The Elusive Nature of Inspiration

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“Where do you get your ideas?” is a question I often get when I’m discussing the nature of my latest story, usually with a person who does not write. Any writer knows that writers don’t know where their ideas come from. In his writing book/memoir “On Writing,” Stephen King said, “There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

It’s true. We have no idea. However, we often remember our line of thinking when we’ve come up with some of our ideas. So where have some of mine come from? How different are their origins? Do some story elements come from different places? Let’s talk.

I’ve had stories arise from concepts I wanted to explore. The Order of the Key was about me trying to create a strong female hero from a geek who has been raised loving superhero media. Lucy Dies in the End was really solely about that concept–I literally just thought about the title and how cool it would be if Lucy herself was the one to say it. I’ve always been drawn to Greek mythology and Aphrodite in particular, which led to Never Say Never. My interest in past lives played into my ideas for the mystery behind Living in the Past.

I’ve had stories arise from dreams. Often when I have these, they play out before me like movies. Legally Insane was about a dream I had about a hidden relationship in a workplace. The present day tale in Living in the Past comes from a very vivid dream I had about a woman strongly connecting with a man and coming home with him, only to stumble into a mystery involving his son.

I’ve had stories arise from mundane reality. Like the lead character in The Order of the Key and Legally Insane, I am a geek. Legally Insane is largely about work in a law firm, which happens to be my day job. The concept of Lucy as Lady Justice in Lucy Dies in the End came from staring at Lady Justice during various court case searches at my job. My parents’ divorce heavily inspires some of the debates on long term relationships in Never Say Never. Dating experiences of my friends helped inspire other portions. And the characters work in an ice cream shop. My first job was at a Carvel. Choosing to Stand Still was a sort of wish fulfillment, regarding a pair of best friends I knew that I thought belonged together–if you’ve read that one, writing it made me realized they were right never to pursue that route.

17760096_1325475264199099_8399109544035762431_nI’ve had stories arise from conversations. The backbone of Legally Insane involves the main character visualizing a character from her favorite television series prodding her to be strong in the face of a major life change. This came from a joke that was made when chatting with fandom friends about Jack O’Neill, a wise-cracking character from Stargate SG-1. My friend said, “I wish I could take him around in my pocket to smack some sense into me.” From there, the idea was born.

I’ve had stories arise from fears. Without spoilers, the fear of losing a child played into The Keys & Guardians series plan heavily. Things You Can Create arose from the fear of the kinds of torture I could carelessly visit upon my characters. It is, unsurprisingly, my first short story.

I’ve had stories that arise from past trauma. One Percent is an exploration of my descent into anxiety prior to spinal surgery. One Headlight was born of the death of a friend, one who died in a car accident on the way to college. Tunneling dealt with my experiences with dealing with alcoholics. The Peace of Completion and Release dealt with some wish fulfillment regarding the aftermath of my sexual assault. Blue Ice dealt with the issue of domestic violence, handled by a third party, looking in.

What does this tell you? Stories come from so many different places. Some of the things on this list were planned. Some were things that spilled out of me once I began to write. But all of it were things I drew upon to create stories that meant a lot to me.

What does this mean for you? It means inspiration can come from anything. It can be a mix of many things. So collect writing prompts. Collect interesting factoids. File away tidbits about the people you meet. But most of all, experience. Live your life with a keen, attentive eye and look at all you see around you. Every bit of your life experience, even the bad things can be weaved into the fabric of a story.

So how do you find the elusive creature known as inspiration? The answer is simple. Live.

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iTunes Shuffle Challenge, Part 2

Back in October, I did one version of the iTunes shuffle challenge, in which I listened to iTunes on shuffle and wrote a short blurb about what each song meant to me. This time around, I’m tackling the challenge differently. I’m going to shuffle the songs, and then, I’m going to write whatever it inspires in me, and only write for the length of the song.

I ended up using thirty songs. Ten of them triggered absolutely nothing. Ten of them came up with almost nothing, with a last minute nugget of an interesting line of dialogue. I haven’t included those. But ten of these, hopefully, have some substance to them. So, onto the challenge!


1) Place for My Head by Linkin Park, Album: Hybrid Theory

 

“I didn’t help you because I wanted to add another favor to my belt. Unlike you, I’ve never been keeping score,” I said.

“That’s only because you could never repay what you owe me.” He spoke through gritted teeth. “Besides, I don’t count forgiveness in bullets shot. You use your weapons carelessly. You’re bound to get everyone killed.”

