Inspiration Station: 3 Online Things Writers Can Do For Inspiration

Inspiration Station is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com highlighting the people, places, and works of art that inspire us as writers.

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Last time, I chatted about things you can do offline for inspiration. But what if you’re more disciplined than I am? What if you tried all those and you’re still struggling? What if you just prefer the tech life over the analog life? I dig it. So I’m gonna share with you a few things I do online that inspire me:

one

Listen to music! I know you can do this offline, but hear me out. There is this amazing app called Spotify. Full disclosure: I spring for the premium version so I don’t have ads and I can make infinite playlists. But what I really love about Spotify is the vast amount of music you have access to. You can find something for every mood! In fact, they even have a setting where you can select the actual mood you’re looking for.

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Writing a kissing scene? There’s a playlist for that. How about a carefree summer day? They’ve got you covered. You can also put in a song you know has the mood you’re going for, set it to “radio,” and it’ll automatically pick songs that match for hours and hours and hours. You can thumbs down what you don’t like, thumbs up what you do like and it’ll tailor the station accordingly.

It’s fantastic.

I’m not getting paid for this or anything. I just really love Spotify.

But there are loads of other music services. Some free, some not, and some have free and premium options: Apple Music, Pandora, Soundcloud, heck, even YouTube. Any mood you’re trying to go for, you can find it.

two

Make Pinterest boards! I love gathering images that fit with my story, and organizing  them into a Pinterest board, which I may or may not share with trusted individuals. I search for images of models that look like I imagine my characters, scenery, props, clothing, quotes, hairstyles. Having the Pinterest board in the background really helps when I’m feeling stuck. I minimize my Word or Scrivener and take a look, and that’s usually enough to push me a few more words.

The trick is to not get caught up in searching for more pins, because Pinterest has this amazing ability to suck time away.

three

Make an aesthetic! I use Canva. It’s easy! I upload all those lovely Pinterest images and arrange them into a grid. It’s free as long as you upload your own photos—however, they do have a great library of free elements you can use as well. The cool thing about aesthetics is that they are portable. You can download one to your device and have it to glance at every time you need a boost, and you don’t need to be connected to the internet for it to work. Aesthetics are also fun to share. Here is the aesthetic of a story I might or might not write—I have no idea the direction of this book yet. But that’s OK. The important thing is that I had fun making it.

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That’s all I have for now. Do you have any suggestions? Sound off in the comments!


This post is brought to you by Ronni Davis at ChiYAwriters.com.

Chicago Reads: Upcoming YA Book Events (Nov/Dec 2017)

Chicago’s many wonderful independent bookstores host a wide variety of readings, signings, and discussions. Check out these upcoming Chicago-area YA events, and let us know about any events we missed in the comments!

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LANDSCAPE WITH INVISIBLE HAND
SYMPHONY FOR THE CITY OF THE DEAD

M.T. Anderson (accompanied by members of the Chicago Sinfonietta Quartet!)
Tuesday, November 14 at 7:00 PM
Anderson’s Bookshop (Naperville)

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EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR
GenYA Book Group Discussion
Saturday, November 18 at 2:00 PM
Anderson’s Bookshop (Downers Grove)

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COUNTING BY 7S
Never Too Old: A YA Book Club for Adults
Wednesday, November 29 at 7:30 PM
The Book Cellar (Lincoln Square)

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PRINCE IN DISGUISE
Stephanie Kate Strohm
Tuesday, December 19 at 7:00 PM
The Book Cellar (Lincoln Square)

Keep an eye out for January/February events, including book launches by ChiYA’s very own Samira Ahmed (LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS) and Gloria Chao (AMERICAN PANDA)!!!

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This post is brought to you by Lizzie Cooke at ChiYAwriters.com.

Chicago Reads: Jenny Han and Jennifer E. Smith

Here is an old post I had written up prior to our summer hiatus that I’m reviving! This was a post recapping an event from May 2, 2017:

I trekked up to Winnetka for a book event with Jenny Han and Jennifer E. Smith. They were there promoting their latest releases: Always and Forever, Lara Jean and Windfall, respectively.

The Book Stall is such a lovely bookstore. Their YA section is fantastic. One of the largest I’ve seen, with spot-on picks. I wish it wasn’t so far away because I would love to frequent this bookstore!

