9 Tips to Creating Inspiration

Inspiration doesn’t just happen. Inspiration is the reaction of doing something else first. In all good stories, characters act and then react. In the same way, there are actions, you, as a writer, must act first. The inspiration will follow. Here are nine different actions, different ways of getting started with the writing so that the reaction of inspiration can follow:

 1. Create a regular workspace and/or work place.

Some settings or locations will inspire you to write more than others. Find those locations that work best for you. I know one writer who prefers bookstores and coffee shops. Another prefers the backyard deck with her legs propped on a chair and the computer in his lap. The best locations are those where you can easily move into your zone. Quickly.

Caution: Don’t get so married to your inspired locations, though, that you can’t work anywhere else. Which brings us to the next point.

2. Learn to write anywhere.

I know some writers who say they can’t write where it’s noisy. Putting conditions on your surroundings will create limits of 1) when you can write, 2) where you can write, 3) what you can write.

I’ve been able to write in airports, playgrounds, on a bus, train, plane, or in a car. I’ve written in various restaurants and coffee shops. I’ve written while standing in line, while sitting in traffic at a long stop light or while waiting for a long train.

If a place is particularly noisy or has annoying background music, use headphones and listen to your own preferred music. In fact, the mere action of listening to your music will put you in the zone more quickly than you can imagine.

Regardless of where I am, once I start writing, soon, the world around me disappears. Yes, I’m cognizant of what’s going on around me, but those people and the noise don’t disturb the bubble I’m in, the thought process, the writing.

3. Learn to write both by hand and by machine.

If you limit yourself to just one mode of writing, you limit opportunities to write.

By being flexible. I’ve been able to add pages by hand, which once I get home, I’d type up, editing as I typed, often doubling the word count.

4. Carry your work with you.

Never leave home without some kind of writing: outline, printouts of the pages that need editing, or a scrap of an idea of a scene that you can flesh out by hand.

I wrote an entire book in mere moments because I always carried the last pages completed or an outline with me everywhere. The bulk of writing time came from lunch hours, where I had a sandwich in one hand and my pencil in the other.

While driving, I can dictate dialogue. Then when I get home, I’m writing around that dialogue. With today’s electronics, dictating where the machine can write the text is the way to go. You can clean up its errors later.

I enjoy editing more when I’m not at my computer, when I’m waiting somewhere or for someone. I’m focused, and generally uninterrupted, on the task.

5. Write first, reward yourself after.

E-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and our phones distract us. Write first, then check your media or e-mail. You’ll be surprised how much more you can get done in a day by writing first than if you wait until the end of the day to do the writing.

 6. Schedule writing & honor the appointment.

Too often, we treat writing like a task on our To-Do List. Then, we don’t write because we’re tired or its too difficult, having delayed the task all day. Before we know it, a whole week has passed with no writing..

Treat writing like an appointment. Don’t bump that appointment unless it’s for an extremely important, serious reason.

7. Write every day.

Cultivate the habit of regular writing. Every day or, at least, five days a week. Minimum. It means putting your butt in the chair and just doing it, whether you feel like it or not.

8. Be willing to write crap.

Give yourself permission to write garbage. Garbage is good. In fact, a first draft should not be about creating perfection. The second draft is where you’ll rewrite by moving paragraphs and sentences, deleting words that don’t fit, and adding words to clarify the meaning, to  add missing scenes.

Following drafts will be about more rewriting, then revising, and then finally dealing with the errors, which is where the perfection phase is performed. Trying to write perfection from the beginning stop you in your tracks. Guaranteed. You’ll begin to feel uninspired because you’re not created that perfection you hear/see in your head.

Stop trying to edit while you write first drafts!

9. Just gut it out – just get the first draft done.

The best writers, the most successful writers don’t worry about or wait for inspiration. Nor, do they try for perfection in that first draft.

They just write. Day after day without analyzing or criticizing what they’ve already written.

They just do it. They gut it out and get it done. Only when it’s done, can the analyzing, the rewriting, the editing begin.

In summary:

  • Write that first draft without editing.
  • Write it fast!
  • Write regularly.
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If My Characters Feel So Real, How Can They Be Imaginary?

My life as a writer has provided me many meetings—some fun and some strange.

Fun meetings involve other writers, some best-selling authors, new authors, and many writes in between. Many have become friends.

Other fun meetings involve readers. Their enthusiasm is catching, and they always have great ideas regarding my characters, which always leads me down a path of thoughtful consideration.

I’ve met and become friends with lots of characters, too. Many of these characters that I’ve read about were created by other writers, and some of these characters came into my life via my hand. I wish I could say that I fully created them. They mostly just pop into my life, fully formed, wanting me to write down their stories.

Such was the meeting of yesterday’s character. Only this character is dark and sinister—not the usual, traditional, likeable character that I want to get to know. Generally, I have to probe to learn about my characters—particularly the wounds they are struggling to overcome, which creates the conflict in the stories. Just as in real life, the wounds are buried deep, so it takes time—often weeks—to reveal these wounds.

But this guy was different. He wasn’t hiding a thing.