2) Hollywood by the Cranberries, Album: To The Faithful Departed

I stared into the mirror and willed my reflection to change, my green eyes narrowing, accenting the recently developed indentations that would soon become crow’s feet. I huffed my frustration at the inanimate object, struggling to brush my wild auburn curls into submission and gather them with a coated rubber band that would probably survive one or two uses before it popped under the pressure of the battle. I smoothed makeup over my pale and freckled skin, tried to hide all redness. I accented my eyes and lips, my good features, my only ones. I tugged my clothes around my widened form, struggling to make them sit right, like they used to, but it was no use. I sucked in lumps, smoothed, yanked, and stretched fabric, but my body wasn’t what it used to be. My glory days were gone, or at least that was what every public image would like me to believe.

3) What I’ve Done by Linkin Park, Album: Minutes to Midnight

My eyes struggled to open, but I could hear things through the fog of my brain. A page turning. A bit of shuffling. I couldn’t understand it. I was asleep and there was someone there with me. I lived alone, but I couldn’t seem to peel my eyes open to see who it was. I was too weak. I drifted away again…

Finally, my eyes opened. I was looking around the room before I even realized I was awake. Sterile white surrounded me. I was covered in layers of stiff sheets, and I stared out at a white board with a smiley face and a few names written across it in red ink. And a sharps disposal container. A hospital room.

“Hey, you’re awake!”

I rolled over to see who had spoken and groaned in pain. My entire body ached.

4) Swallowed in the Sea by Coldplay, Album: X&Y

My heart stopped as she shimmered into existence, an ethereal presence from another world. Her face was so familiar, my heart hurt.

5) Mary Jane by Alanis Morissette, Album: Jagged Little Pill

I stared out at the street below my window, my eyes heavy-lidded from the hours of crying the night before. My eyes couldn’t seem to find the tears anymore, but my head felt heavy with them, and I could barely hold it up without resting it on my chin.

Out on the street, I saw our neighbors walking their dogs like they did every morning. The few children that lived on the city street headed off to school, shuffled along by harried professional parents with somewhere else they had to be after this, checking their watches and their cell phones as if they were ticking time bombs counting down to the end. As if being late to work were so important that they didn’t even notice the children in front of them.

I would have noticed.

I ran a hand over my stomach, already flattening, as my eyes found the tears they had been searching for.

6) Every Night by Imagine Dragons, Album: Night Visions

I trudged into the house, my bones aching from a night of battle and my soul drained from using my abilities so indiscriminately.

It was shockingly quiet. Quieter than I was expecting, with a new baby that was used to having her Mommy home with her. I made my way up the stairs and over to our room. The door was wide open, the light was on, and I found my brother standing in front of the door, a fond smile on his face.

“Did she give you guys any trouble?” I asked.

He didn’t say a word, just nodded toward the door.

7) I Will Buy You a New Life by Everclear, Album: So Much For The Afterglow

I stuffed the bills into my mother’s hand, roughly. “Pay the bills.” I pushed past her and made my way to where Marty lay, staring out the window into the sun, his eyes squinting slightly, as though they barely felt the burn.

I didn’t blame him anymore. At some point between my teenage years and now, I had grown to accept that something in my brother had snapped. He was not well. His brain had made him believe I was something I wasn’t, and he had acted out in violence against me.

Now, I blamed my mother. For not believing me, for blaming me, for refusing to get him help, for believing it would all just get better, like schizophrenia just disappears, like suddenly the world would get set right, and my little brother would wake up one morning with no voices, no paranoia, no hallucinations, no fear.

That day never came.

“Blink, Farty Marty. Your corneas will thank you.”

He looked away from the window and smiled.

8) In Between by Linkin Park, Album: Minutes to Midnight

The rain started slowly, but by the time she’d gotten out far enough into the woods, it pelted her, soaking into her jeans, beading on her jacket and filling her boots. Her feet slid in the mud as she moved, purposefully towards the only place she could go. Their spot.

When she got there, she almost couldn’t see through the deluge, her soaked hair hanging in her eyes, blocking her view. She squinted past raindrops to make sure she was truly seeing what was there.

He had destroyed it. It was gone.

“I wanted to tell you the other day,” he said, his voice suddenly over her shoulder, and she started.

Damn her for not paying attention. Damn him for following her out here so he could watch her find this.

9) Your Star by Evanescence, Album: The Open Door

His hands clenched and unclenched as he stood, facing the open land before him. I could practically hear his mind racing. I stepped forward, wrapping an arm around him and resting my chin on his shoulder. He leaned into the embrace, his head bumping mine.

“What if the world ends?” he asked. “What if my choices ruin everything? What if we can’t fix it?”

I tried for a smile. I was scared too, but I didn’t have the luxury of that right now. “Well, that would be unacceptable, my love. We’ll just have to rebuild it.”

10) Mr. Brightside by The Killers, Album:

“This is what I’ve been meant to do,” he explained to me, his eyes wide, his nervous energy practically leaping from him. “My purpose. I finally understand why I can do these things, what makes me special, and you want me to give that away?”

