What do YOU want from NaNoWriMo this year? For me . . .

I love writing, but the fact is – my life lately has been unfavorable, let’s say, to finding time for it. No time. No energy. If I’m not exhausted, I’m too busy. Or both.

But. It’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). And I decided that I would try it. Again.

Not familiar with NaNo? Here’s the basics:  you spend November writing 50,000 words on a novel, which averages to 1,667 words/day. If you do it, you win! What do you win? A nifty banner for your Facebook page, and bragging rights (which are pretty damn cool; not everyone can do it!). Here’s the website:  http://nanowrimo.org/

The first time I did NaNo was 2013. I was in the middle of my Young Adult Fiction class at University of Oxford, and our tutor had assigned a discussion:  what is the one thing you would never write about? I said it would be history and especially, race relations in America, because I teach history and I deal with this on a daily basis. Why would I want to spend my precious writing time working on that?

Well . . . the best laid plans of mice and men and all that. That’s when Nicky arrived, and I spent what I still consider to be the best writing month of my life working on a rough draft of his story.

For some writers, NaNo is about writing a novel (although if you consider 50,000 words to be a novel, then okay. I don’t.). For others, it’s just to write. Period. That’s the track I’m taking this year. Although I have several novels started and drafted, and characters hanging on waiting for me to get back to them, it’s been so hard. If I can drag myself out of bed in time to get to work, it’s a blessing. I didn’t make a word count goal for myself. I don’t care about reaching 50,000 words. My goal for this month is to write at least five days week. Word count, schmerd count.

Of course, for others, the goal is to actually get that word count. Some authors do research in September and October, make all their notes, and on November 1, they’re ready to write. They may actually finish an entire first draft of a novel. I know of people who save up all their vacation and sick time so they can do nothing but write during November. Some finish novels they started last year, or at another time; others write short stories.

NaNo is tough. If it wasn’t, more people would do it. There wouldn’t be this great big rallying beforehand, where participants psych themselves up and go in swinging. Those first few days – even the first week – are usually fine. You get about 1500 words a day; you promise yourself you’ll make it up on the weekends. Then . . . life happens. Kids get sick. YOU get sick. Pets need attention. There’s grading to do, projects at work, family emergencies. You start thinking about your novel not as a collaborator (to steal one of Liz Gilbert’s ideas!) but an adversary that must be crushed. Those 1,667 words must be DESTROYED today!!!!!

And then . . . they become an albatross. You think oh, lord, I have to write . . . more than a thousand words . . . even more than fifteen hundred words . . .

The trick is not to get to that point. To keep it fresh and alive. That’s why so many people prep ahead of time by having research done, scenes laid out on notecards, character sketches in mind. So when they sit down, they have a place to start and a place to go. 

There are a lot of novelists who have completed works during NaNo, and then gone on to sell them. In fact, here’s the official list:  http://nanowrimo.org/published-wrimos. Most of these were published by small presses – but! See any familiar names here? Erin Morgenstern. Hugh Howey. Carrie Ryan. Sarah Gruen. Were their drafts perfect? NO! Especially Erin Morgenstern – she went through draft after draft after draft. And that’s something that new NaNo writers probably don’t get as much as they should – that when you get to November 31, even if you’ve completed the 50,000 words, you aren’t done yet, unless you just want to put it away and never, ever look at it again. But I guarantee you, that ‘novel’ ain’t done.

That’s why I’m not pressuring myself this year. I have enough pressure in virtually every other part of my life right now. Writing should be an escape. NaNo, for this year, is about reconnecting with my stories and characters. Reminding them that I’m still here. Seeing what they’ve been up to lately. Getting griped out – Nicky’s already been very vocal about how much time I’m spending with my historical romance, and my witch Rebecca keeps reminding me that she’s got powers and she WILL use them if I don’t work with her to finish up her story soon. But for now, I focus on what I can do, and I don’t beat myself up over what I can’t. I’m averaging about 900 words/day right now. I’m not asking for more. I’m not demanding more. I’m grateful for those 900 words.

