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Posts Tagged ‘muse’

I’m adding another ‘thank you‘ to Jamie’s to those of you who participated in the recent NHWN poll. Great feedback.

Onward! In April, I wrote about a 24-hour short story contest I find to be fun, stressful, inspiring, challenging, entertaining, and a great exercise for my muse. Do you see the ups and downs in that last sentence? I have a lot of emotions when writing for a contest, assignment, or a client. And I like that. If I didn’t have a mix of emotions, then I’d take that as a sign I’m too comfortable. Growth comes from pushing into the ‘uncomfy zone,’ not from the same ol’ same ol’.

With the next rendition of the contest coming this Saturday, and based on survey feedback, I thought I’d delve into some tips for writing a story or article with a deadline of a day or less.

These tips can also be applied to blog posts, interviews, and more.

  1. Know the assignment. If it’s a contest, be familiar with the rules. If it’s a client project, make sure you’re clear on the deliverable. If it’s an article, blog post, or interview, know the key points to be covered.

    Brainstorm on the screen or on paper

    Brainstorm on the screen or on paper

  2. Write out initial thoughts – brainstorm. Turn off your internal editor (easier said than done sometimes, I know) and start freewriting ideas. Make lists, mindmap, scribble, draw, whatever it takes to get initial ideas downloaded from your brain. Use a timer, or write until you run dry, whatever works best. For me, a timer keeps the internal editor from speaking too loudly.
  3. Step away. Turn the paper over, minimize the window, close the laptop, walk away from your desk, or close your eyes. I find it helpful to change gears completely and go for a walk, have a snack, listen to music, read e-mail, or anything that doesn’t relate to the project. The mind is still turning ideas over, and likes to do so when you aren’t paying close attention.
  4. Come back with fresh eyes. Read through your notes. Highlight the items from your brainstorming that catch your eye and cross off the ideas that are too typical. What else leaps to mind now? What strikes you as interesting, original, or fun? Shift perspectives — if you’re the reader, which of the items, which focus/approach, would be most interesting or refreshing?
  5. Pick one idea. Yes, just one. Which one floats to the top of the list? Start with that one. (You can always go back to the list later if you need to.)
  6. Free write.  Write on that one topic you’ve just chosen without worrying about what you don’t have. Assignments can need research, quotes, pictures, or other background material. Don’t worry about that now. Write your story/article/blog post with what you know at the moment. You’ll know where you need to insert details later. Leave a blank line, capital letters (XXX), or symbols (???), if you need to. Most important, is that you write without worrying about spelling or word count.
  7. Repeat step 3.
  8. Write your second draft. You know the topic now; your muse is partnering with you to get the story written. Fill in the blanks.
  9. Repeat step 3. A great time for a treat because you’re almost done.

    Deliciously cool key lime pie

    A treat — Deliciously cool key lime pie

  10. Read with an editor’s eye. Clean up the grammar and punctuation. Get within your word count. Give your story / article / assignment a nice polish.
  11. Sleep on it. Similar to step 3, but, it’s the final stretch. The words are on the page and fulfill the guidelines. You have time to relax and let the piece simmer.
  12. Make final revisions and submit before your deadline.

And my favorite step — 13. Celebrate the milestone. I do the “whoot whoot” and fist pump the air and/or do a happy dance. It’s a great feeling knowing a task / assignment / contest entry / what-have-you has been completed and submitted.

It’s like using the fine china or crystal today instead of waiting for “a special event”. Celebrate the moment, the accomplishment. The piece didn’t exist in any form 24 hours (or less) ago, and now it’s done, dusted, and submitted.

Now for the next project!

If you have specific questions, please ask.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is a self-employed writer and editor. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis. You can connect with her on Facebook, TwitterLinkedIn, and Biznik.

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Here’s a guest post written by my friend and colleague, Sylvie Kurtz. Enjoy!

