Igniting Creative Spark: Going Outside the Comfort Zone

Photo courtesy of Zachary Tomlinson.

Sometimes you have to do things that make you feel uncomfortable when you make decisions to take your writing to a different level.

For me this involved a recent foray into journalism.

I normally adopt an “I’ll-leave-your-opinons-alone-if-you’ll-leave-mine-alone” stance when it comes to politics. I’m honestly very middle of the road. My philosophy is very much like Neil Gaiman’s: “If there was a party whose main platform was being nice to people, freedom of speech and supporting libraries I’d sign up for it.” I don’t get into virtual, all-caps-on, shouting matches on Twitter or Facebook over politics. I just don’t think that it does much good. I may occasionally repost a meme about teachers getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop or internet privacy or censorship. Those are my pet peeves, but I don’t do it very often.

But  when an opportunity of a lifetime emerges, a chance to also test myself as a writer…well some things are just too good to pass up.

I almost enrolled in journalism school ages ago…years before the major life change I made two years ago to go back to school at forty-something to get my Masters in English Literature. But life happened…I got a full-time job, got married, and didn’t do journalism school. So, recently, when the guys at The Sandbox news asked me to write some articles (book reviews were discussed at the time) I said I’d do it. Partly because my writing has been in an idle place and I’ve been looking for some way to rev it up a notch, but mainly because I always wanted to write for the school newspaper, and when I first started at SPC, they didn’t have one.

Then…an amazing thing happened. Just a few days later we received the news that President Barack Obama was coming to deliver a Grassroots speech at our campus in Seminole. And I was asked to go along with the other reporters and cover it. Me! See a president of the US give a speech! I was overwhelmed and more than just a little bit scared. I don’t do politics, remember.

After I calmed down, I reasoned that a chance like this doesn’t come along very often and it was not just an opportunity to see a US president make a live speech, it was also an chance for me to write a journalistic piece…write it to the best of my ability, all the while trying not to air my own political views. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, a challenge…and there’s nothing I like more than a writing challenge. We writers need to challenge ourselves, and sometimes that means stepping outside of our comfort zone and writing about things we’d normally steer well away from.

So I wrote this…my very first experience with writing for the mass media. I hope you enjoy it: The President Visits Seminole, Emphasizes Education. 

Image courtesy of Maggie Susens Livingston.

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Writing Prompt #39: In the Shower

Last weeks image was one of my most viewed. Plenty of folks were checking out that hot pool-playin’ lady, I know, because the hits on that post went crazy every time I pimped it on Twitter and Facebook.

This week, as promised, I have a sexy guy image.

Maybe this hot stud is taking a shower after a hard day, or maybe he’s getting ready for a “hard” night. As I’m fond of saying: “It’s your story!”

Enjoy!

"Hey, baby, do you need your back scrubbed?" Image purchased from ClipArt.com

NaNoReMo: The Classics and the Frugal Reader

It's National Novel Reading Month!

A Twitter writer friend, John Wiswell, had the awesome idea of reading classic books for NaNoRemo: National Novel Reading Month. A bunch of us have jumped on the wagon and are perusing lists of classic books and trying to decide what to read. We’re tweeting our progress with the hashtag #NaNoReMo.

What constitutes a classic? Here’s a list to help: Modern Library 100 Best Novels. Thanks to Danielle La Paglia for the link.

I’ve seen film adaptations of several of the eBooks I downloaded, but have never read the actual books. I’m determined to rectify that, since more often than not the book is better than the film. I’ve already started my NaNoReMo with Frankenstein. I may try to fit The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in as well, since some of the other participants are going to be reading it. Reading classic fiction can be hard, especially fiction that falls under the “literary” umbrella. Participant Tony Noland recommends two websites to help with reading a challenging book: How To Read a Difficult Book and Tough Tomes. Of course, if you’re not enjoying any book, don’t torture yourself. There’s nothing more agonizing than trying to plow through a book you’re not connecting with.

A great way to join us in NaNoReMo is through Amazon’s free eBook Kindle store. You don’t need a Kindle to download Kindle books. You can download the Kindle app to your PC, Mac or phone. I have Kindle on my iPhone 4. I have always had it and don’t really see the need to purchase a Kindle. My phone goes everywhere I go, so I can read anytime I like. Amazon has an iPhone app for its Kindle Store, too, so getting new titles is as easy as tapping the screen. I know free eBooks don’t have the best formatting, but they’re FREE! And when you’re a college student like I am, on a shoestring budget, FREE is GOOD. I can look past crappy formatting for now. But we all have different preferences when it comes to reading eBooks. If you have a hard time dealing with formatting issues, please see the section below on Project Gutenberg.

