Advice on Creativity

A “shot in the arm” from artists of other mediums.

I read blogs from artists outside the medium of creating fiction and have found great tools given freely in their advice. It takes only a little mental tweaking to make it sound advice about writing as well.

The first comes from Dewitt Jones, a photographer who worked for National Geographic for many years. Check out his corporate videos on creativity if you ever need that boost of self-confidence and joy of writing.

Last night, I was having trouble finishing this column and decided to take a walk on the local golf course—just me and my pitching wedge. As I walked down the 2nd fairway, the light of the setting sun was almost blinding. I could barely look straight ahead, much less to my left toward that blinding ball. Then, another step, and the light went away. My head turned involuntarily. There, in the exact spot where I stood, the sun was momentarily blocked by the one lone tree on the fairway. What I beheld was magic. “Wow!” I gasped, on an inhale. And for a few moments, I just stared, lost in the connection.

If you hear a “Wow!” shoot!

Quote taken from Moments of Wow!

And my tweak? If you hear a “wow!” from a visual that pops into your head, the faint whisp of dialogue or the jolt of conflict of characters interacting in your mind–write!

The next comes from a comic artist Phil McAndrew.  He wrote an awesome post giving advice to young artists which I feel applies really well to aspiring authors. Go read it. Here’s one of the many quotes I liked and compliments the quote above as well.

My best work, the work that I get most excited about and that other people seem to enjoy and respond to the most, is usually stuff that I draw purely for fun. My big mental art breakthroughs usually happen when I’m mindlessly doodling. Sketchbooks are where you get to draw whatever you want and where ideas are born. Set aside a little time every day to doodle and explore. Draw for YOURSELF.

My tweak, of course: Write for YOURSELF. Write the stories YOU want to read. Write they stories that you MUST know the endings to. Write the stories that consume your waking thoughts and dance through your dreams.

Lastly, from a Forbes article on creativity:

Gregg Fraley suggests starting your creative journey by believing you are creative.

Believe it. Simply Believe You Are Creative. Your most basic beliefs drive how you think, your brain listens to the programming you put in via your thoughts, like punch cards on an old computer. If you keep feeding it the “I’m Creative” card, it starts acting like it. When we hit the wall seeking ideas, feed in the card “I’m going to think of something great,” or “I’ll have a great idea for this.” Even when your faith falters, as the songs says, Don’t Stop Believin, fake it until you make it — you will make it — make an active choice to be creative.

BELIEVE and CHOOSE to be creative and it will be so. BELIEVE you are a writer, and it will be so.
Twitter stream I find helpful. Cherry pick because there is LOTS of stuff here. (Creativity, Craft and Marketing advice, etc.)
Artists Road (a bookmark for myself to peruse during the dry spells)

What do YOU do to feed your creativity? How do you keep the juices flowing?

Incorporating Figurative Language in Prose

One of the qualities of truly rich and enjoyable prose—language that you can bite off and chew—includes figurative devices.

There is so much more to telling a story than describing events.  Especially when romance is involved.  Reading a book is not about absorbing words and hearing a story.  A good storyteller conveys their story by having their reader experience events.  Even description of a landscape becomes a totally different animal when figurative language is involved.  To wit:

“The long grass blew in the breeze and the lake’s surfaced shimmered in the distance.”


“Emerald fields danced in the breeze and diamonds glimmered on the surface of the water.”

Prose that employs figurative language, such as personification, metaphor, simile, and alliteration, is rich and thick and can be savored.  Not only is the language more appreciable, but the telling of the story itself comes across much more powerfully.

The best way to do this?  Read and write poetry!   It is compact, figurative.  It is the literary equivalent of a snapshot.  But not only does it provide a visual. Poetry packs a punch emotionally as well.

For figurative language I highly suggest the Metaphysical poets like John Donne,  or, later, the poems of  Gerard Manley Hopkins, and still later, T.S. Eliot, the figurative master.  They are difficult to understand, but they stack a lot of visuals on top of each other, each one quicker than the last.  Read them, study them.  Read them aloud and savor the sound of the language on your tongue.

Try your hand at a few poems.  For practice, take the theme of your novel and write a poem about it.  Then write a poem for both your hero and your heroine.  Lastly, write a poem about your setting.

When you get back t o your work-in-progress, you will be able to draw upon the phrasing from those poems to start layering more figurative language in your prose.

Here are links to some online resources about improving your figurative language in writing:

Examples of Figurative Speech in the Poems of Robert Frost

Metaphors, Similes and Personification

Using Figurative Language 

You’re Not Special

I know that’s the opposite of what we’ve been taught all our lives to use as a personal mantra in order to bolster our self esteem.  But earlier in the year, I heard an accomplished author, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, confess that she said this to herself regularly:  “You’re not special.”

