Exercise should be a vital part of anyone’s life. And you don’t have to be a gym rat to get inspiration from your workout or from what happens while you’re exercising. As we have seen in other instances, exercise is just another vehicle for inspiration if you look at it that way.
In order to maintain good health, you need to get up from your computer or chair on occasion. And you need to work out in some manner. Of course your decision as to what to do depends upon any number of factors. Maybe you’re elite and can train for a triathlon. However, for beginners, getting around the block might present difficulties. And if your area is sometimes an unsafe one, you might end up working out inside. So that can mean a gym membership or a pool or mall walking or even just equipment in your home.
Hence one factor is your environment. As you observe it, consider your characters. Would the chipmunks you see on a nature trail amuse them? Or would they fight off demons while jogging in a less than savory part of town? Maybe they see exercise as a meditation (a lot of people do).
Your Characters Working Out
Your characters can get in on the action, too. Action and fantasy characters would fight or train. Romantic characters could go for walks. Science fiction characters might work out as a part of military training or even as a health requirement in low gravity.
Getting outside means you can overhear conversations. You can people watch, too.
Writer’s Block and Depression
First of all, I want to make it clear that, if you feel the need for medical intervention, please go ahead! A lot of writers can experience certain levels of depression and so by all means, care for yourself. However, I am also suggesting that exercising can help. For example, if you experience seasonal affective disorder, you will need full-spectrum light. Hence you need to either mimic it with a special light or go out in the sunlight. And here in New England, the winters are full of days with very little sunlight. Hence I have learned to get myself outside and to shovel snow if I have to (I’ve got to watch my back these days, so I do not make the kind of fast progress I used to) or walk carefully to avoid slipping on ice. Good boots are a lifesaver.
If that’s not in the cards for you, a gym membership or mall walking can at least help. Because you will also need to get up, get dressed, and get outside in order to do either.
Exercise: Some Takeaways
Everybody needs to take a break from writing. Your eyes will thank you! So you may as well get up and get some exercise. Live long enough to finish your series! Do it for your fans!
Visual artists and the visual arts can be a source of intense inspiration. Because their struggles can be a lot like a writer’s.
Consider how a piece of art makes any of us feel. Does it inspire? Or are you puzzled? Can it move you emotionally? And what’s happening around the fringes? Because sometimes the details and the background are of more interest than the main subject. You know, just like in books sometimes.
Hence let’s take a look at some inspiring pieces.
Of course Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is one of the most recognizable pieces of art in the world.
Furthermore, the mystery of the piece continues to this day, as it has for a few hundred years. So, what, exactly, does her smile mean? After all, it’s a small smile. And so the model intrigues us, even now.
Here’s another one. Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory is another very well-known piece although you might not have known its name.
Because the painting is so strange, it can offer any number of interpretations. How important is time? Is the setting a desert? And what about the odd white lump in the center? Could that maybe be a creature wearing a clock as a saddle? Maybe it means we are all driven by time and memory. Hence we are all under its yoke.
So think about the paintings (and sculptures, too!) which you know. And consider what you see in them, for they may help, particularly with writer’s block.
A Practical Idea
So did you know that Pinterest has secret pin boards? It’s true. And what that means is, you can always create a secret board for only you to see. Or you can share it with a select audience, such as beta readers or even fans, if you like.
And all you need to do is, go to your profile and scroll all the way down. You’ll find it on the left (“Create Secret Board“). And that’s all you need to. So fill it with art which has meaning for you.
Visual Artists: Some Takeaways
Visual artists and art can inspire. And the internet means you don’t even have to visit a museum, although you might want to, anyway.
While names have meanings, you can even get inspiration simply from how they sound. What’s Gertrude like? How about Lakeisha? Or maybe Stefan or Juan?
The popularity of what people call their children changes over time. This can depend upon movie stars, politicians, or even religious figures. When I was born in 1962, my first name, Janet, was already past its peak. However, it was popular in the 1930s and 1940s. Why?
