Wednesday, October 30, 2013

November – Season of Banging the Keys

Tips to cultivate ideas for National Novel Writing Month.
Blair Mirth - © 2013

It's that time of year again. The threaded spider webs are hanging up around the house - real life nightmares dangling from their captivating yet horrific homes. I have my desk decked with cards and paper, alongside my trusted Pumpkin stamp that is inked and ready for all those overseas cards I need to make for my fellow writing and crafting friends, and I am ticking of the lists of friends who have sent emails out inviting me to there festive jives and costume parties – politely sending out my replies -That will be a no thank you.

Before you ask, no I am not anti-social. Very far from it. But instead of spending my night in a rented costume I am following a tradition I have kept for many going on 7 years now and will be putting a different kind of costume on – my writing cape. Yes fellow writers it is that time again where we hoard the candy instead of handing it out to trick or treaters and use it to bribe ourselves to stay awake until midnight and beyond to participate in the crazy, fantastic, life changing event that is Nanowrimo.

With the success of my PROMPT system time and time again the lead up to November always has me feeling a rollercoaster of emotions. It has made the lead up to the event much more enjoyable and less stressful. But there are always those days, or hours before midnight when even my own organisation and plans seem to get the better of me and even though I have develop a system that works most of the time there is still that niggling doubt that I am not ready. That I am not prepared or maybe I am too prepared and what the hell am I thinking trying to write about novel when I have 7 years of finished and half finished novels to be getting on with? I know I am not alone in these feelings. Nearly everyone I know has some kind of freak out before Nanowrimo whether it's stressing about not having ideas, having way to many ideas to choose from, guilt over the time you'll be taking away from family, friends and other engagements or simply worrying that the pantry isn't stocked full enough of your favourite treats or that those pens and notebooks you brought will still remain untouched and unused by the end of the month.

Fear not my fellow writer. You are not alone.

I have a few ideas to get that motor of yours rolling or at least calm it down enough to not buy out an entire shelf in the confectionery isle at your supermarket. Whether you're a planner or a pantser. Whether it is your first time, second time, last time or you just want to know what the hell to do when you're looking at embarking on a crazy writing project there is sure to be something for all of you to kick start the excitement and joy that is Nanowrimo.

Read – one of the more obvious tips when it comes to writing is to read. We have heard it all before. But it's not always the easiest thing to do when you have already got a lot going on in your mind, or aren't sure which one to go with. Much like write what you know, one of the things that has helped inspire me when Nanowrimo is approaching is to read something I know I am going to love or something that has fascinated me for a long time. This works well if you are searching for an idea, or already have one because it feeds on both aspects really well. For me I am a lover of anything supernatural. So when I am working on my planning, already writing a story, need an idea or simply just doing some research I will look for anything that catches my attention. Libraries are understated for helping you choose those few books that could break you out of a slump, kick start an idea, project a little spark into your project or really help with the fundamentals of your planning.

For me this year I knew that I wanted to work on one of my favourite pairings of characters, but I have no idea what or how to go about writing something new and exciting. So I read a book set near the sea and that kick started an idea rolling. After a few hours jotting down everything I knew about the sea,I went to my library and browsed through books about the sea – boats, fashion inspired, vintage and history to do with haunted cruise ships etc. Then I took that information with me and explored it more. From there I had ideas for clothes, settings, characters, conflict and even murder. You don't need a lot of information and you certainly don't have to use all of it. But even just reading some non-Fiction or Fiction books about something your interested in can really invigorate your love of writing, your passion for sharing and can be a jump start for something crazy and fantastic. It might even inspire further reading after Nanowrimo and who knows, you may even meet like minded writers with the same interests that you can form great writing friendships with as well as bounce back ideas and recommendations.

Youtube – So you don't have an idea for your story, but you really love watching documentaries on youtube, or maybe you like fashion and beauty, cooking or even world news events. Youtube is another understated resource for writers and lovers of imagination. I dare you to watch a few videos and not find an idea for a poem, a song, or in case of Nanowrimo an idea for a story. Say you have no ideas, but you really love watching videos about Indian cuisine and are fascinated with the culture and language. After a few videos you might hear some crazy story about a romantic proposal gone wrong, or a tale about a girl who trained elephants and those videos and visuals could spark something in your mind. After watching a few more you'll have a jumping point.

When I had a need to write but hadn't yet found my story I went onto youtube and watched link after link of crazy stories. Some were fantastic so I jotted them down, but one that really stuck with me was the idea of reincarnation. After watching a few documentaries, short videos, news clips and debates I had a good basis for a story that I could work on with topics that really got me going and made me want to flesh it out even more.

