Tag Archives: creativity

Prompts Are Everywhere: Using Writing Prompts to Spark Creativity

Have you ever needed that spark to write? Try writing prompts.

A blank page glares back at you, taunting you to write something. Anything. A minute passes. Then another. Three cups of coffee later, you find yourself on social media watching cats riding Roombas and the page remains woefully blank. Ideas are everywhere, but sometimes we need a kick in the brain to notice them. Writing prompts provide something the bottom of your caffeinated beverage cannot: a fresh idea. Prompts can help you out of a rut and trigger new creativity.

Let’s say you been “adulting” all day and your brain is full of kids, bills, and work. Maybe your muse took a nap because you’ve been agonizing over where to put commas as you edit. Or you woke up extra groggy this morning and that third cup is a joke because you know you need the whole pot. A prompt is a great way to start a writing session when your brain if in the wrong mode. Take 10 minutes and sit down to write. Find a prompt that triggers at least one spark for you, set pen to paper (or whatever your preferred method) and write. Don’t stop until the timer dings. Let the ideas flow and give your brain permission to play. It wants to play, so let it. There is no right or wrong way to use a prompt. It’s whatever strikes you in the moment.

The most basic prompt is a short list of words.

A good list will have at least three words that don’t fit together at first glance. Random prompt generators typically give a character, place, and object. Some include additional elements like time and weather. Your creative job is to connect the ideas. When you find the right prompt, your brain will begin building a story around them without asking you permission. First, connect two items, then add in the next. Ask questions, be curious and, most importantly, find a way to the chocolate.

The words hat, rose, and chocolate might be connected first by a hat with a rose on it. Expand upon the idea by asking the ‘W’ questions— who, what, where, why. Who is wearing the hat? A woman. When did it come from? A store, maybe not important. Where is the hat? On the bench next to the woman. What is that hat doing there? Well, this is where it gets really good…remember that guy she met in line for hot chocolate? The words don’t have to be used verbatim. If chocolate gets you thinking about Mayan conquerors and the quest for gold, go with it. It’s a prompt, not a law. The best prompt is the one that takes you in an interesting direction and won’t let you NOT write it.

Writing prompts come in many shapes and sizes beyond three-word combinations. All provide an entry point to a story.

  1. First lines
  2. Dialogue
  3. Character based
  4. Setting based
  5. Photo
  6. Ripped from the headlines

Writing prompts are everywhere.

A Google search yields dozens of writing prompt sites. The 10 Minute Novelists’ Pinterest page has a curated list. If that’s not enough, the app store for your phone contains several dedicated prompt apps. Canned prompts are great, but you can also make your own. One photo prompt can be worth a thousand words or more and this style of prompt is also readily available when you search on the term, but consider following photographers on social media or using stock photos.

An adjustment to your viewpoint or a narrowing of focus results in a different way of seeing the mundane.  For example, a storm passed through knocking down chairs and tables at an outdoor cafe. In panoramic view, the closed cafe sat at the end of a row of shops abutted to a huge parking lot. Like any old downtown. By narrowing the focus to see only the knocked over chairs and tables and asking questions, the scene is transformed. Who caused all this damage? There was a struggle. They were waiting for her. Was anyone hurt? He got there too late, so he didn’t know what happened to her. Why would anyone take his one and only love? Oh, right the gambling debts.

Searching for an even more exotic source for prompts? Try news headlines. Science news covers everything from medical testing to planetary discoveries to the amount of wine we should all drink. Headlines from foreign countries bring you concepts that are just that— foreign. Controlling the kangaroo population, mobile hospitals, red ants floating in pools. What if you built a world where the constraints of the headline were the rule? Everyone must drink a glass of wine a day for longevity, but otherwise, they wither away. And maybe it isn’t wine, but some other government supplied an elixir of doom. Two steps from the headline becomes a conspiracy laden dystopia. Add a character who can’t get his elixir and you will probably need more than the prescribed ten minutes.

Allow writing from prompts to be sloppy.

The sentences don’t have to make sense but do let the ideas flow. Where you start may not be where you end and it’s ok. Stories have a character in a setting with conflict and prompt may give you only one of these elements of story telling. All writing is progress and you never know when you can use the ideas from a simple prompt. Do you have a favorite style of prompt? Has one led you to a larger work? Leave a comment if you’ve benefitted from prompts.


Sara Marschand has been writing Urban Fantasy and Science fiction since she ended her full time career in engineering. When not writing, she enjoys everything produced by Marvel studios. Sara lives with her spouse, 2 noisy kids, a frog and a goldfish that spits rocks. Visit her blog here.

Filling Up That Uninspired Empty Feeling

 

Feeling empty as an artist?

When people say that you need to fill up, they are tapping into a well-loved metaphor about the artist. The artist, we’re going to assume, has a lot to say. They have emotions and connections, stories and accounts, worldviews and interpretations,  images and sentences. An artist pours out their art for the benefit of the hearer, the viewer, and the reader.

But in order for them to pour themselves out, they must have something in their heart, mind, and souls first. They need to be filled up before they can empty themselves out into their art.

Where do they get their inspiration?

Currently, I’m reading Swing Time by Zadie Smith. This is a complicated, multi-layered book. To say it’s about two black dancers in England in the ’80s is ridiculously simplifies it. Our main character is inspired by a childhood obsession with early dance by African Americans in film. She fills herself up with these images and the facts behind them so that later — much later — it turns out, she can pour them back out into other art. Her values, worldview, passions, emotions, and drive all come out in this artistic expression. The original influence was accidental, yet life-changing. And while this character is fictional, the process is the same for us.

We are filled with all kinds of things.

Our stories come, whether we want to admit it or not, from the things that we know. Our subconscious is at work with each word we put together, collecting the images and memories and values into our artwork. Sometimes when we’re in the zone we can see how beautifully all our inspiration works with us.

And when we’re not in the zone, then we may be facing writer’s block. We may be empty.

Empty? You could be.

Maybe you’re burned out or exhausted. Maybe you don’t have any good ideas. It could be that the idea of writing at all makes you nauseated.

What to do to fill up?

Practice good self-care.

I’ve noticed that if I’m especially cross or grumpy, I may just need a sandwich and a nap. But if the anger goes deeper than that, then I need to get to the bottom of it.

Fill up by reading; you should always be reading anyway.

I’d suggest that if you are empty that you read things you don’t usually read — try something new. I go to my local library’s digital catalog and download a bunch of books I’d never think of picking up and go through them on my phone. It’s hardly inconvenient and if I hate the book, it’s easy to replace it.

Expand into other art forms.

You can be creative in other ways besides putting stories together. Try a new recipe. Find a cool craft on Pinterest. Make something — anything. I believe that this will stimulate your creative process enough. It may even prime the pump. You never know. you may find something just as rewarding to do as writing.

Watch a live performance.

Go to your local theater, or check out what your local community college is presenting. Go without an agenda. Go just to listen to the dialogue and to enjoy the story. The interpretation of the play will seep into your subconscious and help inspire you later, perhaps in an unexpected way. If you can’t see a live performance, go to the PBS.org site and check out one of their performances. You’ll be glad you did.

Listen to live music.