Meaning that what you are going through is no different than others in similar situations.  As a writer, you aren’t special because you get rejected.  I’m finding comfort in this recently.  I’ve come to the conclusion that a project that I have submitted to a contest recently likely does not have a chance of reaching the finals.  Though I have no official word (and probably won’t for a few months), it doesn’t look good.

A friend of mine who is a successful published author encouraged me (not in so many words) to shake it off and move on.  My natural tendency in the past has been to wallow in my misery for a while.  How unproductive.  I might look at her career and see her success now but I wasn’t around to see the rejection she went through, too.  It’s all a part of becoming published.  Part and parcel.  I’m NOT special!  Somewhere, someday, someone will see some worth in my writing.

While I did feel pretty down in the dumps about this.  (And it would have been an excellent opportunity to break out).  I suppose I had pinned too much of my hope on too few things.  But opportunities come around all the time and even when avenues close, others open.  Like Maria touted in The Sound of Music : “Whenever God closes a door, somewhere, He opens a window.”  It’s up to me to find that window and figure out a way through.

Romantic Times Booklovers Convention

In keeping with my 2011 goals, I was lucky enough to attend the convention when it took place near my hometown last week.  As part of that, I entered the Advanced Aspiring Authors workshops the two days before the general conference opened.  After that, there was a bevy of workshops to choose from–often more than one at the same time–packed full of useful information.  I took tons of notes. 

I’m also afraid to admit that I got overwelmed.

What a roller-coaster of ups and downs!  SO much to learn.  So much to absorb.  I felt surges of hope and dips into self-doubt. 

I’ve decided that after a short breather, I’ll come back and assimilate the things I learned and review the (plentiful!) notes I took at the workshops.  I just wish I could have spread that information throughout the year–say have one of those workshops a week, for example.  That would have been nice refreshment.  As it turned out, I felt like I was trying to get a sip out of a high-pressure fire hydrant.

So, for now, my Top 10 list of Hi-Lights from Romantic Times 

10. Getting “up close and personal” advice from romance authors like Bobbi Smith, Mary Wine, Mia Marlowe,  and Amanda MacIntyre, and fantasy author Karen Miller  during the pre-conference workshops.

9. Watching the Avon Historical Authors answer questions live on the Internet.  And the cupcakes and wine were nice, too!

8. Having lunch with an agent and editor and being able to “talk shop” with them.

7. Having an editor give me her card and ask me to email her personally regarding my opinions on eb00k pricing and marketing.

6. Having an agent give me her card based on a pitch for a book I haven’t even started yet!

5. Learning that the difference between “good” writing and “great” writing is all about CONFLICT and EMOTION. 

4. Meeting amazing and sweet people who write cool Historical Science Fiction (Steampunk) like Nathalie Gray and Suzanne Lazear.

3. Enjoying the parties!  So many nice people gathered in so small of an area.   Also, sitting in the bar and actually RECOGNIZING people from their author pic on their blogs.

2. Meeting fellow aspiring authors-in-crime like Miss Anita.

1. Finally: meeting my WONDERFUL crit partner, Kate McKinley, and discovering that she is just as wonderufl in person.  She’s going to do amazing things.  Keep an eye out for her!

Through the Genres

I started out writing Fantasy.  Pure Fantasy.  Swords and sorcery and… well actually if I go even further back I started out at the ripe age of twelve writing poems.  Some people think in pictures.  I have always “seen” and “heard” my thoughts as words.  Words that form pictures, concise and succinct.  Words that paint colors and punch snapshots of emotion.  It’s hard to explain.  But for me, when a poem came to me, I always got a sort of “feeling” –it was a tingly sort of prickly feeling at the back of my throat and behind my eyes.  It’s like I’d feel it coming “on” (not unlike the feeling of a migraine or attack of bersitis about to come on).  The poem would “appear,” almost leaping off my fingers.  Almost as if I hadn’t written it at all.  Almost as if I was plucking some formless shape from the ether and giving it form, words, colors, emotions.

Writing poems kept me sane during some of the darkest times of my life.  I called them “naked pictures of my soul” because they exposed my inner emotional workings like no other form of art could.  I suspect it is much like this for visual artists.  Whenever I started to create I could never see the entire “thing” I was creating until the end.

Writing fiction creates a little more distance than I had with poetry.  I can “shield” the rawness in fiction.  But kernels of those inner workings still emerge.  I’ll often sit back and wonder, “Where did THAT come from?”  Creation is strange like that.

