Spontaneous Stories

Sometimes, I have scenes spontaneously appear in my mind that replay consistently throughout the day. I don’t know the characters, I don’t know the story, but a distinct bit of dialogue, a feeling, a circumstance. Now, I’ve written here on my blog before that I don’t believe writing has any magical aspect to it–I still don’t. So, these scenes must sprout from my subconscious.

The thing is, I like making up theoretical situations and having characters act on opposing sides, then seeing where the conversation goes. What can motivate those opinions? What sort of justifications can those characters make up to support their actions?

But I’m not talking about these moments of writing–or rather of thinking. I’m talking about these scenes that spontaneously pop into my head, those which I haven’t purposefully pursued.

Human nature has always fascinated me. In high school, I took all the psychology classes that were offered, and eventually double majored in it with creative writing at university.

Why does anyone do anything? As a writer, that’s a critical question, since a character has to be motivated, even if it’s a basic desire, such as hunger. I guess my curiosity branched from myself, then outward.

But still, these scenes that come unprovoked. Are these questions that I’m too afraid to approach head-on? The goal to these isn’t to find an answer, but to explore motivation. So then, are these the unjustifiable motivations that irk me?

I don’t know. All I know is that these unprompted scenes are the ones that tend to stick with me and demand to be written, and I listen.

What about other writers out there? Have you ever had a similar experience with scenes coming unbidden?

-Rachael

Keep On Keeping On

How do you handle the demand for the sequel to your first novel?

This is something that I’ve been dealing with for the past couple months since Premonition released in early March. The day after the book came out, I had someone ask me, “Where’s book two?” It sent a shock down my whole body. “Are you kidding me?” was what I thought, but didn’t say. Do you know how much time and effort and energy and life’s blood I put into this first one? Do you know how many years it’s taken me to get the first one out? Do you know how much money I’ve spent? Eventually, my brain started working and I laughed and said, “Soon!” (Because slapping people isn’t really socially acceptable.)

It isn’t that I’m ungrateful to the people who enjoyed the first book. It isn’t that I’m conceited or arrogant. Let me explain . . .

When I tell people I’m a writer, there’s typically only two kinds of reactions. The first one is, “Yeah, but what’s your REAL job?” And the second one is, “Who’s your publisher? Your agent?” (Another common one is, “Oh, give me a copy of your book!”) It’s either people take being a writer too lightly or they take the accomplishments I have made too lightly because I’m not going about it in the “traditional” way. Let me tell you something that may blow your mind:

Writing is not easy.

Let me add to that:

Especially when you self-publish.

But regardless of whether you have a publisher/agent or not, writing is not easy. It isn’t. Writing is time consuming, delicate and intricate work. It takes thoughtful planning and editing, sometimes complete rewrites. Writing is not just a hobby or something you like to do. It’s a passion–a need. And because it’s beloved, you want it to be the best that it can be. So, you struggle to tame every chapter, scene, paragraph, and line just to your liking, to your characters’ needs, to your own wants. You break hearts, but mostly, you break your own.

Now, I know this sounds dramatic, and I am being a *little* hyperbolic, but also, I’m not. The saying, “Anyone can write,” is true enough. But not every writer can make their reader root for their main character, cry with them, laugh with them, feel defeated when they fail or accomplishment when they succeed. It takes a wordsmith and a plotter. It takes psychological acuity. And that, my friends, takes damn hard work.

So, the next book is coming, yes, but be kind to me! It’s like that iceberg meme. There’s a lot of work under the surface that the reader never sees the writer do. It’s like magic that way. The writer is the magician, showing the crowd her latest trick that’s taken months–maybe years–to master. You show the crowd, and they are impressed with it, but then you have that one kid in the front who says, “Another! Another!” And you, the magician, want nothing more than to please the crowd with another trick, but you don’t have one because you spent all your time mastering the first one. You have to say, “Kid, this is all I’ve got.”

Maybe our fast culture and shrunken attention span is to blame for people wanting more all the time and never being satisfied, but for me, I want to create quality work that I’m proud of, so I won’t be pressured to release something that is half-baked. Not just for my own sake, but for my readers’ sake, too. I want you to read a good story, so please, let me create one for you. With time.

Any other writers out there dealing with the pressure of releasing a sequel? How do you handle it?

-Rachael

Article Writing: Advice on what to do when you’re uninspired

Recently, I had a reader of my blog ask me for advice on writing articles, specifically, how to stay focused and keep the words flowing. So this one is for you, Josette!

I remember back in college, I took a class called “Article and Essay Technique,” which I will draw on here. I’ve never been a writer who was particularly drawn toward journalism. (Too much research, and I hate the idea of interviewing strangers, ha!) I did, however, thoroughly enjoy writing personal essays. I loved creating stories that were based in memory and exploring the line between fact and fiction.