Writers often rue the fickleness of the muse. I think of her like a child with ADD. I picture her a bit like Tinkerbell, bright and bouncy, flitting here and there, her attention diverted by anything that catches her attention.

My critic, on the other hand, looks like a pasty white blob poured into a throne-like chair. He wears a purple robe adorned with silver stars and, given half a chance, will expound on (and on, and on) any topic with enviable certainty.

Both the muse and the critic have their function when it comes to writing a story. But they tend not to play well together. If the muse shows up first and spills her vast reserves of glittery energy, that gives the critic something to work with. The trick is giving the muse a chance to do her thing before the critic tries to create order out of her chaos.

So how do you invite the muse out to play? Show up, open up, listen up, and follow up.

1. Show Up. Like an ADD child, the muse thrives on structure. If you make a play date at a specific time and place, she’s more likely to show up. And if you keep that date regular, it becomes habit, and she might already be waiting for you when you sit down.

You may want to create a ritual that allows you to quiet down and get into the present. The muse doesn’t think about yesterday or tomorrow. She’s all about the now. I have a salt lamp I turn on to let my muse know I’m here and I’m ready.

2. Open Up. The muse wants to play. Play is what she’s all about. But to engage her to play with you, you have to let her know that you want to play, too. So start writing. Doesn’t matter what you write; just write. Keep the pen (or fingers on the keyboard) moving.

When I first started writing, my confidence level bordered on the non-existent. I set a timer for fifteen minutes and forced myself to write. For the longest time, all I could do was write things like, “This is stupid. I can’t write. Who do I think I am?” But eventually, the critic got bored and took a nap. That’s when the muse started whispering, “If you were to write a real story . . .”

3. Listen Up. Like any kid, the muse wants to know someone’s listening to her. My son used to come home from school, flop into the rocking chair in my office and spill his day. This was a time I loved, but sometimes, especially when I was on deadline, I tried to multi-task—one ear on the conversation, the other on the work. And even though I could repeat what he’d told me, he’d sigh and say, “Mom, you’re not listening.” He needed eye contact to feel heard.

Transcribe what the muse gifts you, even if it doesn’t make sense. Write fast. The muse loves speed. Forget the “rules” of good writing. Forget proper punctuation. Feel the emotions she brings up. Ask her questions and let her answer. Feeling listened to will thrill her and make her want to play more often.

4. Follow Up. To make the muse feel as if you appreciate her, she wants you to do something with her gift. She doesn’t like to see her pearls lying unused. In the mess of words on the page, you’ll unearth gems.

And this is where she won’t mind the critic stepping in. Because patience and organization skill are the critic’s strong points, he can string those pearls into a satisfying whole.

The muse wants to play. All she’s waiting for is an invitation.

How do you invite your muse to play?

Sylvie_KurtzSylvie Kurtz writes adventures that explore the complexity of the human mind and the thrill of suspense. She likes dark chocolate, soft wool, and sappy movies. For more information, check out sylviekurtz.com. You can follow her @sylviekurtz on Twitter.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon is a part-time writer who is grateful to learn from more experienced writers like Sylvie!

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Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: Have any of your stories been inspired by a piece of visual or performing art – a painting, a photograph, a sculpture, a dance, or vocal performance? What struck you about the piece and inspired you to write? 

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: In so many ways! I run a service organization (StageSource) for the New England theater community, so I see a lot of theater, and talk to a lot of theater folk. Since storytelling is in the DNA, that inspires me. And the dramatic structure of plays is the same for mysteries, so there’s that. Also, using Scrivener, I often take a photograph or a painting and use them as reference points to describe a place, or an emotion. And music is frequently a mood setter for me, though I can’t write with music in the background. Artist dates are my creative food–I am pushing myself to explore new (to me) art forms. Sorry that there aren’t specifics, but I love that my life is full and inspired by art and creativity, and I know it makes me a better writer.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: Absolutely. I have many short stories whose inspiration came from photos I’ve come across (or taken on my own). I’m always inspired by B&W drawings or photos – something about the lack of color and the different shades of gray pulls me in and gets the muse extremely excited and creative.

