For many years I kept a dream journal and consistently recorded my dreams. I did this mostly for personal interest, but also to build a creative repository. My diligence, over the years, in keeping up a dream journal has waned. My dreams are only sporadically recorded and rarely do I mine them for creative ideas. Even rarer still is the occasion that I use a specific image from a dream in a story.
Two years ago, however, I had a dream that was pretty disturbing. I was in a forest and in it stood a gigantic meat grinder. And, all sorts of fantastical characters were being thrown in. Many Disney characters. I don’t know who or what was operating it. Think body parts everywhere. Gruesome, I know. I woke up and immediately recorded this dream in my journal. For the past two years, I could not get this image out of my head. Why and how did my psyche throw together meat grinding and Disney?
There is a wonderful book by Naomi Epel called Writers Dreaming that features prominent writers discussing the intersections between their dream life and their creative life. Steven King, in his interview, likens most dreams to a kind of “mental or spiritual flatulence”, a pressure relieving mechanism that helps process the mundane aspects of life. But, he also likens some dreams to big underwater fish that we rarely see:
“…if you go down real deep, you see all these bright fluorescent, weird, strange things with membranous umbrellas and weird skirts that flare out from their bodies. Those are the creatures that we don’t see very often because they explode if we bring them up too close to the surface. They are to surface fish what dreams are to our surface thoughts. Deep fish are like dreams of surface fish. They change shape, they change form. There are dreams and there are deep dreams.”
King also notes only a few instances where he was able to use a dream image unaltered in a story. My ‘meat grinder dream’ didn’t leave me alone. I wanted to find a way to write about it.
I’m happy to say with a little trial and error, I did find a way. The poem and flash fiction pieces that I wrote were like nothing else I had ever written before. It’s dark and creepy. Every time I wrote a draft, I felt like I was walking back into the eerie nature of the dream. My flash fiction/prose poem piece ‘Grinding Disney #2′ was just announced as placing in the 2014 Science Fiction Poetry Association Contest under the ‘Long form’. I bet you didn’t know there was an association devoted to studying and promoting science fiction poetry. Neither did I until recently and I love what they do. They are interested in “poetry with some element of speculation—usually science fiction, fantasy, or horror, though some include surrealism, some straight science.” It was founded by one of my favorite writers, Suzette Haden Elgin. SFPA “holds an annual open contest, and yearly awards for speculative poetry: the Rhysling Awards for individual poems, the Dwarf Stars Award for short-short poems, and the Elgin Awards (new in 2013) for genre poetry books and chapbooks, named for the SFPA founder.”
Poet and editor Kenji Liu was the judge and I am thrilled to be in the company of such amazing poets.
Here is a tidbit of my poem:
I have a meat grinder and I have brought it to this forest. Invitations were sent and as the light fades, I see them twirl in, oblivious to danger. Leading the way is the fairest of them all (why doesn’t she use sunscreen nowadays?), the one who keeps losing her shoe, the one who went from mermaid to human and the rest of the princesses and common girls assemble.
Read the rest of my poem and all the amazing winning poems here.
I hope a dream or two of yours will bring up some deep fish.
Photo: The ‘sarcastic fringehead’ from jwz.org.
I crossed the 50K word finish line yesterday and validated my manuscript with NaNoWriMo. I am still buzzing with excitement. These are the factors that contributed to my success:
-Writing affirmations: I started most writing sessions by writing a kind note to myself. This ritual kept my doubting inner critics relatively quiet. Go here for more on the power of affirmations for writers.
-Learned new writing tricks: I stayed on track by writing about 2,000 words every day. I, however, got stuck by the time I got to 40,000 words and headed into Thanksgiving weekend way behind.
I was running out of time. Luckily, I found some folks on the NaNoWriMo forums who were setting up timed writing sprints. I’ve done timed prompts before while writing longhand. Doing time writing sprints on my computer were new. I participated in a 2,000 word sprint where you write as fast as you can for 10 minutes trying to make the following word counts in each sprint: 400, 300, 200, 100. You take short breaks along the way and then go in for a second round of sprints using the opposite order: 100, 200, 300, 400. In about two hours you can reach 2,000 words. Several people kept time and we checked in as we reached our word counts.
Using this method on Friday and also utilizing the #NaNoWordSprints on Twitter I was able to write about 7,000 words in about six hours. Definitely a personal best. Discovering these writing sprints felt like a miracle. I am grateful to the many writers who organized these events and cheered others on.
