Feb 26, 2010

Finding Inspiration: Delve into your Dreams by Sandy Kastel

I always keep a pen and notebook by my bed so when I wake up in the morning to write down my dreams. I find them a great resource for ideas. Here’s one example.

“I am on stage with Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox. We are rehearsing for a show and Brad Pitt runs into the theater, up the aisle and jumps on stage. ‘Do you need anything from the store?’ He picks me up like I’m a rag doll and swings me around planting a big kiss on my lips. My face must be burning red because I can hardly breath! I look into his baby blues and melt when Tina brings me back to reality, ‘Alright, that's enough, you, two! I have to wait till I get home to get any.’ Brad grins and my knees go weak.’”

In this dream there is enough information for the start of a story. In this case my ‘story’ is being told in first person with a specific setting, public figures (whose names would be changed) and a love interest. Let’s continue…

“Reba pokes her head in from upstage. Her hair has grown out and she's wearing a top from her new line. "What's shaking, ladies? We gonna have some fun tonight?" Aretha leans back relaxing in her favorite red leather chair. ‘We've got all the basics covered. All we need to know is when you and Dolly are going to bring out the big guns.’ In walks Dolly from stage right, her arms full of freshly baked goodies as we rush to help her. Once we settle in the green room, she looks around for the director’s chair. ‘Well, how y'all doin'? I made my favorite recipe for double chocolate chip cookies. I sure hope you love eatin’ 'em as much as I love makin' 'em.’ The table is dwarfed by the platters and bowls full of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and chocolate chip cookies. ‘This is my momma’s recipe for fried chicken. And honest to goodness, it’s the best fried chicken North of the Mason Dixon Line’. As everyone gathers around the table she throws her hands up in the air. ‘I may have overdone it a little, but I wanted to make sure you girls had a good home-cooked meal tonight. Now, who wants to say grace?’”

The characters have already begun to develop as the roles they play in the story. Dreams are a hotbed of ideas when you pay attention. Even if you are not planning to write a story about the characters in your dreams, there may be elements that might be mined from the texture woven into your subconscious while you are sleeping. What is it they say? If you drill a ton of ore, you might find an ounce of gold? If you can find one special nugget of a story you can build upon to entice your readers you will have a gold mine! The important thing is to use the tool. It’s a gift, if you choose to use it.



***

Sandy Kastel, Co-Author
Life Choices: Navigating Difficult Paths
Sandy Kastel knows all about the impact of life choices. A singer and Miss Nevada title-holder in the Miss America Pageant, her life has been a series of detours, taking her on an incredible journey leading up to a career as
an artist, clothing designer, singer, songwriter, publisher, producer, and playwright.

A recording artist, Sandy has released two CDs and is preparing for her third, which will include her original songs. This Time Around, a tribute to the American Songbook and the performers who made the songs famous, hit the radio stations in 2007. Only In Las Vegas, a collection of songs from her television special, The Event, aired nationally.

She has two upcoming books slated for 2010. Detours talks of choices made in her life and the self-help methods available to all of us when making life transitions. In Miss America: What It Takes to Win the Crown, Sandy shares her journey to the Miss America pageant, the women she met, the volunteers who donated their time to the organization, and the tools to help young women in the pursuit of their dreams. Sandy is a member of the National Association of Songwriters, the Recording Academy, and BMI. She provides her talents and continues to support the work of numerous charities: Jerry Lewis Telethon, Children’s Miracle Network, Disabled Veterans, Safe Nest, Policemen, Firefighters, Public Broadcasting and Public Radio, National Hot Rod Association’s DRAW,Save the Wild Horses, and the Omni-Equus Foundation.

Feb 25, 2010

My Funky Little Writer Habits By Judi Moreo

I am an idea hoarder. I write my ideas on anything made of paper. Napkins, labels, church programs, edges of magazine pages, note pads, journals, cardboard....then I save up all these pieces of paper making file folder after file folder of the subject matter. I now have three file cabinets of ideas, articles, and notes on subjects from Attitude to Writing....I don't have any XYZ files yet. Only A-W.

Then when I have one of my “genius” ideas of what would make a great book or a great article, I get out one of the files (the one most related to the idea) and start reading all of the notes, which then need to be put into categories and/or outline form. If it is a book, I write what I perceive to be the easiest chapter first. Easy means I have the most notes made and it will take less work to get that one done. Then I do the next easiest one and the next. Before long the book is half finished and all that's left is the hard part, which doesn't seem hard now because the book is well on its way.

