Respecting the Muse by Bonnie Schroeder

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Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.

 

 

Most writers inevitably encounter the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve been on the receiving end more times than I can count, and I often wonder aLife after Lifebout other writers, too.

Where, for example, does Stephen King come up with all his intricate storylines? Where did Kate Atkinson get the idea for Life After Life? 

Actually, ideas are everywhere, and they’re often triggered by those magic words, “What if . . ..?”

In my experience, however, the initial spark tends to morph into something quite different when I begin to work on a story. My first novel, Mending Dreams, came about because I knew a woman whose husband did the same thing my protagonist’s husband did: came home one day and told her he was leaving her because he was in love. . . with another man. “What if,” I wondered, “that had happened to me? How would I react?” The eventual premise turned into something quite different than I expected, as themes of love and courage emerged from the mess I created in those first pages.

I was married to an artist in the 60s and 70s, and as I was looking over old photos from those days, I asked myself, “What if my husband had become really famous?” This led to Write My Name on the Sky, which will be published this summer. The story changed tremendously in the execution, but that first flash of inspiration arose from those old pictures.

A couple of years ago, during my annual physical exam, my doctor remarked that both my hearing and breathing capacity had improved in the past year. Hmmm. What if I was growing younger? That idea became the cornerstone of the novel I’m currently writing, and it’s become more than a case of mere wish fulfillment.

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “Muse” as “a source of genius or inspiration,” but I have other names for her. She is quite a trickster, and if I don’t pay attention to her whispered ideas, they vanish like smoke. That’s why I am almost never without pen and paper—or in today’s world, without my trusty iPhone, which I use to record the Muse’s suggestions and sometimes even to photograph the source of them.

Yes, ideas are everywhere, but writers need to respect them when they appear; don’t squander them; nurture them and preserve them.

I believe the writing process is at least one part voodoo. Inspire

For me, it seems that once I set my intent to write about a particular topic, the creative universe springs into action. For my woman-getting-younger novel, even while I was sketching out the premise, articles started appearing in newspapers and magazines I read, about “age disruption” and “life extension.” My research file on the subject is over six inches thick!

I would love to hear from my fellow writers and readers about this subject. What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas? And how do you hang onto them when they appear? What do you do with them? Please share!

Everything is Research by Linda O. Johnston

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Linda O. Johnston, a former lawyer who is now a full-time writer, currently writes two mystery series for Midnight Ink involving dogs: the Barkery and Biscuits Mysteries, and the Superstition Mysteries.  She has also written the Pet Rescue Mystery Series, a spinoff from her Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and also currently writes for Harlequin Romantic Suspense as well as the Alpha Force paranormal romance miniseries about shapeshifters for Harlequin Nocturne.  Her upcoming May release is her 45th published novel, with more to come.
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I’m  writer, and I assume that’s true of many people who read The Writers in Residence blog posts.  I’ve been doing this for quite a while, and it dawned on me long ago that I could, and do, use many aspects of my life as research for what I’m writing: what I read, what I accomplish, in effect nearly everything!
 
For one thing, I love to incorporate dogs in my stories.  I’ve been owned by Cavalier King Charles Spaniels for many years, and most of my friends, neighbors and relatives own dogs.  Plus, I’ve been able to observe a lot of dog training and other events involving dogs–and often what I see and experience shows up in what I write.
 
I’m not much of a cook, yet one of my mystery series, the Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries, includes not only dogs but the protagonist, Carrie Kennersly, owns both a human bakery and a barkery where she sells dog treats.  Some of the barkery material is derived from my visits to local shops in Los Angeles where dog food and treats are cooked and sold–so just visiting there, even if I’m hoping to buy things for my own dogs, is research.
 
Carrie is also a veterinary technician, so when I take my own dogs to the vet I’m also doing research.
 
I’ve also written Superstition Mysteries, and there are a lot of superstitions out there.  While I’m walking I’ve watched strangers stoop to pick up “lucky” pennies–and I do too, just in case.  Others cross their fingers while saying something, or knock on wood.  I’ve heard a lot of people extol their black cats and say they’re lucky, no matter what the superstition says.  Of course black cats being unlucky is a U.S. superstition; in other countries they’re considered lucky.
 
I haven’t run into real shapeshifters yet, I’m sorry to say–I think–but it’s fun researching the legends about them for my Alpha Force paranormal romance stories for Harlequin Nocturne about a covert military force of shapeshifters.
 
Just walking out the front door of my house provides me with ideas and research for some stories.  At the moment all my neighbors are good, but we’ve had some bad ones who, at least, give me story ideas as well as providing research regarding attitudes of some of today’s mostly younger folks.  I also derive ideas and research from some of the things picked up on the security cameras my husband mounted as a result of some of those bad neighbors, as well as from thieves and vagrants who’ve visited our street.  Do we live in an awful, rundown area?  No, just the opposite.  Our neighborhood is great, which may be why it attracts these kinds of issues.  Not fun in reality–but research!
 
Then there’s a new idea I’m working on now that was created after I went on a holiday outing to an interesting area–and my mind just took off on what kinds of mysteries could evolve around there.  Of course I’ve been doing additional research on that area.  Don’t know if this idea will go anywhere, but I’m certainly having fun working with it.
 