Music feeds the soul. I believe that art is art. And that the creative expressions of one kind of artist will feed the creative needs of another.

Relax.

if you stress out that you don’t have an idea, or that you’re just a hack or that you’re a has been, or the best days are behind you, then you’ll be so tied up in knots that you’ll never receive the good ideas that are out there.

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Show up.

Make an appointment with yourself to write a specific amount of time or words daily. And the muse will find you.

Enjoy life.

Look for positive things around you. It may be that you need to be more deliberate in your practices of mindfulness. Maybe you need to meditate or do a little yoga. Even 10 minutes a day could make a big difference.

Watch different genres of movies.

Streaming allows us to have access to varieties we may never have tried. The next time you’re Netflix-ing, try something new, even for a few minutes. Pay attention to the details of the storytelling. You may come away inspired. My new favorite is Broadchurch. It’s inspired me to write a mystery someday!

The FIRST EVER Conference for 10 Minute Novelists will be held August 9-11, 2018 in Cincinnati, OH. We’re featuring Donald Maass, James Scott Bell and Janice Hardy! Come and learn with us!

Write poetry.

Without freaking out about this, think of poetry as the connection of words. You could look for inspiration from other poets, collect words you like or listen to poets read their work aloud.  I find this very inspirational.

Watch people.

I never get enough time watching people. Today I saw a stocker in the grocery store who walked with a floppy gait as if he were wearing clown shoes. At Costco, I saw a man who looked just like Christopher Lee when he played Sauraman in The Two Towers.  If I had my notebook with me, instead of my shopping list, I would have spent more time writing down everything I saw.

Mentor a younger or more inexperienced writer.

Even if neither of you has that much experience, you’d probably find the relationship rewarding. Sometimes just having someone to bounce ideas off of is extremely helpful. My teenagers are especially good at this.

Stop comparing yourself to others.

THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ON THIS LIST! It could be that the reason you’ve stalled is because you don’t think you’re as good as your friend, or you are intimidated by another’s success. Nothing paralyzes a writer more than comparing himself to another writer — she will most often sell herself short. Instead, focus only on you; your strengths, your talents, and your abilities.

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Become less dependent on your rituals.

Admittedly, my Tito Puente playlist tells my brain that it’s time to get busy. I’d also like to always have next to me an iced coffee, a savory snack, hand lotion and a gentle breeze from my open window.  I could also have a nice sans serif font, at 18pt, in a fun color for my document. I could. While these “must-haves” are all lovely, I know that I can write just fine without them. If you tell yourself you can’t write unless your ritual is perfect, then you won’t be writing much. Instead, tell yourself that you can write anywhere and then do it for ten minutes. I think this will build your confidence and help you break out of that block.

Lower your expectations.

I’ve been calling myself the 10 Minute Writer or 10 Minute Novelist for over a decade and still, daily, I have to remind myself that my allotted writing time will not be perfect. Instead of expecting a nonstop hour of work, I should expect a few ten-minute increments and then be happy that I got something at all. This blog post was written in a ten-minute increment. When the timer dinged, I decided a nap was the best use of my time. But that ten minutes, no matter how small, still matters in my writing.

Take heart!

That ebb and flow of your writing? That is normal. Every writer oscillates from being inspired to being dry and back again. Instead of beating yourself up for feeling empty, think about ways you can fill up. And don’t expect one trip to a museum to do the trick. It may take weeks to rediscover your muse. In the meantime, filling up is fun, it’s good for our souls and often it’s not too expensive.

You do have a lot to say. You’ll say more when you fill up the empty spaces.

So go out into the world and discover its marvels and mysteries. Then come back and tell us all about it.


If you liked this post, you may also like:

Nine Questions To Ask If Writers’ Block Has You By The Throat or

How Champion Free Writers Combat The Blank Page


 

 

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

What’s So Scary About Writing What You Don’t Know?

Writing what you don’t know can be scary! Creating a world out of thin air can be intimidating.

This is exactly why there is this whole, big, stupid, “write what you know” controversy.

Some who oppose “write what you know” argue that you should choose imagination over familiarity. Perhaps you should venture outside your own time or country. Perhaps you should dig around for inspiration that comes from subject matter you know nothing about.

Research-filled and imaginative writing will take more time and effort, but it could be worth…
These are all good arguments, but generally speaking, the more outside of your current life you write, the harder and more time-consuming your creative work may be.

If you decide to write what you don’t know, you may have to do these things:

You may have to do research beyond Wikipedia. If you are choosing to write about a setting beyond your own experience, it will be critical that you find accurate resources so that your details are right. Wikipedia, as great as it is, may not be enough. Instead, consider looking at libraries or reference books. Here’s a warning: you may fall down a rabbit hole! You could get so wrapped up in what life was like in 1880s Chicago, that you’ll forget what you’re looking for.

You may have to fill in the gaps of what can’t be found out. There are some things that we’ll never really know about specific time periods in history. Did slaves in ancient Rome worry about their hair? You could probably guess no and be okay. If you, in all your research, don’t come to a definitive conclusion about a specific situation, then it’s a safe bet your readers won’t know either. You can, with all honesty, take a guess, and not lose your artistic integrity.

You may have to imagine new feelings. This can be fun. You may get to fall in love all over again, but this time to an alien on Mars, a Confederate soldier or a Brazilian carnival dancer. It may be a bit troubling to write from another gender’s point of view, but with enough research, you can do it. Many times our emotions are universal so romance in one setting can often feel like romance in another. But if you’re not sure, try to talk to someone who’s been there and felt that way before.

You may have to go to some dark places. This can be scary. You may have to mentally recreate a violent act or emotional abuse. If these kinds of thoughts are new to you, consider yourself blessed. But because you haven’t experienced it first hand, you may have trouble touching authentic emotions. Personally, I’ve had enough darkness in my life. I’m not that willing to relive it for the sake of my story.

You may have to ask others about their experiences. In your research, you may find it helpful to find groups or communities who know something about your subject matter. Often they are enthusiastic about it, so they’ll be happy to help. You want to come to them prepared with questions. You also can’t expect them to do your work for you. Consider using someone in this field as a beta reader to check your accuracy.

You may have to think about physics and math. Writers, generally speaking, avoid these subjects. That’s why we’re writers. But if you are writing in complex mathematic or scientific settings, you’ll need to make sure that your science is accurate, even though your situation is all fiction or fantasy. If you are creating the world that breaks physical laws, you may have to justify it somehow. Science and math research should be able to help.

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You may have to take time away from actual writing. Research takes time! And if you’re already writing in 10-minute increments (like I wrote this blog post) then you’ll find that the project will take longer than you think. The reason that I don’t write historical fiction is that I like getting my drafts done in a timely matter. You’ll have to make a decision if writing what you don’t know is work the digging around.

You may have to document your details. The more imaginative your world, the more you’ll have to keep track of. You may make decisions on climate, geography, and architecture and for every choice you make, you’ll need to remember it later. Consistency is critical in all stories, but in a vast science fiction or fantasy world, it’s of double importance. Create a system that will make keeping your facts straight easier.

