RoadWriter

Heart, Soul, and Rough Edges — A Gypsy Journey of Words and Wonder

Archive for the tag “Writing”

Make Visible: Story a Day

It’s almost May…

On the Story a Day website it boldly says: StoryADay.org is home to an annual Extreme Writing Challenge:

Write a story every day in May.

Still confused.  Want more info.  Here are “The Rules” from StoryADay.org.

The Rules

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. ~Ray Bradbury

The Story A Day Challenge is a creativity challenge.

It came about when I (Julie) needed to prove to myself that I could still actually write stories — not just talk about writing, read about writing or even write about writing!

I needed bootcamp.

I declared May 2010 to be StoryADay May and set about telling the world (to keep myself honest).

As other writers started to hear about it, they clamored to sign up. They got excited. They challenged themselves. They challenged their friends. They wrote a lot. And some of them went on to do great things.

So here we are, declaring May 2012 to be:

The 3rd Annual Story A Day May

The rules:

  • Write (finish) a story every day in May.

The details:

  • Stories may be any length (50 words? 5,000?) but they must be stories (they must take us or the characters somewhere).
  • Stories may be fiction or non-fiction (but if you’re already blogging in non-fiction or keeping a journal, consider trying fiction)
  • You get to decide what “every day” means. If you need to take Sundays off, go for it. You make your own rules, but you are encouraged to set them up early, and stick to them!
  • Sign up as part of the community here. Get a username and join in the groups and comments. (sign-ups open soon. join the StoryADay Advance Notice List to be first in line)
  • You can post your story at your site, or in the forums here or you can simply post an update in the Victory Dance Group saying that you completed that day’s story.

The point:

  • To foster creativity
  • To come out with 31 first drafts, nuggets, chapterettes, ideas, and
  • To prove that you can craft a story. Lots of stories. To practice that craft

What Should You Do Next?

  • Get on the Advance Notice List to find out when sign-ups open (I only open it up sporadically, to combat spam sign-ups) PLEASE email me at editor at story a day dot org or contact me on twitter @StoryADayMay if you have questions. Really sorry for any inconvenience.
  • Take a look at the Inspiration and Productivity links on the Resources page.
  • When you have a username, Make some friends,, Join or create a group.
  • Most of all, gather your ideas between now and May 1. You’re going to need at least 31 of them.

This story a day business sounds intriguing and challenging!  If you are interested please go to the Story A Day website to find out more.

The Stories of Ray Bradbury

The Stories of Ray Bradbury (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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Scrivener: Not Just for Novels

Many novelists have heard of Scrivener, a software for writers. Initially it was available only for Mac, but last year a version for Windows became available. While editing one of my novels lately, I became frustrated with keeping all my documents and Excel charts updated, and trying to reorder scenes or chapters for a major revamp is a big pain in Word. So I finally decided to download the 30 day free trial for Scrivener. The next day, my husband told me to go ahead and buy it, since we had both read a lot of great things about the software, and I couldn’t stop gushing about all the tools and features.

Scrivener and My Novels

I’ve imported that manuscript I’m revising, and have a newer WIP (only a few scenes written) transferred over to work on mostly from scratch. It’s a very different process for each.

One of the biggest features of Scrivener is that it you break each scene into its own document, but it can still be easily viewed in chapters, or the entire project. It’s been a LOT of work breaking my manuscript into individual scenes, and filling out the attached notecards with updated summaries, but it is SO worth it.

I can easily drag and drop a scene into a new location, I’ve used keywords which color the notecards so I can see POV at a glance, and the time I spent summarizing scenes has given me a basis for an updated outline and synopsis. I love having everything in one place. I used to have documents for characters, world building, different drafts; Excel sheets for keeping track of word count, Point of View, chapter length. Timelines and chapter outlines were a number of drafts out of date. With the ease of having all my info readily available, in one program, I can easily keep everything up to date, find what I need, and move things around.

But that’s not all! I had the brilliant idea while fiddling with my manuscript that I can use these same features for my poetry.

Scrivener and My Poetry

I can use keywords to categorize my poems, put them in collections, and easily reorder poems for compiling into a chapbook. No more copy/paste in a giant word document. If I want to work on an individual poem, I can. If I want to see how it fits into a larger body of work, I can do that too.

My old method: Over a dozen folders, sometimes with a poem in multiple locations. Separate Excel sheets for information like theme. Not only a mess, but I never seem to have everything up to date. I forget to add a poem to my themes list. I have poems in my “new poems”  folder for as far back as 2006 that I haven’t gotten around to categorizing (pure laziness, as I do have a miscellaneous folder).

Now: I write a new poem, tag it with themes, and mark it as a rough draft. I could even list in the notes, or keywords, which poems I’ve shared with whom. I never can remember which ones I’ve shared with my husband, or my critique group. I love being able to have all that information in one place. If I can’t view it at a glance, it’s only a quick click away. 

