Writing In Retirement Blog

Ideas to Stories: The Process of Writing

‘Where do you find your ideas?” is perhaps the most asked question of authors. The second most asked questions might be ‘How do you make your ideas into stories?’ The answer to the first question is “Ideas are everywhere!” The process of capturing those ideas is an important and necessary task for a writer.  So how do you capture ideas? Perhaps the easiest way is a notebook that you keep near – in your pocket or purse, and when you hear or think or dream about a possible idea, you write it down. Some writers keep a file either on their computers or a physical one that houses ideas. I use tiny notes – they litter my desk, and at some point, I gather them up and put them in an idea jar as loose notes. The point is to stockpile them somewhere other than the sieve that is your senior mind!

idea jar

The ideas you collect don’t have to be fully formed. They are instead something to jog your imagination to generate a story idea – a story prompt.  It could be a phrase like, ‘then she fell down the stairs’; or a title idea such as, “The Ghost of a Promise”; or perhaps a character idea, ‘shoes that talk.’ Photos, letters, and physical prompts can also be a starting point for story construction.

These collected ideas are wonderful, but when you look at them, you must consider the elements that could propel the idea into a story. One way to do that is to play the “What if” ? or the “And then” games to see how the story might develop. Looking for a theme or genre for the story might also help to solidify the idea into a story. Bouncing the story ideas off others is also a great way to build a story. Some writers look at an idea and then write a one or two sentence ‘hook’ that defines the story.  Jane Austin’s beginning sentence of Pride and Prejudice Is such a hook, “It is the truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” It tells us exactly what the story is about. Let your imagination run wild as you build a story behind your idea.

The trick is to Write and Write and Write! Because the more you write, the better you become in your writing process. Good luck to you all!

I’d love to hear from you! How do you generate and store your story ideas?

Listening for Writers Part II: Eavesdropping

Author’s Note: Due to Hurricane Irma I was unable to post until now. All is well but for some shingles off my roof. I hope you enjoy the following post. I invite you to click the Follow Me button on the right-hand bottom of the page. Thanks to all.

Dog listening

How can eavesdropping be a listening skill for writers? You have to be kidding, right? Just listen to what the American playwright, Thornton Wilder said: “There’s nothing like eavesdropping to show you that the world outside your head is different from the world inside your head.”

Writers need to hone their eavesdropping skills. Now if you have visions of shoving your seat backward so you can get closer to listening to juicy gossip, that’s rude and certainly runs afoul to the rules of the road.  That said, in the new age of mobile phones, people seem to have no qualms about having a loud conversation, mostly one-sided, for all to hear.  Obviously, while in close proximity to people having a conversation, such as in line, or sitting on a bus next to chatty people, one cannot help but overhear what is said. For a writer, all this free chatter is great research!

To write good characters that act and talk like real people, you need to know how real folks act and talk. People watching and listening to conversations is a useful way to learn how people look and sound during conversations. What do they do with their hands? Gesture wildly? Smooth their brow or pull their ear? Dribble their food while talking? What does a real conversation sound like? Uhs and Ums scattered throughout, or expletives? Are they calm, excited, fearful, or agitated? Jotting all this down into your notebooks is fair game and useful in future writings.

Yes, an entire conversation might have wonderful possibilities for a future story,  but don’t overlook little snippets of conversations. They can be just what the muse needed to start your imagination roaring. It is up to the writer to call upon their imagination as to how they can blend those overheard snippets or full conversations into a story. So don’t be afraid to listen in discreetly, you never know when that will spark a fantastic idea for a story, a character, or a scene.

My favorite overheard snippet? “Don’t spit your peas in my shoes!”

I would love to hear from you as to what interesting bits of conversations you have used in your writing? Comment below.

Listening Skills for Writers Part I: Being a Good Listener

Snoopy listening

Honing one’s ability to listen can be very beneficial for writers. Being a good listener means paying close attention, hearing what is said, and understanding the meaning of what is said. For a writer listening skills can be helpful when reading your prose aloud and when other writers or editors are giving you criticism.

Reading aloud: One way to evaluate how your writing comes across to the reader is to read aloud what you have written. By doing so, you turn your writing from writer-based to reader-based prose. Sometimes you can just ‘hear’ the mistakes in wordage and correct them easily.  Also, it slows down your visual feedback so that you become aware of punctuation, or spelling errors you might have missed by silently reading the narrative. But beyond that, reading out loud helps you to discover if the written words have three other properties:

  1. Flow – Flow organizes your words into easy and understandable sentences and paragraphs. Your words must speak to the audience you are addressing so that you do not muddy up the meaning or give too much information about the meaning. Good flow has logical transitions from one point to the next.
  2. Cadence – Cadence refers to rhythmic writing given to increase and decrease like the tides of the ocean. It can quicken or slow as needed. This not only alters the mood of the writing but emotions can be changed by the cadence, too. Altering the length of sentences, or adding pauses helps to establish cadence. Using writing devices such as alliteration (repetition of same beginning consonant sound), or sibilance (usually a hissing sound with ‘s’ or ‘z’ or ‘sh’ and sometimes a soft ‘c’) can change the cadence too.
  3. Pace – Pacing controls the speed of how the story unfolds, i.e., how fast or slow revelation of the events in the story happen. Fast action and rapid sequencing speed up the story while writing passages with great details slow down the pace.

