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Stuck for an Novel Idea? Try this.

June 15, 2008 Leave a comment

If you are a writer…and even if you aren’t a writer, there comes a day when you face a blank piece of paper or the glaring whiteness of a blank computer page.  I’m sure you’ve heard the “write what you know about” and still find yourself scratching your head for a topic or theme. 

Why not start here?  Instead of trying to pick a theme or topic, another approach is to define who you would like to read whatever you want to write.   Is it for men?  Women?  Both genders?  For fishing lovers?  Baseball fans?  You get the idea.

Once you get the demographics down, think about what that group of people would like to read about, if you were one of the group.  Oh no, you don’t know anything about that topic?   It is easier to write about something you know, so now your task is to get to know something about whatever you’ve chosen.  Do the research.  Get to know people in the field.  Ask questions. People love to talk about what they know best.  And most people I’ve found are very generous with their time when they trust you.  (and in the process, you might discover a new best friend.  How cool is that?)

While you are interviewing, listen carefully, because the people will tell you stories and subtext, which you will convert into sidebars.  Since I am focusing on novel writing, these stories become your subplots.   You have a bunch of notes, story clips, venue descriptions and vocabulary (topic jargon) at your disposal.  This information is the basis for your skeletal outline.

If you didn’t find story lines in your interviews, you either didn’t ask enough questions, not listening hard enough, or couldn’t get the person to open up.  If this is the case, while you are honing your interviewing skills, find subplots from newspaper and magazine articles (things that happen in everyday).

Now you’ve got the bits and pieces.  Take what you now know and see if you can find a common denominator for a theme.  It could be forgiveness, courage, or love.  See how the main plot and the subplots highlight the theme.  Write it down because if you are like me, brilliance only strikes once.

Once you got this in place, you can start breathing life into your characters.  Do character sketches so you have a backstory and motivation.  Remember each major character must have a goal.  Since goal to me sounds so clinical, I prefer calling it a yearning, something that the character must have to make him or herself feel happy, satisfied or whole.

Whatever you call it, make sure the yearning is clear.  This is what is going to have the readers hooked.  We readers want the feeling of rooting for the character.  We can identify with that void and need to have it fulfilled.

Good luck and let me know how this works for you.

 

The Four P's for Success

May 18, 2008 Leave a comment

Yesterday I visited a psychic for fun.  I do that every so often.  I had never been to this particular person before and am always amazed at the range of intuition.  As I have mentioned in my blog, I have a problem with staying focused on writing projects.  I thought that maybe I had a problem with fear of the blank page, fear of success, fear of criticism, or fear of finding out the very thing I thought I had a talent for was wrong. 

Yesterday’s reading was not so much a look into the future, but a recap of what is here and now.  The psychic accurately described of me and my family in the present without much information from me.

What was most revealing was my inability to settle down and write took a new light.  The psychic said I have the interest, the talent, and the opportunity.  Apparently, what I heard was that my passion is anemic.  I am not passionless, but I do present to the world a more controlled feeling about me. The good thing was knowing I wasn’t suffering from all those common fears of writing.  My issue is unique.  I have passion for writing, but apparently, not enough. 

So the big question is HOW do I fix that  — Lack of Passion.  Maybe I shouldn’t refer to is as a lack of passion but more like a controlled passion.  How do I ratchet that desire up?  Let’s hold this thought while I back track to get to the meat of this blog —the four P’s for Success. 

In the 1980’s an article by Bill Cosby appeared in the Washington Post magazine about the four P’s for success  — passion, persistence, patience, and practice.   (see the word passion mentioned…)

If you are short of any one of these four P’s, you are not going to reach your potential, Cosby implies.  Cosby may be right.  When I think about successful writers —Tom Clancy, Nora Roberts, and Ken Follett.  Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and the list goes on and on.  They all possess the four P’s.

Bill Cosby pointed out that talent wasn’t necessary for success, but it sure makes the road to success a whole lot easier.  You have to admit that we have all read books that we couldn’t get passed the first page, much less 200 more pages of the same writing.  You wonder: “How did this person ever get published?  You think you could write a novel better than what you just read.  And maybe you can. 

Well, let’s look at that not-so-talented person in light of the 4 P’s and how this person  (Ms. Write) achieved her goal. 

