Tag Archives: Getting Ideas

Thoughts on How Instant Feedback Can Impact the Voice of Some Writers

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned how I turned comments off on my blog back in November 2010 due to severe time constraints:

I didn’t know what impact it would have, but one of the surprising results was that now my blog thoughts sometimes dig deeper into things.  The time I used have to waste wading through spam in the queue instead gets spent thinking and writing the post instead.

Since writing those words, I’ve been mulling things in my mind, and I’ve come to realize that there’s more to this than having more time to think now that I’m no longer babysitting a blog comments queue.  (I do, however, still have comments flipped on in Facebook and a Contact Me page so people can talk to me direct when they need to.)

There’s the issue of a writer’s voice, or what I’ve nicknamed the “Aw, crap” factor–as in, “Aw, crap, if I write about that, I’ll have to deal with too many comments. I want to spend that time writing instead.”

So instead of writing the post that might stir things up, I’d write something bland that would have no risk of being interesting enough to trigger responses from people.

Writers who have the extra time to referee a comments section don’t have this “Aw, crap” problem. But it’s become clear to me that I do.  And I suspect there are other writers out there as well who are subconsciously making their posts bland because they also have time crunch issues.

A few months after I turned off comments, I finally felt comfortable enough to do livelier blog posts, and my web traffic jumped. I also started writing things that would unexpectedly catch the eye of other, more established, bloggers. It’s too soon for me to tell what the permanent increase in web traffic will be since the spikes in traffic happened so recently. I’ve seen spikes as high as 10x the November traffic.  Maybe 2x – 3x? I’m guessing at this point.

So if you’ve got a severe time squeeze, you might want to give flipping comments off on blog posts for a few months a try to see if the “Aw, crap” factor has been in play.

Also, the same “Aw, crap” factor can come into play if a writer posts fiction online with comments flipped on. I’m never going to post fiction with comments turned on, since I’ve already learned I’m too likely to self-censor myself to avoid comments.

I can easily imagine myself thinking, “Aw, crap, I don’t want to write that story idea because it will piss off too many people and I’ll have to deal with too many comments and fights between readers who either love it or hate it. I don’t have the time for that. Let me write something soothing instead.”

And so I’d end up writing something so boring it would put everyone to sleep. I’d stifle my voice as a writer for fear of having to deal with too many comments.

Hmm, I think this happens quite a bit to writers even outside the world of posting fiction online. It’s so much easier to write stories that are bland and soothing and make everyone go “Zzzzz…” so that one can tiptoe away before they wake up. Stories that are lively stir everyone up like bees so that they break into camps and start fighting about the story (some love it, some hate it).

Of course, some writers thrive on controversy and fistfights and instant feedback.  Their writing gets better, instead of worse. So it’s important to experiment and see what works best since each writer is different.

Good luck testing all of this. May you find the path that suits you best.

Dealing With a Mental Jam When Writing

Here’s a neat trick I learned from a pro that can help to figure out what’s going on when a story jams (I’m pretty sure it was David Morrell’s trick, but it might have been Lawrence Block).

1.) Open up Notepad or TextFile on the computer.

2.) Call a meeting of the characters. Imagine sitting down with them.

3.) Now type in “What’s wrong? Why are things jamming up?”

4.) Write everyone’s responses down, including your own. Keep going until the characters and you run out of things to say.

5.) Now type in “What do I need to do to get this story moving again? What do you need?”

6.) Write down everyone’s responses.

I’ve been surprised at how well it works. Sometimes the problem turns out to be a missing scene, or that I need to throw the entire draft out and start over, or that the story isn’t ready to be written, or that I’ve simply got a bad case of self-doubt and need to plow onwards.

It’s weird to have imaginary characters bitching at me in my head during the “meeting” as I transcribe stuff down, but so far it’s always been a help to do the exercise (if only to nail down what the problem is).

Becoming a Patron of One’s Local Community

There were days this fall when I felt completely disconnected from the world after working in the home office too long. That feeling of “Do I actually exist?” Once that particular thought pops into my head, it’s a sign that I need to get out of the house more often.

