Rediscovering Creativity in Your Writing

Jan 29, 2013

If you've read this blog much, you know I'm a BIG fan of structure as part of stories. I honestly believe that having the right kind of structure can help you tell the story you want, whether you plan it or pants it. Either way, that first draft is going to need some revisions. I go through specific drafts as I revise-- one might focus on character arcs and relationships, another on macro plot revisions (cutting/adding/restructuring), another on enlivening the setting, etc.

I love it. I'm one of those crazy people who relishes doing an autopsy of my own work so I can find out what killed it. The fun thing is that I'm god of my world, so once I know what's wrong, I get to figure out how to bring it back to life.

Here's the thing about revisions. They require a more left-brained part of me than came out in the first draft. The deeper I get into revisions, the more nit-picky and analytic I get as I get down to the details. The creative part that paired up with the analytic part earlier in revisions gets a little forgotten.

This is how I felt during that fun revision. (source)
This time around, I did something new and fun. After some brainstorming with my agent, that creativity sparked back to life. So I did another round of revisions, focused on playing again. I had spontaneous ideas that made me giggle. I let my character loose so she could think and say what she wanted again. I let myself think of crazy things that would never work, but that led to less-crazy things that would. You know what was amazing about it? I got excited. I rediscovered how much I loved this story. I had fun with it again.

And the story is all the better for it. Bringing creativity in after all the structure and analyzing added back the excitement of the first draft. Hopefully for the reader, too, and not just for me.

So, my friends, how does your right brain work with your left brain? Does one lose out to the other at certain points? Do you ever do anything to bring back the fun and creativity? Or are you just a bucket full of creative enlightenment at all times?

And if you haven't heard, the awesome David Powers King announced a publishing contract for his co-written book, Woven! I've been looking forward to reading this one. Congrats to DPK and Michael Jensen!

Healthy Writers Club - Dedication

Jan 25, 2013

I'm hopping in post-Zumba right now. If I were hand-writing this, my words would be a wobbly mess due to my weakling arms that are still shaking.

But man, it feels good to be more active again! In my lovely Utah these last few weeks, it's hardly gotten above freezing. In fact, the last few days we've had freezing rain. Which means not only no running, but basically no outside, PERIOD. It's killing me (and the Kiddo). My Zumba Kinect game has saved my life. At the same time, I could use the weather as an excuse not to work out. Honestly, part of the reason I stuck at it this week is because I knew I'd have to be accountable to ya'll!

Pretty sure I look something like this when I dance. (source)
I've been thinking about dedication. To achieve any goal-- write a book, get in shape, run a half-marathon-- you have to dedicate a certain amount of time and energy. Why do we do it? Especially when it hurts. ('Cause ZUMBA FREAKING HURTS.) Part of it is the goal itself: I really, really want to be less jiggly, and I really, really want to run a half-marathon. But again, why do I want those things? To feel better about my body? To have more energy to play with my kids? To have bragging rights that I ran 13.1 miles? To experience the thrill of completing a race again? Basically, all of the above. And something else that's harder to define. A determination to do what I said I was going to do.

And let's face it. Just because it's hard doesn't mean it's not fun.

We're pretty amazing, people. We've all picked a goal (healthy-wise or writing-wise) and even when it's hard and NOT fun, we stick with it. Go, you! And go, me!

Weekly Stats: Zumba 20 minutes x2; Star Wars Kinect 30 min (This is so not a cop-out. YOU try jumping and dodging and waving a light saber for half an hour.)
In-flight Entertainment Favorite: If I was from Paris
Coolest Moment: Watching my 3-year-old get jiggy with it
Hardest Moment: Every minute of Zumba after the first song

So, my friends, want to join the Healthy Writers Club? Hop on over! And let me know-- what keeps you dedicated to your goals?

Twitter, the Ongoing Writer's Conference-- If You Use it Right

Jan 22, 2013

I'm a big fan of Twitter. BIG fan. I was unsure about it when I started (who cares what I ate for breakfast or how many words I wrote today?), but once I started using it effectively, it was amazing. I can credit it with two of the biggest things in my writing life.

I met my awesome critique group through Twitter, just by chatting with a local writer (Chersti!). It's also, in a round-about way, how I got my agent. On my previous manuscript, I tweeted about needing beta readers and Hannah volunteered (she wasn't an agent yet). She gave me awesome feedback, and we continued chatting occasionally. Then, with my current book, when I tweeted what it was about, she tweeted back and asked to see the full manuscript when it was ready. Thus it was that just over a week after I started querying, she offered representation.

See? TWITTER IS AMAZING. It's like a writer's conference that never stops. Want to make friends with fellow writers? Tweet. Want to chat with agents and editors? Tweet. Want to talk with established authors? Tweet. Want amazing writing tips and advice? Tweet, tweet, tweet. Of course, it's true that no one cares about what you had for breakfast. So here are a few things I've learned that have made Twitter an awesome tool for me. (These are not the basics. If you want a quick tutorial, check out this.)