Because they mean I’m writing again.

And this year, for me, that’s the only thing I want from NaNoWriMo – just to write again.

Here’s a great blog post from Erin Morgenstern about NaNo:  http://erinmorgenstern.com/blog/

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An Evening With Elizabeth Gilbert, part 2

Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to see Elizabeth Gilbert live in Wichita. I started looking at her words of wisdom in last week’s blog, but there was so much good stuff, I knew it would take at least two weeks to cover it all!

One thing I loved was that she took so many questions from the audience. Most of us, it seemed, were writers or artists of some sort, looking to get our creative mojo back – or wanting to figure out how to get it to visit for the first time. And that was at the heart of one of the questions that was asked:  If you don’t do your writing regularly, does it go away?

Well. You and I know that sometimes, that happens. This particular person had suffered some terrible setbacks, moved at least twice recently, and felt she had lost everything that tied her to her writing. She used to be able to sit for hours and let the words pour out of her, as if she was channeling rather than creating (OH, do I know what she’s talking about, and do I know the heartache when that stops!), and she wanted to know if, in fact, she would ever be able to write like that again. Liz’s response? “The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you. If you can’t believe that, then it will go away.” (Which is one of the things she talks about in her book Big Magic – the phenomenon of having an idea, and working on it, and then being unable to work on it for a long time and coming back to it and realizing that the idea has moved on.) “We get addicted to the past experiences, the rock star moments . . . but the real work is not at those moments. It’s when it’s boring, when you feel your faith shaking.”

That, Liz said, is the moment you must ask yourself one very important question:  Can your creativity trust you?

In Big Magic, Liz makes the point that the Latin word for genius doesn’t describe a person; it describes a force, a muse if you will; it describes something that visits a person, what she calls a ‘guardian deity.’ You don’t have genius; you have A genius. And that’s the heart of her next point to this audience member:  “Show your creativity that you’re still trustworthy. But it won’t believe you unless you dig in and do the hard work.” In other words, sometimes we have to sit down and write even when our genius isn’t there. All we can do is hope it’s hovering nearby, watching, judging. Finding us worthy. Finding us trustworthy again. You may think about this differently. For me genius = my characters. They need to know I’m here. They need to be able to trust me. Lately, they haven’t been able to do that.

Another point Liz made – which made all of us a bit sad, I admit – was this:  you shouldn’t just quit your day job and be creative. Because it usually doesn’t work out. “When someone says ‘I’m going to quit my day job and write a novel,’ I get hives! I didn’t quit MY day job until four novels in. Four novels. And that was Eat Pray freaking Love!” 

Why? In part – the money. But in part – “I made a commitment to my writing in my teens that I would not ask it to support me because I loved it too much and I didn’t want to wreck it.” That’s why, when Eat Pray Love was published, she was still working weekends at a flea market, among other jobs. 🙂

Yes, for those of us who dream of quitting jobs we hate and being able to sit at home and channel our characters, this was just so . . . depressing. Like many other authors, Liz suggested you get up earlier or go to bed later, or write on your lunch break. But when there’s just no time for that, what do you do?

She had an answer for that, too. And again, most of us didn’t want to hear it.

What in your life do you need to start saying NO to, to do things you WANT to do? What are you willing to give up to have what you keep saying you want?

For me, this was hard to hear. I feel like I’ve already given up so much, particularly in these last few months. I wake up some mornings and I’m not even sure I know myself anymore. I’ve given up virtually everything in order to do this job – this full-time job that I no longer want – and I feel like I’ve given up everything I am for it, too. I tell myself that I’ll write at night, or I’ll steal an hour a day at work – and I can’t. There’s too much to do at work, and by the time I get home, I’m too exhausted to think about writing. I want to write – but how do you push through the exhaustion and shove aside things that have to be done, in order to do it? I don’t know yet.