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You may have to study other genres. If you have set out to be a fantasy or science fiction writer, you should know what you’re getting into. Read all you can in these genres so that you get a feel for tone and expectation. Each genre has rules to follow and you want your book to follow those rule so that your readers know what to expect. Reading is always good for you.

You may have to travel. Sigh. If you are going to accurately write about exotic places, you may actually have to visit them. This fact, along with coffee and long periods of isolation, is the very best reason to be a writer. If you can afford it, don’t rely on Google maps and street view and your Facebook friends from Togo to tell you everything you need to know. It may be best to update your passport and pack your bags.

Ways To Be More Creative by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelists

You may have to make phone calls. I, for one, write, so I don’t have to talk to people on the phone. Although I cheer the concept of automatic bill pay and email, I may balk at the idea of cold calling experts about things I don’t know. Regardless of how you feel, or even if you want to show off your hairdo on Skype, the accuracy of your work-in-progress may require this. Let’s hope you’re less neurotic about it than I am.

You may have to talk to experts. Which means you may have to ask for favors. You may have to ask them for moments of their time. You may have to go so far as to buy them a coffee to get them talking. The information that a legitimate expert has will be priceless to the development of your work-in-progress. Who knows, you may even make a new friend in the process.

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
Kurt Vonnegut

You may have to question yourself constantly. That is, you’ll have to do this more than you do already. If you are going to write what you don’t know, then you need to check and recheck those facts. This is especially true in historical fiction. The readers of your books will know exactly when the bustle made an appearance in 19th-century fashion. Don’t assume that you can get away with saying your heroine went to the ball in 1831 wearing one.

You may have to ask more of your beta readers. If you restrict your setting and subject matter to only what you know, then your early readers will assume that you were there, or you experienced it. They will look at you as the authority. But if you venture outside of what you know, then you’ve given your early readers more freedom to question you. Listen to all they have to say. They may see a flaw you haven’t noticed.

One of the biggest argument for writing more than you know is that it gets you outside your comfort zone. Writing what you don’t know is a little unpredictable: you and your readers can potentially discover something about the world you didn’t know anything about.

Go as far as you want, don’t be afraid. Make this story yours.


If you liked this post, you may also like

16 Simple Things To Do To Be More Creative or

What’s So Bad About the Advice, “Write What You Know”?


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Write a 100 Word Story! Include 3 Words! Win A Contest!

This is the place for a weekly flash fiction contest!

Can you write a story in 100 words?

The Apples To Apples Drabble! 

The Rules: 

  1. Write a drabble. A drabble is a 100-word story, with beginning, middle and end. A drabble can be any genre. Make it exactly 100 words. You can do it. That’s what adjectives and adverbs are for.
  2. Include each of the three Apples To Apples cards in the photo. All three. Not two. Not four. ALL THREE. New cards are chosen every week. And you can ignore the small words that explain it clearer. We just want the big three.
  3. Paste your drabble into the comments below. Then share this with your friends. The more comments you get on your entry, the more likely you are to win!
  4. Absolutely no links, screen shots or salesy type of behavior in the content entry. 
  5. Winners are chosen by the amount of positive response they get. Comments like, “This is great!” or “How funny!” or “Good job!” are the kinds of things that will be counted. Negative comments like, “this contest sucks” or “the rest of the entries are losers” or “WTF?” will be unapproved. The author of this blog reserves the right to ignore or block any content that is suspected of originating from trolls. In the event of a tie, winners will be chosen by this method. 
  6. Limit 3 entries per person. If you’re having fun, come back next Friday.
  7. This contest is open from 5:00 AM EST every Friday and closes down the following Sunday night at midnight. Comments are welcome throughout the week, but no more entries are allowed. 
  8. All entries must contain no profanity, no graphic violence or erotica, and no hate speech. Entries that do not abide by this rule will not be approved. Consistent abuse of this rule will warrant a blocked user.
  9. Winning entries will be announced on the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook group page the following Friday. The entry will also be published in the monthly digital newsletter, 10 Minute Novelists Insider. You can sign up for this here! 
10 Minute Novelists Insider Monthly Magazine by 10 Minute Novelists
Sign up for the monthly literary newsletter, 10 Minute Novelist Insider & get your free copy of Conquering Twitter in 10 Minutes A Day!

This week’s cards!

 

What to be a Better Writer? Think Like A Sculptor!

When I was a new writer, I had a lot of misconceptions of how writers wrote.

I had a mental image of a writer sitting in front of a typewriter with a stack of blank paper next to them.  Wasn’t that was how all writers worked. I thought that the first sentence I read in a book was the first sentence that the writer wrote. And I thought that the first thought was the best one. I thought that writers had to have everything in their story figured out long before they sat down to write it. Foolishly, I thought writers who were good enough to be published never had to rewrite, revise, edit, proofread or question themselves.

As I learned more about writing, I saw how wrong I was.

I learned that process of writing was hard, that it required heartbreaking and soul-crushing determination at times. And I learned that the search for the right thought, the right word or the right image was a common one. Also, I learned that great writers were willing to work and suffer for the sake of excellence and that craftsmanship was a process.

Most importantly, I learned that the final story represented only a small fraction of the work that was done by the author.

Now that I’m a little more experienced, I understand that page 1 of a novel is hardly the beginning of a writer’s journey. The mental image of a puzzled writer sitting at a typewriter isn’t an accurate one to me.

Writing A Novel Is More Like Sculpting A Fine Piece of Marble

What to be a Better Writer? Think like a sculptor!

Like a sculptor, writers start with a big hunk of nothing and end up with something beautiful.

 Good sculptors don’t start whacking and hope for the best. Marble is expensive; a good sculptor would plan the moves of his hammer and chisel carefully. A good sculptor has a plan; he may spend hours consulting experts on proper form, on proportion, on style.  A good sculptor would practice by making sketch after sketch, filling notebooks with different perspectives of ideas. Before a sculptor ever lifts his hammer for that first big wallop, he’d know what he was doing and why.

An experienced sculptor takes big moves in the beginning of his creation. He pounds big chunks away at first until he gets a very rough shape of the idea in his head. Then, his moves become finer and more delicate. Smaller tools are used to make rough shaped recognizable. Soon the sculptor is able to use tools like files and knives to create the detail. Each curve, each muscle, each surface is carefully and slowly handled. Over time, the sides of the sculpture are shaped. It may be a while before the viewer can understand the vision of the artist.

But the sculptor is not yet done. The finest details must be attended too — textures, eyes, fingernails. No detail must be ignored. The sculpture is not finished until every square centimeter of that creation is buffed by the creator.

What Can We Learn From The Sculptor?
  • A sculptor learns from the experts. As writers we need to take the time to learn our craft from experts around us. Our art deserves attention to plot, structure, character, description, dialogue and point of view.
  • A sculptor sketches his ideas in advance. Lucky us, our media, ink and paper, is so cheap enough that we don’t have to worry about our mistakes. But that shouldn’t stop us from practicing.  We should write regularly and grow in skill and confidence so that when we do sit down to draft the novel, we are at our best.
  • A sculptor understands that work that is rushed will show. Good writers are patient writers. They take the time to craft their work well and don’t rush in to publishing just because it’s easy. Our art and our readers deserve to have quality work from us.
  • A sculptor moves around his sculpture, focusing on facet at a time. His work is circular or spiral, not linear. He is free to travel from section to section, improving it as he is inspired.
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Now, when I start my novels, I want to think like a sculptor.

