Writer’s Block?

Imagine yourself with a clean sheet of paper in front of you. You have to write a short story about something, but no matter how long you stare at that crisp white piece of paper you have nothing. Zip. Ziltch. Not one word comes to mind.  What do you do? How do you get over the initial panic that comes with every new moment that a story won’t come to mind? You could throw your computer out the window and swear off writing, or maybe just get comfortable with yourself and do some brainstorming.

This morning, I met with several fellow writers and we talked about brainstorming and the techniques we each use to get or mojo flowing.  It was interesting that each of the five people had their own unique way to brainstorm.  Therefore, you too should look at each of these as an idea for you to mull over and in the end come up with a formula that works for you.

  • Look for intense moments from your life (or someone else’s): This can be a tough one depending on the situation. Some events in life are better left in the past, but some of them can make for a great scene, short story, or book.
  • Ask questions: Get out a sheet of paper and a pencil. I like pencils because they seem to be more connected with the paper. Plus, pens are too permanent – you can erase pencil. Getting back to your paper…. When a question pops into your mind write it down. Don’t take the time to answer it, yet. Keep writing them down until your mind feels empty of them. Now, go back and answer them.
  • Play with your attractions: What sort of things attract you? Do you love wine, bookstores, plants, hiking, rock climbing, or knitting? Any one of these are potential subjects.
  • Use pre-printed idea cards: Let’s say you are listening to the news and you hear a n odd story that you think would be interesting to write about. Jot it down on a note pad or an index card. These will become your idea cards.
  • Online themes: there are plenty of websites and social media that provide writing prompts, contests, and games. Writers Digest, Penguin Random House, and Creative Writing Prompts are just a few that I use when I’m stuck.
  • Word dumps: sit down and just write nonsense words. Keep writing them until you feel the flood gates open. Put them on index cards. This turns your word dumps into idea cards.

One of the keys to be successful in these exercises is to stay away from your computer. Handwritten words are powerful. There is a connection between your hand and your brain that isn’t present between the computer and your brain. According to an article in Time, “… creative people have greater connectivity between these brain networks that tend to work in opposition in most people. This messiness of creativity at the neurological level mirrors its real-life complexity.”

Creative minds like a little bit of disorganization. Handwriting is one way to provide it. Scribbling up the margins, scratching out mistakes, flipping the page over to write upside-down all contribute to a wonderfully, messy, creative mind. Next time you’re stumped for words, grab a piece of paper, napkin, or the palm of your hand and start writing. Your mind will do the rest.

T is for Tourist Trophy Races

My main character in The Manx, Kaitlin Manning, and her father, Charles, are on the Isle of Man to photograph the TT races when Kaitlin stumbles across the first piece of a puzzle that takes her far from the races. I became fascinated by these races when looking for a reason for Kaitlin to visit the island. I thought about having her on vacation or just visiting family, but that was almost too simple of an idea. I came across these races and knew I had my reason for her to go to the Isle of Man. Here is what I learned about the races.

The Isle of Man Tourist Trophy races, commonly referred to as TT, are time trial motorcycle races that take place on the public roads around the Isle of Man.  It is a 200 MPH street race over treacherous twists, turns, hills, and bumps. To race on this course is to put your life on the line; a very thin line.

The races started back in 1907. Rem Fowler won in the twin-cylinder class with speeds averaging 36 MPH. Today, the races have expanded to five classes of bikes that can average upwards of 130 MPH. The fastest average speed was set in 2016 by Michael Dunlop at nearly 134 MPH. The race record for the Sidecar TT was set in 2017 by Ben and Tom Birchall. They completed the 37 mile twisting course an average race speed at just over 116 mph.

Racers have nerves of steel to drive in what is known as one of the most dangerous races in the world. It is not just the roads themselves, but the obstacles alongside them. Some of roadways on the Isle of Man are narrow with brick walls and buildings that will come right to the edge of the road. A driver can come out of a tight turn heading headlong toward the side of a building. Fans sit just feet away from the riders who are screaming by at 200 MPH. One tiny error, any small unseen obstacle can turn deadly for both drivers and fans alike.