And meeting with other writers?  Everyone’s outlook on things is different, even if they’re writing in similar genres, so just talking about life and writing can also be considered a kind of research.
 
So here I am, writing this–and wondering what the next piece of research I’ll pick up will be, and how I’ll incorporate it into a story! 
 
How about you?  What is the most fun or helpful kind of research you’ve happened into in your life?
 

Yak Shaving 101 by Rosemary Lord

just-rosie-3Rosemary wrote her first book when she was ten years old – for her little brother. She also illustrated it herself. It was later rejected by Random House! She has been writing ever since.

The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now,  English born Rosemary Lord has lived in Hollywood for over 25 years. An actress, a former journalist (interviewing Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston amongst others) and a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures, she lectures on Hollywood history. Rosemary is currently writing the second in a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies.

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 What, you might ask, is ‘Yak Shaving’?  Where do I start…?

I was writing a new chapter in my next book, when I needed some research information that I could not find online. (If only I wrote about the present day, I wouldn’t need all this specific research – I could make it up.)  A visit to my local library was needed. So… I got dressed and headed out. I knew my car had the little orange light flashing, so I would have to get gas first. But, lo and behold, the universe had another idea. I had a flat tire. So I called the AAA and waited. My spare was flat, too, so the AAA guy towed me to the local Tire place. Eventually, I was able to drive my car away, go get some gas and head to the library for my research. I found the book I needed and copied my notes. It was a reference book, so I could not take it out.  After which, I was hungry. I can’t think or write when I’m hungry. So on my way home, I had to stop by Trader Joe’s and buy some food, before heading home to cook, eat, then pick up where my writing left off –  many hours later.

This is known as ‘Yak Shaving’ – when you find yourself doing something as irrelevant as shaving a yak (don’t ask!), instead of the goal you set out to accomplish.

It’s a term invented by MIT student Carlin Vieri and made famous by blogger Seth Gordon, who told his own tale of, “the seemingly unrelated, endless series of small tasks that have to be completed before the next step in a project can move forward.” There!

Hey – maybe I can absolve myself from the  personal responsibility for not finishing my current book: I have the Yak Shaving Syndrome.

But writers are known for procrastinating. Sometimes we find it is essential to clean out our fridge, before we can write that next article – or re-pot those pesky plants in the garden, before we write the next pages. Essential stuff, eh?

But then, we could turn Yak Shaving to our own benefit. When you’re writing a novel – especially a mystery novel – you usually have a vague idea how it ends, and maybe an overall feel about the way you want your characters to interact. So perhaps, if you’re stuck, you can work backwards.  Think about what has to happen just before the end. How you resolve your different characters storylines at the finale. What has to happen just before that?  And what has to happen before that point in your plot – and so on. Yak Shaving in reverse.

I digress. Because one can easily get distracted by all the Yak Shaving things life throws at us. Finding the perfect printer, the best notepads on which to write your literary gems, sharpening your pencils to perfection, then choosing just the right font when you finally get to type it all up.  I get so busy and distracted by little things that I have to constantly remind myself, what is it I really want to accomplish or be doing?

Remember that old saying: ‘When you are up to your neck in alligators, it is easy to forget that your original mission was to drain the swamp.”

 

How Rough Will You Go?

FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 3 with Miko Johnston

Miko Johnston is the author of A Petal in the Wind and the newly released A Petal in the Wind II: Lala Hafstein.

She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at Amazon.

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Last summer I created a four-part seminar, “The Rules, And How To Break Them” for this blog. My intention was to show how crucial it is to learn the guidelines and formulas in writing fiction, because once you understand them, you can work around them.

There is a singular exception in my opinion, one rule that should never be broken: always treating your work in a professional manner – using standard formatting with readable fonts, and correcting your copy before showing it to anyone.

I still believe that. I set my Word docs to one-inch margins, double-spaced, usually Times New Roman or Cambria 12 point font. I check my work for spelling, grammar and punctuation before presenting it to a critique group or beta reader. What I present is never perfect, but I catch and correct a lot more errors than I let through.

Not everyone follows that policy. I don’t understand why. Pages with odd or odd sized fonts and single line spacing can be difficult to read. I don’t take issue with the occasional extra or dropped word, a few typos, or missing dialog tags. Writers who’ve caught an error after the fifth proofing of their work know it can happen.

However, when I have to review pages that are hard to read or overloaded with avoidable mistakes, I feel more like a teacher correcting papers than a writer offering critique. In fact, too many errors distract me from the writing, from finding the real gems within the pages as well as the core issues with character or plot.

I recently submitted pages from my third novel to a critique group with the up-front warning that they were a first draft. I’d been struggling with how to develop the story, which plot points to follow and which to drop. Even so, I made sure to present the material as though it was my final draft – proofed for typos and other errors. Their feedback was extraordinarily helpful, but I doubt they would have been able to provide so much insight if I hadn’t done my cleanup first.

Some writers I’ve worked with over the years don’t agree with me. They’ll submit a rough draft and make corrections after the critique. I’ve even heard some say they don’t care about grammar, punctuation and spelling – they can hire someone to do that for them. What professional would admit to being unable to handle some of the most basic elements of their job?

Doesn’t submitting sloppy work unchecked for common errors not only show a disregard for one’s own material, but disrespect for the readers?