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Posts tagged ‘The Idea Factory’

First Monday Mentoring Nov – how do writers fill the creative well?

Last month I blogged about the importance to your professional development of attending writing conferences and festivals. Today I’m talking about another aspect I call “filling the well.”

How do writers find new things to write about? It helps to be interested in a wide range of subjects, not only those of personal concern but appealing to the world at large. My family calls me a “mine of useless information”, though it comes in handy at trivia nights, because I’ve researched such a wide variety of topics from opal mining to space shuttle operation.

You can combine your conference attendances with rambling research either related to your current writing project, or simply because it’s there.

In my book, The Idea Factory, I called these absorption trips, a name coined by screenwriter, William Goldberg, who suggests you become a sponge, soaking up input wherever you go. Almost any experience can be turned into an absorption trip, from dentist visits to shopping trips. Train yourself to see not only what’s there, but what could be there. What if your dentist is making a fortune through selling illegally plundered gold teeth? If you use this idea, best not use your real dentist’s name to protect the innocent.

When visiting new towns and cities, explore the local businesses, talk to the locals and learn as much as you can about their lives and why they do what they do. Tell them you’re a writer so they don’t think you’re just nosy. Most people I’ve met are flattered by sincere attention.

I’ve also developed many story ideas from reading journals I don’t normally see. Flying to a writing conference in Brisbane not long ago, I was leafing through the in flight magazine, fascinated by a reference to an Irish town as a “thin place” where the boundaries between the real and the supernatural are easily breached. Tantalising as that concept is, I won’t write about it because any writer seeing that reference will feel the same.

Stories “plucked from the headlines” need to be written quickly or not at all, before another questing mind can beat you to it. Many writers believe their ideas have been “stolen” when the truth is, we are all exposed to much the same creative influences. Years ago I indulged my passion for sci-fi by creating a romance hero who might have arrived by UFO. While the book, The Leopard Tree, was in production, I read a review of another book where the hero…you guessed it. There’s no copyright on ideas, only in how they are developed by the writer.

Best-selling novelist, Dean Koontz, said in an interview that he advised writers to do two things. The first is to write, write, write. Concentrate on developing your writing craft to the highest calibre you can. The second is to read, read, read. Koontz says the more you broaden your interests as a reader, the more you broaden your talent as a writer.

He says you should read a book first as a reader, then analyse it to discover the “nuts and bolts with which the story is built.”  As you make the effort your subconscious “will make all sorts of associations and connections, and over time it will give you the critical understanding you are seeking.”

Researching facts is best done through Google and similar resources. Your absorption trips supply the bits you can’t research – the sights, sounds and even smells of a new place or setting, and the accents, clothes and attitudes of the people you meet. Not only will these details fill your creative well with new ideas, they will add a richness to your writing that you can’t get any other way.

Recently I explored some wonderful new places in the USA including a magical Butterfly House and a tour of the Johnson Space Centre, Houston. Tax deductible because it’s research, My story and I’m sticking to it.

How do you find your new insights and stories? Have any of your travels resulted in ideas that excited you enough to write about them? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. They’re moderated to avoid spam but your posts go up right away if you  click “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Masterclass  Canberra, Australia : 18 November  Romance Writing Re-imagined  ACT Writers Centre  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/romance-writing-re-imagined-with-valerie-parv-tickets-35421113504?aff=Valerie 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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First Monday mentoring for April – 4 ways good writers avoid fooling themselves

Yesterday I discovered I’d been driving an unregistered car for who knows how long. I hadn’t overlooked the paperwork. My car was registered until the middle of this year. Unfortunately, the car registry computer had been told otherwise. A missed key stroke or other error had fooled it into thinking my license plates had been handed back to an office in Sydney, five hours’ drive away.

The only solution was for me to take my car to the nearest registry and have them physically verify that the plates were still on my car. They did, and all was well, but to sort the problem out, I had to risk driving unregistered.

I don’t usually catastrophise but even my positive outlook was shaken by all the things that could have gone wrong.

