prewriting

Creative Ways to Come up With Ideas

I’m often asked how to come up with ideas, so I thought I’d give you a few ways to hopefully jump-start ideas on your end. Putting yourself in certain situations can get you in a more creative mindset, so be aware of your surroundings and what’s happening around you whenever possible.

Here are a few ways to come up with creative ideas on daily basis:

Listen to the people around you

There’s no better way to generate ideas than to listen to the people around you. People say some interesting things if you stay open to it. Ideas are guaranteed to formulate if you listen to what’s happening around you.

Tune into talk radio

Talk radio will help give you some ideas regarding how people communicate with each other and how people argue about things. Think about how people would talk about things in your world and what forums would be available for discussions.

Watch your favorite movie

Try to focus on why your favorite movie is your favorite. What gets you excited about it? Once you figure out those things, you should be able to realize what you want your book to be like. Harness what motivates you.

Write a scene between two characters

Consider writing a scene between two characters you like. Use your own characters or your favorite fictional characters. Put them in a situation they wouldn’t normally be in.

Take a walk

Allowing yourself some fresh air sometimes helps you get creative. If you’re stuck in one place all day, try to get out for a little while. Changing your environment can help generate ideas.

Use Google Maps

If locations tend to inspire you, use Google Maps to zoom in on places you’re interested in. Being able to see a place you intend to write about can make a huge difference. It will also help you see things in a different way.

Search for new music

Music often helps inspire writers, so take some time to download something new. Turn on Pandora or Spotify and keep your ears open for something that inspires you.

List your favorite characters

Pinpointing exactly what makes a character interesting to you can help you build your own characters. Take some time to list a few of your favorite characters and see what they have in common. Use these ideas to structure a character of your own.

-Kris Noel

Writing Tip April 15th

Before you even sit down to type the first word of your novel, there’s some groundwork you need to do first. You need to spend time developing your characters, world, plot, and doing lots (and lots) of research. This is known as the pre-writing stage, and it’s something we don’t talk about often enough as writers.

“But I don’t want to do more work!” you lament.

Shhhh. Just accept it now and it will make your life loads easier. Trust me. What I’ve discovered after several novels and years of writing is that the time you invest in your pre-writing stage will determine how smoothly the writing process goes. And you want it to go as smoothly as possible, right? (Hint: just say yes).

I feel like a lot of new writers think that you come up with some ideas and then just dive right into your story. I mean, sure, you could do it that way. But you’re just making things harder on yourself.

“But I’m an artist! I can’t be constrained by notes and outlines!”

Did Michelangelo take a paintbrush to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and just go crazy with artistic expression? No way! He sketched out every figure before he ever added paint. He had a plan. Likewise, you need to sketch out your story before you start adding words!

Let’s explore the wonderful benefits of the pre-writing stage.

1) It is Harder to Get Lost

When you invest time up-front organizing your story and developing the details, you create a handy little blueprint to help you write. You know where you’re going with this crazy thing, so if you get lost you can glance back at it and see just what the heck you’re trying to build. Outlining your plot can help you avoid getting stuck, and keep you from writing countless pointless scenes or writing yourself into a corner. Not to mention, it can save you from having to write a heap of drafts.

Even if you hate outlines and you’re a “pantser,” I feel you should at least know your hero’s goal. That way, you have a sense of direction for where the story needs to go. This sort of focus will make a huge difference in your story! This doesn’t mean you can’t change anything while writing (you should always stay flexible!) but it helps you stay on track.

2) You Decrease Chances of Plot Holes

In the pre-writing stage you’ve also done the bulk of the research, so you’re less likely to discover facts while writing that could derail or blow a hole in your plot (Do not let this happen to you! You’re smarter than that, right?). And, bonus, your research probably gave you some pretty awesome ideas!

3) The Writing Process Flows More Smoothly

I love pre-writing because I know the more work I put into it the less I’ll have to do while I’m actually writing, which gives me more time to, you know, actually write. I’m not constantly stopping to figure out something (though of course hitting road blocks is inevitable).

You don’t have to stop to research everything or figure out your story world because you’ve already done most of that. And you don’t have to stop to scratch your head over your characters because you’ve already spent time getting to know them. Sure they may still surprise you or you might end up changing them, but you’ll know who most of them are and have a great foundation.