PASSION: Ms. Write probably read a novel and said those very words “I can write a novel as good or better than the one I just read.”  Her characters start sharing their lives with her and she becomes engrossed in the conflicted emotional lives of her new friends.  She has no end, but trusts that she will know when she gets there, when the denouement plays out, when all the characters have resolved their conflicts for good or for bad.  Her passion swells directly proportional to her emotional investment on each page.

Passion for Ms. Write means sacrifice.  She has to finish the scene, the chapter, the story.  Despite her long hours at work, being a mother to her children, her husband, a myriad of other equally demanding events that pepper the day, she has to write.  She is compelled to sit at the computer between 11 and 2 in the morning. 

Suggestions to increase passion:

1. Get a mentor or join a writing workshop.
2. Start journaling – Write about your desires and hopes.  See if that amps up the motivation. 
3. Create a time line for a project.  Post the time line so that it is visible every time you sit at your computer.
4. Find someone who shares your passion for writing so that you can keep your writing in the forefront.
5. Start listing the items you have to do for the day and be sure that writing is on the list, but receives priority attention.  This means it is one of the top three activities you hope to accomplish for the day.  If your writing appears at the bottom of the list, you are more than likely never going to get to it, or maybe if you do, time, tiredness or something else will short out your efforts to complete your daily goal.

PERSISTENCE: Despite the unending interruptions, the not-really understanding family, Ms. Write keeps plugging away at her novel.  She sets goals for herself, tiny benchmarks to push her to the finishline.  She doesn’t allow herself to succumb to excuses, even when her novel doesn’t unravel as smoothly as she would like. 

Suggestions to improve your persistence:

1.  Reward yourself.  Be creative.  Shopping is not necessary.
2.  Talk about your writing and how excited you are about it to your family.  If you tell them you need time, they will surely give you space to create.  Just be sure that you don’t alienate them by ignoring their needs and feelings totally.  There will be times where you will have to make sacrifices, such as go to a school play when you would rather be writing a Broadway play. 
3.  When you set your goals, your timeline, make it reasonable.  You don’t want to get discouraged with unrealistic expectations.
4.  Persistence is finding alternative routes around obstacles to reach your goals.  Never quit.

PATIENCE:  Patience is necessary on two levels.  The first is that Ms. Write has to be patient with herself, because she hasn’t written before.  She will have to figure out how stories are told, how to strike a balance when juggling character information.  And secondly, she needs patience when she starts to submit her work.  She can’t give up with the first rejection.  She needs to learn something from each submission.

Suggestions for more patience:

1.  Sometimes taking a quiet moment and meditating on what is being asked of you will make a world of difference.  Learning how to channel the impulse to have things instantaneously will be quelled.
2.  If you make a mistake, or your editor says to redo whole sections or add an entirely new character, treat it as a challenge.
3. When you are frustrated with the way things are going, take an Eastern philosophical approach.  If you don’t like the way the storyline is going, get up from the computer and do something else for an hour.  If you aren’t liking the way your whole writing career is going, meditate and over a few days, what you need to do to fix things may come to light.  There is an old Chinese saying that the more you resist, the hotter the situation becomes, and the system shuts down until it cools down.  You need to address this before the overload, because you will see the answer more clearly then.
4.  Don’t give up at the first challenging sign.  It is worth the effort to see things through.

PRACTICE:  Obviously, the more you write, the easier it will become to write.  More reading and writing is the best way to hone your skills.  Bill Cosby included finding a mentor and/or studying how others who you consider have “MADE IT” did it. 

Suggestions: Practice makes perfect, as the old adage goes.  But actually the more you practice, the more you will find that the writing life becomes yours. 
1.  Set aside time in each day to practice, even a little.  Ideally, it will be the same time every day.
2.  Practice. Practice. Practice.

If you are wondering if the psychic predicted fame and fortune for me, the answer is no.  She wasn’t able to project too far in the future is my guess…but that’s not to say that I will or won’t make it in publishing.  The whole thing comes down to whether you believe this is what you were supposed to do.  If you were meant to be a novelist, you will be.  You have to trust and have faith that will happen if you give the four P’s equal attention.   

So obviously, I have some inner work to do.  I hope you will share my journey with me.  I’d like to hear what other people are grappliing with.  So feel free to comment.