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Thursday, December 23, 2010

More On Plotting

I took a shot of this the day of finals, and just now got around to pulling it off my phone.  Here, we have: a short outline, a long outline, notebook, hair clip, lip balm, colored index cards, pencils, highlighters, black ink pen (very important), white index cards, and Blake Snyder's SAVE THE CAT.

Then, when I have a good idea of where I'm going, it all gets input into Scrivener, like this:

I typically try to write from beginning to end, but there are some scenes I know out of order, so I don't feel bad spending a few minutes getting those down as they come to me.

Full-screen mode is great for times when Twitter gets in the way of productivity:

I'm also partial to my timer-bomb, which keeps me from feeling overwhelmed:

But the real secret to writing well is having tons of these:


Happy Holidays, everyone!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Required Reading for Writers

Back when I worked for The Bank, there was a stupid rule that we had to read this bohemoth of a policies and procedures book every year before December 31st. Every year, I'd put it off until the very last week, hoping I could somehow get out of it. And every year, my boss would swish past my desk, wearing a look on her face like she'd just swallowed a toad, and I'd know my plan had been foiled. Again.

I don't rightly recall why I had such an aversion to reading the policies and procedures handbook, except to say that half the stuff was either outdated or outlandish or both. But I do remember how it felt to come back in the middle of December, after my winter vacation, and see that 5" maroon binder staring me in the face. It's the same feeling I got last week, when I looked at my history final and realized everything I knew about the Civil War came from True Blood.

But as I was tidying up my office, the thought occurred to me that maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to spend what little bit is left of 2010 re-reading some of my favorite writing books.

Here's a short list:

I have others on my shelves that I turn to periodically, but these are the ones I find myself going back to over and over again.

How about you? Which books are your favorites, and which would you deem required reading for writers?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Porn and Sex and "Pasta Attachments"

The other day I took part in a three hour psychological survey on pornography. Before you go getting the wrong idea, I promise I'm not as big a perv as that sentence lets on. But I was three credits behind in my case studies for psychology, and I only had five days to go, so it was either talk about porn or talk about my mother. I chose the one least likely to leave me feeling like I needed to scrub with bleach at the end of the day.

I know a lot of people don't like porn. They think it's immoral or shameful or embarrassing or anti-feminist, or whatever, and if that's how they feel, then that's how they feel. Personally, I'm OK with it, but I can think of better ways to spend an afternoon. When I was in my early twenties, working three retail jobs and struggling to pay rent on time, I reviewed porn for food money, so it will always have a special place in my loins. I mean, my heart. Nowadays, though, I view it much as I would a Jonas brother--pointless and kind of boring, but I can see why some people might like it.

Anyway, so I'm answering these questions about porn, and some of them are a doozy. Have you ever appeared in an adult film? (My answer: No.) Have you ever wanted to appear in an adult film? (My answer: who else is starring and do I get to wear cool shoes and would it be Highlander themed and can I be Methos?) Would you ever watch an adult film in 3D? (My answer: who would?)

The questions lasted about an hour, and after that, I took my credits and ran far, far away. Probably not unlike the people in the porn films I'd just surveyed.

One of the unfortunate side effects of having viewed a bunch of sexually deviant material, though, is that Amazon has a tendency to "recommend" things based on your keywords. Which is why, when I was trying to order a pasta machine attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer yesterday, I kept getting redirected to . . . other attachments, attachments I will not link you to because I like you too much.

And no, I'm not trying to be evasive. I'm trying to keep it clean. Really, I am. And if I could think of a euphemism for a Kitchenaid attachment that allows a person to fuck herself with a STAND MIXER, I would use it. But alas, I don't. I attribute this mostly to the fact that in the three years I've had my stand mixer, I've never once had the urge to strap on a cock, wriggle out of my panties, and straddle the damn thing.

I know, I know. I'M USING IT WRONG.

But as I was looking at that other attachment, I couldn't help but wonder, who would spend that much money on a mixer they're only going to use for sex? I mean, I felt guilty for months after I bought mine, because I only bought it because I was too lazy to knead my own dough.

(I realized later that's probably why the people with the other attachment bought theirs, too.)

And how do you explain a standing mixer in your bedroom, anyway? It's not like you can pretend it's a flashlight or maybe a back massager like some other toys.

The second thing that popped into my head was, what if the people with the other attachments don't just use their stand mixer for sex? And it's times like these I wish I didn't have an overactive imagination, because that's when my mind became overrun with images of birthday cakes gone wrong and the possible secret ingredient of Grandma's "special" mashed potatoes...

Right now, all you normal people out there are shielding your children from my website and hurrying to click the "unfollow" button at the top of your screens. And hey, I don't blame you. But rest assured you can count your blessings on one thing:

At least I didn't tell you about the guy and the horse.

The Idea Store

Earlier this afternoon, I asked a friend of mine, "Where do your ideas come from?"

"I buy them from an ad in the back of Rolling Stone," she told me. "I dunno. All over."

This morning I pulled up a book I finished in September to get it ready for an edit the size of a rewrite. I don't know how to explain what it feels like to read your own work except to say that it's different than reading someone else's work. The flaws are more pronounced, the characters more familiar. Sometimes I run across things I didn't even know I knew, and I'm amazed I even knew it to begin with.

Growing up, I was never one of those people who had to ask, what should I write about?  What should I draw? What should I play? What should I wear? I had to ask those things a lot. (I still do.) But I always had an idea for something to write, even if I didn't know how to execute it properly at the time.

So how do you open your own Idea Store?  I have no idea clue. But here are a few rules that have helped me over the years.

Give up on your muse.

I hate to break it to you, but muses? They don't exist. What does exist is hard work. If you really want to be a font of ideas, stop waiting on them to find you and start looking for them. Everywhere.

Don't panic.

Every now and then, the thought occurs to me that I might never have a good idea ever again and will somehow die of writer's block. 

(I know it's not really possible to die of writer's block, but sometimes it feels like it is, and that's all that matters.)

The cure for this is simple: step away from the computer and do something fun. Play mini-golf. Do the dishes by hand. Read a book. Take a nap. Play with the kids/dog/cat. Acknowledge a loved one with more than an annoyed grunt. By the time you're done relaxing, you'll most likely have had an idea. Crisis averted. It's only when you let yourself go into panic mode that all hell breaks loose.

Stop window shopping.

Keep a notebook and pen with you everywhere you go, and jot down ideas as they come to you. If you lollygag around waiting for validation, probably you're going to forget the idea you were ambivalent about in the first place. It's better to write it down now and analyze it later.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Challenge yourself every day to craft a story in your head about a song, a painting, a picture or a building. Whether you put it on paper is up to you.

Don't expect every idea to be a good one.

Most of the ideas I have are crap, and I mean that in a Battleship-Earth-meets-Dumb-and-Dumberer kind of way. You could bottle some of my ideas and fertilize your farm for years to come, that's how crap they are. But I jot them down anyway. You wouldn't believe how many good ideas come to us dressed in a suit of poo.


Take two been-there-done-that ideas, shake them up, and see what happens.

Those are just my tried-and-true favorites, and as always, your mileage may vary. So how about you? How do you go about generating ideas?



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