Monday, September 16, 2019

Finding Inspiration for Writing

Right now, here in western Oregon, there is a light rain falling. It'll rain for days -- a prelude to the coming winter months (which I call "the rainy season", which takes up at least a third of the year here). Though I like summer for its outdoor activities, I like the rain. It stimulates the writer in me. The pitter-pat of drops on the roof somehow activates my creative side (not to mention that I am no longer drawn toward outdoor distractions). I also keep a Pinterest site with images I find inspirational for creating my Strange Worlds (see them HERE, and please follow!).

The other day I ran a Twitter poll, trying to get an idea of where writers find inspiration for their writing.  Here's the poll and its results:

Of those options, clearly music was number one. This was surprising to me. Quite often I hear writers saying that they need complete silence to do their writing. I know I can't write when I'm listening to music. But not everyone is the same, of course.

But sometimes I, too, like to listen to music BEFORE writing, to put me in a particular mood. Something adventurous for fantasy, for instance, or techno before writing sci fi. Often I tend to associate one particular song with one book, but the funny thing is that it usually isn't anything you'd associate with the plot or even the genre. For instance, for the fantasy novel I'm currently querying, White Lands Dragon, I often listened to R.E.M.'s "Texarkana" (it makes me think of eons of time). For my first fantasy novel, Chronicles of a Warrior: Death's Foreplay, I would listen to Marilyn Manson's "Disposable Teens" (probably because the main character is a teen boy who is being used as a spy, and angry about it). Neither of these songs is Medieval-sounding in the slightest, so you wouldn't think they'd work for fantasy books, but I'll take inspiration where I can find it.

The web is full of pages of how to get inspired for writing, so I'm not going to go into it all. But there's some good stuff there. For instance, THIS PAGE about how 50 well-known writers find inspiration, or THIS PAGE which has some ... unusual ... advice (99, to be exact). And, of course, there's a WikiHow page (isn't there for every process?).

But because writing is an art, and the artistic mind is unique to each person and each project, there are infinite sources of inspiration. And we "creatives" have a lot of equally creative ways to inspire ourselves.

What inspires you to create? Please leave a comment....

Cheers and happy reading!

Monday, August 26, 2019

Writing is in my blood

One question that writers sometimes get is: "Where do you think your love of writing comes from?"

I think a passionate writer might reply, "Where do you think your love of breathing comes from?" For me, writing isn't a silly little hobby to while away the still moments. I don't do it to humor anyone. No one makes me do it. And though I hope to make a living from it one day soon (and quit my day job!), I would still continue writing even if I had no hope of ever making a dollar from it. I HAVE to write, like any other devoted creator or artist (If you have a writer or artist close to you, this is an important thing for you to realize!). One way or another, I have always found an outlet for it. I published my first poem in the local paper in first grade, and wrote my first fiction story at age 10. 

Even so, I could also answer, "Writing is in my blood." You see, I come from a couple generations of writers. 
Books by my mom (now Bobbie Taylor)
and dad (Ray Kilgore)

My father, Albert Ray Kilgore (he went by "Ray"), spent his life studying philosophy. Though he died in a plane crash when I was three years old, he had written a book, The Fire of Heracleitus, which my mother self-published for him just after he died. This relatively short book follows a character, named Heracleitus, as he first renounces the world he knew and retreats to a mountain cave to probe his own mind in solitude. Then, upon reaching an enlightened state, he goes back to his people to share his enlightenment. Interspersed with poetry, the philosophies are part Pyrrhonistic observations of the the changing world, the death and rebirth of both your sense of self and the world around you into something better, and part Libertarian virtues about improving oneself without interference from those who would put up obstacles to it. I have to admit, having only studied the basics of philosophy in college, a lot of it surely goes over my head. As my Dad wrote in the preface page, "This little book, written during the winter of 1959, incorporates most of the philosophical ideas of my youth." He also published several magazine articles on flying and about a Western ghost town.

My mother, Bobbie Taylor, is also a writer. Throughout her life she has loved New Age philosophies and alternative explanations for the world. When I was a late teen, she was laid off from her career in banking. To make ends meet for a while, she pursued self-employment in digging and wholesale selling of quartz crystals (we lived in Arkansas at the time, where quartz crystals are mined). But she didn't feel they were just pretty semi-precious stones. She believes that quartz crystals and other such gemstones hold special properties. So she wrote and self-published an 11-page booklet entitled Crystal - The New Frontier about those special properties. In her words, from the forward in the book, "crystal is a tool we may use to amplify and focus our own mental and spiritual abilities." She also published a bit of poetry and a couple magazine articles on crystals and recipes.

