Friday, March 25, 2016

Wells of Inspiration: Building a Productive Writing Life -- by Rachel

Wells of inspiration. We all want to have flowing streams of inspiration, but it can feel as if we’re battling it out with the muse instead. To keep our well of inspiration flowing and rich in creativity we need to build a healthy writing life. What does such a writing life have in it?

A little bit of do-nothing time each day. I don’t say this lightly. I have a full time job and kids at home. But if you don’t give yourself time for a daily walk or to sit mindlessly in the bathtub, those subterranean levels of your mind will lay dormant rather than getting to work on your story.

Organization. Okay, yes, artists are known for being slightly ADD and collecting dust bunnies. I’m all about that. But to fight the distractions warring for your mind, you’ve got to keep the rest of your life in some semblance of order. When you know chaos isn’t at your door, you can be focused on your fiction. And a schedule doesn’t hurt either. If you know you’re going to show up to write at the same time each day, your well is coincidentally more likely to fill up just in time.

A healthy body. True, that’s not always under your control. However, a writer who avoids processed food, exercises and gets enough rest has better odds at a healthy mind that is capable of a strong creative flow.

Positive self-talk.  This is so hard. We criticize what we write. We question ourselves. Am I really publishable? Am I shortchanging my family? Etc. Sit down with yourself the way you would with a friend. Encourage yourself. Remind yourself why you’re cut out to be a writer. Dig out the chapter that shone like the stars to remind yourself how great you are. Be your own best cheerleader. When you’re confident, your wells can fill up because you’re concentrating on your story, not your doubts.

Writing Friends. Writing can be a lonely vocation and we’re odd ducks, so other writers are like soul mates. They encourage you to keep going, and whether they’re your critique partners or just people you can chat with about great writing, they’ll sharpen your skills and keep your wells brimming with new ideas.

Writing Books. You need new techniques to try and encouragement from veterans, even if you’ve been at the writing life for a long time. 

Joy. Find the beauty. Find what makes you go to bed with a happy sigh. Find the silver linings even when life is upside down. When there’s joy in life and in your writing, your mind recognizes that you’re ready to focus, and opens the springs of creativity.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Taking Care of Your Author Self – by Christine

I hear this advice at writers' conferences all the time:
  • Make writing a priority 
  • Get up before daylight to write at least a chapter a day
  • Do not watch TV
  • Write on the go with portable devices
  • Make sure your friends and family understand your need for writing time.

I believed that for a long time, until my last nerve snapped as I strove to be what I considered a successful author, and then required an entire year to recoup. 

Let me just say this: That kind of life is not worth it. Before you know it, you will burn out. 

And yet, you must write. You feel as though you were born for that purpose, and it does take a huge amount of commitment to become an author. This career does require the understanding and support of your family and closest friends. 

While I do not have the perfectly balanced life as a writer yet, over my 16 years of writing I have learned the following:

  • Put your spouse and family first—that may seem self-evident, but in reality, many of us writers are tempted to shortcut the most important relationships in our lives for our calling. I believe that’s when our vocation as a writer has become an obsession. When your writing starts to hurt those relationships, that’s when you have to ask if you are really obedient to God’s call on your life. 
  • Get your rest—for example, there is no way I can get up before dawn to write. I’ve tried and failed. Do not do this, unless of course you really, really like getting up at 4 AM. But maybe you’re a night owl and you’re better between the hours of midnight and 2. My point is; listen to your body clock. Go to bed when your body wants to. Me—I go to bed around 11PM and I’m up bright-eyed by 8AM.
  • Eat well—get your 4 to 5 servings of vegetables and fruit per day. Get your protein. Of course we all know we have to eat properly, but as a writer I know how easy it is to skip breakfast because that chapter is calling me. I know how easy it is to grab a square of cheese for lunch and some potato chips and a chocolate bar for supper. Those are the days that my husband isn’t home, but the temptation is there. So remember; a healthy mind and body will help you draw those stories out of your imagination and on to your computer screen.
  • Exercise—As a writer it is so easy to sit at my laptop for 12 hours at a time, only getting up for washroom breaks and when I’m starving. So get up and move at least every hour. Throw in a load of laundry as a writing break, then when that load is finished you have to get up and take it out and put it in the dryer. But I have found that the best ideas come to me when I’m out on my daily prayer walk with the Lord.
  • Spend time with friends. If you do, they will love you all the more and prayerfully support your vocation. The added bonus is friends often love to brainstorm ideas for your books with you.
  • Watch TV. You may not necessarily need to watch TV. I do so because it relaxes me in the evening with my husband. My point is this, do those things that relax you to give your brain time to rest and mull something over. 
  • Do not skimp on your time with God. A number of years ago I realized that I was guilty of fretting and striving toward my goal of being a successful writer. The words in Psalm 46:10 hit me between the eyes. “Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Turn your striving into devotion to God. Surrender ALL to Him, and He will accomplish what He wants in your writing career. Remember all good things come from God. 

