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emaginings: Tarot For Writers Revisited

October 17, 2012 by in category Archives tagged as , , , ,

Yesterday was the New Moon, an auspicious time to begin new projects. I am starting a new story and need ideas for scenes. So I turned to my trusty tarot cards. Since this is a spicy story, I used the Sensual Wicca deck. In the process of interpreting the cards, I dragged out my copy of Tarot For Writers by Corinne Kenner. Once again, I was impressed by how helpful the book is.

I received some insights from using the Celtic Cross for Writers spread, and the spread for three-act structure, but the most helpful suggestion was to simply draw ask “what happens next” and keep drawing cards. I gave it a try. I shuffled the cards and kept turning them over until I had a baker’s dozen of idea, from she seduces him to a debt is repaid.

I realizes this kind of visual aide doesn’t work for everyone, but if you are at all inclined towards the mystical approach, I do recommend this book. You can read my original long review at my Flights-A-Fancy blog.

Kenner’s website can be found at http://tarotforwriters.com/

My comments on the Sensual Wicca deck can be found at my Lyndi Lamont blog.

What do you do to jump start a new story?

Linda McLaughlin/Lyndi Lamont

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September 15, 2012 by in category Archives tagged as , , , , ,

Recently, I spoke at a conference in Massachusetts. My presentation was an hour long.  For the other 47 hours I was there I mentored aspiring novelists. On the flight home, I wondered why I had bonded with so many of these amazingly talented, bright and interesting people in a way I never had at conferences before. It was because we shared something. In this brave new world of publishing, we all came naked to the table.
Obviously, I am not being literal. In some ways, a Lady Godiva moment would be preferable to that of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Sitting down with an agent, editor or published author to bare your creative soul is incredibly daunting. The new writer faces rejection of their vision, their dream, and their talent.
Because I started writing on a dare, because I had not dreamed of being a novelist all my life, I didn’t feel that creative vulnerability early in my career. It was only later, after I had published, after I flexed my writer’s voice, after I had touched someone who read my words, after I had seen books with my name covering a wall in a bookstore, when I saw my book on the USA Today best seller list that I craved what those writers did. It was also then that I was stripped bare in front of agents and editors who seemed to accept me as easily as they dismissed me; who thrilled at my successes and went on to someone else when there was a brighter star on the horizon. Because I was a businesswoman before I was a writer, I understood that publishing was a business, agents and editors had bottom lines and that fate, luck and fashion sometimes separated the bestseller from everyone else. It doesn’t make the journey any easier to understand that.
Still, I could not complain. I was making a living as a writer. I was grateful and happy. Then things changed again. I became an indie author: self-published, creatively naked as a jaybird, down the chute after being up the ladder, back to square one.
No great publishing house lays claim to my work, there is no editor validating my vision, no sales force singing my praises to booksellers who will pile my books in a pyramid on a table. There is, in fact, no book to hold or sign.  There are only the words I have written and saved to a file, a cover made of pixels and the upload to Amazon and Nook and Smashwords.  Now, it’s me and the reader. I am a click away from praise or complaint.  I have come naked to the table and I gotta say it is chilly in the chair.
I hope the writers I spoke with at the conference learned something from me. Here’s what I learned from them:
  • Published or not, we are brothers and sisters under the skin
  • Be courageous and present your work with pride
  • If you are asked for an opinion, give it knowing you have a responsibility to be honest
  • Our passion for the written word will keep us warm
  • Help a writer when you can, good things will return to you

So, a salute to the writers I met in Massachusetts. You were an incredibly creative and courageous group. My wish is that you will all be clothed in publication glory sooner than later.
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My Creativity is Currently in the Warehouse (13)

