Unlock the Muse – September 12, 2018

It’s football season again. And by that, I mean both soccer and American football. All three of my boys are engaged in one of these two sports right now, so it goes without saying, my life is busy. And interesting. Because anything with children involved never goes as planned.

Novels are a little bit like children in this regard, never quite going the way you expect. But it’s the surprises that keep things interesting and what makes writing so much fun.

Inspire
Here is your writing prompt for this week:

The longer your novel, the more crises it will have. Outline three crises in your novel and what their effects are on the characters.

This feels like a timely prompt for me, as this is what I’ve been trying to work on. I swear, these prompts are chosen purely at random, quite literally drawn out of a bowl.

Encourage
Creativity is that indefinable something inside all of us that yearns for outlet. For some of us, that outlet is writing. Sometimes, however, that creativity gets pushed aside by our rational, day-to-day, necessary life. The reality of paying bills and feeding children is seldom conducive to creative flow. Anne Lamott offers this advice in her book, Bird by Bird:

You get your confidence and intuition back by trusting yourself, by being militantly on your own side. You need to trust yourself, especially on a first draft, where amid the anxiety and self-doubt, there should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don’t look at your feet to see if you’re doing it right. Just dance.

Equip
It’s grammar week, and as such, I’ve pulled this little tidbit from Strunk & White’s Elements of Style:

Write with nouns and verbs.
Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place. This is not to disparage adjectives and adverbs; they are indispensable parts of speech. Occasionally, they surprise us with their power. … In general, however, it is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give good writing their toughness and color.

Happy writing!

As the end of 2018 approaches, I have been considering what it is I’m hoping to accomplish with this weekly post. My goal has been, and remains, to provide inspiration and encouragement to writers – myself included. I am contemplating changes in the new year, and I would love to hear from you if this weekly post has been useful to you, and if so, in what way?

Please consider sharing a link to your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Unlock the Muse – September 5, 2018

Welcome to September! Summer ends, and a new season begins. While fall isn’t quite the renewal of spring, it does bring a new beginning. The excitement of returning to school, renewing old friendships and new commitment to goals.

For myself, I have committed to working on a series of novels I’m writing. My plan this fall is to have a solid outline in place by November for part of this series. I intend to come away from National Novel Writing Month this year with a completed (if horrible) first draft.

Inspire
This week, your writing prompt is as follows:

Imagine what it was like when you were in your mother’s womb. Describe this environment without using the sense of sight.

Nothing like going back to the very beginning. After you contemplate your own womb experience, stretch this exercise to the birth of a nation, a people, the world. What was that gestation period like?

Encourage
To really get to the heart of any story, you need to know your characters. They can’t do things simply for the sake of the plot, but their behavior should emerge organically from who they really are. This may mean conducting extensive fictional interviews, or spending time with them, writing your draft in fits and starts that may not go anywhere you’re expecting. Here’s what Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird regarding false starts and getting to know your characters:

So if you want to get to know your characters, you have to hang out with them long enough to see beyond all the things they aren’t. You may try to get them to do something because it would be convenient plotwise, or you might want to pigeonhole them so you can maintain the illusion of control. But with luck their tendrils will sneak out the sides of the box you’ve put them in, and you will finally have to admit that who they are isn’t who you thought they were.

Spend some time with your characters. Invite them to coffee and discuss their goals and dreams. What do they want most out of life? Let them grow and develop into who they should be, then let them burst forth onto the page fully formed and alive!

Equip
In keeping with the theme of gestation and birth, the question for you this month is how long does it take for a story to develop from idea to draft? (Hint: there is no wrong answer!)

Likely, this is as different from one person to the next as it is from one story to the next. I know that I’ve had ideas that lay dormant for months, or even years before they finally quicken into full life, as well as many that never go beyond that initial idea.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing a link to your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Unlock the Muse – July 25, 2018

This week my writing was interrupted by a huge yard sale. My mother needed to clear out her storage unit, so my sisters and I helped her pull it out, sort through it, and put it all out on my lawn for strangers to peruse. It turned out to be a great weekend for yard sales. But not so great for writing. I did, however, make an amazing discovery about my novel in progress that will help me move forward with the story.

