Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Creativity Comes At Night…or I’m a Vampire



Ever since I was a very small child, I could easily eschew the normalcy of sleeping at night and being active during the day for the strange wonderment of sleeping in the day and being up – and creative – at night. There was, and is, for me something comforting about crawling under the covers of a cool, crisp sheets with an eye-mask on and dozing off to the peaceful sounds of my fan (I love my white noise. Don’t mess with my fan) and the distant vibes of life in the city going on around me. Then, in the cool darkness of night, I love to be up, checking out late night television (it’s wonderfully awful) and writing away at whatever my current work in progress of the day is, while my neighbors sleep and everything is still.

Yet, there was always one fly in the ointment of my late night creativity: the fact that the rest of world always insisted I be awake somewhere during the day: grade school, high school, college, graduate school, work – all happen during the day. It’s a big day-lover’s conspiracy or something. But my desire to write comes at night (and in the middle of work meetings, formerly in the middle of math classes), so what is a gal to do?

There’s little I can do about it. At least until I win the lottery and get to write from home full-time.  Many times people have said to me, “But you’d be bored, if you won the lottery and stayed home.” My answer: “I said that I’d be writing. Writing is not boring. Writing is life.” Of course, they would retort with, “You only think you’d like to not work outside the home anymore.” My final reply is inevitably, “Give me the $300 million and allow me to prove you right.” They never pay up though.

What I can do is try to set aside some time every evening after work to spend one or two hours writing in quiet. I don’t watch a lot of television so this usually works out for me, except on Wednesday nights, when the gods of television mock me by putting the only two shows I watch (Supernatural and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit) on opposite each other. Why? I cry out to the universe. The universe doesn’t care.

So now that I’ve been home from work sick, I have been indulging my penchant for late-night writing by plugging away on my laptop until two or three in the morning. This is effectively screwing up my sleep patterns for weeks to come but I’ve hit a breakthrough in a pivotal scene in my (for lack of a better explanation) check-lit novel and helped me finally pen the opening pages of the middle grade reader I’ve been musing over for several months now.

My sickness has allowed me to have free license to say, at three in the afternoon, “I’m going to take a nap now” and then to say at one in the morning, “I’m writing because I don’t feel well enough to sleep.” I’m milking it while I can and my writing progress is thankful for it.


No, I don’t know why my creativity blossoms this way, but if I ever find a vampire in my genealogy research, it will make so much sense.

Cooking Shows & Writing Flash Fiction


I’m home sick from work so my automatic go-to is to settle into the couch and watch cooking shows. What I did when I was sick in the days before food network television is all a blur. As a vegetarian, one might think I wouldn’t be interested in watching celebrity chefs slap around meat and spices and discuss how delicious it is (hint: I’ll never know), but the truth is I like the small, compact segments that give me a start to finish in under 30 minutes.
As a writer, that same principle applies to the recent trend for many readers and writers alike: the creation and absorption of bite-size stories in the form of flash fiction. Writing flash fiction is a lot like cooking. You do it in one burst with the thoughts/ingredients you have in front of you, work on it until it’s done, and come away with a singular, easily digestible creation.
The fun of writing flash fiction is to see how complete a story can be created with the fewest words possible. My writing group has a fun flash fiction challenge every February, where we always produce more submissions than any other month of the year. There’s just something so do-able about writing a story in under 1000 words. That’s the beauty of it: beginning, middle, and end in under 1000 words. It’s the joy of being done and actually having something to show for it.
The biggest challenge of being a writer is how long it takes to just be done. As someone who was stuck for six weeks on page 113 of an approximately 285 page first draft, I loved turning to the medium of flash fiction to get a moment of closure in the middle of the madness that is novel writing.
Now I just need to find the time to cook something.

Free Time, Being Sick, and Writing


I can't believe it's been two years since I last updated this blog. I confess I moved to another blog site, for no real reason, but now I'm back.

