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.

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.

Chicago Reads: American Writers Museum

Earlier this year, the American Writers Museum opened in Chicago at 180 N Michigan Ave. It was designed for the reader, with interactive exhibits that explore the art of writing and the art of reading.

Upon entering, there’s a wall of bookmarks for you to pick from, with each bookmark featuring a famous author and an inspiring quote.

The exhibits include:

  • Writers Hall
  • American Voices
  • Surprise Bookshelf
  • Word Waterfall
  • Readers Hall
  • The Mind of a Writer
  • A Writer’s Room
  • Featured Works
  • Word Play
  • Chicago: A City of Writers
  • Children’s Gallery
  • Changing Exhibits Gallery

In this post, I’m going to highlight Children’s Gallery, American Voices, Surprise Bookshelf, Story of the Day, and Word Play.

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The Children’s Gallery had displays on classics like Dr. Seuss and Little Women, and the bright room housed an impressive collection of books that visitors could sit and peruse. Personally, I wish there had been more young adult coverage, but their children’s book selection was well curated. It was a lovely trip down memory lane.

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I spent a lot of time in the American Voices and Surprise Bookshelf exhibits, which are across from each other down a long hallway, with the former on the right and the latter on the left in the following picture:

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American Voices “takes visitors on a journey through the literary history of the United States” and the Surprise Bookshelf presents a series of illuminated boxes that showcase “samples of great American writing.”

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Story of the Day is an exhibit within the museum’s Mind of a Writer section and comprises an interactive space where visitors can write stories on paper and pencil, typewriters, or digital media. Once they are done, there is a wall where you can display your work.

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I had a lot of fun playing around with the typewriters there (and it made me love my laptop and Microsoft Word even more), and it took me an embarrassingly long time to type up the first paragraph of AMERICAN PANDA to put on the wall:

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Word Play is another exhibit within The Mind of a Writer and featured an interactive tabletop with word games which were fun and, frankly, quite difficult. My husband and I spent quite a bit of time here playing around.

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More photos and descriptions can be found on the museum’s website. All in all, this was a lovely way to spend an afternoon, and there’s plenty of information to absorb and fun activities to engage in.

If you sign up at their website for their newsletter, you can receive 20% off your first visit. For details on ticket prices and hours of operation, see below:

Tickets

Adults $12
Seniors (ages 65+) $8
Students (w/ valid ID) $8
Children (ages 12 & younger) Free

Final ticket sales are 30 mintes before closing

Hours of Operation

Monday closed*
Tuesday-Wednesday 10 am – 5 pm
Thursday 10 am – 8 pm
Friday-Sunday 10 am – 5 pm

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

 

From A to Z: The Next Time Around, Finding the silver lining in returning to the query trenches

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

My partner and I were recently watching Hidden Figures. We got to the scene near the end when Katherine is getting ready for her wedding to Jim Johnson—her second marriage, after her first husband passed away several years before. “I don’t think I felt a thing the first time I did this,” Katherine says, adjusting her veil. “I was so nervous.”

“Huh,” said my partner. “I guess that’s the silver lining of getting married twice.”

Finding an agent is often compared to finding a spouse, and it’s an apt analogy: you must both be there for the right reasons, must have matching communication styles, must put in the same level of effort even if the chores you each take on are slightly different.

The thing people don’t really like to talk about—both in the dating circuit and in the query trenches—is that sometimes you’ll get married twice. Me personally? I’m brushing off my shoulders for my third literary “I do.”

My second agent and I parted ways about a month ago when she decided to pursue a career in education—even though she loved agenting and will always love books. I knew her personally before she represented me, and I’ve always known about her passion for education, so when she told me about her decision to leave the publishing industry, my first thought was, “Oh God, I’m so happy for her.”

My next thought, as you might expect, was, “Well, shoot.”

This post isn’t meant to send currently agented writers into an existential tailspin. Many, many authors and agents maintain a happy relationship for their entire careers.

It is meant, though, to assure those newly no-longer-agented writers that they are not pariahs and that this moment is not a reset.

Finding an agent is hard. You must write the book, revise and revise and revise it and then let others examine the thing, poking and prodding and making notes about its merits and faults so that you can revise it again. You must polish your query, make your agent list, send out your little beating heart and get rejections out of hand and “revise and resubmits” and, most crushing of all, the notes that start, “I loved X and Y, but…”

And then you get a request for a phone call and your stomach metamorphoses into butterflies and it all feels worth it: a victory that fades into a haze of good feelings as the months and years roll on.

The thing is, finding an agent is hard, but none of the truths from last time are invalidated by having to do it over again. You are really and truly not starting over.

This time around, you know that someone (other than your best friend or critique partner) has already fallen in love with your words and characters and stories. Someone has already said “yes.” You must remember that they were not an aberration, and when you dive back into the trenches you should do so with the knowledge that someone else will say “yes” again.

This time around, you’ll be able to take it a little slower: you’ll get to revisit the You who queried that original agent and compare it to the You who’s on the market now. You’ll get to see where careers have gone since you signed and get to see what new faces and wish lists exist. You’ll get to put all the skills you learned the first time—and all the practice you’ve had in your writing since then—into this new manuscript and fresh round of queries. You’ll know both yourself and your writing better, and that will come through in your outreach. You’ll get to write a new list of questions to ask during The Call, and you’ll underline the ones you forgot to bring up the first time around because your heart was doing backflips.

It’s true that you’ll have to do the hard parts all over again too. Write the book. Polish the query. Do the research. Make the list. It will suck. You might feel alone. You will likely collect new rejections and wonder whether your book and writing career are both garbage.

But here’s the silver lining: In the end, you’ll get asked to hop on the phone. You’ll get to hear all the nice things someone thinks about your work and you’ll get to feel all those butterflies again. In the end, it will be worth it. And this time, you won’t be so nervous you forget.

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