After reading so much about the TT I am looking forward to attending my first motorcycle race. I am a fan of quiet walks on the beach and hikes to astounding vistas (like to top of Mt Snaefell), but I am sure I’ll take time to see these monster bikes fly across the roads of Isle of Man.

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This post inspired by – T

R is for Rhumsaa (Ramsey)

Rhumsaa is the Manx term for Ramsey which is located on the northern end of the Isle of Man. It was named by the Norse (hrams-á) as the “Wild Garlic River” due to all of the wild garlic that grows nearby. Ramsey is the second largest city only bested by Douglas. It is also where Donal and his mother have a home.

When I was looking for a destination for Kailtlin when she arrived to the Island I turned to Google Maps. I knew I wanted Ramsey in my book, but I wasn’t sure exactly where within the town she would be. I “virtually” wandered the streets of town looking for that perfect house. After torturing myself for a few hours I went back to my old friend Google Search.

“Homes for sale in Ramsey, Isle of Man” turned up the best results and then I found it! What a perfect place! The listing was complete with descriptions, footage, photographs, and, to top it off, a stunning location. Dare I show you what I found? I think not. Now, don’t get mad. This is not an easy decision. When you read The Manx I prefer you form your own vision of the house, rather than me just handing the keys over. 

Now that I had the house that Kaitlin and her father would stay in, the rest was easy. Ramsey is a great coastal town that hugs the edge of a bay. It isn’t so big that Kailtlin would be lost in the bustle, but it is a nice size for a colorful backdrop in The Manx.

I wonder if anyone makes Queenies there?

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This post inspired by – R

S is for Mt Snaefell

99 Questions to Ask Your Character

Characters need to live and breathe through your story which, in turn, brings your story to life. If they don’t have odd quirks, a childhood, a family, nor any fears, hopes and dreams, then they are just letters on a page. Even with a well-developed protagonist your words will fall flat if your supporting cast is weak.

Recently I ran into a rough patch that I had struggled to get past. In my mind’s eye I had all my characters figured out. I could picture them in my head, yet when they landed on the page their form lost color and dimension. A fellow author suggested I sit and do a full character study of the four largest characters in the story.

As soon as I sat down to do this I was at a loss for the questions that needed to be answered. Thank goodness for the internet. I did several searches under “character traits” to see what came up. I found quite a few sites that listed many questions I could ask my character, and each site had some main themes as well. As I dug deeper I found that there was also great social media questionnaires that took my questioning to interesting places.

After a while it became quite overwhelming and I ended up with well over 200 questions that could be asked of my book characters. Some questions were the same, just phrased differently, and some were edging on TMI so I edited the list down to 99 of my favorites.

How does this work? Just put yourself in the mind, and body of your character then answer them as your character would. The questions are not in any particular order. I found that this randomness helps to generate new ideas and new ways to look at a character. Of course, not all characters need such in-depth exploration, but as a writer, you get to choose which questions need to be answered to bring each of your characters to life. Have fun!!

