Tag Archives: writing ideas

Storywriters of the World – Unblock and Get Writing!

As you may or may not know, I write for an online short fiction magazine called Storgy.  The concept of the magazine is unique – readers are encouraged to interact with the writing process by choosing each new story title via a poll.  The nine contributing writers then have a week to produce a story based on the winning title, so essentially, it’s written especially for the readers.  It’s amazing how different each work is, considering there is no variation in the title.


Of course, each month I go through my very own unique torture, wondering how on earth I’m going to come up with a story in seven days, influenced by a title I’d be unlikely to choose myself.  This month’s winning title was ‘Bring Me My Shotgun’.

Relatively quickly, an idea developed, but I approached it with caution, as popular writing wisdom dictates that the first thing that comes into your head can be unimaginative or clichéd.  So, after dismissing my first idea, I spent the next five days pondering and cogitating until… well, actually… nothing.  I scribbled, I typed, but none of my scrawling could be described as a story.  Nothing gelled.  On paper, I had a title about a shotgun and not much else.  Pah.

That week, when I wasn’t frustrated by my lack of creativity, I did my usual things:

  •  I watched past episodes of Misfits, a series I’ve been aware of but never watched – WHY have I never watched Misfits? – and was distraught when loner Simon, and his girlfriend Alesha, left the series.  I was totally caught up in his superhero transformation/time travel storyline.  And yes, I do have a Superman fixation.
Misfits - I've always been a late developer.  I only cottoned on to Misfits when it was in its last series.

Misfits – I’ve always been a late developer. I only cottoned on to Misfits when it was in its last series.

  •  I worked in a primary school where they ran a dress-as-you-like day to raise funds.  Some of the younger kids came in fancy dress.  Also, during that week, some children drew my attention for various reasons: developmental, learning or social issues, or difficulties at home.
  •  I went for country walks with the dog.
  •  I read (and enjoyed) The Humans by Matt Haig, which relates the story of an alien being visiting Earth to assassinate people he sees as a threat to the future of the Universe.
Are you sure your husband is who you think he is?

Are you sure your husband is who you think he is?

All of these things happened as part of my week, without me giving them much thought or consideration – but at the end of day five, an idea began to crystallise in my mind about a loner who received the best Christmas present ever, and what happened as a consequence of this.

The next day, I sat and I wrote my entire story in one sitting.  Despite my worries, the week wasn’t wasted after all.  Yes, I may have struggled with words and ideas, but it was because my brain was busy, busy, busy.  It didn’t want to be disturbed; it had more important things to deal with – absorbing events around it and piecing them together with the title, like parts of a jigsaw puzzle.

No, my story wasn’t about the things that happened to me that week, but I’d used aspects of each day to create my imaginary world.  Bizarrely, at one point, a memory of the fairy tale, The Little Match Girla story I loved as a childinfluenced me too.

Funny the things you remember that influence your writing.

Funny the things you remember that influence your writing.

You see, our brains enjoy grappling with a puzzle.  They like to connect and make sense out of fragments of information.  That’s why one method for releasing ideas when you’re suffering from writer’s block is to use a number of unrelated words to conjure up a storyline.  It’s a process which works in a similar way to what happened to me this week – though I made associations from the life around me.

My associations were made up of:

  • a shotgun
  • a child who is young for his age
  • a primary school dress-as-you-like day
  • Christmas
  • winter countryside
  • superheroes
  • space/universe
  • The Little Match Girl

Some childhood obsessions you never grow out of.

Weirdly, these concepts all fit perfectly into a story.  Yet they came about, not by sitting at my computer, but by getting on with my ordinary routine.  (Although, having said that, sitting and staring can have its uses too.)

Writing is so much more than the physical process of writing itself.  It’s also about about moving away from the keyboard, doing other things, communicating, relating to others, noticing the finer detail, and absorbing the things you experience.

If you don’t believe me, try it yourself.  Next time you’re struggling with ideas, or the story won’t flow, get up and go out.

Let your mind open itself to the world, and you’ll be surprised how quickly it will help you to perform your writerly magic.

Your brain enjoys working out a puzzle.

Your brain enjoys working out a puzzle.