-Utilized online writing forums: The NaNoWriMo forums were amazing and my go to resource. Encouragement, creativity and humor were in abundant supply.
-Periodically reviewed a very popular blog post: on how Rachel Aaron, an author upped her daily output from 2,000 words to 10,000 words. I highly recommend this post. She provides some great tips that anyone can employ. Works wonders.
-Used Scrivener-I had heard great things about Scrivener. They are a sponsor of NaNoWriMo this year and I decided to give their special NaNoWriMo template trial offer a go. I literally spent only ten minutes looking at their intro video before diving in. The ease! The joy! It made a huge difference to be able to have all my chapters in one place, and easily visible as icons. I also loved their ‘corkboard’ feature that displays the chapters (or scenes) as movable index cards. This feature was a tremendous help with organization.
-Received daily doses of encouragement from Mur Lafferty: I wrote about Mur Laffterty’s excellent podcast a few weeks ago. She like many creative artists are on Patreon. Patreon is a crowdfunding platform that allows direct and ongoing support of artists. I was already in her Patreon circle when she announced that she would be sending a daily short NaNoWriMo audio message to her Patreon supporters. The 3-7 minute commentaries on topics including narrative structure, staying motivated, and character development were fantastic. I came to rely on those daily writing vitamins to keep my spirits up. Check out Mur’s writing and podcast. You might also want to check out Patreon to see if there are creative artists you’d like to support.
-Drew on the momentum of daily writing: The success of NaNoWriMo was built on the headwind I generated in the summer writing a minimum of 250 words a day and using the tracking tool of ‘The Magic Spreadsheet’.
-I didn’t try to ‘pants’ this one: I spent most of July and August writing an outline and character sketches for this book. This preparatory work saved me.
Do I have some plot challenges? Yes. Do I need to add more about the setting, conflict and some of the characters ? Yes. Will I need to do a lot of editing? Yes. But, I am pretty proud of my NaNoWriMo draft. I love my characters and my plot. And, having never written a mystery before I discovered I enjoy writing in this genre. I also like how I just figured things out along the way (without agonizing over details) because of the intensity of writing at high speed. And, I loved being inspired by people who participated in NaNoWriMo and wrote way beyond 50K.
In January I will continue work on this project and shoot for a solid first draft in early spring. I’ll also try to keep what worked for me during NaNoWriMo going.
If you are still in the writing trenches trying to finish NaNoWriMo, I cheer you on. If you’re not going to finish by tonight, celebrate all the hard work you’ve done thus far.
Now, I’m off to order the official NaNoWriMo winner T-shirt and print out my winning certificate!
NaNoWriMo update: We’re now wrapping up week three of NaNoWriMo. I’ve got about 31,000 words which is great. But, I’ll need to write about 2500 words a day to finish by next week. I have to say that I got a little cocky earlier because the words were coming so easily. I literally felt that my characters were talking to me and all I had to do was listen. This is rare for me. My characters are not quite as chatty now and I am definitely working hard for every scene. Like many NaNoWriMoers, I will be working a lot during the Thanksgiving break. Send me your good vibes this holiday week.
Here’s a treat for you: Writing coach Rochelle Melander’s insights on how to boost your creativity. Her work is phenomenal, so check out her link at the end of this post. Enjoy!
Three Tools to Boost Your Creativity by Rochelle Melander
Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere. —Albert Einstein
In 2006, I launched Dream Keepers, a writing program for at risk children and teens in Milwaukee. Since then, I’ve taught at dozens of libraries, schools, and churches. In the past year, I’ve noticed that many of the young people have difficulty imagining. When I ask them to write a scary story, they write what they’ve seen in movies and on television. When I push them to create something of their own, they stare at me like I’m from outer space.
My own ability to imagine has taken a hit in recent years, too. Too much time hooked up to the computer has made me much more likely to research than question. Research backs me up. A 2010 study done by Kyung Hee Kim, a creativity researcher at the College of William and Mary, discovered that creativity has decreased in children since 1990, along with the ability to imagine.
