Archive for 'creativity'

Monday, November 12th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Dream Projects: Deciding What to Work on Next

(Our theme week got sliced up a bit because I didn’t post last week.  Mea culpa.)

What would I write, if I had no other considerations?  Turns out, that’s a complicated question.  Like Diana, I love everything I’ve worked on, so it’s not like I’m not working on dream projects every single day.  It’s always been my dream to work as a full-time writer, and here I am, doing it.  But projects do get pushed back.  I have ideas that just haven’t cooked up yet and don’t really fit with I’m doing right now.  I’ve been extremely fortunate that since selling my first book, I’ve never really had to stop and figure out what to work on next.  Opportunities have presented themselves, and I’ve had projects to fill those opportunities.

There’s something of a flipside to this, which is that when an astonishing, fringe, crazy idea comes along, I don’t always have the time to work on it.  I can write two books a year.  This is great, because I can be productive, prolific, maintain a one book a year schedule on my series and then do other things, like YA, on the side.  The problem is that while I’m writing two books a year, I get ideas for probably 3-4 books a year.  And my contract obligations make it really easy to pick which ideas to work on:  the ones that have actually sold.  Which means I always have a couple of dream projects sitting on the sidelines because they’re not sold, and they’re not sold because they don’t really fit any category that I’m currently writing in.  I have an epic fantasy I want to write, and a space opera I want to write.  They’re going to be challenging to write (never mind marketing them), so I’ve put them to the side to let them cook a little longer.  And then, sometimes, an idea strikes that’s so immediate, so energizing, that I make room in the schedule, and worry about the rest.  This just happened to me, and I’m now working up a pitch for a YA novel that I didn’t know I’d be writing a year ago.

Someday, the other parts of my writing career will slow down, or a break will come for some other reason.  Then I expect a stretch of time will open up, and I’ll pull out my file folders on those ideas and go to town.

But there’s more:  I also want to write a screenplay someday, and I’d love to write comic books someday.  The reason I haven’t yet is that they’re both entirely different formats of writing.  I’d have to learn a whole new set of techniques, a whole new kind of writing, to do either one of those things.  And that takes time, which I don’t have right now.  But that doesn’t stop me from thinking about both.  I’ve already picked out which story of mine I want to translate to screenplay form — my WASP mystery, “The Girls from Avenger.”  And my comic book idea kicks ass.  I’d also love to write a tie-in for one of my beloved fangirl properties.  I’ve actually gotten close on that one a couple of times.  I expect it’ll happen someday, if I’m patient and prepared.

I may not have time to write every single idea I have, but that’s okay.  I collect and nurture them anyway.  Because if an opportunity ever comes along to go in any of these directions, you can bet I’ll be able to say “Yes,” because I’ve got the ideas tucked away.  Oh yes, I do.

Monday, July 2nd, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
If Not Writing, What?

I’m still drawing on some questions I solicited on my Facebook page awhile back.  This comes from Gregg Chamberlain, and it’s one I get asked a lot in blog interviews:  If I wasn’t a writer, what would I be doing?  Would I have some other creative outlet?

What I usually say:  What would I be if I wasn’t a writer?  Institutionalized.

Seriously.  Like a lot of writers, I feel like if I couldn’t write, or didn’t write, I’d go crazy.  Completely bonkers.   Even taking a step back and considering the question seriously, it’s still tough to answer because I can’t imagine what else I’d be doing.  I’ve spent so much of my life on stories and writing, that a huge chunk of my current identity would be totally different.  I’m a writer because around the time I graduated from college, I decided there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do with my life, my career, my time.  It took about twelve years after that to be able to write full time, but I did it because I didn’t give myself much of a choice.  I don’t want to consider what other career I might have gone into besides writing, because it would change my life too much, and I like my life the way it is.

The question of what other creative outlet I might be doing if I didn’t write is a little less traumatic to consider, because I’ve always had lots of creative outlets.  Art, sewing, theater, music.  Looking back, I think I could have made a career at any of them — if I had chosen to put as much time into any one of them as I put into my writing.  Writing won out because it’s easy to do any time, any place.  A pen and paper, that’s it.  Art and music have steeper learning curves, I think, and the rewards aren’t as immediate.  Theater usually needs  collaborators.  I sometimes think in an alternate universe, I did follow one of those other paths, and in that universe I’m wondering what would have happened if I’d become a writer.

