The Importance of a “Fun Project”

The other day I went to a writer’s conference. I totally geeked out and took copious notes throughout the day as established authors and other professionals in the publishing industry presented on a lot of topics related to writing and answered questions. One idea that really struck me this time around was the concept of a “fun project.” The essence of this idea is that writers should have a way to take a break from their difficult stories, but without giving up the habit of writing daily (which is a big point for most writers). Sometimes a story won’t cooperate and we can feel stuck, overwhelmed, or burned out. When those times hit, we can switch to working on a story that’s just for fun. The “fun project” doesn’t even have to make much logical sense if you don’t want it to, it is there to loosen up your writing muscles and help you relax. A change of pace can do anyone a world of good sometimes. My new “fun project” started with a simple thought that made me laugh. That thought was ninja hairdressers. That’s it. There was no outline or plot to finagle with, I just started writing my thoughts about that idea and writing scenes that made me smile. Here’s a short concept excerpt for my project: Princess Bluebell’s Perfection Why do princesses in stories always look perfect, even when being dragged backwards through the forest by a flock of harpies? It’s simple really, they have a ninja hairdresser fixing them. Don’t think they exist? Well, they do. And I should know—I am one. A spell couldn’t make Princess Bluebell perfect at all times. Spells are simple things that have to be told exactly what to do; the command to make someone beautiful is too subjective for most spells. After all, matching the princess’s lip color to complement her clothes, activity, and time of day is an art form that not many sentient people know how to pull off flawlessly—it would be almost impossible for a spell to be made for that level of nuance. Technically, it could be done, but a magician or fairy godmother would have to work on it for years to make it complicated enough to do that one task decently. And I do much more than fix the color of her lips. Don’t get me wrong, spells are very useful for a lot of things—I wouldn’t be able to do my job without them—but they just can’t do my job. My main question is this: why do princesses have to be perfect? I have to go to insane lengths just to keep Princess Bluebell’s hair free of flyaways on a moderately breezy day, so can you...

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Writing Prompt Ideas

While I have a few story ideas for future novels, sometimes, I want to work on something fresh. It can be intimidating to write on something that I hope to have published some day, so it’s nice to have a little break. That doesn’t mean that I stop writing. Nope! That is the worst thing that I could do for my break. What this means is that I take a little story thought or element and just write about it. With no plan and no expectations except to stretch my legs a little, it can really get my creative juices flowing. Plus, you never know if one of these snippets might turn into a book one day. One thing that I’ve been having fun with lately is writing prompts. They can fuel my ideas and make me excited again if I’ve been bogged down with my novel for a week or more. I’ll post a couple of writing prompts and funny thoughts that I’ve seen around or thought of below. What is the sound, color, and smell of loneliness? Set your playlist to random. Take the first line of the song that starts playing and start your story with it. Use the first line from a nursery rhyme as the beginning of a dark narrative. Every human has a personal invisible guardian, summoned by magic words long forgotten. You’ve just said the words by accident. Our world is actually an insane asylum for the universe. You sold your soul to the Devil some years ago. today he gives it back and says, “I need a favor.” You are a teenager with the ability to measure how “dangerous” people are on a scale from 1 to 10 just by looking at them. a normal child would be a 1, while a trained man with an assault rifle might be a 7. today, you notice the unassuming new kid at school measures a 10. “Why do I get the feeling that you think the world revolves around you?” “Because it does!” she said in despair. If I come across more, I’ll update this post to include them. Just for fun, I’ll fill you in on my idea for the first one listed here: Loneliness is the sound of giggles and the color pink. Just that one idea can take me down multiple roads! The protagonist could be a grade school girl that is bullied by the popular girls. Or a teacher is reminded of her single and childless state every time she goes to work at the elementary...

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Why Can’t I Just Write Already?