So how can we address the problem of our dwindling creativity? We need to practice imagining and immerse ourselves in creating. No doubt, our creative play will support our writing. If you’re up for a little fun, try these exercises:
- Don’t look it up, make it up! Have you noticed how public wonderments have turned into competitive research sessions? You’re standing in a park talking and someone says, “I wonder what people did for fun in Milwaukee in the mid-1800s?” Then five people pull out their smart phones and race to find out first. (Actually, the answer for that, like the answer for all things Milwaukee, is easy: they drank beer.)
Your assignment: Next time you wonder, don’t pick up that phone (or tablet). Quickly make up
5-10 answers. If you’ve got time, develop one of them into a short story.
- Play the “What If?” game. As a chronic worrier, I play the “What If?” game all the time—what if my kids flunk out of school and have to live on my couch forever, what if that chicken I ate for lunch was bad, what if I never get this book published! Far better to play the “What if” fantasy game: what if squirrels were really super intelligent and took over the world? What would life look like then?
Your assignment: Create 5-10 crazy “what if” sentences. Then take one of them and follow it to its strangest conclusion.
- Invent it. Earlier this summer, my dog had a giant sore on his ear (I know, yuck). It stunk and worse, every time she scratched, it bled all over the house. Before we brought her in to have the sore removed, I spent a lot of time devising ways to keep her from itching it. (She can’t use the Elizabethan collar.) Believe it or not, I had lots of fun trying to invent a protective ear device.
Your assignment: Invent a solution for a pesky problem in your house. If you don’t have any problems (lucky you), get a bunch of stuff from your junk drawer and see what you can create with it.
+Do something impractical and creative every day.
+Read about artists and inventors.
+Visit places that honor art, science, and creative endeavors.
Write Now! Coach Rochelle Melander is an author, a certified professional coach, and a popular speaker. Melander has written ten books including Write-A-Thon: Write Your Book in 26 Days (And Live to Tell About It). As the Write Now! Coach, she teaches professionals how to write books fast, get published, and connect with readers through social media. Get your free subscription to her
Write Now! Tips Ezine at http://www.writenowcoach.com.
“It’s a simple equation. Subtracting your dependence on some of the things you take for granted increases your independence. It’s liberating, forcing you to rely on your own ability rather than your customary crutches.” –Twyla Tharp
It’s day sixteen of the NaNoWriMo challenge and I’m right at the word count I should be: 25,000 words. I’m actually shocked and periodically I have a strong desire to shout: ‘Who’s in the house? A NaNoWriMoer is in the house! And, she’s writing!’
Almost half done. Shocking!
To complete NaNoWriMo, I know that I will have to give up a few things. At least temporarily. Some things, in the next few weeks, will be easy to shed: cleaning my home office, tweeting, clothes shopping, talking on the phone. I’ve already said apologies to my partner and friends. The process of trying to write 50,000 words brings on an intense focus and concentration. It makes you ask the question: What lifestyle “fat” can be cut during an intensive creative challenge?
The incredible choreographer and creative thinker, Twyla Tharp reminds us that giving up something can create a sacred container for the work to come:
“The act of giving something up does not merely clear time and mental space to focus you. It’s a ritual, too, an offering where you sacrifice a portion of your life to the metaphoric gods of creation. Instead of goats or cattle, we’re sacrificing television or music or numbers—and what is a sacrifice but a ritual?”
I’m willing to give up checking Facebook as much as I do. I probably can gain back a half hour of my day, if I just refrain from mindlessly checking Facebook.
I have to give up the rather comforting rhythm I’ve established this semester which is to write late at night when I get home. I’ve been getting up around 5:30 am and trying to write for two hours.
For those of you doing NaNoWriMo, what kind of fat have you been cutting?
If you’re not doing NaNoWriMo, how do you maintain focus on a demanding a creative project? What is easy for you to cut? Would love to know.
Posted November 10, 2014on:
NaNoWriMo update: I’m pleased to say that after the first week of NaNoWriMo, I am on track with a word count of over 15,000 words. And, I haven’t overindulged in caffeine or pulled any all-nighters. I attribute this success mostly to drawing on an outline that I wrote during the summer. As I said in an earlier post, I tend to be a discovery writer (or ‘pantser’). However, for this project I am experimenting with using an outline. I have found Elizabeth George’s Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and The Writing Life extremely helpful on the topic of outlines. She encourages writers to do a step outline (basically a list of scenes), for each section of the book and then write a plot outline. Since I am working on a mystery, where plot is essential, these have been helpful tools. I also have been experimenting with the well-known ‘Snowflake technique’ that helps with structuring a story.