As a writer who also works full time at a non-writing job, I’m always bemoaning to friends, family, co-workers, and my writer’s group, I need more free time to write. I get 21 vacation days a years from work and people are always trying to be helpful and tell me to take a vacation day off and use it to write. If only life was that easy.
Life is not that easy because 1.) I save my vacation days for actual things with family. I can’t not be available for a family event because I spent my leave days on myself. Well, I could technically but I wouldn’t….because of guilt. Which brings me to … 2.) guilt. When I take too much for myself, I feel guilty. I actually feel guilty about a lot of things and taking time for myself is one of them.
But then I got sick. Suddenly and unexpectedly, I got sick at work. I went home at 4:30 pm on a Friday (which is early for me), crawled into bed with an Advil, and hoped I’d feel better in the morning. I didn’t. So far, I’ve been home sick for a week and it looks like I will be out sick next week too. So, after five days off of work, how much writing did I get done?
The answer is none. Not counting this blog, I’ve not written out more than a bunch of bills. Why? Well, first and foremost, because I’m in pain and, since my current work in progress is a romantic comedy, pain doesn’t put me in the right mindset for the characters, unless I wanted them to all start killing each other. For the record, I don’t.
So I’m sitting here faced with the conundrum of my existence as a writer: I never have time to write, but when I do have time, it’s just not the write time. I know I’m supposed to suck it in push through the pain. My characters would. However, I just want to roll over and watch re-runs of L&O:SVU because <insert whiny voice> I’m sick, darn it.


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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Writing Method #8: Mind-mapping


 Writing Method #8: Mind-mapping


     I first learned about the concept of mind-mapping when I was working on my second master's degree (this one in Education and Educational Administration) back a few years ago. I was surprised that such a good, unique concept had never been a part of my English education (BA or MA) because I think it is a fantastic fit for writers of both essays and fiction writing.  I don't know if I could tout it as the best method for a fledgling novel writing because it is a bit existential but I do think it is a great alternative for established writers compared to the Outline methods I've highlighted here in earlier posts (Outline, Draft in 30 Days plan, etc.)

     A Mind-map can be a fun thing to create and the visual impact of it can really bring a writer back into a story. The concept is to start off with a main topic and write it in the middle of the page, then draw a circle around it and from that circle draw several lines moving outward, as if you are drawing a sun.  Personally, one of the things I really like about the mind-map is that it employs, in fact it encourages, the use of multiple colors and even drawings to progress.  I think that anything that promotes fun as a part of the process is certainly worth a look. 

     Expanding then on the lines shooting out from the sun (described above) are the main topics or plot points.  Off of each of these are numerous sub-topics or sub-plot points.  Here is an example:

General Mind-map sample

      The best way to incorporate mind-mapping into novel (or short story) writing would be to use separate mind-maps for plot points and character interactions. In the past, I have successfully used mind-maps to straighten out family dynamics in mystery novels with convoluted character relationships.  Unlike the simplistic sample above, lines can double-back and intersect, creating a family tree of sorts for your characters. Such as:

Character Mind-map

     I have found that it is often easiest to draw up mind-maps on paper.  However, for those who prefer to keep everything on the computer, there are several software programs out there to help create mind-maps.




Computer generated mind-map
                                    
     Apart from the fun of drawing up mind-maps, these creative templates can be useful to writers of all genres and of all ages. I've used this concept successfully when teaching young children as well as teaching university students in college English classes. What do you think? Have you ever mind-mapped before?  Would you consider it in the future?
                             


    

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Writing Method #7: 30 Day Draft

Writing Method #7: 30 Day Draft

     After chronicling the major writing methods out there (Linear, Snowflake, Kiser, Marshall Plan, Outlines, and Note-cards), I feel I covered most of them. But yesterday, I came across a book I bought back in 2005, called, "First Draft in 30 Days" by Karen S. Wiesner and I feel an examination of the subject fits in well in this series.  I won't go into as much detail in this blog as I did the others in the series because I don't want to infringe on the copyright of this author or her book, but I did want to address the notion of writing the entire first draft of a novel in 30 days.

