Where do they come from?

Posted by Ayna Ravan on March 11, 2010 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (0)

If it’s Tuesday it must be my turn to blog.  But what shall I blog about?  I haven’t a clue, but I don’t want to waste your time, dear reader…. But, wait!  What’s that on the horizon?  Could it be… yes, it is! An IDEA, the best topic I could have asked for, rising like the sun, or is that a lightbulb,  I think it is, for that’s my topic for the week. Ideas, where do they come from, how do you catch them, what makes a good one? Stick around, dear reader, we’re about to go exploring for ideas.

Stephanie’s post about blank pages set me to thinking about how I fight writer’s block and realized, 1) I do use paper and pen to open up a more creative mindset; and 2) I often combat the block by writing something entirely new – maybe an opening, or something trivial that has no hope of seeing the light of day, or just a list of topics that interest me which oftentimes set me off on a tangent to write about.  These are the three main ways in which I battle 'the block' but writing something new needs a starting point, inspiration, an idea.  There are as many ways to find ideas as there are people on the planet and then a few million more if those don’t do it – so let me share what works for me.

My ideas come from everyday events, dreams or nightmares, an unusual idiosyncrasy observed, an overheard conversation, an arresting smell, an intrigueing texture – the senses are a doorway to a wealth of ideas that inform and inspire throughout everyday whether you’re aware of them or not – and then there’s the online gem of random story generators.  My favorite generators are at Seventh Sanctum.  Story generators are useful for those times when inspiration seems to have gone walk-about, and they’re often very fun figuring out how to connect the dots, and always a great writing exercise.

Once I have a starting point I like to look at it from numerous perspectives. An example:

Recently I had a wool blanket disappear from my rocking chair on the porch where I do a lot of my writing with pen and paper.  The blanket disappeared during the night while I was working inside at my desk on a rewrite.  This became my starting point.  From there I considered the many ways it could have disappeared, 1) a neighborhood raccoon dragged it off; 2) a homeless person needed it more than me; 3) there was a meeting of two universes right there on my porch and what disappeared from mine showed up in the other.  These are just three of the ten possible treatments I came up with. There’s a story in each one and each is vastly different from the other.  (Yes, this will probably appear as an Opening in the weeks to come.)

Story ideas come easier with practice just like any skill worth having.  Since I’ve begun writing a new opening on a daily basis I’ve been happy to discover they come easier and quicker – let me qualify that by saying ‘generally easier and quicker’ – and are made up of small inconsequential everyday things, i.e., the mailman who wears a mask as he delivers the mail, a tiny pinpoint of bay-view from the front porch, a robin arriving in winter, even a lost name that was there just yesterday.  Ideas and inspiration areeverywhere I look, touch, smell, feel, and hear.  Sometimes they overwhelm me as I get going and my hand races to keep up.

There are three things you should keep in mind as you set about exploring ideas: 1) never discard anything, write it down - even if it doesn't inspire you now it might at a future date; 2) DO NOT EDIT as you write - nothing kills creativity at this stage quicker than that left-brain and nit-picker; 3) It doesn't matter if you don't know where it's going as you begin - entire novels are written that way in the rough, ask anyone who's ever taken part in National Novel Writing Month.

Finally I'd like to return to that light bulb, a small, everyday item with which we associate ideas, and remind you that it's a small everyday item - one of the best sources for stories that become epics.  It's when the small idea is considered in all it's many ways, and the craft of story is applied that you find something quite out of the ordinary and well worth the struggle - your voice.

Good luck, keep writing, and reading.  Till next week when I really will post on Tuesday instead of Thursday.  - Ayna


In the Beginning

Posted by Stephanie Rose on March 8, 2010 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (0)

After spending an hour last night staring at a word document, I decided I'd address something every person struggles with at some time or another. I am no expert, but it's easy to play Monday morning quarterback. So I thought I'd work through my own struggles by talking about things that get writers through their own, hopefully helping other people along the way. Be it a novelist or a student with a term paper, it tends to hit us at the most unexpected times, and it hits hard.


I'm talking about writer's block.


And why is a raven like a writing desk? Even Lewis Carroll didn't know the answer, but the best explanation I ever heard to answer that question was in an annotated version of the story, where the researcher gave the many answers to that riddle given over the years. A raven is a symbol of doom and time running out, and for a writer sitting at their desk with deadlines and time against them, the feeling of doom is ever present.