For comparison, here’s my Excel sheet I used to keep track of themes in my poetry: (click on pictures to biggify)

And here’s my collection of color poems, with their keywords (themes, in this case), in corkboard view:

In this same folder, all I have to do is click on the Scrivenings button up top (highlighted in yellow below) to see the composite of all the text. I’ve circled in red the binder on the left, where I can drag documents to rearrange them, which would update the composite text, as well as the corkboard and other views.

If you can’t tell, I LOVE Scrivener. It’s become such a useful tool, not only for my novels, but for my poetry as well. I’m super excited to put together a new chapbook now. What writing software have you tried?

Make Visible: End of the Year Self-Evaluation for Writers

The end of the year is a fantastic time to evaluate one’s writing life with an eye to the future.  It’s a time to look at the big picture and see if you have met, exceeded, or fallen short of your self-created writing goals for the year.  This self-evaluation was inspired by the About.com Graduate School post, Check in With Yourself: End of Semester Self-Evaluation.  I’ve found that doing a regular self-evaluation is a great tool for reflection on my graduate school experiences.  This evaluation is not an excuse for you to beat yourself up; instead it will allow you to get a clearer picture of your writing life.

Consider your responses to these questions.  It might help to actually write them down.  🙂

Consider the last year:

  • How did my year begin?
  • What were my submission plans, writing goals, and marketing plans (if applicable)?
  • Did I allocate enough time for writing, typing and editing my work?
  • Were my expectations met?
  • What surprised me this year?
  • If I could do anything over, what would I choose?  What would I do differently?
  • What are my writing strengths and witnesses?
  • How might I address these weaknesses?
  • How can I augment these strengths?
  • What have I learned this year?  About writing?  About subjects of interest to me?  Personally?

After thoughtful consideration, what can you conclude about your year?  What will you do differently next year?

Some ideas to think about for 2012:

Set aside regular times to write.  Be flexible.  If you are a morning person write in the mornings, if not, write in the afternoons or evenings.  Consider investing in writing prompt books or get writing prompts off the internet, so you are not stuck for ideas.  Remember, writers write!

Consider collaborating on a writing project with a writing friend or online critique group.  Collaborating is a great way to support one another while holding each other accountable.

Take time at the end of 2011 or the beginning of 2012 to revisit your writing goals.  Are they too ambitious or not ambitious enough?  Can you break your goals down into smaller, more manageable steps?  If you haven’t made any writing goals, is it time to do so?  Think about sharing your writing goals with supportive family members and friends.  Do you have any deadlines looming?  Make a note of those and give yourself time to meet them.

Reflect on any Works in Progress (WIPs) you have.  Is it time to let your WIPs go or is it time to breathe new life into a WIP?

Every year is a new beginning.  A new year is a great time to establish good writing habits and to reflect on the past year.  It’s also a good time to congratulate yourself on what you accomplished in 2011 and realize what you did right. See you in 2012!

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An Exercise in Imagery

Dreigiebelhaus (three-gables-house) Am Laien i...

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. As my gift to you, I’d like to share a fun exercise to create unique imagery.

Sometimes I find myself getting stuck using the same descriptions and phrases in my writing. Especially in poetry, it loses that pop. One of my favorite exercises to get out of this rut is one I learned in high school.

1. Come up with a list of common adjective/noun combinations. Since it’s the day after Christmas, I’m going to choose some season appropriate terms. The more you come up with, the better a chance you’ll get an awesome description out of this. I like to come up with 10-12, but for teaching purposes I’ll do six. Adjectives in green, nouns in red:

white Christmas
evergreen tree
falling snow
slick roads
gold rings
hot cocoa

2. English: Six dice of various colours. 4-sided ... Now choose a number. Any will do as long as it’s not a multiple of the list you have. Since I have six items, I would not use the number six. You can use virtual dice to give a random number, or roll an actual die. Since I have six phrases, I’ll use a regular die and re-roll if I get a 6. I rolled a 4.

3. This number is the shift number. Leave the adjectives where they are, and shift the nouns down the number rolled. Christmas would shift down 4 to match with gold. My resulting list:

white snow
evergreen roads
falling rings
slick cocoa
gold Christmas
hot tree

4. These are now your prompts! Use any that inspire you in a poem or story. As you can see, some combos are definitely better than others. White snow isn’t very original, but evergreen roads excites me. If you get a dud, and none of the results speak to you, pick a new shift number.

Another variant: write a bunch of adjectives and nouns on pieces of paper, and put them in separate bowls or bags. Mix them up, and grab one from each. A grab bag of inspirational imagery.

Here’s my poem inspired by the above. I have the start of an evergreen poem, but ended up on a tangent and wrote this one instead.

What color is your Christmas?

White with snow
and frosted branches?