If you would like to read my version of Bring Me My Shotgun click the link below:

Bring Me My Shotgun

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Filed under Ideas, Short fiction, Storgy, writer's block

Confessions of a First Time Novellist – Part Four

So, in parts 1-3 of ‘Confessions’, I’ve covered the pitfalls of writing a first novel, how to avoid falling foul of ‘writer’s confusion’ (that’s my own phrase, thank you very much), and how to stick to the target of completing your novel.

Today’s blogpost is brought to you with the collaboration of fellow writer Tom Benson, and the number 4 (that’s Part 4 to you).

With a little help from your friends

Recently, I approached Tom Benson, self-published author of Ten Days in Panama and Beyond the Law to ask if he had any useful tips for helping with the novel-writing process.   He said that, for him, making use of certain tools and ideas makes the whole concept of writing much simpler.  He passed on this list, which he produced during the writing of his novels, which I thought you might find it useful too:

*Make a simple timeline, whether it is set as days, months, years or whatever suits you best. A timeline combined with a synopsis is a real asset from beginning to end.

*Cast of Characters may sound obvious, but keep it handy:

    It will help avoid the duplication of names or similar sounding names.

    It will also help to remind if a character appears once for no good reason – get rid.

*Zodiac signs book. If you haven’t got one, it’s a useful tool for ideas on characteristics, personal likes, dislikes – and even star signs.


*Baby names book. A good one will give a range of nationalities.

*The Yellow Pages is good for both names and trades/professions.


*Body Language book. Say no more, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, fingers crossed.


*An atlas.

*Fashion Catalogue. In case you’re no good at putting together an outfit.  (Though remember, don’t describe too much of what your characters are wearing.  Your reader doesn’t care.)

*Be aware of the ‘chewing gum on the mantlepiece’. This is where the writer makes a mention of something, (like the aforementioned chewing gum), but it serves no purpose in the story, and is only mentioned in one scene. It could be a person, a vehicle, animal, anything. If it doesn’t serve a purpose – leave it out.

chewed gum

Big chewing gum on big mantlepiece (outside)

*Page Numbers from the outset. They work in your favour in two ways:

    As a navigational aid when editing on screen.

    As a navigational aid when you’ve printed off several pages or a manuscript for editing.

*Obtain a perpetual diary. You can use it to define any date with the correct weekday.

*www.historyorb.com is a great site for checking out information.

*Consider writing the beginning and end, then work on the rest. It may work for you.

*Know every detail of your main characters as if they were real. You won’t be telling everything, but you must know everything.

*If you intend to use a location in the past, double-check its situation/condition at the time.  I had to alter a date, because a meeting place I used was closed for refurbishment when the two characters would have met there.

If you want to check out more about Tom, his e-books are available on Amazon, or you can view his website at www.tom-benson.co.uk and his blog at tombensoncreative.wordpress.com.

From my perspective, I particularly like the idea of the zodiac signs book, the body language book, and the baby names book.  I spend too much time fretting about names, and gestures, and characteristics when I’m writing.   These are great tools which will surely help.  I’d also say that when you’re flicking through the books, they’ll also generate ideas for future characters.

So, stop distracting me.  I’ve got a novel to finish

My own novel is approximately half-way there, though I’ve got lots of concerns about how I’m going to tie up all the individual strands and subplots together.  It’s in my head – can I get it onto paper?  Will it all fit neatly together? I’m putting all that to one side for now, though.  The writing’s the focus.  Improvement later.

In the meantime, I hope that both mine, and Tom’s, experiences and advice will help you with your own novel writing.

I’ll let you know how I get on with the second half of my novel, which will (hopefully) be finished in December.

Watch this space.


Filed under Novel, Writer's resources, Writing

Confessions of a First Time Novellist – Part One


Remember, remember, it’s NaNoWriMo

Yay!  It’s November.  The month when writers globally take part in NaNoWriMo.  And no, I’ve not lost my mind.  Or talking utter gibberish.

For those of you who don’t know – it’s National Novel Writing Month, where writers get their teeth into a story idea and bash out a novel in a month.  Although I’m not taking part in the challenge, I have now surpassed the mid-point of the first draft of my first novel – that’s 54,000 words to you.

In terms of writing endurance, it’s not been such a long journey – I started the first chapter on the 16th September 2013 and I’ve been writing virtually every day since.  If I keep up at this rate, I’m hoping to complete the entire first draft by the beginning of December (unless it ends up longer than I expected).  By posting this, it means I can’t back out.  It’s a challenge I’ve set myself, and you are all witness to it.