Because in 1937, Janet Gaynor starred in A Star is Born. However, Janet Leigh did not star in Psycho until 1960. And Janet Jackson doesn’t seem to be having too much of an effect on baby naming. For a lot of little girls who would have have the name Janet in the past, now often have the name Jennifer or Jessica.
Another factor? Ethnicity. Maria has probably made the crossover to non-Spanish and non-Italian families, but not Juan and Vito. How many non-Russians have the name Boris (the British politician Boris Johnson notwithstanding)? And do you know any non-Irish women named Siobhan? So when you create your characters, see if you can match ethnicity. Of course there are Jewish kids named Sean and British people named Dominic. So this isn’t a hard and fast rule or anything.
For my own work, Ceilidh O’Malley in The Real Hub of the Universe has the most ethnic name of all of my main characters. But Noah Braverman and Mei-Lin Quan from Mettle are up there, too, as is Mercedes Pérez in Time Addicts.
For westerners, traditional names generally come from both the Old and New Testament, or from the saints. Hence you see Margaret and Mary, but also James and David. Other related names can be similar or with alternate spellings or derivatives. Marynel and Maryellen of course derive from Mary, and Stefan is just the German version of Stephen (or Steven).
In my own work, the most traditional names mainly come from The Real Hub of the Universe. This is because that trilogy takes place in the 1870s and 1880s.
People also, sometimes, invent new names. Actress Alyssa Milano’s daughter is named Elizabella. So of course the name comes from clipping the Beth part off Elizabeth and instead inserting the similar name, Bella. While it might or might not catch on more widely, it’s a fairly harmless alteration. Plus it allows for a number of shortenings.
Because all of the characters in Untrustworthy are aliens, I had to come up with names. Hence I came up with Tathrelle, Ixalla, Adger, and Velexio.
Takeaways For Names
Name your characters whatever you wish, but do keep them consistent within your universe. And while there’s technically nothing wrong with having two similarly-named characters, if they spend too much time together and are otherwise too similar, that can lead to some . Hence you might occasionally want to change Tim and Tom to Tim and Dan.
And keep in mind, names can come into and go out of fashion. These days, very old-fashioned names are often popular again. Hence, your futuristic science fiction novel might have people named Hiram, Dorcas, or Ethel.
NaNoWriMo advice? Yes; I’ve won it every year I’ve entered.
This is (for real!) how to do NaNoWriMo. Learn from my mistakes!
1) Plan if you can and if that helps you. I would suggest even pantsers should at least do research in advance. No sense in looking up how to say “I love you” in Latvian during November if you can do it beforehand. And no, that’s not cheating.
2) Write every single day. It should be at least 1667 words, but even 1 word beats the hell out of none. I have found this is some of the best NaNoWriMo advice I have ever gotten. Writing every day gets you into a habit.
Move Ahead if You’re Stuck
3) Can’t write chapter 4? Then skip it and write chapter 5. You’ll go back, or maybe chapter 4 will turn out to be superfluous. You’ll stitch it together later.
4) Don’t edit! Do that in January or February (in December, either finish or just leave it). In November, it’ll eat up time when you should be writing.
Manage Family Expectations
5) Tell your family or whoever you live with that you’re doing it. Ask someone else to take the kids for an hour, or say you’ll make dinner all December if someone else does it in November, etc. Just, set expectations and get some help from others to get all the other little things done around your home. E. g. my husband isn’t a writer but he’ll put on his headphones at his desk while I’m writing so his computer sounds won’t bother me. Little things like that help.
6) If and when you can get ahead, do so. Can you write 1800 or 2000 words or more instead of 1667? Then go for it. No law says you have to stop at 1667 and call it a day. If you’re feeling it, have at it!
November 30th Isn’t Some Magic Day When Suddenly You Have to be Done With Your Story
7) The story does not have to be finished at 11:59 PM on November 30th. You just need 50,000 words. For the last two years in a row, I finished NaNoWriMo in the middle of November but didn’t finish the books (they were both over 100,000 words) until January. No, this is not cheating.
