Where to Look for Story Ideas

This is a post from last year. Since I’m gearing up for NaNoWriMo again, I felt it was timely and worth repeating. Don’t be afraid; take a chance and write a book!

Fresh Air Musings

Ah October, when fall colors are blooming and a writer’s thoughts turn to November. Why November?  Because that is National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo.  That is when those of us crazy enough to accept the challenge write 50,000 words in thirty days.  Yes, that is a lot of words.

As a previous winner of this challenge, I thought I’d take the month of October to pass on some tips and tricks I’ve picked up. After you poke around and sign up at the website, you may start to panic.  You’ll wonder where you could ever come up with an idea that you can actually expand into a whole book.  Relax, there’s time.

First, think of what kind of book you want to write. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “write what you know” before.  In this particular case I would agree.  Your goal is going to be…

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Planning For Successful Writing

PlanningI just realized yesterday that in less than two weeks it’s October. Holy crap, where did September go? I love this magical time of the year. The heat is finally releasing its miserable hold, leaves are starting to turn vibrant fall colors, and my muse is jumping up and down with anticipation for November and National Novel Writing Month.

I’ve already started looking around at what I can do in advance to lighten my load in November. A few Christmas presents have found their way into the office for storage. Yes, I know it’s early, but I can’t help myself. November is so busy with writing and Thanksgiving, and when December comes, I want to relax, bake like a maniac, and enjoy the season.

I don’t want to run around overcrowded stores trying to find one last tchotchke

But I kind of feel like I’ve got a leg up this year. Last year I wrote a book of suspense with a sort of open ending. My readers immediately responded asking when the sequel would be out. Sequel? Huh, yeah, I’m gonna write a sequel. That’s what I intended all along…heh heh. So now I’m thinking of which characters to develop, where the storyline will go, and whether there will be a book three.

Hey, if you’re going to write two, you may as well write three. Right?

But that doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing. There are still outlines to write, characters to name and assign back-stories to, and pretend cities to map out. Yes, I do draw out my pretend cities. Doesn’t everybody? When you’re writing a whole book in thirty days, you need to have things right there at your fingertips. I don’t want to have to scroll back to remind myself where a landmark was or at which corner my protagonist lives. That’s just proper planning.

So here I am, less than two weeks from October, planning month. I will look for things that can be completed now and not worried about again until December. There will be plenty of food in the cupboards and freezers, deep cleaning will be done, and writing tools will be ready.

Because November only comes once a year.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Muse

A Lone Leaf

My muse took the summer off. She’s kind of a selfish B like that. She doesn’t care how long I stare at that blank page; she’s off having a good time.

I started to wonder why she left. Then I realized what the pace has been like the last few months. Since I’m back in a full-time corporate job, my writing time has taken a severe hit. It’s been catch-as-catch-can whenever a moment presents itself. And with an increased freelance load, it’s no wonder my muse ran away with my imagination.

But now that it’s the last full week of unofficial summer, I decided to take a few minutes for myself. I grabbed a beer and my trusty rocking lawn chair and planted myself down in the driveway. Wow, it’s hot. Good thing the beer’s cold.

Facing west into the last few hours of sunlight, I close my eyes and lay my head back. The hum of the sprinklers mixes nicely with the chorus of frogs and crickets. Occasionally the wind blows through the leaves, like an addition of a soft snare drum to the band.

In the distance I can hear a mother calling her children in for supper as the smell of fresh laundry wafts on  a breeze. I take a deep breath before opening my eyes—not wanting to lose that feeling. I take a drink of my beer and see the neighbors’ dog, panting in the heat. It almost seems like I can see the sun dropping in the cloudless sky. I take another gulp and close my eyes again. The sun feels good on my bones.

Secretly I long for fall and winter, the slower pace and cooler weather are much more my style. But here, in this moment, my thoughts run wild. The sun feels good, and the beer is cold. I guess I’ll kind of miss you, summer.

Not Giving Up the Ghost

Ghost TreeWhether or not we want to admit it, I think most writers enjoy the recognition from others for a piece well done. It’s nice to have someone tell you that they read your article, story, or book and that it meant something to them. It’s exhilarating and a bit humbling all at the same time.

So why wouldn’t you put your name on something you’ve written?

When I embarked on my write-a-book-in-a-month journey last year, I fully intended to write, edit, and publish the book myself. But when I got into the actual writing of it, I found some things that made me slightly uneasy. I worried that if certain people (read family and judgy neighbors) saw it, they would think differently of me.

No, I’m not writing anything bad, per se, but sometimes my mind wanders into a direction that may…frighten some people. (Luckily the Hub is a confident and trusting person. Not many guys could help you enact a murder scene in the living room to get the rights and lefts down just so.) And if I discuss some of these topics with people who don’t know me as well, they get a little quiet around me. So I’d rather that only those I’m really close to know my true identity and everyone else sees a pen name.

At other times I ghostwrite. It’s like being a secret weapon in some ways. It gives me the opportunity to write things that I may feel very deeply about, but don’t have to take the heat for the article. That is very freeing.

Especially when it’s a political piece. I’m lucky enough to write for a candidate with whom I share most political views. I’ve done a pretty good job at capturing his tone of voice for all the pieces I do for him. It’s like some kind of weird synergy that we have. And it makes my job quite easy when the articles practically write themselves after the research is done.

Maybe someday there’ll be a whole book with my name on it. But for now, I’ll stay a ghost and a secret.

Many of you will thank me.

How to Repay a Mentor

This post was previously published on ChuckHorton.net.