I’ve been watching a lot of Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes via Hulu and although pulled in by the mystery, the b&w filming also pulls me in as I wonder about all the colors that I can’t see. It’s a fun creative exercise to wonder what the set was really like – did they care about having complementary colors? Or just use whatever was on hand since it would only convert to a shade of gray, anyway?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I can’t think of a specific type of art that has inspired my writing other than poetry and literature. Over the years I’ve written sonnets after reading some of Shakespeare’s, haiku’s after discovering the form in a book of Eastern poetry, and I’ve even written my version of an epic journey after reading The Odyssey. While some might not consider this art, I’ve even written about an eventful day as a Star Trek episode. The limitation of different forms somehow boosts my creativity–and it’s really fun..

photo: M. Shafer

photo: M. Shafer

Deborah Lee Luskin: Absolutely! Classical music – especially chamber music – was a huge influence and became an important theme in Into the Wilderness. Music is the common language for Rose and Percy, who have no other way to communicate when they first meet. Percy (the leading male) even learns how to play the piano in the course of the story. Landscape and fashion are key elements of Elegy for a Girl, the novel currently with my agent. And I’m now writing Ellen, a story about a character who is hugely influenced by nineteenth century British fiction.

headshot_jw_thumbnailmermaidJamie Wallace: All. The. Time. The quantity and diversity of artworks that have sparked my writer’s mind are nearly impossible to measure. A beautiful bracelet gave me the idea to write a series of linked short stories about the bracelet’s many owners. This painting of a mermaid (which I coveted for years and which my parents gave to me as a Christmas gift last year) made me want to write a story about this beautiful and fierce merwoman. I wanted to find her story and explore her world under the sea. My daughter takes dance classes at a local dance studio that is well known for its modern choreography and gorgeous aerial work. Each time I watch one of these abstract, wordless shows, I can sense a story coursing along just below the music – reaching out through the dancers’ moves. I don’t know if I’ll ever actually write any of these stories, but they stick with me and I feel like even as time passes, they continue to percolate in the back of my mind – slowly brewing themselves into something more tangible than an ephemeral breath from the muse.

Take this song by Sting – a track off his 1999 album, Brand New Day. This song has been rattling around in my head for fourteen years.

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PRAISEIf Living with Praise is hard, writing with praise is even harder. This is counter-intuitive to be sure – and a sure sign that we all need more praise in our lives generally, and in our writing lives in particular.

Writing with Praise is also something I do every Tuesday Night at Salon, the brain-child of author and book shaman Suzanne D. Kingsbury, the founder of Wild Words, and a creative force who fosters positive energy and great writing.

Salon is a place for writers to assemble in creativity, leaving our solitude and day jobs to write together and with abandon. Suzanne gives us a prompt, which we can follow – or not – and then we write for an hour. No matter whether I’m stuck in my novel or writing well, attending Salon is always a blast of creative energy that boosts me to new, unexpected twists of discovery. There’s a powerful synergy that develops just from ten people writing together in the same room.

meridiansAfter writing, we read our new work, and we listen to each other with kindness and awe. We say what we like about the work – and that’s all we say. This is the gift: to hear the strength of our words echoed back. So, when Suzanne sent out an invitation for an all day Salon-Style Retreat, combining writing prompts, praise and body work, I signed up.

In the spirit of full disclosure, it wasn’t really that easy. My monkey mind chattered away why I couldn’t/shouldn’t/wouldn’t spend a MONKEYSunday sixty miles from home writing with strangers while having energy-attuning body work to help overcome resistance. It took too much time, it was too expensive, and I was writing well on my own, thank you very much.

I’ve been writing long enough to recognize this kind of resistance as a sure sign that this was something I needed to do.