Blue with longing
for romances?

Mine is one of gold
as I snuggle down with slick cocoa
and listen to the joy around me.

A child’s laughter making
all those purchases worthwhile

The Carol of the Bells
echoing like falling rings

And at the end of the day
the family gathers round
to watch a movie

As a child I never could have known
Mothers have the best Christmas,
with memories of gold.

 

For another example, see my very first poem written using this technique.

I’d love to see the poems you come up with, using either my list or one of your own.

Next time on Mary’s Expression: A book review.

Make Visible: From Consumer to Creator

I bet you have lots of media in your home, like CDs, books, DVDs, even art—all made by someone else or a group of other people.  Have you ever considered making your own media, your own art?  As the rash of consumerism that spreads over the country at this time of year attests, there is a huge market for the products of creativity.  I ask you to consider making your own music, writing your own books, directing your own movies and decorating your walls with your own art.  Right away, there are objections:  You don’t have the talent, money, time, skills, contacts to do this!  Maybe not.

The creators of media (art) aren’t any different than you and me.  “They put their pants on one leg at a time,” as my dad used to say.  Maybe they have a vision to share, maybe not, maybe they have time, talent, money and all that good stuff, maybe not.  It’s not about becoming a writer, musician, artist, filmmaker.  This is about being creative and expressing yourself.  We will still buy media, that’s not in question.  It’s time to be creators of art rather than only consumers of art.  Be brave!  You don’t have to share just yet.  Get out pen and paper, a guitar, paint and paintbrush or video camera.  I double dog dare you!

English: paintbrush

Image via Wikipedia

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Bliss and Gratitude

I first learned about a bliss book from Sylvia van Bruggen during a workshop at the Muse Online Writers Conference.

What is bliss? Complete happiness, undisturbed by gain or loss.

What is a Bliss Book? In simplicity: a book that makes you happy.

Whenever I feel my writing sucks, or am generally depressed, I can open my bliss book and bring on a smile. I have words of encouragement about my writing, quotes, lists of favorite things, and I’m always on the lookout for pictures to clip from magazines.

The most important rule is no negativity allowed.

Creating Your Own Bliss Book

  1. Make or buy a pretty journal or notebook. I use a lovely illustrated fairy journal.
  2. Write up a purpose page. What do you want from this book? Here’s what I wrote in mine: Fears have no power here. My bliss book is my quiet place. A way to center myself and find my muse. Smile. Play Be Free. Free my muse; free my writing; free me from doubt and fear; free me from burdens that I may fly.
  3. Add something regularly. Anything that makes you happy. Ideas: lists, pictures, doodles, quotes, stickers, poems, mantras
  4. Open your book! When you’re in a slump, or forget your motivations for doing what you love (whether that be writing, or parenting, or running). Read it front to back, or open to a random page. Let it inspire you once more.

You can expand this idea of bliss into other forms. A bliss box, a bliss room. Anything or anywhere filled with things that inspire and lift you up.

In honor of the recently celebrated Thanksgiving here in the U.S.A., I’m starting a new page in my bliss book. A Gratitude Page. Anytime I lose sight of the good things in life, sucked down in negativity, I can search for something to add to this page. There is ALWAYS something to be grateful for, even in our darkest hours.

Next time on Mary’s Expression: The Poetry of Pink.

Inspiration-Perspiration: It’s All Around You

Fridge Magnets 2

Image by Pierre Nel via Flickr

We all know the adage, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, right? Do you know it applies just as easily to writing and poetry as it does to the other important things in life?

For example, I hear people asking me “Where do you get your ideas from?” and the answer to that is “Everywhere!”

It might be in a snatch of conversation I overheard at the restaurant while we’re waiting in line. It might be in the three headlines from today’s paper that I linked together to form a writing prompt.  Perhaps that interesting documentary I watched on Discovery last night at 2 AM sparked some poem or plot ideas.  It might even be in a dramatically stormy day with lightning crashing all around me.

I mean, open your eyes and ears, folks, along with your other senses. A lingering fragrance on the breeze, the tang of Thai spices on your taste buds, the feel of your lover’s caress. Anything in your world, good or bad, can serve as inspiration.

So how do you go about capturing these things for later use?

There are things you probably have in your possession already that can do that. Your cell phone  can take a photo or record a voice memo or send an email to yourself, a thin notebook in your purse or back pocket to record ideas, and a notebook, pen and flashlight on your night stand to record those flashes of ideas that come when we are least prepared.  I keep a file of writing prompts from various sources on my computer.  I have a folder of photographs that serve the same purpose. There are many books of writing prompts, tools like Story Spinner, and writing games that can give you a heaping serving of inspiration. Let’s not forget the classic fridge word magnets either.

So don’t worry that you won’t have any ideas. All you have to do is just open your mind and it will be filled with amazing information, without even  breaking a sweat.

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