On this blog every Tuesday and Friday I write about story techniques, structure, and/or publishing. Comments and questions are welcome. I also have a personal blog, Amy Deardon, on which I write about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy.

I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research.

My book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story, is now available in both hard-copy and e-book formats. I also coach would-be novelists and screenwriters to develop their story. YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Coming Up With Ideas

Writers Write. If you're a writer this is easy to neglect, but must be your cardinal rule.

It's so easy to get bogged down in the inconsequential stuff: the e-mails or small articles, even blog entries :-), rather than focusing on WRITING YOUR BOOK. The time does pass, though. Focus on the important stuff even though the other things are inviting and give a quick sense of accomplishment.

I am struggling with this issue myself now. I've tried to be honest with myself to determine what, exactly, is stopping the words. It's this: I've been distracted with talks, editing, emails, running writing groups, and family stuff rather than actually writing my own book. This other stuff is so much easier to do. My *newest* fiction writing is two years old -- I got sidetracked writing The Story Template last year, but still haven't moved back onto the track.

OK, I'm ready to write (Rocky music in the background). What can I do?

The magical solution for me in my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, has always been to keep a log with my daily and weekly word counts. It's distressing for me to not hit my targets, and if I go so far as to make the sheet and put it on the refrigerator I'm golden. I have so much resistance with making this though because I know I'm going to HAVE to keep up with it. Sigh.

Once the log is written, the words must come. Two things that have always been helpful for me when starting from scratch are lists and free writing.

Lists are straightforward. I simply state what I want to make a list of, figure out how many items will satisfy, usually at least ten, and go ahead. For example, if I need to figure out why my new character Jason might be afraid of the house on the corner, I'll think of anything: the spiders jump on him, or the little girl who lives there always throws her grape juice at him when he walks by. These are silly, but maybe I can spin them: Jason may have a particular chemical in his blood that causes the spiders to go crazy and specifically target him, or the little girl may be a ghost who has lived there fifty years ago and no one can see her but him, and she gets mad at that. (Why?) These are still cliched ideas but if I keep working on them I might be able to come up with something fresh.

Freewriting is an extension of lists, and simply means I write to myself about questions and thoughts. I'm a fast typist so don't have problems keeping up, and recording my ideas means they don't get lost. I usually start with a particular question, say, why do I want to write a story about a guy named Jason anyway? Or maybe I'm trying to solve a problem -- how can I get Jason to witness a scene taking place in Virginia when he's in Baltimore? And so forth. The good thing about freewriting is that the words pile up quickly for my quota sheet, which if nothing else satisfies my obsessive-compulsive tendencies as I do a nice tall graph of the day's words.

The nice thing about the story template algorithm is that I'm pretty good now for shaping ideas into stories. Heck, I do this enough for other people. My next step might be to write loglines, lots and lots of them. Loglines are 15-20 words that encapsulate the story idea and intrigue the listener.

And once I have a bang-on logline, I may start to expand it into my story pillars, freewriting all the way (with those high word quotas for my log that make me so happy :-)  ). And hopefully by that time, I'll be caught up in the wave of fiction writing. I've been there before. I can do it again. Right?

Anyone else have this problem of getting started?

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Gutsy honesty and excellent ideas.

    Actually, while reading your post about making lists and freewriting, I got an idea myself: Why not combine the list and freewritin into a hybrid: freewriting in a list format? I quickly decided to try that. My thinking: A list is easy and quick to scan. Sort of like brainstorming in a group--the "secretary/recorder" jots down ideas in a few words. It's quicker than writing full sentences or stream-of-consciousness wordy paragraphs or similar. Also, it would be easy to take it further by crossing off rejected ideas or expanding good ones.

    Also, I recall that Ray Bradbury likes lists too.

    On your question, yes, I'm battling procrastination right now. I put my novel into neutral while I worked on an eCourse. Now I'm dragging my feet. But I will get back to it and soon.

    Currently I'm setting up my to-do list with a different system that should help overall. But there always is the need to just start.