1. Describe yourself. Hair color, height, weight, eye color, scars, marks, figure, etc.
2. Where were you born and raised? Where did you go to school?
3. Who are the members of your family?
4. If you could meet anyone on this earth, who would it be?
5. What are you obsessed with?
6. What do you think about most?
7. What does your latest text message from someone else say?
8. Do you sleep with or without clothes on?
9. What’s your strangest talent?
10. Girls______________. (finish the sentence); Boys____________. (finish the sentence)
11. Ever had a poem or song written about you?
12. Do you have any strange phobias?
13. Ever stuck a foreign object up your nose?
14. What’s your religion?
15. If you are outside, what are you most likely doing?
16. What was the last lie you told?
17. Do you believe in karma?
18. What is your biggest fear?
19. What is your greatest weakness; your greatest strength?
20. Who is your celebrity crush?
21. Have you ever gone skinny dipping?
22. How do you vent your anger?
23. Do you have a collection of anything?
24. Do you have a secret? What is it?
25. What was your childhood like?
26. Do you prefer talking on the phone or video chatting online?
27. Are you happy with the person you’ve become?
28. What’s a sound you hate; sound you love?
29. What’s your biggest “what if”?
30. Do you believe in ghosts? How about aliens?
31. Do you have a phobia/fear? What is it? Where did it come from?
32. Stick your right arm out; what do you touch first? Do the same with your left arm.
33. Smell the air. What do you smell?
34. What’s the worst place you have ever been to?
35. Choose East Coast or West Coast?
36. Most attractive singer of your opposite gender?
37. To you, what is the meaning of life?
38. Define Art.
39. Do you believe in luck?
40. Do you drive? If so, have you ever crashed?
41. What is your happiest memory? Saddest?
42. What does your house look like?
43. What was the last book you read?
44. What is your favorite scent/smell?
45. Do you have any nicknames?
46. What was the last movie you saw?
47. What’s the worst injury you’ve ever had?
48. Have you ever caught a butterfly?
49. What does your bedroom look like?
50. Do you have any obsessions right now?
51. What’s your sexual orientation?
52. Ever had a rumor spread about you?
53. Do you believe in magic?
54. Do you tend to hold grudges against people who have done you wrong?
55. Do you save money or spend it?
56. What’s the last thing you purchased?
57. Love or lust?
58. Greatest regret?
59. What is your most treasured thing?
60. In a relationship?
61. How many relationships have you had?
62. Does anyone hate you? Why?
63. Can you touch your nose with your tongue?
64. Where were you yesterday?
65. Is there anything pink within 10 feet of you?
66. Favorites: places, meals, things to do, outfits, animal?
67. What is your secret weapon to get someone to like you?
68. Who is your best friend?
69. What did you do last week?
70. What are your friends like? What are their best qualities?
71. What is your heritage?
72. If you could change yourself in any way, what would you change?
73. What were you doing last night at 12 AM?
74. What are you most passionate about?
75. Are you the kind of friend you would want to have as a friend?
76. You can only have one of these things; trust or love.
77. What’s a song that always makes you happy when you hear it?
78. In your opinion, what makes a great relationship?
79. How can I win your heart?
80. What are you most afraid of?
81. What is the single best decision you have made in your life so far?
82. What size shoes do you wear?
83. What would you want written on your tombstone?
84. What is your favorite word?
85. Give me the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word; heart.
86. What is a saying you say a lot?
87. What’s the last song you listened to?
88. Basic question; what’s your favorite color/colors?
89. What is your current desktop picture?
90. If you could press a button and make anyone in the world instantaneously explode, who would it be?
91. What would be a question you’d be afraid to tell the truth on?
92. You accidentally eat some radioactive vegetables. They were good, and what’s even cooler is that they endow you with the super-power of your choice! What is that power?
93. You can re-live any point of time in your life. The time-span can only be a half-hour, though. What half-hour of your past would you like to experience again?
94. You can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be?
95. You have the opportunity to sleep with the music-celebrity of your choice. Who would it be?
96. You just got a free plane ticket to anywhere. You have to depart right now. Where are you gonna go?
97. Do you have any relatives in jail?
98. Have you ever thrown up in the car?
99. If the whole world were listening to you right now, what would you say?

Happy Writing

Today I sat at my keyboard trying to decide what to write. I reached deep into my creative mind and I looked straight into a pure blank wall that reached far beyond my peripheral vision. I actually have been looking at this wall for days now and today I came to the conclusion that I am really tired of looking at it, but I had no idea how to get it knocked out of the way. What was this thing anyway? Why can’t I pull even a simple sentence out of my head?

I sat at my desk a good portion of the morning wondering what the heck was wrong with me. As I have shared with all of you before I am REALLY good at procrastinating and a talent for finding things to do other than writing. This huge grey wall is the problem. It is a wall that quietly sits at the tip of my nose and is expansive. The grey is the color of a day that is cold, dull, cloudy, and not quite snowing. You know those days. There are no leaves on the trees and the grass is brown and, if you live in the burbs, all of the houses are tan. This is my wall. It covers the whole of my mind.

After plowing through an entire bag of M&M Peanuts I had a break through…..I built this ugly gray wall in response to frustrations I have been facing in my writing. Enough is enough. I needed some help so I reached out to my wonderful writing friends at Delve Writers and posted this:

Some advice please….
Whenever I “finish” writing something I don’t really like it and it makes for motivational problems to write something more. I am in a constant state of frustration and this leads to not writing. I’m sure I’m not the only one with this issue….if you too have this problem what do you do to move past it?

