Monday, April 25, 2011

How I Write: On Inspiration and Perseverance

Vintage Pink Olympia DeLuxe @ Brooklyn Retro

The other day, I had a comment with a question from Jamie, and I thought I'd it share it here:

I have dappled in fiction writing a little bit over the last few years but I have a hard time developing an original idea, sticking with it, and turning it into a legitimate work in progress.

I was wondering if you could share how you find inspiration for the main ideas for your books and how you continue to enhance those ideas over the course of multiple years.


That's a great question, Jamie, and I'm going to answer it in two parts - how I find my ideas and develop them and how I turn those ideas into a legitimate WIP (work in progress).

First, I have to say, the more writing friends I meet, the more I learn that everyone writes differently! Some plan their books in detail, some fly by the seat of their pants while they write (I plan much more than I pants). So if you're interested in writing, and haven't already started, keep in mind that what works for me, might not work for you AT ALL! I'm just sharing.

1.) How I find my ideas and develop them.

I'm going to go ahead and admit that finding ideas and inspiration has never been a problem for me. When I'm bored or need a break from thinking about a project I'm stuck on, I pass the time by challenging myself to come up with ideas based on things I'm interested in learning more about. That's in addition to the ideas that fly at me when I least expect them to.

If you're really stuck on the finding of ideas, try this game which I used to play for fun in high school:

Pick a non-fiction book with lots of random information (I like using encyclopedias or dictionaries for this). Grab a pen and paper and open the book to pages at random and write down at least one thing that mildly (or totally) interests you, and a couple notes on it - just a couple! Do this about 12-15 more times until you have a bunch of random stuff on a page that all interest you.


Do any of them inspire you to learn more about them? Do they remind you of other things you love that you might want to learn more about? If so, write down those notes, too. Can you make connections between any of these items? Even randomly weird connections that might turn into plot, setting, or interesting characters? If so, take what is useful to you from this exercise and stick it in a notebook in case you want to develop it further.


Every time I have a potential story idea, I write it down. I'm a notebook junkie so I have spare notebooks everywhere (at back-to-school season, you can usually grab coiled notebooks from places like Office Max for as little as $.12 a book!) and for each idea that I want to develop further - not necessarily to write a book, but to at least see if I want to write it - I give it it's own notebook.

If I'm already working on a project, I only spend an hour here and there over the course of a few months, or even years, writing down small ideas and inspirations along the way - usually in the form of songs or poems that mesh with the characters or tone of the story, so I can recall them when I am ready to work. Also, if characters pop into my head, or dialogue or subplot ideas, I have a place to put them before I forget.

Shiny new ideas are shiny! But if you are already working on a project, don't set it aside! Finish it first and then take on those shiny new ideas.

The most important thing about finding ideas and writing about them is that you write for YOU. My next project, which I'll begin in November for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) combines my interest in the French Revolution and the ethics of cloning, with this as my theme song (picked as inspiration for tone and pace):



Do I think anyone else will give two hoots about a book like this?

Well, I hope so, but if not, that's okay - I'm so excited to write it that the idea of waiting until November to begin is brutal. Don't be afraid to tell the story you are insanely excited to tell regardless of whether you think it will be marketable. If I worried overmuch about the marketability of of my stories, I'd be too timid to write them!

2.) How I turn my ideas into a legitimate WIP

If you haven't guessed that outlining is important to me, I'll just go ahead and tell you: OUTLINING IS IMPORTANT TO ME.

That doesn't mean I fence myself in with an outline. Oh no, I certainly don't. If I did, the end of my fairy tale WIP would be drastically different because of a character relationship I changed halfway though the first draft (and frankly, that original end would have sucked).

I outline because I need to know the beginning, the middle (including several scenes I am excited to write), and the end. I need to have something I am excited to work toward or else I struggle to find the motivation to get me there!

If you are a pantser, outlining might hold you up. If you aren't sure what you are, grab a few books on writing craft and experiment! I only know my process because I've taken the time to figure it out.

Only after I have outlined and researched until I've reached the point where waiting even one more hour before sitting down to begin my story is too excruciating to handle, I open up my word doc and write.

And that brings me to the number one most important piece of advice when it comes to writing:

WRITE.

There are days when I love my book and my words flow and the sky is blue and the birds sing, and sitting in my chair and working is fun and easy and my book loves me and there are rainbows and sparkles! You guys, I love sparkles!!

There are days when I hate my book and my words won't come and the sky is dark and hateful and the only bird around is a mocking bird and it's ME he's mocking, that little bastard! There are no rainbows and definitely no sparkles. Writing is hard, yo.

