Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Got a minute? Notes from the kitchen sink...

Rebecca’s post last week was great showing us where we can incorporate some writing time, thanks Rebecca!

This week I want to give you a short rule to go by when you don’t have enough time. It’s very simple. Write for 15 minutes, no more, no less. You can do anything for 15 minutes.

I used to hate to do dishes, and I’m sure I’m not alone. I’d sit for hours doing other important things – anything to get out of dishes. Finally, to prove my point about how horrible doing dishes is, I decided to time myself. I set the stove timer for an hour figuring it would go off before the faucet did. I was in for a big surprise.

The minute I turned the water off after doing a normal sink load of dishes, I still had 45 minutes to go on the timer. That meant it only took me 15 minutes to clear the sink. All of my fussing and fuming washed down the drain that night and I realized my imagination had been playing tricks on me. Now when I’m aggravated about having to do dishes, I remember, it only takes 15 minutes which is hardly a sacrifice or hardship to have a clean sink!

Finding out how easy this was, and how hard I had made it, prompted me to apply this rule to other areas of my life. How many things really took only 15 minutes? And from there I moved into 15 minute plans for everything, including writing. 

If you don’t have enough time on the bus, waiting for dinner, or any other place, try scheduling 15 minutes a day; when you first get up, when you go to bed, after you brush your teeth, you get the idea. If you have it slated on your calendar to do 15 minutes of writing a day, you will get more done than if you don’t plan it. What if you miss a day or two? As soon as you remember, get back on track and write in your idea book or start a new story from your idea notebook.  You have a notebook, right?!  The 15 minute rule is a way to stay productive when time is hard to come by.

I make it a point to write 15 minutes a day no matter what. If I get to do it, great. If I get to do more, wonderful. Having this plan ensures I get more done than if I don’t keep a plan. The key is to remember to do it when you think of it and not worry when you didn’t do it.

You can do anything for 15 minutes. Annoying things like dishes, and fun things like crafting your next blockbuster story!

photo credit: morguefile.com

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"I Don't Have Time To Write"

If you’re a student and love to write but can’t find the time I have some suggestions that might help. Obviously, if you can’t find time you must be a good student because you spend a lot of time doing homework. And if you like to write you must read a lot because that is where you get inspiration and learn how the language works.

So, when can you write? How about lunchtime? If you know others who write you could start a critique group and sit together at lunch. Critique groups are priceless because you get multiple suggestions on fixing boring characters or plotlines.

How about the bus ride to and from school? It might be jiggly writing, but when you get home you could type it up and add more thoughts. Or maybe just make lists and notes about characters, plots, climaxes, etc. You may discover others who wish to talk about your stories or read them.
Any road-trip, even to the grocery store, provides forced-seating time that is wasted. I always carry a special spiral notebook in the car door pocket and a clipboard with another spiral notebook and a pen. That way every minute is usable; even stoplights. I even carry a small voice recorder in my purse to record immediate ideas when I absolutely can’t stop and write them down.

Let’s say you’re in charge of dinner prep one night. Make spaghetti and while waiting for the water to boil and noodles to cook – WRITE. There’s plenty of time to jot ideas or flesh out a character. Then do some more while the garlic bread bakes. Piece of cake!
But I wouldn’t suggest actually working on your story as in writing it until you have quiet; like just before bed. Or you could set your alarm for an hour before necessary in the mornings and write while the house is quiet. I know a lot of writers who do that.

Hopefully these ideas will help you stop saying you don’t have time to write and Just Do It!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Say What?! (every writer's trusted friend...)

Every so often you get a piece of advice that’s like a seed. It’s very small, even miniscule, but it grows lavishly until you wonder what you ever did without it.

Such was the case when a long ago friend of mine gave me a tip that changed my life. I almost dismissed it but the idea tantalized me until I tried it and found the merits.

He said, the best memory is a piece of paper and a pen.

Brilliant? Stellar? Can’t live without it? Not exactly, I thought, especially since I have a semi-photographic memory extending to practically birth…what did I need paper for? Umm…right…

One day soon after, I recounted an event for a group of friends with someone else who had been there. She remembered a few more important details and I began to think perhaps my memory was fading. Maybe I only remembered the necessary things for me? I can hear God laughing… The advice of my friend flashed through my mind and I decided to try it. Just for accuracy’s sake, you know…nothing permanent.

At first it was an inexpensive pocket sketch book from the local everything store. I needed one without lines because sometimes I like to draw things. Well, that was used up in two weeks. I graduated to a composition book and ignored the lines. Again, two weeks, gone. Soon I had a stack of full notebooks.

Then an extraordinary thing happened. I read them and remembered far more than I did without them. Oh, I still have my semi-photographic memory but now it has a larger space, namely, notebooks.

I have a cool one now. It’s a moleskine from Barnes & Noble, a gift from my husband. It has lots of pages and no lines so I can draw. I don’t fill notebooks up as much since I’m more selective in what I use it for, going from everything to working on my stories.

As a writer, I find it invaluable. I take it with me everywhere. It’s much lighter than a laptop or netbook and won’t break if I drop it. It’s such a part of my everyday travels that it’s a fixture in my backpack.

My daughters, both in high school, were singing in the year-end concert last spring for their Chorus. We dropped them off a few hours ahead of time and went home to dress for the event. We knew it would be standing room only so we hurried back and found the best seats. We had an hour to spare. My husband took a walk and I waved to a few friends but I knew if I went over to talk to them, someone would grab our seats. So, what to do? I rummaged through my backpack for something of interest and there was my notebook. I was ecstatic. I opened it and read a few entries; ideas for blog posts, story beginnings, etc. I had some notes on a novel I was preparing for publication and had fun going over those. Suddenly, the entire plot and character line-up for a new novel flashed through my mind. I gasped. The ideas were so exciting. I feverishly jotted them down with tons of side notes and details, reveling in that rush of excitement that comes when I write. A new adventure opened before my eyes.