The first was that I could have delayed opening the letter, worried it contained a traffic fine I’d been unaware of incurring. Or I could have been so confident my registration was OK I’d left the letter for later.

Luckily, I didn’t fool myself into leaving the letter untouched. I took immediate action and all was well.
I realized that the habit of not fooling myself works with writing as well. I’d dodged the first two of the ways many writers fool themselves. Check to see if you recognize any of them.

1. I can write it tomorrow.

None of us is guaranteed another breath, far less another day. This isn’t gloom and doom; it’s simply a reality check. Even if you do live to tomorrow, and I pray you will, tomorrow brings its own issues. You could spend half a day fixing a problem you hadn’t expected, like me with my car. There went the precious hours I’d planned to spend writing. Luckily I’d kept my bargain with myself and written the day before, and the one before that. Losing a couple of hours wasn’t a disaster, but what if today had been the only day I’d set aside to enter a competition or meet a deadline?
Good writers don’t put off writing. They write today and every other working day, even if it’s only a couple of sentences.

You may fool others, but never yourself

You may fool others, but never yourself

2. Someone else has already written my story.

They may have written about the same events, but they haven’t written “your” story. A very dear friend talked a lot about a story she wanted to write about what she called the battle of Sydney, when Japanese mini submarines invaded Sydney Harbour. Working for ABC Radio, she’d had a box seat to see the events of that night unfold. Her perspective was unique; her writing style very much her own. Yet she passed away with the book unwritten for a whole stack of reasons, I suspect mostly 1. and 2. here.
Good writers tell their own stories in their own way.

3. I don’t have time to write.

If we let excuses make the running, the joke is definitely on us. Nobody ever has all the time they need to write. In my book, The Idea Factory, I supply a long list of reasons not to write, from the weather to kids being home on holidays, to broken technology (there’s still paper and pen) to other demands on our time. There will always be reasons not to write. Writing is work. I tell others that I’m working rather than writing, because we’re hard wired to respect work. Writing is often seen as a hobby, something to be picked up or put down on a whim. Wrong, so wrong.
If you have a love affair with words, and stories you long to tell, you make time to write them. Good writers don’t fool themselves with excuses.

4. I’m not good enough to write this.

This is the saddest April fool’s joke of them all. Someone in your life – perhaps even you – made you think that you don’t have what it takes to be a writer. The real joke is that nobody knows what makes a writer.

You may be the worst writer in the whole world, although I doubt that, but how will you know what you can achieve until you try? No writer thinks they’re good enough, even those most of us regard as the greats. In my career, I’ve found the opposite to be true – the writers most strongly plagued by self doubt are usually those whose words make the sweetest reading. The story in your head is shining, perfect gold, but turns into base metal as soon as you start to write. Accept this as the way things are. Be glad of your fears because all the best writers have them.
Write your story in spite of your fears. Do the best you can at the time.

Now, over to you.

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Do you resist these April fool’s jokes? Can you think of other ways writers might fool themselves? Share your thoughts in the comments box below. It’s moderated to avoid spam, but you can have your post appear right away by clicking on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone.

Happy writing,

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook
Order Valerie’s Beacons’ book, Birthright, at http://tinyurl.com/mxtmbx6
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer in You
at http://valerieparv.com/course.html

First Monday Mentoring for March 2015 – what passions drive your writing?

Welcome to First Monday Mentoring for March.

As most of the world knows by now, the American actor, Leonard Nimoy, died on Friday. By early Saturday morning Australian time, the hashtag #RIPLeonardNimoy was one of the top trending topics on Twitter and Facebook, and his likeness dominated the world media on and offline.

Even if you aren’t a Star Trek fan, you probably recognized him as Mr. Spock, the logical, pointed-eared Vulcan from Star Trek’s original series which premiered in the 1960s. After Trek, Nimoy starred in series including Mission Impossible and In Search of, and was also a notable stage performer, director, poet, photographer, philanthropist and family man.

