Inspired to Write by Drawing Bad Pictures

Silver Gull

Silver gull between sea and sky by Timmy Toucan via Flickr

New writing ideas can come to you when doing creative things that don’t involve writing

Try leaving your project and go away from your usual writing place. Take blank paper and coloured pencils, pens or whatever you have lying around, then let your mind wander. Draw or doodle without thinking too hard. This helps you relax and new ideas can sneak in.

Don’t limit creativity to just one medium

“ . . . It doesn’t matter if you can’t draw – use stick figures – but this can help jolt you out of your comfort zone, allowing you to approach a problem in a new way. If you’re a painter, try making up a tune and words for a song. If you’re a graphic designer, use modeling clay or create a collage. Don’t limit your creativity to just one medium.”

From 10 Great Ways to Jumpstart Your Creativity by Ali Hale.

There was a time when I decided to learn drawing. I carried around pencils and a sketchbook everywhere I went. With practise, my drawings became more and more recognisable with less and less need to use an eraser. I enjoyed the soft scratchy sound of pencil on paper, the smell of the shavings and it was a pleasure to make lines and shading into something that looked alright. In the end I didn’t even care if the finished drawing was good or not, I loved the process.

I have spent happy hours sitting at a picnic table near Coogee Beach drawing silver gulls. The more I drew the more I realised every gull was different — instead of being a single hungry hoard trying to grab my fish and chips, they all looked different and behaved differently. Even the way the wind ruffled their feathers was interesting to draw.

The close attention I gave to silver gulls while drawing made me watch them at other times, flying, gliding or bathing in rock pools. I developed a real affection for them and wrote this poem.

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wings wave
a silver gull

almost skims the foam
but not quite

then up
on familiar urgent currents

going where?

perfect in her world
of blue and white
and emerald deeps

~ ~ ~

Copyright 2011 Judy Winchester

What creative things do you enjoy?
Leave a comment and share them with us

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Posted in Inspiration & Ideas, poetry, Posts with poems, Writers Block, Writing prompts | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Story Ideas: where do they come from?

New Holland honeyeater.

New Holland honeyeater, the first bird to be scientifically described in Australia (New Holland) in 1781. Image via Wikipedia

Every published author is asked “where do you get your ideas?” because every new writer wants some too.  The answers seem to end up being something like “everywhere” or “nowhere in particular”.

A more optimistic answer comes from
Harvey Chapman, of Novel Writing Help

“. . . you are actually already bursting with great writing ideas, whether you know it or not.

“Trust me, you have enough raw material inside you right now, for more novels than you could ever hope to complete, no matter what age you are or how uninteresting you believe your life has been.”

Creative Writing Grows

Writing generates more writing, so ideas come thickest when I write every day. Long walks help too, but regular time spent writing, both good and bad, counts more than waiting for inspiration.

Write about that bird you saw this morning

My friend Ratty, who is a keen birder, taught me to look at birds carefully. I live in Australia and he in Canada. We used to get on Skype and talk about birds we had seen, and search the Net for pictures and information for each other.

I never became a really keen birder, but walks are more fun now — but slower because I stand around a lot gazing into trees.

Thanks to Ratty I was inspired to write this poem — about writing poems — while staring up into one of those trees.

~ ~ ~

writing a poem is like finding a small bird

looking up your eyes wander and find a tree
seeing nothing but the tree

close your eyes and stop
listen to the silence

a door slams
a dog barks
a bird calls

your mind goes its own way
a dozen things flicker in and out
then leaves rustle and you search

you see a tiny patch of colour so you wait
a part-obscured shape forms in your fond eyes
and you smile

a word or phrase then written
unlocks the rest

Copyright 2011 Judy Winchester


Where do your writing ideas come from?
Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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Posted in Inspiration & Ideas, poetry, Writing prompts | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Mind Maps: a Quick Way to Beat Writer’s Block

Writer’s block might mean you haven’t written for months, or maybe you just haven’t figured out what happens after the body is found to have tentacles as well as arms and legs. Either way it’s fairly certain that if you write regularly you will get blocked quite a lot of the time.

a simple example of a mind map

An easy and helpful mind map.