I like to write my chapters as stand alones, so when the reader picks up my books, they could open to any chapter, read that chapter and feel like they got an entire story from the one chapter. The chapters do build on one another to make a whole...but if the reader never read the whole book, they'd still get valuable information.

In my office where I write, I have paintings that I have done on the wall. I have them hanging there to remind myself that there was a time when I didn’t believe I could paint. So if I get stuck and don’t believe I can write, or don’t believe I can create something new, then I look at my paintings and remind myself that I can do whatever I put my mind to doing.



***

Judi Moreo
Judi Moreo is the author of nine books including her best selling, You Are More Than Enough: Every Woman’s Guide to Purpose, Passion, and Power, and its companion, Achievement Journal.

She is an award-winning businesswoman and motivational speaker. Her superb talent for customizing programs to meet organizational needs has gained her a prestigious following around the world. Her passion for living an extraordinary life is mirrored in her zeal for helping others realize their potential and achieve their goals. With her dynamic personality and style, she is an unforgettable speaker, inspiring motivator, and an exceptional life coach.

Life Choices

Feb 24, 2010

Writing the Music by Susan Haller

Essentially, I am a songwriter, which means that I have to put all of the information of a novel into 2.5 minutes. Irving Berlin was a master at this and if you are hip to it, you will notice that he wrote songs in circular patterns. When you have finished with the moment, the emotion is complete and you are satisfied.

First, it’s the hook line which can come from anywhere. For example: My brother once sent me a letter about a job interview stating, “I put the coffee in the percolator, now I’m waiting for the water to boil,” which immediately became a snappy little jazz tune. Mostly it’s the cadence of the sentence which determines the style of song. The interesting part about this is, when composing longer pieces such as novels, scripts or plays the challenge is not to waste space with unnecessary words. Visual imagery creates an outcome that brings concise thoughts to the forefront of the story, hopefully dazzling the audience with your brilliance.

Songs come to me all at once. When the idea first pops into my head, I have to get as much down as I can to make sure the idea is solid. (This can be daunting if I am driving up the road at warp speed.) If it is a song, the words and the lyric line are there together, that way they fit into the pattern known as music. If there is trouble putting it together, I let it go for awhile and let my “back brain” work out the information and when I return to the poetry, it is usually there for me. Admittedly, I have songs that are unfinished from years ago that pop up occasionally for me to work on, sometimes they find themselves and sometimes they lie in the file of unfinished business forever.

While I write occasional fantasy pieces, most of my work is autobiographical. Why write about things I have never experienced when my own life is so interesting? It is much easier for me to draw from the well of real happenings, where the emotional investment is complete and my dedication to the piece is strong. When I apply the principles of songwriting to short stories and novels, then each paragraph stands out on it’s own as a piece of poetry. This makes the work fun to write, interesting to read and keeps me challenged to make it to the end without shutting myself down from project boredom.

As the writer of 200 songs and 4 stage musicals there are a lot of directions that I can go within the genre. Jazz, Blues, Country, Folk, Gospel, Broadway each have their own style of delivery that make the work rewarding. The best part is being able to perform this poetry and watch other singers take my music and move it into their own style. If a song can be sung a hundred different ways, or still wonderful several years later, I know I have a winner on my hands.



***

Susan Haller
Founder, Owner, and Chief Creative Officer of S.H.E.—Susan Haller Enterprises—

Susan Haller has over a decade of experience in fundraising and the development, marketing, and in-person sales of a wide range of creative products. Her successes have included entertainment, music, special event production, fashion, toys, fine art, and numerous advertising media including print, outdoor, on-line, and television.

Susan is a proven business manager with leadership, marketing, sales, and office operations experience in industries as diverse as retail, hospitality, live theater, travel, television production, gaming, and even high technology.

Susan has composed over two hundred original songs, four stage musicals, six children’s books, thirteen network TV commercials, and countless voiceover scripts, advertisements, and media releases. She is an accomplished performer, having starred in numerous children’s shows, live stage productions, and cabaret musical events, as well as in radio and TV commercials in the Seattle and Las Vegas media markets.

Life Choices

Feb 17, 2010

One Cup of Inspiration, Please by T.D. Hawke

Ah, if it were only that simple. But really, it is.

“Inspiration is born of the need for self understanding and acceptance. We write to discover and accept who we are.” In other words, observation and experience are the tools of inspiration, but the need for self-love is its impetus.