August 9, 2012 by in category Archives tagged as , , , , , ,

I’m on a Warehouse 13 marathon right now. Even though we’re watching episodes we’ve seen, starting at Season 1, Episode 1, I still love it. That’s the great thing about stories you love. You can enjoy them over and over again.
The other thing about stories you love is that they inspire creativity. Watching episode after episode of Pete and Myka grousing at each other, competing with each other, and always having each other’s back presses all my creative buttons. When Pete asked Myka if she was afraid they were the Red Shirts, and she said yes, John and I laughed out loud when Pete replied, “First, we aren’t going to die. Second, I’m so pumped you know what that means.” [paraphrased]
Over the last 20 episodes, I’ve gone from just enjoying the show for its own sake to thinking about my work and how I can make it funnier, more interesting, tense without being over-serious, adding death and destruction if necessary without a Law & Order feel.  All the artifacts and the things that they do make me think about what I can add to my stories, whether fantastical stories or “regular” ones.
One of the “ah-ha” moments in creating my current romantic comedy series, Strays of Loon Lake (Love at the Fluff and Fold, book one in the series, will be out later this year), was when I decided that a local dog was the frisky father of a lot of puppies in town. Suddenly I had this funny element that I could play up.
In addition to a lot of TV watching, I’ve upped my hours of reading lately. It feels soooo much better to be reading more, like I’m eating healthier or something. I’m reading a lot of nonfiction on writing, self-publishing, and neuroscience. But I’m also reading a lot more fiction than I have in the last year or so. I’ve been reading inspirational, historical and contemporary romance, young adult books, paranormal and urban fantasy books and short stories, some horror, and some suspense. (Trying to track it all on Goodreads, but forgetting to add every book.)
Now here’s a chicken-and-egg thought: in the midst of this burst of desire to pull creative stories IN, I’ve also been writing more, getting creative stories OUT. Did the extra reading inspire me to write more? Or did the deadlines for the two anthologies I’m in push me to gobble up more stories for inspiration? My answer is YES.
Add to all that, my jump from wanting to know more about how the brain works to finding books explaining it to me, and I’ve added yeast to the bread mix. I mean that in terms of rising and growing, not in terms of becoming gaseous and fermenting. Though the fermenting part is making me think of wine, which reminds me of living in Australia, which reminds me of some of the unexpectedly creative pieces I wrote in uni. (Now that I have Australia-brain, my brain is using Australian terms. “Uni” is short for university, i.e., my master’s in creative writing program.) And using Aussie vocabulary reminds me of my friends whom I miss terribly, which reminds me I was going to call Verizon this week and get that international calling plan, which makes me think about having some international characters in my superhero novels, which makes me think of the Cowboy character I created for a short story that went nowhere. Now I just need to figure out how to get an Australian superhero named Cowboy, and his super horse, across the ocean to Michigan where my superheroes are living.
And THAT is how creativity so often works. It’s a bunch of very quick, sometimes illogical jumps in the synapses of the brain that lead from one idea to another. The more you allow and train your brain to make these jumps, the more creative you can be. Sometimes you can even get more creative more quickly.
Many writers have named the part of their unconscious that does this work. Jennifer Crusie calls her unconscious “the girls in the basement” I believe. Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird that her friend Carpenter says there is a little boy in the cellar handing up characters through the cellar door.
I get this “down below consciousness” idea, but I’ve rarely, if ever, been in a basement that made me feel happier than any other room in the building (even the very cool basement of the State Library of New South Wales isn’t as awesome as the Shakespeare Room there; that’s a room I could be locked in forever!), and I’ve never been in a cellar that I wanted to stay in for hours. (Not even a wine cellar.)
I had problems being nice to that creative part of myself. I found myself whipping it to give me more, faster. It didn’t produce much, so I whipped it more. Then I read and really got the idea that you needed to be nice for the unconscious to flow. But basements and cellars didn’t seem that nice to me.
So I created a character named Katie, a little girl about 10 or 12 who plays in the sunroom or in the huge beautifully well-kept backyard. (I live in a small apartment.) Katie loves to read and watch TV and movies that make her laugh or make her a little scared but that always end well. She likes to pretend after the movie or book ends that she is the hero who vanquished the enemy and tamed (rather than killed) the dragon. Or she is the heroine who helps the hero save the day and they live together happily ever after.
I like Katie. I like her so much that I like to play with her even though she’s a little girl and I’m a grown woman. She’s fun. And when she’s making me laugh or making me wonder what will happen next in her one-girl backyard plays, I find myself writing more words with more joy than ever before.
As it turns out, both Katie and I love watching Warehouse 13, and mostly for the same reasons. Katie is giving me ideas about “artifact”-like things I can put in our stories. She wants me to put in more pop culture references like Red Shirts to make people who get the jokes laugh. I tell Katie this is too much work, I’d have to do more research, keep better notes, and I remind her that I too often lose my notes-on-napkins anyway so really–
Katie interrupts me with some cute begging and funny faces and tells me that surely these touches will make me really famous and make me heaps of money and (she knows this is the coup de grace) I’ll make people laugh.
I think about it and then consider the alternative. But what if I don’t make people laugh, Katie? What if they think it’s dumb?
And in her properly outraged 10-year-old voice, she shouts, “Then they’re dumb!”
I laugh and shake my head and agree to try harder to be cute and funny like her. And then I start writing and…well, Katie and I like the results.
What about you? Where does your creativity come from?