Amazon Kindle Store: Some of the classics I downloaded for FREE on Amazon’s Kindle Store:

  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne
  • The Book of Dragons, by Edith Nesbit (started reading it before deciding on NaNoReMo)
  • The Devil’s Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce
  • The Empty House and Other Stories, by Algernon Blackwood
  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  • The Island of Doctor Moreau, by H.G. Wells
  • A Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne
  • The Land That Time Forgot, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
  • The People of the Mist, by Henry Rider Haggard
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

Project Gutenberg: Another great site to get free eBooks for your Kindle app (as recommended by Sonia Lal) is Project Gutenberg, notable archive of public domain fiction. I visited the website last night and joyfully discovered that they have a mobile site…in beta testing, but I downloaded it to my phone desktop, anyway. It works sort of like Amazon’s Kindle Store. Sonia tells me PG’s formatting is better than the Amazon freebies, so that’s worth noting. I downloaded two books from there: Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (Illustrated), by Edwin A. Abbot and The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells, just to test it and they do look great.

If you know any other websites that have free classic eBooks, please let me know in the comments section. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about the subject of frugal reading again soon.

With all of these choices for reading, there’s no reason you can’t join us for NaNoReMo.

C’mon, join the Classical Movement!

2012: The Year of the Dragon, or, The Year I Plan to Breathe Fire

Chinese astrology is fascinating.

I was born in the Year of the Snake, 1965. (Always knew I belonged in Slytherin. Heh.) But I was conceived in 1964, which was the Year of the Dragon. This is probably why I love dragons.

Dragon-years are good years for me, and this one will be no exception.

During the fall of 2012, the first leg of my journey toward becoming a college professor will be complete. I will graduate community college with an Associate of Arts degree and move on. Where to? Likely I’ll transfer to the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, although I’m getting some nice emails (and even gift baskets with chocolate!) from other schools.

I’m going to focus more on writing fiction in 2012. 2011 was my toughest academic year thus far, and I was pressed to make it through this fall with only a slight dent in my GPA. I wrote lots and lots of school-related stuff, but nothing I could submit for fiction publication. That will change.

Writing goals:

  • I have a few stories to finish for the horror and sci-fi/fantasy collections.
    • When We Were Kings, fantasy, origins story. I can’t say any more without spoilers, but I LOVE this one!
    • Kill the Crow, horror. Revenge is black and feathered!
    • Eyes in the Dark, horror.
    • Lighthouse Man, science fiction
    • And a few others
  • Novella, novel: I’ve been planning a harpy novel, but the Muse won’t leave me alone about the “Journey of the Misbegotten.” Imagine an alternate world, with an alternate Hell. Imagine the devil as a mad scientist named Howard and his minions are his genetically tampered amalgamations. When Howard the Evil Creator’s greatest possession (the nine oracular pigeons) go missing, he sends a crack team of his sorriest amalgamations on a quest to track them down.
  • I’ll be writing another Literary Mix Tape story, I hope. About the song Hotel California.
  • Harpy novel. Hope I can get it started this year. Thanks to Laura Meyer for helping me think through my MC’s name: Mallory.
  • Keep working on “The Mages of Morrow” novel. Really, I’ve written over 50,000 words on the thing. I’d like to see it go somewhere!
  • BLOGGING! Going to do more of it. Still going to do prompts and such, but I want to start putting up more regular posts…regularly.

Several good things are planned for 2012. Some of them even include dragons. 😉

2011: The Year of the Roller Coaster

Image courtesy of Fotolia

2011 was a year with more ups and downs than a roller coaster for me, and I know I’m not alone in feeling that way. The job hunt was not going well, I got way behind on a lot of bills, got broke, and ate a crap-load of Raman noodles. All while waiting for student aid to come in. I finally got a student job at the college right when Fall Term started. YAY. It’s part-time and does not pay much, but it’s something. And I’m learning a great deal about the administration side of how a college works, information I’m sure will be useful when I finally get to be a professor.

As for writing, 2011 saw my first paid short story, “Nowhere Land” from Literary Mix Tapes “Eighty Nine” anthology. This was one of my best stories to date. Another of my best, also appeared in a 2011 anthology: “The King and His Twenty-Three Subjects,” a fantasy story appeared in the Florida Writer’s Association all-dialogue anthology “Let’s Talk.” I also wrote my first collaborative story, an apocalyptic short story titled “The Blight” told completely through emails with my friend zombie-master Jim Bronyaur. Speaking of zombies, I published a story in the Zombie Survival Crew’s anthology “Undead is Not An Option” about four foul-mouthed teenagers whose zombie role-playing game “Crunch Time” suddenly becomes a real struggle for survival against the undead horde. I started the year publishing a science fiction story that I also posted as Friday Flash and submitted to their Best of Friday Flash Volume 2, and hope to hear about that soon. Literary Mix Tapes also gave me a great writing start to 2011 by publishing my story “Sophie Solitaire: Confessions of an End-Time Girl” in the “Nothing But Flowers” collection.

I started an e-mag, The Were-Traveler this year. The first issue was released on Halloween. I’m looking forward to continuing it.

I taught my first class…a lecture for PINAWOR on the benefits of social media for writers. They were very social media shy writers, so I’m not sure I made much headway with them. But I learned what I ought to do and ought not to do the next time I make a presentation.