Nixing Writer’s Block
8) Got writer’s block? Then step away from the keyboard and exercise for 15 – 30 minutes. Pump iron, take a walk, play frisbee, beat the rugs, shovel snow. I don’t care. Just burn calories and then go back to it. Because it really does help.
Comparison is the Thief of Joy
9) Don’t compare your accomplishments to others. Because there will always be someone who writes 100,000 words in one day or something like that. And there will always be people complaining that they’re behind. Also, there will always be people typing up until the very last second, and there will always be people wasting time online. Don’t worry about them.
Just take care of your own work and leave them to theirs. Their issues, quirks, and complaints are none of your concern.
Back Up Your Work!
10) Back up your work! I back up in three rather different places – my hard drive, a flash drive, and OneDrive, which is Microsoft’s cloud storage. So I highly recommend a similar setup for everyone. I had to replace a computer right before 2017 NaNo but I lost none of my prep work because it was on two places other than my old laptop’s hard drive.
There is always someone who loses their work during November. And I have seen it all, from soda on keyboards to toddlers stomping on flash drives and breaking them, to power outages. Don’t be that person.
Lots of people get this, and sometimes a friend or a loved one doesn’t even realize they are doing this. Remember what I said about managing family expectations? You may need to reiterate this. Or you may need to put it in writing so it’s not “forgotten”. Your solutions might be to get up early to write before others are up, or at lunch break, or during a commute, or late at night when everyone’s gone to bed.
Got headphones (or at least earbuds)? Then put those suckers on, even if you play no music at all. This is body language. You are busy and working; others will just have to wait. And tough on them.
You Take Care of You – And Guard Your Writing Time Jealously
Here is also where expectation management comes in handy. If your family was already told you would not be cooking in November, then they can’t say on the fourth that you didn’t warn them. You can also stave off some of this with family preparations before the first rolls around. Got a slow cooker? Then make a bunch of meals and freeze them for during the month. Get the kids’ haircuts and dentist appointments out of the way in October. You get the idea.
If it’s someone or something that really can’t wait (your toddler is screaming, your mother is in the emergency room, or your spouse is seriously threatening divorce), then by all means stop what you’re doing in order to deal with that.
And if you don’t make it to 50,000 words, it’s okay. Really, it is. NaNoWriMo exists so that writing, which is an often solitary endeavor, gets a social component. But that’s it. If you write in December or October, or you write less than 50,000 words, or you never validate, it’s equally okay.
Some Final Words of NaNoWriMo Advice
The best NaNoWriMo advice I can give anyone is to have fun with it. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Children characters can present their own set of challenges. And keep in mind, I wrote a bit about kids in the Aging post. However, now it’s time for a deeper dive into what it means to write about children.
Don’t gloss over childhood. It’s not all sunshine and roses. Some kids have truly horrible lives – bullying, abuse, poverty, and trafficking are all still with us. And don’t forget, even infants can get cancer. But right now, let’s concentrate on some issues that are a lot easier to take.
Infants and Toddlers
The very young can change in rather rapid and surprising ways. Fortunately, several developmental charts exist. And they can give you an idea of what a baby or child can do at a certain stage. Hence, for example, a newborn should not be out of diapers unless they have help or you are writing some sort of fantasy. Furthermore, while these charts give an idea of what to expect, they’re not laws.
Kids develop at their own paces. So recognize that while your newborn character going diaper-less is probably not going to be believable, you can still write a range for these milestones. Furthermore, you can also use standard milestones as a way to signal problems with a baby, such as by showing the reader a child who should be crawling as barely holding his head up.
Preschoolers and Elementary School Children
The start of school is a major event in a young child’s life. And so are other firsts, such as learning to read and beginning to really socialize. And their vocabularies are growing as their worlds continue to expand. By this time, they probably have a good idea of their sexuality even if girls are icky and boys are gross.
