Tag: writing tools

writing tools

Writing Promptly

 NaNoWriMo starts November 1. To encourage writers to start thinking about their upcoming writing odyssey they ran a month-long Instagram challenge featuring daily prompts. Writers were encouraged to post ideas for cover art, describe what their main character had in their pockets, and choose their main character’s theme song, among other ideas. The Career Authors blog posts a writing prompt every Sunday. Last week’s was about replacing unnecessary dialogue with a gesture or action that conveyed the same message.
I don’t use writing prompts to help me with my work in progress. But sometimes I’ll use a random writing prompt as a creative warmup, a way to get the ideas, and the words, flowing if I’m in a dry spell. Sometimes, like with the NaNoWriMo Instachallenge, I’ll join in for fun. I asked my fellow Missdemeanors their opinions about writing prompts.

I use a lot of writing exercises in my teaching. So often when my students are working on them, I work on them, and it’s very helpful. But mainly I love filling out character dossiers. I love those little details that crop up about characters and find I have to go hunting for them and the dossiers really help. The other day I was filling out one and remembered how my aunt could only sleep on white sheets. Colorful or, God forbid patterned, sheets made her nervous. It’s a small and insane detail, but I used it for a character and I really liked it.

I learned the value of writing prompts in high school and was reminded of them during the first Algonkian craft workshop I took a few years ago. These days, I don’t sit down and go through exercises unrelated to my WIPs but I do think about them when I see them, like the prompts on Career Authors. It flexes the writer part of my brain the same way lifting weights flexes muscles. In early drafts I give myself prompts to add depth and texture to setting, or address the “why” of a character. What time of year is it – describe it without using the words “spring,” “summer,” “fall, or “winter.” What does my protagonist hear when they walk out their front door? What did my MC want to be when they grew up and what derailed them? Who

I don’t use writing prompts. Stories tend to come to me more fully formed from some conversation between my subconscious and conscious mind. Right now, I feel like the news is a giant writing trigger.

Amen to that, Cate. I’m quite certain my first, second, and third books are informed by the political Zeitgeist (not a word that often seems appropriate, but it does now). When I struggle, I pick up a thread that works and keep going. Almost always, something points me in the right direction. That “ah ha” usually comes during dialogue when I let my characters just talk. They usually tell me something I was missing.
Having said, I’m currently working on a New York story, and I find myself having to trust the process of letting my characters guide me…and, I admit, it’s not easy for me. With the Abish Taylor mysteries, I have an overarching theme that guides each book. Here, I know the beginning and the end, but the theme isn’t so clear to me yet.

When I hear “writing prompt” I used to think it’s time to sit down and write based on this lesson. Maybe that’s old school! When I’m in a project, my new way of thinking of a writing prompt helps me over difficult humps. If I can’t get the scene right and am spinning wheels, then perhaps it’s time to Stop. But not stop working. Instead, I can pick an angle (aka choosing one of the writing prompts) and do it that way. Change the location, or the POV, or perhaps start at a different moment. This is a writing prompt to solve a very specific problem. Sometimes I then see both the good and bad in the original.
That said, I’m still not one to use a writing prompt out of the blue. I’m always working toward a larger goal (even if the goal is a “short” story). I may see a writing prompt and think great idea…. and then use it when I’m at a specific stumbling block. A writing prompt is also a writing tip. Or maybe I should say lesson. 

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5 Writing Tools We Can't Live Without

 I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors, what are your five favorite writing tools and why do you love them? Pens, pencils, spiral notebooks, erasers, spreadsheets, index cards, Post-its, bottles of wine or whiskey, etc. Feel free to send some photos and have some fun while doing it. Well, I guess they did. I’ll start by saying when I’m traveling all I need is a spiral notebook, pens and pencils, stickies of different shapes and sizes, pens and pencils, and a flash drive for my laptop. I can forget to pack clothes, toiletries, or shoes, but not these essential items.   Tracee:  Index cards (can I list them twice?), wine and Perfect Manhattans (judiciously), and the all important outlines in multiple forms. For that – big white pieces of paper, tape, colored markers and highlighters. And then I’ll need my Apple computer because my hand cramps when I write long hand for too long…. a final necessity is my small cow, Vacherin. Always willing to lend an ear and offer encouragement.    Cate:  You have a cow? Was this after the rabbits? Does it make cheese?I need my apple computer with Word, for writing, and Excel, for my outlines. I also need The Google, especially Google maps.   Alexia:    Sharpie pen. Spiral notebook. Bar/pub/lounge (whiskey/cocktail optional–they’re just to justify taking up space at the bar). Laptop (because my publisher won’t take handwritten drafts). Cat (since I don’t have a writing totem. Or writing cow).   Robin:     Mmmmmm Kit Kats….I love Post-Its. I used them to jot down plot ideas and character traits. The notes will clutter my desk or be stuck in a notebook until I use them or decide to stash them for another book. So, Post-Its are #1. Thinking about the answer to this question made me realize that I use a different “favorite” pen for notes and longhand drafts of each book I’ve written, so the pen is #2. I hadn’t noticed that penchant til now. Less unusual is a dedicated notebook, #3. Maybe a little unusual is a Snoopy calendar. The date isn’t important, it’s the subliminal message to not take myself too seriously and have fun with what I write. That’s #4. And, of course, my laptop. Susan:   I wish I had a cow! All I have are two cockapoos. I love to write in small notebooks. It gives me the feeling of pages building up. I also love color-coded post-it notes. I heard Jeffrey Deaver speak at an MWA event and he talked about the value of post-it notes and I thought, if it works for him…. So I’ve now got them all over my wall. I write on a computer that has no internet access, which cuts down on distractions, but I have my phone with me for research, or Candy Crush. There’s also a stack of books by my desk and I look through them often, usually for ideas about how chapters should begin or pacing. And then I have lots of inspirational stuff all over the walls. Nice notes people have written or awards or pictures of people I love. I also have a stash of Kit Kat bars, for when inspiration fails. Tracee:  A small stuffed cow who came to life on the Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich. She’s been everywhere with me for over 20 years. If Michele includes my photo you will meet her on Friday :)She actually has a bit of an attitude problem.  (Vacherin, the cow, not Michele) (Ed. note: Could be true about Michele, too, says Michele.) Alison: My laptop (Word for my editor and Scrivener for first drafts). I start my mornings reading and write down sentences I particularly love in my light blue Semikolon notebook. I’ve never gone back to read what I’ve written, but I like the act of writing down something by hand. I have three fountain pens: a brown and black Waterman that my husband gave me for our first anniversary, a heavy black Waterman my parents gave my husband when he got his Ph.D., but he writes in pencil, so I inherited it, and a purple one I found in the most wonderful paper store in Paris. The store sold sealing wax. How can you not love a store that sells sealing wax? If I’m stuck in my writing, I light a candle if I can. I don’t know why. Paula:  You all know the tools and rituals I use in the sanctity of my office at home: The index cards on which I jot scene ideas, the Waterman of Paris pen with which I write first drafts, the pretty box in which I throw maps, notes, postcards, and other esoterica related to my WIP. But when I’m on the road, I have to find a way to recreate the peace and solitude of my little lakeside cottage. So I read the interviews with writers The Paris Review posts on Twitter (I’m a subscriber) and poetry (I downloaded A Year with Rumi for this trip) to remind me why I write. Then I put in my headphones and listen to Gregorian chant and kirtan, open a notebook, and write. This centers me, so I can work anywhere, like right here at the Geneva Airport.   What are your five essential writing tools?     

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