Inspiration for Writers

I just finished an amazing course in picture book writing from the Picture Book Academy. It was both informative and inspirational.

Every artist and writer needs an inspiration boost sometimes. Here’s a list of resources to keep handy. I’ve used most of them at one time or another and am looking forward to checking out others I haven’t tried.

If your favorite book, podcast, or video isn’t listed, please share it in the comments!

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A Shaky Reading

On Sunday afternoon I went to a poetry reading. When I stood up to do my thing, Both my voice and knees began to shake.

What was going on? I performed as a storyteller every day in the school library for seven years. Then I remembered. That was thirty years, almost a lifetime, ago.

We all live so many lives. (I know if I walked up to my younger self, I’d scare the pants off her.)

The poem I botched on Sunday was from a sequence of dramatic monologues I wrote when we were living in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Yes, LA does have distinct neighborhoods. I’ll tell you more about them another time.)

I composed the piece in the late eighties or early nineties for a group of actors who teamed up with the Arroyo Arts Collective to do cold readings of local authors’ poems, short stories, and novel excerpts. The title was “The Marriage Bed.”

Mostly invented, the sequence drew on things that happened even earlier in my life, in the mid-sixties.

I was nineteen. I’d just run away and married my husband, a guy I’d dated a month.

On our first morning together the phone rang. One of my husband’s friends, Jim Ashley, lived in Ouray, a tiny nineteenth-century mining town in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. He worked for the Idorado Mine, the village’s economic engine.

The afternoon before, Jim had stepped on a rotten board just inside the mine entrance and plummeted down through a dark vertical tunnel all the way from the Red Mountain entrance to the Telluride entrance, hundreds of feet.

I didn’t know Jim, but that secondhand experience drilled itself into my mind. Every so often I fall into it, just as I did on Sunday.

There was one more layer to my shaky reading. After its first, last, and only cold performance by the Arroyo Arts Collective players, “The Marriage Bed” disappeared into my files. I made a few half-hearted attempts to send it out, but knew it was destined to be one of those things I did just for myself. (There are a LOT of those.)

Then I saw a call for an anthology in Coda (which later became Poets and Writers.) It was for ghost poems. The voice in one of the monologues in The Marriage Bed, “Frank,” was a ghost, the long-dead father of the husband in the story.   I sent it.

It was accepted. I’d forgotten about the book, Ghost of a Chance,  until Sunday. Looking at it, I was amazed. There I was, hired-gun ed writer, with Rita Dove, Billy Collins, and others famous for their poetry.

Then I remembered, huddling in the back seat of my dad’s ’41 Chevy, playing with the sounds of words. I must have been two or three.

We live so many lives. So many layered lives. Sharing them with others can be a shaky experience, but we only have the stage for a few minutes, so why not?

 

 

 

One Writer’s Experience at the 2013 Pikes Peak Writers Conference

Yesterday, I returned from the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. As usual it was an amazing experience. Here are some things I took away:

1. I heard top agent Barry Goldblatt critique first pages read by attendees. Now, I have a much better idea where to start my story. I had way too much dialogue up front. Not enough was happening. I need to start at a more dramatic moment. Actually, that’s easy. I just need to skip more pages.

2. The night before the conference started, my roomie, an amazing writer, had reviewed my own first page and synopsis. Together, we pinpointed the organizing principle of my protagonist’s personality. I now can see the thread stringing the pearls of my plot together. It was always there, but not as clear to me as it was to her. That help was priceless. (You know who you are–thank you!)

3. I spent some time with other writers and an agent chatting in Zebulon’s Library, an intimate bookless conference room near the restaurant. It was a different and relaxing way to meet people and share information.

