Internally Inspirational

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

40. Where to find inspiration

Ah, inspiration…that elusive elixir of writer-juice. Did I seriously just say “writer-juice”? That is a lack of inspiration right there, if ever there was one.

If there’s one thing that’s as hard to get a grasp on as motivation, it’s inspiration. How many times has a writer sat down in front of a blank piece of paper or an unsullied word processor file and just stared, dumbstruck, unable to produce words? I’d be willing to stake my reputation (such as it is) that for every word that made it on to the page, a hundred went unwritten simply because the writer couldn’t grasp the inspiration required to create.

There’s an old adage that one should “write what you know”. On one hand, I disagree with this concept. If we all only wrote what we “know”, the world of literature would be a pretty boring place, since everything would have to be based on facts and the physical reality of this world. We would never have books about magic and dragons, alien worlds and alternate realities, creatures of the night and immortal gods of the universe. If we write only what we “know” we find ourselves trapped in reality, and while that is fine for some books, it cuts our possibilities by a vast, positively immense number.

On the other hand, writing what we “know” can be excellent inspiration. Look at the world around you. Some of the people we see every day can make excellent characters for our books if we just tweak them a little bit. Look at their habits and mannerisms, their quirks and unique personalities. Some of my favorite characters are based on people I know in real life, and many popular, successful authors have admitted to doing the same.

Similarly, sometimes we only have to look as far as our own pasts to find nuggets of inspiration for our stories. Two years ago for NaNoWriMo I decided to write a supernatural romance (don’t judge me) and was having a difficult time with the setting. I already had an idea of who my characters were going to be and I knew I wanted them to get trapped together, but I was having a hard time with how they would meet and why they would get trapped there. I wanted my idea to be at least marginally original, since much of my story was likely to follow along the lines of the ever-expending world of soft-core vampire porn (what did I say about judging me?!). I thought about it for a while before I came up with a great idea. My female character would work in a paper mill. It was a great idea for several reasons. One: I worked in a paper mill, so I could describe it realistically. Two: I know what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated field, so I could express my character realistically. Three: it gave a believable explanation  for my characters to be trapped there together…see, my male character was a werewolf being hunted by other werewolves, and since a paper mill is rife with the smells of steam, pulp, and chemicals, it’s reasonable to believe that the other werewolves wouldn’t be able to track his scent from there.

Of course, inspiration can come from many other sources: dreams, other forms of media (remember, nothing is truly original anymore), world experience such as traveling, and not to mention good old fashioned research. Inspiration can really be found anywhere if you’re just willing to look for it. But I do truly believe that most of the time all we have to do is look at ourselves, our own lives and experiences, the people and places we’ve known or seen, the things that interest and amuse us. Sit back and think for a minute, and then…write.

Critique Coping

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

20. How to cope with a substantial critique or edit

Reading critiques or edit suggestions must be the worst part of being a writer. I don’t care who you are, no one enjoys being told that there’s something wrong with the thing they’ve spent so much of their time and effort creating. Your initial reaction is always going to be one of defense: “This idiot doesn’t know what they’re talking about! I’m right and they’re wrong, end of discussion!” Even if you’re mature and composed enough to realize that the person giving you the critique has a very good point, part of you will still want to argue, to fight and say that there’s nothing wrong with the way you wrote it.

For myself, the way to deal with a critique is by taking a deep breath, reading it through a couple of times, and trying to see what the reader didn’t say. That is, I put a lot of effort into trying to decide whether the reader is being harsh because they really want to help, or if they’re just being intentionally cruel; whether their ideas have merit, or if they’re letting personal opinions get in the way of sense; whether they genuinely want to help you make the story better, or if they’re just shooting out some generic nonsense to mask the fact that they barely read the story.

The sad fact is that while you can’t have the knee-jerk defensive reaction to critiques, you also can’t accept them as gospel. One thing I learned while hanging out at Critique Circle is that, yes, some readers are knowledgeable people who truly want to help you make your story be the best that it can be, while other people are just going to force their opinions on you under the guise of giving you “advice”. That’s why it’s a good idea to have multiple proof-readers. For example, there is a scene near the beginning of the action in “Nowhere to Hide” in which the main character strips off her pajama top and wraps it around her fist so that she doesn’t hurt herself while breaking a window. When I posted this scene for critique, one reader told me that the whole scene was pointless and “smacked of fetish”. I was hurt and confused when I read that because I didn’t feel that way at all, and I thought the scene made a lot of sense given the situation. I was just beginning to wonder if maybe I was being a little sensitive when half a dozen other critiques came in and almost all of them mentioned how much they loved that particular scene. If I hadn’t gotten those other critiques I may have changed the scene based on one person’s opinion, which would have been foolish.

So in conclusion, take critiques seriously, but not always to heart.

Genre Wars

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

18. If you could write any genre (and it would sell), what would it be?

Fantasy, definitely. No question. I enjoy writing other genres as well (hello, zombies!) but fantasy is definitely the most fun for me. I love being able to do anything I want, create anything I want, and be able to say, “Hey, it’s okay! It doesn’t have to make sense, it’s fantasy!”

I guess that’s a kind of black and white way of looking at it, but let’s put it this way. If I had made the main character in my zombie novel have some kind of supernatural special power or ability, people would scoff and wave it off as ridiculous. Even though we already have an extraordinary premise (the zombies), the story is still set in the “real” world, and the crazy premise is actually one that we can almost believe as being plausible. Even though you know better, the idea of something that’s so ingrained into our storytelling history (monsters and the like) intermingling with the “real” world makes an acceptable level of sense. Superpowers, on the other hand, are pure fantasy and thus don’t have any place in a story where “plausible” things are happening.

Does that make any sense? Oh well, it works in my brain anyway. 😛

Continuing on from that thought process (however flawed it may be), writing fantasy allows you to pretty much do whatever the heck you please. Want a dragon in there? Boom! Dragon! Want your main character to be able to transform into an animal? Bam! Done! Anything your childish imagination can come up with is fair game because, hey, it’s fantasy!