Boxer

Sometimes a person comes into your life for a very particular reason. At first it may not be clear to you what that reason is; but it will likely become obvious that you will never be able to pay them back. That’s when you just have to pay it forward.

Jack O’Brien began his life in the Sweet Science in 1944. As a young man of fourteen he joined the boxing team at Superior’s Cathedral High School. But his boxing career didn’t end when he was through competing. He has gone on to help coach and train both amateurs and pros, and he’s still at it.

Former pro fighter Zach “Jungle Boy” Walters credits O’Brien with helping him make major changes in his technique that helped him win matches. He has been helped directly by O’Brien’s knowledge while in the ring, and in Walters’ current capacity as the owner and coach at Jungle Boy Boxing.

Longtime coach and promoter Chuck Horton also knows firsthand the value of O’Brien’s wisdom. Horton commented in an interview with television station WDIO, “I would not be anywhere that I am today if it wasn’t for Jack.” Yes, it’s good to acknowledge those who bring you up and give selflessly to others.

A master of boxing fundamentals, O’Brien has more experience than the other coaches in the Duluth, MN boxing gym. No one will doubt the credentials of the expert who will celebrate his 85th birthday this year. He brings a unique and refined approach that helps boxers fix one punch at a time until the whole picture is realized.

The dictionary defines the word gestalt as an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts. It should say the technique of Jack O’Brien.

It’s no wonder Horton and Walters chose to name their March boxing event The Jack O’Brien Invitational. Every young boxer on the card can learn from his wisdom. The fighters from Jungle Boy Boxing Gym probably already have.

If you are lucky enough to have someone like O’Brien come into your life, count your blessings. But don’t drive yourself crazy trying to pay them back. Odds are you could never afford it and they wouldn’t take it if you offered. They’re just not in it for a reimbursement. So instead of a payback, pay it forward.

And don’t forget to say thanks.

When Your Muse Goes Missing

Sunset Fishing in the BDub

Sometimes you sit down to write and the words just don’t come. Oh sure, you can force it and maybe eke out a page or two, but is it quality work? Probably not, because if your muse is hiding, it’s simply not going to work.

That is kind of where I’ve been at lately. You know the drill—you have so many things going on, and it’s already crazy because it’s summer, that you just can’t get anything completely done to your liking. So you decide to take a break, maybe a vacation, and you encourage your muse to join you. You figure you’ll get away together and things will be like the good old days, when you were always inspired and words leapt onto the page as your fingers flew across the keyboard.

But your muse wouldn’t go. Nope. She never showed her face once. Ouch.

That was the case with my last trip. I’d been so overwhelmed with work, writing jobs, and day-to-day stuff, I thought everything would reset on our annual camping trip. But no, the notebook and pen never saw the light of day. Sigh.

I pouted to myself, slightly miffed at my complete lack of creativity in such a beautiful setting. How could it be that nothing, nothing came to me? I began to doubt myself, questioning my ability to continue to produce and wondering if I would pull myself out of my funk. Alas, it was not to be. I felt sorry for myself and moped like a petulant child.

And then a week later I got up one morning for work, stiff and a bit groggy from an extra glass of wine the night before. I strapped on my running shoes and hit the trail. With no races to train for, pace was of no importance. It was just me and the sunrise.

After about ten minutes I passed rabbits, cows, and horses along the soft rocky trail. My mind cleared as I examined the cluttered mess of trees uprooted from the nearby tornado earlier in the week. I watched a lone horse standing on a hill in the meadow; tall and majestic in his silhouette. Some of the horses watched as I ran past, but they paid little attention before returning to their breakfast.

Less than fifteen minutes in I heard a rattle in the bushes. I knew it was my muse, finally returning to take her place in my newly cleared head. I wondered where she’d been, but focused more on where she was going. For the remainder of my run we had a little conversation, after which I accepted her apology for her absence.

She can be a fickle b…

Now that we’re friends again, I anticipate some further cooperation. After all, I think we’re really in this together. I hope. In any case, I’m just happy she’s back.

A Garden of Writing

Seeds

As I looked down from my deck last night, it dawned on me that my writing is very much like our garden.  Before we planted it, I spent a lot of time thinking about it and doing research.  I came up with a design for two beds, each independent, but still lined up together.

One has sprawlers like cucumbers and squash grouped together.  That one is like my personal writing—it’s free and frequently all over the place!  The other plot is the tall and firm plants like tomatoes and peppers.  That would be my freelance (paid) writing.  It’s all together, but each plant is very full and independent, like each article.

Just as I outline my writing before I start, I planned out our garden.  I thought about the direction each vegetable would take.  I drew plans.  Seeds would be placed in rows, much like a chapter in a book.  I know what I hoped it would look like in full bloom, and planned out how I would wrap it up.  Because like the Hub always says, you have to have an exit plan.

Certain plants would ripen first.  They needed to be accessible to be picked without disturbing the others, so they are on the fringe.  The crawlers that needed the most time and space are on the outside of one end.  They are free to grow and roam the entire season, much like a storyline expanding throughout a book.  They will spill over and likely take on a life of their own, like a vegetative plot gone wild!

And then there are the pots that grow on their own, two cilantro and two basil.  Although they’ll play a key role in some post-harvest recipes and storage, they’re just bit parts in the garden (story) as a whole.  They sit off to the side doing their own thing, kind of like a red herring just waiting to be noticed and thought about.

And just like our garden, my writing needs to be tended to daily.  It needs to be nurtured and fed.  There is a lot of planning and a fair amount of weeding.  But in the right light, with a little TLC, both will feed you—mind and body.