Now, you might say that, by pounding away at a keyboard every day, with no real regard to quality, my novel’s not going to be up to much.  And you’d be right.   You can be certain there’s no way I’d show anyone anything I’ve written up to now.  However, as I’ve been far more productive this time than during my first attempt at writing a novel – halting abruptly to an end at 14,000 words – I’m not in any rush to alter my method.  I still weep when I think about the energy expended on those  words – back in 2011 – for them to be simply locked away, abandoned and unread.

How hard can it be?

Looking back at my original attempt, there were a number of flaws in the methodology of my writing, which meant I was doomed from the beginning:

1.       No plotline – I was starting off without any real thought as to where I was heading.

2.       No character planning – I wasn’t thinking deeply enough about the characters in my story.  I also hadn’t considered how these things would impact events within the story, which led to confusion as I tried to untangle the jumbled mess.

3.       Too much exposition – I was constantly explaining instead of showing characters behaviours and motivations, which I was aware would lead to inevitable reader boredom.   This was because I didn’t know my characters well enough.

4.       Constantly seeking writing perfection – ie. going back to edit and re-edit instead of focusing on the story ahead.

5.       Forgetting what I’d already written – as a result, expending time and energy having to check and re-check the story.

6.       Failing to set a specific writing time – I was either constantly interrupted or found excuses not to write.  I could always ‘do it tomorrow.’

7.       Failing to set a specific writing target – if I had writer’s block that day, it gave me an excuse to stop.

8.       Getting too involved in a minor character’s story or point of view – sometimes the internal dialogue of my characters were extraneous to the plot.  I was constantly veering off at tangents, unsure of what was important (or not) to my story.


Practise makes… er… it better

The hit-and-miss/write it-as-it-comes method is probably why many of us, as novel writers, fail, unless we have particularly amazing memories, imagination and skill.  Some people are that lucky.  But not me.

After attempting a novel once, it took a long of energy for me to try again. In all honesty, I was disappointed with the way I handled it – I’m a perfectionist, and hate it when things aren’t right. So, basically, I gave up.  This time, however, the more pragmatic side of me knows that my first complete book is likely to be less than I want it to be.

Remember when you first wrote a short story?  It wasn’t that great, was it?  Oh alright, show off.  Yours might have been, but mine wasn’t.  I had to practise over and over to improve.  And I’m still improving now.

If I’m really lucky, my completed novel will be of a publishable standard, but it’s much more likely that it won’t be.  Is this a reason to stop?  No.  The next time I attempt to write a full length book, it will be a much improved experience, because I should have learned from my mistakes.

Not that I’m being negative – I’d love to be published.  But if I’m not, I’ll be following that age old adage… If at first you don’t succeed.

Writing a novel isn’t about half measures.  It’s about motivation, energy and commitment.


Filed under Ideas, Imagination, Novel

Creative Outpourings… Or Not?

Oh, hello idea.  Welcome

You know how it is.  You’re not doing anything particularly exciting.  Maybe you’re having a shower, or watching TV?  Most likely, you’re fast asleep.  When KER-CHING!  IT happens.  An idea strikes.  If you’re lucky, it might be the full shebang – beginning, middle, end, characters, plot, imagery.  But usually, it tends to be nothing more than a scrap of information.  In my humble opinion, this doesn’t matter.  However tenuous or vague the concept is, you can be certain there’s something bigger ready to unfold from it.   All you need to do is chip away, and eventually, what might seem like a lifeless speck, flashes gloriously in the light.  You pick away at the edges, and before your eyes, the core of your idea transforms into gold.


