Wordsmith Wednesday–Ten Places to Look for Inspiration

Community Thrift Store (ii)

Image by Pete Boyd via Flickr

Writer’s Digest recently released their top ten edition in which they create all kind of lists related to the world of writing. I had been thinking about discontinuing my subscription but when I received this copy, I smiled as I remembered the fun I had with last year’s issue that followed the same format.

I’m very fond of lists (OCD?). I love to make shopping lists, to-do lists…you name it. I especially like crossing things off of my to-do list. And so I thought for today’s post I would indulge myself. So here’s my “Off-the-Top-of-My-Head List for Ten Places to Seek Inspiration.

  1. Thrift shops–rummage through the remnants of other peoples’ lives. Focus on an object or let your imagination construct a scene around an object.
  2. Coffee shops or restaurants–lurk in the corner of the booth and jot down other people’s dialogues. Listen for subject and “voice.”
  3. Sitting or walking in nature–indulge in sensory description.
  4. A bus stop, train station or airport–watch people hurry about the business of life. Wonder where they are going and why.
  5. News sources–papers, radios, TV news and the Internet are ripe with snippets of news that can explode into fiction.
  6. Book Stores–in light of the closing of Border’s, we can only hope this will not become a trend. Yeah for e-books, but nothing replaces thumbing through the pages, looking at covers, luxuriating in “real” books. Look for trends and story ideas.
  7. Social Media such as Twitter and Facebook–follow conversation threads, look at ads, check out profiles. You never know where you might uncover a new character or theme.
  8. Art Museums–one of my favorites. Sit for a while in front of a piece of art. Really look at it. What would your senses perceive if you were inside the painting? How would it smell, taste, feel? What would you hear? Use the painting as the subject of a poem. Research a bit about the artist.
  9. Hospital or Doctor’s Waiting Rooms–I don’t suggest going there just to observe, but if you do have to wait, check out emotional responses of those waiting with you and try to describe them objectively. You are bound to pick up some anxiety, perhaps some sadness, relief, or impatience.
  10. Public Venues of any Sort–I wrote an entire short story once based on what I saw while waiting for a concert to begin…one of those “bring your blanket and sit on the grass things.” And the whole event, plagued by a significant thunder and lightning storm, gave me a story line.

Now it’s your turn. You might want to review the subject of “Artists’ Dates” in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Where are some of the places you go to discover your writing muse? Please share a bit with us in the comments. If you like, post something that you’ve written based on your trolling and link it in comments as well. I have limited Internet access right now, so will respond as soon as possible. Thanks for joining.

Self-Publishing Debate

101 Best Article

Image by yeah but via Flickr

So many articles are flying around touting conflicting opinions of self-publishing versus traditional publishing. I happened upon this one article morning through an e-mail subscription to some of the Writer’s Digest blogs. Writer’s Digest blogs offer a wealth of resources and I encourage you to check them out and think about linking up, especially if publishing looms on your to-do list.


Wordsmith Wednesday–7 Things I’ve Learned So Far

For this weeks post, I’m going to share my article which was published on Sunday, August 29th on the Writer’s Digest blog hosted by Chuck Sambuchino:


1. Cultivate Beginner’s Mind. Whether you are a newbie or a seasoned writer, approach your work as though you were a novice. Read good writing in many genres. Subscribe to magazines such as Writer’s Digest. Devour books about the practice of writing. Reread classics and explore contemporary work. Give a book 50 pages then, if it isn’t working for you, put it aside. Never, ever become complacent. The day you believe you have arrived, you will cease to develop.

2. Refute the Myth of Writer’s Block. There are days when the last thing you want to do is face the ominous blank page—and sometimes that’s okay. But when one writing-free day leads to another and another, you are at risk of slipping into writer’s entropy. Devise a treatment plan that will free your creative muse from its self-imposed exile. Brainstorm with a friend; write a poem; revise a short story you’ve previously abandoned; take a walk in nature; pick random words from the dictionary and use all of them in a paragraph, poem or short, short story. Find a remedy that works for you.

3. Listen to Others, but Be True to Your Vision. Participation in critique groups and workshops is of immense value. Objective, balanced advice from fellow writers helps you develop your skills and improve your manuscript. Learn to listen to suggestions with an open mind and hone your ability to give feedback that is both constructive and encouraging. Take notes while your work is being reviewed. Soon after the session, correct typos, grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, but defer making changes related to plot or character until you have completed your first draft. Hold onto the reins of your story: the plot, story arc and characters belong to you at this point. Don’t do radical surgery until you are know it will improve the prognosis of your story.