If you try to do all of these things while you’re writing, it’s going to take you 3x as long to write your story and the constant pausing will kill your writer groove. If you try to do it after, you’re going to have a mess on your hands. Read: a stack of drafts that’s 2x higher than it could be.

Please don’t put yourself through that torture. Of course, even if you pre-write you’ll still have details you need to figure out and questions that arise as you write, but these instances will be drastically fewer.

4) You Avoid More Work and Frustration in the Long Run

If you don’t lay a foundation to build your novel upon, you’re going to end up writing blind. This means writing unnecessary scenes or subplots that veer from your hero’s goal. So not only do you waste time writing these scenes/subplots, but you’ll have to spend even more time re-writing them if they can’t be deleted without any damage (which is very rarely the case as everything tends to be so intertwined in a novel).

Once, I let a subplot get so out of hand that I wrote over 20,000 words of unnecessary story. I didn’t understand the importance of my hero’s goal and didn’t use it to guide my plot. The story became such a mess that I didn’t know what to do with it, and after months of re-writing/editing to no avail, I abandoned it.

If you don’t have a plan (or at least your hero’s goal), you’re likely to end up having to do heavy re-writes. This can lead to frustration, and ultimately you may give up on your story. I don’t want you to make more work for yourself—or give up! Learn from my mistakes and write smart.

What to do Before You Start Writing

You’re all ready to jump into a new writing project. I’m sure you have a million ideas floating around in your head, so you want to dive right in. Of course, that tactic works for some people, but many writers need a little structure if they want to build something great.

Here are a few things I make sure to do before diving into a new project:

Do some research

Research is almost always necessary when it comes to starting a new novel. Depending on your topic, you might need to spend a little extra time in the library or scouring the internet. Take some notes. Ask yourself important questions. Research can even include reading novels in the same genre as your own. Whatever helps you prepare yourself, make sure you take the proper steps.

Build an outline

Not everyone needs an outline, but I’m one of those writers that needs structure. If you’re like me, work on a rough outline first. It can change and you don’t have to finish it, but try to have something you can work off of if you get stuck. This helps you stay focused and motivated throughout the entire process. Make sure you schedule in some time to adjust your outline as well.

Pinpoint what you’d like to improve

If this isn’t your first time at the rodeo, think about what make the process difficult for you the first time around. Did you have trouble motivating yourself? Did you like your characters? Did you have a solid plot figured out? Try to focus on those things this time around. It’ll make it easier each time you write.

Draw up a schedule

If you need to manage your time, trying drawing up a writing schedule beforehand. Try to figure out what goals you want to achieve. Want to write 1,000 words a day? Want to get your book done in 3 months? Try to experiment writing at different times of the day and see what works best. Scheduling writing time doesn’t work for everyone, but feel free to give it a shot.

Don’t forget characters

Some writers spend so much time on plot and world building; they forget to spend time on their characters. You don’t need to know every detail because that will be revealed to you as you write, but you should know who they are. You should know who the main characters are going to be and how they’ll build and play into the story. What do they want? How will they attempt to get it? Don’t forget to spend some time with them beforehand.

-Kris Noel

Guidelines for Free Writing

Reminders…

  • Thoughts are constantly passing through your mind; you never have nothing on your mind.
  • Free writing helps you get these thoughts down on paper.
  • Free writing is also a way to develop these thoughts; you do this by adding details and making meaning out of them.
  • Many things seem awkward or difficult when you first try them; free writing will probably be no different.
  • Just stick with it and don’t be discouraged.

The Process…

  • Write nonstop and record whatever comes into your mind. (Write for at least 10 minutes if possible.)
  • If you have a particular topic in mind, begin writing about it. Otherwise, pick up on anything that comes to mind and begin writing.
  • Don’t stop to judge, edit, or correct your writing; that will come later.
  • Keep writing even when you think you have exhausted all your ideas. Switch to another mode of thought (sensory, memory, reflective) if necessary, but keep writing.
  • When a particular topic seems to be working, stick with it; record as many specific details as possible. If your ideas dry up, look for a new idea in your free writing or begin a new nonstop writing.

Hint: Carry your journal with you and write freely in it whenever you have an idea you don’t want to forget, or even when you simply have nothing else to do. These free writings will help you become a better writer.