I want to review my notes and instruction from coaches. And I want to spend time with the outline, the character development, the plot, long before I ever draft a word. I  want to “swing that hammer” with confidence and that only comes with learning. Probably, I’m not going sit down with my art and think linearly. Instead, I’ll move from big idea, say the plot and move into the smaller details, like line-editing.

I had plenty more misconceptions as a writer, but envisioning correctly who I am in the process of the art has been encouraging and helpful.

Writing is art. And the more I work in the process, the more artistic I become.
What do you think? Is the sculptor a good metaphor for the writing process?

Did you like this post? You may also like

16 Simple Things To Do To Be More Creative or

Top 10 Ways To Make Your Words More Beautiful


 

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Write A 100-Word Story! But Include These Three Cards!

This is the place for a weekly flash fiction contest!

Can you write a story in 100 words?

The Apples To Apples Drabble! 

The Rules: 

  1. Write a drabble. A drabble is a 100-word story, with beginning, middle and end. A drabble can be any genre. Make it exactly 100 words. You can do it. That’s what adjectives and adverbs are for.
  2. Include each of the three Apples To Apples cards in the photo. All three. Not two. Not four. ALL THREE. New cards are chosen every week. And you can ignore the small words that explain it clearer. We just want the big three.
  3. Paste your drabble into the comments below. Then share this with your friends. The more comments you get on your entry, the more likely you are to win!
  4. Absolutely no links, screen shots or salesy type of behavior in the content entry. 
  5. Winners are chosen by the amount of positive response they get. Comments like, “This is great!” or “How funny!” or “Good job!” are the kinds of things that will be counted. Negative comments like, “this contest sucks” or “the rest of the entries are losers” or “WTF?” will be unapproved. The author of this blog reserves the right to ignore or block any content that is suspected of originating from trolls. In the event of a tie, winners will be chosen by this method. 
  6. Limit 3 entries per person. If you’re having fun, come back next Friday.
  7. This contest is open from 5:00 AM EST every Friday and closes down the following Sunday night at midnight. Comments are welcome throughout the week, but no more entries are allowed. 
  8. All entries must contain no profanity, no graphic violence or erotica, and no hate speech. Entries that do not abide by this rule will not be approved. Consistent abuse of this rule will warrant a blocked user.
  9. Winning entries will be announced on the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook group page the following Friday. The entry will also be published in the monthly digital newsletter, 10 Minute Novelists Insider. You can sign up for this here! 
10 Minute Novelists Insider Monthly Magazine by 10 Minute Novelists
Sign up for the monthly literary newsletter, 10 Minute Novelist Insider & get your free copy of Conquering Twitter in 10 Minutes A Day!

This week’s cards!

 

Writing Historical Fiction, or “Holy Cow, This is Harder Than it Looks!”

So you’ve decided to write a historical fiction novel.

You enjoy writing, and you adore history, so combining your two loves is a natural step. But before you take that leap into the past, there are a few things you might want to think about…

Writing Historical Fiction, or "Holy Cow! This Is Harder Than It Looks!"

What are you bringing to the table?

As most historical fiction readers know, there is already a LOT of choices out there. Take the Tudors for example. There are thousands of books on Henry the Eighth (famous for his six wives, two of whom he had executed), Anne Boleyn (his most notorious wife), their daughter Elizabeth I, her sister, brother, cousin, their favorite cat, ‘Persil’, etc.*

You should ask yourself: do you want to retell the story, add something new, or both? They’re all fine options, but if you want to attract readers, simply repeating the same story just won’t do it. You need an angle, something new to add to the story like Hilary Mantel did when she told the Tudor story from the point of view of one of Henry’s key advisors in her novel Wolf Hall. Or else you need a time period that’s not been done to death. Throw in an obscure historical figure, or the ‘secret’ history of someone you admire, and you’re off to a good start.

*Not a real thing

Pros and cons of writing historical fiction:

Pros:

  • The history & timeline already exist – you only need to add the story
  • The further back in history you go, the less records there are – more chance for you to fill in the blanks with your story and get creative
  • Most, if not all, research can be done from your living room (see point below on using the internet)
  • You’ll become an “expert” in a relatively short period of time

Cons:

  • Research! If you don’t enjoy research, historical fiction isn’t for you
  • Even though the history & timeline already exist, you will still need to plan carefully (historical fiction readers are a VERY keen and, oftentimes, very particular group; they’ll call you on incorrect dates and events, fabric colors, types of broom straw, and favorite Tudor cats.)

Probably the most important aspect of writing historical fiction; you can never do too much…

Research

You will have to do research. You should be able to discuss your chosen time period with ease when finished. As mentioned, historical fiction readers can be pretty demanding. Your historical details must be accurate. But not all of your research will make it into your story. Remember, this is a novel, not a grade twelve history paper. Throwing in too much historical detail just for the sake of it will turn your reader off. Three pages of detailed description on how a medieval ax is made is fine for a dissertation, but unless the information is relevant to the story, simply referring to an ax will be enough for your readers. You can call it a big ax if you want. A big, shiny ax is fine. But leave it now.

Having said that, details are a lot of the story when used well, and will create your story’s atmosphere. A few words of description of what the king’s goblet looks like, compared to one of his servants, won’t only contribute to the sense of time but also subtly illustrate the difference between two different social classes ie rich people, and people owned by rich people.

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Important descriptions you may want to include:

  • Clothing
  • Households/halls/rooms
  • Furniture
  • Objects common to the period

Keep in mind that not only clothing fashions change with the times, so does furniture, architecture, decorations, household items – getting these details correct is imperative and will draw your readers into your story that much more.

One of my favorite quotes, while written by a horror master, applies to historical fictions:

“Give me just enough information so that I can lie convincingly.” (Steven King)

The Internet is Your Friend. Except When it Isn’t

While researching your novel, you will come across two scenarios:

  1. too little information
  2. too much information
  3. way-way too much information

Too Little Information

The further back in time you go, the less documentation exists (I had two paragraphs in a history book to use when I wrote my Anglo-Saxon novel). Records almost always focus on the upper classes and church and are usually written by males. These time periods, while frustrating to research, DO allow for more license when writing the actual story. Many details of life can be inferred based on the history and events taking place at the time – just don’t take it too far!

Too much information

How do you sort through all of that information? Carefully!

When researching any time period from any country, try to stick to scholarly sources ie sites that include information from primary sources and a bibliography. These let you dig further into your subject if you want to check the original source material (ie original court documents, bills of sale, household accounts, church records etc)

Way Way Too Much Information

Yes, it happens. Good luck and edit HARD!

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Characters

Make sure your characters act as they should. For example, an 18th-century woman will behave differently in most situations to a 21st-century woman and will have different resources to hand. Ensure actions are appropriate to the time period (don’t have Queen Victoria humming Beyoncé). And, as mentioned earlier, ensure your characters are dressed right.

