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Learning to be Creative

Now for a subject that I struggle with, as well.  Creativity.  It’s wonderful-and necessary-to learn the nuts and bolts of writing.  A writer needs to be able to clearly get an idea across in an entertaining way.  The problem is actually GETTING the idea in the first place!

There are a lot of resources out there to help with idea generation, the most common being story prompts in a wide variety of quality and insanity.  Such ready-made ideas don’t really encourage unique, original ideas of your own.  In fact, some of them are down-right boring!  (The worst I ever found was a story prompt saying “You are walking down the street and see something unexpected on the ground.”)  My favorite idea resources are the ones that help me generate my own ideas instead of expand on theirs.  Here are some suggestions that I’ve run across over the years:

1.  Journals.  A suggestion I’ve heard many times is to ALWAYS carry a notebook of some kind.  Whatever is written on these traveling pages can be transferred and expanded on in several subject journals:  character journal, setting journal, plot journal, description journal, and whatever else you can think of.  (Perhaps I’ll go into more detail about some of these journals in a later blog, not now though.)

2.  Brainstorming.  Whether you set aside a specific time each day or fly spur-of-the-moment, brainstorming and freewheeling are excellent ways to get hidden ideas out of your head and onto paper uninhibited.  The inner editor is a handy destroyer of ideas.  Give it a break for a time and get those crazy ideas on paper!  Sorting can always come later.

3.  Writing Prompts.  Ok, so I said just a second ago that writing prompts are often terrible, but if you combine them with other idea generating practices, a prompt is good as a start.  The more unique your pool of information from journals and brainstorming is, the more unique and original your writing response to the prompt will be.

4.  Random Word.  The good difference between a writing prompt and a random word is the total lack of direction.  Though this is more difficult to do if you have trouble dredging up new ideas, it lacks the pitfall of having to use someone else’s idea as a direction.

5.  Music.  Music is good for a form of meditation or mind clearing.  I know, “How can I get ideas if I clear my mind?”  Here’s how.  A huge block to freeing creativity is all the every-day stress and routine that fills the mind.  To let the quiet voice of imagination show up, the noise of every day needs to still or stop entirely.

6. Music (again).  The other side of music is its ability to inspire images.  Find a comfortable spot and lean back, close your eyes, and let your imagination flow with the notes.  The type of music is different for everyone.  I, personally, prefer music with as few lyrics as possible.  When there are words, I focus on the words and ignore the music (Can’t hear the music for the words).  The point is to let your own mind work, not the song writer’s.  Don’t forget to write down whatever you imagine!

 

This is just a sampling of things to do.  There are lots of other websites that suggest other practices, but it comes down to finding what works for YOU.  The greatest idea in the world probably isn’t perfect for any individual.  Practice, mix, and come up with new ideas.  Above all, enjoy yourself!  Creativity is always hampered when you’re trying to keep an eye on the clock for when your creative time will finally be over.

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Research, research, research

I’m not talking about research for writing knowledge.  I’m talking research on story facts.  Doing proper research concerning a story idea does two things:  makes your story more believable (especially for those know-it-alls that have intimate knowledge about the setting/character/profession/etc. in your story) and gives you ammunition for future ideas.

To do proper research, the most important thing to look for is credibility.  The old saying goes “There’s two sides to every story.”  Well, when it comes to information in the real world, there are INFINITE sides to the story.  A basic example is hearing something from a friend that happened TO HIM versus that same friend telling you something that he heard from a friend about her cousin’s great granddaughter’s boyfriend.  One has the credibility of being straight from the source while the second…well…we’ll say kindly that nasty rumors have been perpetrated in the same fashion for eons.  (You can’t tell me all those story scenes drawn on vases and cave walls are strictly truths that happened to the artist–especially the “alien” ones.)

There are many ways to look for credibility.  The easiest and quickest way is to look for references.  Obviously, if the information is straight from the source (such as a magazine that has published an interview with an expert) the written words should be taken as they are.  Otherwise, if someone writes an essay or discussion about a topic (such as countless Wikipedia entries) but doesn’t put any references, they could just be writing information as it comes to them.

Let’s see…I can do that!

