Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fire Starters

Here are a few ideas to get the creative juices flowing. Choose one or do them all. Set your clock for 10 minutes and just go. Be free. Don't think about it, just write. You will be amazed at what you can do.

These ideas are taken from The Writer's Block by Jason Rekulak.

Invent a character who has won 76 million dollars in the Florida State Lottery. What's the first thing they buy? How much do they give to charity? How long before an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend re-enters their lives?

Begin a story with a character getting dressed. Be sure to note sizes, designer labels, and any holes or stains in the fabric. A person's choice of clothing will reveal worlds about their motivation, how they perceive themselves, how they want to be perceived by others and more.

Describe the most boring job you've ever had to suffer through.

Write about a parent trying to explain the facts of life to his or her child.

Were these exercises helpful? Are there other exercises that have been helpful that you would like to share?

Monday, February 23, 2009

How to Say Something without Saying It

I started perusing this book review to see if I'd like to buy the book, but the review itself turned out to be a treasure of its own. In it, Brandon Barr points out in excerpts how the author tells the reader without writing too much.
Overstreet keeps to the action in the paragraph. He could have easily stopped at several points and dallied over some distraction...for instance...

Inside the well a rope is bound to an iron ring. She seizes it and feels resistance. Persisting, she pulls until a sturdy bucket appears.

Let's look at what he DIDN'T do:

Inside the beautiful well a rope is bound to an iron ring. Her eyes narrow on the familiar object. She seizes it and feels resistance. "There's something down there!" she says aloud and smiles. Persisting, she pulls with all her strength until a sturdy bucket appears.
I know I have a tendency to write like the second example, but I'm struck by how much more powerful the simpler version is.

Brandon goes into two more examples, one on setting and another on character development. It's a fascinating study on how to let fewer words tell the greater story.


There are times I certainly struggle with being inspired for my writing. I can't seem to figure out what to write, so I write nothing. This holds for my blog more than anything else. Well, it was nice to read how Jack London (White Fang) dealt with inspiration. Below are a couple quotes from the article:
"To write — and make a living — the way London did, there just isn’t the possibility of waiting around for inspiration to strike. The same holds true in other fields. When we’re in need of inspiration for any project, we have to be prepared to go find it."
"Nice as inspiration is, there are always projects where we just don’t have the time to find inspiration. While inspiration can make the work go faster, though, it’s not always necessary: sometimes just sitting down and putting together an uninspired project is the best option."
Where do you go hunting for inspiration? I get some of my inspiration from the online blogs I subscribe to, or news articles that come across my virtual desk. What do you do when you go looking for inspiration but come back empty-handed? For the most part, I don't write, but I'm getting better at either going to revise an earlier work, or simply writing to get something down on paper, and worry about making it "inspired" later.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Art of Critiquing

Last Thursday, someone asked about critiquing - how exactly do we do it? Are we getting bogged down in too much detail? What should we be looking for? So, I did a little digging and I came up with quite a few gems.

The following thoughts and direct quotes are taken from Writing Alone, Writing Together: A Guide for Writers and Writing Groups by Judy Reeves.

When critiquing a piece:

"The piece in question...is what the exchange is about, not what the writer intended to write or how much the critiquer knows. It isn't about the writer's skill. The dialogue concerns only what is on the page and how well it meets its mark or, if it doesn't, where, specifically, it veers off course."

"We don't teach anybody anything by being cruel to them or through disrespecting their work."

"This is not to say that critique, honestly and objectively and kindly given, doesn't hurt sometimes. We writers are a sensitive bunch, how else could we do what we do?"

"No matter how long we've been writing, when we tell the truth on the page, we have exposed ourselves and made ourselves vulnerable. You can't do one without the other. So when someone tells us something isn't working, or wasn't as effective as we thought, or goes off the mark, it is as natural as tears to wince a little at the bruising."

"Every now and again, someone takes up time picking one of those nits of spelling or the use of a cliche, or a line edit. But ideally those things are simply noted on the manuscript and discussion is devoted to larger issues."

How to Critique:

Be honest, objective, and kind. Tell how the piece affects you as a reader.

Respond only to the work being read, not the writer's previous work, the writer herself, her hairdo, or the company she keeps.

Critique the elements of the craft, not the content. The writer is the only one who can say what he wants to write about, and ideally, he will write about what matters to him, what he is passionate about.

Be specific in your comments.

Move away from your personal opinions of like/don't like to what works in the writing and what doesn't work.

What to Critique:

Point of View
Compelling or Predictable/Fresh or Trite

"Keep your critique to what's on the page. Critique the elements of the craft, not the content. Be specific. Be honest, objective, and kind."

If there are any words on this list that you are unfamiliar with, make sure to look them up and become familiar with them. As writers, we are responsible to educate ourselves about our craft.

One last thing, before you submit a piece for critique, please make sure that you have gone over it yourself at least once.

Are there any questions? Comments?


Here is a list of books that I love:

Writing Down the Bones - by Natalie Goldberg

Wild Mind: A Writer’s Workbook - by Natalie Goldberg

The Soul Tells A Story: Engaging Creativity With Spirituality In The Writing Life – by Vinita Hampton Wright

The Courage to Write – by Ralph Keyes

Bird by Bird – by Anne Lamott

The Elements of Style, Fourth Edition - by William Strunk Jr

The Heart of the Artist – by Rory Noland

Don’t Forget to Write – by The 6’ Ferret Writers’ Group

The Playful Way to Serious Writing – by Roberta Allen

Christian Writers’ Market Guide – by Sally Stuart

Write His Answer – by Marlene Bagnull

Any other helpful resources out there?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Talent to Write

The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.' 'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied.
-- Jesus (Luke 19:16-17a)
What struck me tonight about this passage--and the other one like it in Matthew 25--is the proportion of the "money" that was earned in comparison to what was given. In this version, the master gives one mina, and the servant earns ten more. So, the master supplies only 9% of the final value. Now, a mina isn't a piddly amount; it's three months wages, a quarter of your annual income. There's no way any sort of investment could be made without that initial gift. But still, most of the end result, though accomplished through the master's gift, really comes down to the hard work of the servant earning it.

I came across a blog entry a while ago and saved it, mainly for these two quotes:
  • The ability to write well is not a gift.
  • Writing well is not a gift reserved for the few but a set of skills that can be learned by anyone.
I do happen to believe (based on the Scripture above) that the ability to write is a gift, and that certain people are specifically called by God to write. And yet, the call to invest that initial deposit is what produces the ability to write well. It is a skill that can be learned and improved through practice and study.

My role may not be to be the next Shakespeare (or Asimov, or even Ingermanson), but I am called to write. However much God has invested in me, I am responsible for turning it into much more, for His glory. I must accept that this writing is more than a hobby, it is a ministry as holy as missionary or preacher, for it is what He has purposed me to do.

What do you think about this? Do you feel that a calling has been placed on your life to write? What's your reaction to the one mina invested/ten minas earned parable?