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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

Inspiration Station: My Favorite Authors, and How They’ve Inspired Me to Write

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 wrote my first story when I was eleven years old. It was in a Michael Jackson notebook. I sat at one of the end tables in the living room and scribbled out a story about me and some of my classmates getting trapped in a haunted house.

I kept writing on and off all through middle school, high school, and college. My inspirations came mostly from boys I had crushes on, “real” or celebrities; actresses I wanted to be like or wanted to be; song lyrics; TV shows; and words tossed out carelessly by a friend or family member. But as far as being inspired to write for publication? Well, that started with a gothic horror author named V.C. Andrews.

Say what you will about V.C. Andrews, but I absolutely love her original early stuff. Flowers in the Attic? Dark Angel? I got laughed at in a writing workshop course because I admitted I liked those books. But there’s a reason the books have sold a staggering number of copies. They resonate with so many readers, but for me it was how real the characters seemed to me. Heaven’s passion. Cathy’s over-the-top way of always living. I felt like I would look up from the pages and see them in the room.

I wanted to write books that moved others like that.

But my style is not gothic horror. My style is contemporary romance with lots of kissing and a good deal of angst. Still, reading an old V.C. Andrews book seems to help kick-start me back into writing.

I draw inspiration from many authors, but the ones that seem to really feed my fires are the following:

  • J.K. Rowling. I re-read the Harry Potter series quite often, and it never fails. As soon as I’m two pages in, my mind starts churning with all sorts of ideas. And because I don’t write fantasy, it’s not that I’m ripping her off. There is something in the way her words feed me that help me do my own work.
  • Sarah Dessen. I read a book of hers called The Truth About Forever, and in it was a side character named Monica. Monica moves very slowly and talks in a monotone, and I could not stop thinking about her, wondering how she looked, and if she flopped across the couch like the weight of the world was on her chest. I decided I needed to write characters that people thought about after they put the book down.
  • Jennifer Niven. Her book All The Bright Places actually inspired me to write the book I’m currently revising for my agent. Her writing is pretty but easy to digest, and her characters inspire so many fans. If I got fan art of my characters like she does, I’d feel as if I’ve really arrived. I want to inspire people like that.
  • Nicola Yoon. Her skill amazes me. The way she weaves stories in and out, the way she adds in quirky things to get the point across in simple and fun ways. The way you are immediately drawn to and falling in love with her characters. It always seems to come down to characters for me.
  • Laurie Halse Anderson. I met her years ago, and she inscribed in my copy of Speak: “Remember, pre-publication is a temporary condition. Keep writing.”  Learning about her drafting process (it’s intense), her research process (even more intense) showed me someone who cares deeply, so very deeply, about her work. And it shows through her words. I want that kind of discipline, dedication, and skill. And it was her who jump-started me back into seriously writing six years ago, with an exercise called Writing Fifteen Minutes a Day (WFMAD). She had two prompts every day on her blog—a fiction and a non-fiction prompt. Those prompts got my writing wheels going after having laid dormant for years, and I haven’t looked back (much) since.

Those are just a few of the authors who inspire me. It’s not always about lush writing, intricate worlds, or a breakneck pace. I simply need to care about the characters (including side characters), to want to go on these journeys with them, to live in their worlds and in their heads for a while.  And I want readers to care that much about the characters I create and write. I’m working on it! 🙂


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

Inspiration Station: 88 Cups of Tea Podcast

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 week, Kat Cho and I were lucky to be among 8 listeners to be interviewed for the 88th Milestone episode (embedded below) of my favorite podcast, 88 Cups of Tea! I like to turn to 88 Cups of Tea when I need writing inspiration. They also have fabulous information about publishing, and it gives you a rare behind-the-scenes look!

Some past guests include Leigh Bardugo, Morgan Matson, Kami GarciaRenee Ahdieh, Kody KeplingerJeff Zentner, Sabaa TahirJenny Han, Jerry SpinelliAlexandra BrackenV.E. Schwab (just to name a few), as well as agents, editors, and TV/film writers.

Yin and Moonlynn are such wonderful, big-hearted people, and they put so much love into this world through this podcast. If you’re looking for a supportive community, you can join the 88 Cups of Tea Storyteller Tribe on Facebook here. There are weekly check-ins, the opportunity to ask questions to future podcast guests, and lots of love from other writers.

Kat’s section begins around 1:37:40. I loved hearing about how she got into writing, her two WIPs, and her close relationship with her sister and her cousin, Axie Oh (whose book, Rebel Seoul, comes out September 15th!). I loved that Kat’s sister wrote her stories when they were kids! And I love Yin’s one-line pitch for Kat’s book: “Oh my God, she falls in love with her dinner!” Thanks, Kat, for the inside look into Korean culture and the inspiration for GUMIHO!

My interview begins at 00:19:35, and I absolutely loved chatting with Yin about my writing journey, my family, and my debut novel, American Panda!

The other ladies featured in the episode are lovely, fascinating, and inspiring, so please check out their sections too!

Happy listening! I hope you all love this podcast as much as I do and can find nuggets of wisdom and inspiration in each episode! Yin recommends starting with rockstar literary agent Joanna Volpe‘s episode. I also highly recommend Kami Garcia‘s episode, which discusses craft in depth and lists great resources (also listed on the show notes at the bottom of the page).