This foundation has been a lifesaver, especially since I missed three days of writing. The other thing I do before I begin writing is to compose a nice note or affirmation about my writing. It’s usually something short and sweet: “Michele, you create magic when you write.” I find that taking the time to say something positive helps my mental outlook. For more thoughts on writing affirmations and how to use them, see this post. Also, NaNoWriMo’s organization and communication with us is great. I have enjoyed receiving emails this week from NaNoWriMo that tell me about ‘writing sprints’ organized on Twitter. The NaNoWriMo website is a treasure trove of help, support and encouragement. When inspiration (and willpower) during the month flags, writers can check out the “Pep Talkers” section, where bestselling authors including Brandon Sanderson (“Mistborn”), Jim Butcher (“The Dresden Files”), and Kami Garcia (co-author of the “Beautiful Creatures” series) will provide encouragement.
One of the ways I treat myself (and also sometimes procrastinate) is to listen to podcasts about writing. I thought I’d share my favorites with you. I hope these stimulate and inspire your creative work. I’d love to hear about any writing podcasts that you adore, too.
I Should Be Writing: host, Mur Lafferty
‘Winner of the Podcast Peer Award and the Parsec Award, this is a show about a writer going from wanna-be to pro. Focusing on the emotional road blocks one finds in a writing career, this show speaks to over 8000 listeners every week. ‘
What I love about it: Mur is a speculative fiction writer and this is one of the longest running podcasts of its kind. Mur’s honesty about the ups and downs of the writing process really speaks to me. She’s very encouraging and a master at sharing tips on how to keep one’s self writing (and why it is important to do so). She periodically conducts interviews and also an occasional feedback show where people can send in questions that she answers.
New Letters on the Air: host, Angela Elam
‘New Letters on the Air is the half-hour radio companion to the literary quarterly magazine New Letters. Each week the program features intimate conversations with contemporary writers who reveal secrets about their creative methods, read a few favorite passages, and inspire the listener’s imagination.’
What I love about it: This podcast makes me feel like I am sitting in the audience, listening to excellent writers talk about craft and read their work. I don’t get to enough readings and this podcast introduces me to many literary poets and novelists that I might not know about otherwise. Angela asks smart and thoughtful questions of each guest.
Writing Excuses: hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells
‘To educate aspiring writers in the ways of the author. Writing excuses is a fast-paced, weekly podcast covering topics related to writing genre fiction.’
What I love about it: This podcast’s tagline is ‘Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart’. All joking aside, this is an insightful podcast hosted by some of the most well-respected and successful writers and artists working in fantasy, horror and science fiction. They work well as a team and cover a wide range of topics about novel writing. And a bonus is that at the end of every episode, they offer a writing prompt.
The Dead Robots’ Society Podcast: hosts, Paul E. Cooley, Jason Macumber, Terry Mixon, and Scott Roche
‘This podcast is by aspiring writers for aspiring writers. The Dead Robots’ Society was created by Justin Macumber in an effort to offer advice and support to other aspiring writers. It was inspired — in part — by Mur Lafferty’s podcast “I Should Be Writing.” Over the course of the show’s storied life it’s had a bevy of co-hosts.
All the hosts, current and former, have writing experience of some kind. They gather on a weekly basis to share stories of their individual journeys and discuss topics important to the world of writing. Occasional forays into the territories of brown dragons, taco eating cowboy space ninjas, or random discussions involving monkeys are all considered rumor at best and none of the hosts are willing to admit any of that actually happened.’
What I love about it: These hosts are funny, bawdy and pretty rowdy. They cover the business of writing (especially about self-publishing and working with indie presses) and also how to stay motivated.
The Roundtable Podcast: hosts, Dave Robinson and Brion Humphrey
‘The Roundtable Podcast is about nurturing ideas, fostering inspiration, and getting the creative juices flowing. It’s also about mistakes and blind alleys, harsh reality and uncomfortable truths.
Each week we invite publishers, editors, and authors to get on the line with a writer who presents an idea on the table… an idea for a story they want to write. And then everyone digs in, asking questions, pointing out problems, and proposing solutions. Characters are dissected or dismissed, plots reinforced or torn apart altogether, and hopefully what started as an idea, becomes something more.’
What I love about it: I’m a new listener to this podcast. I’m captivated by the variety of formats they have: interviews, workshops and themed conversations. They try to create ‘literary alchemy’ with each podcast. I think they do.
