Creating in Flow

The world of creativity—with a twist of rationality

Get Inspired Daily: Six Tips and Three Prompts

Use these calendar-themed how-tos to encourage your writing habit.

Calendar
If you're new to the making-up-a-whole-novel process, you may find a couple of new books to be quite helpful.

One is Your Novel: Day by Day—a fiction writer's companion (also available as an ebook) by Mary Anna Evans. Evans, the author of eight mysteries and thrillers, as well as other creative works, offers one way to go about keeping up your motivation throughout a year. Her 365 essays cover many of the nuts-and-bolts, dos and don'ts, creative, and marketing aspects of any novel-writing project.

If you're the rebellious sort, the way Evans has laid out Your Novel: Day by Day makes it easy to skip around. Also, if you commit to reading and acting on one page a day, even if you have to skip a day or two, you can readily catch up.

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Evans, a compassionate writing companion, shares a lot from her own experiences. We learn that her first novel didn't sell because, she was told, the heroine was too smart and strong and edgy. When she began another novel, she decided she didn't want to live with a wimpy heroine, no matter what, but this one sold. Years later, she self-published that first rejected novel.

SIX TIPS

1. Think of writing a novel as a marathon, suggests Evans. Read books about how to do it, read novels by others, make sure you have the right equipment and a good spot to sit, and arrange to have time to sit in that spot and write regularly. And when you hit a wall, do what it takes to break through, including flipping through a writing book (like Evans') to remotivate yourself. (Or surf through one or more writers' blogs that you find inspirational.)

2. Give your characters some passion. Make them want something and find a way to get it.

3. Look for opportunities to time-stamp your narrative. If a character has an appointment on Tuesday, then when she's keeping that appointment, we know where we are in the week.

4. Scrutinize your novel's first chapter, deeply and often. If it's back story that's not necessary at this point, cut it, or switch the chapter order. Make your first chapter one that will wake up an agent or editor.

5. Keep an eye out for your personal tics. As you edit, look for words you love too much, words that will stick out when over-used, like "overt." [See my own earlier post on how Stephen King overused certain words.)  

6. Make the last words of your book count, as they are the ones your reader will remember.

MORE INSPIRATION

A Year of Writing Dangerously
Another good source of motivation is A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration & Encouragement by Barbara Abercrombie. Composed of essays aimed at those writing fiction, memoir, autobiography, or essays, the book also gathers 52 weekly writing prompts at the end of the book.

Abercrombie, who has written 14 books and teaches writing at UCLA Extension, often hears would-be writers' fears: self-exposure, betrayal of the privacy of those they love, or a fear of disappointing or being disappointed. What if someone sees things differently or gets mad, or you make a fool of yourself? Writing feels risky, and Abercrombie aims to make writers feel safe.

Elegantly written, filled with anecdotes and quotes from celebrated authors (many of which contradict one another), Abercrombie's brief essays are, if anything, underwritten. They offer hints that will mean even more to those who are somewhat experienced as writers, rather than to total neophytes.

THREE PROMPTS

  • Write about a gift you received and lied about liking.
  • Write about a time you broke something.
  • Write about a time you didn't show up.

You may notice the commonality of these prompts: they bring up emotional moments. For me each one immediately conjures a scene in which I felt bad, shamed, or mortified. When my husband-to-be gave me adorable little crystal glasses and I loved him but not delicate glassware I had no interest in using. When I stumbled against a table in a woman's home where a writer's meeting was being held at which I was to speak, and something fragile fell off and broke. When I simply ran from a horrible temp job and only later called in to explain.

In fact, these are the sorts of episodes I like to keep in my notebook file in case they or their emotions fit into a novel I'm writing. The best prompts are those that tickle your memory and make you want to write down deeply felt scenes.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Susan K. Perry

Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author. Her current focus is on the creative aspects of rationality and atheism.

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