The Result…

  • Review your writings and underline the ideas you like. These ideas will often serve as the basis for more formal writings.
  • Make sure a free-writing idea meets the requirements of an assignment; also make sure it’s one you feel good about sharing.
  • Determine exactly what you plan (or are required) to write about; add specific details as necessary. (This may require a second free writing.)
  • Listen to and read the free writings of others; learn from them.

Harry’s got such a desperate need to be one of those effortless, indie comics and Roselyn loves to push him out of that space and into something more real. Tonight he’s in a good balance between the two. When he lets it out, his eagerness on stage somehow makes him more attractive. He scrapes for a laugh like it’s inevitable, like he’s confident enough to know that he’ll get what he wants in the end.

Roselyn doesn’t mean to think this hard about him, but that’s her job. She’s an observational comic so she pays attention to everything, except maybe herself.

Ch 3 | Playing With the Boys | posted on 1dff & tumblr

3 Biggest Writing Mistakes

After constructing over 400(ish) posts on the art of writing, I’ve started to see some patterns. I feel like I’m always mentioning the same things and I worry about repeating myself. However, I realized that I say a few things over and over again because they’re important and they are the building blocks of writing a good story. Researching these topics and coming up with the same results has improved my writing over the past year and a half and I hope I have helped you. As a summary of all these posts, I’ve come up with the 3 biggest writing mistakes that MANY novelists make.

Weak character development

Character development is one of the most important things to focus on when it comes to writing. In order for people to care about your story, they must care about your characters. Do whatever you need to do to work on character development. Read blog posts, get books from the library, fill out character forms, etc. Developing strong characters is so important and crucial to any story. Here are a few posts I’ve done myself to get you started.  

Writing Intriguing Characters

Why Your Main Character Sucks

Reasons Your Character Might Act Out-of-Character

Focusing on Secondary Characters

Understanding Archetypes

Character Depth

Over writing

Being too wordy, over describing what’s going on, and over writing scenes is something that nearly every writer does. This is okay in your first draft, but you need to remember to edit these things down later. If you can say something in two words instead of a paragraph, do it. Don’t overuse adverbs and adjectives. Describe only what is necessary to your story or else you’ll drag it down and bore your readers.

Developing a Well-Paced Novel

Poor planning

How much you need to plan can vary, but it’s hard to jump write into a full length novel without any preparation. If you’re having plot problems, this might be because you haven’t planned enough. Take the time to prewrite and brainstorm before you begin writing. It will save you time and frustration later on.  If you spend a good amount of time planning, you’ll also get your creative juices flowing. You’ll come up with great ideas that you might have missed otherwise.

How to Plan Your Novel

Letting Ideas Settle

-Kris Noel

Index Cards My Way

About a century ago, I read this really great break down and outlining a novel in practically no time. It’s a great read, you should check it out.

Anyway, here’s how I took that method and do it my way. There’s some math. So. Be ready for that. 

First: The Math

To make this work, you need to have a rough idea of how big you want your end novel to me. In this case, I’m shooting for about 75,000 words. Next, you need to decide about how big you want your scenes or story chunks to be. In my case, I like about 1.500 when planning. I often go over, I occasionally go under, but because I try to write about 2,000 words a day when I’m actively writing, scenes that are around that size are great because I’m never starting or stopping at the start of a section. I’m usually going through the middle. I find this speeds my writing a fair bit better than writing scenes straight beginning to end. 

So now I have the size and the word count per story chunk. Divide one by the other. In my case, 75,000 words by 1,500 words is fifty flat.   So I need fifty story chunks to plan out! Yay! 

Next, you can do one of two things. You could pick a number of characters you want the story to centre, or a number of story lines to follow. I prefer story lines. I wind up with 

  • What are the Dead Suits? 
  • Rebuilding the Colony
  • Sad Affairs
  • The Teddy Bear
  • Apotheosis

At this point, I don’t REALLY know what any of these mean. I just think they sound like cool stories to follow. (Actually, by the time I got to plotting out, what The Teddy Bear storyline meant changed. That happens. This is throwing ideas at a wall.) 

Not all these story lines are created equal. In fact, I want most of the focus to be on Dead Suits and the Colony. So. I look at how I can divide up those fifty scenes. `If you split it up by three-ish, you get three storylines with 16 scenes with two extra scenes. I drop those on Apotheosis, because that’s kind of climax stuff. Because Sad Affairs and Teddy Bears are minor plot, they split up one portion of 16 into eight scene each. The end result is this. 

  • Dead Suits - 16 scenes.
  • Rebuilding - 16 scenes. 
  • Sad Affair - 8 scenes. 
  • Teddy Bear - 8 scenes. 
  • Apotheosis - 2 scenes. 

Next, break out your index cards or whatever. Count out fifty of them. Color code them. See below. 

Okay. Here’s my cards. I used a hole punch and a have a ring ready. Study cards work really well for this too, depending on how much info you want to store on your cards. I’ll match the colors here to my journal because, hey, why not? 

Start writing ideas on cards. This could be an idea for a full scene, or just a cool event that would be awesome. You have to know exactly what any of these cool ideas mean. You’ll flesh that out later. Don’t worry about writing in order. No need for that.

For example. For the Teddy Bear story line, I wrote down ‘First Sight of an ancient gift.’ I…. don’t actually know what that’s meant to be. It sounds cool. It’ll involved giant robots and kids. And it sounds cool. Once I start organising all these scene and story moments, I can decided what it actually means. 

Next, as I finish up my fifty scene shards, I lay them out. This helps me to visualise the story as it grows, and fill in gaps. Plus it’s cool to see it all storyboarded out like this. 

After that? Mix ‘em in to a rough order. Grab them story lines up and weave them together. In my case, I’m putting the cards on a ring because that kind of stationary is easy to get here in Japan. I’ll put these down in order into my journal eventually. But for now, having them visual and flexible feels good. I’ll shuffle these around, add a few scenes or trash a few. I’m not married to this outline. More like we’re just seriously dating. 

This is a final thing you DON’T need to do, I’m just doing it because I can. Hole punch in the cover, reinforce it with tape, and my journal’s got a cute piercing! 

I can’t have facial piercings anymore, but I can have journal piercings instead! Yay! 

10

THE NAME PROJECT

For children, their name is synonymous with identity and holds great emotional and psychological meaning. Being remembered by name is universally appreciated, and associated with respect. Knowing and remembering someone’s name is a key factor in building a relationship.  
Names are important, and for many children are the first word they learn to recognize by sight.
Using activities that use children’s own names provide a natural, easy approach to helping children to increase their phonemic awareness, introducing letter-sound correspondence and fostering letter and word recognition. Each child choose their own way and materials to represent their name. This project was done with 4-year-olds and kindergarteners.

Creative Ways to Plot

It’s a difficult task to plot out your novel before you begin working on it. Many writers like to jump right into their stories and don’t want to waste time planning it out—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, discovering your own way to plot your novel might be a valuable writing tool. Here are a few creative ways to plan out your novel:

Fill in the Blanks: Know the 3 scenes that will help you organize your novel. Know the opening scene of your novel, plan out a scene that will happen smack-dab in the middle of your novel, and know how your novel is going to end. This will help you “fill in the blanks” or flesh out what happens in between. With this style of plotting, you don’t need to know everything that’s going to happen. You can plan as you go along, but at least you know where your story is going. This works for people who don’t want to spend a lot of time figuring out the details beforehand.

Build Your Characters: This is an interesting way to plot that focuses solely on character development. When you’re doing your prewriting, figure out how you want your characters to change or grow over the course of your novel—and then let the plot grow from that. I think this gives writers a lot of freedom and the direction your story goes in might surprise you. The story grows from your characters and they’re really in charge. Your story grows organically and your writing might feel less forced.

Chapter-By-Chapter Synopsis: Write a short one-sentence synopsis of each chapter. Explain what’s going to happen like you’re pitching it to a friend. This will give you direction, but you’ll also be able to avoid over-planning. Actually, planning out each chapter takes a good amount of work and you should have a clear direction on where your novel is going.

You can plot or prewrite your novel any way you want, so don’t feel like you need to plan out every moment. Do what works for you!

-Kris Noel 

The Writing Process: Prewriting

The prewriting stage of the writing process is an idea stage.  Before you write, gather ideas and make choices about three things: your topic, your purpose, and your audience.  Together, these three things make up your prewriting stage.

