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Ideas and encouragement for writers.

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Ideas

Inspiration!

The bright idea is the easy part. We tend to think of that as the inspiration, but people with creative minds have brilliant ideas quite often. (I was going to say they had brilliant ideas all the time, but that would be stretching it.)

The true inspiration is carrying that idea through into a story, novel or screenplay. Recently a couple of people have told me they have this great idea for a story.

One said “There’s this hillside, rocky, and there’s this man standing near the top looking down on soldiers, and he’s going to attack.”

I asked about the  idea – “Who is he? What’s going to happen?”

The speaker had no sense of the story, he just expected that it was there, somewhere, somehow, for some time.

Another writer knew he had a great idea – “There’s this fire-and-brimstone preacher in the pulpit thundering out “Thou shalt not commit adultery…”

He had a complete picture of the preacher and the pulpit. He even had an idea that perhaps the preacher was having an affair. But the actual story? Not there. He was having an affair with…well, er…. He was straying because…mmm, not sure.

Ideas like these are seeds. You look at a seed and what you see is a seed, not a flower.  We tend to look at our seed idea and see it as the flower. To make the seed create a flower work has to happen. You need to plant it and supply water, nutritious soil, sunlight. You need to clear off the weeds, perhaps prune a bit and then, maybe, you’ll get the flower you were hoping for.

Your idea seed needs to percolate in your imagination for a while as you try to fit it to different characters and scenarios. Maybe the obvious – the preacher’s affair – isn’t the way to go. As you get to know the preacher in your mind other avenues come to mind. You try them and discard them until…

Until one seems to fit just right. So right it takes your breath away. Now the seed is planted. You nurture it by developing and honing characters who will carry the story forward, bringing out all the nuances that are floating about loosely in your brain.

You add active scenes, strong dialog and the most vivid language you can squeeze out of your thesaurus. You edit, and edit some more. You try it on your writer’s group and edit yet again.

And finally you have a story and not just a seed idea. You are looking at the flower. Inspiration is not about a flash of a bright idea. It’s about the time and focused, intelligent work taken to grow a beautiful creation out of it.

You’re a Writer – Put yourself out there

One of the surprising aspects of being a writer is that people will disagree with you. How dare they? You put time and effort into what you wrote and they come up with criticism. The nerve!

If you write gentle poetry or musings readers will either like it or skip over it – you probably won’t know unless they respond to tell you how much they loved it.

But once you start putting your beliefs or opinions down – whether on paper or on line – you’ll find people who disagree, maybe strongly. They will question your thinking, your logic and anything else that comes to their mind.

This is good. Swallow hard and keep on going. You have hit a nerve. You have made someone think outside their box. You done good!

Sooner or later in our writing, whatever form it takes, we have to take a stand of some sort. Say what we believe.  It might be a topic of world concern or something minor that matters to you at the moment.

The scope of it is immaterial. That you have the courage to put your opinion out there is the important part. Being a writer demands that we don’t just report facts like a journalist would. We put out own perspective in there. It would be lovely if the whole world agreed with us, because we are just so right.

We not necessarily right, we’re writers. We are here to make people think. Make them consider something they never thought about before. Give them a different slant on something they thought they knew all about. Raise questions in their mind.

None of this is comfortable for people, and some will lash out, blaming the messenger. Some will complain that you write in no known genre. Pick a genre they will say – you can’t just make your own up.  Some will cloak themselves in the virtue of age or religion.

No matter. You are the person with the courage and integrity to write what you believe. You’re the one standing out there, tall. You’re a writer.

Writers and ideas

It seems to me that writers fall into two groups – those who have one idea now and then and those who have so many ideas that it’s hard to keep track.

Personally I fall into the second group. When I think of ideas I think of herding cats. I make lists – this is like reducing the size of the field, but the cats are still loose.

But let’s deal with the ‘one idea, occasionally’ group. Perhaps your one idea is so good and strong that you can write on it for a long time, looking at different facts and facets. You might see it through different lenses and other points of view. You have a lot to offer us, in giving depth to our thinking about the issue.

Warning to the ‘one idea’ people – don’t let it become a rant. Different perspectives are what make a single focused idea work.

Or maybe you don’t feel you have enough ideas, or your ideas aren’t strong enough. There are web sites that will give you word whips, or story themes or starters. There are forums where ideas are batted about. Get your Google going and find ideas. (There is no charge for searches. Thank you! Google.)

