Monthly Archives: September 2012

Sometimes, you just got to do it.

Let’s face it. We’ve all had those times where we’ve sat down at our computer or notebook and we know what to write but we just can’t do it. So how do we overcome this nasty, frustrating form of writer’s block?

My biggest tip for this is to simply write the scene or whatever down. Don’t worry if it sucks or if it doesn’t read as good as it sounded in your head. That’s why you can revise until its perfect. You don’t have to get it right the first time, you can improve it.

Something else you could try is to plot out the scene or whatever you’re trying to write down. If its simply one line or a couple, this won’t really work, but for scenes and chapters this is a good idea. Especially if you know the general direction, but you’re not exactly sure what’s going to happen. Some people can’t have general things, they have to have specific ideas.

For the most part, it isn’t a lack of inspiration that’s got you, its a lack of will. If you’re having trouble actually writing down a scene or chapter, consider if the story is boring you or if its just this scene that you don’t like. If you’re constantly thinking about something else you could be doing, its probably a good idea to sit back and think it over.

Is there a different way to rewrite this scene to make it more interesting? Or is there another scene that you really want to write (if so, write it!)? Maybe you just need a break. Something doing something else for a while helps. I find pictures can be very inspiring or even trying to flesh out other parts of my stories can help me get excited and focused again.

So, what are your tips for overcoming this problem?

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100 Inspirations

Those of you who know me, or have possibly read some of my past posts (the L in the ABCs), know that I love lists. Like Caitlin pointed out earlier in the week, they are great for compartmentalizing, categorizing and organizing things. These “things” can have to do with writing authors read, their stories, characters, settings, the lists can go on and on (horribly pun intended). But every now and then we writers get in a funk and need to be reminded why we write or what inspires us. The list below is one I’ve had laying around for awhile now, and Caitlin’s post reminded me how important it is. So I dusted it off and took a look at it again. Now I am sharing it with all of you. Make a list of your own and look at it, post it a bulletin board,  in a journal, on a folded piece of paper you carry around in your wallet, anywhere. Let it inspire you, especially on days you need it most.


Beginnings. Endings. Middles. Broken hearts. Starry nights. The warm sunshine. You. Me. Them. Us. iPods on shuffle. The breeze through my hair. Nostalgia. Playground equipment. Thunder storms. Sunsets. Love on the mend. Family, and everything that falls in between. Late night chats that spill into mornings. Clichés. Dreams. Shooting stars. Silence. Bubbles. Quotes. Walking contradictions. Oxymorons, sometimes just morons too. Art. Friends. Strangers. Acquaintances. Aimless wandering. Gerber daisies. Joy rides. Singalongs to the radio. Power outages. Photographs. Acapella. Strobe lights. Polka-dots. Plaid. Nights out. Nights in. Books. Tea. Caterpillars. Letters. Lines. Memories. Skeptics. Rearview mirrors. Smiles. Laughter. Breakfast. Cities. Green, grassy fields. Klutzes. Road trips. Believers. Adjectives. Lyrics, stuck in my head. Flash forwards. Flashbacks. Scene checks. Alliteration. Raindrops. Dimples. Befriending. Fireflies. Twisted sheets. Imaginative imagery. Teaching. Feedback. Dialogue. Sarcasm. Climbing trees. Snow angels. Talented individuals. Old souls. New pens. Journals. Baked goods. Candle lit tributes. Pop culture. Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. Wonderlands. Never ending questions. Red lights. The mundane. The unique. Crunchy leaves. Blood. Sweat. Tears. Love…Life.

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Reading About Writing

We all love books, reading and writing them. But what about reading books about writing? There are tons of them out there. These are some of my favorite books that help hone author’s writing skills: stylistically, mechanically, inspirationally and creatively. Many are written by well-known novelists or others respected in the writing field.

