Creating a story and writing it down on paper requires a piece of your soul. As writers, we’ve all felt it. But we don’t lose that piece of ourselves; it just survives elsewhere, kind of like a horcrux, as cheesy as that sounds. That’s how we make a story, a character, or a place come alive, with a small portion of ourselves, sacrificed for the greater good of the story itself.
Because it requires a piece of yourself to write, take a moment and consider how you find inspiration. Pinpointing your inspiration will allow you to give your best self to your story, and thereby, it makes for an even better story. Some, and you might be one of them, find music inspirational. They create playlists to listen to as they write.
For me, however, I’m inspired by photos and images – all forms of visual art. It’s all about finding a visual representation of what’s floating – or sometimes crashing – around in my brain, which allows me to build a world, create characters, and tell a story.
Discovering Pinterest – Creative Writer-Style
In 2012, I signed up for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the first time. The goal of NaNo is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. I had never written a novel before, and I was a bit overwhelmed with the idea. This story was in my head for close to eight years. It tried to come to life in different forms – including picture book and short story – but it just wasn’t right. I had all these ideas in my head, but I couldn’t organize them.
I consider myself a visual learner, and in order to find focus, I knew I needed something that I could look at that inspired me to write the story I wanted and needed to write – the story that was begging to get out.
One day as I was pinning non-writing-related things, it hit me. Pinterest could be exactly what I needed to stay organized, clear out my mind a bit, and stay inspired. I created a board and then scoured the internet until I found images that closely resembled what was in my head.
Throughout the writing process, I kept referring back to my Pinterest board, and it kept me focused and on track for the full 30 days. Because it was my first go at it, I only pinned a few photos, but it was my game-changer. I even found people repinning or liking some of my pins. It helped me realize that even though these pins were meaningful to me and my story, art touches others, too.
Stepping it Up a Notch - Finding What Works
When it came to the second NaNoWriMo adventure, I was ready to tackle Pinterest all over again. This time, I made it a private board, just to see if I would have a different, more personal experience keeping it all to myself until I was ready to share the finished product.
For my second book, it was all about the places the characters traveled, and because they were in a different world, I needed some visual inspiration. I was looking for unique, magical, and beautiful. I found the most inspiring images, and I wrote the book around them, always having Pinterest open and viewable as I wrote.
Writing a Book without Pinterest – Disaster from the First Page
My latest attempt at NaNoWriMo wasn’t as successful as my previous years. Because I didn’t decide what to write about until the day before the event began, I didn’t create a Pinterest board to guide and inspire me. I figured I was experienced enough to skip this step and simply write from my imagination.
As you can imagine, it didn’t go so well.
But I continued. I pushed through it. Even as I was writing the novel, trying to get in that daily word count, I knew it was chaotic and quite the mess. Because of the short timeframe to complete the novel, I didn’t feel like I could slow down and create a Pinterest board once I doubted my ability to do without. Sure, it was a first draft, but I didn’t feel I had a firm grasp on the characters or even the story until almost the end. If I would’ve used Pinterest the way I had previously, I think the story would’ve been more natural and streamlined, from the very first page.
Moving Forward – Learning From My Mistake
The closer November gets – and the closer I get to starting a new novel – I find myself thinking more and more about how to use Pinterest better this year. After last time, I’ve learned my lesson. Pinterest will now be my #1 tool for developing characters and my story, and I’ll never write another book without creating it its very own Pinterest board. And you can’t go wrong with free.
I know it's been a while since I've written a post. No worries; I'm still alive! I've just have some personal life changes that have been rocking my world. But this time of year is all about looking back and then looking forward. A new year is the perfect time to refocus on what you're supposed to be doing. For me, that's writing.
I finally returned to my monthly writing group last month, and one of the members announced her upcoming book release party. How exciting! Not too long ago, we were in the same boat, trying to figure out if independent or traditional publishing was best.
She decided to independently publish, and it was all due to her 5-year plan. That got me thinking about my own non-existent plan. I'm a planner by nature, but I've never had a writing plan, not one, at least, that has been well thought out.
While I still don't have an exact plan in mind, here are a few things I need to consider and work out in my head:
1. I need to finish revising one of my books.
It's been written since 2014, and I still have not gone through it all. I can't progress at all in getting published or self-publishing until that manuscript is revised. Once it is, I can enlist the help of beta readers to make sure everything is how it should be.
2. I need to figure out which method of publishing I'll wholeheartedly pursue.
I've been going back and forth on this one for a while. But after hearing about my fellow writer's 5-year plan, it really has me thinking more about independent publishing. There is so much more research I need to do.
3. I need to start publishing. Simple as that.
I think I hold myself back sometimes because of my fear of failure. It's been a dream of mine to publish for so long. What if I fail? What if it's all a waste? What if I turn into a joke? I need to abolish those ideas and just go for it. I'll never get anywhere if I don't try.
4. I need to seek out more freelance writing opportunities.
I need to get back to my roots. I need to start sending out freelance articles again. I took a long break, but I think it's time. I need to redefine myself as a writer, and that may start with returning to freelance writing.
Have you thought about your writing goals for 2017? What are they?
With some people in my life, I've spoken at length about my writing dreams. But what many people don't know is that I'm haunted by them. I think it's actually quite common, to be haunted by your unachieved dreams. However, that's not all I'm haunted by. I'm haunted by story ideas, characters who beg to be written, and feelings that need to be given a home on paper. These ghosts are incessant. They are always behind me, tapping me on the shoulder. When I turn around, they're waiting for me. Silently waiting. Watching me. Making me remember that they're there and they will not be ignored.