Kitty Bucholtz decided to combine her undergraduate degree in business, her years of experience in accounting and finance, and her graduate degree in creative writing to become a writer-turned-independent-publisher. Her first novel, Little Miss Lovesick, was released in September 2011 as an ebook and will be available soon in print format. Kitty has also written magazine articles, devotionals, and worked as a magazine editor. She is the co-founder of Routines for Writers where she blogs every Monday. Her next novel, Love at the Fluff N Fold, will be released in late 2012.
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Charting the points

January 24, 2012 by in category Archives tagged as , ,

A highly rational friend recently noted with some surprise that sometimes just saying a problem out loud helped him figure it out.

And why was that?

Have you ever been struggling with something, felt a lack of clarity on which direction to go in, or even understand how you felt about an issue?

Have you written about it in an email, a letter, a journal and gotten an insight from the act of writing? Or talked to someone about it, and gotten a better perspective, even though the person you were talking to hadn't said anything? Or even just bounced something out loud into an empty room, and found an answer rebound back to you?

I expect many have. Most likely everyone has just accepted that experience as being just a strange exercise that for unknown reasons simply seems to works.

But for my rational friend, achieving that insight through those means was a surprise. For him, there hadn't seemed to be any point in talking or writing about the same information or questions that were in his head—what difference would it make? The information was already in his head, it wouldn't change from being said out loud or written down. So it got me thinking—well, why does it help?

And I came up with this analogy:

Do you remember math problems where you would be given a sequence of numbers and asked to figure out what the next number in the sequence was supposed to be? Well, the more numbers you were given in the sequence, the clearer the underlying formula was. So if you were only given one number, correctly guessing the next would be impossible—too many options. If you were given two numbers, then your chances were better, but still had a very high level of uncertainty.

For example 2 doesn't give you much to go on. 2, 4, gives you a lot more, but not enough. The sequence could be 2,4,6 or 2,4,8. So with three data points, you can be far more confident of perceiving a pattern, making an assumption, getting clarity.

So my theory is that when you have a problem/issue in your head, that's one data point. But when you say it out loud, so you are knowing it, thinking it, saying it and hearing it, or additionally writing it and reading it, you are adding more data points and increasing your ability to make a more accurate assumption, to chart a more solid course. And agreed, some of these point only offer a tiny bit of new information–a slightly richer or more detailed appreciation, a new perspective, but it's something; it helps.

In one of those Malcolm Gladwell books, he talks about how you can have a group of two or three friends, but if it expands to four or five, the group often falls apart. He noted that one more person isn't just an addition of one, but for everyone in the group, so the increase is exponential. Everyone is managing not only their own relationship to each person in the group, but observing & incorporating each permutation of every element of each member of the group.

So if you have a group of three, A, B, C, you need to maintain awareness of the relationships between A/B, A/C, B/A, C/A, B/C, C/B and ABC. If you add D, it goes from 7 separate relationships to 16 (A/B, A/C, A/D, B/A, B/C, B/D, C/A, C/B, C/D, D/A, D/B, D/C, ABC, ABD, BCD, ACD). Yes, OK, I may not have all the math right, but you get the point.

