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Brain on fire

Pic of woman with ideas around her headMy brain is on fire.

In a good way.

I’m not officially participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but I’m still writing as much as possible. One of the benefits of working on my book every day is something I’ve noticed during NaNo in years past: The more I write, the more ideas come to me at all times of the day. Last night I even had a dream that rehashed the scene I was working on, something that rarely happens to me.

I love this state.

The joy, this constant flow of ideas, is how I felt when I first started writing nearly six(!) years ago. I thought about my characters while walking the dog, jogging, driving, shopping, eating, sleeping, cooking… At any time, I might get hit with the solution to a troubling scene, an idea for how to make the stakes higher or deepen the emotional impact, or a great twist.

Sadly, this phenomenon also works in reverse. Worse, I’ve tested the theory several times. 😉 The less I write, the less motivation I have to write, the more time passes between great ideas and thoughts of my story, and so I write even less. I sit down and stare at the page with no idea where to go next.

That loss of excitement and flow is the reason I signed up for NaNo the second time (and 3rd, 4th, 5th). To remind myself that consistency was the key to getting my writerly brain back, banishing the infernal internal editor who blocks me, and rediscovering the joy of telling stories.

It also reminds me that I can write way more words than I think I can.

When it comes down to it—like with anything—the key (for me, anyway) is to keep working at it. When it’s a slog, I brainstorm, free write, or reread parts of the story that I’ve forgotten. I do research or write backstory scenes to get to know my characters better. Anything to keep my head in the game.

Anything to keep my brain on fire.

You’ve got talent

Albert Einstein talent quote

I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious. ~ Albert Einstein

My grandma once told me that she had no talent. I was only sixteen, but even then I knew enough to be sad that she believed it. I also thought she was wrong.

Okay, sure, she couldn’t play piano, or paint, or sing. But why do we only think of art—or so-called “hard” subjects like math and science—when we think of creativity, talent, and genius?

Pretty much since I started thinking about it—probably around the time my grandma made her confession—I’ve believed that everyone is a genius at something. Whether or not our culture values that talent—or even recognizes it as such—is another matter.

Maybe my grandmother’s stunning ability was patience. Or solving puzzles. Or the fortitude to persevere through hard times.

Because what is genius really, but the creative application of ideas and knowledge? Hence, creativity.

I used to think being creative only applied to artistic ability. While the word creativity does have an artistic connotation, it’s application is not strictly limited to those pursuits. But for a long time, I thought I wasn’t creative. It wasn’t until my thirties(!) that I decided my creativity was of a different sort: solving problems and improving efficiency.

Of course now I use it as a writer. Writing challenges me every day. That’s one reason I love it so much. I use—or try to use—creativity to solve plot problems, develop scenes and characters and setting, and do it in a way that no one else does. But can you imagine any area of life where creativity is not helpful?

Parenting, convincing your boss to choose your idea or give you a raise, managing your finances, maintaining a good relationship with your partner, running a business, navigating the obstacles life throws in your path.

In the end, maybe it doesn’t matter if you have creativity, talent, or genius in an area. All you can do is your best. But if you love something, do it. The accolades may or may not follow, but at least you’ll be having fun.

And the ability to enjoy yourself even when you’re not a genius at something is probably a form of genius in itself.

Power of the prompt

pic of timer and notebookFor more than a year, I wrote a weekly blog post called The Sunday Squirrel. I picked a word or concept as a prompt and wrote a short scene about it. The scenes were written and published immediately, with minimal editing.

Looking back, I’m shocked that I was brave enough to put the results of those impromptu writing sessions out there for all the world to see, and even more surprised that some of them aren’t too bad.

It seems like limiting yourself to a word or specific idea would stifle creativity, but I’ve found that it actually feeds mine. The more out there the concept you have to incorporate, the more creative you have to be.

We recently did this at my local RWA chapter meeting, and I was reminded at how much fun it can be, and surprised how easily my writer brain takes off with the assignment. In 30 minutes, I wrote 504 words. That would be a struggle on most days when I’m working on my book.

Was it perfect? Hardly. But then what first draft is? Still, it got my brain working in a way it hasn’t in quite a while. My new goal is to incorporate writing prompts into my process, both to get my creative juices flowing and to take my scenes in unexpected directions.

Do you use writing prompts? What’s your experience with them?


For those who are curious—or have been around here long enough to miss The Sunday Squirrel—here’s what I came up with during that 30 minute session. The prompt was to incorporate three words/concepts and a quote given to us by a chapter member (prompts from Writing Prompts That Don't Suck).

Words/Concepts: cocktail bar, sunday school teacher, riding crop

Quote: “I’m just doing what the fortune cookie said. Who am I to stand in the way of fate?”

Victoria searched the dimly lit cocktail bar for a man with a red scarf in his pocket among the glittering bodies lounged on white leather couches. Light jazz mingled with the buzz of alcohol-fueled conversation as she navigated the twisting maze of low tables.

She finally spotted her guy at the far corner of the copper-clad bar under a blue pendant light. Steve looked too handsome for words in a gray button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up his forearms. Not at all what she had expected.

Vicki stopped mid-step.

Next to all of these women in their low cut cocktail dresses and six-inch heels, she looked like a Sunday school teacher who’d taken a wrong turn. That had originally been her plan, but now… Suddenly she wanted to impress.

Before he could spot her, Vicki ducked into the hallway that led to the restroom and pushed inside, past the group huddled around the mirrors, and entered a stall. There had to be someway to salvage her appearance.