So there I was, at one of my favorite restaurants in this small community. The place was crowded, every booth and table taken with people standing at the door waiting.

While waiting for my order to arrive, I was reading, as I typically do when dining alone. I was reading Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, a thriller for sure. Most definitely, it’s a dark story, and I was hooked, oblivious to everyone else around me.

All of a sudden this imaginary character—a drop-dead gorgeous hunk of a man with dark hair and dark eyes—sat down opposite me and said, “I know you.”

And then, he just stared. Waiting. Watching. And sharing his story.

The story, which includes a shocking ending, spewed from his mind to mine telepathically and with a gaze that never wavered. Seeing the end of the story, I broke out in goosebumps and felt my skin crawl.

I have other commitments, I argued.

He didn’t care. He’s wasn’t interested in knowing what I’m already working on, what my plan of writing projects looks like for the rest of the year.

Nope, it’s didn’t matter.

His wound was easy to see. No digging needed on my part.

He’s scary. He’s dark. He’s shallow and yet deep. He’s the bad boys of bad boys, but not in a good way or a fun way. He’s not someone you want in your house at all. That kind of scary.

Looks like I’ll be working on several projects, simultaneously. I have no choice. To get rid of him I have to write the story, and I’m not willing to postpone or abandon the others—even if for a short time.

A story that is going to lead me into the dark, spooky corners of an individual or two, who feels as real as any breathing, talking, blood-in-their-veins person in my life.

I can hardly wait.

::shudder::

When is a Book Ready for a Beta Reader?

I gave a presentation recently, “Self-Editing Made Easier,” to a group of writers who are at varying levels regarding their careers: some are new writers, just finishing the first draft of their first book; a few have multiple books out; a few are traditionally published; and a few going the self- or indie-publishing route.

I was asked, “At what point in my writing, should I give my material to a beta reader?”

My initial response was, when the writing is polished. Discussion followed as to what polished meant. That answer was easy: when it’s ready to send to an agent or publisher, or for the self-published, when the writer believes it is ready to be published.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about my response of when to involve a beta reader, and I began thinking about my own critique group and the readings we do for each other versus the manuscripts I give to my beta readers.

If I could go back to that meeting, here’s what my response would be now:  Whatever you want that beta read to be; whatever you want to get out of them reading your work.

To that end, I think there are two types of beta reads.

Organizational Beta Read

The writer believes there are no more holes, that the characters are likable and believable.

Overall, the job of a beta reader here is to:

  • Find plot holes – where events or the order of events just don’t make sense.
  • Determine if the main characters are likable/unlikable, as the case may be, and to tell the writer why or why not.
  • Point out areas of muddy or unclear meaning. Simply put, some scenes need clarification or more details in order to make sense.
  • Determine if there is too much or not enough backstory if this is a book in a continuing series.

Often readers will discover an author with a later book in the series, not knowing the history of the character up until this time. Consequently, it is the writer’s job to provide just enough of that backstory so that the reader can understand the character’s motives and wounds, but not so much that the reader is bored. That means backstory must be trickled in here and there, like bread crumbs leading the way out of the forest for Hansel and Gretel; but in this case, the bread crumbs lead the way backward into the earlier stories for the reader.

With this particular beta read, there is no focus on grammar, spelling, and punctuation. This type of beta read is often performed in a critique group. The writers want to know early on in the writing before they have polished the writing, if the plot and characters are working. Often, the readers are getting chapters as they are written, because for these writers, it is easier to change the plot here, learning that something does work, rather than making coming back and making major changes once the draft is completed.

The crucial part here is that the writer must tell the readers up front not to worry about the grammatical errors. Instead, they are to be ignored.

Also, before the reading occurs, the writer needs to provide these readers with a short list of problem areas, where the writer already knows that there is a problem.

In most cases, this Organizational Beta Read is just that—a read to spotlight the plot and characterization—and nothing more.

Polished Copy Beta Read

This is the manuscript that has been polished by the writer. Supposedly, all errors have been removed, sentences rewritten, best word choices made, consistent character traits, hair, eye color, and the spelling of their names. Everything is correct and everything makes sense.

The goal for this beta reader is to find any error, any hole, anything that doesn’t make sense.

In conclusion, a beta read can be and should be anything you, as a writer, want it to be. Regardless if the manuscript is a first draft, a polished draft, or a draft in between, clearly communicate what you want from your beta reader.

There’s nothing more frustrating for a beta reader than to discover after the reading 1) that they should have been looking for something in particular, or 2) that they didn’t need to read it as a polished draft when in fact it was a first draft.

So, when is a writing ready for a beta reader?

Answer: Whenever you’re needing feedback. Just be sure to indicate what kind of feedback you’re seeking.

I’m not inspired to write…now, what do I do?

Because I’m on various writing forums, I hear new writers asking, How do I write when I’m not inspired?

When I was a beginning writer, I wrote when inspired. At the time, I had a lot to say. My creative wells, my introspective thoughts had an outlet. Finally.

However, in that those writings, I didn’t consider audience. I didn’t consider structure. I had words on paper due to major streams of consciousness. I had no plan, no goal, so my writing was pure enjoyment.