But I stick my bum in that chair anyway and I write. And I also delete. And smash my head against the keyboard like that guy from Sesame Street who bangs his head against his piano. I stare at the wall. I cry because I'm frustrated and I always cry when I'm frustrated. I also eat lots of carbohydrates and then hate myself for being a stress-eater. But still I write.

So many people say they want to write a book more than anything but they don't have the time...

Guess what? Me neither! Therefore, I sacrifice in order to have that time. Because being a writer is important to me, I know that in order to be successful, I have to write when I want to, but most importantly, when I don't want to. I have to write when there are better things to do. When it's an awesome TV night. When my muse is being a jerk. When I should be folding the laundry. When my hubs and daughters are at the movie theater watching Gnomeo and Juliet, which I really want to see, but which if I don't see, I'll have two hours to write without interruptions!

Only by writing will you see those shiny ideas to completion!

This post is long, but hopefully helpful?

Happy Monday, folks! Hope you have an excellent week!

xoxo,

9 comments:

AlyGatr said...

So I started to comment and then my PC rebooted itself and now it's an hour later and I realized I never finished my comment :) You already know you and I are different writers. I'm more a pantser than an outliner. With new shiny ideas, I have to move on them because if they lose their shine, I lose my mojo and quit on the story. I also have to finish something completely before I move on, but that's just me. I'm one of those "inspiration needs to hit me upside the head" people too because the more I think on something the more I overthink and then I hate what I wrote.

BUT, you have me beat out in the long form department, so yeah...I need to get cranking on something with heft to it!

Marisa Hopkins said...

Um. Alyssa. You're my alpha reader. You know more than ANYONE how much I hate what I write. But butt in chair is the only way to write a book, even if that inspiration isn't hitting you upside the head in that particular moment!

Don't lose your mojo and quit! Instead, sit in your chair and write anyway!

(yes, I'm pushy, but you're my friend, so that's okay)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Great post! And yes, your advice is right on the money: Everybody's process is different. Outlining rarely works for me. Even when I do it, I rarely stick to it.

Sometimes I don't even find the real story until after the first draft is finished. Then I see where I missed the boat -- and I hop on one of those Skidoo things (metaphorically) and go chasing after that thing!

Revision is the most important part of the writing for me. My first drafts stink. (My poor Alpha readers! How they suffer!)

Kelly said...

Great info on how you write, Marisa!
I also have a plethra of ideas and have so many spiral notebooks. I use a sparse outline so I now where to go but I pants at most of the scenes.

A. McBay said...

Great post, Marisa! Just what I needed this Monday! A good "get your butt in the chair" pep talk. I have a bad habit of putting my WIP down when the going gets tough, scared of writing something terrible. It's a horrible habit I'm working on breaking. Though I'm a pantser, I recently got a book that recommends a smaller simpler outline than the ones I have seen. This allows the writer the freedom to be a pantser, while still giving them the goals to work toward. Maybe this will get me back in line.

Jamie Gregory said...

Awesome post Marisa!! Thanks so much for taking the time to specifically address my comment/question!

You have given me a lot to think about. I really like your suggestions for finding inspiration and tracking ideas in notebooks.

In the past I think I've tried using the "pants" method of writing which has involved me sitting and staring at my blank word doc, trying to pluck an idea for a story out of thin air, and then trying to write the story with no clear plan of where I'm heading.

You've helped me realize that I'm probably definitely more of a "plan and outline" type of writer. In other aspects of my life I like to be organized and follow routines so I think this method would work better for me.

Thanks again so much for the advice!

A. McBay: What book have you been reading? It sounds interesting (if you don't mind sharing).

Melissa said...

Great post Marisa! I thought this part was exceptionally important and worth reiterating:

"So many people say they want to write a book more than anything but they don't have the time...

Guess what? Me neither! Therefore, I sacrifice in order to have that time. Because being a writer is important to me, I know that in order to be successful, I have to write when I want to, but most importantly, when I don't want to. I have to write when there are better things to do. When it's an awesome TV night. When my muse is being a jerk. When I should be folding the laundry. When my hubs and daughters are at the movie theater watching Gnomeo and Juliet, which I really want to see, but which if I don't see, I'll have two hours to write without interruptions!"

Cold As Heaven said...

Good suggestions. In particular, i liked the random book idea >:)

Cold As Heaven

Dean from Australia said...

I sometimes compare writing to pulling my big toenail out with a pair of pliers and washing my toe in pure alcohol.

Then sometimes it is like a glass of fine red wine that is just smooth and rolls beautifully off the palate without effort or complication.

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