More to the point, why the switch from poetry, to longer fiction: first fantasy, and then historical romance?  My first work of long fiction centered around a character named Synna.  I started out writing her “history” and somewhere along the way, her story evolved into an epic fantasy that would have stretched volumes, had I written it all out (three volumes exist in a fairly primitive state now and are, for now, trunked).  When people asked me what I was writing, I’d first say “Fantasy.”  When I got a blank stare, I’d elaborate:  “Think LORD OF THE RINGS meets PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.”  They’d quirk their brow, intrigued.

It was the best way to describe the Synna story.  Though I could never hope to touch Austen or Tolkien, it gave people a filter to categorize my writing.  It gave me a goal to shoot for.  It was a novel of manners and relationships against a backdrop of epic Fantasy story lines–good versus evil and the imminent doom of the world and all that good stuff.

So why romance?  It kind of snuck up on me. (And yes, I know that ‘snuck’ is not proper usage, but it’s such a great word).  I’ve been a Jane Austen fan since college when I first read “Pride and Prejudice.”  Her work is the precursor, in my opinion, of the modern romance novel.  Her novels are about relationships and the growth and development of characters as a result of finding true love.  They are about the happily ever after.  Every one of Jane Austen’s novels ends with a wedding or proposal.

Romance, for me, is about what it provides for the reader.  It is not unlike Fantasy in the respect of feeling a need for escape.  A romance novel immerses a reader in another world, governed by it’s own rules, encased in boundaries so-defined by the author and peopled by characters that are real people.  Characters that could be your friend, your cousin, yourself.

The romantic element in literature is so ingrained that rarely a popular piece of fiction (whether in novel, cinematic or other form) does not have a love story somehow involved or attached to it.  Romance is important.  Love, desire, hope are all facets and parts of feeling human.  They soften the hard parts of the world and make it easier to live in.  I’m waiting for the study that shows that reading a romance novel releases the same amount of endorphins in the brain as eating a good piece of chocolate.

Sometimes the Process is Messy

And what a mess I’ve made!  In the aftermath of NaNoWriMo!  I had a total of approximately 83,000 words at the end of November.  When I printed out the manuscript (due to a mess of compatibility between Scrivener and Word), several scenes were duplicated.  Beyond that, when I’d started writing some of the “candy bar” scenes, my concept for the novel changed radically somewhere along the way.

For example, my hero had a mother, father, older brother (the heir) and older sister.  During the process of his character development, I decided to kill off the mother and older brother to some 19th century illness (probably consumption) and make the hero older than the sister (a lot older, like 10 years).  A little while later, I got a great idea for a subplot involving the dead brother and so decided that he died in a duel instead of some disease.  All of this made the character concept and motivations so much clearer to me and helped propel the plot forward.

The problem is that I had several of these scenes based on the previous premise and had these people in the scenes walking and talking, etc.  Well, since this is not a paranormal and therefore won’t include ghosts, the scenes must be changed drastically.  In other scenes, the character concept and motivation had changed so much that the dialogue they were giving made little to no sense.

On top of this, I had divided the story into a series of scenes that in many cases had no connectors one to another.  I had no concept of how many scenes to include in a chapter or why.  How to group them, how to include a hook at the end of each one, etc.

Thus, I utilized an excess of toner and paper and printed a hard copy.  I got dividers, one for each chapter, and labeled them with numbers.  I read through the manuscript and massacred every page with red ink.  I discovered, in the process, that I had a bit of a “Frankenstein’s monster” of a manuscript.  Major, major revision necessary and the last 1/4 of the book needed writing, though at the very lease, that portion was very clear to me and would write itself (1st draft) with little trouble.

After a series of mental gymnastics which felt much like fitting square pegs into round holes, I just started chucking scenes out wholesale.  The minute I decided to do that, a burden lifted from my shoulders.  I felt light and free and actually enthusiastic about rewriting the scenes to fit the new vision.  I knew that they would be better, brighter, shinier.

When I cut/pasted all the scenes I would use into the second draft, I had 61,000 words.  Yes.  I lost 22,000 words.  It smarted a bit, when you consider that the goal I’m shooting for is 100,000.  But cutting the bad will make it better.  I’m enthusiastic about the second draft.  I’ve already written about 10,000 worth of new material.

Writing is a messy business, as messy as sitting at the potter’s wheel, though the caked clay under your fingernails, the splattered clothing and ruined lumps of useless clay discarded off to the side are figurative instead of literal.  I have left a trail of crumpled paper from recycling bin to notebook, in case I lose my way.  Good thing I wore my working clothes.

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