One way to get over being blocked is to make a mind map. There are lots of different ways to make them, but here is an easy one to start you off.

If you have used mind maps in the past and they didn’t work for you, have another go. Keep what works and change what doesn’t.

Here are some guidelines

  • Work on a blank page, preferably unlined, preferably large
  • Use a single colour pen to start with and work quickly
  • Start with a single idea in the middle and work out from there in any direction
  • Circle every separate idea as you write it
  • Write ideas down as soon as you think of them
  • Don’t think too hard about anything or cross anything out
  • Use arrows as you go to join items, showing which ideas gave rise to which others
  • Stop when you have something substantial to write about

Review your Mind Map

Once you have something to work with, go back and have a closer look. You might want to add something new or expand on the ideas you like best.

  • Use different colours to group related ideas or emphasise any special points
  • Use any symbols, lettering or underlining you like. Find what works for you
  • Write down questions or research you think of in empty spaces on the mind map
  • Keep the mind map on hand until the writing project is finished

Mind map example

A single mind map can be large and generate many writing prompts, but the image shows a simple example I made specially for this post. I wrote it first with pencil on paper which took only a few minutes.

The starting thought was “owl”. No particular reason, just the first word that stuck in my head. The double circle shows it is the starting point. You can see my thoughts went in two directions, one was a cute kind of owl and the other was a  predatory killer.

You can see my brain wasn’t much interested in the cute version, but the darker version had some potential — the sugar glider family who loses a loved one to a night hunting owl. Notice my first thought was that the owl might kill mice, but it changed to the more beautiful and interesting sugar glider who I already know lives in family groups. I’m not going to write about owls and sugar gliders, but when I use a starting point suggested by a real project there is nearly always lots of good material to work with.

Remember the circles and arrows

The circles and arrows help a lot, they are not just for show. Make sure you use the arrowhead to show direction, not just lines. This reminds you later what your thoughts were when you made the map.

Mind Map Software: downloadable or on line

A mind map with pen and paper is quick and easy, generally giving up useful ideas to get you writing again. You can buy software to make mind maps if you like. This article by Write To Done gives a range of choices. I have not used any of them because I prefer to mind map on paper, so I offer the link as a starting point for anyone interested.

I learned about mind maps in a creative writing course where my very first mind map led to my very first poem. I’ve liked them ever since.


Any tips on using mind maps?
Leave a comment and let us know.

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Posted in Inspiration & Ideas, Planning & outlining, Writers Block | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Writing for the Web is Not Easy

Tim Berners-Lee: The World Wide Web - Opportun...

Image by Fräulein Schiller via Flickr

I thought it would be fun to blog

A challenge to write exactly what I wanted while weaving in search friendly keywords so they look natural. I write poetry, so I thought writing blog posts with keywords would be like that only easier. Maybe it is, but I haven’t got that far yet.

I built my WordPress blog and was days trying to get it looking exactly right while I learned how to use the interface. It was a long time before I gave up and decided it would have to do.

Ready to write?

Almost. First who is my audience? What is my blog “about”? Can’t write anything until I decide on some kind of structure. Well, audience is anyone who can be bothered to read it. Nah — I don’t think that’s the right answer somehow. And the blog is part of a course I’m doing,  Writing for the Web so it has to be about writing, doesn’t it? Or to showcase my writing. Well, which? And what sort of writing? Or something else?

Don’t think so much

A few searches showed at least a million blogs about writing. What could I say that would be interesting and unique? My head hurt.  I emailed my tutor, Karen, in desperation and she managed to get me past this anxiety, saying “don’t over-think it”. I had better get writing before I start thinking again.

Ideas for posts

I suddenly remembered all those great posts ideas I had been saving up.  They were in my head, on bits of paper, in my notebook and even in a document called “post ideas”, oh and that other one called “blog”.

When I looked at all my brilliant post ideas they didn’t seem to amount to much after all and I was left with nothing to write about. I looked at some suggestions Karen had given me and picked out this one: “Writing for the Web is Not Easy” . . . hmm why would she have put it in the negative like that?