1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Steven King
2. Eats, Shoots and Leaves: A Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
3. The 101 Most Influential People that Never Lived: How Characters of Fiction, Myth, Legends, Television, and Movies Have Shaped Our Society, Changed Our Behavior, and Set the Course of History by Allan Lazar, Jeremy Salter, Dan Karlan
4. Language Matters: A Guide to Everyday Questions about Language by Donna Jo Napoli
5. Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly by Gail Carson Levine
6. Take Joy: The Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft by Jane Yolen
7. Elements of Style by E.B White and William Strunk Jr.
8. How to Write Poetry by Paul B. Janeczko
9. Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques by Elizabeth Lyon
10. How NOT to Write a Novel by Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman
What are some of your favorites? What have you found particularly helpful?
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Researching for Writers.

So no matter what genre you write in, you’re probably going to have to do some research at some point in time. If you’re like me, you’ll be fine with this because its exciting. If not, well not so much. But some times even when you know what subject you’re researching, it might be hard to know where to start. So tonight, I’m going to give you my suggestions for how to conduct good research.

Step 1- Know what you’re looking for.

You can start with a broad topic, like The Roaring Twenties, or make it specific like, what kinds of food did people eat back then? The more specific you are, the easier/harder it will be to find information. But if I’m researching a time period, I’ll start with broad things.

Step 2: Gather your resources

Once you’ve decided on your topic, now its time to start gathering your materials. The best place to start right off the bat is Google because that’s fairly simple.

Rule of warning: Remember that when you’re looking for sites for information, you have to keep in mind that there might be a ton of sites out there with a bunch of different information. One of the things here is that some of that information may not always be true. I have two ways of checking information, 1) Does the site list references? And are those references valid sources and are they dated? 2) Can this information be found on other sites. If you can find generally the same information on at least two or three other sites, you know that its probably true. Even better, see if you can find it in a book. (Although if you’re writing a fiction novel, your facts don’t always have to be strictly true. Because you’re writing fiction and you can sometimes get away will little things as long as its not too big).

Once you’ve found your internet references, its a good idea to bookmark all those files in a separate folder or two so that you’ll be able to find them again.

After you’ve found your internet resources, make sure to check out your local library or bookstore. Books are generally the best places to look for information that’s true. And don’t be afraid to check out kids’ books too. Sometimes those may be helpful although you might look a bit silly reading them. Other good resources to check out are magazines, TV shows, movies, documentaries, and journals (not like personal journals but academic ones).

Make sure to keep track of all the things you’ve used to find your information in because those might come in handy if you need to rent them again or something. Sometimes I give my list of resources to friends who might be resourcing the same things.

Step 3- Organize your resources and make notes

Say you’re researching the 1920s again and you need to know exactly where to find something or there’s something in a specific book you need. If you’re looking at your internet resources, make sure to organize them. For example I’ve been studying this era for a novel and under my bookmarks I have specific folders for sites related to “Flappers”, “Model T Ford”, “Speakeasies”, “Prohibition”, etc.

If you want to make notes, keep a stack of notecards near you and write down the quote you want and then remember to source the item you got this information from. If you can’t remember how to do something like the MLA from high school, there’s plenty of sites that will show you how or even do it for you. Doing something like the MLA may not seem all that important, especially if you’re writing fiction, but its a good habit to get into. Not only will this help you keep track of your information, but you can’t be accused of stealing that quote or anything.

And remember basic note taking tips like, you don’t have to write everything down and summarizing is useful.

Step 4- How do you know when you have enough?

This is a good question, one that I’ve often struggled with myself. I’m one of those people who will research a subject until I’m sick of it and ready to die. But from that I’ve learned that there’s ways to know.

A good way to know is that you can just start with the basics. Because you can always go back and research more later. But most of the time we just need a couple things to get us started and informed.

Also, research as you go. You don’t need to know everything before you begin writing because you don’t know what you’ll encounter as you write. Or what will come up. Research what you need and leave it as that if you’re afraid of over researching.