I wrote because I wanted to. Because I had to. I was exorcising demons. I was opening up wounds and voicing feelings that once relegated to the shadows were now in full sunshine view.

And, then, the drought came.

I had nothing new to write. All my ideas were used up. I had sold some magazine articles but not at the level I wanted. The rejections far outnumbered my sales.

I needed to create new ideas and that’s where the writing became difficult. Additionally, I was young and uneducated, so my ideas were limited by my expertise, of which I had little unless I continued to write about motherhood, marriage, and gardening, none of which interested me anymore as a writer.

So, I started to write fiction. My stories had good beginnings and I knew what the endings would look like, but the journey getting there was like traveling into the desert and getting lost, where the creative juices just dried up, with no water, no oasis in sight. I was trapped among the desert dunes, also known as the sagging middle. I didn’t know what the characters should do, let alone what they should say.

Later, I would discover that I needed to plot more and panster less. But, that’s another blog.

Even after become a plotter and developed solid outlines before the real writing began, the first pages would come fast, followed by days of where I had no inspiration. I knew what the scene should look like, but, oh, putting the picture in my head into words on the page was difficult. The words wouldn’t come. One day, in fact, I sat in front of a blank screen for ten hours. Ten hours! I would start to type, then delete it. I started many sentences and removed every one of them, because nothing sounded right. To me, the writing sounded awful and continued into more awfulness.

How did successful writers do it? I wondered. So, I investigated. Here’s what I learned:

Inspiration isn’t something a writer can wait for or afford to wait for.

There are no shortcuts to inspiration.

There can be hours, days, and even weeks where lots of uninspired writing occurs.

Beginning writers often believe they can’t write unless inspired, but in reality, it’s the other way around.

Waiting for inspiration to occur before you can write is like reading the reaction of a character before the action has occurred. In stories, action occurs first, then the reaction.

In the performance of any writing—regardless of genre, length, audience, or media—the action of doing the writing occurs first. Inspiration will follow. For me, I’m not inspired again until I have completed the first draft, which is why I write the first draft as fast as I can.   That’s another blog, too.

Once I’ve finished that first draft, my inspiration is as high—if not higher—as when I first thought of the idea or when I’ve completed the full outline for the story.

Granted, the initial idea, the seed for the project, is the genesis of a story’s inspiration, but the writing of the idea is gritty work, sometimes dull work, and often painful work: it’s all about putting your butt in the chair and doing the hours, doing the work.

Just start. Don’t strive for perfection. Don’t delete. Don’t edit. Don’t analyze. Don’t second-guess yourself. And, don’t go back and keep rereading from the beginning.

Just write.

Regularly.

Regardless of whether the writing is good or bad.

That’s the secret of eventual successful writing.

The inspiration will come.

P.S. This particular blog went through several complete rewrites, with my not feeling inspired at all. I felt like I was going around in circles. Finally, I realized I was trying to cram three blogs into one. Major cuts occurred. My inspiration and my smile returned with this last draft as I proofed it.

Error-Free Writing

When I made the decision to leave academic teaching and become a full-time writer, I knew the days would be long.  I had this vision that I would be writing new prose every day.

Now that I’ve been at this new full-time career for more than a month, the only new prose I’ve written has been for my blogs, writing up reviews and comments for others, and revising book blurbs.

The biggest project I’ve taken on has been to edit two of my books that I’m getting ready to publish.  Moreover, I’m finding that editing a book, any book these days, takes days rather than just hours.

The downside of any writing is that no matter how many hours one spends looking for errors, there will always be a few escapees.  Such is the case regarding my soon-to-be-republished book, Determined Hearts, which was first published in 1994 as The Man on the Romance Cover.

At that time I wrote The Man on the Romance Cover, I had no formal schooling in writing.  I was a self-taught writer depending on my high school education of grammar and punctuation, which was better than most as I’d had a wonderful shorthand teacher–yes, shorthand.  We not only had to punctuate our work properly, but when reading back the text, we had to include the punctuation and state what rule it follow:  introductory comma, conjunction comma, and so forth.  As a result, I learned more about punctuation in that class than I ever did in any of my English classes.  (Thank you, Mrs. Rhinehardt!)

The Man on the Romance Cover was published via a traditional publisher, with the traditional line editor(s).  In fact, that book went through half a dozen different readings by as many individuals.

Rereading the book last summer, I found that the story still stands.  Since I had rights to the book, I decided to reprint it.  The downside is that I found errors.  So, I fixed them.  Or, so I thought.

Having removed the book from Smashwords where it had been published since last summer, I just spent the last two days rereading the book.  Oh, the errors that I found.  I’m chagrined to think that I had this book for sale with all those errors, still.

In another week or so, it’ll be up on Amazon and available as both an eBook and print copy.  I’m doing my best to make it error free.  But guess what?  I’m only human.  I’m sure there will be an error somewhere that some reader will find and will want to pull out their red pencil to mark.

I hope I’ve done a better job this time, but if not, do me a favor.  Should you find errors in my work, send me an e-mail.  I’m human enough to want to fix them and make your reading pleasure, well, more pleasurable.