I’ve been on a couple of panels over the last couple of years about other creative outlets writers have.  Lots of writers knit, make jewelry, play in bands, and so on.  I do find I really love making things with my hands after days and days of working mostly with my brain.  But I don’t consider trying any of my crafty hobbies professionally.

How about you?  If you didn’t write, would you be doing something else?  Do you have creative outlets in addition to writing?

Monday, June 18th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
The First Basic Question

Here’s a tough question I get sometimes, one that I had to figure out how to really articulate clearly a couple of weeks ago when I taught a workshop for a roomful of teenagers:  How do you get started?  Not with outlining or telling a story or learning about craft or trying to get published.  I mean when someone wants to be a writer but has yet to put down words and isn’t sure where to start with even that very first step.  (I’ve been writing since I was eight.  This isn’t an issue I’ve had to deal with for awhile, so I really had to think about it.)

I wonder, sometimes, if writing can seem like such an arcane activity that some people need permission to start.  Or need to get over the hurdle and into believing that yes, anyone who is literate can write.  When someone asks, “I want to write but I don’t know how to start,” what can I tell them?  I’ve come up with a few ideas of how to get people there.

Brainstorming.  Write down ideas, and don’t worry about making them sentences, or making the words pretty.  Make a list if you have to.  You want to write, you’ve got ideas — write them down in whatever form you can.  The point is just to get words on a page, the first words that come into your mind.

Journaling.  Start small:  go outside, go to a park, go to the mall.  Bring a notepad and pen.  Sit quietly, just watching and listening.  Then, write what you see.  Time it, at first — spend ten minutes writing everything:  the people you see, the noises you hear, the kinds of activity going on around you.  Describe the trees, the clouds, the sky.  Again, this doesn’t even have to be prose.  Just make a list.  Describe as much as you can, in as much detail as you can.  This is why the timer helps — you have to force yourself to keep writing, and I can’t isn’t an excuse.  (I still keep a travel journal, which helps me get down my newest experiences and sights into concrete form.)

Personal Journaling.  Keep a diary of your day’s activities, and get in the habit of doing this for a few minutes every day.  Again, focus on details, senses, feelings.  Practice getting that storm of thoughts in your brain onto the page, a little bit at a time.

All these activities kickstart the practice of getting thoughts from your brain onto paper, and the more you do this the easier it will get.  No one will read any of this, it’s all for you, so like I said, don’t worry at all.  Just practice making marks on a page or typing words on the screen.  I think you’ll find that if you do this every day, it gets easier.  If you start by setting a timer and forcing yourself to write for five or ten minutes, you’ll get to a point where the timer bell goes off, and you’re still writing.  That ten minutes will turn into twenty, then a half an hour, and beyond.  Writing takes practice.  It’s a muscle you have to develop.  You might start with lists, but soon your thoughts will start flowing, one sentence into the next.

You may not even realize it when those random thoughts, lists, and ideas start flowing into a continuous narrative.  And the stories that have been living in your brain will start to find their way to the page.

Monday, April 16th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
An excellent bit of characterization

I was on the ABC website, poking around for information about when the next new episode of Castle was going to air (must…have…Castle…fix…).  The site for the show has a lot of cool extras, the coolest of which may be this:  Castle’s Bucket List (opens as a PDF).

This is a list of 50 items, about 15 of which are crossed off.  I got to thinking what a clever document this is.  Not only is it an exercise in characterization, it tells stories.  Some of the items we know about from the show, some we don’t but they’re so true to the character I believe them.  Some items hint at stories that I can’t help but wonder about.  #39, Visit every IKEA, is crossed off?!?  Juggle chainsaws is crossed off?  Castle can juggle chainsaws?  This doesn’t surprise me, knowing Castle, but wow!  Now, I doubt we’ll ever see Castle actually juggle chainsaws on the show, and that’s okay.  It’s enough to believe the character has a life outside the show.  The list is funny, revealing, and poignant:  the last item, “Get married and make it last,” is not crossed off.

I love this, because it shows that even a simple piece of writing, like a list, can be a story, hinting at drama and conflict and possibly unreachable goals, leaving me, the reader, with a longing to know what’s going to happen to this character next.  Great stuff.

Would you be able to make a bucket list for your characters?  Would your character even be the kind of person to have a bucket list?

