to be original in generating resolutions. Furthermore, giving advice to others is easy. A new resolution to exercise regularly does not happen on a cold morning in January but on a warm day in the fall when a physical therapist goes to work on a frozen shoulder. In the same way, ushering in the new year is a good time to assess my work habits and practices, and resolve to continue the best of them.

The best habits for writers are simple and obvious, and I follow these every year.

1. Write every day. If you want to write, you have to write. Scribbling on the occasional weekend will not produce a professional or a polished novel. Find a place to work, either in a private room or a corner of another, and go there every day for an hour more or less. The amount of time isn’t important as long as you’re writing. If you fill a page every day, at 350 words a page, at the end of the year you will have a very long book. It will need editing.

2. Editing is also writing. Learn to polish your work, and learn all the dull bits you managed to avoid during English classes. Know the difference between there, they’re, their, and between disinterested and uninterested. Make sure you know when you’re using a sentence fragment and when you’ve forgotten to finish the sentence. Get a good dictionary, new or old, and use it. Spend time learning new words or deepening your understanding of known words.

3. Read, read, read. I never met a successful writer, or a good writer, who didn’t read widely and deeply. And after you’ve read a particular book, write a review for yourself or a review site and consider what others have said about it. Read outside your favorite genres.

But what about my personal resolutions for the coming year?

4. For various reasons, mostly lack of discipline, I find that I begin January with three unfinished mss. One is a collection of Anita Ray stories, both published and unpublished, almost ready to be sent out into the world. The second is a Joe Silva ms that I set aside until my beta readers could get to it. Time passed, and only now am I getting the reports. The third is another Anita Ray mystery, the fifth in the series, which is about eighty percent finished. I have until August to complete it. One of my goals is to complete each of these three projects. My next, and related, resolution is to not leave so many projects unfinished.

5. Over the years I have come to favor certain outlets for my fiction, and I’m not alone. We tend to send our work to editors who are receptive. It’s time for me to expand my options for fiction. I don’t know what this will lead to, but I think it’s a good idea.

6. After being retired for two years, I know that I enjoy being around people a limited amount of time. This year I think I can achieve a balance between my desire to be alone to write and my enjoyment of other people and activities “in the world.”

7. I have a few ideas for stories that don't match anything I've done so far. No one may want them, but I believe in trying new things, and this year I plan to work on them.

8. I have a few other goals, mostly from other aspects of my life. I studied piano for twelve years, and after all this time away from the instrument I realize how much I miss it. No, I’m not going to buy a piano. But I think I will take up another instrument now that I have the time.

I am often reminded of the number of artists, writers, actors, musicians, scientists, doctors, and others who find success in more than one area. Perhaps it is the luck of the draw, being born with an abundance of talent, but it is also equally likely to be the capacity to work hard at whatever one undertakes. That’s the kind of discipline I’d like to have. I’ll know better in a year if I have it. I’ll let you know what I discover.