Leave perfection until last

Finally I have some posts uploaded and a few more in the draft stage, but I haven’t even looked closely at keywords yet. Ah well, perfection can come later.

When you started blogging was it easy or difficult?
Leave a comment and share your thoughts

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Posted in Inspiration & Ideas, Planning & outlining, Writers Block | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Writing Story World into your Fiction

Research your story world deeply, but reveal only enough to keep your readers turning the pages.

Extensive research ensures your story world and its setting are totally consistent, but don’t reveal more than is needed to move the story forward.

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

Great post-apocalyptic story world in one of my favourite novels

Science fiction and fantasy are examples of genres where authors create a setting which is very different from our own reality. Often it is an entire story world with different laws of science or magic to govern it. Even if you write in your present time and place, you need to research details that will convince readers that your characters know their stuff.

Keep your readers happy

My sister is an avid reader of murder mysteries and she read one set in Sydney, Australia where we live. Finding mention of a character walking down the stairs to a platform on Strathfield railway station, she realised the author had never been there because there are ramps, not stairs. A trivial example, but one reader at least was left feeling a little disappointed.

A great story world still needs
memorable characters and a compelling plot

In the aftermath of NaNoWriMo last year, I read the manuscript of a friend who had written her novel in the setting of a post-apocalyptic future of our own world. She had created a great story world, very believable, with lots of convincing detail which was easily recognised as having its beginnings in the world we know today. I was excited to find out where it was going.

I soon realised there was too much story world revealed to the reader too soon. There was a risk that the plot and characters would take second place.

Learn from your favourite novels

That got me thinking about my favourite post-apocalyptic novels. “The Chrysalids” by

John Wyndham is one which has a similar theme to my friend’s story. People who don’t fit into the society in which they were born, and have to escape or die. So I happily dragged out the boxes from under the bed which hold my old sci-fi paperbacks, and enjoyed it one more time.

The story world is revealed in tiny pieces, just enough to explain a situation or an attitude as it arises. This keeps the reader turning the pages and feels natural when the narrator’s mind flickers in and out of such thoughts. For example, 0n the very first page there is a brief reference to the:

“… wonderful world that the Old People had lived in; as it had been before God sent Tribulation”.

From this we have reason to guess the main character lives in a place that follows some kind of fundamental Christianity. Just enough to give a little information and intrigue the reader, but moving on without further explanation. When we think about something familiar we don’t “explain” it to ourselves in our thoughts, so why would we make our characters do so?

Readers use their own experience to interpret your story

Even though the narrator is the older version of the main character, and he is telling the story with the hindsight and greater understanding that we all have when looking back over our lives, the author uses this extra knowledge to enhance the story without revealing everything he knows about the story world. He does his readers the compliment of letting them use their own experience to interpret the text.

Research much, write less

In “Writing Fiction for Dummies”, Randy Ingermanson suggests the author should research the story world in great depth, to make sure the world is internally consistent and believable. However he offers this warning:

“Whether you’re setting a story in your own world or in some foreign one, please, please, please remember the flip side of the rule: Don’t tell everything you know in one novel. Tell only one percent of what you know. If you take our advice to know 100 times more than what you need, you can write another 99 books without doing one more speck of research.”

Whether you create your own story world from scratch or use a historical or present day setting, research it thoroughly and your story will be totally consistent. Then put it aside and write with just enough background detail to move the story forward and keep your readers happy.

What is your favourite story world?
Leave a comment and tell us about it

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Posted in Novel writing, Research, Writing resources | Leave a comment

How NaNoWriMo kicked me into a good writing habit

Winner NaNoWriMo 2010

First time entered -- and won

For the first time in my life I wrote every day for 30 days.

I found out I had some self-discipline after all, that I could write even when I didn’t feel like it.

Every November, the NaNoWriMo challenge is to write the first draft of a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. Since 1999 people all around the world have joined in the fun, aiming to write 1667 words every day.