Was this what Lewis Carroll had in mind when he wrote the answerless riddle? Seemingly not, as he explained himself after receiving numerous queries over the riddle that it truly did not have an answer, yet he provided one anyways as an afterthought that had nothing to do with the writing world. But as any writer knows, things you write subconsciously tend to weave themselves back around full circle. Perhaps his subconscious created this riddle without him knowing the true answer.


I've read many books on writing, and one of the greatest things I heard was in "A Writer's Idea Book" from a writer who said that everyday he sits at his desk for a scheduled period of time, without fail. If he can think of nothing to write, he still sits there with a timer. Is this a waste of time? He thinks no. He believes that thinking about writing, even if he has nothing to write about, prepares him for when he does. Creating a routine to write is essential, so when you are ready, the routine is already in place. Yet another reason a raven is like a writing desk.


So I say to hell with the writing desk. Sherry, another member of Scribblicious, likes to write the old fashioned way; a paper and pen. I use my handy netbook for maximum portability. But leave the writing desk. With the weather warming, I choose to spend my writing time outside on my patio, surrounded by nature. The element you choose to write in is key. Writing is a form of art, and to let your creative juices flow, your mind needs to be in the right place.


You wouldn't want to be near me with the story I'm currently working on. It's dark and disturbing, and my head enters a nasty place while working on it. Like a method actor who spends time getting in character before they walk onto the stage, I try to surround myself with chaos before I open my netbook. I dredge up things in my head that make me uncomfortable; things that really put me on edge. If I could surround myself physically with dead things and dirt, I'm sure I would.


My point is, the atmosphere you write in is just as important as your head. Finding a place to be creative in is one of the best weapons against writer's block. As I stared at my computer last night, I couldn't reach what I was trying to achieve in my head or in my environment, even though I know exactly where I'm going in the story.


Perhaps it was because I am at a bridge. This is the other thing that tends to hold writers up. Bridges are by far the most difficult sections to write, ask anyone. The sections in a book that have no other purpose than to take you from major scene to scene. You can know completely where you are going, what is about to happen to your characters to take them deeper down the rabbit hole, but getting there can prove incredibly difficult.


For me, I find it best to force it. Once I force a few paragraphs of the bridge, I'm usually back in the swing of it. Laying the first few boards across the river is the most dangerous, but once you have a foundation, the rest are easy. Then you can go back and secure the foundation. I find that my forced paragraphs don't fit the narrative and seem out of place, but it's easy to return to them and make them more cohesive.


Blocked from the beginning? I'm a fan of story starters. Sherry posts some on our website, but there are fabulous books out there that are full of inspiring story starters to get your creative juices flowing. I'm including titles at the bottom of this post.


While working in radio, I learned that every person on the planet has a fascinating story in them ready to be told. You just need to tell it. Your voice is unique, so sit down and let it rip.


Genre? At the PNWA conference last year an editor said it best: "Everything is popular until it's not." This statement means everything. Vampires have been huge but are on their way out. But you have a great vampire story! If it's unique, it will be published. If it's not unique, vampires will come back. Maybe you'll be the one that brings it back. The point is WRITE IT!


Finally I'd like to say that without a support group, I would be lost. Find encouragement in the people around you. Exile the nay-sayers. The people I have choosen to trust with my writing are the only way I've worked through a story from start to finish. You need a cheering section when writing. You need positive and helpful feedback. Find someone who can give you that. There are a few people in my life that I know I can call up in my darkest of places for support. People I can call if I'm searching my head for a word. My first book I spent afraid to talk about. I will never make that mistake again.


Time for me to force a bridge. The raven is singing in many forms.


Until next time,




Books on Writing:

"On Writing" by Stephen King

"How to Write what You Want to Sell" by Skip Press

"Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within" by Natalie Goldberg

"The Writer's Idea Book" by Jack Heffron


Story Starters:

"The Mysteries of Harris Burdick" by Chris Van Allsberg

"The Write Brain" by Bonnie Neubauer

"A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words" by Phillip Sexton


(if you know me and would like to borrow any of the above, let me know!) <3