Nimoy's last live convention appearance. Photo by Maria Jose Tenuto, used with thanks.

Nimoy’s last live convention appearance. Photo by Maria Jose Tenuto, used with thanks.

I knew him only slightly from my long involvement with the show when I helped organize conventions for fans, fund-raising to bring people from the show to Australia. Some, I’m still friends with today.

Writing eventually took me away from active fandom but my passion for Star Trek remained part of my life in many ways.

When I set up Australia’s first conference on romance writing, I brought Susan Sackett out to talk about the US market. The author of many Hollywood-related books, she co-wrote episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation and worked with Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, for many years.

A younger me with Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry

A younger me with Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry

I considered Gene Roddenberry one of my writing mentors. The technique he used to create the character of Mr. Spock is one I still use and share with the writers I mentor. Gene said he drew a line down the centre of a page, writing his questions for Spock on the left-hand side and the character’s “answers” on the right.

He said the answers may seem forced at first, but if you persevere, the character starts speaking back to you, often surprising you with insights you didn’t know were lurking deep in your subconscious.

When I talked with him about writing for Star Trek, Gene recommended creating my own characters and their universe rather than limiting my options to Paramount Studio’s requirements. It was many years before I fully took this advice, creating my alien Beacons and a series of books starting with Birthright (Corvallis Press, USA).
Even then, Star Trek hovered around the Beacons, challenging me to create my own technology and “world” – not easy considering Trek has a fifty-year head start, showcasing technology which was unheard-of back then, but is commonplace today.

Technology was far from Star Trek’s only appeal for me. At heart I value the show’s inclusiveness and sense of wonder. The stories seek to understand and celebrate our differences, shown most clearly in the character of Mr. Spock. The message is – whoever you are is OK; women can be anything; alienness is to be understood not feared. I’m glad to say that we Trekkies appreciate this spirit even more 50 years on.

Previously I’ve blogged here about how William Shatner, Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, inspires my personal and professional life with his energy, enthusiasm and resilience into his eighties.

In my non-fiction book, The Idea Factory, (Allen & Unwin, Australia), I quote Leonard Nimoy on what he called the “goodies box” that actors – and I believe, writers – all have.

“You come into town with your box of goodies…that is you, and you start to use it and sell it and eventually the box of goodies gets used up, and then you must go back to something else to fill up the box with new goodies.”
Nimoy was describing the need for creative people to soak up input from as many sources as possible. Also called absorption trips, they can range from travelling, reading and watching movies, to meeting people outside your normal circle, whatever gives you fresh material to write about.

What is your passion? What fills your creative goodies box? Is it Star Trek or something completely different? Share your thoughts in the comment box below. They’re moderated to avoid spam, but if you want your comment to appear right away, click on “sign me up” at right. I don’t share your details with anyone else.

Vale Leonard Nimoy. And as Spock might say, live long and prosper in your creative work.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook
Check out Valerie’s online course, Free the Writer In You
At http://www.valerieparv.com/course.html

Is it okay to write without wanting to be published?

On Facebook this week, online friend Fiona Marsden dropped something of a bombshell.

She posted, “I have made a momentous decision. I’m not going to write for publication.”

When I asked if she would still write for enjoyment, she said, “Oh yes. But I find the whole idea of trying to write something that someone else thinks is publishable is too stressfull. It’s taking the joy out of it. I’ll just write what I like and if it isn’t publishable well too bad.”

To some writers this borders on heresy; to others it makes perfect sense.  I thought it a brave and very sensible decision to make, and has nothing to do with the quality of the writing.  Having only read entries in Fiona’s blog, her posts on Facebook and in the Bat Cave on eHarlequin.com (don’t ask!)  I can’t comment on her creative writing, although her posts suggest she has the proverbial “way with words”.

But there’s a deeper issue at stake here for writers.

Is it okay to enjoy writing, perhaps share your work online, and with family and friends, without seeking publication? In my book, The Idea Factory, I explored the idea of writing for enjoyment, observing that, ” “Painters find it perfectly acceptable to dabble in art and produce unspectacular pictures for their living room walls. Yet for some reason writing isn’t considered acceptable unless it’s for publication.”

