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Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

If you like to write (or like the idea of writing but hate the difficulty of it), I have an exercise for you to try. I used it to create this article.

Many of us have had those glorious days where the words are flowing to your fingertips faster than you can type. It’s effortless. It’s a wondrous feeling that re-establishes your faith in your abilities and confirms that The Great American Novel is just a few sessions like this from being completed.

bang headUpon returning  to the computer, the black reality sets in. There’s nothing. No inspiration at all. In fact, there are days where I’ve been certain that banging my head against the keyboard would produce better prose than the barely-coordinated tapping of my fingers.

 

 

This is where my exercise comes in. Trust me, it works.

  1. Sit down at your keyboard with no topic in mind. Be sure you are uninspired. Be prepared to accept whatever lands upon the page with the understanding that another person never need see it.
  2. Type. And I’m talking stream-of-consciousness stuff here. I have literally typed “I am typing away because I have nothing to write about and I’m praying it will continue long enough that I will feel I have accomplished something.”
  3. Don’t think. Seriously. Take the words as they come. To start, your brain will be a few words ahead of your fingers. When you get into the rhythm, your thoughts will be a few sentences ahead (or further, if you really get into it!).
  4. Don’t edit for content. And don’t edit for typos (except for the ones that will keep you awake at night. See Word Murder for examples).

This might be the hardest writing you’ve ever done. It might also be the easiest. You’ve been released from your creative bonds. Your thoughts can be disorganized and follow any path you come upon.

road-not-taken-800x402As I mentioned above, what you’re reading is the result of that exercise. I sat down with no concept of what I would write. And now, I’ve delivered more than 400 words in less than 30 minutes.

I’ve been in this place before. Hundreds of times. You probably have, too. The desire to write is there, but it’s a chore because the inspiration isn’t. I know from experience that this method works. At best, I’ve delivered something salvageable I can edit (this article being a case in point). At worst, I’ve spent time exercising the writing muscles in my brain, which will make the next session easier.

Sit down at your keyboard today and have no plan other than to simply start typing. You might just surprise yourself.

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Some people have a musical soundtrack that plays through their minds as they walk or run. I have this, too, but more often than not, I have narration. My head is filled with the story of what could happen to someone in my situation. This morning, it was a rainy walk to work.

The first sentence is the exact first thing that came into my head as I stepped onto the sidewalk. The rest followed me as I went.

*     *     *     *     *

He walked unconcernedly through the rain. The quiet drizzle was a nice respite from the thunderous show of the night before. His umbrella echoed with rhythmic pit-pats as his shoes splashed through puddled evidence of the storm. All-in-all, he told himself, it was a nice change from his usual morning walk to work. A little change to an otherwise monotonous journey he had made hundreds of times in the last five years. People ran past with jackets over their heads or briefcases held high, but their efforts to stay dry were in vain. He allowed himself a smile, though it still took an effort to bring it to his lips.

It took a few moments for him to realize – at least, that’s what he would tell himself later when he tried to recall the exact series of events – that the sound of the rain against his umbrella had gone. His feet still splashed in puddles, but it seemed the rain had stopped. He lowered his umbrella, looking around, but still saw others trying to protect themselves against the wet. He stopped, thinking that he must be in some pocket of quiet, the eye of the storm where all was peaceful.

A sudden gale nearly blasted him off his feet, buffeting him and drenching his clothes. He had a momentary glimpse of his tattered umbrella before it disappeared into the gray of the sudden deluge. Then as suddenly as it had hit, it ceased. Again he was in the quiet in the midst of the storm. But it was different this time.

The rain still fell, but it no longer touched him.

*     *     *     *     *

I have no idea where this goes. And it doesn’t matter. It’s more fun than way.

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This is just me, writing as far as I can after starting with nothing. No ideas, save for what popped into my head right before I sat down. No plan. The only goal is to write until the baloney runs out.

Usually, writers will recommend that you can’t write effectively unless you sequester yourself in a quiet room with no distractions, whether visual, auditory, or Internet-y. You need to be focused, wholly devoted to the art that is splashing upon the page as dripped by typing fingers than can usually concoct a better analogy than this.

But for this exercise, I’m sitting in the living room, which is our primary communal area in the house. Scout our dog is continually dropping a slobbery ball on my lap. Benji keeps running over, updating me on his play using non-verbal sounds. Sam is sharing Internet memes. Kirsten and I are talking about her work day. Hopefully, she’ll confirm that I’m actively participating.

If you care to read beyond this introduction, I can’t promise you’ll read anything particularly compelling. I might not even review it before I post this. I’m hoping at the very least, it’s grammatically correct (as far as my character goes). Perhaps most importantly, this entire post will be at least 500 words, which is more than I wrote yesterday. It all adds up. It all counts toward the improvement of my writing. Read on, if you dare; send feedback, if you care.

BTW, I wrote this introduction during the writing that you are about to read. I’m sooooo not a linear writer.

BTW2, the computer died in the middle of this, but it didn’t kill my momentum.

*     *     *     *     *

The world is full of good people. You know the ones. The neighbor who cuts that shared bit of lawn between your houses. The mom of your son’s teammate who offers who drive him home after baseball practice. Even that person who opens the door when your arms are full of groceries.

I used to be one of those people. I lived in a nice house with my second wife Marlene and adopted son Josh. I drove kids around. Grilled with the neighbors. Helped people move in. Helped ’em move out. I was a pretty good guy. People used to tell me so, so it’s not just me talking out of my ass.

My job was going well. Recently been promoted, so the bump in pay was great. Sure allowed the paycheck to be stretched further than usual. That seemed to smooth over some of the rough patches Marlene and me had. They were always saying that money was one of the biggest stresses on a marriage. And it might have been for us, except for Marlene’s ex: Bertrand.