Starting. It’s brutal at times. I’m not just talking about starting a story—sometimes it’s hard to get started on my writing during the day at all. Yes, I’m busy, but that isn’t the whole problem. We just had two weeks off school for the holidays with no homework. My finals were over, and I even had a few days off work! Can you guess how much I wrote? Nothing. Not. One. Word. When times like this happen, it can be easy to tell myself one of two things: I’m bad at this I just needed a break, but I’ll start again tomorrow… Can I get a raise of hands for how many people have done this? (Pause) If your hand isn’t up, you’re either lying or you are as prolific and awesome as Brandon Sanderson. He writes about 3 books a year. No joke. Anyway, both of these thoughts are dangerous. If I keep thinking “I suck at being a writer; writers write, but I don’t” then I don’t feel very motivated to sit down at my computer next time I have a break. On the other hand, the second option might be the more dangerous of the two, simply because it’s sneaky. It’s good to be kind to yourself, but thinking that you’ll start again tomorrow… that’s where the peril comes in and I’ll tell you why. Tomorrow never comes. This may sound pessimistic, but hear me out. Once you go to sleep and wake up, is it tomorrow now? No. What was once tomorrow is now today. Will it be any easier to write with this version of today? Probably not. My dad is a high school teacher and he has a poster up in his classroom that I’ve always liked. Make it happen today. Then, once you’ve finished a page, do another one. Recently I ran across this website where the author explains the best writing advice she’s ever been given. While it might not seem revolutionary to you, it resonated with me. I just need to start, even if it’s not perfect. Perfectionism can be a huge problem for me, but I’m working on it. As Shannon Hale said, “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build...

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Hook ’em

When it comes to the beginning of a story, everyone says that you need a good hook to keep your readers interested. Oh wait, that beginning wasn’t very hook-ish. Hmm… Hook ’em, cook ’em, then put ’em on the rack! Grab their attention and never give it back! Yeah, I never professed to be a poet, but you get the idea. If you can snag someone’s attention that’s just skimming the first chapter of your book, you’ve won half the battle. The final victory is when you can turn up the heat and suspense until they don’t want to put it down. It’s like torture, they have to know how it will end. That kind of writing is what I aspire to. To practice, I wrote a 300 word short story. There were rules for this story, though. It had to be exactly 300 words and I was given random elements that had to be included. I’ll tell you what they were after you read what I came up with. Poison As soon as the sickly sweet taste spread across her tongue Alison knew she was in trouble. They were staring at her, preventing her from spitting the poison out. There were no options left; she had to swallow it. She gulped too quickly, almost without chewing. It scratched and burned as it went down her throat, and she fought back a wince. Her tormentors would never see any sign of pain—she wouldn’t allow it. With practiced nonchalance she reached for the glass of water and drank, knowing that it was futile to try to dilute the high concentration of the substance entering her bloodstream. All she really hoped for was to avoid a little of the pain she knew was coming. “How does it taste? Mother made it especially for you when I told her about you,” Phil said. Alison tried to look relaxed as she flashed her teeth at them. “It’s delicious.” She paused then said “what’s in it?” Phil turned to his mother. “Ella quiere saber como lo hizo.” Mrs. Rodriquez started listing things off her fingers. “Manzanas, nueces, canela, mantequilla, y azucar moreno.” The list was too complicated for Alison’s rusty high school level Spanish, but Phil suddenly seemed unsure of himself. She rubbed at her forehead as the pain started to build. She didn’t really need to know the ingredients, because she already knew what one of them was. If she hadn’t already recognized the taste, the building pain proved it. The pain and the smell of frying fish from dinner made Alison clamp her teeth down on her nausea. She wished she could wave a magic wand and vanish, but she couldn’t. Instead...

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Scheduling a Writing Time

Because writing means a lot to me, I have renewed my determination to write more regularly. I know what you’re thinking “but Angela, it’s not New Years yet! You have to wait until then to make goals that you’ll forget within a month.” All joking aside, I have decided to schedule a specific time during the week that I will try to write. There are no word limits or anything like that, I just have that time set aside. On Mondays and Tuesdays I have an hour block between classes that I’ve set aside this semester. On Fridays I don’t have class, so I can work on my writing for a bit after I get off work. Since I’ve lived with myself my whole life, I’ve learned a few things about my habits. If I just say that I’ll do it after school, I’ll easily get overwhelmed with homework and skip writing. If I say I’ll do it after homework, I’ll feel too burned out. Between classes is good for me because I know that I can do homework another time. The fact that there’s a set duration that is externally enforced is helpful. For some reason that helps me actually do it if I don’t pressure myself to write a novel in one go. For some people that situation might not work. They might feel like they want more time if they really want to get into their writing. In my case, having it cut off when I’m really into it is stimulating. It reminds me of my love for writing and I just might get the urge to work on it some more when I’m done with class for the day. Just getting myself started is the hardest part for me. Take this week for an example—I’ve written something for one of my stories every day this week! That’s because I was invested after my little jump start of roughly 50 minutes. I wanted to see how I could get the story to its conclusion. It took me seven pages, but I finished it in less than a week. Now seven pages in a week may not sound like a lot, but if you look at my track record lately… …actually, let’s not look at my track record. Embarrassing. So what works for you? Have you tried scheduling a specific time, or setting a word count goal? Comment below about how you inspire yourself to write regularly....

