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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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.

 

Summer Linkin’

It’s that time again! This time I have a collection of news and links in three distinct categories. Post in the comments if you find something particularly enlightening or if you have fun links of your own! I love new discoveries.

News!

If you haven’t already seen this posted a zillion times at my social networking sites, my short story “One Percent” got published! Check it out here

You can find my review of the Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness here

My flash fiction piece, “Tunneling,” has been chosen to be read at a public reading at the New York Public Library on September 24th. More details will follow!

Friends of the Blog!

As many of you already know from this post, I tend to be quite the little social justice warrior. Because of this, I need to share a new blog I have discovered. An examination of race and ignorance, “The Influence of Ignorance” speaks from a privileged point of view, about discrimination in our supposedly more enlightened age.

What can George Lucas teach you about editing? Actually, quite a lot. Check out my buddy Louis Santiago’s blog post

I completely forgot that this existed. When discussing my writing, I stumbled upon this short piece of non-fiction written by my father, John Minners. I had to include this because I was kind of blown away. I think I just figured out where the drive for writing that me and my siblings have came from. 

Informative Gems!

What is the difference between “Awhile” and “A while”? Check this out here

Get confused when you hear people discuss narrative and exposition? Have a little bit of trouble telling the difference? Check this blog post out

As I finish up my final edits to Order and begin considering shopping out my manuscript to agents, this article has been very helpful! 

That’s all for now!  Stay tuned for my post at the end of the month, where I talk about my somewhat insane addiction to technology. 

Reject Redux

Hello all!  This post is a retread of an earlier post on rejection with a little added content for entry in ‘Writing Contest: Overcoming Writer’s Doubt’ held by Positive Writer.” – See more at: http://positivewriter.com/writing-contest-doubt/#sthash.DlvrCK6w.dpuf.  Check out the post for a little inspiration and check out the contest to see how you can enter and discuss how you’ve overcome doubt as a writer.

A writer’s life is filled with rejection.  It takes a lot of hard work to become a J.K. Rowling or a Stephen King, and even they received rejection after rejection before they became household names.  So when you decide to be a writer, you sign yourself up for the mother load of rejections.  You know it’s coming, no matter how hard you work.  No matter where on the scale the quality of your work falls, it may not match the vision of the places where you are submitting your work.

So, when that email pops up – the one that comes from the place you really wanted in on, it breaks your heart.

It happened to me.  In the middle of a normal work day. How do you concentrate on anything when something like that happens?

I read the rejection email.  I reread it because I just couldn’t have seen that right.  And then I went to the bathroom at my job and cried away half of my lunch break.  I swore the editors wouldn’t know a good piece of writing if it bit them (which was ridiculous, since I read and loved previous issues), and I swore I would never write again.

And then I took a deep breath and saw things as they really were.  My vision and the magazine’s vision of the story didn’t match up. And that was okay.  There would be other magazines, there would be other stories.

The first cut is the deepest, as they say.  I opened up a chat window and reached out to my Allegra-shaped friend, one of my two dearest friends.  I said, “I can’t lose my mind over this.  This is what the rest of my life is going to be like.”  Clearly, I was a masochist when I chose this profession.

Did I want that?  Could I live a life where these children of mine, these tales birthed from my brain, personal emotions spun into art, could be rejected…often?

I wasn’t sure I could.  I got on the train to go home that night and there was a weight on my shoulders, a question on my mind.

And instead of thinking about it like I had sworn to myself I would do, I took out a pen and my notebook and I started writing.  A new short story, a rejection-gatherer of its own (it already has three!)

So why write?

Because I can’t not write.  Because a simple train ride home that was supposed to be spent in quiet contemplation became the seed of an idea.  Because when I try not to write, I write anyway.  Because nothing interests me the way telling a story does.

Because for every hundred rejections, there has got to be an acceptance.  And that acceptance feels incredible.  I know.  I lived that one too.  So I will keep dreaming and keep writing.  Because it’s not the publication I’m writing for.

It’s the feeling of creation I’m writing for.  No discouraging moment can take that away.

You know that rejected piece that had me so down in the dumps?  Well, a few weeks ago, it got accepted for publication.  And you know that little rejection-gatherer I wrote on the train?  In a completely wacky twist of fate, it got accepted to a different place the following day.  So keep at it.  Keep writing.  Keep sending.  It may tear you down sometimes, but it can also build you up.  It’s the writer’s life, and we weren’t built to function any other way.