Inspire
Here is your writing prompt for the week:

Write a scene in which you make a minor character vivid through a single quirk or personality trait.

This could be a lot of fun. If it goes well, keep going with the scene. Introduce another minor character and let them interact. Perhaps a new subplot will be born out of this. Or even a spin-off novella.

Encourage
It’s the final week of Camp NaNoWriMo, July 2018 edition. During week four of any novel writing challenge month, the remaining days might not feel like enough for the remaining word count. But don’t give up! In No Plot? No Problem!, Chris Baty offers this encouragement:

You are on the verge of pulling off something incredible here. You have many more words to write and, given the short time remaining, success may involve hard work. But over these past three weeks you’ve honed all the skills you need to pull this off – to glide over that finish line.

You can do this. Just make the time to write, however much time it takes. Move forward, relentless, determined, confident.

And as you cross these last few miles, savor them. For the pain is almost over, and the celebrations are about to begin.

Equip
I will leave you this week with this thought from NaNoWriMo’s founder, Chris Baty:

BatyQuote1

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Unlock the Muse – July 18, 2018

It’s been HOT this week! We’ve had the highest temperatures of the year so far around my part of the world. Not record-breaking temperatures, thank goodness, but still too hot for me! I’d like to say my writing has been just as hot, but to be honest, I’m moving a little slow. I will have big leaps forward, followed by slow plodding progress. Still, I’ll take the forward progress however it comes!

Inspire
Here is your writing prompt for this week:

Make a list of all the things you hope to accomplish or experience by the time you are 30, 50 or 100 years old and tell why.

Now, create this same list for your protagonist. And again for your antagonist. What big goal of the latter’s stands in the way of one of the former’s? Use this to create more conflict in your story this week.

Encourage
It’s Week Three of Camp NaNoWriMo. Here’s some advice from Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! to keep things moving forward on a month-long novel writing challenge:

One of the worst things about being an adult is not getting to color as often as we should. This week, give your monitor-burned eyeballs a rest for an hour or so and go old school, forsaking the computer for a big piece of blank paper and some colored pencils or crayons.

The goal of this exercise is to create a map of your fictional world. On the map, you should include all your characters’ homes, their schools or workplaces, and any place they’ve visited in the book. This may be the first time you’ve thought about the spatial layout of your world, so feel free to make things up as you go.

Baty goes on to suggest you add further details to your map, things that don’t already exist in your book – a tattoo parlor, a clock tower, a giant swamp. Use this as a creative opportunity to add color, detail and new life to your story.

Equip
It’s vocabulary week, and this our word for today is:

e·piph·a·ny
əˈpifənē/
noun

1. a. (1) a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something. (2) an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking. (3) an illuminating discovery, realization or disclosure.
b. a revealing scene or moment.

2. an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being.

3. capitalized: January 6 observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, or in the Eastern Church in commemoration of the baptism of Christ.
(from merriam-webster.com)

It doesn’t surprise me to learn that the word epiphany originally comes from the Greek. It comes from the late Greek word epiphaneia, meaning “manifestation, striking appearance, festival held in commemoration of the appearance of a god at some particular place.” In the New Testament, this refers to the “advent of manifestation of Christ.”
(from etymonline.com)

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Unlock the Muse – July 11, 2018

It’s the second week of July, and my Camp NaNoWriMo project is booming. I begin to wonder if I set my word count goal too low. But I’m sort of liking the no pressure fun, and the freedom it’s given me to really play with ideas. Though, my plan to finish drafting my novel has turned into plotting out the larger series. Work is getting done, however, so I’ll go with it. I’m working on my “deliberate prelude.”

Inspire
Here’s your July 2018 week two prompt:

If you could be reborn during any time in history, which era would it be? Why?

Now, set the scene for a new historical story. Free write about the pros and cons of your chosen era. What sort of story will you set there? A romance? Paranormal western? Zombie apocalypse?