4. I met an energetic, fascinating, famous, and powerful professional writer in the bar. Her example was a gift. Most immediately applicable of the many things I learned from her is a working method. She uses a bluetooth microphone and paces around her office, dictating, during working hours. She logs 4000 words a day. Okay, I ordered a bluetooth microphone this morning. Reviewers say it works with Dragon Naturally Speaking, which I like and have trained. This week I have assignments to turn in and errands to catch up on, but this weekend, I am going to finish my novel, or at the very least, come close. I am one of those strange people who finds it much easier to rewrite than to do the initial draft, so this is going to work. It will also help my sciatica (caused, in my case, by too much sitting) heal and increase my calorie burn.

5. I heard an accomplished thriller writer discuss his Stanislovski-style method of characterization. I couldn’t do it the way he does. (He actually shoplifted once  as part of his character research.) I can, however, use my imagination to immerse myself more deeply into my protagonist’s mind. He emphasized the characters’ feelings, but, more than that, the responses of other people to the way a given character acts. Coming home, I found myself observing people in the airport more closely.

6. I heard a professional nonfiction writer, an architect, giving advice about how to break into writing. I have been broken in for quite some time, but his talk reminded me of avenues to publication I have not explored in a while, and I will be watching them more carefully in the coming months, making notes for possible projects.

7. I attended two panels where literary agents answered questions commonly posed by attendees. I was able to see people who represent the kind of book I am writing. When I am ready to submit, I will be able to associate their names, faces, and personalities with information I find online.  I will also be able to say what impressed me about them. (One of my major goals this year is finding appropriate representation for my work.) By the way, don’t be discouraged if you get rejections from agents. They get more than 1000 queries a week and ask for few sample pages (even fewer full manuscripts).

8. I heard a famous thriller writer extol the virtues of self-publishing (though Amazon). It’s not for me, but, hey.

9. I added to my list of books to read.

10. I met many wonderful fellow-writers, ate great food, took a walk in the Garden of the Gods, sipped Blue Moon, had a massage, and watched Eat, Pray, Love on Saturday night in our room. (Husbands will not share that one.) What could be better?

Writing from the Peak: Rocking the 2013 Pikes Peak Writers Conference.

How to Use Ideas from Real Life in Stories

Use real life to inspire your stories. Here’s a great post about how to do that.

Turning Your Anecdote into a Short Story: Part 1 | WritingCompanion.

Podcasts for Writers

Need a pep talk? There’s one as close as your computer. Click on the link for a collection of auditory inspiration for writers, gathered by Kristy Holl for your delight and edification!

Encouraging Podcasts for WritersKristi Holl.

5 Unexpected Lessons From Inside the Iowa Writers’ Workshop | WritersDigest.com

Here’s an inspiring post from the Writer’s Digest site. Remember why you wanted to be a writer. Aim for the stars.

5 Unexpected Lessons From Inside the Iowa Writers’ Workshop | WritersDigest.com.

Your Personal Treasure Trove of Great Ideas

Don’t lose another great idea. Keep a writer’s notebook.

Picture This!: Creating a Writer’s Notebook.

Effective Ways to End Your Book or Story

So, the ending of your book isn’t working and you don’t know what to do. This post from veteran author Rob Sanders might be just what you need.

Click on the link below:

Picture This!: Effective Endings.

Write an If I Were… Poem

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 205 | If I Were Happy Poem | Poems | WritersDigest.com.

It’s Wednesday on Robert Brewer’s blog. Today, fill in the blank in this phrase and make it your title: If I were…

Read the responses and add your own.

Here’s mine:

If I Were an Eagle

If I were an eagle,

I’d angle my wings

and slowly circle

over the frozen lake,

watching for an unwary

rabbit venturing out

across an unmarked

patch of snow. I’d

pass the cottonwood

aerie where I was raised

with my brother

and not wonder where

he had gone. I’d own

only the brittle winter

sky and a bare branch

with a hungry view.

Writing Advice: Take What Fits You and Leave the Rest

On this blog, I offer links to all sorts of writing advice. Here is some solid information from Susan Adrian about how to use what is offered.

Susan Adrian: Notes on Writing Advice.