Jenny and Jennifer are friends, and it was fun to listen to their conversation.

Some of my favorite behind-the-scenes tidbits from the event:

  • Jennifer talked about how after each book, she wonders how she will ever write another book again. This was reassuring to hear, especially since she is a prolific writer!
  • Jennifer said her books begin with a big What If?, with the concept, and her characters come later.
  • Jenny Han was present for the cover photo shoot, and there are a lot of fun Easter eggs:
    • The photo in the upper left corner, to the left of the “A long forever” picture, is actually a photo of Jenny Han and the model from the shoot.
    • Jenny’s dress is hanging over the chair and the pink shoes on the floor are hers.
    • On the back flap, the framed photo of Leo and Claire Danes from Romeo and Juliet is Jenny’s, from high school. If you look closely, you can see the horizontal glue lines.
    • If I recall correctly, I believe the ladder on the back flap is also Jenny’s.
  • Jennifer brought the little figurines that are on her cover. She said the bear was originally a panda that they painted gold.
  • Jennifer had fun swag. Since her book is about winning the lottery, she had scratch tickets!

I love events with more than one author, and it’s an extra pro if they’re friends and have a great rapport!

About Always and Forever, Lara Jean:Always and Forever Lara Jean

Lara Jean’s letter-writing days aren’t over in this surprise follow-up to the New York Times bestselling To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and P.S. I Still Love You.

Lara Jean is having the best senior year a girl could ever hope for. She is head over heels in love with her boyfriend, Peter; her dad’s finally getting remarried to their next door neighbor, Ms. Rothschild; and Margot’s coming home for the summer just in time for the wedding.

But change is looming on the horizon. And while Lara Jean is having fun and keeping busy helping plan her father’s wedding, she can’t ignore the big life decisions she has to make. Most pressingly, where she wants to go to college and what that means for her relationship with Peter. She watched her sister Margot go through these growing pains. Now Lara Jean’s the one who’ll be graduating high school and leaving for college and leaving her family—and possibly the boy she loves—behind.

When your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

About Windfall:

WindfallThis romantic story of hope, chance, and change from the author of The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is one Jenny Han says is filled with all of her “favorite things,” Morgan Matson calls “something wonderful,” and Stephanie Perkins says “is rich with the intensity of real love.”

Alice doesn’t believe in luck—at least, not the good kind. But she does believe in love, and for some time now, she’s been pining for her best friend, Teddy. On his eighteenth birthday—just when it seems they might be on the brink of something—she buys him a lottery ticket on a lark. To their astonishment, he wins $140 million, and in an instant, everything changes.

At first, it seems like a dream come true, especially since the two of them are no strangers to misfortune. As a kid, Alice won the worst kind of lottery possible when her parents died just over a year apart from each other. And Teddy’s father abandoned his family not long after that, leaving them to grapple with his gambling debts. Through it all, Teddy and Alice have leaned on each other. But now, as they negotiate the ripple effects of Teddy’s newfound wealth, a gulf opens between them. And soon, the money starts to feel like more of a curse than a windfall.

As they try to find their way back to each other, Alice learns more about herself than she ever could have imagined . . . and about the unexpected ways in which luck and love sometimes intersect.

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This post is brought to you by Gloria Chao at ChiYAwriters.com.

From A to Z: 5 Spooky Parts of Fiction Writing

From A to Z is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com that examines the nuts and bolts of the writing (and publishing) process.

In honor of Halloween, I wanted to reflect on several aspects of writing that can leave you quaking in your boots—and what to do when they happen to you. Take a look and let me know what other scary moments you’ve encountered in your own writing process!

1. When your characters take over your manuscript.

You have your plan (or maybe you don’t) and are merrily writing along—when one of your characters breaks out and does something so unexpected, you didn’t even see it coming. Maybe it’s a supporting character who rises to the occasion, or maybe your villain does something more dastardly than your darkest dreams. Maybe you don’t expect two characters to fall in love (or to break up!) and then they go and do just that.

Sometimes this is a sign that what you’d originally planned wasn’t working, or that your characters have developed beyond your first impressions of them and your subconscious is helping you embody those changes. Either way, these moments can feel scary and also thrilling, like a movie taking off before your eyes. Harness the creative energy by finishing up the scene and then reflecting on what this twist means for your characters and for the arc of the book.