Is it easier for others, who have spouses who can take care of dinner and trash and whatnot, while you write? I seriously have no idea what else I can give up. The last few weeks, in fact, I’ve considered giving up EVERYTHING. Chucking it all in, clearing out my accounts, selling out, and moving far away to live in a cabin by a lake somewhere, where I can sleep and recharge and write and sit on a deck in the sunlight. Walking is one of my favorite things – it’s where I get some of my best ideas, and work through puzzles in my writing – but I can’t even do that anymore. There. Just. Isn’t. Time.

Above everything, I fear losing my characters and my books. But when you can’t spend time with them, what do you expect? Stephen King says it should take you 2-3 months to get a first draft down. Which makes sense; that shows your creativity that you’re serious. You can grab that idea and bring it from the ether and into the real world. But if you don’t do it in that time span, what does that mean? Is it going to get up and leave? Or can it hang on a bit, waiting?

I wish I knew.

An Evening with Elizabeth Gilbert

This past Monday, I was lucky enough to see one of my favorite authors – Elizabeth Gilbert – live. Thank you, Watermark Books in Wichita! 🙂

I picked up a copy of Eat, Pray, Love this spring . . . and as I’ve said before, you have to be a certain point in your life to truly get this book, on the level it’s meant to be understood and contemplated. It saved me. I’m not really ‘there’ yet, but this book made me realize that you can have everything that everyone thinks you should have, and still be miserable – and that’s okay. I meant, it’s not okay to be miserable, but it’s okay to seek Something More, or Something Else. So when I heard that Watermark was hosting her in October, I bought my ticket the first day they went on sale.

This was a stop on Liz’s tour to promote her newest book, Big Magic. It’s about how to find creativity and make room for it in your life. I admit, I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I wanted to share with you some things Liz told us.

First:  she admitted that this book has been in her mind for twelve years. Twelve. Years. Why hadn’t she written it before now? Because, as she said, “I felt i needed to establish the chops, and make sure I had the authority to stand here . . . I needed a few more books under my belt first.” But she couldn’t stop thinking about it. At first, she thought it needed to be something grander, a huge volume about creativity based in neurobiology and science, so she bought lots and lots of books on the subject. And then one day . . . “I looked at all of those books on my shelf and decided I didn’t care! I needed to do creative work – a completely irrational thing to do.” And it was this thought that finally made her sit down at her desk and work.

Liz isn’t shy about pulling punches. In fact, that idea that creative people – whether we’re writers, photographers, artists, or whatever – engage in completely irrational behavior was a theme she returned to time and again that night. “I am going to take the single most precious thing in my possession – my time – this commodity that can never be restored – and I’m going to pour it into working on something that no one wants or needs or even asked for!” There are lots of things you could be doing with that time, so “why do we indulge in this completely irrational behavior?”

A question I think we all ask ourselves from time to time! Especially when the laundry is piling up and the cats want fed, and the kids have to go to soccer practice and dinner is going to be cold cereal again . . . why do we do it? What drives us to spending our time on our art, our writing, our whatever, when there is no guaranteed payout? When the only person who may ever see it is YOU?

For Liz, though, that’s not the question. For her the question is:  “Why – if you’re not doing your creative work – why aren’t you? What’s stopping you?” This was the question she posted on her Facebook page a year or so ago, and she got back tons of responses – fear after fear after fear. Fear of failure, of wasting time, of taking time away from family and other pursuits, of being told you’re not good enough. Fear of beginning. Fear of success. Fear of change. On and on. Sound familiar? It did to most of the audience, too.

Liz took many questions from the audience (so many that I was late to pick up my kittens from the babysitter, in fact!), and I want to share some of them with you:

The first came from a young lady who asked (and I’m paraphrasing here):  how do you choose from your many ideas which one you want to focus on?

Liz’s answer:  “Realize that they’re collaborators:  they want to be made, and I want to make stuff. BUT. I am the president of my creativity, and my ideas are my cabinet. Assert your presidency. There’s limited resources, and no one gets to have everything they want – even your ideas. Explain that to them. This book, for example (Big Magic) wanted to be made for twelve years. Every day, it spoke to me. And I kept sending it back, saying ‘Come to me when you’re fully formed. I have to spend time with other ideas who got their shit together and put together a proposal!'”