I don’t write every day. In fact, having to write (or rather, the pressure to write) is the quickest way to do me in—I’m lousy under pressure but can write like a demon when the muse strikes me. And maybe that’s the thing. Writing just to write doesn’t necessarily make one a better writer, any more than is writing just to write better than nothing. Sometimes the ideas just aren’t there, and if you push it—if you make yourself write—often the best ideas don’t have the opportunity to form, in effect sandbagging those times when you could have walked away, relaxed, and perhaps had that brilliant “ah-ha” moment.

A dear friend pointed out that I’m “going to pop the bubble of all those ‘Write every day” people’” to which I conceded that a lot do indeed write every day, and more power to them. At the same time, how often have you heard writers say they have to think about a story? That they have to let it form and stew and come together in their mind? Tons. And I’m one of them. If I wrote the first thing that came to mind, odds are I’d go so far off track that when something really good twigged that I’d either have to discard the idea entirely, or back so far up in the story that I may as well start over.

So yes, sure writing every day works for some. But it doesn’t work for everyone. Whatever works for the individual, that’s what I think; just write in the way that works best for you and to heck with what anyone else thinks.

Did you know there are a number of writers out there whose work has influenced a nation, a world, but have themselves only written one or two books? Never mind that though. Writing has to be in you, but more importantly, it as to be fun. You have to want to do it and be a happy camper while you are. If you aren’t happy, if it’s not coming to you, then why bash your head against the wall until you loath it? And yes, you can loath anything, even if you want to like it.

Think of a little kid (let’s call him Tommy) whose parents force him to practice the piano. So there little Tommy is, twenty-minutes a day, right after supper, parked in front of the piano and pounding out tunes that make the neighbors cringe. At the end of that time, he shuts the piano and walks away until tomorrow’s practice when he’ll pound it out again. Sure he might get better. Sure he’ll learn the basics. But he’ll never love it, and I guarantee you, the first chance he gets he’ll stop playing the piano and take up something else… like decorating the cat.

In other words, it’s not fun, and because of that, about the only thing he’ll learn is to hate the piano with a blinding passion. Forcing yourself to write when it’s not fun and not coming to you is kind of like that—Tommy torture. At least, it is for me.

A writer never really stops writing; it just doesn’t always involve the use of a pen, pencil, or computer. Experiencing things and observation are forms of writing. Take, for instance, my mother’s day surgery, and the lady in the bed across the way who’d waited so long she fell asleep. Or the quiet man on one side of the curtain and the “talker” on the other—the one with tan shoes and matching corduroy pants… which were about all I could see of him under the curtain. Or my mother, who was so wired for sound that she turned speed talking into an art form (of course, bells suddenly going off followed a few minutes later by the announcement “Code Red, all clear! Code Red, all clear!” should get at least some of the credit.)

All of them will come back to you when you need them as characters or stories that seemingly write themselves. In other words, inspiration can come from anywhere. The trick is to recognize it.

Speaking of recognizing it, do you know your own past can be a wealth of inspiration, one where “honest writing”—the best kind of writing—will come from? For example, some authors have to travel to where they are writing about. They need to smell that air, touch that earth, see that hillsides. They need to feel the moment and put themselves there—right in the character’s shoes—and walk the walk. Why? Because nothing beats honest writing, and nothing is more honest that one’s own perceptions and observations. To commit sights, smells, scenery, customs and even dialect to memory so that they can write not just from research, but from personal experience. From honesty.

In other words, much of their work is real, if known only to them. But not everyone can afford to jet off to who-knows-where, and it’s to those (myself included) I say you don’t need to book a plane ticket, because you have your past. Better?—it’s unique because it’s all your own. And even better still?—it comes complete with dialogue, scenery, emotion, characters and even an outcome. Voila! Instant inspiration and instant honest writing, and you didn’t have to leave home to find it.

So one cup of inspiration, please. And fill it to the brim with your own unique observations and experiences. In yourself, you will find all the inspiration you need.

***
T.D. Hawke is the managing editor of The Oddville Press and would like you to think she is a professional pudding wrestler. She would also like you to believe she makes movies with such actors as Harrison Ford, Russell Crowe, Robert Downey Jr. and Christopher Walken. But she doesn’t. She’s just a longtime writer and confirmed coffee/chocoholic. She also may or may not rob banks.