Speech

Depending on your time and place, you may decide to write a speech as your characters spoke ‘back then’. This is fine, but a word of warning: if not done it can pull your reader right out of the story. Tread cautiously! (My characters spoke Old Norse and Old English/Anglo-Saxon but I chose to use modern English with a few Old Norse swear words added at appropriate moments to add flavor and urgency to the relevant scenes).

Remember not to let modern speech creep in. A letter from a Nineteenth Century gentleman to his sweetheart might start ‘My dearest darling’ and not ‘hey babe’. (One expression that particularly bugs me is ‘okay’. American, from the mid-1800s, it should never be used in a medieval historical fiction novel!)

Pick a Date

While your novel may be a sweeping epic that covers many generations of the same family, start with a specific date.

  • It makes the research a lot easier (kind of obvious, that one)
  • It’s necessary if you’re telling the story of an actual historic figure
  • It helps to anchor the story in your reader’s mind
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Location

You’ve picked your time period and all of your descriptions of clothing, homes, rooms, and behavior are accurate but what about your locations? Cities, neighborhoods, and countries change as much as fashion so make sure your descriptions of locations are just as correct. What sounds are there? Horse and carts? Pigs being herded through a street? Pre- or post-industrial age noises? And what about smells? A modern London street probably smells a lot better than a medieval one (or does it?). I once spent eight hours researching whether or not there was a priory at Ulney in 14th century England. There wasn’t. But I put one in anyway. And I feel guilty about it every day. Not kidding.

One Last Thought

Writing historical fiction can be constricting. After all, the facts are laid out already, what more is there? But remember, while the facts are there, the story isn’t. Yet. That’s your job!


Kelly Evans was born in Canada of Scottish extraction but spent much of her life in London, England. She obtained degrees in History and English in Canada and continued her studies in London, focusing on Medieval Europe, landscape archaeology, and the Icelandic Sagas. Kelly moved back to Canada ten years ago, shortly after which her first short stories were published. She writes horror and historical fiction, sometimes combining them. When not writing she enjoys watching really bad horror movies, reading, and playing oboe. Find out more: website: www.kellyaevans.com, twitter: @chaucerbabe, FB: @kellyevansauthor.

10 Ways To Make Your Words More Beautiful

April is National Poetry Month.

Today I celebrate beautiful words.

Regardless of tastes, preferences or trends, I believe the beautiful calls to us.

There is something inside of us that longs for symmetry, for rhythm, for thoughtful curves. Often we can appreciate delicate images that spurn our emotions, that bring out in us the good and noble. We all enjoy art for a variety of reasons, but no one can deny how well-crafted art serves a purpose. Art can point us to the good in humanity, echoing ancient truths. Beautiful art feeds our souls.

As we write, we can organize our words in such a way that their patterns, their meaning, their rhythm, their structure, and their message all sing together.  Beautiful words, in prose, cannot be accidents. Finely crafted words come with discipline and practice. Lovely sentences do not lay on the page passively waiting for an optic nerve to come by and give them life. Beautiful sentences dance — they vary in their length, in their structure, in the vivacity of their verbs and in the nuances of their nouns. These words paint a picture — they don’t slap it together.

10 Ways To Make Your Words More Beautiful

Beautiful words point to the strongest emotions on the human spectrum. They can inflame anger. The right words can render jealously hotter. They can pour out pain like a trickle or an avalanche. Beautiful words can sum up joy, can skip and staccato with each laugh and giggle. At their best, they are for Hallmark cards and tweets, fortune cookies and voicemails. Delicious words are for poets and teenagers, novelists and children, literati and pedestrian.

Famous Poetic Words. The 50 Most Quotes Lines of Poetry. Here’s another one I just want to sit and savor. 

Beautiful sentences dance. They vary in their length, in their structure, in the vivacity of their verbs and in the nuances of their nouns. Beautiful words paint a picture — they don’t slap it together. They can point to the strongest emotions on the human spectrum, inflaming anger, rendering jealously hotter. Beautiful words can pour out pain like a trickle or an avalanche. They can sum up joy, can skip and staccato with each laugh and giggle. They are are for Hallmark cards and tweets, fortune cookies and voicemails. Beautiful words are for poets and teenagers, novelists and children, literati and pedestrian. Words pair together like friends to create a private party of emotion and delight.

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Beautiful words play dress up when they are a metaphor, simile or allegory. They toy with their meaning, putting on a disguise, like a fake mustache or a floppy hat to be to the reader something they’re not. Oh, coy words tease and taunt the meanings and the similarities and the comparisons and the reader watches the burlesque stimulated to read more.

Buzzfeed’s Beautiful Words: 51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences in literature. I found them very inspiring.

Beautiful words hide meaning like a treasure, daring the reader to look for clues to the mystery. Beautiful words leave ellipses like bread crumbs that tempt the reader to go deeper into the woods. Is the reader escaping the real world or rushing to danger? Beautiful words will never tell, they’ll just keep looking behind them as they run over limb and log to keep the chase going.

Beautiful words march together in alliteration. Bearing the beat together as brothers in a band, blaring their business to any reader who claps along in the parade. Beautiful words are not democratic. Some words get the short end of the stick. They are the low feeders in the phonetic and etymological gene pool. Those words are edited and beaten and mocked and their superior sisters are given chances to go to the ball.

Writers, you don’t want to miss this!
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Untranslatable Words. This is a beautiful collection of words from other cultures that can’t be translated into English. I love the illustrations and I also like thinking of the imagination that came up for the need for these words. I also want to put them in my every day use right now. And then I found the same list even MORE beautifully illustrated! 

Beautiful words are parts of a whole. The vowels and consonants are like toddlers in a playground, picking their favorites for the swings or the ball game, holding hands or playing tag. Poor silent E can’t object. Insecure Q can’t go anywhere without U. Lonely Z finds himself picked last for the game. Bossy A tells them all to line up.The words are acrobats, flipping and flying in their palindromes and anagrams. The suffixes and prefixes fly like lost feathers as up they go to the highest of heights.

The Last Words. Huffington Post has a list of the most beautiful last lines in literature that “will make you want to read the whole book.” (Hey kids! Who wants to go to the library with me today?)

The beautiful words are our medium. They are crisp and wide like a crayon or pastel. Precise like a fine pen. Bold like charcoal and pool in the crevasses of meaning like a dab of watercolor. The words are gold and crimson and emerald and cobalt. Rich with facets and karats and sparkle. They dazzle and enchant and when they are put together like beads on a chain, we can wear them around our neck like jewels.

How can you make your words more beautiful?

1. Eliminate the adverbs and adjectives. Stick in a metaphor if you want the reader to appreciate the nuances and features of the noun. Or pick a better noun.

2. Read it out loud. Listen for rhythms and cadence. Add in phrases or clauses to slow things down, add description or amp up emotion.

3. Don’t let sentences start with “There was” or “There were.”

4. Rearrange where the verb and noun are in the sentence but don’t make it passive.

5. Add an element of emotion, especially in the verb choice you make.

6. Use Anglo-Saxon words rather than Latin words. Don’t know the difference? Check out this excellent blog post that explains the difference! 