Also keep in mind that you won’t use everything you’ll learn. Sometimes not only that, but if your story is still good without knowing what exactly people ate in the 1920s and how long they cooked it, you don’t need to research that. Its not needed! Don’t go through the trouble of putting something into your story just for the sake of putting it there, cause that’s unnecessary.

Step 5- Don’t be afraid of creating. 

If you can’t find something you’re looking for, keep in mind that the information you want may not be known or even accessible to you. And if you are determined to add something that you can’t find, add that something anyways. Its okay to expand on a topic even if you’re not exactly right. (Mostly though if you’re writing fiction.)

If you can’t find say what was the most popular hair color back in the 1920s, its okay to put in that lots of people like blonds or red-heads. After all, you’re writing fiction, not a non-fiction book. You don’t always have to have all the facts out there.

Main Points to Take Away

  • Don’t limit yourself to just one resource! There’s a ton of information out there on any subject. Don’t just look on the internet or in books, try other types of media too. Like movies and magazines.
  • Its a good idea to double check that your facts are true. Even if you’re writing fiction. While it may not be the most important thing, it’d be horrible if you got something wrong and everyone knew it but you, after you’ve been published. Because then its kinda hard to go back and change it.
  • Don’t steal! Make sure to give credit to where you found your information. Even if you’re going to be the only person to know.
  • Keep organized. This way, its very to find information when you need it.
  • Keep notes! Also makes it easier to find information!
  • Use what you need as you need it.
  • Try to have fun!

So, do you enjoy researching? Why or why not? What is some of the most interesting things you’ve come across before?

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The Writer’s List of Lists

Lists are fantastic. They take big, messy complex groups of things and package them into neat little boxes with sub-boxes upon sub-boxes. Below are a few that I think writers should have for realism and for inspiration.

1. The List of things you Love in fiction. Anything and everything that makes you pick up a book in the library or finish a story at two in the morning. Write the perfect story for yourself, not for anyone else. You can only devote enough energy and creativity to a story to make it great if you entirely love it. My (shortened) list is as follows:

a. Emotionally tense dialog

b. Eccentric  characters

c. Bittersweet, haunting endings

d. Gorgeous, mysterious strangers

e. Outbreaks of deadly diseases

f. Romeo and Juliet subplots

2. The List of things you Hate in fiction. These are demons that you are to ban from the halls of your imagination. I know you probably already avoid them, but I’ve noticed a tendency for people to write what they think is “good for you” to read/write. Something akin to taking those awful fish oil vitamins. I suppose the logic is “if this book is really famous and well-read, then I should write like that, even if I hate the book” but I’m not entirely certain. For me the list would look something like:

a. Infodumps, particularly in science fiction or fantasy

b. Obvious deus ex machina

c. Anthropomorphism (unless really well-written)

d. Secondary characters that clearly exist to be a plot device and have no appeal of their own

e. Weak endings

f. Disgustingly wordy sentences with endless dependent phrases

3. The List of your favorite Scenes in fiction. After you’ve finished, analyze them for exactly what makes them so engaging, heart-wrenching or hilarious. (Is it word choice? Is it the events that lead up to the scene? The timing of the scene in the story? The unresolved ending that makes it stick in your head? The analysis could be a sub-list! Or several!) Then look for similarities between the scenes. My example:

a. The Doctor and Rose at Bad Wolf Bay

b. Harry in the Ministry of Magic at the end of Order of the Phoenix

c. The last conversation between Gale and Katniss in Mockingjay

d. The last three pages of Delirium

4. The List of your most dramatic or emotional experiences, whether positive or negative. Writing emotion is impossibly complex. These could become the basis for something you write—some of the best scenes I’ve ever written were transcriptions of scenes I’ve lived through.