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012 by Bob Mayer
My Writing Space

I’ve moved a lot, while I was in the Army and afterwards.  I wrote my first novel living in ChunChon, South Korea, as an unsponsored military dependent.  They would turn the power off every so often just for the heck of it, I guess.  I was writing on the original Mac.  512K, no hard drive, one floppy for the writing program, another floppy for the manuscript.  The largest file you could have was a long chapter, so a book was a list of chapter files.

From there I went to Ft Campbell.  My first book came out in 1991, and I was living in a one-room unheated apartment above a garage.  Still working on that original Mac, which frankly was the best computer I ever owned.

Then, Boulder CO where I worked in a variety of rooms, from one with a great view of the Rockies to a room in the basement with no window.

From Boulder, it was to Hilton Head, South Carolina.  I had a great office facing the Intracoastal Waterway.  I could see dolphins swim by.  Boats.  I’d take a break and walk out the deepwater dock, get in my kayak and paddle away.

Then, in the midst of grief, we moved to Whidbey Island, WA.  The first year was pretty grim and dark.  Well, all four years were dark.  Lots of writers there.  It seems it’s easier to stay inside and write when the dolphins aren’t calling.

Then, two months ago, after moving west in death, we moved east in new life as our grandson, Riley Karen Cavanaugh, was born.  He’s named after the protagonist in that first novel so many years ago in 1991.  We moved here to Chapel Hill, NC, with no idea where we were going to live.  We drove around for days looking at rentals until we found the house we’re in now.  It’s got a great built in office on the lowest level.  I can see trees forever down a hillside.  Once they leaf out, it will be all green.  However, I will be buying a simple desk this weekend and put it in a room on the other side of the bottom floor.  That will be my writing room with no internet.  This office with the Internet, the printers, the shelves, the files, etc will be my business office.  Because I have two jobs– writer and publisher.  I really need to separate the two.  I don’t believe you can write with the Internet on the same computer you’re using to write.

I get a lot of work done while traveling, but little creative writing.  I can edit really well on a plane or in an airport or a hotel room.

I think the key is not the space, it’s the attitude.  It’s focusing.

I write on a computer because the most important course I took in high school was typing.  However, I only use six fingers for some weird reason.  The rhythm of the keys is important to me.  My handwriting is awful as I write curved left, which means I smear whatever I’ve already written.

I do believe in printing out a manuscript every 50 pages or so and going through it on the page with my red pen.

I like quiet.  I occasionally listen to music, but not often.  I’m a morning person so I like to create in the morning and do the drudge work later in the day.

Oh yeah– today only, 8 February, my newest release, The Green Berets: Eternity Base, is FREE on Kindle.

I believe in being organized.  And there is a sense of alignment needed for the desk, the computer screen, the keyboard etc.

I go back to the point though– it’s not about the place, it’s about the focus.

Write It Forward

PS:  Hot off the presses next week will be The ShelfLess Book: The Complete Digital Author was just published.  It is all we learned at Who Dares Wins Publishing that allowed us to go from selling 347 eBooks in January 2011 to 100,000 in July.

It will be available on all platforms and I’ll re-announce it here.

Monday, December 19th, 2011 by Carrie Vaughn
Talking it Through

Happy holidays!  I’ve had a good writing week, getting started on a new novel that I wasn’t expecting to work on right now, but inspiration struck, and since I don’t have any serious deadlines looming, I’ve grabbed the opportunity.  Being in the groove like this feels so wonderful!

And when I fall out of the groove. . .  I have another trick for getting unstuck:  talk it out.  Having trouble with the plot, or some other aspect of your manuscript?  Try explaining it out loud.  If you have writer friends, you can bring out the coffee or beer or other drink of choice, and have a big brainstorming session.  Explaining your work out loud can help you articulate the problem in a way you hadn’t been able to before.  By coming at the problem from a new direction, you may discover some excellent solutions.  What you say doesn’t have to end up in the story, but it may help you clarify things in your own mind.

Don’t have an audience?  You can still talk through your story, to yourself.  I’ve done it.  Imagine yourself in the future, when the book is all written, published, out in the world, and you’re doing a publicity tour for it.  You’re being interviewed on radio or on TV, or you’re on a panel discussion, and someone asks a question about the plot (maybe that section you’re having trouble with), or wants you to discuss the themes of the book, or why you wrote the book.  What do you say?  How do you explain it, as articulately and briefly as you can?  This isn’t meant to be a stressful exercise (it helps not to think about an audience hanging on your every word).  Think of it as a different form of brainstorming.  Switching to the verbal part of your brain might spark the idea you need to move forward on your draft.