I realised early I could win

Before November started I didn’t expect to write every day, so I gave myself a higher target of 2000 words to leave a few days to recover in case I collapsed in a heap. For the first thirteen days I wrote an average of 2000 words a day. If the word count was down a bit one day, I made it up the next. I was excited and motivated, and didn’t miss a day.

Day fourteen, with only 550 words, was the start of a long stuggle. The next day I made it up, writing 3257 words, my record high. Then the nightmare —  I lost that whole day’s work because I used some new software and after that every day was a struggle.

Believing I could win kept me writing

My word count fell in the last half of the month, but was still ahead of the 1667 NaNoWriMo average. That meant as long as I pushed myself to write every day, I could still reach 50,000 in time and win.

Three things kept me going:

  • Word count: I entered my word count every day on the NaNoWriMo web site and it graphed my progress against a straight diagonal line which was the ideal 166.666…  words a day. The further above the line I crept the happier I was. When I was close to falling below it I would get a rush of adrenaline which kept me writing a few more hours before logging the day’s total. Once I missed the midnight deadline and my precious graph showed no words at all for the day. I was shattered, even though the next day showed two days’ work.
  • People: I went to regular write-ins at city cafes. Everyone was very happy and welcoming. We were all going through the same bouts of triumph and despair. It was a weird sort of competition because there was no way the organisers could check if we cheated, but I knew I didn’t and that was enough. Some people wrote all year round and others did it just for the buzz in November. Everyone had different reasons for writing, and publication was not high on the list.
  • Believing I could win: I learned early that I could churn out the words day after day, so when things were tough I just kept going without feeling my usual self-doubt.

In the end I struggled through to win NaNoWriMo two days early. I had a whole first draft of my first novel of 50,058 words.

Closer to that new writing habit

Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I now write nearly every day. There are always going to be distractions and procrastination, but if I don’t write for a day or even a week, I don’t beat myself up, I just get back to writing.

Do you have a good writing habit?
Leave a comment and tell us how you got started.

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Posted in National Novel Writing Month, Novel writing, Uncategorized, Writing habits, Writing resources | Leave a comment

NaNoWriMo: Write your Novel first, Edit later

Give yourself permission to write badlyNaNoWriMo is criticised for what it does not encourage. But for me and lots of others it has been a revelation to write a novel from beginning right through to the end without trying to edit as I go.

A good writing tip

Many times I have seen this writing tip — “give yourself permission to write badly.” It makes sense. This is how we learned as children, there is no reason adult learning should be different. Start with whatever you can do, then keep working to improve it.

Write to the end

My 2010 NaNoWriMo novel is a mess and needs a complete re-write — so you might say it was a waste of time — but not me. It makes me very happy because I am a chronic editor.  Reaching 50,000 words is my big achievement and now I have something to work with. I don’t care if it takes ten edits to end up with something good.

Now I have characters I love, and one or two I hate. I have nearly a whole plot worked out.  I started with very vague ideas about what to write, but the act of writing got me going and it snowballed. For the re-write I will do some planning first, using Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. I have his software and like it very much.

Even though publishers get lots of unsolicited NaNoWriMo manuscripts from naieve writers who think a first draft is ready to submit, that doesn’t stop NaNo being a great learning experience.  It is not just about being published. For many people it’s not about that at all. You test yourself out, it’s a race you want to run just to see if you can do it. There are no gold medals, the only rewards are to feel good and celebrate with new friends afterwards.

Success leads to success

NaNoWriMo showed me as much about myself as it did about writing. Someone once told me I take the path of least resistance — he was right, that is my fatal flaw. When the going gets tough I usually stress out and back off. But NaNo showed me I don’t have to do that, and every small success leads to more.

Any good novel takes a lot more effort than writing non-stop for a month, I don’t think many people would argue with that. But you can use NaNoWriMo to your advantage if you are willing to take the risk of writing badly before you write well.

Have you ever entered the NaNoWriMo frenzy?
Leave a comment and tell us about it

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Posted in Editing & proofreading, National Novel Writing Month, Novel writing, Uncategorized, Writing habits, Writing resources | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment