The Inspiration Box

I’ve been making up stories since I was old enough to hold a pencil. Unfortunately, I think I let some of my best ideas get away in my twenties, when I was working too much and drinking too much beer to actually work on my writing. I wasn’t recording my ideas. Over beers with whichever loser I was dating, I would say something like “I think I’m going to write a book about some girl in her twenties who’s dating a total stoner.”

Unfortunately, none of these ideas were ever written down, except for the 22 partial manuscripts I found in manila envelopes in a box in the closet of my spare room. After looking these over, I’m forced to admit I shouldn’t have drank so much beer in those days. The part that makes me sad is that even if the premise is stupid (like the dating a stoner thing above, which also happened to be true for me at the time), the idea itself, had I written it down, might lead to a character or plot point that I could use in another story.

A funny thing happens when I write a lot. The more I write, the more ideas I have for even more writing that I could do. I’m tired of finding all over my house sheets printed from the internet (“BMW drivers really are jerks, studies find” – this was from the Wall Street Journal, I swear), index cards with names or ideas scrawled on them, and clippings from the 4 local newspapers that I buy on Sunday. I have ideas written on the back of receipts from the grocery store and on an appointment card from my chiropractor’s office.

To control all of these papers, I created what I am calling my Inspiration Box. It’s a basic clear tote, a little more than twice the size of a shoebox. I can throw all of my clippings and ideas into the box. I am even going to incorporate my Image File (which is a file of photos and drawings that I love). The goal of the Inspiration Box is to be able to go to it when I need an idea for a character or setting or event for my story. The box is big enough to hold a lot but not so big that it’s overwhelming.

My freelance ideas will continue to live in a more mundane and accessible folder. This also helps me draw a line between fiction and freelance.

One other tool I use for inspiration is meditation. You can simply relax and focus on your breathing for a few minutes, or visit this website to do nothing for two minutes, while focusing on a soothing picture while listening to the waves.

To find inspiration for your writing, slow down and look within.

C. Hope Clark

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Protect Your Writing Time

I can now say from experience that as soon as you call yourself a freelance writer, everything will encroach on your writing time. Your drama queen friend will have a crisis, someone will tell you you’re not really working, and before you know it, your productive day has devolved into playing Plants vs. Zombies while talking to six different people on the phone. Or maybe that only happens to me.

The good news is there are many ways that we can take back our writing time. And this will work for the full-time freelancer just as well as the full-time employee who wants to write a novel or my fellow crazy people who will be completing NaNoWriMo next month. Here’s the plan:

Create writing hours – It doesn’t matter if your office is the kitchen table or the back booth at the local truck stop diner. As of now, writing time may only be compromised if it involves blood, a fire, or possibly a zombie apocalypse. Decide on your writing time. Tell everyone that you will be writing during that time. For the record, it doesn’t have to be hours – it can be twenty minutes or as much time as you want.

Make sure you write – This may be the hardest part. Sometimes it’s a lot easier and more fun to check Facebook and Twitter, and then remember you need to go on the pharmacy’s website and order prescription refills. By that time you have email, so you click over to check your message. Then the phone rings…

Turn off the phone – If you can’t actually shut off the phone, at least screen your calls. You don’t have to answer the phone just because it rings, especially when you’re supposed to be writing.

Avoid doing research (during writing hours) – I have recently discovered that I am more productive when I do research and then write. I can go back and check facts after my project is completed. I don’t stop writing to look up a fact. Instead, I mark it with the highlight feature in Word and keep going. Checking my work is what revisions are for. Press on.

If you’re really tempted – Software is available to help us focus. MacFreedom (also available for PC, don’t be fooled by the name) blocks internet access for a specified amount of time. This company also makes Anti-Social, which, you guessed correctly, blocks social media sites. Write or Die punishes the tendency to stop writing with a pop up, an annoying sound or it starts slowly deleting what you have written if you stop typing for too long.

My biggest motivator is that I have told everyone I know that I am a freelance writer. So if I slink back to corporate America after making that announcement… Well, let’s just say my friends aren’t the type to let that pass unmentioned. So I have to write, for fear of complete public humiliation. As a bonus, this puts the fear of having my writing rejected into its proper place.

Writing Classes

Last Thursday, I signed up for a writing class. It’s my first formal writing class, not counting high school and college (I went to college for accounting, and writing is low priority). There are a lot of classes I would like to take to improve my fiction writing skills, and I’ll get to those some day. What I signed up for was Breaking into Copywriting.

The experience has made me think about writing classes in general. Not everyone wants to get an MFA and not all of us can afford grad school. Some of us just don’t have time between work and family and trying to write that novel. Fortunately, there are lot of other choices. Classes are offered in various locations, online or in person, and at many different price levels.

Know what you are looking for – Do you want to brush up specific skills? Or get an overview of a new style of writing? I have signed up for the copywriting class because I am interested in alternative markets for freelance writing work. Taking the class should give me a better idea of the work rather than just going online to find a copywriting job and figuring out I have no clue what I am doing.

Writer’s associations – Sandra, a friend of mine, is a member of the local chapter of Romance Writers of America, and she tells me that they offer a number of workshops and presentations locally as well as national conferences. The local workshops are open to everyone although nonmembers will pay a larger fee to attend.

Local college or continuing education programs – I recently signed up for two one-night writing classes at my local high school – “The Five Elements of Dramatic Writing” and “Creating Characters that Breathe.” Both were 2-hour presentations, given by a published romance author, freelance writer and former professor of screenwriting. One of my local colleges also offers writing workshops, but the cost is much higher. Tuition for the summer session is over $2000.  In contrast, the classes I took at the high school were $11 each.

The local chamber of commerce here maintains a website of things to do in the area, and I have also seen writing workshops listed. These may be the workshops offered by the local chapters of writing organizations, I can’t say for sure.

Online Classes – There are many available, and a Google search for “online fiction writing classes” will give you many results. I like Writer’s Digest University. As a matter of fact, that’s where I’m taking my Copywriting class.

Books – There are tons of craft books that offer detailed information on some aspect of writing. Many of the books cover a specific aspect of the craft.  I am particularly fond of Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress, Showing and Telling by Laurie Alberts, and Revision and Self-Editing for Publication by James Scott Bell.

Reading – The best thing for writers to do. I have always been a voracious reader. I read everything from category romance to biography, nonfiction to fantasy. I find that the more I learn about writing, the more I see what other writers have done well. And there are those few books I have thrown across the room in frustration because they were that bad. Recognizing what works and what doesn’t in books we read will help us find what works in the books we write.

I really think that reading is just as important as writing when you’re trying to be a writer. Because it’s the only apprenticeship we have. It’s the only way of learning now to write a story.

-John Green