Encourage
Getting through week two of a month long novel writing challenge might be the hardest. The newness and enthusiasm of week one has settled into the reality of a horrible first draft. By the way, all first drafts are horrible, so you’re not alone!

In No Plot? No Problem!, Chris Baty offers this tip for week two:

On days when you don’t have the time to write or energy for a full writing session, you can help keep your word debt low with quick writing sessions I call Check-Ins. These are noveling quickies where you just poke your head into your novel for twenty minutes or so, add a pinch of color here, an embellishment there, and then call it a night after 500 words or so.

It may seem like a pitiful drop in the bucket, but every word you write is one less you’ll have to tackle the next day. The main point of a Check-In, though, is to help you maintain a creative connection to your book so your imagination will continue to nibble away at the story until you sit down for the next full-blown write-in.

Equip
It’s grammar week! Though not precisely a grammar issue, in the “Elementary Principles of Composition” chapter in Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, there is this advice on writing:

Choose a suitable design and hold to it.
A basic structural design underlies every kind of writing. Writers will in part follow this design, in part deviate from it, according to their skills, their needs, and the unexpected events that accompany the act of composition. Writing, to be effective, must follow closely the thoughts of the writer, but not necessarily in the order in which those thoughts occur. This calls for a scheme of procedure. In some cases, the best design is no design, as with a love letter, which is simply an outpouring, or with a casual essay, which is a ramble. But in most cases, planning must be a deliberate prelude to writing. The first principle of composition, therefore, is to foresee or determine the shape of what is to come and pursue that shape.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Unlock the Muse – July 4, 2018

Happy Independence Day, America! It’s a day for barbeques, water games and lots of family activities. It’s also a day for celebrating freedom and liberty. Today, we’ll make it a day for celebrating freedom in our writing.

Inspire
Today’s writing prompt fits well in the barbeque theme for the day:

Create a short story that takes place inside a refrigerator. The main character’s name is Ketchup. Who will be the antagonist?

When I asked my 5-year old if Ketchup is the good guy, who’s the bad guy? He said Milk. Ketchup vs. Milk: An Independence Day Adventure!

Have fun and be creative!

Encourage
In honor of Camp NaNoWriMo going on this month, I’ll share some wisdom from Chris Baty’s book, No Plot? No Problem! Baty is the founder of National Novel Writing Month, a wild adventure that began as a fun challenge among friends and has grown into an international phenomenon.

During a month long novel writing challenge, each week presents its own obstacles. For week one, Baty talks about banishing the “Inner Editor” until the end of the month. He says:

The fear of doing something imperfectly turns what should be fun, creative endeavors into worrisome tasks. With the Inner Editor on board, completing any extracurricular activity you haven’t already mastered is like trying to ride a bicycle uphill while towing a rhinoceros in a wagon behind you.

This month we lose the rhino.

Equip
The question of the month for July is: How have you found freedom in your writing?

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Unlock the Muse – June 27, 2018

It’s the end of June. 2018 is half over already. How is that possible? Nonetheless, it is true. And it also means it is time once again for Camp NaNoWriMo, July edition. For this session, I’ve decided to return to a sci-fi/fantasy hybrid novel that I started some time ago. Lately it has been clamoring for my attention

Inspire
Here is your writing prompt for this week:

Setting the stage: Is the time and place of your latest story clear? Go through your work, and extract words or phrases that depict the surroundings. Have you clearly set the place and time?

Encourage
This week I began reading the chapter on dialogue in The 3 A.M. Epiphany, by Brian Kiteley. A real life conversation is messy, but a fictional one can’t afford to be. It’s important to make every word count in your fictional conversations – those said as well as unsaid. In fact, what goes unsaid is often even more important. Here’s an exercise to help you focus on body language:

Write a “conversation” in which no words are said. It might be best to have a stranger observe this conversation, rather than showing us the thoughts of one of the people involved in the conversation, because the temptation to tell us what the conversation is about is so great from inside of the conversation. 600 words.

Equip

madeleine-lengle

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!