For the most part, a child does not naturally lisp! Adding lisping and other affectations will just irritate most readers. However, you can indicate immaturity with simpler sentence structures and vocabulary. A young child has not read Kierkegaard. And they probably don’t know what plenipotentiary means, either. Unless, of course, they’re a genius.
But use genius characters sparingly. Most people just plain aren’t Einstein or Hawking, etc. Too many geniuses, unless you make them some sort of a special program, are just going to be annoying to readers.
Tweens and Teens
As with younger children, these older kids have their own developmental milestones. Puberty in girls comes with not only the development of secondary sex characteristics, but also menarche. Adolescence in boys can arrive later than in girls.
Writing a historical novel? Then know that menarche (a girl’s first menstrual period) occurs about three years earlier now than it did a century ago. This is due to, among other things, better nutrition.
Kids in these age groups tend to start to get interested in relationships (although asexual folks beg to differ). Plus, everything can be ultra-dramatic. Some may be losing their virginity or facing pregnancy issues. And others might be late bloomers, wondering why things are happening to everyone but them. Our present-day culture attaches a number of privileges to this time, including becoming old enough to drive, work, drink, marry, go to war, and even vote.
Kids are more than their developmental stages. However, it still pays to know these and follow them, even if you want your characters to subvert them. And as with all characters, do your best to avoid clichés.
Better dialogue can elevate any piece. And it can even help to salvage a bad or otherwise forgettable piece of writing. Consider, for example, the works of Aaron Sorkin or Robert Altman. While these are examples from television and film, they should give an idea.
Sorkin is known for excellent dialogue, from such films as The Social Network and TV shows like The West Wing. However, Altman’s fame comes more for overlapping dialogue, from films like Nashville, M*A*S*H, and McCabe and Mrs.Miller.
Consider your characters’ educational levels. A college graduate will, in general, use longer and more complex and subtle words versus a high school dropout. This does not necessarily mean one is smarter than the other, I might add. Hence consider who says prior to instead of before, or automobile rather than car. Because that will help the reader to define who is speaking if you are more or less consistent with who uses the ten dollar words, and who does not.
Affectations, Accents, and Pet Names
While I don’t want to get into accents again, you should consider regional dialects and regionalisms. A sandwich on a long roll is a grinder in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but it’s a hoagie in Philadelphia, a po’boy in New Orleans, and a sub in New York. So if your characters are from Queens, you’d better have them call it a sub unless they’re messing around or are copying someone from out of town.
Pet name usage can be extremely helpful in writing. When you write a couple, you may find you are writing a ton of dialogue between them. And it can get boring to constantly write he said, she said, so you can usually drop that after the first trade of words. However, you may need to pick that up again after a while if you think the reader will get lost. And it could be that they can really get lost if your couple is of the same-sex variety. However, if one person calls the other one snookums, and the other doesn’t use pet names or just says darling, then the reader gets a clue when you use those terms. Just be consistent and your readers will thank you.
Listen to people talk whenever you can, and try to read your dialogue aloud. If you can get a friend to help you, even better. Because if your sentence is a tongue twister for you, then it is for your character (and, by extension, your readers as well).
Where do your story ideas come from? Harlan Ellison has been known to quip, “Schenectady.”
I wanted to use this image for a blog post about getting story ideas because it is perhaps the oddest thing. Because I really did see this dirty plate in the sink a few years ago. And I thought: there’s a story there.
Inspiration Comes in Many Forms
So for every dirty plate, there are a thousand other possible sources of inspiration. And I’ve been posting a lot of these sources. These are means of how I inspire myself but they are far from being all-inclusive. And you don’t have to find any of them inspiring if you don’t want to. Also, your methodology will, undoubtedly, differ from my own.
However, here are some things which have worked well for me.