I fell short in some areas of my writing:

  • I wanted to have my first e-book collection released by the end of the year. Stuff came up. Mostly school work.
  • I did not blog as much as I wanted to, even though I got an award for Versatile Blogger. *smh*
  • I did not complete my novel that I started during NaNoWrimo 2010. I worked on it a little. Added a few words here and there.
  • I left a few stories hanging on the back-burner that really need to get finished as they are going in the collection.

All in all, an okay year.

But okay is not good enough. I want to be better than okay.

And for that, you’ll have to read my upcoming post about how I plan to set 2012 on fire!

Some Thoughts on Thought-Catchers

Journals are cool. Just ask any writer.

Yeah, we all have our computers, iPads and PDAs. Almost all electronic devices these days have note-taking apps…and if not there’s a good chance you can download one for your computer or phone. 

Sure, all that technology shit’s pretty awesome. But we writers still enjoy walking into a coffee shop, ordering some java, and whipping out our beautiful journals to write in while we enjoy all that public ambience.

Why?

Because we feel like sex-on-wheels when we write in a journal in public, that’s why. Hemingway wrote in a journal. And PAPA was SEXY!

But there’s more to journaling than lookin’ Old School Cool at the local Starbucks.

Journaling…writing stuff on paper, can actually help jump start your creativity when you’re stuck in the Ninth Circle of Blockage Hell. Ray Bradbury wrote a whole section on brainstorming (writing thoughts down on paper as quickly as possible) in his book “The Zen in the Art of Writing.”

Sometimes a journal for me is a thought-catcher. I think of stuff and I want to write it down. I brainstorm for new ideas.

Sometimes a journal is a story bible and can be a very straightforward, non-pricey item. And as a college student practically living on financial aid, the less expensive the better.

Note: Click on any of the images below to view in larger detail.

First up: Papa’s Pride: I love my Moleskine. They’re not cheap, but Jesus they’re beautiful! This is the notebook Hemingway used. I use the softcover one because I like the way it feels in my hands. I take it with me whenever I go to restaurants or cafes, even if I end up taking a story bible. You never know when a great idea is going to come surfing in…hanging ten on your brainwaves. Writer Journaling Rule #1: Be prepared. Here’s my moleskin:

Hemingway Special

Can’t afford the $18 price tag on one of these babies? Don’t feel bad. I can’t often get a Moleskine myself. That one was a gift.

Next is a shot of an el cheapo faux leather bound journal I bought before I got the Moleskin. It’s pic is featured with a screenshot of a story I actually wrote in it. I bought it at the Dollar Store…for a dollar. Yup. Times are hard, and I’ve been in the 99% my whole life.

Dollar Deals and Steals

This journal still finds its usefulness. This is the thought-catcher I use when I want to do a quick on-paper brainstorm or, as you can see from the accompanying page, when I’m blocked and want to get unblocked by writing a story longhand. I’ve only done that a few times. I’m getting too fucking old…my hand cramps when I write for long periods of time. Then again, I’m a lefty, so writing longhand is not something I enjoy a whole lot anyway.

WIP: "Found Object"

Next up is another cheapie, but a goodie. My Story Bible. I use a Story Bible when I’m working on a Big Project, like my first e-books (coming soon, stay tuned :)), my novellas, or my novels. I plan them using a regular notebook. But not just any old run-0f-the-mill notebook will cut it with me. It has to be a Mead. Preferably one of the smaller ones (6 x 9 1/2) with the pen-loops…but they stopped selling those (bastards), so I’m back to getting the wire ones. I love Mead notebooks as Story Bibles. They are divided in sections (if you get the 3-or-5 subject ones) with file pockets. You can tuck a lot of research away in those puppies. Here is a shot of my Story Bible for the novel I’m researching right now. I’m writing down my ideas for plotlines and character outlines in it:

Mead Five-Star 6 x 9 1/2 5-Subject

This is the Story Bible I’ve had by my side for about six months now. I haven’t got it anywhere near full yet, but it’s well on its way to helping me sort out what will be my next Big Work-In-Progress.

QotH Story Bible

I hope you enjoyed the methodology behind my journaling madness. Please visit the other writers participating in the Scribbles Blog Hop. I’m sure their own journaling experiences are as unique and wonderful as mine.

Happy Journaling!

This post is part of  the “Scribbles Blog Hop.” A bunch of crazy writers got together to blog about our journals. Click on the links below and you’ll be taken to the other websites in the hop. 

Danielle La Paglia: http://daniellelapaglia.wordpress.com/

Anne Michaud: http://annecmichaud.wordpress.com

Marianne Su: http://mariannesu.com/blog/

Victoria D Griesdoorn: http://www.vdgriesdoorn.com/

Ren Warom: http://renwaromsumwelt.wordpress.com/

J.A. Campbell: http://writerjacampbell.wordpress.com/

Tammy Crosby: http://tammywrites.wordpress.com 

Chrissey Harrison: http://chrisseysgreatescape.wordpress.com

Nathalie Westgate: http://nataliewestgate.com

Tony Noland: http://www.tonynoland.com/

Larry Kollar: http://farmanor.blogspot.com/