2. When you come up with a plot twist and go back to incorporate foreshadowing…only to realize you already had.

This type of surprise sometimes makes you feel like you have less control of your writing than you’d like to believe. Other times, it makes you feel like a genius. It’s especially spooky when you’re far past the outline phase and find actual dialogue and character actions to provide evidence of your premonitions.

This can mean that you’ve been stewing on a character’s arc and purpose all along and the pieces are finally starting to click together. But be careful! Just because you find the original piece of foreshadowing doesn’t mean you’ve properly signaled it to the reader. Spend a bit more time thinking about whether your clue is too obvious (you’ve already thought of it twice, after all!), or whether you actually need to include additional bits of foreshadowing: a good rule is to include three separate moments in order to avoid your reveal coming totally out of left field, but that number will depend on the scale of the reveal and the length of your manuscript.

3. When the words aren’t coming.

Some writers say they don’t believe in writer’s block. I think what they really mean is that they’ve found strategies that work for them and can get them inspired—or at least help them push through—until the inertia eases. I’m not a fan of generalizations, but I’m comfortable saying that every writer reaches a crossroads where they aren’t sure what to do next, whether it’s which new idea to develop or how to deal with a manuscript that feels broken.

When this feeling creeps up on you, take a breath. You will get through it, just as you and countless other people have gotten through similar dilemmas before. Take a break from your writing if you need to—or, alternatively, set small goals that you know you can reach (one more sentence, one more paragraph, one more page). Consider revisiting your outline or reading the manuscript from the top. Gather some friends and tell them about your characters and plot, and ask them to throw ideas at you for what might happen next. Write all of these suggestions down, even if you don’t initially like them. The words will come again, but they can be shy little things: you have to find the right way to tempt them out of hiding.

4. The existential fear of never ____________.

Never getting an agent. Never getting published. Never having more than three people show up to your book signings. If you’re a writer who isn’t interested in publication and only writes for yourself, maybe you still have fears of not finishing your first book, your fifth book, your third short story. Maybe you’re afraid that even without pursuing publishing, you’ll ultimately disappoint yourself.

The fact that you’ve made it to a point where you can feel this kind of self-doubt, though, means that you’ve joined the ranks of thousands and thousands of writers, including Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, and Roshani Chokshi. Self-doubt to a point can even be healthy: it means you have goals and are working toward them. Just don’t let the pessimistic impulses sap your lifeblood entirely. If this happens to you often, you can even keep a scrap book of praise for your writing and/or of excerpts you’ve written and will always love.

5. Your Google search history.

I know what you looked up while writing your last piece.

Well, actually, I have no idea. But you and I both know it’d be scary out of context.

The only way around this one is to clear your browser history. 😉

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This post is brought to you by Anna Waggener at ChiYAwriters.com.

Inspiration Station: 6 Offline Things Writers Can Do for Inspiration

Inspiration Station is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com highlighting the people, places, and works of art that inspire us as writers.

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I mean, of course I want everyone to think I’m flowing with ideas. That I’m disciplined and sharp and always ready to produce beautiful prose, tight structure, wicked pacing, and all the things that work together to make a book special.

But alas. I’m human. And sometimes I sit, staring at the screen, trying to force words to come and they just won’t. Or they do and I don’t like them. I find myself instead watching every Instagram story, then scrolling the actual feed. Refreshing Twitter a million times. Even popping over to Facebook if I’m desperate enough for distractions. (This happens a lot more than I care to admit.)

Of course, this does the exact OPPOSITE of inspiring me. It makes me compare myself to everyone’s highlight reels. Or I get caught up in drama and don’t even pretend that I’m pulling myself away. What I need to do is GET OFF THE COMPUTER/PHONE/TABLET. Stop filling my mind with everyone else’s stories… so I can finally create my own again.

Here are some ways I do just that!