4. Embrace the Process of Revision but Keep on Writing. I wrote my first novel in a little over a year and revised for eight years before it was accepted by an agent. Don’t be afraid of the hard work of writing. Take a break after you’ve completed the first draft—let your manuscript gestate. Be creative in the process of revising and editing: read your novel aloud; read it backwards, beginning with the last chapter, to discover unresolved story lines and inconsistencies in characters; read it with a focus on grammar, on active verbs, on tightening the narrative, eliminating unnecessary adverbs and adjectives; look for word echoes—you get the idea. But, in the meantime, move forward. Outline your next novel or book proposal. Write in a different genre. Try to balance your time between the new and the old. Finally, know when it’s time to give birth.

5. Query with Care. You will save yourself some of the heartbreak of rejection if you attend well to the process of submitting your work. Ask other writers for feedback on your query letter, synopsis and outline. Make them as succinct and compelling as possible and tailor your presentation to the agents or publishers to whom you are submitting. Do a thorough review of their websites to assure that you are meeting their requirements and that your masterpiece matches the type of work that they represent. Don’t send more than they request. And when you’ve accumulated your fair share of rejections, keep on trying—don’t give up. If you’re lucky enough to receive a personalized note of rejection, consider any advice that’s been offered and if necessary, be willing to take another look at your manuscript and, if needed, initiate CPR.

6. Manage Your Time and Organize Your Space. The creative process can be messy, even chaotic. Disorganization, however, can take over our lives and waste time. How can you maximize efficiency? Develop processes that work for you such as computer files, folders for research and document back-up systems. Decide whether you will work from an outline or if you prefer to let your characters lead the way. Before beginning to write, consider fleshing out character profiles and detailed setting descriptions. Avoid or limit time-busters such as computer games, surfing the Internet and other writing-avoidance gimmicks that have inched their way into your routine. Finally, design or discover a sacred space that invites you to unleash your creativity.

7. Adjust Your Definition of Success. Ask a writer how they define success. You will hear responses ranging from winning a Pulitzer to multiple weeks on the NYT Bestseller List. While I couldn’t argue with those answers, I’d like to think that, along the way, we achieve many smaller successes. From my agented-but-not-yet-published place on the continuum, I’d like to focus on some of the other achievements that have had meaning in my writing life: making the effort to show up at the blank page, publishing my first short stories and poems in small literary journals, completing those first drafts, finding the perfect word that expresses what I want to say, experiencing the zone outside myself when the writing just happens guided by the creative Spirit, receiving a complimentary rejection, knowing at the end of the day I’ve worked toward what I’m here on earth to accomplish. Celebrate success!

I strongly recommend this site, especially if you are looking for an agent. All of the Writer’s Digest blogs are well worth book-marking.

My Article Got Published

I just received notice that an article I wrote is published on Writer’s Digest Guide to Literary Agent’s blog. Hope you will stop by for a visit. The link is http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/

My article is titled “Seven Things I’ve Learned So Far.” It’s a recurring column on this blog, hosted by Chuck Sambuchino, an editor at Writer’s Digest. It follows an interview with a new agent, Kerry Sparks, so you’ll need to scroll down.

Just an FYI, it was here that I found my agent, Kimberly Shumate. Hope you take a look and give me feedback if you would. I will post it in its entirety later this week, but would love to introduce you to this great blog.

Writing Rituals

My very Catholic background is steeped in ritual and is (and always will be, I assume) an integral part of who I am. I’m not speaking here of superstition or rote utterances, but processes that invite me to pray or to create.

This morning I read an article in the most recent Writer’s Digest in which readers shared their writing rituals. My own vary from time-to-time, but I do find that there are ways to create an environment and mood for practising our art.

One technique that I’ve used in the past is to bless my writing space. I light a candle on my desk and ask my angels and God to be with me as I work. Sometimes, I’ll use incense. I write best in a place of quiet and comfort. Right now, this is a challenge since our two little dogs love to be close. They will jump on my lap (and threaten my manuscript) and want to snuggle.

Many writers enjoy writing in public places such as coffee shops or libraries. Because of my distractable mind, this doesn’t usually bode well for me, but bringing a notebook to such a location has been the source of story lines and descriptions.

Do you have ideas to share? What works for you?