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
Rudyard Kipling

7. Substitute any “be” verb for a verb that’s specific and vivacious. You know you’ve got a good one when you can see exactly what is happening.

8. Substitute every word for a synonym to see what you come up with. But don’t get fancy. Big, multi-syllable words may muddy your meaning.

9. Combine two short sentences or separate a long sentence into shorter ones. Sentences should be varying lengths. This is a bit hard to read, but you can get the point.

10. Look for weak modifiers like “very” or “some”. If a word in a sentence doesn’t have a precise purpose, take it out. In fact, read the sentence the omit the first word. Read it again omitting the second, then the third. If you don’t miss the word, or the meaning is unchanged, omit the word altogether.  In this point, I can safely omit the words, “weak”, “precise”, “in fact”, and “altogether.” See?

Beautiful words are our medium. We have control over them. We have them lined up in little drawers of our mind and dig through our thesaurus if we can’t find the right one. If we are good at what we do, they are chosen with care and precision. They are picked gingerly from the box and pressed into place with our fingertips. There they do not rest. They are to be re-read and deleted, edited and proofread, taken out and put back in.

I am thankful that I have such a glorious, magnificent, illogical, sometimes unwieldy medium in which to practice my art.

Sometimes I make the words more beautiful.

Sometimes they make me.


If you liked this post on beautiful words, you may also like:

Why Modern Writers Need Poems (Or Why Poems Are The Equivalent of Kale Smoothie) Or, Top 10 Ways Poetry is Better Than Food


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Why Mutually Exclusive Desires Make Great Conflicts

 

Your story should be jammed packed with conflicts.

You should have conflicts about the setting, like the tropical storm that’s been seen down south is heading north and could turn into a hurricane. Or, you could have conflicts about every day life, like maybe the cat is missing and he has a history of getting caught in small spaces. Also, you could have conflicts involving sickness, like a character with Crohn’s disease can’t stop eating animal crackers. Or maybe a conflict regarding money: the bank may foreclose on the family homestead any minute now.

A great story has many kinds of conflicts all layered on each other, each eating away at the main objectives of the main character.

Why Mutually Exclusive Desires Make Great Conflicts

But the best conflict -- the one that will keep your reader turning pages is on that pits two…

Mutually exclusive desires are when our character, let’s say, Steve, wants to do one thing, but he also wants to do something else.

He wants to provide his family with a good home and oboe lessons for his daughter but he also wants to play the ponies at the track. Another example could be that Steve wants more power and responsibility in his neighborhood gang, but he also wants not to whack his best friend for ratting out.

Good mutually exclusive goals can work side by side for a while, but then, somewhere about 2/3 of the way into the story, Steve has to choose.

He realizes that if he takes what he wants all along, then he’ll have to sacrifice something that he wants even more. This is the hinge on which the entire second act sits. It’s this moment that sets up the climactic ending. The reader understands that he can achieve only one of these goals. This is the type of stuff that your reader will eat with a spoon. This is the type of story telling that keeps those pages turning. WHAT WILL HE DO?

But let’s back up a minute. How did you get to this point in your story telling? How have you set Steve up so that he can get into this great climactic situation?

You start with Abraham Maslow.

Maslow was this scientist in the 1930s who came up with this hierarchy of needs for individuals in society. He was not a novelist. I’m not even sure he knew how to create a character. But what he did do was articulate how people get their needs met.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Most of this is going to make a lot of sense to you.

You’ve been in those places where you yourself had mutually exclusive needs and it caused conflict. Conflicts are not so much fun when they happen to us in real life — but they are great fun in stories. If your character, say, Steve, wanted to have this one thing in his life. But then it threatened another equally important desire. He would have to make a choice on what to do about it.

While you are plotting, consider all the needs that Steve has:

Are they at the bottom of the pyramid? He needs to maintain his immediate food, clothing and shelter needs. If your story is a wilderness adventure story, this will be obvious. Steve has to find a place away from the elements to sleep tonight. He’s not sure he has enough jerky for one more day. He also thinks he’s being followed by a bear.  If he stays here, he’ll certainly die from exposure. If he travels on, there is no guarantee of shelter. What will he do?

Or are they on the next level up? If your story is a thriller, Steve wants to keep the Soviets from destroying the military installation in his hometown. Steve is worried not just about his family, but also his neighborhood and maybe if he’ll lose his job at the bank to the communists. If he confronts the Soviets, then they could kill him. But if he doesn’t they’ll destroy capitalism anyway and he won’t have a job, but he’ll be alive. What will he do?

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Or do things get a bit complex with Steve’s relationships? If your story is a family saga, Steve’s issues may be harder to find. He may want to pursue his lifelong goal of touring with a traveling bassoon ensemble. But he’s worried what his father will say. He could lose this opportunity to play or he could lose the family fortune. His band adores him. They can’t function without him. But a cool ten million could buy him friends. What will he do?

Or Is it really all about Steve’s inner life? In the next level, Steve’s quest for significance could come from his life’s work: A book Amish Zombie Princesses. His manuscript has been stolen. The low life who stole it is really his loyal writing coach. These aren’t life and death stakes, but they are gripping nonetheless. He could fight for his book, after all it took him a whole week to write! But then he loses a friend and a mentor. What will he do?

And as for the upper level? To be honest, few books are written with those kinds of needs– the need for self-actualization. Les Miserables is one of the few novels I can think of that touch on those needs. You may find that your readers identify more with the needs on the lower levels.

And that fine, the lower the level, the more likely you have hand-to-hand combat and that’s always fun to read.

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All of this is well and good but unless you put your character in a position, about 2/3 of the way through the story, in which he has to choose between two needs.

He can also choose between two needs that are on two separate levels. Many of the great books you’ve read or films you’ve watched have this kind of choice. A great storyteller will bring his reader along for the ride. But then, a choice must be made, and to the reader it is excruciating.

What does Steve choose?

Steve makes a choice that is not necessarily predictable, but the one that makes the most sense. He can choose a third option that satisfies neither needs. He can come up with an option that satisfied both. The final choice he makes is the climactic moment. After that choice is made, the results should be final and permanent. Hopefully the reader will say, “Of course! That’s the only real choice after all.”

In your story, make sure you have many layers of conflict, but for your main character, develop his needs intentionally.

He’s going to have to make a choice. It doesn’t have to be the right one, but it does have to be the best way to end a story.


Did you like this post? Want to read more like it?

Try this:

Top 10 Questions To Ask About Authority Figures That Could Beef Up Your Conflict

Or,

Top 10 Things You Can Do When You Are Stuck, Either Literally or Figuratively


 


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

16 Simple Things To Do To Be More Creative

Everybody wants to be more creative.

Creativity is that moment when your ideas come together in just the right way, you may see something that no one else did. Creativity is problem solving, but it’s also strategy, connections and applications of concepts. When we’re on fire creatively, sometimes we don’t know where the original spark came from but we know we like the innovative blaze it ignited.

The problem with creativity is that it’s the hard work of the mind and sometimes the ideas just aren’t there.

We know what makes our bodies tired, but often the mind gets tired in entirely different ways. If we are writing for a living, or hinging our professional success on creativity, then we can’t afford to waste too much time not innovating and creating.