Generators – These handy 'machines' as I call them have saved my ass many of times, as well as being useful for fun writing sessions and for just generating simple things like setting or characters to help me out of a pickle. Also found on the Internet there are quote a few that can be found just my searching Random scene, character, magic – the list goes on, generator into the search box. By finding simple, short prompts to spark your imagination you can find a concept, an idea or a character that will work if you haven't the foggiest what you want to write about or to add to an addition story for depth and development.

Some of my favorites is on a site called Pearltress which is a comprehensive site that allows you to cultivated many websites in the one place. My favorite is Team Story Generator. It is a pearl that collects generators together in one place. It is really nicely set out and easy to find the sites by clicking on the mind map style links. 

Forums, chat sites and Story sharing sites [Community]: When I first started writing as a hobby and really found it as a passion I was all alone on my brothers laptop. We had dial up connection and I had two hours to browse, research and connect. Things have changed a little with my being a grown adult and having unlimited Internet connection with decent speed, but in the midst of life I wouldn't be without my writing buddies, connections, inspiration and recommendations that come from the before mentioned website tools. Joining up to the forum and chat boards is a great way to start getting involved in discussions that will lead you towards ideas, friendship and a variety of sites, references and challenges that you would probably have never found out existed before logging on and being part of the community.

One of my saving graces while growing up and learning about my passion in writing was a site called Story Write. Now adapted to suit the needs of the growing social media economy you can find a wealth of fantastic features on this site to suit your needs. From communities, groups, challenges and contests, forums and chat boxes, writing classes and friends from all backgrounds Story write is an in depth site that can really suit any writers needs, and there are even groups that focus on Nanowrimo too.

Fan lift – I call it Fan lifting because its not quiet writing fan-fiction, but it does take an exisiting idea, concept, character, situation and give you a place to start from. This form of idea catching comes from spending hours watching your favorite movies or television shows or finding new ones to watch. Yes- watching T.V can actually be a productive use of your time and creative too.

For all of you out there who have delved into fan fiction you will know the trials of torment and the almost orgasmic pleasure you can get from taking your favourite characters and having at it with them in bizarre, insane, romantic and murderous ways. There is really no limit to the imagination when writing about the worlds you love and the people who feel like family, or you wish that would die in a hole and be maggot meat.

For those of you who haven't this concept will still work. It is simple. You watch your shows, movie, documentaries etc. and you take something from it. I will use the example in which I just finished watching a favourite TV series of mine called The Almighty Johnsons and then on the weekend my partner and I watched Thor – I didn't want to fan-fiction the stories but there were aspects of them that during and after watching really jump started my need to write and so with pen and paper I jotted down some things I liked and disliked about both and wanted to explore on my own story and I came up with a page full of ideas and little bullet points that could be expanded to write several seperate stories and here's the best thing – without actually copying the things I have watched.

My list looked a little like this: Norse Gods, Romance [change to a gay romance] – change them to brothers – change the setting to Australia – make Thor a woman? Lesbian norse Goddesses? Make one of them a star seed [ a spirit from another planet embedded in the body of a human] what planet did they come from? And so on and so forth. So it is really easy. In a way it's like playing a what if game and you can make it as close to or as far from them as you really want too. You never know what those ideas might lead to.

And you can extend that even further into creating characters traits as well. Don't you just love Thor's naivety when he crashes down on earth. The scene in particular when he smashes the cup really has me laughing. So why not take that humour and naivety and give it to your character. Or maybe you see the underlining pent up emotions between characters in a show you love. Forbidden love only in you fantasies, but in the show it would never happen. Still, you love to dream and you can – just take that personality and inject it into another character and watch that unfold. You can even base a character in your novel of another in a show or movie – it's Nanowrimo and anything goes and I can garentee that after 30 days of writing that character will only look a little like the one that inspired it at the end of the month. And the experience of meeting this character will well pay off.

Window Shopping- lastly I think this is a great one. Window shopping, it goes right alongside eavesdropping. Whenever I am truly lost I like to get outside the house and watch. Whether that means I sit in a coffee shop corner booth and listen in on conversations or I walk around the city taking in my surroundings from the shops, booths, street performers, music or the culture around me I always come back with at least a page of notes on one or more of these pointers.

Stressed for time? Sitting on a bus? Waiting in a queue? Bullet point my lovely writer friends. In a little reporters notebook, on your phone, in your journal, on a post card or on your palm whatever you see that gets you going and the ideas churning- write it down. Better noted then lost forever.

And on that same front, collect things as well. If you see post cards, magazines, flyers, events anything that you think will be great for a story board or to put in your writing journal pick it up, fold it up- hell even keep a little envelope or sandwich bag in your bag to collect all that stuff and when you get home you can use it as a prompt to explore ideas. You never know- your character might love high fashion or art. They might dream of winning a trip to India or they might be seeking a room mate who loves shaving dogs and eating burnt pizza. All these little bits of inspiration that catch your eye will come in handy some point in your writing life so why not let them inspire your Nanowrimo project.