   “Cardboard boxes are often made by hand in third world countries.  Underage children pound wet wood pulp beneath their feet until flat sheets are made, then older children with steadier hands and more aptitude for astute attention use precise amounts of glue to mold the internal wavy section for the recognizable ‘poof’ of cardboard.  From there, a third batch of children are assigned cutting and shaping the boxes to the various sizes required by companies world-wide.  The pennies a day it requires to keep these children fed and clothed are why boxes are usually so cheap!”

Now, see how easy it is to make something up?  I’ve written enough essays in school to have become an expert at the art of bullshitting and making it look good on paper.  Fortunately, no amount of bullshitting can make up for a good reference.

The second stage to credibility checking is to CHECK THE RESOURCES.  Wikipedia is a fine example of circular referencing.  Someone makes something up-or just misquotes facts-but leaves the reference out.  A desperate researcher (grad student, college student, article writer, etc.) needs a quick fact for what he or she is writing and jumps on Wikipedia.  They pick up the wrong information, put it in their paper for publication, and reference Wikipedia as the source.  Wikipedia editors tag the article on their site as needing references.  A well-intentioned (but unobservant) person does a search for where that particular piece of information came from and finds the article, failing to notice the Wikipedia reference at the end.  They add the reference to the article as a source for the information in Wikipedia.  The end.  What happened?  References weren’t checked.

Follow the references and check those for credibility.  It’s a long, tedious process, but well worth it.  The upside to it?  It leads you to more sources for you to do your own research on!

The other side to doing research this way is that it gives you fodder for future ideas.  In this example, I’ll use myself with a real happening.  I wanted to write a story about a Japanese province and needed to do research for it.  During the research on the culture of the area, I found that one of the distinctions of that area in this modern age is a large percentage of the houses still use shoji screens for their houses.  Not for decoration as many in the US use them, but for walls (external AND internal, though the materials used are slightly different).  This led me to do more research on the processes they use for making the screens, what materials, and other information.  Though I never used the knowledge gained from that portion of research in my story, I have it now for future stories (or personal use).

Let the search for knowledge lead you to places you weren’t expecting and grow your world view and knowledge base.  Expand your already vast “useless knowledge” database and make your stories richer and more realistic.  But remember, always, to look for the truth in your research and not just a “quick fix!”

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Practice makes perfect

“Practice makes perfect” is a well known saying meant to inspire children–and adults–to keep working at a skill until it is perfected.  The adage applies to all things from walking (both toddlers and people going through physical therapy) to skills learned in school through homework, even things like cooking, speaking, and exercising.

I believe one of the reasons why practice makes perfect is because the practice allows you to learn what aspects of the skill you are good at or need to work on more.  This leads to more practice, of course, to work out kinks. 

The roundabout thinking for this leads to writing, as well, and writing education specifically.  A good way to teach yourself to write better is to actually WRITE.  If someone wants to be a better gamer, they play video games again and again along with looking up hints, walkthroughs, and (possibly) cheat codes–oh, you know everyone does at one time or another, that’s why they’re there!

By the same token, someone who wants to be a better writer can’t just read books, interview successful authors, or go to school.  They need to actually practice their chosen art of writing.  This allows discovery of what you do and don’t like, what your individual style is (if you even HAVE a style yet!  That could be what needs to be worked on!), and what specific writing skills you do or don’t have mastered.

Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day…but it also definitely wasn’t created without doing construction on the buildings!  So, Write!  Build!  Learn!  Enjoy!

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Posted by on July 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Reading as a writer

Yesterday, my internet wouldn’t cooperate with me to post a new blog entry, so I caught up on some reading (since I do most of my research online), which reminded me of something I have just begun to learn: reading as a writer.

This is a very good practice to get into to learn what you, as a writer AND a reader, like and don’t like about a story.  The first thing to come to terms with is books are made of paper and can be written on.  I know!  Writing in a book?  Sacrilege!  But the more I’ve done it, the easier it’s become.  There are still some books I refuse to write in, opting instead to have a notebook nearby, or photocopying key pages (for specific projects) that I can write on.  After surpassing this small barrier, the rest is just a matter of practice.