Posted October 27, 2014on:
Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.
What is a fun and intense way to get a lot of writing accomplished in a 30 day period? Participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)! NaNoWriMo is in its 16th year. Basically a group of writers got together and challenged themselves to ‘binge write’ and complete a novel in a month. Crazy, I know! They found that fast, fresh and uninhibited writing helps get past one’s cranky internal editor. A creative movement and nonprofit (with the same name) was born.
Writing a 50,000 word novel breaks down to a little over 1600 words a day. It’s free to participate and NaNoWriMo runs on an honor system. There’s only one rule. You can write all the character biographies and plot summaries that your heart desires. But, you can’t write one actual word of your novel until Nov 1. How is that for anticipation? (And, when as an adult was the last time you had that bursting at the seams, I-can’t-wait-to-try-this feeling? Not that often, right?)
Then on November 30th, you upload the novel and the NaNoWriMo staff officially validate the word count.
The goal is get the shape of one’s novel on paper. Bad (or imprecise) words count, in this instance, as much as good words. Making that daily word count is a challenge. Many people do writing sprints on the weekends.
Don’t want to write a novel during NaNoWriMo? OK. There are plenty of folks who use the energy of NaNoWriMo to deepen their writing practice. There are also the ‘NaNo rebels’ who work on graphic novels, poetry collections, etc. The key is to undertake sustained writing and creative activity during the month.
This year, I’m all in.
Reasons Why I’m Doing NaNoWriMo
It will be intense and fun!
I’m determined to teach myself how to write a novel from start to finish.
I’m basically a discovery writer or ‘pantser’ meaning that I usually don’t outline my stories or start with the end in mind. I like to write my way into a story. Over the last year, however, I have been pushing myself to do more outlining of longer works. This has felt good and yielded some successes.
I’ve been preparing for this marathon event since the summer. I have wrapped up almost all the edits on the short story collection I’m working on. Additionally, I’ve outlined the idea that I’m working on for NaMoWriMo and have most of the character sketches completed.
I’m not so worried about the daily writing part. That can be a hurdle for many when attempting NaNoWriMo. For me, writing has become a daily routine. I have multiple creative projects going plus my academic life, so there is always more writing to do. I also have become a fan of the Magic Spreadsheet which I have raved about for the last few months. Tracking my words through the MS has increased my output.
Re: the blog: I imagine most of my posts during November will be about my NaNoWriMo progress. But, I am also working on getting some interviews lined up for next month, too.
I’m super goal oriented. I want the bragging rights of saying I completed NaNoWriMo.
Intense deadlines motivate me.
I love online writing communities and NaNoWriMo has a fantastic one. A few years ago, I halfheartedly attempted NaNoWriMo, but I didn’t take advantage of the encouraging NaNoWriMo community. I won’t make that mistake again. I also wasn’t on Twitter and I also wasn’t using Facebook as a place to build online community through writing which I do now.
The NaNoWriMo website hosts a treasure trove of information. Looking for the best way to poison someone? Need to know the courtship rituals of medieval Europe were? What exactly are the origins are of Ildiko, a Hungarian goddess? There are moderated forums to access all kinds of help, across all genres of writing. Additionally, there are opportunities to connect with local writers, face to face, by checking out the activity in one’s ‘home region’. Well known writers will also provide ‘pep talks’ during the month.
NaNoWriMo has two things going for it—structure and accountability. The structure is built in—write for 30 days. The more people I let know that I’m doing NaNoWriMo helps with a sense of accountability.
I love card games and growing up I played a lot of Spades. The best part about most games is that it gives you a chance to talk junk, boast and be playful. My friends and I had a saying while playing Spades, “Go big or stay home.” Meaning that when feasible, don’t be timid. Play a trump (a spade), high card or a joker.
NaNoWriMo is all about going BIG. It’s about amateur and professional writers drawing on raw courage, inspiration, and grit to get their ideas onto paper in the midst of their very busy lives.
It’s not easy for creative people to launch their dreams. NaNoWriMo provides a vehicle to push past one’s limits in an intense and fun way.
We are going BIG.
So, what about you? Are you ‘noveling’ this month or using the energy of NaNoWriMo to create something that you’d been dreaming about? I hope so.
If you want to find me on the NaNoWriMo site, my user name is mtberger. Add me as your writing buddy.