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

Inspiration Station: Writing While Traveling

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

IMG_20170429_174707I don’t often talk about my manuscripts and works in progress on ChiYA, but this post does need a bit of that background before I delve into my recent trip and how it’s inspired my writing. I am Korean American and I love to use my personal heritage in my writing. Just the history of Korea itself lends such a rich source of inspiration for me that I could write all day about the rise and fall of kings in the Joseon era. Speaking of, my most recent WiP is based on Joseon traditions. So when I was traveling to Korea last month I figured I’d do some (more) research.

I have to say that I’m lucky enough to go to Korea pretty regularly. I started writing my last MS there and it really did influence how I described the world in my book (since it was set in a contemporary Korea).

I try to use my own lived experiences in my writing, but I try not to fall too deeply in the trap of describing a place in detail merely because I’ve been there. I like to think that worlds created in books, even if they are real places, have a level of discovery for the reader. I love getting a sense of the scene from my favorite books, but then layering my own imagination on top of it as a reader.

That’s what I try to do when I’m writing about places I’ve been, because I do believe everyone experiences places differently. I like to think I open the door and step aside to let the reader have their own time with the places I’ve created.

Something that helped me with this a lot this trip was the fact that my younger cousin was experiencing Korea for the first time. To see how she perceived these places that I’ve been to many times, and how she experienced everything in a way I’d never imagined, helped me understand a different perspective on things that might have grown “common” to me. It gave me back a sense of wonder of the new and it inspired me in my writing.

IMG_20170427_134638My tips for using your travel and experiences in your writing are:

  1. Include the things that drew you there in the first place, but don’t be too leading. Don’t try to force your experience on others, just let it be a guide to open the door to a new place and then let the reader experience the world as they will.
  2. Use your own emotional attachments to a place as a way to explain why something ordinary could become extraordinary. I love the smell of rice cakes, it’s kind of sweet and savory at the same time. When the sauce is too spicy it stings my nostrils, but it reminds me of so many memories of my semester abroad in Seoul. Those small moments make a place richer for me and I’ve used them to enrich my stories.
  3. Let a place speak for itself. This is something I think about a lot because I’m writing in a non-western world. I don’t want to frame everything from the lens of an American POV (even though I am a Korean American). I want the world to stand on its own without preconceived notions or biases.
  4. In that same vein, don’t force it. Make sure that you’re not layering expectations on top of your world (especially if it isn’t necessary for the story). I’ve read pages and pages of exposition explaining a place and then it turns out it never had any relevance to the plot and I was…baffled.
  5. Try to imagine the same place from multiple angles. I would suggest this for new and old places you’ve been. Sometimes, the old becomes new when seen from a different POV (like how my cousin helped me see Seoul in a new light).

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This post is brought to you by Kat Cho at ChiYAwriters.com.

Inspiration Station: On Sculpture and Writing and Having Conversations

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

Some say it resembles a human skull; others say it’s a mushroom cloud. To me, Henry Moore’s Nuclear Energy sculpture suggests the possible.

moore_nuclearenergyUnveiled at 3:36 p.m. on December 2, 1967, Moore’s sculpture commemorates the first self-sustaining controlled nuclear reaction initiated on Dec 2nd, 1942, at, you guessed it, 3:36 p.m. It seems strange, perhaps even beyond the pale, to mark a moment that eventually led to so much death and destruction. But I’m one for remembering. For knowing the past so that we don’t replicate it, so we can learn from it. I never saw this sculpture as a celebration—indeed it’s not a beautiful work of art in a “traditional” sense, but it is conversational—as, I believe, Moore intended it and as I take it.

Perhaps more than any other physical thing, sculpture to me is most like writing. The artist or the writer begins with an idea, an intention and molds and crafts her medium to fit that concept, tell that story. But once that piece is in the world, it’s for the observer or reader to continue that conversation.

Nuclear Energy engages the viewer. It invites you in and through. This 12 feet x 8 feet weighty chunk of bronze, is solid and yet somehow airy. There are moments when it seems it can take off, unshackle itself from gravity. Smooth, worn, rough, it both blocks the light and lets it pass. Like Enrico Fermi and the other physicists of the Manhattan Project, this sculpture has and can keep secrets.

Often I’ve seen students huddled in the sculpture’s niches, rapt in conversation. Once I saw a Nobel Prize winning physicist sitting back in one of the recesses, eyes closed, head tilted back, face utterly peaceful. I’d like to to think he was solving some of life’s great mysteries, but perhaps he was merely thinking about his lunch. I’ve sat in that sculpture myself, many times—searching for shade, a place to rest, or a moment to think in a quiet hollow. This sculpture calls to the passerby to engage; it invites you in.

At some point, Moore must have thought his sculpture was done, that it was ready to be made public, to be seen, to be known. As I come closer to my publication date, I think a lot about what it really means for a writer to be finished with a book—the time between first draft and final pass pages, where the moments to make changes in the story narrow until they are gone. But that book is just beginning to breathe and be a part of a conversation. That book is on a new journey—true, it can’t really be changed, but it can still evolve.

Moore’s sculpture changes with the viewpoint the observer brings, with the sun and shadow and clouds. What a wonderful metaphor for writing—for holding on and letting go. For moving from a writer’s soliloquy to the wide and varied chorus of readers who honor the writer by engaging with their words, who carry on the conversation.

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