While reading, pay attention to the parts of a story that you like the most.  If it’s good enough to make envy rear its ugly head, stop and figure out WHY it’s such a good scene.  Is it simply the good writing, or how quickly (or slowly) the author sets the pace, how the pace matches the mood (slow for introspective, fast for action, etc.)?  Perhaps it’s even word choice.  Whatever the case, tear apart the scene, devour it, and write down your findings.  Underline key sentences that make or break the scene, words that resonate, anything that REALLY catches your eye.  Then move on.  The rest of book awaits!

Another thing to watch out for is potential story ideas.  Often, such ideas from stories or poetry are written in a separate notebook or in the back of the book (why else would publishers put all those lovely blank pages?).  It’s not plagiarism to write a story that’s a spin-off, or based on events found.  Some would call this a form of fan fiction, but even fan fic has its place as writing practice!

The point to such reading is to discover the method to the madness of good or bad writing, then compare it to your own writing.  If you find you can’t stand scenes that have a huge amount of exposition (scene description or narration of the story), then why write in that fashion?  Learning how to recognize these scenes and styles in books you read can help find what’s wrong with your own stories and poetry.

Happy reading!

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Posted by on July 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Self study

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The word “education” often sends people packing with images of a packed room with stadium-style seating around a projector and college professor.  However, Webster’s hints at other meanings for the word.  The first definition is rather lengthy, but the second sums it up nicely as “the act or process of imparting or acquiring particular knowledge or skills, as for a profession.”  The profession in topic here is writing.

 

A common myth about successful writers is they are either A) naturally gifted or B) extensively educated.  The latter is more often true with a slight change:  self educated.  There are tons of good books out there about writing, some cheap or free, others amazingly expensive.  There’s also a large pool of webseminars, workshops, classes, and home courses.  The truth is, though many of these will prove invaluable to improving skills, none are necessary.  The number one thing to keep in mind when studying writing is focusing on individual ability, likes, and dislikes.

Most classes and books don’t focus on this.  Their focus is a pre-determined outline designed to teach a specific skill-set.  Unfortunately, not everyone needs to focus on those skills.  While one person is excellent at character creation, another might need help in that area but be excellent at story structure.  The greatest positive of self study is the ability to focus on what each individual needs–or wants to focus on at the time.  Which leads to another good attribute of self study.  It’s self paced.

Classes are usually time limited and try to fit as much information as possible into that time.  This means the things one person wants to take his or her time on to refine is brushed over as much as the information another person prefers.  Everyone is equally tempted and disappointed (or satisfied, as the case may be).  If world generation is the focus for someone, he or she can self study, spending as much or as little time desired to polish that skill.

The most important thing to remember about self study is to keep searching for more information.  Take your time.  Savor the gems you find and implement them in your writing.  Self study leads to self improvement, which leads to improved writing, making everyone more satisfied with the results.

Happy Self Education!

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Writing on Vacation

For my first blog post, I’ll talk about procrastination using the age-old reasoning of “I’ll do it when I have more time…maybe during my next vacation.”

The problem with this idea is…it’s vacation!

We all have our moments of conscience that we aren’t following through with our writing goals.  Sometimes those goals are writing, sometimes networking, other times it’s research or idea generating.  While having ample time to do these things is every person’s dream, waiting until vacation time rarely works for some people.  Though daily routines are relaxed during vacation, writing isn’t the only thing that’s been relegated to “when there’s time.”  House or car repairs, hobbies, time with friends and family, watching a back log of must-see movies or reading books…these all jocky for position with your writing goals, and all in a smaller span of time than there normally is for a daily routine!

A vacation is a good time to START a writing project because it lets our brains switch tracks from the normal rut it’s in.  Every day concerns about work, family, school, what to have for dinner, plans for the weekend, and a million other things make a routine for our brains that’s difficult to break out of.  This rut is what tells us that we simply “don’t have time” to add something new, such as writing goals.  Unfortunately, that’s exactly WHEN the time needs to be made.  Starting a project during a vacation is good, but the time will still need to be made or found during normal routines, as well, or the project will die.

So, if procrastination is rationalized by lack of time in daily routine, realize that the time will never just appear.  Make a plan and stick to it.  Vacation is a good time to begin the plan since it offers a change of pace for our brains, but this only works if the plan continues past vacation and becomes part of a new daily routine.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2012 in Uncategorized