BONUS: Single by Natasha Bedingfield, Album: Unwritten

“What is the big deal about all of this anyway?” I asked, fed up with Val and all of her gushy love talk. Based on what I’d just been through, it was a struggle not to punch her in her smiling, glowing face. “You only get to be this happy for a limited time.”

Okay folks, that’s it. Leave feedback on these. What did you like? What didn’t you? Would you like to try this challenge? Definitely chat with me in the comments!

2014 Year In Review

Happy New Year!  I hope you can look back at last year with happiness in your heart, and look forward to a year filled with new and interesting possibilities.

2014 has been a bit crazy for me, personally. I’ve faced some trials, some family illnesses, some coping with awful life things from my past. I’ve also made new friends, solidified old relationships, and adopted to the new rigors of having a school-aged child. It can be a lot, but every year is a gem in its own way. We have been blessed. Our family continues to float on.

As this year kicks into gear, it is easy to look back and think of all of the things you didn’t get to do, or the things you have yet to do – which is why it is so important for us to take a second to examine what has been accomplished in this bygone year. So, that’s what I’m going to do – I’m going to look at what I’ve accomplished in 2014 and discuss where I’d like to go in 2015.

Writing Steps in 2014

  • Last year, I was celebrating the publication of one of my first short story. This year, I am celebrating the publication of three new stories! My writing life has absolutely been blessed this year. Forward momentum for the win! Tunneling, which also happened to be my first piece of flash fiction, One Percent, which I mentioned in my 2013 year in review as a story that I struggled with rewriting, and Choosing to Stand Still, which was the first short story I brought before the writing critique group I was just joining at the end of last year, all found permanent homes and made me a proud mama.
  • I went to my first writing convention, the Writer’s Digest Conference 2014, and did my first ever pitch session. Chronicled in a two part blog post in August, I got to pursue this particular first in time with my son’s 5th birthday weekend, which left me in an insane tizzy. Though two out of three of my pitch requests ended in rejection, and one is still pending, I still count this as a victory on two fronts. I had never gone out into the world to discuss one of my books before. I very rarely went out into the world and declared myself a writer. That weekend, I got to do that, and not only that, but I got to prove to myself that, while it may tire me out, I can be a mother, and a writer, and have a day job, without everything falling apart. This was the first test.
  • Not only did I start pitching The Order of the Key in person, but I also started to send out query letters to agents, enter twitter contests, and just generally get my first full length novel out into the world. This was a huge step, as a writer can sit in edit, rinse, repeat hell forever if allowed.
  • While I have read my work publicly in the past, I read my work for the first time, professionally, this year. It was a great time, only slightly nerve wracking and helped quite a bit by the presence of several incredible people at my side while I geared up. I will say, that one of the ways I have been very lucky, and there are many, is that I have an intensely supportive and loving group of people that would follow my writing and me anywhere and the feeling is mutual. These are the moments when you see that in living color – whether it’s the people who watch my son for me while I go and participate in writing related activities, the people who listen to me practice read, the people who ask me about my work, or the people who come out and attend readings – I have an awesome group of people surrounding me.
  • This year I wrote my first guest blog post, about writing superstitions. I enjoyed putting it together. I also enjoyed the opportunity to get to know a bit about fellow YA Fantasy writer Scarlett Van Dijk’s work.
  • I completed another round of NaNoWriMo! Which means I’m over halfway through my rewrite of Legally Insane. It is almost complete and I am excited about it. It’s an oddly sweet little story about a girl who hallucinates, and I can’t wait to finish it and get it to you guys so you can read it.
  • I wrote a fanfic, my first in a long time, on a totally different topic than usual. It was, as most fanfic is to me, an experiment in writing a different kind of voice than I’m used to. I enjoyed it.
  • I  wrote yet another short story prequel to my Keys and Guardians series, titled “Love is Sacrifice”. I’m not sure if I can do anything with it as a stand alone (I have the first, “Fuel and Fire”, out for submissions as mentioned below) but I am getting the feeling there will definitely be some kind of anthology one day.