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Scary Mini-Fiction

To celebrate the Halloween season, I decided to write a short story. It is a very classic (some might say cliche) scary story, but I was trying to get it in less than 600 words. It’s a good exercise, even if I won’t win any awards with it. Who knows, I might try to take this concept and flesh it out later. I hope you enjoy my first foray into horror. The Call in the Night As Lisa walked into the house her cell phone started ringing. “Hello.” “Hi Lisa, it’s me.” “Hi Mom,” Lisa said, putting her backpack on the couch and flopping down beside it. “How is Aunt Jessica and the new baby doing?” “Good, but I feel bad about leaving right before your choir performance.” “It’s fine, I understand.” “You know, maybe you should stay with one of your friends tonight? There’s supposed to be a storm.” Great, now Mom was hovering from five hundred miles away. “I’m sixteen, I’ll be fine.” “That old farmhouse is a bit secluded. What about your asthma?” “I mastered the use of an inhaler years ago, Mom. Plus, I have a phone and a car. I won’t exactly be cut off from the world.” “Fine, but call and check in with me before you go to sleep. And keep your inhaler where you can get to it.” “Okay. Have fun with the new baby.”  And stop treating me like one. In spite of her protests, Lisa hadn’t particularly looked forward to having the house to herself. It was over a hundred years old; it made disturbing creaking noises when the wind blew. A chill breeze snaked through the curtains and made her shiver. Okay, first order of business—relaxation. She went to the den and turned on the TV. She closed the thick curtains then settled down on the couch, pulling a blanket up to her chin. Netflix could keep her company for a while. Hours passed unnoticed and it got dark outside as she finished one season of Vampire Diaries and started another. Lisa clutched the blanket tightly as an evil vampire lunged forward and— —the power went out, plunging her into darkness. Lisa felt engulfed by the absolute darkness. Taking a breath, she started feeling around, trying to find her cell phone. It wasn’t too uncommon for the power to go out now and then. A tree branch had probably broken off and hit the power line somewhere, she thought as her heart beat erratically. Creak! Lisa jumped, then silently scolded herself. It was just creepy because it was dark. Unable to find her cell phone to light her way, she slowly started feeling her way towards the kitchen....

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Don’t Skimp on Pre-writing

When it comes to writing, I could probably give a dissertation on writer’s block. One thing that contributes to this problem is when I don’t have a clear idea of where I want to go next in my story (or even where I want to start). So I decided to turn over a new leaf and try outlining my stories. Outlining takes a lot of work, but I will say that I feel like my stories have become a lot tighter since I’ve started doing it. There are a lot of ways to outline your writing, but one of my friends recommended that I try something called the snowflake method. This way of outlining is very extensive, but it has grown on me. Basically, you start by writing a one sentence summary of your story then expand from there. While there is a software program associated with this method, I’ve never used it. I have just been following the steps laid out on the website. Call me stingy, but I prefer to try stuff like that out before I even think about paying for it. In the end, it is nice to be able to spot holes in my plot and make my characters feel more like real people before I start writing the first scene. It saves me a lot of re-writing and extensive editing later. Plus, the story seems to flow a lot better when I understand my characters better. It’s more like I’m going on an adventure with a friend rather than writing a story. It’s up to you if you want to give outlining a try or not, but this is what I’m trying for now. I was a diehard “pants-er” (writing by the seat of your pants) before, so I understand if people might not want to try this. The writing process is different for everyone, so I can’t say that this is the best way to do it. I just know that I like it right now. I’m still refining my process, but I think I will be incorporating a lot more pre-writing than I ever did before. Planning might take a lot of energy, but it works for me. Maybe it will work for you,...

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