Each tidbit of my advice means that I am a slower writer than some of my peers, but I am meeting the requirements my body needs to be a healthy, productive person. I may not be putting a book out every year, more like every 2 years, but I have come to count success differently than when I first started writing. 

  • After 16 years of writing I now have 7 published books and am working on an 8th.
  • Though I do not make much money (almost breaking even) I love the excitement of opening up a box of my books from my publisher.
  • I get really excited over every single good review from a reader.
  • My writing friends have grown in number and they are all wonderful people.
  • I have learned that relationships and the journey to becoming a writer are far, far better than being as famous as even our beloved Francine Rivers.

Take care of your author self, love God, your family and spouse, and the Lord will help you write those books.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Avoiding and Overcoming Writer's Block: 27 Ways to Lure Your Muse -- by Rachel

The muse that lives deep in your subconscious is something of a sprite. You can write without her of course, if you don’t mind being methodical. But when the muse shows up, she takes your writing to a whole new level, offering plot surprises, adding in soulful wisdom you didn’t know you possessed, and giving your story a dreamlike quality.
The problem is that your muse is not easily tamed. She comes and goes at her own will. She is notoriously right-brained and knows nothing of schedules and deadlines. And yet, like the stray cat in your neighborhood, she can be lured in.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things that work with my muse. Your muse, I’m sure, has his own personality, so your mileage may vary.
  •  Ask yourself tough plot questions before you go to sleep. Your mind will get to work on it without your conscious self even being aware.
  • Let your mind drift. When your guard is down, as you take a shower, walk the dog or do dishes, great ideas will surface.
  •  Flirt with writing challenges that are too difficult for you. Your muse will take the dare, if you give her time.
  •  Explore scene kernels. Take a snatch of dialogue or a small piece of action and set your mind to simmer for a few days before trying to expand it into a full-fledged scene.
  •  Fire your internal editor. You can invite him back later once your muse has completed her work.
  •  Release guilt, self-doubt and worries. The muse likes to play, so be a child at play.
  •  Read poetry. It will enrich the word creator within you.
  • Write lists of random evocative words. (See above).
  • Take entire writing days. Send the kids to Grandma’s. Take a vacation from your day job. The longer you immerse yourself in the writing, the more your muse will surface.
  • Take breaks from the writing. Muses need their rest too.
  • Write dangerously. Forget the market. Forget your audience. Break a few conventions. You can always scale back later.
  • Do your research. Whether you’re writing about a Viking ship or a modern day heart surgeon, your muse can be more creative if she’s well-informed.
  • Say no. No to committee meetings. No to social media and Candy Crush. Writing time is golden, and it has to be protected.
  • Follow rabbit trails. Leave the outline, and see where the what-if leads. Sometimes the muse just knows.
  • Sleep well. A rested muse is more creative.
  • Conversely, stay up late. If you’re on a roll, don’t let the muse leave.
  • Do something you haven’t done before. If you’re not a singer, sing out loud. Cook exotic meals. Learn origami. Trying something new, especially something physical, releases another part of you.
  • Let your muse free while you immerse yourself in a new book or movie. She’ll extract ideas that become totally original when they mix in with your story.
  • Put it in writing. Notes have a way of kick-starting your muse into action.
  • Twist the story without a clue of how it will resolve itself.
  • Ask yourself what new and terrible things could go wrong for your character. Brainstorming new disasters and conflicts will add plot devices.
  • Ask yourself what other motivations the character has in a scene. After you've exhausted every reason, keep listing, no matter how far out. Finding unexpected motivations will add dimension and creativity.
  • If you're stuck rewrite the last scene. Switch from 3rd person to 1st, or write it from another character's POV just for play.  It may spark new ideas.
  • Go outside. Sunlight and wind and grass invigorate us, and thus our stories.
  • Live mindfully. Taste what you eat. Turn off the TV and listen to the sounds in your home. Feel the words on your tongue as you talk. Bring your senses alive and it will build new grooves into your story.
  • Be patient. If your story is in knots, work on some other aspect. Meanwhile, your muse will be untangling the story threads under the surface.
  • Most of all, don’t try too hard to design the first draft. Ride the story’s waves. Control has its place, but the stories with the biggest hearts come from a place of freedom.