Look at multiples. That is, if you see one thing that is of interest, pair it with something unexpected. Or maybe add another thing to it. As a result of doing this, I came up with the phrase, “Smart kangaroos“. And this phrase helped me to write a ton of fan fiction.
Flip the script. So what I mean is, consider the opposite of something you like. Or even consider something you dislike, and what it would take to make you like it.
Filter your outside stimuli. That is, look at the outside world like a character or a reader would. What do you notice? What do you ignore?
Let ideas settle and percolate.
Use brainstorming as a tactic. This means not filtering your ideas. The concept behind brainstorming is to throw a ton of jello against a wall and hope some of it sticks (or something like that; I’m probably mixing metaphors here). The short answer is: don’t self-censor.
Write down your dreams.
Write down your ideas, no matter what they are. They might be a turn of phrase, a scene, a name, a face, anything.
Getting Story Ideas: Takeaways
If all else fails, you can look at writing prompts and those are perfectly fine. But to make your own kinds of prompts, consider what you would be doing if you had to be the one coming up with the prompts.
Darkness into Light, so this is a short story to be published in Corner Bar Magazine.
So my current WIPs are as follows:
The Obolonk Murders Trilogy – so this one is all about a tripartite society. But who’s killing the aliens?
The Enigman Cave – can we find life on another planet and not screw it up? You know, like we do everything else?
The Real Hub of the Universe Trilogy – so the aliens who live among us in the 1870s and 1880s are at war. But why is that?
Mettle – so it’s all about how society goes to hell in a hand basket when the metals of the periodic table start to disappear. But then what?
Time Addicts – No One is Safe – so this one is all about what happens in the future when time travel becomes possible via narcotic.
So currently, my intention, for this year’s NaNoWriMo, is that I am writing the second novel in the Time Addicts/Obolonks universe. But I need to iron out the plot! So a lot of this year will be spent on that. This one will be called Time Addicts – Nothing is Permanent.
Third Quarter 2020 Queries and Submissions
So here’s how that’s been going during third quarter 2020.
As of third quarter 2020, the following are still in the running for publishing:
Soul Rentals ‘R’ Us
None of This is Real
Who Do We Blame for This?
The New Southern Fugitives
The School Magazine
Utopia Science Fiction
Whiskey Island Magazine
I Used to Be Happy
All Other Statuses
So be sure to see the Stats section for some details on any query statuses for third quarter 2020 which were not in progress.
So in 2018, my querying stats were:
68 submissions of 19 stories
Acceptances: 4, 5.88%
In Progress-Under Consideration: 3, 4.41% (so these don’t seem to have panned out)
In Progress: 10, 14.71%
Rejected-Personal: 14, 20.59%
Rejected-Form: 24, 35.29%
Ghosted: 13 (so these were submissions where I never found out what happened), 19.12%
So in 2019 my querying stats were:
23 submissions of 11 stories (so 6 submissions carry over from 2018)
Acceptances: 4, 17.39%
In Progress-Under Consideration: 0, 0%
In Progress: 11 (so this includes 2 holdovers from 2018), 47.83%
Rejected-Personal: 4, 17.39%
Rejected-Form: 3, 13.04%
Ghosted: 1 (so these are submissions where I never found out what happened), 4.35%
So in 2020 my querying stats so far are:
27 submissions of 12 stories (so 9 submissions carry over from 2019)
Acceptances: 2, 7.40%
In Progress-Under Consideration: 0, 0%
In Progress: 11, 40.74%
Rejected-Personal: 8, 29.63%
Rejected-Form: 2, 7.40%
Ghosted: 4 (so these are submissions where I never found out what happened), 14.81%
It can be pretty discouraging and hard to go on when nothing new comes up which is positive. It was a huge lift when Killing Us Softly got an acceptance!
Third Quarter 2020 Productivity Killers
So it’s work, what else? I am working on a ton of things and since that is also writing, it can sometimes burn me out. So there is a lot going on, and I am busy as all get out. Because you just know that third quarter 2020 will not be the end of that!