But she also said that once you commit to a project, you have to follow through. “I know what it’s like to be at the boring part of the project . . . and this lovely idea, this Jessica Rabbit-like idea, comes along to seduce you. Don’t let it happen.Say, ‘too bad. This is the idea I have a contract with. Finish things.”

There was so much more, and I’ll cover that next week. But for now, think about those things. If you’re like me, some of these things were a revelation. How man of us get sidetracked by those alluring, sexy new ideas wearing three-piece suits and fedoras, looking a heck of a lot like Matt Bomer, when we’re stuck on a project that’s just sitting around in its boxer shorts, gut hanging out and beer in hand? Of COURSE we want the sexy idea! That’s how we get unfinished novels and started novels and how we never get published.

But I also loved her take on the ideas – because that’s how I sort of think about them, too. They’re not living, obviously, but they are real. They do invade our lives, whispering incessantly in our ears, keeping us up at night. How many of us have ideas that sound great, but in reality, we just know they’re not going anywhere? I’ll raise my hand! You’re in charge of your ideas.

Think about that this week, and next week – more from Liz Gilbert. 🙂

What the Bleep do Publishers WANT?!

The past few months have been an up-and-down ride for my friend.

First, the euphoria of seeing her first book published in June. Before that, it was weeks and weeks of rush edits, late-night writing sessions, drafts that gradually had less red ink on them than black. She likens it to giving birth – hours of labor, and then once you have the baby in your arms, you don’t remember the pain anymore. Then, there was the rush of book signings – some with 20 or 30 people, others with just one or two. In the meantime, she was editing two other books she wanted to submit to her publisher.

Which brings me to my question of the week:  WHAT ARE PUBLISHERS LOOKING FOR NOW????

I know, it’s the age-old question, and unless you’re Charles Dickens or Stephen King, you have to ask it. All. The. Time.

Deb has two fantastic books in manuscript format – I’ve read both. But both are dystopian, which she tends to favor. She’s fascinated with taking one question, and letting the myriad answers spin out before her like a cosmic spider web of possibilities. What happens if . . . you discover how to use wormholes? What happens if . . . you have twins born two years apart? What happens if . . . Most writers do this; it’s just that for Deb, her what if’s tend to focus on the near future, and how one tiny change today could affect it.

But. According to her publisher – dystopian is dead.

Hence, this week’s Soapbox.

soapboxWhat’s frustrating is that countless writing how-to books and websites, and even other authors, will give you a variation on this advice:  Write what you want to write. But if you want to be PUBLISHED, you have to play by the rules, right? Publishers see trends. Publishers have to see trends. I remember reading somewhere that publishers buy books today that will be published two years from now. Therefore, what’s hot today probably won’t be in 2017. What’s hot in 2017 won’t be by 2020.

So how do writers know what the devil to write, if they want to be published????

Historically, authors like Dickens or Doyle could write whatever the hell they wanted to write, send it to the Strand or another magazine, and those magazines were happy to have it. Groveling, in fact, tripping over themselves to publish it, because these authors meant sales. When Doyle quit writing and killed of Sherlock Holmes, there was a general uproar in England. But we don’t get that option today . . . do we?

Well. Hold on. You can always publish independently. You can publish eBooks on Amazon or Smashwords. There’s even a platform on Amazon specifically for publishing novellas, short stories, and serials. In the 1800s, people loved short stories because they could be read on the train, or on a lunch break. Dickens never wrote his novels as novels; they were serials. Today, we’re starting to move back in that direction. Thanks to social media, some psychologists claim there’s a shrinking of the human ability to focus. Short snippets are about all we can manage. So a lot of authors are saying – great! Let me publish my short stories! Let me serialize my novels! (And when you write 150,000-word behemoths that no publisher will touch, this can be a Really Good Idea!)