Yes, you’ll reject a lot of the ideas – not good enough, too off the wall, not right for me. Fair enough. Just give your analytical brain a rest occasionally so one or two ideas can creep through to the creative side.

For the rest of us, who live in a permanent shower of ideas, grab them and mind map them. Some will turn out to be weaker than you thought; there isn’t enough meat to them.  You can reject those, or put them to one side for a rainy day.

Some will prove to be totally unsuitable for some reason (unmarketable, wrong genre, dumber than you thought).

Once you get mind mapping your better ideas you get a sense of the shape and feel of them. Some turn out to be quite different than you thought. You have more sub-ideas in one area and fewer in another. Your whole idea seems tilted to one side. This could be a good thing, revealing and interesting. Or not.

It could be a reason to throw out the whole idea. It could be an area where you can see growth for yourself. It might be an area you’d need to research, or even change your thinking about. It could be a place you are familiar with and can write about with ease and fluency.

Dig a little deeper into the idea – does it have any more depth to offer you? Any more directions to take you?

Yes, having lots of ideas is like herding cats. But when you have selected the right cat and it is curled up, purring in your ear, there is no better feeling for a writer..

Help! I’m NOT a writer

Not everyone is comfortable putting words on a page, whether it is a paper page or a web page. This post is for non-writers – people who would rather have a root canal than actually write something.

I’ve noticed that often these people can talk about anything, explain their interests and projects. They have no problem with the spoken word. Their vocabulary and grammar are both effective. So why do they balk at putting the same words on a page?

The why doesn’t matter – the getting over the block is the important thing. Here are some ideas that might help:

  • Get your thoughts and ideas together. Mind map so you cover all your topics.
  • Organize your ideas from the point of view of a reader so your article, web page or book flows logically to someone who is not familiar with your topic
  • If you are writing a book or putting together several pages of a web site, group your ideas under chapter headings or web page headings then organize your ideas under each chapter or web page.
  • Think of stories or anecdotes that will illustrate your ideas and bring them to life
  • If writing it all or word processing seems like too much of a chore you can record your words and hire someone to do the word processing. Or investigate Dragon Naturally Speaking software that will put your spoken words into your word processing program.

All of this is the first step, but it’s the most important, because until you’ve faced into this nothing else will happen.  If you can’t face it alone, contact a book coach (I’ll do a post on this very soon, meanwhile, I’m sometimes available for consultation).

Once you’ve got something halfway reasonable down on paper get another pair of eyes to look at it, first as a professional document and second as an editor who will pick out the little errors that slipped by. Maybe a friend will do this for you, or maybe you’ll outsource.

Then, if it’s a book,  it’s on to book designer and printer. This is beyond the scope of this post. My objective with this is to encourage you to put ideas into writing and show you the first steps.

Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, you CAN write effectively. Don’t let any ancient personal history stand in the way. Your ideas, your voice need to be read as well as heard.

Do you think you can do it?

Writers Share ideas

Yes, they do. Writers have ideas that they share.

BUT – big BUT – having ideas doesn’t make you a writer. Having flour in the cupboard doesn’t make you a baker. To be considered a baker you have to bake, bake often and bake well.

It’s the same with writing. Until you can express those ideas strongly and  vividly on paper or on-line, you can’t call yourself a writer. No matter how strongly you feel or how important you think the message is, until you communicate it clearly you are just another person who likes to sound off about something.

If you feel that the world is going rapidly to hell, you might want to refine your ideas. Pinpoint one specific aspect of ‘going to hell’ and do some research. Why is this happening? What are the options for dealing with it? The pros and cons of each one.

If you think the government of your city or country is doing things all wrong pick one error you think they are making and research it. Offer suggestions about how it could be done better. Now you have the basis for a letter to the editor or maybe even an op-ed piece.

You risk getting feedback that gives an opposing point of view, or finding that others think you are just plain wrong. That’s a risk that writers take. Are you up for it? If not, just keep chuntering on to anyone who will listen, but don’t think of yourself as a writer.

Perhaps you don’t think of yourself as having ideas; it’s more like insights. You watch people’s behaviours and you make connections in your mind. You begin to think in terms of ‘what if?’ Those insights are the beginning of stories, but until you get them on paper you are not a writer.

Whether you are writing fact, opinion or fiction you risk rejection when you send your work out for publication. Actually, it isn’t a risk, it’s pretty much a certainty. There are more writers than there is  space in publications. You have to keep getting better at what you do to have a chance to get your work in front of the public.

But when you do, and you have been paid for it, then you can call yourself  ‘a published writer’. And that is sweet!

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