Along the same New Age line of thinking, my mother has also believed that the prophesies of Nostradamus hold important information, if only they could be correctly interpreted and ordered. It took a couple decades of her working at it and studying Nostradamus's quatrains, but in 2004 she wrote up what she had learned and self-published, online, a book entitled, Nostradamus and His Prophecy Puzzle, It's Never Been Solved. If the topic interests you, and you think you might be able to build upon her findings to finish decoding his riddles, I invite you to download her book for free online HERE.

And then there's my maternal grandmother, Verna Lee Hinegardner. Grandma was a poet. In her lifetime she published 13 poetry books and chapbooks, some of which can be found for sale, used, on Amazon, and had her poetry included in many poetry anthologies. She was named by then-Governor Bill Clinton to the post of Poet Laureate of Arkansas, in 1991, which was supposed to be a lifetime post (though Governor Huckabee broke that tradition by naming another, much more Conservative poet to the position in 2003 over the objections of Arkansas poetry societies). Grandma served all sorts of positions with national and Arkansas state poetry societies. She invented a poetry form called the "minute" form. She won many, many awards, including being inducted into the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame in 1991, and a $25K family reunion in 1985. And for 22 years she published a weekly poetry section, called "Kaleidoscope," in the local newspaper (the Sentinel-Record). One of her proudest accomplishments was that she delighted in judging poetry contests for children for over two decades. 
Thirteen poetry books and chapbooks
by my grandma, Verna Lee Hinegardner.

My Grandma inspires me not just from her accomplishments, but because of the obstacles she overcame. She had severe rheumatoid arthritis which caused a lot of pain. By the time I was in college, my Grandma's hands were gnarled looking with large knuckles, bruising, and swelling. It hurt for her to type, and handwriting was even harder. But even worse than this, she went through a series of serious strokes that nearly killed her, and she lost the ability to read! But against all odds, she taught herself to read again and continued writing poetry, publishing books, and both entering and judging contests. It was incredible. When times are bad for me and it's difficult to write, I just think about the inspiration of my Grandma, and then it doesn't seem so hard.

Not long before she passed away, Grandma was interviewed by a local paper, when she was 92 years old. My goal is simple,” she said. “I want to write poetry that is easy to understand and hard to forget.” And it was. Her poetry didn't mess around with highly experimental forms or delve deep into symbolism. It wasn't esoteric. You didn't leave her verses scratching your head and wondering what the hell she meant. No, her poetry was mainly about family, living in the South, and old-fashioned values. Most of it was warm. Much of it was funny. And all of it reverberated with her. HERE is a video of Grandma, from that interview, reading a spoof she wrote of one of Robert Frost's famous poems:

What about you? Does writing run in your family? Please leave a comment, below!

Cheers and happy reading!

Monday, August 19, 2019

Poll Results: What pet do writers like most?

Last weekend I ran a poll on Twitter. I honestly wondered if writers were more likely to like cats or dogs, or other things.
"Rocket" helping author
D.M. Cain with her

I posted it in the evening and didn't think much more about it.

The next day, I was doing my weekly Saturday morning coffee shop writing session and opened up Twitter during a break. Imagine my surprise when there were 850 votes and counting! By the time the poll closed on Sunday evening (I had set it for two days), there were a whopping 1,687 votes!

The result? See below. Cats won, but only by 8% over dogs, 47 to 39%.

It's fun to read through the replies. See it HERE. Lots of writers shared pics of their furry (or feathered, or scaled) friends.

This poll was international, but here in the United States, at least, households have 30.4% cats and 36.5% dogs (source). So it would seem that authors DO prefer cats, particularly compared to the typical ownership her in the U.S.!

What kind of pet(s) do you have? Please leave a comment, below.

Cheers and happy reading!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

"The Day I Shrunk!!"

Yesterday I was going through a scrapbook that my mom put together of memorabilia of my childhood. Good ol' Mom!

And there, on the 17th page of the scrapbook, I beheld what might very well have been my first real fiction story. Science fiction, no less.
Page 1 of "The Day I Shrunk!!"

It is entitled "The Day I Shrunk!!" I wrote it at age 9.

Written in pencil and cursive (really??), it spans three pages, and each page is labeled as a different chapter.

This sci fi tale of daring relates the exploits of a "science produkter" (a scientist?) named John "looking at science products" in a lab with other scientists. Then one day, when he "put some kind of pink stuff in a glass of hot water," a pink cloud suddenly formed over his head and started "raining some kind of crestal". The crystals made him shrink until he was only an inch high.