So it was no surprise that the day after signing up for the workshop, I saw a whole new way to tell the story I’ve been working on forever. Part of me wanted to resist starting over yet again, and another part of me knew that I had to. By the time I arrived at the lovely workshop venue, I was eager to write. I knew that in such a supportive atmosphere I could willingly take the necessary risks to start over.

As promised, the workshop allowed me to tap into the intuitive center of my brain – that mysterious place where fiction is born – and to shut down BRAINthat part of my brain where resistance and criticism abide, allowing me to give voice to my story in a riff of surprising improvisation.

It may be true that we are programmed to pay more attention to criticism as a means of survival. But what if we want to go beyond mere survival? What if we want to soar? If my recent experience is any indication, negative self-talk hampers creativity, while writing with praise allows for braver attempts at more creative storytelling. Hallelujah!

photo: M. Shafer

photo: M. Shafer

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of Into the Wilderness, an award-winning novel set in Vermont in 1964.

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I enjoy writer/illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi‘s site, Inkygirl blog, and cartoons she contributes to Writer Unboxed.  I wanted to introduce you to Debbie and share 3 of my favorite cartoons. Maybe she’ll inspire you, too!

A Reader's Dilemma Credit: http://inkygirl.com/

A Reader’s Dilemma
Credit: http://inkygirl.com/

I’ve suffered from this – there’s no unseeing what has been seen!

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NaNoIdMoAdMo Credit: http://inkygirl.com/

NaNoIdMoAdMo
Credit: http://inkygirl.com/

Writing challenges are great, but let’s be careful!

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Why we keep notepad and pen by the bed! Credit: http://inkygirl.com/

Why we keep notepad and pen by the bed! Credit: http://inkygirl.com/

The voices never stop talking to us.

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Lisa J. Jackson loves working with words in her own work and with businesses. She also loves New Hampshire and is focused on completing several 5Ks in 2013 as a way to get off the couch consistently. You can connect with her on LinkedInBiznikFacebook, and Twitter

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In typing in the title for this post, I now have the song “Singing in the Rain” on high volume slamming around my brain. And I think some memories of middle school chorus are trying to push to the front of my memories. Oh my!

It’s amazing what the writer’s mind does with words, isn’t it? And that leads into my topic today.

Intense rain storm and flooding

Intense rain storm and flooding

I’ve discovered that my muse is very active and vocal on rainy days more than any other type of day. In fact, just saying ‘rain’ gets her doing jumping jacks.

She feeds me a lot of character dialogue in no particular order or manner, and seldom related to a single story. On the day I took this intense rain photo (in July ’08), Ms. Muse had all sorts of things to say, including children’s dialogue as they played at the beach, dialogue from animals (a la Dr. Doolittle) relocating from the country to the busy city, and dialogue from two 20-somethings trapped at the top of a local mountain in a blizzard.

Glorious sunshine

Glorious sunshine

On sunny days, my muse is open to exploring the outside world in search of new ideas. In a way, she likes to sun herself and take it easy. She lets the world be her cabana boy and serve ideas to her instead of going out to find the delectable fruits and seeds of ideas herself. (And, yes, sometimes she falls asleep in the sun without sunscreen on, which brings a lot of adjectives out.)

Snow and Sunshine

Snow and Sunshine

On snow days, she likes to gander at the landscape and wonder about the critters and people moving around ‘out there.’ She feeds me ideas about how the birds don’t fall out of the trees (after all, they can get a lot of snow on their shoulders!), and wonders if all the chipmunks found their way into a hole safely (and have enough food for their families to survive behind underground for a few days). Eventually she thinks about humans getting outside and unburying their world. More poetry flows through my muse on mornings like that, than prose.

On dismal, cold days, I’ve discovered my muse likes to play around with dark fiction and suspense, anything that gets my heart rate up. It must have something to do with the brisk air. She’s very ‘sharp’ on cold days, especially evenings. Everything is pointed (like icicles), brittle (like wind chill), and dark (like the short days). She brings me a lot of visuals, movies in my mind. There’s always an over abundance of activity with the characters that I can’t possibly keep track of everything, but I do end up warming up.