     A friend and I were discussing procrastination and how long it takes to write a book sometimes when, as author, you take your time pushing out 1000 words a day, so when I first read the title of the book I envisioned that it was about actually writing the whole book in 30 days and the concept of writing an entire novel draft in just 30 days is something I find a bit mind-boggling. That is, after all, 2166 words a day to get 65,000 (a normal draft amount) done in 30 days. As someone who struggles to do 1000 a day (2000-3000 a day on a weekend), I think if I had to bang out 2166 or more every day after work, I would start to just write gibberish to make my word count. No, on second thought, it wouldn't be gibberish, but it wouldn't be stunning or moving the plot forward in any considerable way. So I was intrigued to see what Wiesner writes in "First Draft in 30 Days."

     Upon reading, I see that Wiesner doesn't advocate actually writing the book itself in 30 days, but writing the outline and character sketches in 30 days. That's a different concept than the title alluded to, for me, but I continued reading.  Wiesner starts out describing the goals she plans to visit. In a nutshell, it's:

1.)   Write the preliminary outline in 6 days;
2.)   Research the project in 7 days;
3.)   Write the story evolution in 2 days. Story evolution is described as outlining the main conflict and the story goals and completing character sketches;
4.)   Spend 9 days formatting the above outlines;
5.)   Spend 4 days evaluating the outlines;
6.)   Spend 2 days revising the outlines.

     In all, this pattern seems like a mix of general Outlining and the Snowflake or Marshall Plans.  I perceive a major limitation as being, as I've droned on about before, now that you've spend 30 days outlining the piece, you have 30 less days at your disposal to actually write it.  I do like that the outlining system Wiesner describes is more compact than others I've reviewed so that is a plus.

     One positive note that stood out to me from this book is the concept of brain-storming by creating mini-movies in the mind.  This resonated with me because all of my books and short stories (and proposed books and short stories) play out first in my mind like a movie, so I think this is a useful plot device. I also liked Wiesner's suggestions for overcoming writer's block.  She presents a series of 26 ideas, ten of which particularly appealed to me.  Two of them are to make a soundtrack for the current project and then to exercise or take a walk while listening to that soundtrack.  Interesting concept and I think it can help with creativity.  I, for one, hate to sit still for too long so moving about while listening to a "soundtrack" for the project in question seems like a fun, motivational concept.

     In the end, I would count this method as a variation on the Outline method I covered earlier, but I think the writer's block suggestion are a fun section of this book to peruse and consider.  Have you read it?  Did it work for you?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Writing Method #6: Note Cards and Sticky Notes

Writing Method #6: Note Cards and Sticky Notes

     In the last entry in my series on writing methods, I discussed Outlining, which flowed well with my preferred Linear method.  I've never used note cards as a writing method in themselves. That is entirely because I have obsessive compulsive tendencies and my fear is that if I relied on note cards, I could lose them. In days gone by, note cards were the top writer's tool.  Before the advent of computers, note cards were a step above just keeping a simple writer's notebook, because unlike a notebook, they could be shifted and moved to rearrange scenes and there was always room to add new scenes just by shuffling a new card in.

     I know of a few authors who have branched out from note cards to sticky notes. In this variation on the note card method, authors write out scenes and plot points on sticky notes and then arrange them on a larger surface, such as a wall, table top, or poster board, in a manner I refer to as story boarding. Since the sticky notes are, well, sticky, they stay in place and don't shift or blow around like a regular note card and they can be repositioned at will.

     What should be written on each note card or sticky note? Most writers who favor these methods use a new card for each main scene or plot point, much as someone using the Outline Method (  ) would use a new line for each new point.

     1.  Start with a note card for each chapter idea;
     2.  Add in a new note card for each scene within the chapter;
     3.  Give each character his or her own note card, when introduced for the first time;
     4.  Flag pivotal plot points or surprises by adding a star or sticker to certain note cards.

