Idea Generation

Image by annais via Flickr
Idea generation is an interesting topic. Obviously, different people get their ideas different ways. Personally, my ideas seem to come at me when I am in the process of doing something rather mundane, like driving or taking a shower. Unfortunately, neither of those occupations is conducive to writing down my ideas.

Years ago, because I found many of my ideas were springing forth on my drive to and from work, I purchased a small tape recorder to capture any inspired phrases or plot lines that zoomed into my head. This worked pretty well. I confess to a couple of impromptu renditions of old 80’s tunes working their way onto the tapes, but overall the device helped me during those times when ideas where popping up in the car. Most of these ideas came to me as a single sentence…almost like a log line for a story. I find that a single sentence can often lead to an entire story idea. Many a time, prior to using the recorder, I would drive eight or nine miles saying the same line over and over in my head until I got to where I could write it down without wrecking the car.

As far as where these ideas come from, it varies. Sometimes I will see something while I am driving that conjures up an idea. Often items that fall out of the backs of trucks will get my mind working or even a garbage bag left in the middle of the road. I wonder what is in the bag and then my mind will start on a story. Wondering about things will usually always lead me to some kind of story idea. Unfortunately, over the years, I have abandoned many of those ideas and left them unexplored.

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Writing Exercise: Take an Adjective, a Character, and a Place and See What Happens

Moonshine still in Forbidden Caverns
Image by kajvin via Flickr
I never been much of a lover. Bathtub gin is my life and the skirts aren’t usually impressed by a true moonshiner. They go more for your pin-stripe wearing rum-runner types. Y’see making liquor is a dirty business. I don’t own a suit. I wear coveralls and a cap and I got dirt under my nails. Those fancy guys don’t make their own; they buy it from lugs like me if you want the truth. So yeah, I gotta pay for it. And my first time in Amsterdam at a private house with six girls in front of me is a little intimidatin’. Jesus they all got fancy names like Candy and Simone and Isabella. The lady who runs the place brings them through the little room where I am sitting alone and rattles off names so fast I can’t see straight, like I been drinkin’ my own booze straight outta the tub. I remember one name from the list that comes at me so fast, Anna. Oddly enough it is my mother’s name and I ain’t too sure how to feel about that but by the time that thought crosses my mind I am in a smaller room sitting in an uncomfortable chair waiting for my $180 an hour date. One guy I talked to, Johnny was his name I think, said that if you pay for an hour but finish early, you can sit and talk to the girl until your time is up. It’s been so long I think we might have to do a lotta talkin’ and that makes me more nervous than anything. Be honest, I don’t know much about anything but making rough-and-ready. I can’t imagine a girl in this line of work carries much interest in such things. Unless she’s a drinker herself. That might help things if we have to chat awhile. Looking around the room there’s a glass on the dresser. Wonder if it has liquor in it? Jesus, I can’t stop fidgeting. The voices outside the door make me nervous, a little spit on my hand to slick back my hair and I think I might be ready. I wonder which girl she was in that line? I think she was the third or fourth name called out but I ain’t sure. Maybe it was the one in the red skivvies? She was nice-looking. They all pretty much were so I think I’ll get my money’s worth. And hell, if I finish early maybe I’ll just say my good-byes and be on my way. But damn, it takes me lots of time and lots of tarantula juice to make that kinda dough. Maybe I’ll get lucky and she’ll be like a lotta women I know and never stop talkin’. Gift a gab I’ve heard it called. Well hot damn there she is, Anna. I don’t remember her face from the line-up but at least she don’t look a thing like my mother.

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Viva la Resolution

Father Time and Baby New Year from Frolic & Fu...

I’ve never liked New Year’s resolutions.  I’m not against the idea of resolutions themselves but most people that make New Year’s resolutions are just blowing smoke.  They’re counting on some mystical power of January 1 that just isn’t there folks.  They call it resolution but it’s usually self-pitying wishful thinking.  It lacks intent.

That said, I find myself at a spot where I need a little evaluation and revitalization in my writing habits.  It happens to be days away from New Year’s so I won’t be able to avoid it really being a New Year’s Resolution.  I’ll share some of my thoughts on making resolutions stick with you while simultaneously making my deadline for this blog.  I’m slick like that.

Write it down. It might seem odd to tell people who are writers to write stuff down but I’ll say it again.  Write it down.  This advice is given in all sorts of life-coach situations (fitness, therapy, business…).  It’s probably the most useful, easiest to use, and most often ignored tool around.  It feels dorky.  Hell it is dorky.  It’s also effective.  Effective out of all proportion to the effort required.  Seriously, write it down.

Be specific. ‘Write more’ is not specific.  ‘Start novel’ or ‘finish novel’ is better but you need specific goals within that category.  ‘Write everyday’ sounds specific but when?  ‘Monday thru Friday.  6pm to 7pm.  Phone off.  Door closed.  1000 word minimum.’  That’s specific.  Also be specific about what you’re working on.  If you like to revise as you go, schedule time for that.  Maybe ‘Saturday mornings.  8am.  Revise all pages from the previous week.’

Be realistic.  The goal of a serious writer is to write everyday.  That’s a good goal but if you really can’t make it be honest.  If you have to drive the kids to TaeKwonDo on Thursdays and wait around while they kick each other don’t schedule writing on that day.  If you can only get three days a week commit to those days and write on those days.  You’ll be more productive actually writing for three days than wishing you were writing for seven and only getting it done on two.  Make sense?

Build in assessment. Every month is a good time to reassess.  If whatever you tried is working keep at it.  If it’s not working, why?  Be honest, make adjustments, write them down and keep at it.

Failure is not the end. I’ve said this elsewhere but it bears repeating here.  If you skip a day, don’t waste time telling yourself how much you suck.  Definitely don’t stop.  That day is gone.  Forever.  There’s nothing you can do about it but you can write today.  So do that.

Be positive. Lose weight.  Quit smoking.  Stop cheating on my wife.  Most resolutions are to fix things people don’t like about themselves.  That’s fine but it’s counterproductive to hold on to all that negative energy.  Acknowledge the bad and then move on with the good.  Build good habits and celebrate your little victories along the way.  While you’re at it try and have some fun.

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