Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Writing Inspired by Play

At writer's conferences we're often reminded that butt-in-chair just may be the elusive secret to success, and that's absolutely true.  We also know that after the Nano high wears off and the euphoria of typing The End fades away, there will be months upon months of revisions followed by months upon months of work spent querying, submitting, and/or working to get that manuscript published.  Only to repeat all those months and months over again, with that manuscript, and possibly (probably?) tearfully setting it aside in order to plow into more months of rejections and elbow grease on a new manuscript.  And I really hate to say it, but most of that will not be fun.  Or even fair.

So, can writing be fun?  Is it playful?  Well, obviously not all of it!  Not unless you've got some really crazy definition of fun, and also like paper cuts, blistering sunburns, and seeing small dead animals on the road.

But writing can (and maybe should) owe inspiration to fun, and even in the query woes and at that stage of revision where burning is too good for your book, writing can enjoy the sparkly edge of play.  I'm talking about those moments when you're walking down the street and suddenly your writer sense (which everyone knows is second only to a spidey sense) goes crazy.  You've just seen something preposterous, or maybe tiny and dear, and it's sparked all kind of shiny writing ideas.  Woot for sparklies!

Or maybe you're going about your serious day in your serious life, and someone surprises you.  Or you surprise yourself.  And it's not the bad kind of surprise, like waking up to the sound of your child vomiting all over their bedroom...when you have to catch a plane at 5am and just got to sleep...but rather, it's the good kind of surprise.  Like, when you've been trudging through a dreary day of rain and more rain, and suddenly the sun pulls up a corner of the grey sky and shines out, splashing a rainbow over everything!  Or, you're watching a parade and you see...

a grown man, walking on stilts, pretending that he's floating in an inner tube down a river...in the middle of the street.  Do you see the look on his face?  The way his smile seems to reach every corner of his being?  That's play.  And I think we all need it, but especially creative people.

We need it because without it, the well into which we dip can run dry.  And our oasis shrivels, and we find ourselves trying to build sand castles without any water to make the sand pack, or paint an image of a vibrant, mysterious jungle with nothing but one wilted leaf.

Finding play can be tricky.  Children help. So do animals, and people that smile at us.  But in the end it's about ourselves, our souls, and if we recognize the inspiration and power in play.  If we can step back from the daily grind of butt in chair and elbow grease to appreciate that sunlight bursting in, and the hilarious things a kid will say when woken by vomit at 5am.  Because play is all around us, once we've opened our eyes to see it.

Cherish it, embrace it, and let the laughter come.

Tell, me, what inspires your writing?  What makes you smile?  I would love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Writing: Inspired by Eating Styles

Just as I sat down at the computer to dream up a post on what inspires me, the TV in the other room blared: inspired by food.  Yeah, okay, I can take a message even when the universe delivers via the boob tube.

But as I started to think about how food inspires me, I realized it’s not only what people eat, but the style with which they do it.  Everyone has a style that reveals or hides his or her personality and backstory.  We change our style of eating with situations, who we are with and where.  Eating is so visible and unavoidable it makes hiding innate quirks almost impossible, even the act of trying to hide or eat in an accustomed style reveals discomfort.  

Eating style is a wonderful bit of body language to use when writing and it’s something easily understood by most readers. Actually, thinking about different eating styles and what they mean is a great way to begin creating a character.  

How about a billionaire who gobbles his morning oatmeal as if it’s his last meal. What’s the backstory there?  Does he hold his spoon in a strange way?

Take a middleclass boy who snacks on cold SpaghettiOs out of a can, dribbling noodles and sauce down his baseball shirt--now make that boy a businesswoman in suit and have her eating in an office storeroom or have her serving it in a boardroom.  See how those changes effect how we interpret the character?

Or a teenage girl who refuses to eat samores around the campfire, but later sneaks off on, carefully peels the wrapper from a chocolate bar, folds the wrapper, then nibbles off one square and stashes the rest. Hmmm. What does that say about her and her relationship to the other campers? What does she do with the wrapper and the rest of the chocolate? Is she a serial killer in the making or is it the boy who demands catsup on everything?

My mother grew up during the depression. For Christmas she always got box of Cheese Tidbits. At least, a million times she told me how she’d count out the number of crackers in the box and allow herself one per day as a treat. At ninety years old, she was still assigning numbers to how many treats she and others were allowed: 18 peanuts at cocktail time and five nuts for the dog. I doubt she ever gorged, but she was really good at slobbering coffee.

You get the idea. Now, the next time you’re stuck or dreaming up a story, think about the eating styles of people you know—or go to a restaurant and do some people watching.  Look at people eating grapes at the grocery store or beelining for free food samples. Do they enjoy this food without caring who sees or are they sneaky?

Time to fess up. What quirky eating habits do you have or what styles drive you nuts?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Writing Inspiration: Science & Dreams

Anyone who creates anything needs inspiration. Flying inspired the Wright brothers, Lisa inspired Da Vinci, and a tower inspired Eiffel.

In March, the Cabinet is going to post about our writing inspiration. It's true that writers are inspired by anything and everything, and even the idea that maybe none of it really exists at all. Obviously there's no way we can cover every inspiration. But my personal favorites thus far have been science and dreams.

I love learning about current discoveries and inventions and pondering the what-ifs. Science headlines this very day are these:

Giant Virus Resurrected from Permafrost after 30,000 Years
This 500-Pound Metal Suit Can Take Humans To New Ocean Depths
Scientists Can Now Control Flies' Brains With Lasers

At first glance these articles might seem to lend themselves only to science fiction, but that depends on where your what-ifs take you. Sure, to a writer, that virus could turn into a pandemic and an insecure biophysicist's mad race to cure it. But it could just as easily become the story of a family who escapes the crisis by living in the remnants of a beached submarine and focus on relationships, claustrophobia, and the meaning of life.

That's the point of inspiration. It sparks the story you will write, but you are the one that builds the fire, and fans the flames.

I'm currently working on a novel called Prophecy about a newly called priestess of the sun who becomes the target of a murderous conspiracy. It's not science fiction but the idea hatched from a news story announcing that the fault lines under the Temple of Delphi in Greece were proven to release actual hallucinogens. This led to my own research. The Oracle was in operation anciently for centuries; she turned the tide of wars, democracy, and even wielded authority over kings. Neighboring lands gave great tribute to these women making them wealthy and free in a misogynistic society. How did this sacred sisterhood pull it off? Did they believe in their powers of perception, and if not, what were they really up to?

So, yeah. Science. It inspires me.

I know it may seem trite after Stephanie Meyer, but if you're a colorful dreamer, you have an ocean of inspiration to explore. I don't have much to say here other than if a scene or an emotion or a character pops up in a dream that you would like to get to know better, by all means do it. Explore the idea. It may melt into nothing, or it may turn into a novel. Both have happened for me.

Other novels inspired by dreams? Misery, by Stephen King; Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson; and Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach. The subconscious (or wherever dreams come from) is a powerful force. (I stole this list of books from here.)

Whatever inspires you, make sure you want to stare at it, analyze it, and live with it for a very long time because inspiration is just the beginning. Faith will carry you through the long haul to completion...but that's probably a topic for another blogpost.