     Since I'm always thinking of ways to organize things even further, I would suggest that someone interested in using note cards to plan a novel, consider keeping them in a slotted photo album (you know, one of those with the little sleeves, two or three to a page, for the insertion of photographs) where they are easy to see and easy to move around, but not as easy to misplace. 

     On a plus side, note cards are easy to carry, easy to organize, and easy to discard, if necessary. My issue with this method is the transitional nature of it. I don't like so many moving parts that I can so easily misplace. Technology has been so nice as to find a solution for that, however.  There are several types of software on the market that create virtual note card systems for writers. Scrivener is one I've used personally as a software and, while it has a note card feature, I didn't find it as interactive as I would have thought was ideal. Others out there that I have not tried include: Mindola's Supernotecard, Text Block Writer, and Writer's Block. There is a lot I can say about name originality here but I'll let that one go. There is also a lot more I can say about novel writing software pros and cons, but I will leave that for another post in another series.

     Do you use note cards or sticky notes?  How do they work for you?

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Writing Method #5: Outlining

Writing Method #5: Outlining

     Now I have to admit that I am a huge fan of outlining. I've never outlined an entire novel but I have outlined just about everything else in life. Like everyone else out there, I first learned outlining in elementary school and, since I went to an awesome Catholic School (I loved it there), I learned the proper way to outline. Later in life (well, high school and college), I used to shudder when I'd see people crafting sloppy, incomplete outlines. I've now moved past that (thankfully) and can come to accept the benefits of outlining without it having to be perfect.  The correct pattern of an outline is to have at least two items in every category and at least two categories per section.  For example:

     I.
          A.
               1.
                    a.
                         i.
                         ii.
                    b.
                2.
          B.
     II.

     There should be no A, if you don't plan to have a B, etc.  So how does this method of basic writing, an excellent model for essay writing, apply to writing a novel?  First off, it's a faster, cleaner way of putting your ideas on paper, but I'm sure most writers already know that.  So what's the real benefit?  It's a good model for seeing how the story flows, how the main scenes follow one another.  The thing I like best about it is the ability to move scenes up and down as the story ebbs and flows. It's also extremely easy to interject new scenes as you progress.

     This is a style most suitable for those writers who only want to put general thoughts on paper, not for those who desire a more all-consuming novel writing approach, such as the Snowflake (http://lucyannf-writing-whimsy.blogspot.com/2013/02/methods-of-writing-2-snowflake.html) or Marshall (http://lucyannf-writing-whimsy.blogspot.com/2013/03/methods-of-writing-4-marshall-plan.html) methods.

     How would a sample novel outline flow?  A sample would look like:

   I. Section One:  The Set-Up

        A. Chapter One: Lucy arrives in town to attend her sister's wedding

        B. Chapter Two: The problems between Lucy and Martha come to a head when the groom disappears

        C. Chapter Three: The police arrive; Lucy gets involved

        D. Chapter Four: Aunt Jenn goes missing; Lucy starts her own investigation

        E. Chapter Five: The police investigator suspects Lucy; Lucy finds a major clue.

     Once the above is accomplished, it's now easy to go back and flesh out the next layer of the story, such as:

       E. Chapter Five: The police investigator suspects Lucy; Lucy finds a major clue.
           1. Detective Smith walks into the kitchen and finds Lucy in the knife drawer;
           2. Lucy discovers a shard of red glass in the knife drawer after Smith leaves.

     You get the picture....

    My enthusiasm for outlining is tied, of course, to my preference for a more Linear style of novel writing (as I captured in #1 in my series: http://lucyannf-writing-whimsy.blogspot.com/2013/02/methods-of-writing-1-linear.html). Outlining helps keep ideas together and allows for movement of the story ideas up and down.  However, as I wrote earlier, I never outlined an entire novel all the way through but I have used it successfully in short story writing.  Have you used outlining while writing a novel?  How did it work out for you?