His first name’s Murray, but everyone called him Bertrand because that’s how you address cops, whether you’re cop or you know a cop. Always introduced by last name. You probably couldn’t even get his attention by saying “Murray”. Not that you’d want to get his attention. Suspicious sonuvabitch, but then again, most cops figure, they stare at someone long enough, a person’ll confess some dirty secret. And they’re usually right. Bertrand was especially right.

So with this set up, you’re probably already thinking, It’s another good cop gone bad story. The cop in it, he’s the bad guy. Since I’m also a cop, and since I used to be a good guy, yeah, I guess I’d say you’re not far off. My story is about the good cop who went wrong. Way wrong.

But I’d goddamned if that piece of shit Bertrand was going to kill them and not suffer for it.

*     *     *     *     *

And there you go.

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I’ve had a few people ask about the friend whose story I’m reading. His name is Christopher Ochs and this is the second book he’s completed.

Here is his first: http://www.amazon.com/Boathouse-Christopher-Ochs/dp/1438221169/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1304088326&sr=1-1

The Western flavor of the new one is more attuned to my liking, though I have read the romance that is The Boathouse at least 3 times.

I’m still reading the new manuscript, though why I haven’t finished is no commentary on the work itself. I’ve just been busy with (insert lame excuse here). But it’s travelled with me since I turned the first page, meaning that it smells of campfire smoke, is slightly wrinkled from pouring rain, and may have a small food stain. And of course, a few handwritten notes in my characteristic sticks-n-slashes handwriting.

.

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I”ll be reading a friend’s manuscript tonight. I’m kind of excited because I enjoy reading people’s rough drafts. It’s a great way to see into the writing process of others and it helps me polish my own editing and storytelling skills. But more than that, it’s a way to re-inspire me. I’ve found that, aside from a brand new idea popping into my head, reading what someone else is doing is like throwing gasoline on a fire. I’ve done some of my best writing after reading or discussing a friend’s work.

His story is a Western that he’s been working on for a couple years. We haven’t talked about it much since he first told me was starting it–aside from brief conversations about how it was going–so I’m coming to it fresh (meaning, I won’t be able to tell whether anything has changed from his original concept, which can be distracting).

This comes at a great time for me since I’m kicking around a Western story of my own. Neither one of us are actually Western enthusiasts (purists?), though I grew up on John Wayne movies and Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns. And he has done research of his own during the writing of his book. This can be both good and bad. Both of us could bring a fresh perspective to the genre, though at the same time, we might miss the things that the great Western stories always have. We’ll see.

Now I just need to find a cozy spot.

–M

PS: Ugh, my writing this morning is like a washboard gravel road. Need more coffee.

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I started working on a new story last night during the Oscars. It’s in my head right now, but will soon solidify into actual words on a page. I can always tell when it’s a story I’m going to write down because it sticks in my head–it doesn’t fade like an unimportant daily encounter. It was there when I woke up today and as I showered. I dwelled on it as I drove to work. I’ve been thinking about it at my desk today, too.

The working title, That Damned Dusty Man, popped into my head last night as I again thought about how few Westerns are made anymore. I don’t have a character name yet, aside from his description in the title. But I have some background already. I know how his life ends and the story starts with that.

Most of my writing so far has centered around horror, fantasy, or children’s, though I’ve scrawled out some notes over the years with ideas for Western plot points. We’ll see where it goes from here.

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I’ve spent enough time staring at blank computer screens and empty notebook pages to know that sometimes Inspiration is nowhere to be found. It also means that I’ve taken the time to develop some tools that help me coax her out of hiding. Today I’m writing about banking some of that Inspiration you have on Writing Day 1 to ensure you have some left when you return to the story on Writing Day 2, 3, and beyond.

I’d like to think that anyone who has done a little writing has felt the electric spark when the Idea comes (the optimist in me hopes everyone has because it’s an amazing feeling). For me, time slows and fire nearly erupts from my fingers as they blaze across the keyboard, seemingly impervious to incorrect keystrokes. And still, there is the fear that amidst the stream of thoughts flowing onto the page, I will miss something because my fingers cannot keep up with my speeding brain.

Sometimes this fear is great enough that I stumble into a writing pitfall of mine: I start shorthand outlining. Suddenly, my complex sentences don’t form completely and they trail off before I get to the thought-ending period. Full paragraphs come out as bullet points. On the page, I suddenly have something that looks like a badly-structured poem.

Don’t get me wrong. I completely understand the benefits of a good outline, as well as brainstorming. Love ‘em both. But this, this is different. It’s an inspiration killer whose sole purpose is to heave (please see your thesaurus for the gastronomic verb I really wanted to use) as many thoughts onto the page for the simple purpose of scouring them from my brain. Every single developing thought is torn out and splattered onto the page. When I’m done, there’s nothing of the Idea left in my head, which is dangerous if what I’ve captured doesn’t inspire me later.

After years of falling into this trap, I’ve developed another way to deal with this situation. I slow down. I take more time with description. Like a pot of boiling water, I try to keep the flame hot enough to keep it from going out, but not so hot as to boil over.

There’s an almost desperation that builds as I write the introduction or transition into that scene I can’t wait to see on paper. Sometimes, I’ve spent so much time on the stuff before my scene, I haven’t even written down the part that got me typing in the first place! And that’s my point. I’ve fleshed out enough that I won’t forget the Idea. But I’ve left that glowing ember in my head and it sits there, smoldering, forcing me to keep thinking about it until I return to the keyboard to fan it back to life.

I believe it was Walt Disney who said, “Always leave them wanting more.” That’s essentially what I’m doing here. I’m leaving myself wanting more.

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