13 Simple Things To Do to Be More Creative

 

The first step in becoming more creative is to start with your physical well-being: Get enough…
These alone won’t make you creative, but they will bring your mind to the optimum situation where creativity could occur.

Other ideas to set yourself up to be creative.

1. Get your mind off your task. I am a mother of five, so I know all about distractions. It turns out that having my kids come into my office every thirty seconds to show me something insignificant and dull is good for my brain. Distractions can make me more creative. They certainly make me annoyed.

2. Do something logical. Now according to this researcher, the jury is still out on how exactly one brain activity helps the other, but doing logic puzzles, Sudoku or crosswords certainly can’t hurt your creativity. I’d like to think of these logic breaks as cross-training for your mind. If you focus only on inventive thinking, your brain could be need for a rest.

3. Put yourself in a low stakes creative setting. Don’t know what to write next in your novel? Go get your pencils and adult coloring book and veg out. When you are coloring, you are making creative choices, but because they are rather insignificant ones, your brain can take a breather. Maybe after a couple of pages, you can face your writing again.

Ways To Be More Creative by Katharine Grubb, 10 Minute Novelists

4. Exercise. This article a University of Georgia study showed how exercise increases memory and analytical thinking.  here’s even this series on Youtube called Yoga for creativity

5. Get out of your own head. According to this article from PsychCentral, your overthinking about your task could be the very thing that paralyzes your creativity. It certainly can paralyze the rest of your life. Consider putting projects aside and deliberately putting your mind on something new. This may be all it takes to get fresh perspective.

6. Change the scenery. This thorough article gives lots of examples of how to create novel experiences during your week so that your creativity is encouraged.  Even things as simple as altering your commute or rearranging your office can stimulate your brain and make your ideas flow.

7. Go through your old notes. According to this article, “innovation can only ever rearrange what already exists.” I would agree. As storytellers, we’re always remixing old ideas — old character tropes, old plotlines, familiar settings — to make something fresh and hopefully innovating. Your old ideas may not be brilliant on their own, but if they are coupled with your current experience and insight, you may find great inspiration.

8. Try a new juxtaposition. Analogies can be a great way to stimulate creativity. When I was in college, I was introduced to the idea of the synectics model, which is a way of comparing unlike objects or creating fresh analogies to stimulate creativity. This video explains it too. Occasionally I use this  (with my original notes from the ’90s) to understand my themes or characters better.

9. Discuss your idea with other creatives or peers. We all know that having someone to trust to bounce ideas off of is helpful. Don’t know any writers? It just so happens that I lead the liveliest writers group on Facebook. You should join us.

10. Make lists. I love, love, love everything that Brain Pickings has to say, but then they did an article on how Ray Bradbury would make lists to stimulate his thinking. Oh! This is perfect! Do what Bradbury does and you could write the next Fahrenheit 451!

11. Meditate. I was totally sold on this idea when I read this: “We can stop wringing our hands and waiting for the muses to fill our minds with novel and useful ideas. The science suggests that we can take an active role in inspiration and that this exercise can help!” I would believe that anytime you pursue mindfulness, you’re going to come out ahead. Not to mention that your stress level decreases, your blood pressure lowers and you feel physically energized.

12. Get organized. You’ve probably read the phrase, “A tidy desk is a sign of a sick mind,” or something along those lines. Maybe you’ve used your disorder as an excuse to be creative. But the good folks at The New York Times have done a little science and they think you should tidy it up if you want to be creative. Now set your timer and get to it. You’ll probably like the way it looks when you’re done.

13. Listen to music. According to this Psychology Today article: “Music not only affects your creative musings but also your energy levels.” But you probably already knew that. You already knew that some music makes you get up and dance. Some puts you in the mood to write. Sometimes music takes you on a memory trip. Music is powerful, so plug in those earbuds. You’ll be inspired in no time.

14. Take a nap. Of all the thing on this list to bolster creativity, THIS IS MY FAVORITE! Our little brain cells need a rest! I’ve always suspected as much, but it’s nice to know that science backs me up when I close the blinds and tell the kids not to bother me for 45 minutes or so.

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15. Move forward on the worst idea. So in the 30 seconds I was using to Google all of these suggestions, I couldn’t come up with the documentation to support that moving on the worst idea was a good creative strategy. I still stand by it and this is why: assuming the stakes or low (and really, drafting a novel in this saturated market rarely creates high stakes for anyone) try the worst idea on your list of potential ideas. Move forward. Take a step. See what happens. Either you’ll discover that it’s not such a bad idea after all, or you’ll adjust it and modify it so much, you’ll create more and more ideas and you’ll be recharged by your discovery. It’s a win-win.

16. Read. Of all the things on this list, reading is one that you should be doing anyway. You probably don’t need a reminder that reading feeds your subconscious, increases your vocabulary and knowledge, opens your mind to new ideas and helps you think critically, but I’m going to paste a link in here anyway to make it official. 

You can’t specifically turn your creativity on and off like a tap, but you can set your mind up strategically so that it has the better chance of being creative.

Got any more ideas? Send me a comment! I’d love to hear how you’ve become more creative.


Like this post? You may find these helpful too!  

Top 10 Ways To Make Your Words More Beautiful

Or, Top 10 Ways To Deal With Writers Block


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

What’s So Bad About the Advice, “Write What You Know”?

What’s so problematic about “write what you know?”

I swear, sometimes in writing circles, these are fighting words.

Mark Twain famously gave this advice. And in the context of who he was (um, very famous for his fictionalized accounts of his boyhood on the Mississippi River) and the time period in which he lived (yeah, so authors in the late 19th century were just dipping their literary toe into fantasy) this made a lot of sense. He also had his own sales figures to contend with: his books Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were commercially successful. His more fantastic stories,  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court  and The Prince and the Pauper were not. If you were sitting on Mark Twain’s porch in Hannibal, Missouri in 1890, asking for good writing advice, he would have totally said, “write what you know, son!”

What's So Wrong With The Advice "Write What You Know"?

I think that most people who hate this phrase, write what you know, think that it's a command,…

I also think that the imaginative progression of literature through the 20th and 21st centuries can create literary snobs.

We write in entirely different contexts that Twain. We run the risk of taking this advice too literally, too rigidly, and too seriously.

I think we can all agree that writers should not limit our writing to only our own experiences. But if we don’t know what to write, it is perfectly okay to refer to the familiar. That neighborhood you played in as a kid. The taste of chocolate almond ice cream on a hot summer night. The smell of your sixth-grade classroom. There is nothing wrong with returning to what you remember. In some respects, your own experiences can add a vividness and depth that a fully imaginative paragraph won’t.

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And then there’s the business of emotions. Your deepest darkest emotions are part of who you are — they can show up in your prose. If you’ve felt a pain of any kind, you can articulate this pain into your prose. Of course, you lived heartache — so you can make your sad words effective ones. You probably never accidentally stabbed your friend because you thought that he was really your uncle who had recently married your mother right after your father died, right? But you have been betrayed. So you can get Hamlet. Shakespeare did too.

