Thursday, June 28, 2012

Writers' Spaces

What does the perfect writer’s space look like? 
Remember those old black and white movies? The ones that showed writers toiling over a manual typewriter in a dingy office, with a cigarette wasting in the ashtray and a cup of joe sitting ignored on the desk? That’s a romantic image, but it’s no longer a realistic view of the space a writer uses in 2012. That's my office on the left. The photo was taken around the holidays--can you see the decoration on top of my desk?
What’s necessary for a writer to work productively? It used to be you needed a research library at your fingertips or at least a bookshelf with reference books. I think that because of the Internet, an author’s writing space has become more manageable. You can do so much research online now that you don’t need that cumbersome reference library. Personally, I don’t have a large reference library, other than books on craft, and I can’t even tell you the last time I cracked open a dictionary. I’m not saying I don’t use a dictionary, I go online now instead of using a printed book.
Have you ever seen photos of David McCullough's writing shed? He’s written in that little structure on Martha’s Vineyard for years. I wonder how many writers have daydreamed of such a writing space.
There’s a cool blog called The Plot Thickens that’s all about novelist’s spaces. Take a look and enjoy the gardens where novelists work and find their Muse.
So, where do you write? Is it the same place every day? I write on a laptop, so my office is wherever I want it to be. I’ve written in the kitchen, the dining room, and on my bed propped up by a huge pillow. Lately I’ve been writing outside. As soon as temperatures hit 80 degrees and stay there, I work outdoors on my patio or in my Adirondack chair set in my perennial garden.
JK Rowling revealed in an interview that her ideal writing space  is a café with a window seat. Part of Ms. Rowling’s cachet is the story about writing her first Harry Potter novel in a café while her baby slept in a stroller.
I don’t think the location matters quite as much as the dedication of the writer. What you really need to write is determination, a grasp of the craft, and a good story. Anything else is just extra.
As for dedication, when my children were younger my husband set up a desk for me in our unfinished basement to write. He placed it under a heat vent, but still it was a bit chilly. On cold evenings I wrapped a scarf around my neck, wore a fleece jacket, and used a space heater.
A writer friend was visiting one day and asked to see my space. After I showed it to her she shook her head and said, “Man, you must really want to write.” No truer words were spoken. After her appraisal, I thought I’d dress up my space, and I took apart a pretty calendar and hung the pictures over the desk on the concrete wall with packing tape. I liked it, but when my daughter saw it she said, “You know what? This reminds me of those movie scenes when the cops go into the mass murderer’s apartment and all the freaky photos are hung on the walls.” Well, at least I tried.
What does your space look like?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Books Relieve Stress!

In our hustle-and-bustle culture, some folks feel that reading is a guilty pleasure--especially when so many other activities vie for our attention. If you're one of those folks, DON'T feel that way.
I ran across an online article from The Telegraph (UK) that reports on a study that concludes reading can help reduce stress. “Reading is the best way to relax and even six minutes can be enough to reduce the stress levels by more than two thirds.”
So the next time you need a stress-busting break, remember that getting lost in the pages of a good book works better to calm your nerves than listening to music, going for a walk, or enjoying a cup of tea.
According the Telegraph article, “Psychologists believe this is because the human mind has to concentrate on reading and the distraction of being taken into a literary world eases the tensions in muscles and the heart.”
I can’t say that I’m terribly surprised by the study’s findings. Reading is a mini-vacation for me, available any time of the day or night. Ahhh.
Some of my strongest memories are centered around books. I’ve never been without reading material, and I often feel refreshed after a good read. (Also, I’m often fired up and itching to write more after I read a good book.)
I remember stretching out on my mother’s bed as a child and struggling to stay awake while she read to me. I can't imagine I had much stress as a pre-schooler, but those books sure did the trick of helping me to unwind and take a nap.
Books are like old friends who help me to put life in perspective. My first hardback series of books, Anne of Green Gables, was a Christmas gift to me when I was in elementary school, and I still have them all. I can even recall some of the assigned books I read during my high school and college career and how I felt when I read them. The college semester I had to read Forever Amber was one of my busiest, and yet I remember my desire to steal away and read some more chapters of that l-o-n-g book.
I’ve always loved to give and receive books and to talk about books that have moved me, and now I’m in a season of my life when I love to write books to move others.
Just thinking of the worlds I’ve visited and people I’ve gotten to know between the pages of a book is a balm to my spirit. Some books are like old friends, and they deserve a visit now and again to relive the joy of losing yourself in the fictional dream.
How about you? What books have helped to ease your frazzled mind?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Evaluating a Story Idea

How do you evaluate a story idea for your novel? How do you determine if it will fly? 
As a rule of thumb, if a topic fires your passion, it’s a good idea to pursue a story based on that topic. However, if the topic is only important to you or only familiar to you or only true to you, it doesn’t necessarily make it universal enough to interest readers.
So, how do you know if your topic’s a good idea? Evaluate it on the basis of these questions:
1. Does your topic/idea transport your readers to a new world they can explore? Even if it’s simply an unusual career or a different socio-economic lifestyle, a new world will create interest for your readers to experience. The movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, based on the book These Foolish Things take readers into the chaotic streets of India as you journey with a group of retirees searching for a piece of paradise to live out their golden years.
2. Are your characters active? Do they get up and do something? Characters who sit on their porch and ruminate about life are b-o-r-i-n-g.
3. Does your character have a goal? You need to give your characters a goal, a quest they can journey on or a desperate need that must be met. In Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees, 14-year-old Lily Owen runs away to find out about her dead mother.
4. Does your idea have high stakes? The stakes need to be high enough to create enough tension to carry the story. If the biggest stakes are, “Will the electricity stay on long enough to cook dinner?” then your story will fizzle before it gets a chance to sizzle. In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s stakes were high. She had to get the witch’s broomstick or she would never get the help from the wizard to return home. Seeking out a wicked witch and stealing her broomstick to ensure a ticket back to Kansas is the ultimate in high stakes. If Dorothy failed, she was doomed to spend the rest of her days in Oz.
So, what about your big idea? Will it fly? Will your story captivate readers?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Inspire Your Creativity