During the fall and spring, when a breeze can kick up a lot of scents (I love the lilacs right now!), my muse enjoys reminding me about such things as being in my grandmother’s kitchen while she was baking, being at the sea shore, and the moment I reach the peak of a mountain after hiking through the woods. A lot of journal writing pours out of my fingers at these times.

Now I have “America the Beautiful” on a loop in my head.

Does your muse react differently to the weather and temperature?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson loves working with words in her own work and with businesses. She also loves New Hampshire and is focused on completing several 5Ks in 2013 as a way to get off the couch consistently. You can connect with her on LinkedInBiznikFacebook, and Twitter

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I like to enter writing contests now and again, and in general prefer not to enter any that have a fee. I tend to like money coming to me for writing rather than away, which I’m sure you can relate to.

But there’s a short-story contest that caught my interest a few years ago that I like to enter, even though it has a fee. It’s the Writer’s Weekly 24-Hour Short Story Contest and it’s put on 4 times a year. The fee is $5 to enter.

There are a few reasons why I like this contest:

  • There are more than 85 prizes available
  • Top 3 prizes include cash amounts of $300, $250, or $200; and publication. Incentive!
  • It’s limited to 500 participants — 17% of total participants can win something (but, not all 500 submit by the deadline)
  • I don’t know the topic or word length until the bell rings – no stress over the prep :)
  • All participants have the same 24-hour period in which to write and submit
  • The rules are spelled out in detail and communicated on the website, in a downloadable PDF upon registration, and again at the start of the contest
  • Even though a prompt is the base of the contest, you don’t have to use it verbatim
  • There’s a lot of writing freedom
  • No specific genre
  • Encouraged to think outside the box
  • Tips are shared (i.e. it doesn’t impress the owner to have a character with her name or location in your story; put a title on the story; put your contact information at the end of the submission, and so much more)
  • If I end up not submitting, I don’t feel guilty over the $5 spent
  • I have time to write a draft and then step away from it (usually sleep on it), and then refine the piece before submitting
  • There are more than 85 prizes available (oh, am I repeating myself?) That’s a LOT of opportunity to win something!
  • It’s been around for quite a while
  • It’s always on a weekend (Saturday 1PM EST to Sunday 1PM EST)
  • The contest date It’s always announced weeks in advance, so I can schedule the time
  • When winners are announced, a summary of all entries is shared – common themes and endings – as a learning tool
  • It’s fun!
  • It’s a great break from ‘regular’ writing
  • I’ve placed in the contest a few times – and continue to strive for Top 3 at least once. :)
  • It’s good exercise for the muse
  • It’s a milestone to look forward to
  • Winners are announced when promised (generally within 6 weeks)

Okay, so that’s more than a few, but I haven’t come up with any reasons not to enter. There’s really nothing to lose, and only some spur-of-the-moment writing-to-a-prompt experience to gain (at a minimum).

My method for tackling the entry is: read the prompt and word count limit as soon as the e-mail arrives. Scratch out initial thoughts. Go out for a walk or get lunch and think about the prompt – think about what the ‘typical’ responses might be (the 1st 6 or so that come to mind should be ignored or twisted into something new). Do a free write without worrying about spelling or word count. Pull the nuggets out from the free write. Write a ‘real’ story. Step away from it. Read it. Step away again. Tweak it. Sleep on it. Make final revisions and submit a few hours before deadline.

This past weekend was the Spring contest. The Summer contest is going to be on July 13, and is now open for sign ups. Yep, I’ve already reserved my seat.

Do you have a favorite contest, or one that you find worthwhile? I’d love to hear about it.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson makes a living helping businesses express themselves with words and writing about NH. She has decided to complete several 5Ks in 2013 as a way to get off the couch and away from the screen. She drinks iced coffee year-round, and needs a stash of Peppermint Patties in the fridge at all times. You can connect with her on LinkedInBiznikFacebook, and Twitter

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