5. The List of the things you want most strongly. This list is probably good for self-analysis or something along those lines. But it’s a brilliant characterization tool. You know all those wonderful charts that ask you a lot of pointless questions about your main characters? What’s her middle name, her favorite color, etc.? Well, this is like that, only deeper, and less tedious, and you’re starting with yourself. If someone asked me what I really wanted now, I’d probably say, “sushi, fried chicken and that polka-dot dress I can’t afford.” But if I really thought about it and was honest with myself, I’d get a list more like this:

a. To be loved

b. To be approved of

c. To be talented and successful

And so on. Motivation! The full, honest version of this list can explain pretty much any course of action. (With the obvious exception of such primal instincts as sushi and fried chicken.) And it can do the same for characters. A real life example is good because writers have this tendency to write down in the “motivation box” whatever will make the characters do what the plot needs them to do, and not what the characters would want if they were real people. And motivation is important. It drives the characters, and they drive the plot.

And the final list (which isn’t really a list and therefore isn’t on the official List of Lists), is the one of all the cool things you come up with or hear throughout your days. Carry a notebook everywhere, if you don’t already.

Of course, variations upon this framework are highly encouraged.

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Welcome Back! Alternatively, When Life Gives You Lemons…

Inkwell is back on regular posting schedule today and lucky me, I’m the one assigned for today.

…Truth is, I’ve got nothing. My writing life has kind of been floating in limbo since August and I don’t have the time to write a drawn-out advice post. So let’s talk about when life gets you down! Gives you lemons! What do you do? 

Turn those lemons into…not lemonade. Glorious pieces of prose? Poopy pieces of prose? Oh gosh.

If you’re like me, you probably have ideas floating around in your head all the time. What would happen if I stuck this villain in here or wrote this chapter from this person’s perspective? 

Collect those somewhere before they float away! They’ll come in handy at a later date.

Try to write something, even if it’s just a few measly sentences a day. Squeeze them out like juice from a lemon. This metaphor is going to get old fast, huh?

Can you tell I’m rambling? Well, that’s what your writing might look like for a while. And that’s a-okay. You can always clean it up later.

So yeah. Dedication is key here, folks. Of course, breaks aren’t bad, but try not to take too long of one. You’ll forget what you were writing about and risk giving up entirely. Give it a week or two at the most. Then you can come back with fresh eyes and ideas. Maybe lemonade too!

Now if I could just heed my own advice.

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The Night Circus – Review

It’s been a while since regular posting, I know, and there is a reason for that. We’ve all been super busy lately, with school starting up and the majority of us being students at various stages in our educations. Regular posting will resume shortly, however.

And now for the review.

Book: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Coffee cups:

The Night Circus is seductive. Purely, magically seductive. I don’t think I have read a book before this one that put such a deep and beautiful spell on me as I read.

I received Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus through Goodreads First Reads. While it had been out for a while, a giveaway was being hosted on the site.

I was first attracted by the cover. It was black and white and gray with red accents and stars and Victoriana and swirls and a little cartoon circus, and I wanted it in my bookshelf. (And oh, did the physical copy deliver on this. The front cover is a page with a circular window to reveal the circus illustration; you open to the secondary cover-thing, and the circus is cupped in a woman’s hand. The symbolism and appropriateness is glorious.)

But enough about the cover. I’d seen a friend’s five-star review and figured, “This must be pretty damn good,” because when she likes something enough to give it five stars, I usually feel similarly blown away. I read the summary and wasn’t especially wowed, but apparently I was intrigued enough by the fact that there’s romance. To be frank, I’m not sure I really took any of it in except for that. If I did, I forgot it almost completely, and thank God for that. And I’m glad for that, because the back cover summary gives too much away and tells you too much about this book. Which is why I’m not putting it here. The magic of this book is in how it is Le Cirque des Rêves. It carries you through the mystery and the magic the way the circus carries the characters. You only need to know that this book is about magic, love, a game, and a circus. And not to mention, the back cover summary is misleading. I’m almost positive the author didn’t get to approve of it before it became official, because the second paragraph gives the entirely wrong impression.

And now I will begin the actual review before I rage over back cover summaries.

Continue reading

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