There is more to the mind than we know. It has multiple levels and works in ways we don’t always understand. Give those deeper levels permission, and your muse will work hard for you.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Embrace Your Artistic Side to Deepen Your Writing---by Christine

Armand GuillauminSunset at Ivry (Soleil couchant à Ivry), 1873, Musée d'Orsay

You do not need to be proficient in the other art forms in order to be a great writer, but studying the masters in Music, Landscape and Portrait Painting, and the Camera Lens--can bring the fictional world of your novel or memoir to life. 

  • Music helps convey the exact emotion you might need in your characters.  

  • Think of movies, how music sets the tone. With each book I write I listen to compositions that best exemplify the tone and setting for my story. For my British Raj trilogy it was a blast listening to exotic Indian music. For my novels set in Ireland I listened to Irish melodies. 

Here are some samples of music that inspired me as I wrote. Click on these book trailers Captured by Moonlight and Londonderry Dreaming 

Below is a short excerpt from Londonderry Dreaminga contemporary romance that features Keith Wilson, a music therapist:

“Naomi slid her hand in at the back of the drum to grasp the crossbars under the goatskin of the bodhrán, a traditional Irish drum. Experimentally at first she moved the short wooden tipper like a pencil, tapping, growing more confident with each beat. Her eyes met Keith's as she adjusted the pitch so that the beat was like that of a heart. What was she saying? He tilted his head to listen. Like in his clients, he recognized the subconscious expression of inexpressible thoughts through rhythm.”

  • Portraiture: Looking at a face in another artistic form can help you find the phrasing you are looking for to convey your characters’ emotion. 
  • You may not be able to draw someone’s portrait, but you can study the masters. Take a look at Da Vinci or MichelangeloRenaissance painters for just a few to study the face, the angle of the head, the way the mouth is held, an eye squint, etc., and how it all portrays emotion. 
  • Or take a brief look at modern painters and the use of psychedelic colors to get a deeper grasp on an elusive emotion.

A strong visual helped me write the following description from Shadowed in Silk.

“Geoff walked over the greet the old man. A bronze face framed by gray whiskers, topped by the wide, loose turban of a Baluchi chief looked down at him. Above a hawkish nose, brown and bloodshot eyes outlined in kohl expressed concern, and the old man spoke in Urdu. 'A strange place for your air machine to land.' He ordered his camel to bend at the knees and stepped from it. “I am Chakar Khan.”   

  • Landscapes, to convey emotion in a scene: Use another artist's talent to show colors that are only there for a fraction of a moment, or even color that isn’t there in the real world, but convey the emotion you want.

  • A landscape (or a portrait) becomes more evocative when shadow is contrasted with light?  I love Pinterest, but even just googling Landscapes can help you find the right tone to help your reader feel they are in your fictional world. 

Here is one of my favorite descriptions from Captured by Moonlight, although I have to confess this is from my own impressions while riding a train in India.

“The pony-pulled jutka rattled along the countryside of the Madras Presidency. Rust-red dirt flew up at Laine. On one side of the rutted track a rice paddy stretched out, a verdant green that almost hurt the eyes in the sunlight. Dotting the paddy, women’s saris—saffron, crimson, vermillion, peacock blue—shimmered in the light like beads on a bangle.”

  • Camera View: See your story or scene through a different field of vision. Field of Vision is how the observable world is seen at a particular moment…a split second in time. How does your scene change if your field of vision is cropped, so that non-essentials to your story are eliminated? 

  • What happens to your scene if you change your mental lens to black and white, or sepia, add sunbeams or starlight? I love playing with my photos on programs such as Picmonkey to get different effects.

A Different Color Changed my Whole Book:

I was more than halfway through writing Veiled at Midnight and sent a photo of a model to my publisher Roseanna White that I thought conveyed the strength and beauty of my character Dassah. Originally I wanted Roseanna to change the color of the dress to green which epitomized an integral part of my storyline. Rosanna did as I asked, but when I saw the dress in green, it didn’t work for me on an emotional level.

I asked Rosanna to change the dress photo back again to crimson, and I re-worked the story of Dassah’s bridal sari to red. This actually turned out so much better because I was reminded that a bridal gown in Asia is red for the color of joy.

Seeing your story in different colors and through different camera lens, or hearing it in musical form, can take your story to depths you never even thought of when you started.

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