What keeps you pursuing your dream despite the rejections?  Share below!

“One Percent” to be Published!

Hello all!

This is just a short little text announcement to let you know that my short story, “One Percent,” which was discussed extensively in the blog post “Too Close For Comfort”, has been selected for publication in a literary magazine!  I will have more details soon enough, but in the meantime I wanted to let my literary family know, so I’ve been blasting the news all over social media to the point where people are probably fairly sick of me and never want to see me post anything ever again.  Bear with me, guys!

Thank you all again for your constant support throughout this writing journey.  You have no idea how much this means.

Too Close For Comfort

My therapist has told me that I should write a memoir.  I’ve had kind of a bizarre life, a mixture of hilarity, personal tragedies and dark comedy worthy of a Tim Burton movie.  My response is always that I like being alive and there are people who would KILL me for having the nerve to “go there”.  That isn’t to say that personal issues never leak into my fiction – an event here, a fear there, occasionally, a character trait (the romantic lead in one of the novels I’m working on lives with undiagnosed ADHD, for instance).  But I rarely attempt to capture a time in my life and project it completely onto the page.  And then there was “One Percent”.

“One Percent” is a short story I wrote about a girl who becomes obsessed with percentages when she discovers she needs extensive spinal surgery.  When I was fifteen years old, I had spinal surgery and it was a highly emotional time for me.  Still, it seemed like a safe space in my life to mine ideas from, as the things that made that period so emotional had mostly been about myself and coming to terms with some things in my life, and so, didn’t drag anybody else’s personal life out into the mud along with mine.

I sat down and wrote a story about what it was like.  I used a detached and clinical voice because it was how my main character was holding onto sanity – being detached and clinical.  And I thought I had done a good job of accurately depicting the situation.

The beauty of having a person that is not personally attached to you view a piece is that they often have no problem with calling you on your crap.  After submitting this piece to a million different places and getting no bites at all, one awesome editor and her team (who shall remain nameless unless she wishes to be named) gave me feedback that changed my outlook on the entire piece.

Something had always seemed wrong with the story, but after many reads, I still hadn’t been able to peg what that something was, so I chalked it up to it being insecurity towards submitting my work and let it fly.  But this feedback helped me to find what had been missing.

The answer?  I was emotionally detached from the piece.  And once it was said, it made so much sense.  My detached and clinical way of telling the story was merely an excuse to relive the tale without the emotional one-two punch.  Even my choice of a 3rd person point of view when 95% of my work is in 1st person reeks of avoidance.

I felt stupid.  How had I not seen it sooner?

As I prepared for the rewrite, I realized that the first step was to cut the 3rd person.  Sure, a very emotional story could be told using 3rd person, but my brain was already making excuses to put distance between myself and Tina, my main character.  If I allowed myself any opportunity, I would maintain my detachment.  So ‘she’ quickly became ‘I’, which quickly became a completely different story than the one I had initially been trying to tell.

However, too much attachment can be bad as well.  When trying to puzzle out my story idea with a writer friend, she pointed out that I kept referring to the character as myself.  “You can lie!”  She reminded me.  “This isn’t memoir, it’s fiction.  You can change the entire situation to get your point across.  She is not you.  She is your main character.”  And she was right.

If I was going to tell Tina’s story, it couldn’t be my story.  It had to be Tina’s.  And if I was going to tell her story with the proper emotional resonance, I would have to tap into my feelings from that time without a filter. But I had to maintain a balance to keep the story from being either a landing spot for emotional wreckage or a detached and clinical robotic recitation.

It hasn’t been easy.  But about a week into my edits, I feel like I have created an entirely different piece, one that is far more honest and, frankly, far more readable.  And though I am unsure of the future of it, I can now know that I have done my best service to the story.

Have any of you readers ever had a topic that you needed to write about that hit a little too close to home?  How did you handle it?  To my non-writer readers, have you ever had a situation that you couldn’t see objectively because you were simply too close?  Post below and stay tuned for our next blog post on July 30th, when Sucker Literary makes a stop here on their blog tour!  See you then.