  1. Read a book. Something about seeing fully fleshed stories starts my brain gears turning. I purposely read outside the contemporary genre (what I write) so that I’m not tempted to compare my work to theirs. (For the record: I will always fall short in my mind.) To get even more fantastical, I read books whose levels are well beyond what I can imagine mine getting to, such as the Harry Potter series. The combination of those two things takes the pressure off, and I’m able to enjoy the books for fun rather than a craft study. The ideas almost always start flowing before I’ve finished the first chapter.
  2. Take a shower. Getting clean gets my ideas really flowing—to the point that I asked for (and received) one of those waterproof notepads for Christmas. Maybe it’s the meditative and familiar motions of washing that allow my brain to focus on being creative rather than having to pay so much attention to the task at hand.
  3. Meditate. This probably means that I don’t do meditation right, but during yoga class, guided meditation is when a lot of ideas really come to me. Which means I usually have no clue what the teacher is saying during class, but hey, I’ll take it.
  4. Brainstorm. Despite popular belief, writing is not all solitary. True, you have to plant your butt down and do the work, but sometimes, another voice can help you work through that plot hole, or help your story go in a direction you never expected but totally makes sense. Or that person, who is a bit more removed from your work, can help you quickly find a solution that you’ve been puzzling over forever. Something about the brainstorming exchange—especially if it’s face-to-face—always energizes and inspires me.
  5. Go to the library or a bookstore. For me, seeing all those books fills me with inspiration, determination, and maybe a little bit of envy. But mostly, I feel like, “I can do this, and I will do this. And one day, I will be on this shelf!”
  6. Take a nap. I don’t know if this actually helps or not, but naps are always good.

These are just a few things I do to harness inspiration when I’m stuck. What about you? Sound off in the comments with your offline ideas for getting inspired!


This post is brought to you by Ronni Davis at ChiYAwriters.com.

Chicago Writes: ChiYA Talks Group Blogging with Windy City RWA

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ChiYA with Stephanie Scott (left) of Windy City RWA

Big thanks to Stephanie Scott and the Windy City chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America) for inviting ChiYA to talk about group blogging at one of their bi-monthly meetings. We were honored by the invitation, and we had a blast talking about how we started our blog and why we love blogging together!

Our one-year “blogiversary” is coming up later this month, so our RWA talk offered a great opportunity to look back at the past year and discover how much we’ve learned. Here are a few of the highlights:

In the end, this blog is about building community and better knowing both ourselves and our writing. Thanks to everyone who has joined us on our blogging journey so far. We hope you’ll stick around for the next year! And thanks again to Windy City RWA. Be sure to take a look at their schedule for a full list of their fantastic programming.

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This post is brought to you by Lizzie Cooke at ChiYAwriters.com.

Inspiration Station: Building Character, Minute-By-Minute

Inspiration Station is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com highlighting the people, places, and works of art that inspire us as writers.

I’ve been grappling with a character in my current work in progress. How to describe this character. Trying to figure out its backstory, its impact on the plot, when it needs to be present—actively or passively. How does this character relate to the other characters—in harmony, in melody, or in cacophony. Perhaps in all those ways, all at the same time.

It’s Time.

Literally, Time, because since I had the great privilege of hearing Nobel Laureate Maria Vargas Llosa speak in a series of lectures, I’ve been viewing time through the lens of active character not merely passive setting. Got Llosa, Time is a character that he creates as surely and deliberately as he creates the people that inhabit his books.

Llosa says that writing is “a protest against the insufficiencies of life.” And Time, arguably, is our greatest insufficiency. It marches ever forward, without mercy or thought, with no care for our pleas and bargaining that we may be granted just a little more time. So now I find myself struggling with this character that exerts such control over life, but which I control on the page, if nowhere else. On the page, I can mold it, master it, but I must also create it and it is too easy, especially when writing contemporary fiction, to take Time for granted in the story. Yes, we our stories take place in a time, over time, and even within fictions, we need to adhere to some consistencies. But when the place in our story looks and feels so much like the world we live in, Time often gets relegated to an element, not elevated to character. And these are the questions I ask myself as my story that takes place over distinct historical periods, what does Time feel like to my characters? How does it impact them? Each necessarily must have a unique relationship to Time and how can I make that visceral and known? How can I give Time flesh—not personify it or anthropomorphism it necessarily—but how to let it live and breathe on the page.

Listening to Llosa and reading his words, I am reminded how much I can learn from interacting with these masters of craft. Llosa says, “You cannot teach creativity—how to become a good writer. But you can help a young writer discover within himself what kind of writer he would like to be.” And that’s what I’m realizing as I explore Time, as I write, more consciously, I find myself, more and more, figuring out the writer I want to be.

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This post is brought to you by Samira Ahmed at ChiYAwriters.com.