There are several ways that you can find a topic, or subject to write about.  Freewriting, writing whatever comes to mind, can lead you to a general topic.  You might also make lists that relate to one key word or idea or ask general questions about a subject that interests you.

Along with choosing a topic, you need to determine the purpose, or reason, for writing.  Your purpose might be to describe, to amuse, to inform, to narrate, or to persuade.

Finally, you need to choose an audience, or who will read your written piece.  Ask yourself “Whom am I trying to persuade?” or “Whom am I trying to inform?”  The style, the words, and the information you include will depend on who your readers will be.

Overcoming the Blank Page with Tips from Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”

“Magic, madness, heaven, sin…” Sounds a little like the writing process, don’t you think? Who could deny the magic moment when your ideas come together into a pack-a-punch thesis? Who could deny the madness that can overtake you as the deadline approaches and you sift through quotes, piecing together the roughest of rough drafts, wondering how on earth this essay will make it to the minimum word count? But the writing process doesn’t have to be torture—remember Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” the next time you’re confronting the blank page.

1. “Nice to meet you—where you been?”

The deadline was distant, the prompt seemed simple enough, and you waited until a day or two before the paper was due to begin it, when—uh oh—where did I find that article again? Where was that quote? How did we tackle this topic in class? When you first get an assignment, take time to brainstorm that first day and write down some possible ideas and connections you could use in the paper. Even better, battle procrastination and try to get a rough draft done a few days before the paper is due—this will give you time to take a break, get some distance from your work, and come back to it with fresh eyes. Who knows what inspiration might strike in the meantime?

2. “I’m dying to see how this one ends”

If you have a choice of topics, are you excited about the one that you choose? If the prompt to analyze a text or discuss a current issue is open, are you inspired by the approach or the topic you’ve selected? To write an engaging paper, it helps if you yourself are engaged in the topic—if you yourself are dying to see how this essay concludes, to see how this thesis is proved!

3. “Got a long list of ex-lovers”

Before you commit to any one idea or approach for your essay, spend some time prewriting. Whether that’s jotting down quotes and seeing how they connect, sketching out a mind map or flow chart, or creating an outline, you might find that some possible theses, quotes and evidence, and organizational schemes are better than others. You might have to break it off with some of your brainstormed concepts, but you’ll know that there are plenty of other fish in the sea.

4. “I can read you like a magazine”

Master the art of skimming articles, looking for key terms, interesting headings, statements and restatements of purpose, and conclusions. Once you get a good feeling for the outside research and what you are looking to include in your essay, then you can dig deeper. This will help guard against devoting long hours to reading and later decision-making, sifting through highlighted and annotated articles and setting many unhelpful leads aside.

5. “I could make the bad guys good for a weekend”

Speaking of sources—are you finding a lot of opposition to your ideas in the outside research? Have no fear! While you might think that you should only include research which supports your own interpretation of a text or your own stand on an issue, it actually makes your argument stronger if you can tackle a contradictory perspective and point out why your analysis or perspective is superior. Make the “bad guys” good for your argument!

6. “So hey, let’s be friends”

Maybe the prompt has left you guessing, or you’re having trouble pinning down exactly what you want your thesis to be. Sometimes it helps to have someone to bounce ideas off of. Did you know that you don’t need to have anything written down before you go to the Writing Center? Tutors are more than happy to talk ideas, to give guidance on organization and outlining, to discuss thesis statements, and to facilitate brainstorming sessions. If you need help finding scholarly articles, tutors and librarians on campus can also “show you incredible things” on article databases and through interlibrary loan.

Instead of “screaming, crying, [and] perfect storms,” I wish you all the best in your essay writing endeavors this semester! It can be daunting to sit down and see that blinking cursor on the blank page, but essay writing can be less like a nightmare and more like a daydream if you keep these tips in mind. If not—“don’t say I didn’t warn ya!”

–C.C.

So this weekend I sat down and Did a Writing Thing. Initially I sat down just To Write but after frowning at my laptop and making no progress on my work in progress, I said “No, okay, my brain has this other story it wants to think about and I’ve spent far too long being afraid of that idea and not letting my brain go there, so what would happen if I let it? What if I finally just tried?” And I did. And I’m very proud of myself. 

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