Sahara (Photo credit: tonynetone)

Crawling dry-mouthed through the Sahara of your imagination

It’s hard to explain why sometimes, ideas present themselves in abundance, and at the most unexpected moments.  And then, there’s the opposite effect, when your imagination is sparse and you’re desperately scratching around in the dust for things to write about.  Most likely, this occurs when you’ve just completed a piece of writing, and you’re primed and eager to throw yourself into the next.   There’s fresh paper and ink in the printer, the keyboard’s ready, and you suddenly realise…  there’s nothing in your head.  Your muse, who’s not left you alone for weeks, not even allowing you to wash up or watch television, has abandoned you.  Unless you’ve already got something written down in your handy little notebook (which I advise you to do, in preparation for the many dry times – but more on that later) ideas can be cagey little devils.  For me, anyway.  I know some writers’ minds are brimming with creative spoils, but my imagination only seems to connect with certain situations, objects or feelings, and then, only when the moon is full.  I think it’s the werewolf in me.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, the perplexities of why sometimes you’re showered with inspiration, and other times, it’s like tramping your way around an imaginative dessert.  To be honest, from my own perspective, I can’t give a reason.  I try to be open to the many experiences that life throws at me – picking up on fragments of conversation, interesting looking people, and peculiar situations – but my creative soul is a stubborn, elusive type, and sometimes, no amount of visual or auditory foreplay will get it in the mood.

Speeding down the open road of inspiration

But those joyful times, when your synapses are clear, your neurons are firing on all cylinders, and your brain is oiled and ready to go, it’s like driving to work when the kids are on half term – the roads are empty and the journey is done in half the time.  In fact, you can’t get your ideas down quickly enough.  If you really were driving, the police would pull you up for driving too fast, and you’d have to go on a speed awareness course.

On these bountiful occasions, your creativity’s on fire.  Metaphorically, at least.  I wouldn’t want you to get burned.  Every question you ask, every thought you process, adds another answer to the many what ifs of your storyline.  When you’re walking the dog, you think of the resolution; in the middle of the night, you build the perfect first sentence; on the train, you bring together the climax, a conflict, a key character’s motivation.  You’re so excited, that if you’re in a public place, you might have to restrain yourself from telling a complete stranger what you’re thinking.  I mean, they don’t know you.  How is the customer in the local cafe expected to understand that the buried knife you’re babbling about is nothing more than the twist in your next story?  Sometimes, it’s best to keep things to yourself.

Note it down.  Yeah, blah, blah, blah

The hardest part, I think, is getting the ideas onto paper before they evaporate.  I find that if I let a thought drift for ten minutes, the distractions of the world flood my mind, and the tide of ordinary life sweeps it away like flotsam on the waves.  I mean we’ve all done it.  (Nah, don’t kid me, I know you’ve done it too.)   You’re convinced you’ll remember it – that amazing solution to how Jemima managed to break into the office building without being picked up on CCTV.  It’s so clear, you don’t even consider that it will get lost, lodged forever between the lists of mindless chores you have to do that week.

But the time I’m most likely to resist noting down a brain-wave, is when creativity visits in the middle of the night.  Rolling over in bed, I block out the sound of my conscience nagging (in a tone of self-righteous certainty) that if I don’t write my idea down this very minute, it will disperse like the mist in the morning sun.  The trouble is, it’s three in the morning, my eyes are stuck together, it’s freezing, and Mr W is snoring away beside me.  I really don’t want to get up and sit on the toilet seat to scribble away, and I know I can’t turn on the light again.  Not after last time.  So instead, I snuggle further into the covers, assured that my thought process is so obvious, so relevant, there is no way I can forget it.

So, I thought you weren’t forgetful…

Planets of the Solar System

Planets of the Solar System (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The next day I wake – perky, vibrant, and maybe a little confident.  Confident, that is, until I come to scribble down my eureka moment from the night before.   Errr… not so clear now, is it, cleverclogs?  My brain primps up its bosoms saying, ‘You had your chance – now you’ve blown it’.   Of course, it’s not gone so far as to cast the idea away.   No.  It’s simply making me suffer.  My literary overture is still present, but now, it’s locked in the little box marked ‘ideas that weren’t written down in the middle of the night’.   I might get another chance to get my hands on it, when the situation is right.  Maybe Venus has to be in Capricorn, or the planets of the Solar System have to be in perfect alignment with the Sun.  Whatever.  I’m going to have to accept, maybe a little tearfully, that for now, and possibly forever, the idea is gone.