There are many reasons why a writer’s creativity gets blocked, but there are also many strategies to get unstuck. Here are the last few on my list to help you get your creative juices flowing again.
1. Talk to other writers.
• A kindred spirit can soothe your troubled mind.
2. Try to write in a different place.
• Sometimes a small change of scenery can help you overcome a block.
• Leave your laptop at home and write with a pen and notebook.
• I've had a productive writing session at Grease Monkey while waiting for my car to be serviced.
3. Do some cluster writing.
• Choose key words and ideas, then write associated ideas and words in clusters around them. This process may help you form new ideas.
4. Follow a routine to get into the writing mood.
• Enjoy a cup of tea or coffee.
• Listen to CDs.
• Light a scented candle
5. Write out of sequence.
• If you’re having trouble with a transition paragraph, put a marker where you are and write the next section.
• If you have a scene or section idea, write it now, and insert it at a later date when your project “catches up” to the scene. I love to do this. When it comes time to insert the scene into the story, it’s like being given a bonus scene.
Eliminate "writer's block" from your vocabulary. Best-selling author Angela Hunt once told me, "You never heard of a plumber having plumber's block, did you?" Uh, no. So maybe the best thing to do is to press on and not even accept the term writer's blog.
The photo is of my newly painted Adirondack chair tucked in my perennial garden. This is a favorite spot of mine to read and to write. I put a lap desk across the arms of the chair, and if my laptop is charged up, I'm good to go!
What ideas do you have to rev up your creativity?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Where do story ideas come from?

When you hang out with authors, there's often discussion about where the idea for a story came from. The answers are as varied as the stories. Dreams, hopes, fears, what-ifs, news stories, family history . . .

Being in possession of an overactive imagination, I came up with the beginning of a story yesterday. It's only in my mind, I didn't write it down. Yet.

My idea came from an experience I had. Our mailbox is one of those community mailboxes that holds the mail for about 12 homes. The other day I got a piece of mail that had my house number, but the street was clear across town. I slipped the letter back into the outgoing mail slot, hoping the letter carrier would deliver it to the correct address.

The next time I checked my mail,  the letter was back in my mailbox. Since it was first delivered on a Saturday, and showed up again on a Monday, and since it obviously was some kind of check, I thought the person waiting for it might be a bit anxious to receive it.

Yesterday I had to go into town and decided to drop the letter off at the Post Office, but then I changed my mind. Since the address was less than a mile from the PO, and it was a business address, I decided to drop it off there.

The gentleman to whom the letter was intended was very happy that I went out of my way to deliver his check. But by the time I got back into my car, the beginning of a story was taking form in my mind.

Suppose the situation had occurred exactly as I lived it, BUT when my character gets to the office building and knocks on the door she hears something . . .

That's as far as I got. What could she have heard? An argument? A threat? The voice of a loved one, upset? A neighbor saying something scandalous?

The possibilities are endless, and all because a letter was misdirected to me.

What do you think she could have heard??

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Positive Effects of Reading Fiction

For as long as I can remember, I've been a reader. The world of fiction has fed my soul. How about you? Do you feel fiction has benefited your outlook?

I've learned about other cultures, points of view, religions, and lifestyles. Books have allowed me to experience others' lives by presenting universal emotions and viewpoints that help me to see my world more clearly.

I've become more compassionate and softened my edges by reading about people who struggle with difficulties that don't tempt me.

I've had readers email me to say they've seen a different viewpoint that has softened them or they've been challenged to be a kinder person after reading one of my novels. You can't imagine what a blessing that is to a writer.

Books open my world and tell me I'm not alone. Fiction lets me know I'm not the only person who's felt a particular way. Isn't that wonderful?

F. Scott Fitzgerald also commented on this, "That is part of the beauty of literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolate from anyone. You belong."

Please, share your thoughts. How has fiction enriched you?

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Denver-area Summer Writing Course

Local friends, have you always toyed with the idea of writing a novel?
What's holding you back? If the task seems to overwhelming, and you live in the Denver area, here's some good news--a local author is teaching a series of three two-hour session on writing your novel
 In the words of Dr. Seuss: "Today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way."
Alison Stobel, a multi-published author, is presenting the seminar twice this summer. The first session is June 12, 19, and 26 (Tuesdays, 7pm - 9pm), and the second session runs July 2, 9, 16 (Mondays 7pm - 9pm). The classes will be held at Cherry Hills Church Middle School in Highlands Ranch. Total cost for a session is only $150.
After completing the series, you'll be equipped to write a full-length novel, and you'll  have an understing of the publication option that best suits you and your writing dreams. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Keep Calm and Carry On

You've seen this poster, haven't you? It's become widely popular in the past few years.

I've just learned the story of the poster, and I'm delighted to share it with you. I love that the poster was discovered in an old box of books in a bookstore.

Watch the video. It's short and very sweet. Oh, and drool over that lovely bookstore.