Criticism by editors and other writers: Being attentive to the criticism given to you by other writers after they have read your story is also part of the listening experience. In this instance try to be open-minded. It is important to take every bit of advice and criticism and evaluate it according to what your vision of the story is and where you want the story to go. Some things may resonate with you and reveal something that will make the story better, but other things may be too vague, or not be helpful as to how you want the story to unfold. Nevertheless, if you hear the same criticism repeatedly, it is best to take a good look at what you are doing that makes that criticism valid.

Next week in Part II, I will explore another listening skill important for writers – eavesdropping!

Feel free to comment below!

 

 

Joining a Writers Group

Writing Group

Few things are more important in a writer’s life than a support group. When I was attempting to tackle NaNoWriMo the first time, I did so without telling anyone. I had no one encouraging me. It was lonely, and although the words flowed and I hit the 50,000-word goal, the story was not a novel. It was just a draft of a story without an end.  The second time I tackled NaNoWriMo, I enlisted a few friends to cheer me on: to constantly ask me how I was doing, and whether I was keeping up with the word count. That made all the difference. That second time around I wrote The Peacock’s Tale. Of course, it took endless revisions and editing before I was ready to self-publish the book, but I would never have gotten that far if it had not been for that support group.

Soon afterward I, by chance, had a conversation with another senior who was looking for a group to join that would encourage creative writing. That led to the creation of the Ink & Quill 55 and Over Writing Group sponsored by the Jesse Brock Senior Center in Winter Garden, Florida. It has been the one thing that has egged on my continuing to be serious about writing. Even though I facilitate the group, I think I have learned even more than the others in the group!

Here are five reasons to motivate you to find a group to join. Try out some groups and find one that works for you.

  1. Writers groups provide a social network for you. Writing can be very isolating. Making friends that have the same interest as you, helps to reinforce your commitment to writing. Having a place to go where you feel safe, and are respected by each member as you share your work is very nurturing.
  2. Writers groups support your creative process. Writing groups encourage you to write on a schedule. They help you to explore different types of writing. They can educate you about writing and the writing process.
  3. Writers groups expose you to different writing than your own. You can learn from paying attention to what and how others have written.
  4. Writers groups help to teach you how to accept and give feedback. No one wants to be judged, but if you want to grow in producing quality work, it is important you are open to criticism. Learning to listen to good feedback and being able to decide what you will act on is a learning process too. By listening to what others have written helps you recognize what is written well and what needs some work.
  5. Writers groups help you to practice writing. There is no better learning tool for writing than to write. To become better at writing, you must write. Having prompts from which to write helps you to be disciplined. It gives you a reason to write.

Have you found writing groups to be helpful? What has worked for you? Please share by commenting below.

Don’t Box Me In

boxes

I was thinking today about how as a writer, one can get boxed in; that is, the pressures of society and the constraints of who you are – or at least who you think you are ­- can box you into one area of writing. “I love to write poems, ” “Mysteries are my game,” or “The majority of my writing is blogging,” etc. By limiting yourself to one genre or type of writing, you can miss the fun of trying out different writing experiences.  There are all sorts of types of creative writing: journaling, memoirs, storytelling, letters, poetry, essays, blogging, screenwriting, songwriting, etc., etc. Within those types of writing, there are genres like thrillers, mysteries, women’s issues, westerns, romance, biographies, etc., etc. As you might realize by now, there is a universe of writing out there, and when you limit yourself to one small area, you box yourself into one way of thinking and writing. You can miss out on the thrill of writing something terrific because you don’t try to dip your pen into a different inkwell!

When you try something new, it sharpens your skills and helps your writing to stay fresh. Even if you find yourself struggling, if you keep at it, you may find something that excites you and gives you a whole new avenue of writing to pursue. On a personal note, I would never have thought I would be good at writing children’s stories or epistolary stories, or even poetry, but all these things I have explored with fairly good outcomes because of free writing using prompts.

What about you? Is there a different type of writing that you would like to try out?

Here’s a prompt that might help you to switch around what you write: Consider a story you have written recently and rewrite the story differently, i.e., if it is a story – write it as a poem. If it is a SciFi story write it as a modern romance. If it is a blog post, write it like a cartoon or comic strip. In other words, turn the story on its head and see how it turns out!

cartoon-boxes.jpg

Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

Book Club Blues

reading girl

It’s that time again. Time to hurry through reading the monthly book for our book club. This time it is Daphne du Maurier’s, Rebecca. That is the book that has the fabulous first line:  “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” The thing is – I am at least two hours away from finishing the story. It’s a mystery in that from the very beginning you want to know what happens to the narrator and the mysterious first wife of Maxim de Winter. The author builds the story slowly chapter by chapter – laying out new clues as to who was involved and what happened. The tension builds as the clues are stretched out before me. I really enjoy books like this. Even though I have to put the book down to do things like eat and sleep; as a reader, my mind is wondering how all these clues will come together. And as a writer, my mind churns out possible ways the story could track.  It makes me anxious to pick up the book again to find out how this famous author handles the story.