Inspiration in its many forms

Everyone’s creativity is influenced by different things.  I find that my imagination is often sparked into action by simple things, such as memories, or by something seen on a walk – maybe a person, or frost-covered grass.  It might be an event (whether it be on the news, or linked with someone I know, or in my own life) that preys on my mind.   Occasionally, an interesting bit of dialogue could start up a story.  But, for some reason, my best ideas seem to come directly from chatting to someone, or reading an article, about writing.  It’s almost as if the notion of writing itself is what sets my brain’s motor running.  It’s like the times when you smell a barbeque, or bacon, or chips.  Even when you’re not hungry, they whet your appetite.

When your writing turns to soup

Unfortunately, there are times when even the most prolific writer despairs.  Yes, you know what I’m talking about.  Those desolate, grey days , when your creative landscape is arid, and the Word document taunts with its blankness.  You can’t understand it – two weeks ago, you were a conveyor belt of inspiration.  Not all your ideas were workable, but they were ideas nonetheless.  Fortunately, you think to yourself, you noted most of them down – apart from that really good one that prodded you awake at three in the morning.  But, the less said about that, the better.

Your emergency plan of action is to use that… um… unusual storyline you wrote down that time, about the girl that finds herself locked in a snow-dome.  You’re pleased with yourself – nothing can stop you – and eagerly, you start on the opening.  But for some reason, the concept, the words, the journey of the characters, don’t gel.  You know you’re not getting your point across – or at least, not as well as you’d like to.  However you describe it, you think no-one will understand what you’re trying to portray.  It’s like you’re a native of Babel. You speak, but no-one understands.

On a positive note, you know from past experience that your language issues will pass.  One day.  Hopefully soon.

Keep on with the bear hunt – squelch squerch, squelch squerch

In the most difficult times, the important thing is simply to write.   Even if it’s gibberish.   If you’ve already got a storyline – keep at it.  You can always edit it afterwards.  No-one will ever know what you went through to make it seem so effortless – the cold tins of soup you ate; the three weeks that passed without a wash.  Or the five o’ clock early rises in winter, dressed in fifteen layers of clothing. Obviously, on the days where you simply can’t get into the zone, it’s useful to distract yourself with other things.  That way, you’re not obsessing about your writer’s block (you don’t want to build that block into a wall).  Cleaning, or ironing, or scrubbing the oven might help.  And, don’t roll your eyes at me.   I, too, despise these activities with a vengeance.  But it is this alone, that inevitably leads me back to the PC.  Often with unbelievably limber fingers and mind.

If the ideas still aren’t knocking at your door, you might try speedwriting.  Especially to music.  Some people swear by it, claiming the stream-of-consciousness style brings them a whole barrage of inspiration.  As an idea-processor, it doesn’t work for me, but it does send me into a therapeutic space, which is beneficial.  Also, as I see it, I’m still writing, rather than just staring at a blank screen.  And if you put on some really fast classical music, you might amaze yourself with the speed at which you can type.

(With a final note on that topic, I’d recommend staying away from dirges – especially if you’re in a real creative slump.)

Clear out your brain, then take it for a run

If you can’t get any inspiration from the outside world, try rummaging around inside yourself, and see what you come up with.   This is not as alarming as it sounds.  For instance, everyone has a past, and though you might think it’s not worth talking about, (or perhaps it’s one you don’t want to highlight to the public at large) it’s amazing what can be formed from it.  Noting down memories can lead to some great storylines, and I’ve created a few short fiction based on the most insignificant recollections (though being trapped inside a snow-dome wasn’t one of them).

If that doesn’t work, try to write outside your comfort zone.  For instance, if you only write fiction, try a poem, or writing to form.  A haiku or a sonnet.  It’s tough, but it’s a puzzle that makes your brain work hard.  Give your grey matter some exercise; make it supple.

And then, there’s the notion of blogging.   As you know, I’m pretty new to this (and the prospect of putting my thoughts on the internet terrifies me) but every type of writing is still writing.  You’re giving an opinion, writing from your personal voice, and it’s something that reflects another aspect of you.  It might not involve a character or a plot, but you are practising your art, forming ideas, and offering something to readers who might appreciate what you have to say.

English: typewriter

English: typewriter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a hard slog, but somebody’s got to do it

Whatever you do – make space to sit and create a story; a poem; whatever.  As a writer, it’s the most important rule.  If you want to develop your ideas and your skill, you’ve got to keep at it.  Don’t be put off by the slow times.

No-one said it would be easy, and no-one can make you do it, but you.

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Filed under Ideas, Imagination, Short fiction