Here’s the problem with that plan:  most authors who publish eBooks – especially with Kindle Unlimited – don’t make any money at it. Here’s the thing:  most eBooks sell at a price point of $2.99 – $3.99. If you want to support yourself completely this way, how many books do you have to sell in a month? If you’re like me, nearly 1,000. You are competing with thousands of other writers with precisely the same idea, so it’s not just about the writing – although that has to be exceptional – but also about your marketing strategy. Most indie authors say they spend as much time marketing as they do writing!

Now, it is easier to find readers there. (And according to one site I found, longer novels sell better on Kindle!) But if you screw up even one book, you lose readers. If you write – let’s say romance – there are currently more than 313,000 romance novels on Kindle. You’re competing with long-standing, traditionally published authors like Jennifer Cruisie and Danielle Steele, too. Write historical romances? There are currently more than 9,000 available on Kindle, and in the past 90 days, there have been 3,306 new releases. Write paranormal romance? The numbers get worse – 12,500+ available, and more than 4,000 new releases in the past 90 days.

No wonder we want traditional publishing!!!

But that still doesn’t answer the question:  if you want to be published by a traditional house – particularly one of the Big Five – what do you have to do? What kind of book do you have to write?

If anyone had the answer, we’d all be rich and published.

Even publishers will tell you they have no idea. No one knew they were looking for vampire romances until one editor came across one manuscript by one unknown author. She took a chance. Ten years later, vampires are everywhere. No one knew they were looking for S & M with a really crappy, controlling male protagonist who should have been hit over the head until publishers suddenly figured out that E.L. James was making tons of money in the indie market. And although dystopian has been around for ages in one form or another, it took The Hunger Games to make it cool. But guess what?

Apparently, it’s dead. For now.

Will it come back? Of course. That’s the thing about publishing. As with fashion, all trends become cool again.

Eventually.

Here’s a few links to some interesting articles on the state of book publishing and indie publishing:

http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/pw-select/article/63455-surprising-self-publishing-statistics.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-coker/2015-book-publishing-indu_b_6407812.html

What’s In a Bestseller? Inquiring Minds Want to Know!

I’ve been reading some different things lately. Normally I’m all about historical fiction and paranormal fiction/romance, but this year so far I’ve gone out on a limb, literary-speaking.

It sort of goes hand-in-hand with my constant curiosity about “what makes a bestseller.” It’s something all authors wonder about. What’s the magic formula that creates that New York Times chart-topper? What esoteric spells and sorcery do these writers perform to get it exactly right? What’s the secret?

So far this year, I’ve read Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Invention of Wings and The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, and House Rules by Jodi Piccoult.

(Spoiler Alert! I DO discuss plot points, so if you haven’t yet read these books but want to, you may want to stop now.)

eat_pray_loveEat Pray Love was by far my favorite. I’m firmly convinced that you have to be at a certain point in your life before you can ‘get’ this book. You have to be like her (and me):  people who seem to have had everything handed to them, and yet feel unworthy of it, who think they’ve screwed up literally everything they’ve ever touched, who are so mired in depression that they feel there’s no way out – yet there’s this one last desperate spark of hope that won’t let them quit. If you’re not there, then you may not understand this book on the level you should. To me, there’s no mystery as to why this was such a runaway bestseller. Gilbert’s voice is funny and poignant by turn; she leaves nothing out; she’s unflinchingly honest, letting her story and her journey be a path for others.