But as friend and fellow blogger, Amanda Creasey from Mind the Dog Writing Blog, told me earlier this week, "There are worse things to be haunted by."
And she's right.
I'm not bothered one bit by the hauntings. I'm only bothered that I haven't figured out to make it come to life, how to bring my dreams to reality. So, this weekend, Amanda and I both agreed to write a post about our writing dreams. So, make sure to check her blog and read her post.
My Writing Dreams
Writing is Painful
Just because I enjoy writing doesn't mean it's easy. And many times, it's not even enjoyable. In fact, it can be downright painful. But you know what's more painful? Not writing.
I participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) every year. Those 30 days are difficult. Beyond difficult, actually. I still work my two jobs and then somehow find time to write a novel. And when I'm ripping my hair out to meet word counts and to fit everything in or even if I'm trying to figure out what my character wants to do next, my husband has asked why I keep writing if I hate it, if it's hard.
I don't hate writing, but it is hard. I write because it's my soul's calling, if you will. My soul needs it. The only way I can explain it is that I feel I'm meant to write, and only then can I find peace...until the hauntings start again.
But you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way. Writing on my own terms brings me fulfillment, peace, and joy. It gives me a place that I feel I belong. It gives me some of the missing puzzle pieces inside me. It helps me better understand myself, my experiences, and the world and people around me. It makes me more human.
But the only way for me to achieve those writing goals and bring my writing dreams to life is to just go for it. I have to make sure I make progress and push myself. Otherwise, I'm just going to get stuck where I am, being haunted forever by the what-ifs and what-might-have-beens.
What are your writing goals? Have unachieved dreams or characters haunted you?
For writers, books are oxygen. At least they are for me. There's so much I can learn from other writers, and I'd be foolish not to try to learn everything I can about the art of writing. But collecting books can be expensive. Fortunately, I've found ways to build an awesome collection without breaking the bank.
1. Scour Second-Hand Stores/Garage Sales/Estate Sales
This is probably a given, but I've found some of the most beautiful books at these places. While they're not free, you can get a killer deal. And the fun of it is that you never know what you'll discover. There's something special about that.
2. Goodreads Free Books
Did you know that you can enter to win free books (many times they're advanced reading copies) from Goodreads? It's fantastic. I've received close to ten free books this way. Sometimes they're not great, but then there are other times that you find a new favorite. If you ask me, that's well worth it. Plus, hello, it's free.
3. LibraryThing Free Books
LibraryThing has a similar free book program to Goodreads's program. You can enter to win free books. You just have to scroll through the options and pick the ones you'd love to read and review.
4. Review Exchanges on Author Sites
Some authors offer free books to help spread the word about their published works. Just recently, I came across an offer, and I took it. I just needed to read and review an author's newly published book. I had only a few days to do it, but I can't say no to a free book. I barely made the deadline, and a free book of my choice is coming my way soon.
Start following new authors, and be on the lookout for opportunities of your own.
5. Attending Workshops or Conferences
Attending writing workshops or conferences can earn you a free book, too. Last year, I attended a writing workshop, and after the class, the author gave a free book to each attendee. All she wanted in exchange was an honest review.
6. Free Gift for Webinar Attendance
I signed up for and attended a free writing-related webinar, and the first 100 people got a free book mailed to them, the book covering the topic of the webinar. It wasn't the reason I signed up for the webinar, but it was a nice bonus.
7. Public Library Book Sales
I saved the best for last. This is my FAVORITE way to build my book collection. It's not free, but it's so cheap that it might as well be. I wait all year for this. While you can generally always go to the for-sale section of your library and buy throughout the year, the big book sales will blow your mind.
And this year, I get to go to two! I went just a few days ago, and I bought six books for 3 1/2 dollars. For real. It's pure gold.
How have you built your own book collection without breaking the bank?
Mark Twain is sometimes credited with this quote: "Write what you know."
That quote has been tossed around in the writing world over and over again. I know I've heard it countless times, and I thought I knew what it meant. It's obvious, right? Write about things that have happened to you. Write about people you know, the things you've done. That's how you make writing authentic, right? Base everything you write on your own life experiences.
Well, partly wrong.
There is nothing wrong about writing based on your own life events. There's gold there. But I think the real meaning of that quote is all about emotions, not events.
Write what you know. Write what you feel. Write what you have felt.
Explore those base and complicated emotions in your writing. How did you feel when your first pet died? You experienced grief, sorrow, confusion, and pain. Use that to write. You don't have to make your characters lose a pet to use those personal emotions. You can use your own pain and grief as inspiration for your characters, but use it in a different way. The feeling will be authentic, even if the events themselves never happened to you.
That's the beauty of writing - that an author can make the reader feel, and feel deeply. How is it that you can read a fantasy novel based in a world that doesn't actually exist, and you can feel along with the character? It's because those root emotions the author uses are real.
Think about the last book that made you feel something. Was it because the character reached the finish line? Or slayed the dragon? Or stood up to their abusive family member? No. It was because of the emotions attached to those actions and experiences. It was because of that feeling of triumph, of accomplishment, of pride, and of relief. You felt along with the character because you've experienced those same emotions or feelings, or, at the very least, you're able to empathize.
Emotion is universal. We can all understand it, even if it's based around made-up people in made-up worlds. No matter what, we all feel the same things in the same ways. That's what builds connections between readers and characters. That's where the magic lives.
Writing what you know is about emotion, not events.
So, take a moment and write down or mentally explore things that happened to you in your life that made you feel deeply. Analyze those feelings. Understand why you felt that way.
And then start writing.
I'm an adjunct creative writing professor and freelance writer, but I dream of being a published novelist. This is my journey.