Since I don’t have a ton of experience writing articles, I’m going to approach this as I would when I can’t seem to get anything out on the page with my WIPs (works in progress). So, in no particular order, here’s my advice:

  • Step away from your computer, or put down your pen, and just forget about it. As irrational as this may sound, giving the creative side of my brain a break actually lets me come back refreshed and energized. I find that, subconsciously, my creative brain is still working, even when I’m not writing. Don’t feel guilty about spending a couple hours doing something unrelated to whatever you’re working on. Who knows where your inspiration may come from?
  • Change your scenery. Take your laptop to a cafe for a few hours or simply go to a different room in your house. Getting a different perspective may just spark your brain (or trick your brain) into writing anew.
  • Listen to music. I LOVE to listen to music when I write. I love it so much, it’s getting to the point where I CAN’T write unless I’ve got my favorite tunes playing.
  • Give yourself limits. Challenge yourself with writing sprints. Set a timer and write for that specific amount of time without judgement. Sometimes, writing around your topic helps you get to the meat. You’ve got to first get through the skin, muscle, and bone before you can see the marrow.
  • Outline. I’m guilty of nearly never outlining my WIPs, so this one I’m sticking in here only because I think for article writing it might help you get back to what’s important.
  • Be kind to yourself. Your first draft is going to suck. Accept it. Write what NEEDS to be written, then add in the magic later.
  • Reward yourself. Set goals and reach them. If you plan on writing a thousand words a day, give yourself a reward that’s equal to the effort. Maybe it’s something simple, like, “If I write a thousand words, I’m going to take an hour nap.” Or, “If I write a thousand words, I’m going to buy my favorite author’s new book on Amazon.” But if it’s feasible (and reasonable) maybe it’s more complex, “If I write a thousand words, I’m going to book a weekend getaway.” Decide for yourself what would satisfy.

This list is NOT exhaustive. But I hope it’s a good start! Let me know if you try one how it works out for you!

Have a writing question you want answered? Comment below (or contact me via email or social media) and I’ll do my best!

Happy writing!

-Rachael

“How do you write a story?”

“How do you write a story?” “Where does your inspiration come from?” I’m asked various versions of these questions anytime I tell someone that I’m a writer. Well, where does a writer get the inspiration for a story (whether it be a short story or novel or poem)?

This is how it happens: the writer goes to a quiet place and pleads to the muses…

NOT! Ha! Ha!

The truth lies somewhere in the middle: writing is both magical and ordinary. While we don’t have to make sacrifices to the muses, sometimes inspiration does come spontaneously—but sometimes, it doesn’t. One of the greatest arenas for potential inspiration is in the writer’s own life, the lives of others, or prompts. A great exercise when I’m feeling a little lost in a story is to take a random word and write for five or ten minutes on that word. Whatever comes to mind—no crossing anything out (or backspacing)!

So, how does the story process begin? Normally for me, I have an immediate image of a character and a scene. I have an idea of who the character is and what the situation is, but often I don’t know the particulars, like the main story arc or the character’s back story—those come once I start writing in earnest. See, a story doesn’t always start at the beginning. Sometimes, you start in the middle—or even at the end!

The most important part is to write the initial scene as quickly as you can. Don’t get caught up in the immediate barrage of unknowns. If I’m not sure about a particular detail, say, the main character’s name, then I put that in caps and fill it in later. Or, just write (or type) BLAH BLAH and move on to the part of the scene that you do know! Once I’ve got that initial scene written, then I read through and write all the questions, usually on a big legal pad, that immediately pop up. Questions will vary depending on how detailed the scene and how filled out the character is, but some of the questions may sound like:  

-Where is my character going? Why are they here? What brought my character here?

-What does my character ultimately desire? What motivates them? What is unique about my character?

-Who is coming along on this journey? Who are their antagonists? Who/what is the villain?

And…you might not have the answer right away for some of these—that’s okay.

You have a character and context; you’re on the precipice of something big! This is where the story begins.

This is also where my first blog series begins. Characters and Plots(—yes, I capitalized plots on purpose here). For me, the two are inseparable, but for the purpose of this blog series I will be separating them as best I can.

Topics I’d like to discuss:

Characters:

Flat v Round

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary characters

Traits (strengths and flaws)

Physical Appearance and Naming

Likability

Disabilities/Mental Illness

And more!

Plot:

Mechanics

Subplots

Ends

Series

Hero/Heroine’s journey

3 Ball Juggling Act

And more!

I will tag these posts as I write them, so at the end there can be an easy way to search for whatever it is you are looking for.

I hope you follow along and I welcome suggests for other topics or questions!