I’ve discovered that getting out and about in my community doesn’t have to be a major undertaking.   It can be as simple as being a repeat customer (i.e. a patron) of a locally owned restaurant or coffee shop.

My dictionary tells me that a patron is someone who gives financial or other support to a person, organization, cause or activity.

Lately I’ve found two Mom & Pop restaurants I frequent regularly as a patron to get myself out of the house and support my local economy.  I’ve also discovered a fabulous local tea room, the St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, to go to on a special occasion that gives me wonderful ideas for stories.  And then there’s Satellite Coffee for regular tea and coffee breaks.

I am also getting out more often to non-writing arts events in my community.  It’s a wonderful mental break to simply go out to an event to appreciate another artist’s work without feeling like I have to network or do market research.

I also encourage people to consider finding 2-3 local charities that they’d like to contribute to as a patron on a regular basis.  Even if one can only afford a few dollars a month starting out, it’s worth it–and it gives one an incentive to work harder so that one can donate more in the future.  Lately I’ve been worried about homelessness in my community, especially with the holidays coming, and found two local homeless shelters that I could support with regular donations.

Anyways, patronizing locally owned restaurants, local artists, and local charities can be a great way to feel less disconnected in the world.   Hmm, reminds me of that old saying to “Think global, act local.”

Ray Bradbury and the Enthusiasm that Becomes a Writer’s Voice

Yesterday I stumbled across a 22 minute interview with Ray Bradbury done by the National Endowment for the Arts’ “The Big Read” program.   It’s well worth watching.  There’s even a loud car purr to relax by 😀

But, watching this interview, I was struck by just how vivid and alive Bradbury is compared to some people I’ve met.  He’s refused to be mocked by the world into disguising, hiding, and getting rid of his enthusiasms, and it shows.

How many people do you know go to Paris to walk the streets while stopping to read TENDER IS THE NIGHT along the way?  It’s the actual physical act of getting out into the world and colliding with it that can generate so many new ideas.

Enthusiasms can also act as road signs of what to write about as a writer.   They can help a writer find his or her voice.  For example, a passion for astronomy could turn into a science fiction story or a literary novel about an astronomer.  And I’ve noticed how “catching” enthusiasm is.  I’m not into cars, but by watching the hosts of “Top Gear” on the BBC talk with passion about cars, I’ve caught some of their enthusiasm and am starting to pay attention to the cars and trucks I see daily.

Bradbury has priceless advice to give on finding one’s voice as a writer, both in ZEN AND THE ART OF WRITING and in this “The Big Read” interview.  Check them out.

Feeding the Muse by Enjoying the Works of Other Artists

In the past few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to see a live performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” by the Santa Fe Opera, as well as paintings by Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh.  Money was tight, so it was a  Youth Night dress rehearsal performance of “The Magic Flute” that I took my family to.  And the paintings were part of a traveling exhibit that had come to our town for the summer–I went on a Sunday when there’s free general admission to the museum so that I only had to pay for the special exhibit.

Even when money is tight, there are ways to get close to art without spending all the grocery money.  Keep an eye on the “Events” section of a community magazine or local paper–often these can be found at coffee shops and city community centers in the racks.

These days it’s hard for me to relax when reading or at “writer events” since I’ve gotten so serious about writing.  But there are many other wonderful art forms to enjoy and admire.   I’ve started paying attention to what exhibits, concerts, plays, and films are happening in town, and making an effort to find ones I can afford.

Making this effort to bring other arts back into my life has provided a source of inspiration and a buffer against despair.   To get close enough to see the brushstrokes of a Monet painting was exhilarating:  so much so I accidentally set off the silent alarm in the museum room by getting a little TOO close.  But I didn’t touch the painting or get close enough to breathe on it, and never would.  I should also point out there were no signs anywhere saying “Don’t get closer than 1 foot from the paintings.”

Oh, and I didn’t get in trouble with the security guards, just a lecture on the proper distance to maintain.

So keep an eye out for concerts, plays, art exhibits, musicals, operas, films, etc. that could be sources of inspiration.  There are times when it’s so enjoyable to just sit back and admire the work of other artists.