 

81BDonFzZoLMore of a mystery to me was The Secret Life of Bees. To be honest I finished it only because I paid $13.99 for it. I KNOW there’s something in there that people connect to; if there wasn’t, it wouldn’t be a bestseller. But what? I hate to say it, but I never figured it out. It’s told by 14-year old Lily, who is on the run with Rosaleen, the woman who raised her.  They end up in a small town in South Carolina, where they’re taken in by three beekeeping sisters. Though Lily is white and the sisters (and Rosaleen) are black, and it’s set in 1965, I never truly got the sense of race as it was then. I kept waiting for the real threats to begin. I kept holding my breath, waiting for the angry townspeople to burn down the sisters’ house, or for a mob to attack the boys in jail. But nothing ever happened. I couldn’t decide if this was a young adult novel or not, which bothered me. It had elements of a YA novel, and yet I didn’t think it’s slow pace and lack of action would really appeal to teens. There were also plot holes big enough to drive a coach-and-four through. It felt like Kidd was deliberately skirting around issues, skimming the top when she needed to dive deep. So this bestseller, I never “got.” If you did, can you let me know what it was you liked about it? I’m truly curious to know.

theinventionofwingsOn the other hand, The Invention of Wings doesn’t spare the reader or its characters. The amount of research that went into this book shows through in the tiny details. Again told in the first person, with alternating viewpoints, this novel explores the parallel lives of Sarah Grimke, the daughter of slave owners, and Handful, the slave girl given to Sarah on her eleventh birthday. The central question here is:  what happens when a woman goes against her family – and society – to follow her convictions? There’s real danger here, real consequences for actions; in places, you can almost imagine Kidd chasing her characters, screaming, “No, don’t do that!” This book, I get. It’s clear to me why this was a bestseller. But again, it appeals to the historian in me. If you don’t do historical fiction, this is probably not going to be your cup of tea.

 

6614960House Rules was the first of these four that I read, and it was also the first novel by Jodi Piccoult I’d ever read. I loved the five alternating viewpoints; it added to the tension throughout the novel. House Rules has one central question at its heart:  what do you do when everyone – including you – thinks your son committed murder? Jacob, the prime suspect, is eighteen and has Asperger’s. He’s also obsessed with forensic science. None of this makes him appear innocent when a girl he knows is murdered.

The one central question in my heart about this novel is:  why didn’t someone just ask Jacob point-blank if he murdered the girl? I hate plot holes like that. No one – not the detective (who should have known better) not his own mother, not his lawyer – ever asked him that. They asked him a million other questions, but never that one question. Did you kill her? I suppose if anyone had asked him that, there wouldn’t be a novel, but that’s exactly what bothers me so much about it:  I hate novels that pivot on one silly point that would have taken literally thirty seconds to clear up, and that most reasonable people would have just done. So while the novel is extremely well-written and researched, I’m not sure I could ever get past that one point.

Four novels. Four very different reactions from me. The only thing I can say is this:  if a novel resonates inside you, if you react to something in it, if you love the characters and sympathize with them, you’ll love and recommend that novel to others. I can well imagine that there are cadres of people out there who hate Eat Pray Love; they can’t relate to it on any level. As hard as it is for me to say, there are even people out there who don’t like Outlander! (As if, right? I know!)

So if you’ve ever loved or hated a bestseller, let me know what it was, and why you reacted the way you did. Not every reader will love every book. That’s why there’s so many authors! But the books that rise above the masses to become bestsellers – I’m still curious as to why, what that secret formula is.

If there is one.

“Where do you get your ideas?” EVERYWHERE!

This weekend, I attended the Rose State Writer’s Conference in Oklahoma City. It’s always full of wonderful workshops, great panels, and fantastic speakers. This year’s capstone speech was given by children’s author Anna Meyers.

In her speech, she said something — and I will screw up the exact quote, sorry — that was very true. She said, “People always ask me where I find my ideas. I tell them I don’t find my ideas; my ideas find me.”

That’s so important, let me make it into a pull quote:

“People always ask me where I find my ideas. I tell them I don’t find my ideas; my ideas find me.”

This is one of the things I find SO frustrating about new writers! Not to go off on a soapbox, but come on! I’ve mentioned before that I frequent the Writer’s Water Cooler. Nearly every week, it seems, there’s someone there asking, “Where do you get your ideas? I have no original ideas. I can’t figure out what I want to write about.”