First of all, exposition basically means a literary device intended to describe a character’s background, or “our story so far”. It can be done elegantly, with flashbacks or dialogue or even a character finding something or other. It can be clunky, like when characters say, “As you know, …” and then proceed to clue in the reader but then tell the other characters everything they should, logically, already know. For example, one doctor telling another one how chemotherapy works would denote really clunky exposition.
Clunkiness was rather memorably skewered by the Basil Exposition character in Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery. However, you and I don’t want that to happen with our works.So we’ve got to try to be a lot more eloquent. Hence we’ve got to figure out how to clue in our readers in a more natural fashion. So consider your setting.
Using Settings for Exposition
What do I mean by this? Your story’s circumstances and your characters’ specifics might be places to sneak in some background. Are they spies? Spies get briefings. Are they museum goers? Museums have docents (specialized guides) and tours, and they also have guidebooks and even identification for paintings or artifacts. Hikers use trails. Motorists use maps (or GPS, if the time period is right).
There is nothing wrong with a character reading a street sign, either out loud or to themselves.
Here Now the News
Love or hate it, but a character reading a newspaper or listening to radio news or watching it on television can provide a level of exposition to your story which can be seamless and even elegant.
When your chapter title is Sunday, August 6, 2017, 11 AM, San Francisco Chinatown, you get across a ton of information in a very short space. And you do so without interrupting the flow of the story unnecessarily.
Character Names and Occupations
These are more subtle, but if your characters have names like Maria, Vito, Anna, Guido, and Antonio, your reader will think Italy or at least an Italian family. If your characters have occupations such as blacksmith, miller, alchemist, and barber surgeon, your reader will think of medieval times.
The New Guy
There is a damned fine reason why a lot of television pilots involve someone coming to a new city or starting a new job. This is because explaining the story and the plot and characters to the new kid in town is perfectly natural.
“Excuse me, but where’s the spaceship parking bay?” “Oh, it’s next to the mess hall. I’m Dave; I do the regular run to Venus every Thursday.”
It’s natural, it flows, and it doesn’t bog down the story.
Yet another method is to weave the exposition into the story or the dialog. “You have great eyes. I love that color blue.” “My mom always said they looked like the ocean. But I grew up in Kansas and I confess I didn’t see the ocean until I was thirty.” Or “You look like hell,” she said, noticing the wound on his arm. “Oh, you should see the other guy.”
Exposition is truly vital in writing but you need to get it across without a dump of information. Read back your exposition. If it reads like a text book, or it goes on for too long, see about changing it but also about breaking it up. A bit of exposition here and there, even if it’s the same amount as in your big info dump, will stick out a lot less.
Now that you want to get your work published, it’s time to write a query letter!
It’s understandable to be a bit anxious about this. Practice will help a lot, not just with writing better queries, but also with your nervousness. Understand that many famous authors were rejected several times before they were published. So keep on plugging and try not to get discouraged.
Query Letter Basics
First things first: always do what the publisher says you should do. Seriously. Queries are cover letters accompanying your submissions to a publisher or agent. They can vary in length, but Job One is always to do what the recipient wants. That is, if the recipient wants it as an attachment, send an attachment. If they want it in the body of the email or sent via snail mail or faxed, then do that. Double-spaced? Do it. Times New Roman font? Why, that’s suddenly your favorite font, too!
The last thing you want to do is annoy the recipient of your letter. So follow directions to the letter. Unsure of an instruction? How about asking on Twitter? Do not let your manuscript get a rejection under a technicality.
Rather than giving you an example, it’s probably best to link to a successful modern query letter. Now imagine your work, with a showcase like that. Change the genre if necessary, the character names, etc., and you’ve got the bare bones of a query letter.
Suggestion: check several successful query letters, particularly those which are fairly recent and are in your genre. If they are the queries which your actual target admires, then so much the better.
Keep plugging. Queries are a rite of passage for every author. They will get easier as you keep on doing them.