And then there are these little composite touches. Your heroine is a bit like your first boyfriend, but he’s also kind of like your boss and he has a gallant streak like your husband. Because you have had relationships, both bad and good, you have vast resources to draw from. If you are a wise writer, you realize that you need to make your hero more interesting than your first boyfriend who grew up to be an accountant. You make him a professional cheese sculptor instead.

In this article, author Jason Gots suggests that “write what you know” is one of the best and  most misunderstood pieces of writing advice ever.” I agree with him.  He suggests that writers fall into a trap of thinking that unless they’ve experienced it first hand, they shouldn’t tap into their imaginations or speculate on something they’re not familiar with.

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Back in 2007 or so, I was doing a little research on what it as like to be a Pastor’s kid. The main character in my book was a lonely, frustrated twenty-something who resented the fact that the only job opportunity she had was as a church secretary in her father’s church. She was hardly a believer, so I was hoping for some good conflict. I chose this topic to write about because even though I was not a pastor’s kid, I grew up in a church and my parents were active enough that I saw the ins and outs of church life. I hadn’t first-hand experience with what it was to be a PK, but I had a pretty good idea. To enhance my understanding  (and to procrastinate writing about it) I found an online group for pastor’s kids. I approached a couple of women and asked them if I could pick their brain.

One got very angry and defensive. Her claim was because I had never been there, I “had no right” to write about it. My response to her was that I didn’t believe that Shakespeare was ever a lovesick teenage girl in Verona. He still wrote Romeo and Juliet. She didn’t like my argument but said she’d help me if I promised a free book. I found someone else to help me.

My point is that I think that a good writer shouldn’t be afraid to explore new points of view and create imaginative worlds.

I also think that when we as readers start pointing our fingers to writers and claim that they are “playing it safe” by turning to the events and people they once knew, then we’re hardly helpful.

Writing is an art, so the debate of the source of where we get our inspiration is a moot one.

As you grow in your craft, you’ll learn how to twist your own experiences around to the perfect story. You’ll be inspired by those people who can tap into the fascinating things they do know. You’ll be amazed by the worlds that imaginative writers can create — what they don’t know.

So take this advice, “write what you know,” just like you take all writing advice. Take it with the smallest grain of salt. Be comfortable with who you are. Don’t look at what others do, or what others expect from you.

Just write.


Did you like this post?
Try these: Top 10 Ways To Equip Myself To Be An Expert Starer or Top 10 Ways To Make Your Words More Beautiful.
Thanks for coming by today!

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

This Week’s Flash Fiction Contest! Write a Drabble & Win!

This is the place for a weekly flash fiction contest!

The Apples To Apples Drabble! 

The Rules: 

  1. Write a drabble. A drabble is a 100-word story, with beginning, middle and end. A drabble can be any genre. Make it exactly 100 words. You can do it. That’s what adjectives and adverbs are for.
  2. Include each of the three Apples To Apples cards in the photo. All three. Not two. Not four. ALL THREE. New cards are chosen every week.
  3. Paste your drabble into the comments below. Then share this with your friends. The more comments you get on your entry, the more likely you are to win!
  4. Absolutely no links, screen shots or salesy type of behavior in the content entry. 
  5. Winners are chosen by the amount of positive response they get. Comments like, “This is great!” or “How funny!” or “Good job!” are the kinds of things that will be counted. Negative comments like, “this contest sucks” or “the rest of the entries are losers” or “WTF?” will be unapproved. The author of this blog reserves the right to reject or block any content that is suspected of originating from trolls. In the event of a tie, winners will be chosen by this method. 
  6. Limit 3 entries per person. If you’re having fun, come back next Friday.
  7. The contest is open from 5:00 AM EST every Friday and closes down the following Sunday night at midnight.
  8. Winning entries will be announced on the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook group page the following Monday. The entry will also be published in the monthly digital newsletter, 10 Minute Novelists Insider. 
  9. All entries must contain no profanity, no graphic violence or erotica and no hate speech. Entries that do not abide by this rule will not be approved. Consistent abuse of this rule will warrant a blocked user.

This week’s cards!

This Week’s Apples To Apples Drabble Contest!

This is the place for a weekly flash fiction contest!

The Apples To Apples Drabble!

The Rules!

Write a drabble. A drabble is a 100-word story, with beginning, middle and end. A drabble can be any genre. Make it exactly 100 words. You can do it. That’s what adjectives and adverbs are for.

Include each of the three Apples To Apples cards in the photo. All three. Not two. Not four. ALL THREE. New cards are chosen every week.

Paste your drabble into the comments below. Then share this with your friends. The more comments you get on your entry, the more likely you are to win!

Absolutely no links, screen shots or salesy type of behavior in the content entry. 

Winners are chosen by the amount of positive response they get. Comments like, “This is great!” or “How funny!” or “Good job!” are the kinds of things that will be counted. Negative comments like, “this contest sucks” or “the rest of the entries are losers” or “WTF?” will be unapproved. The author of this blog reserves the right to reject or block any content that is suspected of originating from trolls. In the event of a tie, winners will be chosen by this method.

Limit 3 entries per person. If you’re having fun, come back next Friday.

The contest is open from 5:00 AM EST every Friday and closes down the following Sunday night at midnight.

Winning entries will be announced on the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook group page the following Monday. The entry will also be published in the monthly digital newsletter, 10 Minute Novelists Insider. 

All entries must contain no profanity, no graphic violence or erotica and no hate speech. Entries that do not abide by this rule will not be approved. Consistent abuse of this rule will warrant a blocked user.

 

This week’s cards!

The Weekly Apple to Apples Drabble! Submit Your Entry Below!

This is the place for a weekly flash fiction contest!

The Apples To Apples Drabble! 

Apples to Apple Drabble Flash Fiction Contest by 10 Minute Novelists

The Rules: 

  1. Write a drabble. A drabble is a 100 word story, with beginning, middle and end. A drabble can be any genre. Make it exactly 100 words. You can do it. That’s what adjectives and adverbs are for.
  2. Include each of the three Apples To Apples cards in the photo. All three. Not two. Not four. ALL THREE. New cards are chosen every week.
  3. Paste your drabble into the comments below. Then share this with your friends. The more comments you get on your entry, the more likely you are to win!
  4. Absolutely no links, screen shots or salesy type of behavior in the content entry. 
  5. Winners are chosen by the amount of positive response they get. Comments like, “This is great!” or “How funny!” or “Good job!” are the kinds of things that will be counted. Negative comments like, “this contest sucks” or “the rest of the entries are losers” or “WTF?” will be unapproved. The author of this blog reserves the right to unapprove or block any content that is suspected of originating from trolls. In the event of a tie, winners will be chosen by this method.
  6. Limit 3 entries per person. If you’re having fun, come back next Friday.
  7. Contest is open from 5:00 AM EST every Friday and closes down the following Sunday night at midnight.
  8. Winning entries will be announced on the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook group page the following Monday. The entry will also be published in the monthly digital newsletter, 10 Minute Novelists Insider. 
  9. All entries must contain no profanity, no graphic violence or erotica and no hate speech. Entries that do not abide by this rule will not be approved. Consistent abuse of this rule will warrant a blocked user.

This week’s cards!

The Apples To Apples Drabble! A Flash Fiction Contest!

Good luck!