For some reason a hungry cat named Nibbles was in the lab and chased poor John into a tin can, which was apparently open and on the floor of the lab. After the cat fell asleep, John sneaked out, then ate some food crumbs, then hitched a ride in someone's pocket. But he got stuck in the pocket strings, was carried out of the lab, and had to cut himself free with his trusty pocketknife.

John managed to find his way back to the lab and found a "potion" on the floor. "Since he was a scientist he drank it and grew back to his own size." The End (I wrote with a fluorish).

The really remarkable thing about this story is that I DID eventually grow up to be a scientist making products in a lab (I've made a career as a cell biologist and microscopist and have worked for 20 years in biotech inventing and developing reagents used by scientists all over the world and helping them use them). Sadly, I've never invented a shrinking formula. Based on this story, I'd say that's probably a good thing!

Writers: what's the first story you remember writing? Please leave a comment!

Cheers and happy reading!

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Critiquing Tips - Receiving Critiques

Recently I posted about my awesome writer's group, the Village Peeps, and about how useful they are for improving my writing.

Every writer's group is different in how they operate, but we have a model that we feel is very successful. It's important to have some ground rules to insure that the critiques are most useful and respectful, from both the critiquers and those being critiqued.

Here are our guidelines for you as the one receiving critiques:
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  • When you hand out the piece, set the critiquers' expectations, such as by telling if it is an early draft or a later revision, if it is a complete piece or if it is an ongoing work, and who the intended audience is. You may even wish for the piece to be read aloud. If the piece is very short (maybe only 1-3 pages), then the group may wish to do it in that session. Otherwise, it may be passed out for feedback in the next meeting.
  • Make sure everyone in the group gets a copy of the manuscript to be critiqued. It is most respectful to hand out the pieces in person, if possible, but email is okay if the critiquer doesn't object to having to print a copy themselves.
  • Be humble and respectful. Everyone has a different point of view, and there are times when the different critiquers will differ a lot. Remember, it is your piece, and only you have the final say on how the piece is written or know where you are going with it.
  • Take a vow of silence, no matter how tempting it may be to try to explain why you agree or disagree with a critique. 
  • Take notes as you receive critiques and listen respectfully to all comments.
  • Be aware of visible reactions to your writing. Does it bring out passionate responses from critiquers?
  • By the end, have a feeling for whether your manuscript is appropriate for its intended audience. What are its strengths or weaknesses? Did you hear specific suggestions for improvement?
  • Once everyone has had a chance to critique, it is now your turn to ask clarifying questions. This is NOT a chance to try to explain why you disagree with critiques.
See my previous post for guidelines for as you as the critiquer.

Cheers and happy reading!

Critiquing Tips - Giving Critiques

Recently I posted about my awesome writer's group, the Village Peeps, and about how useful they are for improving my writing.
Every writer's group is different in how they operate, but we have a model that we feel is very successful. It's important to have some ground rules to insure that the critiques are most useful and respectful, from both the critiquers and those being critiqued.

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Here are our guidelines for you as the critiquer:

  • One person in the group should act as a "facilitator" to determine whose turn it is to give feedback. That person will also be the last one to give feedback to the writer and to make sure critiquers stay within the guidelines.
  • Be humble and respectful. You are just one point of view.
  • If you are the first critiquer, always begin with a positive comment. It sets a positive mood and helps minds open.
  • It's a good idea to reflect what you feel is the main idea of the piece, particularly if you are the first critiquer.
  • Avoid telling how you would handle a writing problem; it's up to the author to do the actual fixing and writing.
  • Keep comments relevant to writing and avoid getting personal in your responses. For instance, avoid questions like, "Did that really happen?" or statements like "I had an aunt who was just like that character." What you probably mean is "That plot twist seemed implausible to me," or "When Matilda gritted her teeth, she came to life for me." Be more concerned with effectiveness -- how it was written.
  • Be as specific as possible. "It's really good" is useless; "It's really lame" is damaging, and neither comment helps the writer revise. For instance, instead of saying "Your description of the cat was good," comment on where and how it was good, such as "When you describe the cat entering the room, I could tell it was a Persian without you saying so."
  • State your comment one time only and be brief. If the writer needs elaboration, then can ask for it when it is their turn to talk.
  • Write down your critiques on the manuscript, not just relying on the writer to take a note.
  • Try not to re-state what others have already commented on. You can "pass" if everyone has already said what you would say.
  • Do not comment on other critiquers' comments or belittle them. They are entitled to their opinions.
  • "Line editing" (such as correcting commas or grammar) can be helpful, but try to focus more on the bigger issues.
  • If you receive the piece to be critiqued for the next meeting, but cannot attend in person, then make sure to return the critiqued piece as soon as reasonably possible.

See my following post for guidelines for you as the one receiving critiques.

Cheers and happy reading!

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