Then the lights dimmed and Paul returned to his seat. The concert was wonderful. We went out for ice cream afterwards and the day unfolded as most do. We had dinner. I checked email. I put away my backpack rummaging through the contents for any perishables I may have stashed there while running around town and saw my notebook, of course, normal. Then I remembered the novel notes. I grabbed it and read what I’d written only hours before. Again the excitement surged through me and I transferred my notes to my laptop to work on the story the next morning, grateful I had so many details and realizing I never would have remembered it all without my trusty notebook.

The best memory is a piece of paper and pen.

Pennies, really, for such a priceless tool.


Karen McGrath is an editor, an author, and homeschooling mother of three (one in grad school and two in high school).  Please drop her a note and visit her blog.  And get yourself a cool notebook.  :)
Photo credits: morguefile.com

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Showdown Between Character-Driven and Adventure-Driven Stories - Who Will Win?

Welcome to our first real posting.

This week I’m talking about how to start a story.

You have an idea that makes you pretty excited and you think "Other people would enjoy this story, too." But where do you go from there? Do you just tell the story from the perspective of the exciting adventure? Or do you tell the story of a character enjoying the adventure - or suffering from the adventure. You get the idea.

I know, many of you have already written and possibly published stories and books. But some of you may still be struggling with “Why doesn’t this work?”
You edit and edit and struggle with the wording, ch
ange the names of characters but the story is still flat and lifeless. That happened to me with my first draft.
I’ve been writing all my life. I still have the stories I made into little books using binders when I was 8. Pretty funny stuff to go back and read now.
But when I began my current book in earnest I ‘pantsed’ it and just wrote and wrote for six months getting the story on paper. When I read it, however, it was flat and lifeless. Boring.

It took me a while to figure out why.

That’s it. That’s all.

I had and have an awesome story full of intrigue and adventure, but there was no character to drive the story – no interesting, intriguing character to pull the reader through all of those adventures.

When I went back through and angled the perspective from my main character’s eyes it suddenly became obvious and the story POPPED into 3-D life.

Here’s an example of what I mean. First I’ll pos
t a scene from my very first manuscript (be kind – it was pretty bad) then I’ll post a similar scene from the character’s viewpoint. Watch how it becomes more interesting because you want to know what happens to the character – not just what is ‘happening’ in the story.


Before her stood a very tall, stately man with long, curly brown hair wearing a white robe.
“My name is Patronus. We have a lot of work to do in a short period of time,” the regal man said. They were sitting in a secluded garden wit
h a fountain. “You have been chosen by Laudius to accomplish a very important task. While you are here at Punctilym, I will be your guide and mentor.”
She and the tall man dressed all in white had met to begin her mind training. The first thing he wanted her to learn was how to meditate in order to release conscious control and allow her subconscious to do what it already knew how to do. They met in the Meditation Garden again, but instead of sitting on the benches, they sat on the soft grass, facing each other, legs folded and feet tucked underneath. Their hands gently rested on their knees as they gazed into each other’s eyes. His voice was as soft as the wind sighing in the trees as he spoke a chant to relax them both. After a few minutes, Zarena picked up the chant and echoed his soft whisper with her own, feeling her muscles relax throughout her body. After several more minutes of chanting, he stopped, his eyes closed he sat silen
tly, unmoving. Zarena closed her eyes, too, and sat unmoving, relaxed and waiting. After several more minutes she felt herself becoming light, as though she was floating like she did in the ocean. Her conscious mind reminded her that she was not in the ocean and therefore could not be floating and she was suddenly sitting on the grass again, the light feeling gone. She opened her eyes and was startled to see the man watching her.

The next day Patronus and Zarena met to begin her mind training. They sat in the Meditation Garden again. But instead of sitting on the benches Patronus chose the soft grass. They faced one another, legs folded and feet tucked underneath. Their hands gently rested on knees as they gazed into each other’s eyes.
Patronus’s voice sighed as soft as the wind in the trees as he spoke a relaxing chant. After a few minutes, Zarena picked up the chant and echoed his soft whisper with her own, feeling her muscles relax throughout her body. After several more minutes of chanting, Patronus stopped. With eyes closed he sat silently, unmoving. Zarena closed her eyes and sat unmoving, relaxed and waiting.
Within moments she felt as though the ocean rocked and rolled beneath her. But her conscious mind said that was not possible and with that thought she felt a thud. She opened her eyes surprised to see Patronus staring at her.
“What happened?” he asked her lightly.
“I…I…don’t know,” she stammered. “I was sitting here chanting, copying you then suddenly I was in the ocean, but when I realized I couldn’t be in the ocean I found myself sitting here again. What did happen?”
“You were floating,” he said simply.
“That’s impossible…isn’t it?” she shook her head.
“Then why did it feel as though you were floating?”
“I was dizzy from chanting or something.”
“No. You were floating. When I opened my eyes you were about a foot off the ground, sitting exactly as you are now with your eyes closed and completely relaxed. It wasn’t until you chose not to believe that you settled back down on the grass and awoke,” Patronus chuckled softly. “You are an excellent student. Obviously you have a lot of natural ability. You’ll be flying out-of-body in no time.”
“I was? I will? Am I ready for all of this?” she asked, more of herself than him.
Rising and stretching he helped her up, “That’s all for today. Have you thought about yesterday? Have you any questions?” She didn’t respond. “That’s alright. Why don’t you go to the Library and do some more research.”

What do you think? Can you see the difference in being told about the character and ‘being’ the character, knowing her feelings and thoughts? I know I prefer the second version.

Share your own stories, ask questions, make comments. Let me know how you feel when you write.