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Throwing off sparks

Maybe it’s all the excitement/stress/ nervousness surrounding the upcoming RWA conference—in less than two weeks!—but my creative brain has been AWOL for the last few, uh, months. Revisions, yes. Coming up with new ideas? Not so much.

I was especially stymied by an idea for the follow-up to BLIND FURY. I wanted to have a log line, three chapters, and an outline ready in case an editor or agent asks, “What else do you have?” Or, “Can you do a series?”

I want to be able to say, “Well, as a matter of fact…”

The problem was that I was trying too hard to shoehorn existing characters into something and killing all of my creative energy. I finally realized that I needed a spark—an opening scene or killer conflict that comes to me as an aha moment—before I worried about who would be in the book. All of my past books have been spark first, then characters, then plot.

Once I flogged myself a few times for abandoning “the formula”, I hashed out a few ideas with a friend and realized I was still working within the constraints of a couple of characters I didn’t really like that much. Good as secondary foils, not so great for hero and heroine.

And then I came up with an opening that I liked. And a log line that needs some work, but is not bad. And then I started writing just to get a feel for the heroine, who is new to me.

Love her already.

Big sigh of relief. I haven’t fleshed it all out yet, but I’m back on track.

At least until next time I derail. 😉

Has your creative side ever taken a powder? How’d you handle it?

(Credit: Free photos from

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  1. Reply

    Assuming I can’t go to Paris (to get a new book idea), or think a ghost is in the room with me (to get a second book idea), or attend another James Scott Bell seminar (to help me break through the rut I was in) my favorite thing to do is write a short story.

    At random, I will pick an emotion, a situation, and a setting. I write just to get the engine of creativity rolling. It’s the “butt in the seat” concept. The result is usually “whatever” — nothing I would share. But the real exercise if for me to work within a constraint of a short story. In that exercise new things bubble up. An interesting line, a unique character, an offbeat situation, a hook. I have a couple of ideas that are sitting in the hopper waiting for me to finish my revision of book #2. They’re getting restless 🙂

    I think the magic of writing happens when we actually write. All the planning, plotting, etc are good, but the magic happens when we put words together and produce something new. When we try to force a theme or convey a message or strong arm a pre-conceived idea into a story, it usually ends up being bland, boring, and contrived. All of those are bad… I think 🙂

    Good luck!

    • Reply

      Thanks, Ara. Good point. I used to do this thing called the Sunday Squirrel where I forced myself to post a short, impromptu scene on my blog. I had a few in there that sparked ideas. Maybe I should get back to it.

      I do like to pre-write, playing around with characters and scenes. Thanks for reminding me that sometimes I just need to play with something random to get the juices flowing!

      • KM Fawcett


        I always looked forward to reading your Sunday Squirrels, Gwen. Would love to read more of them

        Ara, I’m intrigued with the story behind your 2nd book idea. I want to hear more about this ghost in your room.

        • Reply

          Kathy, I may have to blog about this. I’ve been very sparse with details on my blog because the story has been evolving. But I think I can tell the “story” of how the story idea was born.

          High level — The day: Lunar eclipse. The time: 11:41 PM PST. The place: my home office. The situation: I was trying to see the crimson moon. When I finally caught a glimpse through the clouds, a strong wing punched my home, shook the house and a shiver rose up my spine. My body was charged and ears started to freeze. I was sure I was not alone. I had felt this sensation once before… in a known haunted hotel.

          That same night I wrote the opening chapter. The two main characters, the larger quest, and the obstacles were created right then and there. I had no idea what I would do with the story when I was writing it. But now, months after it happened, I find that I had breadcrumbs in that chapter that has evolved my story into something that I would have never imagined. I’m either very creative, or someone gave me a helping hand that night 🙂

  2. Reply

    I’ve struggled against my creative side telling me something wasn’t right and powering through it anyway. Sometimes that’s what you have to do, and you can go back and fix it later… but a lot of times it’s a major problem that needs to be addressed. My biggest problem is not getting stubborn and listening to myself at these moments.

    I’m also having a lot of trouble writing currently, but I think that’s just a pregnancy side effect. My body is busy creating something else at the moment, and it doesn’t have anything left to spare. I’m still coming up with interesting ideas, though. Oddly, most of them seem to be for Romance novels, which I don’t write. The Museum Curator and the Motorcross competitor aren’t really going to fit into a non-contemporary fantasy world…

    • Reply

      My biggest problem is deciding when the story’s not working, and when I’m just wimping out. But usually telling myself I can revise later keeps me moving forward *once I’ve started*.

      No need to limit yourself to fantasy just because that’s what you’ve always written. I know people who’ve switched genres and found their calling! Either way, I say just take notes and worry about it when the baby is two. 😉

      • Reply

        I’m not too worried about switching genres, but while I like to read romance novels, I find myself getting distinctly embarassed about writing those romancey parts. I keep thinking things like “My mom could read this,” or similar thoughts. I think there’s a basic comfort level a writer needs to have with sharing the intimate parts of themselves when they write, and I don’t want to put the sexy or steamy parts of myself out in the world. I’d rather they stay a part of my marriage where I’m comfortable with them.

        I think it’s great for other writers, romance is one of my favorite genres to read. I’m just not interested in doing the same.

        • Reply

          I know what you mean, Kali. I’ve gotten over it, and even let my dad and aunt read one of my books, but some people definitely can’t do it. You know, there’s a whole market for sweet romances too. Harlequin even has lines where the bedroom door must stay closed, or where the couple can’t have sex at all before marriage. Just a thought…

  3. Reply

    Just try to focus on the pitches and don’t worry about finishing anything at this point. You can smile, say it’s done, then go home and fix it.


    • Reply

      Good advice, Christine. I just wanted to know what direction the story was going so I could have a pitch for it. The words are coming now and I’ve been working on my pitches. Thanks!!

  4. Reply

    I love this idea of sparks, Gwen. For me, it’s much the same as you describe… idea seed, then characters, then plot. Isn’t the first flush of the idea intoxicating? It feels like the rush of new love for me…the excitement and wonder of where this journey is going to go. I love it. It’s what makes the writerly isolation worth it to me. Great post!

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