I need a soapbox icon, don’t I? Here you go:

soapbox

YOU DON’T DECIDE TO BECOME A WRITER AND THEN BEG FOR IDEAS. YOU HAVE AN IDEA THAT DEMANDS TO BE WRITTEN, AND YOU WRITE IT. THAT’S HOW YOU BECOME A WRITER.

I’m lucky; I don’t think I’ve ever had a shortage of ideas, and most writers don’t. We take inspiration from everything around us. A newspaper article. Something we heard on the radio. A “what if,” gleaned from a conversation. A snippet of dialogue, overheard while out shopping.

A lot of mine come from old photographs.

photo 1

Take this one, for example. I collect vintage photos — you’d be shocked at how many you can find at antique stores, rummage sales, heck, sometimes even in the trash! — and my mind often works on the question of who these people were, what their lives were like, who they knew and where they went, what they did for a living. Who were these people? How did they get along? Do they seem like a family to you, almost — or is there some subtext going on under the carefully neutral expressions? Is there one that jumps out out at you, who doesn’t seem to quite fit in? Why is that? Who would have a photo done of his household servants? (And before you think this is a modern photo made to look old, it isn’t:  this photographer hasn’t been in business for almost 100 years.)

 

Or, you could try this one. I found this one in a vintage photo album at an antique store this summer. I bought the albuphoto 1m just for this one photo, in fact — and I am floored by the mystery that I found within the rest of the pages. (But that’s MY story!)

This is precisely how Ransom Riggs came up with the idea for his bestselling YA novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. If you haven’t read this book, READ IT. I’m not even remotely kidding. Here’s his website:  www.ransomriggs.com

The point is, inspiration is everywhere. As a photographer, I know that; my camera is never far away. The same thing with story ideas. Your mind should always be a radar dish, spinning constantly for that next scrap or spark. I’ve had ideas that came to me while running (Nicky, my rumrunner, whose story I’m finishing for NaNo this year), stories that came to me while riding the school bus,  and stories that were inspired by the photos I collect (sometimes not an entire story, but just a character — my beta readers may notice that the dark-haired man in the top photo looks an awful lot like a certain ghost they’ve been reading about lately . . .).

So please, please, please, for the love of all that’s holy and everything that isn’t, go get your own ideas! Hit an antiques store. Hang out at the food court in the mall and jot down every conversation you overhear. Read online sites and magazines you’d normally never read. Open you mind. Accept that your next great idea might come from the least expected place. As Diana Gabaldon is so fond of saying, her initial idea for Outlander came to her while she was watching an old episode of Doctor Who — but then, once she started writing, one of the first things that came out was “I’m Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. Who the bloody hell are you?” (Here’s a link to one of her interviews:  http://www.goodreads.com/interviews/show/953.Diana_Gabaldon)

You have to be open to ideas. A lot of people are so judgmental — I can’t do that! That’s too hard! I know nothing about X or Y; I’d have to do so much research, I’ve never written about this, there’s that adage about ‘write what you know’ and I don’t know a thing about this . .  .  on and on, ad nauseum. Who are you to judge the ideas that come to you? To brush them away like a flake of ash on your coat sleeve? It bloody came to you. YOU. Go with it! 

Once you’re open to receiving new ideas — never mind if they’re good or not, who cares at this point?! — you’ll be shocked at how many come to you. I have at least six other books besides Nicky and my urban fantasy series, just waiting to be written. Does that worry me? Nope. Not a bit. I’ll get there. And so will you. Get a small notebook. Carry it. Or use the voice notes recorder on your cell phone. Every single idea, every single time. Don’t think you’ll remember it; you won’t. Don’t dismiss anything; that idea may not come through, but if you glean one thing from it, it was worth it.

Where do I get my ideas? Where should you? Everywhere. Now go out and find some, darn it. 🙂

 

Ahem. If you’re still struggling, here are some links to writing prompts you may find helpful:

http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts

 http://writingprompts.tumblr.com/

http://creativewritingprompts.com/

 http://www.pinterest.com/selsmith479/writing-picture-prompts/

http://awesomewritingprompts.tumblr.com/