I want to emphasis that I know I’m not alone in being stuck like this and I am sure there are a vast number of writers (if not all) that are in a constant state of frustration at some level or another. There were many responses to my post with many words of wisdom, but there were two links in particular that really rung true for me.

Ira Glass on Storytelling is a quick video giving advice to anyone who is embarking on a creative future. This particular piece struck a cord for me in that I need to be reminded, on a daily basis, that I’m at the beginning. I know what is good and what sounds good in a story and right now I hear a lot of bad coming from my creations so I have to keep plugging away to get to that point if being good.

“Why Writers are Procrastinators” is a fun piece by Mary McArdle that describes me to a tee. At times I feel like I am the Queen of Procrastinators and it is great to finally know why. I want to be at the end of the creative race without doing all the training and I figure that if I sit around long enough I will magically get there. HA!

Tonight I sit at my keyboard with a happy set of fingers itching to get back to it. If you are anything like me then take my advice….don’t sit staring at a blank wall. Not only is it boring, but it really doesn’t do much to get the creative flow going. If you don’t already, find a group of amazingly talented writers to share your burdens and successes with. There is no one else that will really get it like another writer. If all else fails, paint that wall a different color. Yellow might be a good color to start with then add some green, blue, and just a hint of red to give the scene some tension.

28 Days of Writing

Many of my friends (who are gluttons for punishment) participated in NaNoWriMo back in November (that’s National Novel Writing Month for those of you who are smart enough not to be writers). I, as smart a person as I am (and not smart enough to not be a writer), chose not to participate. November has to be the absolute worst month of the year (right after December) for me to write anything. So, I watched from the sidelines as all of those crazy writers pounded out 50,000+ words in the course of a single month. This number is another reason I chose to sit on the sidelines. To achieve the unachievable mark of 50,000+ words I would have had to have written at least one thousand six hundred and sixty six words per day from the first day of the month to the last. I’m lucky to get one thousand one hundred and two words whipped out on a frenzied day of writing. Therefore, I watched everyone else write.

I did feel a little left out of the whole madness like when Alice fell down the rabbit hole and everyone else was left behind. She had all the fun of shrinking and growing going to tea and keeping company with smiling cats while everyone else sat by and watched. What’s the fun in that? Recently I got a email from someone inviting me to a 28 day writing spree where participants sign up to win amazing prizes ranging from a huge “Atta boy!” to priceless webpage badges that can be proudly displayed with all of the other amazing writing awards. This I might be able to do, I thought to myself, until I opened the page and read the fine print. I would have to write a blog post everyday so that by the end of the month I would have 28 blog posts (29 if it were a Leap Year, but alas it is not so we are stuck with a mere 28). Folks, I’m a realist and I know my limitations, and there is no way under the sun, clouds, moon, or forecasted snow that I will get a blog post done 28 days in a row.

With my head hanging low I left that website and promptly forgot about it until yesterday, and when I thought about that webpage again I realized that it was the first day of the shortest month of the year that only lasts 28 days. In my usual state of elderly forgetfulness I couldn’t locate the email, the website, nor remember what the 28 Days of Writing was really called so in a rush to make myself feel just a tiny bit better I made one up. It is called (can you guess?) 28 Days of Writing and it is filled with only one requirement and one reward.

First, and most important, I must write each and every day of the month. It doesn’t matter if 5 words are written on Facebook or 20,000 in any one of the novels or short stories that I have in the pipeline. I just have to write every single day during the month of February. The reward? Well, this is the best part and, of course, my favorite. After all why do all of this work over the course of 28 days (remember 29 in a Leap Year) without some kind of reward? So, after much thought, pondering, and pacing around in a quick circle I decided not to decide what the reward will be other than it will be something fabulously custom designed.

“What?” you say, “What if I want to play your game too? If I can’t have a reward why should I play?”

My dear reader, I can only say in reply, “I hope you do play my little game. You will have a reward and it will be like nothing you have ever experienced in any contest you have ever entered.”