Hawke's View
The Oddville Press

Feb 16, 2010

Writing Blocks by Gillian Polack

Writing is never one size fits all. Writing blocks are only one size fits all when you least want them to be.

It’s taken me a long time to learn what causes my writing blocks. I have had a vast flow of meaningful words this last fortnight, after not writing for months. This was because I’m writing something with a fiendishly complex plot and my mind had to sort it out enough to be able to get a handle on it.

Last time I had such a major block, it was because I had lost the voice of the main character. If I had written without that voice clearly in my mind, I would have written something much less good.

For the first, I kept dreaming up plots and solutions and conflict and curious situations until I was at a stage where I could draft the dreams that worked (as opposed to the many dead ends I played with) into a detailed outline. That’s what I’m doing now. Writing notes and writing up notes. The outline is so detailed that I will be a third of the way into the book before it’s finished. This is as it should be for this particular novel.

For the other, it was terribly important to find that lost voice and I did. At least, I hope I did. I took my time and didn’t push and the book is with my publisher for editing. I guess I’ll find out if I really did find a voice when I get those editorial comments back.

Voice was so important to that novel that I would have waited years if necessary. I didn’t just wait, though. I read and reread what I had written. I thought of the world I had constructed and the particular dreams and themes I had brought into play. All the time I wasn’t writing, my mind was processing stuff at a deep level.

These days I let my mind do the deep thinking while I do something fun that helps. Right now the ‘something fun’ is Battlestar Galactica. It deals with some of the plotting issues I need to understand and it gives me time out and it’s brilliant to boot. What more could I ask?

Maybe I could ask for a solution to the less dramatic everyday writing blocks? I have those solutions and I promise, I will write a post on them. Just watch this space.

***
I am Gillian Polack. I answer mainly to Gillian, but also to Dr Polack, Ms Polack, Miss Polack and "Hey, you". I sometimes answer to "Gillian Pollack" because people simply can't seem to get my name right. 'Polack' is not an insult in Australia and it is most definitely the correct spelling of my surname. I live in the centre of the known universe (Canberra, ACT, Australia).

I write, I think, I serve on committees, I teach. I am passionate about people, about books, about history.

I talk a lot. I dream a lot. The Middle Ages sneaks into my dreaming, and so does speculative fiction. Cooking sneaks onto my waistline.

I am not terribly fond of writing webpages about myself (I really prefer inventing stuff fictional - truth is such a shaky proposition sometimes), so I really want to say upfront that Tamara Mazzei is responsible for this being here and me having written it. She also tweaked it for me when it looked like a dog's breakfast.

Feb 15, 2010

The Halfway Mark by Gillian Polack

Every time I reach the halfway mark in a novel (writing, not reading!) I find it a struggle to continue. I have talked to many other writers about this, and quite a few of them have the same difficulty. So how do you get past the half-way hump when you know exactly how to write the rest of the thing and it just won’t happen?

I use several techniques. Firstly, I set myself a wordcount. It doesn’t matter if the words are garbage, I write 100 or 300 or 500 or 2000 words a day until I’m writing enthusiastically again. I allocate extra time for editing this section, of course, since garbage needs to be got rid of, but editing is way more satisfying than never finishing the project in the first place.

What else do I do? I use my favourite TV programs and say I have to write a certain amount before I’m allowed to watch them.

Sometimes I follow Geoffrey Blainey’s advice and finish the day’s work mid sentence. I have no excuse for not finishing sentences even on my worst days, so that gives me the impetus to write again. I set myself a deadline and I finish the thing by that deadline (I love deadlines).

The other thing I do is take time out. Proper time out. I don’t worry about the novel or nag myself about it. I do something I’ve needed to do or wanted to do. I take a holiday or buy some gourmet chocolate or go to the movies with friends. Then I sue the other techniques to revv up again.

The big thing is I always finish. The middle of novels are always a bit of a dire zone for me, but I always, always get through them. Sometimes it takes every single measure I can think of to make it happen, but happen it does.

***
I am Gillian Polack. I answer mainly to Gillian, but also to Dr Polack, Ms Polack, Miss Polack and "Hey, you". I sometimes answer to "Gillian Pollack" because people simply can't seem to get my name right. 'Polack' is not an insult in Australia and it is most definitely the correct spelling of my surname. I live in the centre of the known universe (Canberra, ACT, Australia).

I write, I think, I serve on committees, I teach. I am passionate about people, about books, about history.

I talk a lot. I dream a lot. The Middle Ages sneaks into my dreaming, and so does speculative fiction. Cooking sneaks onto my waistline.