Have you read anything lately that grabs your imagination so tightly that you just can’t put it down? And if you do have to put it down, niggles your brain so much that you just can’t wait to pick it up again? Tell me about your experiences with books like that by commenting below.

 

 

 

The Value of Criticism

This week I attended a new writer’s group. It was a sacrifice for the four of us to be there. We talked about our backgrounds and how far we had come that rainy night to meet. People that I had never met before, but hit it off right away, because we all had something in common – we loved to write. We each read something we had written, and then the others commented on the work and what could be done to make the work better. I learned a lot in that little exercise.

I choose to read a short scene I had written from a prompt put up in Fiction University by Janice Hardy. “He loves me: he loves me not.” Suggestions were given to me by the other writers to help deepen the character and arouse greater sympathy for the protagonist. Great ideas! So I did revise it, and here it is!

roses-2198156__480

He Loves Me; He Loves Me Not

“He loves me; he loves me not.” I chanted as I plucked the buttermilk white ‘Patience’ rose petals from my bridal bouquet. The petals floated to the ground like the first snowflakes of winter. They surrounded my floor-length heirloom wedding dress as if I were a statue made from ice. That’s what I felt like – ice – a cold, lifeless ice princess. I could hear my mother and bridesmaids pounding on the bathroom door, but I had locked it and placed a chair up against the doorknob. I had run in here, the place closest to the altar, after Jack announced in front of everyone he couldn’t marry me, because he, and Ross, his Best Man, were in love.

I tuned out their voices as I continued the chant. It had all been so perfect. We had met at school – in the library of all places! We talked. We laughed. We fell in love. We planned the wedding together. The colors, the doves, all the food at the reception. At that thought, I ripped off the remaining petals of the first rose and chanted louder, “He loves me not; he loves me not” over and over.

The reception was to be in the majestic banquet hall of the Americana Hotel. It was to be a forty-dollar-a-plate dinner. We had even paid for a small orchestra to play for the dancing and entertainment. I began to yank off the petals of the next rose in the bouquet at the thought of the first dance which Jack and I had laughed over as I stepped on his feet when we were learning it. He had always been the better dancer. Did those moments mean nothing to him? How could he do this to us? To me?  I ripped handfuls of petals off the second rose, and they fell around the lace appliqued hem of my gown as if a blizzard had struck.

“Judy! Judy let us in, sweetie!” My mother called from the other side of the door. She sounded very far away and to drown out her pleading I shouted louder, “He loves me; he loves me not.”

The beautiful cream rose in the middle of the bouquet was disappearing as I plucked and pulled the petals from its stem. My life was also disappearing before my eyes. Jilted at the altar for a man! I was never going to be able to love anyone else. I would live to be an old maid. I was washed up. Destined to be an ice-cold dead woman forever.

Cold, I hated being cold. That’s why we decide to go to Bermuda for our honeymoon. At that thought, I attacked the fourth ‘Patience’ rose. What was Jack going to do with the tickets? They were un-refundable. Oh God, I thought, He and Ross will probably go instead! “He loves me not!” I shouted. My throat was raw from my bellowing.

“Judy,” I heard my mother call from afar, “Judy, you have a choice. You always have a choice.” Her muted voice pierced my heart like a cupid’s arrow.

I shattered right there. The tears that had refused to come earlier began to cascade down my face, coursing a wet trail through the glacier pearls that accented the bodice of my vintage silk chiffon gown. I brought my hands to my face to shield my icy tears, but when I did, I could smell the overwhelming fruity fragrance of the roses left in my limp wedding bouquet. I swiped my nose with my elbow length satin gloved hands and sniffed. The delicate lemony fragrance reminded me of all the beauty that I had ever smelled, or seen, or felt. I snuffled and continued to wipe my now fading tears. I looked at the destroyed bouquet. I ravished the last flower and when I plucked off the last three petals I chanted, “I love him not; I love him; I LOVE HIM NOT!”

I slid over to the sink and splashed warm water on my face. My mother’s advice hovered in my mind, ‘You always have a choice, Judy.’ How many times had I heard that over the years? The hatred that had turned my body into ice slowly melted. I tidied up my appearance as best I could. I looked in the mirror realizing that I had always suspected this, but I wanted to believe we were in love. I think he did too. He had the courage to dispel the lie. I should have to courage to face those that still were here.  I took a big breath and threw the decimated bouquet on the floor with the blanket of rose petals. I turned, the dress swirled around me. I took away the chair and unlocked the door. I flung it open to see the worried looks of all the people that did love me. With the bravest face I could muster, in a raspy voice, I said, “So let’s party. We might as well celebrate me not getting married.”

 

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