The more points you can chart or the more ways you allow your brain and intuition to process information, the better it will be able to build a viable theory, or chart a hypothetical direction to consider.

Also, it's very hard to lie to yourself when you are writing in a journal. Much easier to wrap yourself in denial and not go there if it's just in your head, or even talking. And in fairness, sometimes you don't even know you are lying to yourself until you write something down. Reading it, you think…well, no, that's not quite right, and start thinking about what is actually true.

It is helpful to get an external perspective on things—that's why editors were invented. But if you don't have an editor or critique group, or a boss or anyone to be a sounding board, try putting it out there & using yourself.

You'll have a point. Maybe more than one….

Get your sextant out!

Isabel Swift

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MY MAN JACK: Lessons Learned from LaLanne

January 25, 2011 by in category The Write Life by Rebecca Forster tagged as , , , , , ,

by Rebecca Forster

When I was eight years old I spent the night with my grandmother, a handsome woman who, as I look back, was probably younger than I am today but looked 10 years older. She was a German lady who wore housedresses and pin-curled her grey hair. She was proper, punctual and particular but when I woke up the morning of our sleepover, I found her holding onto the back of a chair, shoeless and enthralled by the man on the television. His name was Jack Lalanne.

Jack held onto the back of a chair, too, but he wore a skin-tight jumpsuit that showed off his muscles – all of them. I had never seen a man dressed like that. Even at eight, I knew I was watching something extraordinary – maybe even a little naughty. Watching my grandmother lift her leg ever so slightly, put her arm over her head like a ballerina, bend from the waist so that I could actually see the backs of her knees was awesome. Grandpa was gone. The doors were locked. The only sound was Jack’s voice encouraging my grandmother to do things I never thought she could do. I was privy to something I had no word for and I never told anyone about grandma’s morning with Jack.

Almost twenty years later, I met Jack Lalanne for real. I was an account executive with a major advertising agency and Jack LaLanne Health Spa was my client. Though I didn’t know it then, I was working on an account that was the forerunner of a social and health phenomena of fitness clubs, spas and specialty gyms. Before 24 Hour Fitness, Equinox or day spas there was Jack Lalanne.

We met during a commercial shoot. My job was to make sure we stayed on budget, on schedule, on message and that the client was happy. To this day, I don’t know if the client was happy. Jack, dressed in his iconic black jumpsuit,  stood apart and managed only a distracted hello.

He was perpetual motion as he waited for his call: flexing, stretching, moving. And, most interestingly, he talked to himself. Eventually, I realized he was rehearsing his line. He only had one but the man was nervous and that made me curious.

How could a man who inspired my grandmother to take off her shoes and exercise, a man who spoke to people on TV every day be nervous about delivering one line? It took me many years and my own journey as a writer to understand why, that day on the set, Jack LaLanne was sweating. It was because he was not a pitchman, he was an advocate. Jack LaLanne sold best when he sold in his own language and with his own message. That man not only inspired people to exercise but to be their best in every aspect of their lives.

A few days ago, I woke up and found that Jack LaLanne had passed away. I doubt he would have remembered me but I will always remember him. I will remember him as a part of my childhood but I will also remember what he taught me about being a creative person. So, here you go. The lessons I learned from Jack.

Write, compose, draw, speak, work with love and focus.

Always exercise: your mind, your imagination, your skill.

Be consistent. Be a brand. Craft your own “black jumpsuit” so that when people pick up your book or see your picture or hear your song they will know what they’re getting.

Plan your career, do not calculate it. Eventually, calculation will override passion and you will lose your “voice”.

Do not worry about how many people read your work. Creating something that is meaningful to one person is more important than having thousands know your name but not remember your work.

Share your passion. If you have a chance to inspire, to coach, to encourage, do it. Do it with abandon. Do it with energy. Do it without concern that sharing your knowledge will take something away from you. It won’t.

Thank you Jack. I was inspired by your energy, your abandon and your goodwill. I will pay it forward and, when I do, I will think of you.

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