She started by removing her short jacket to reveal the camisole-like shell underneath. The pale blue silk was somewhat transparent, and she’d run out of the house that morning wearing a black bra, figuring she’d never remove her jacket. Well, she was going for sexy, right?

Hell, all she needed now was a riding crop and she’d pass for a well dressed dominatrix.

Next, she had to deal with her lower half. She couldn’t do much about her sensible black flats, but the matching pencil skirt that fell to a sober position at mid-calf was another matter. She removed it and turned it inside out. Then, using a small kit she kept in her tote bag, Vicki folded the hem inside, pinning it to the skirt’s liner with sewing needles.

Her cell phone dinged, a reminder that she was now going to be late for her meeting. Irritation raked her skin, but she was not going back out there until her transformation was complete.

She took off the uncomfortable panty hose that her firm required she wear and stuffed them into her bag. For the final touch, she twisted her long hair into a loose bun and pinned it with a clip she kept in her purse for when she worked late. Then she used her phone’s front-facing camera as a mirror while she applied a coat of tinted lip gloss and freshened her eyeliner.

Rolling the jacket, she shoved it into her oversized bag and returned to the floor of the bar where she forced herself to stroll toward her target.

“Steve?” she asked as she stopped in front of him.

He stood and gave her a quick once over that made her stomach tingle. “Victoria. Hi.” His voice was smooth and pleasant. “I was afraid you were going to stand me up.”

“I’m just doing what the fortune cookie said. Who am I to stand in the way of fate?”

Breaking through the wall

512px-Wall_climbing_plantWhat do you do when you hit a wall in your writing?

I’m under a tight—self-imposed—deadline to get Blind Justice to my editor and I was absolutely stuck on how to approach the climactic scene. I only work with loose outlines and don’t usually have a solid idea for the ending until I’m more than halfway through the book.

That held true with this one. I had some thematic ideas and snippets of scenes that I knew I wanted in there, but not the whole showdown. I know for a fact that if I stop writing to think, nothing comes. I’ve talked about it before. But what to do in this case?

I finally decided to create a new document outside of my Draft folder (that’s Scrivener-speak for opening a blank page in my project that won’t be included when I print) and call it “Showdown ramble.” Then I proceeded to type out all of the questions I had about what the characters wanted, what they could or should do, and so on.

At first it was a list of unanswered questions, but as I wrote I started coming up with ideas for how to answer them. I also asked questions like the following:

– What if X wasn’t the villain? Who would it be?
– What if the final showdown takes place somewhere besides Z? (I had a location picked out, but it changed based on this exercise.)
– What other places might have significance to the involved characters that would work for this scene? (This is how I found the new location and it surprised me.)

The words started flowing and after an hour I had 750 words of questions, some answers, and some new ideas, as well as a pretty good idea of what needs to happen.

So, I’m back on track and working on the climactic scene this week. Yay!

What do you do when you hit a wall in your writing?

Image credit: By Wilfredor (Own work) (CC0), via Wikimedia Commons

Siesta time

In many parts of the world, a midday nap is part of the culture. Apparently, I live in the wrong country.

For years I've taken a ribbing from my family and friends over my love of naps. I'm not just a ten-minute-rest kind of napper. Nope. Not me. If I lay down in the afternoon, I'm sleeping for at least an hour, maybe two. And I'll still sleep the full eight hours that night.

So, I was gratified to read about a study at UC Berkeley where the group was subjected to a learning exercise, then half of the subjects took a 90 minute nap at 2pm. At 6pm the entire group participated in another learning exercise.

According to the results, those “who remained awake throughout the day became worse at learning. In contrast, those who napped did markedly better and actually improved in their capacity to learn”.

Yay sleep!

Another nap study at UC San Diego–apparently I should have stayed in CA where they value napping as much as I do!–found that “Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep enhances creative problem-solving”. And what writer doesn't need to enhance their creative problem-solving?

Since I almost always dream during my naps, that means I'm giving my creativity boost. So next time I get the urge to take a nap, I can just say I'm working on my writing. 🙂

An idea whose time has come

My ideas usually come not at my desk writing, but in the midst of living.  ~Anais Nin

People often ask writers where their ideas come from. I even find myself wondering the same thing after I read a great book. The answers? Everywhere, nowhere, hard work.

We get them from things we see in our daily lives, that is, everywhere. Places we go, people we meet, new stories, and personal experiences all have the power to generate the seed of an idea. Many authors become intrigued by the “what if?” and pursue that until they have a story.

But, they can also come out of nowhere. For example, I often think of storyline bits, or plot ideas right after I wake up in the morning. I'm not actively trying to work on anything, it just comes. I keep a pen and paper by my bed for this reason, because if I don't write it down, I'll surely lose it.

Sometimes, a writer just has to work at it. There are all sorts of techniques for generating new ideas. I even wrote about one of Einstein's creativity methods for the Southern Magic blog a while back.

For me, often the key is to give myself permission to let the ideas flow. I sometimes have this sense that ideas are waiting for me if I would just stop whatever I'm doing and let them out. At those times, I sit down with plenty of paper, and start taking notes.

No matter how a writer generates ideas, the real trick is to put in the time, day after day, writing them down. Some will turn into a story, some won't, but all the best ideas in the world won't make you a writer if you don't put fingers to keyboard and write.

The Daily Squirrel: nose

Amelie stared at her nose in the mirror. The purple bruising had turned more green and yellow over the last few days, but at least the swelling had gone down. She touched it gently and winced. Stupid John and his flailing racquet. That ball had been hers. She knew one thing for sure: she was never going to play doubles tennis again.