Plans for 2015

  • I’ve got two short stories out in the world waiting to be published by somebody. I am hoping they find placement out there somewhere. They also happen to be my two favorite short stories, which makes their prolonged lack of publication particularly sad.  I’m hoping 2015 will find them a home.
  • The Order of the Key is still out in limbo with a couple of agents and publishers. I am hoping that by the end of 2015 I will know the fate of the Keys and Guardians series. Hopefully, much sooner than that.
  • I definitely want to finish Legally Insane and complete the edit on the book by the end of 2015.
  • If The Order of the Key is picked up for publication, my NaNoWriMo book for next year will be Book 2, The Lost Key. If it is not, and I’m still figuring it out or still in the process of editing Book 1, I will be going forward with The Broken Hearts Club, my ironically (and possibly temporarily) titled story about the continued tale of Tunneling. I still have a couple of characters to really figure out from that story, so we’ll see.
  • I’m taking on a reading challenge for 2015 to get me to read more and different books (in case you noticed that list from last week was a little…Kelley Armstrong heavy…). I will be tracking that, to some extent, here.
  • Just more. Of everything. I’d love to look into more networking opportunities. I’d love to take more classes. I’d love to try some more new experiences that I can maybe use in my writing. I’d love to travel a bit. I’d love to do another reading. I’d love to do more guest blog posts. I’d love to have people do guest posts on my blog. I’d love to grow as a writer. And I can’t wait to start doing it.

2014 was an amazing year. I published one story when 2014 began. By the end of 2014, I’ve published four. I don’t want to lose this momentum. So here’s to another wonderful year of getting out there and being a writer.

And here’s to another wonderful year of you pursuing your dreams!  What have you accomplished in 2014? What do you have planned for 2015? Post it in the comments below.

 

Dragon Slayed! NaNoWriMo completed!

Winner-2014-Web-BannerI have never understood why National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, for short, is in November. I don’t know about everyone else, but November almost always ends up being one of the busiest months of the year. My best friend, Joy’s, birthday is that month. My little sister, Megan’s, birthday is at the beginning of December, and we usually end up either prepping or actually doing something for her birthday at the end of November. There is Thanksgiving and the lead up preparations for that. There is Christmas shopping and preparations for my birthday. Basically, a lot of preparing for things and doing things. This year, in particular, was bad.

Which is, of course, why I committed myself to write 50,000 words in a month. Because WHAT BETTER MONTH, REALLY?

This month, I chose to work on Legally Insane, a romantic comedy idea I have been spinning around for a long time now. About 18 months ago, I wrote it. It was 150,000 words long. The romance genre generally tops out between 80-90,000 word, so it was pretty much too long for ANY kind of book. Almost too long for epic fantasy. So, I spent nearly a year culling and trimming. Then I spent six months thinking. What could go? What should go? What wasn’t really necessary for the theme? What was only in there because my heart couldn’t bear to let it go?

I talked to Ismael, hubby and beta reader extraordinaire. His main critique was that, while he would follow the characters anywhere, the will-they/won’t-they got a little too thick at times, and at points, it could be unbelievable that the leads hadn’t just decided they would. It made the whole thing feel bloated. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is why you need another set of eyes to see your work. I dove into the original, dug in deeply, and came out with a new outline.

My new outline had several changes. Gone were dead weight characters that dragged down the plot. I deleted the D and E storyline I didn’t even realize I’d been trying to tell. I cut six months off of the story timeline, which meant things had to happen faster and with greater weight and that I didn’t need much “and then time passed” filler. I combined scenes, moved scenes around. I even shifted the theme slightly.

I had a brand new story to tell. So, NaNoWriMo it was.

I’ve done this before and wrote about it. The first time out, writing was the struggle. How could I possibly crank out 1,670 words every day? It seemed like so much.

This time, despite a few “crap, with that character gone this scene makes ZERO sense” moments, writing the book was easy. Having time to write the book was another thing entirely. When I had a cup beneath, I could open the tap and let it flow. But cups were few and far between. At least within the confines of my normal sleep pattern.

So, I wrote late into the night and then woke up at 5:30 AM to do it all over again. I. Am. TIRED. Sooooooo tired.

NaNoWriMo-2014-Winner-Certificate copyBut here I am. On November 1st, I knew what my first three chapters would contain. That was it. I was terrified when I started to write because I had only partially thought through my outline (I built the infrastructure on those good days where I found a lot of time.) I loved my characters and I knew them. That was all I had right away. On December 1st, I am writing Chapter 14 of a ridiculous romantic comedy that has actually made me giggle a few times in public. That’s 50,000 original words (not counting bits of dialog I pulled from the original). I still have a third of the story to go, but I’m at the part of every book which I have termed “Shit Meets Fan” (poetic, I know). This is the part where things pick up to a frenetic pace and all of the plot strings tie together in a knot as we build to the climax. And, for me, this is the part where things start to feel like building a Lego set, like the directions are there for me and all I need to do is construct. The best is yet to come.

So, that’s what I have been doing for the last month. What have you been up to? Post in the comments below.

And if you’d like to read about the beautiful uncertainty that comes with your first NaNo, check out my good friend Louis Santiago at his blog, The House of Error. He kept an online journal of all thirty days that captured the frantic pace of the challenge in posts that are both clever and poignant.

See you on the 15th, when I recap the books I whirred through in 2014.