Imagine if everyone who enjoyed designing clothes felt their work wasn’t complete until worn by some celebrity on the red carpet? Or if a keen gardener couldn’t sleep at night without medals from the Chelsea Flower Show?

These days it’s fine to publish your own work through the many resources available on line.

With some foresight (Idea Factory was published in 1995), I wrote “You can self-publish. For many years this was a dirty word, but as publishers become what Morris West calls ‘agglomerated’ and mainly interested in potential blockbuster novels, small presses are making a comeback.”

Self-publishing, or indie publishing as it’s known now, can lead to spectacular success. John Grisham’s novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 28 publishers. It was finally accepted and 5,000 copies printed. Grisham bought 1,000 of them and toured the USA selling them himself. Those books are worth more than $4,000 today if you can find one.

Then there’s Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels, by British author E L James. Starting life as Twilight fan-fiction online, the book has now been published, selling over 10 million copies worldwide.

Even if this doesn’t happen to you, it’s fine to decide to enjoy playing with words, putting them together in whatever form takes your fancy, without caring whether they’re published or not.

It’s only recently the word amateur has come to mean  less worthy than professional.

The word itself comes from the Latin amator meaning a lover of something, describing one who does something for the joy of it, rather than for payment. If dealing with real-world or digital publishing takes “the joy out of it” for you, then write for yourself. Share your work where and when you please. Who knows where it will lead?

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

Proud Friend of the National Year of Reading 2012

Established Writer in Residence Katharine Susannah Prichard Centre, Perth 2012

On Twitter @valerieparv and Facebook

Feel the fear and write it anyway

What’s so scary about writing? It’s not like you have to bungy jump into a book or be like Bear Grylls battling the elements while eating still-squirming things to survive. Yet fear comes up time and again as a reason why writers do almost anything rather than sit down and write.  Or if they do, never finish. Or avoid sending their work to an agent or publisher.  Author Erica Jong   www.ericajong.com  said that for years she avoided sending anything out. As long as the book was a work-in-progress, it couldn’t be rejected. She’s far from alone.

If you want to be published, you have to wrestle your fears to the ground. In my book, The Idea Factory, I recommend asking yourself what you’re really afraid of. Usually it comes down to one of these fears:

  • being wrong
  • ridicule
  • actual loss

Writers aren’t the only people afraid of being thought stupid or  wrong. Trying something new IS risky and you might fail. You could also succeed beyond your wildest dreams. The infamous writers’ block may be a defence against fear. If we don’t put ourselves “out there” no one can find us wanting. Try reminding yourself that you are not your work, nor does your career depend on one piece of writing. Even the most successful writers produce a “what were they thinking?” piece some time in their careers. If not, it may be that we’re not pushing ourselves far enough outside our own comfort zone.

When Allen & Unwin invited me to edit the anthology that became How Do I Love Thee? Stories to stir the heart, I said yes then wondered what I’d gotten myself into, never having edited other writers before. Mentored yes, through Romance Writers of Australia’s  Valerie Parv Award, but contracted, inspired, collated and…gulp…given a group of multi-published authors feedback on their work? Hell, no.

I followed the advice in a handy book called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers Ph.D. http://www.susanjeffers.com The title pretty much says it all. I said yes, felt the fear – boy did I ever – then edited the book. That experience became one of my most rewarding in a long time. This month, the book was published in Korean, and a review on A & U’s website says: Who would have though that such a mixture of emotions could be unbottled by opening this little book. It will have you smiling, crying, laughing, wondering all the while your heart skips a beat.” – Trinette, NSW (via Lifestyle YOU) http://www.allenandunwin.com/default.aspx?page=94&book=9781742370804 

A sign in my office says, “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday, and all is well.” So go ahead, feel the fear and write your book anyway. It’s much more satisfying than eating wriggly things, I promise.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

 

 

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