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011 by Bob Mayer
Blind Spots of Writers That Derail Them

from Write It Forward:

“Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total oblivion. I must face my fear.  Must allow it to pass over me and through me and where it has gone, I must turn the inner eye. Only I will remain.” Dune, by Frank Herbert.

We all have Blind Spots in our personalities. These are character flaws that are often rooted in fear. Our needs produce blind spots. It’s important to understand a need is not a want. A want is something you can control. A need you cannot control. As an author, make sure you know your wants and needs and your blind spot.

Our strongest defenses are built around the blind spot. Therefore often the blind spot is the part of character thought to be the strongest. Denial defends blinds spot and justifies needs.

Blind Spots Are The Making Of Tragedy

The diagram below is just an example, but you can take any character trait and uncover what the corresponding need is.  Then push that need to an extreme and you will find the potential flaw.

Trait                                          Need                                           Flaw

Loyal                                         To be trusted                       Gullible

Adventurous                       To have change                   Unreliable

Altruistic                                To be loved                            Submissive

Tolerant                                  To have no conflict           No conviction

Decisive                                   To be in charge                    Impetuous

Realistic                                  To be balanced                    Outer control

Competitive                          To achieve goals                 Overlook cost

Idealistic                                 To be the best                      Naïve

Blind spots arise out of a number of factors:

Loss Aversion

People are often more motivated to prevent losses than to achieve gains. Casinos count on this. It can also produce tragic results. The deadliest air crash ever was partly the result of loss aversion when the pilot of a Boeing 747, anxious to take off, crashed into another 747. He didn’t want to have a late departure.  He was also the most experienced pilot in his airline.

Planning Fallacy

Under-estimating task completion times. Writers are notorious for this.  I’m not where I want to be with my work in progress; the reality is, for 20 years, I’ve never been where I planned on being with my writing, until recently when I began applying the principles of Write It Forward and began planning realistically. Someone asked me in a workshop:  how do we get more prolific?  I think it comes down to bum glue. You just have to put the time in at the keyboard. Or pencil and paper. Or recorder. There is no substitute for actually writing. On the flip side, though, don’t constantly beat yourself up for being behind. Try to set realistic goals.


Wishful Thinking

The formation of beliefs and the making of decisions according to what is pleasing to imagine rather than reality. This is where many publishers are right now in response to eBooks. I just don’t believe the $14.99 eBook is going to last.  At the same time, indie authors have to face the reality that when publishers do wake up to the price problem, the competition is going to get harder.

A mindset that I have seen destroy many an author’s career is the thought they “have it made”.   That they’ve reached a point in their career where they can put it on cruise control and things will continue to work as well, if not better, than they have been.  Every author I’ve seen do this ended up destroying their career.

Need for Closure

Can you live with ambiguity? Writing a novel is living with ambiguity for a long time. Until you write the words: The End. Some people can’t stand it and need things to end. So they end them too quickly. I used to not do enough rewriting. I would know there were parts of the manuscript that needed work, but I just wanted it done. I wanted it out there on the market. Now. There is no Now in publishing.

Illusion of Transparency

Overestimating other people’s abilities to know us and our ability to know others. When all you have are the printed words, you’re very limited in what people can get from you as a writer.  This is the reason that, as a writer, you must push your agenda, sometimes to the point of being irritating to others, because you can’t assume that others know what you want.  They know, perhaps, what they want.

Negativity Bias

It takes five compliments to make up for one negative comment in a relationship. As writers, we tend to obsess over negative criticism and ignore positive feedback.  Checking Amazon reviews constantly can be very dis-spiriting.  Same with checking sales figures on a daily basis is you’re self-published.

Fashionable Darkness Bias

This is an interesting one, especially for writers. Novels, movies and shows that have a dark ending are thought of as being more literary than ones having the HEA—happily ever after.

The amazing success formula fallacy

This is something many people who to become writers fall for. That success happens overnight. My friend Susan Wiggs had her last book debut at #1 on the NY Times best-seller list. In 2010. Her first book was published in 1988.

JK Rowling was an amazing success, but there’s only one of her.  There’s only one Dan Brown.

The real life up ahead fallacy

That what you’re doing right now is the preparation for your real life that will come some day.