Your reward is whatever you want it to be. Give yourself a massage, a cup of hot chocolate, a steak dinner, or even a million dollars. Just spend 28 days writing and dreaming about what it is you are going to give yourself at the end. Will it be a new car, a new snow shovel, or a new pair of gloves? Consider a cigar, a top hat, or new shoes. Anything you want is the reward to you. No cheating on the fun. At the end of each day ask yourself, “Have I written today?” and if the answer is a “Yes!” then give yourself a gold star for the day.  When February 28th comes to an end take a look at your calendar and when you see each and every day shining with a golden star you will know that you have accomplished something that few can say they have, “I have written for 28 straight days, and I deserve something for that.” Then, on the very first day of March be sure to give yourself that “pat on your back” and place a golden star on your own shining reward. WELL DONE!

A Magic Helicopter

For the past half year or so I have been a member of Delve Writing. We meet virtually once a week and are a group of writers who support one another to achieve our individual writing goals.  Every week our moderator (I work with co-founder Aaron Brown) gives us some tasty treat for inspiration and then we dive into our goals and the challenges we face meeting those goals.  At the end of each session we “dig-in” on a single challenge that we have been hitting and pick it apart in an effort to find a solution or at least give the sufferer a glimmer of a solution.

This morning we had a lively session filled with ideas for a magical helicopter to fly all of us to the top of Mt Evans where we could attend Hogwarts and write wondrous books that sell themselves along with discovering the usefulness of a Feedback Loop*. One of the dig-ins was “How to Brainstorm with Yourself.” Most brainstorming sessions I have ever attended comprised of three to ten people in a conference room with the doors closed and gallons of coffee. The idea of brainstorming alone presents a unique problem that if you run out of ideas then there isn’t anyone else there to kick in a new thought or angle. What if you are trying to come up with an idea for a new story idea and you have no clue of what to write about in the first place?

This was the question posed to our group and it was so amazing to see the ideas flood our meeting providing quite a few resources for story ideas.  I haven’t had the time to check into all of these, but it is on my to-do list that, although never ending, I hope to get to next week.

  • Look for intense moments in life. Being born is about as intense of a moment as you can get in life and it is right next to watching a loved one die.  Do a little wandering through your life and pick out as many intense moments as you can find and write them down. These are just the beginnings of an idea list.
  • Ask yourself “if” questions. The questions need to be thought provoking or at least questions that lead to a more extensive answer.  No “yes or no” questions here…they don’t trigger ideas.  Some examples of leading questions might be: “If I’m the last person on the planet what would I see?” “If my car sailed over a bridge what would that moment between the bridge and the ground feel like?” “If a ghost came to me and asked for help, what would they need help with?”
  • Play with attractions. This is another part of your idea list. Write down one word bullets of things that you are attracted to.  Have you spent your free time rock climbing, skiing, or parasailing? Maybe you love wandering through art museums, antique shops, or garage sales. What sorts of things attract you?  What gives you a jolt of adrenalin? All these combined, or separate, can give color to a great scene or short story.
  • Pam McCutheon’s Brainstorming Kit. I have ordered her kit but haven’t received it yet. From what I understand this has flashcards with ideas on them.  You pull a card and write on that idea.  Once I get her kit and test it out I’ll have a new blog post for it.
  • Duo Trope’s Calendar. If you have never heard of Duo Trope then you are missing out. This resource for writers is chalk full of everything a writer needs for publishing.  There isn’t enough space here to go into all the details, but trust me when I say, “Check it out!”
  • Make an idea list. I am a list person. I have notebooks filled with to-dos, dones, and everything in between. I do have an idea list too.  It is a very simple handwritten bunch of scribbles that have every story idea I have ever considered. So many times I’ve thought of a great idea that I might consider writing about and as soon as I think of it I forget it. These days (my mind is as old as dirt) I forget many things faster than I can think them up so I have learned to write them down.  Now, when I haven’t a clue for a story I pull out my list and run through them to see if anything strikes my fancy.

Brainstorming is really just time spent with yourself pondering the next great American novel, or the next great short story by YOU. On the other hand, it is nice to just grab a friend and take them out for coffee and toss around a few stray thoughts and see what floats to the top. Remember that you are the one who has to write your great novel so be sure your brainstorming sessions bring out the best in you.  Your story may take you on a helicopter ride to a magical land filled with ideas that float through the air waiting to be discovered by you. Pluck one of those ideas down and start writing.

*Note: Watch Delve’s blog for their exploration into a Feedback Loop – Coming Soon!