Figure out your focus. You can tweet about anything and everything. But to be a little more effective in networking, it's helpful to have a bit of a focus. For instance, I can always count on Dan Wells to share fascinating and often odd articles about science, history, or the world in general. Elizabeth Craig always links to fabulous articles about writing. So think about what you want your "brand" to be-- how do you want people to know you? And be specific. Mine could probably use some work. My focus tends to be on my writing progress, funny things from my family life, and my current nerdy exploits.

Don't be afraid to chat. Even if you don't know the person, that's okay! People tweet because they want to talk. That doesn't mean make a nuisance of yourself, but if you have something to respond, go ahead. I recently commented on a Twitter friend's tweet and ended up in a hilarious conversation about the merits of the band Hanson with several other people. It was so fun, and I became better friends with some great people.

Find some places to hang out. Hashtags aren't just for witty asides. If you tag your tweet with #amwriting, for example, you've just hopped into a water cooler kind of area. If you click on the #amwriting hashtag, you can see who all is participating, and make some new writer friends. Some other good ones are #myWANA and #writechat. There are some weekly chats for writers on Twitter, too. Here is a great list. Twitter chats are a great way to make friends, have fun conversations, and learn new things. Another favorite is #askagent.

So, my friends, are you on Twitter? Do you love it or hate it? Have you been avoiding it, or you just don't care? If you're not following me, you can find me here!

(Post topic requested by my awesome sister-in-law, Kami McArthur. She's new to the blogging world, so go say hi! Or follow her on Twitter!)

Healthy Writers Club-- A New Beginning

Jan 18, 2013

Okay, folks, it's time for a revival! I totally flunked at being any kind of healthy writer lately, but I'm ready to jump back in. Once again, every Friday I'll be reporting my progress on the healthy front and occasionally attempting to write something clever about health/writing. I know a bunch of you in the group have kept up your posts and your healthy living-- you inspire me. Thanks for keeping it up.

Luckily, for Christmas I got a whole bunch of things to help me in my quest to be more healthy. I've got comfy (and cute!) new exercise clothes, a Nike + device to help track my running progress, and a Zumba game for the new X-box Kinect. Due to all the nasty sickness in my house, I've hardly had a chance to use any of it. But now that I've finally beaten off the influenza, I'm rarin' to go! I even have stats this week.

Weekly stats: 15 minutes of Zumba (yeah, kinda sad, but I only started back to exercise yesterday)
In-flight entertainment favorite: watching my 3-year-old dancing along with me
Coolest moment: feeling like a rockstar even though I probably looked like a spaz
Hardest moment: finishing and feeling like I could sleep for an hour

So, my friends, jump in with me!  If you're already a member, keep up the healthiness and the posting! If you've got a New Year's resolution to get healthy, join the Healthy Writers Club! Post your progress any day of the week, and jump around to see how your fellow groupies are doing. Let's encourage each other to occasionally get our butts out of the chair and into action!

The Importance of Percolation-- Letting Story Ideas Simmer

Jan 15, 2013

I'm back! And I'm alive! Barely. The move involved two sick kids (including one with pneumonia), one sick parent (me), another sleep-deprived parent, two trips to the doctor, one trip to the emergency room, and some very dedicated friends and family. But we're finally all healthy, and I have only a few boxes left to get rid of. Phew.

Needless to say, pretty much nothing has happened on the writing front since, oh, early December. Well, nothing has happened on paper, anyway. But in my newest story has been percolating away. It might not be visible work, but it's work all the same.

Percolation-- letting your story diffuse through your brain, sifting through ideas-- is a process that I think doesn't get enough credit. We practically never talk about it when we bring up writing advice, or mention our writing process. For me, without this process, my stories would be a heck of a lot dumber.

Sometimes, I have story elements that simmer in my head for years. That's what happened with TUGL. I'd had general ideas bubbling in my head since literally the fourth grade, when I first read The Giver. Then, a few new ideas combined with old ones. But even though I had a burst of insight that formed the basic concept, it took weeks of the story rolling around in my head before I could pull it together and actually start a draft. Then, all through the writing process, even when I'm not actively writing, the idea pulls things out of my brain and my daily life. Things get deeper and more complex.

Same thing with my current story. Certain concepts I've been mulling over for a year finally started coming together. I have a certain trick to make sure I get enough "percolation time." When my current project is out with beta readers, I start the mulling process. I have a document I call an "idea dump," and just throw down any idea that comes to me (usually relating to a certain idea or concept). A lot of it gets thrown out, but in the end, I've had a couple of weeks to get a story idea somewhat ready.

Then, it's usually back to revisions on a current draft, but that that point, the new story has started percolating in the back of my mind. I'll stumble across pictures, songs, or ideas that I throw into a file for the new story. And gradually, even though I'm working on another project, the new story starts to take shape in my mind. Then, by the time I'm actually done with my current project, my new story is ready for real development and drafting.

So in a way, all this break time for me has still been productive. I've got more of an idea where to take my plot, how things work in my world (which, I have to say, is SO DANG COOL and I wish I lived there...kinda), who my characters's been great.

So, my friends, do you have a percolation process? Does it happen only while you write? Only before you write? A combination? How much percolation time do you need? I'm curious how other writers develop their stories.

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