I am not terribly fond of writing web pages about myself (I really prefer inventing stuff fictional - truth is such a shaky proposition sometimes), so I really want to say upfront that Tamara Mazzei is responsible for this being here and me having written it. She also tweaked it for me when it looked like a dog's breakfast.

Feb 12, 2010

Avoidance Tactics

By Jaime McDougall

Okay. The house is quiet – as quiet as it will ever get, anyway – and it’s time to write. No distractions, just pure writing time. Pure writing time that you have been waiting for so long. Now you can get cracking on the current work in progress and –

Hey! Look! Is that snow? I think that’s snow. Gosh, the first snow of the season. Lovely. Oh, shoot. Did I forget to do laundry? I haven’t even thought about dinner tonight...

No one can procrastinate like writers can. We’re a strange bunch; when it comes to actually sitting down and writing, our attention span suddenly morphs into that of a hummingbird’s. Scrubbing the kitchen floor never looks as appealing as it does when you have your novel to work on.

Some writers have no problems with this. Or so I’ve heard.

I’m a procrastinator of the highest order. If I have time, I’m tired. If I’m not tired, I have other things to do. If I don’t have other things to do, I don’t have the right notebook, pen, lighting, chair... Yeah, I’ve even used the chair excuse.

Don’t take this to mean that I don’t love writing. I do. However, when you get a case of the Evil Editors playing with your brain and let them win once, it’s like you give bunnies Viagra and set them loose; suddenly, the next time you go to write, you have thousands of Evil Editors in your brain telling you why you suck. A lot.

After my Evil Editors grew to plague numbers, I decided to come up with three things to help me focus:

1. Remind yourself that all you are doing is playing games with yourself.
2. Ask yourself what you’re so afraid of.

And

3. If the EEs still exist, give them room to roam on a blank page. Then pick them off in any way you choose.

I prefer a machete.

Feb 10, 2010

It's Okay to Stop

By Jaime McDougall

It’s okay to stop and put the pen down.

Yesterday I went to the air conditioned library to escape the brain melting 100+ degree heat of the Australian sunshine. While there, I had one of the best writing days I have had in a long time, finishing up the work day at over 3,000 words typed for the day.

Do I attribute this to a fabulous muse? The delicious smoothie I had while there? The wonders of air conditioning?

Perhaps, in part, but by and large I attribute it to the fact I took a few days off writing. I tried not to think about it. I relaxed. I went people watching.

Basically, I did what every writer needs to do now and then not only to write better but to manage to keep whatever amount of sanity you have:

Get out of the writing room!

Yes, writing is about putting your ass down in the chair and getting some writing done, but it’s also about living. If you never get out of the writing room and experience life, then who do you think you are going about as if you have something to write about?

If possible, sometime this week get out and go somewhere new. Or, at least, go somewhere you rarely go. On your lunch break, after work, whenever works best for you. Go somewhere new and live it up. Experience things.

Do it because this is one of the few times I’m going to tell you to get your bum out of the chair.

Feb 9, 2010

Finding Time to Write


By Jaime McDougall

While we would all love to write a bestseller and have it pay for all the bills plus a summer home in Italy, it’s just plain not possible for the majority of authors. Even becoming a published author doesn’t mean you can quit your day job – especially these days. No longer do artists, writers, etc have patrons who are willing to pay the way for that next great piece of literary genius. (I suppose you could call my husband my patron, but that’s getting beyond the point.)

So we do what we must to pay the bills. If we’re lucky, it’s within the realm of what we love to do: write.

However, as appealing as writing for a living (and not in the novel writing way), you have to be even more careful with scheduling and making time to write creatively, or you run the risk of never finishing your book.

I write a lot. I work at home as a freelancer and writing is what has paid my bills since I have moved to Australia. I have since taken on other non-writing work, but writing is a big source of my income. I write (type) thousands of words every day.

So why is it that my novel isn’t progressing?

Because by the time I am doing getting all my work done, I want to go relax. I don’t want to sit on the computer for another hour on another project, no matter how much I love my novel.

So if you are (non-creative) writing for a living or thinking about a career in freelance writing, make sure it is what you truly want to do and that you’ll have the time and energy for the other things you want to accomplish. Don’t go so far that you’ll find yourself in the situation that I’m currently in – seemingly no time for creative writing and trying to figure out where to step back in order to make life, and fiction writing, more than just a to-do list item.