Posts Tagged 'nanowrimo'

Inspire Me!

“Where do you get your ideas?”

If there’s a frequently asked question for writers, it’s that one.

(I’m rather partial to the author that joked about getting them on mail order from a little old lady in Schenectady.)

I could simply say, “Anywhere and everywhere.” Look around you, see things differently or picture them placed in an unfamiliar situation. The dumbest most ordinary things can prompt a writing idea. You just have to use your imagination and wonder what if and how about and maybe.

I’ll give you my clearest example. In August 2002, I was on a trip in British Columbia with my parents after a family wedding. On the long ferry ride to Vancouver Island,  I could just barely see this odd little island from my vantage point. Then driving towards Sidney and its bookstores, I realized the island was home to a lighthouse.  Consulting a map, I discovered it had the intriguing name of “Trial Island”.  What was it like to live out there? I half wondered on the drive. And of course being a sf/fantasy writer, I immediately pictured a sorceress protecting the harbor from evil-doers. That initial inspiration provided the start of my first Nanowrimo novel, Trial by Light.

And that’s all I had. I used Vancouver Island map as the basic geography, but I developed the world building from scratch. To date, it’s the first and only Nano with a beginning, middle, and end. I someday want to rewrite Trial and release it into the greater world.


But the road to story ideas is not always that simple.

Take that 1920s story I mentioned in my goals. The initial inspiration was not reading Great Gatsby or listening to jazz or even staring at old photos. Those came later in research. Jewel Tones was inspired by this random photo used in a writing prompt.


I was intrigued by the riot of colors on display and the skill needed to create them accurately. I also happen to be in the middle of reading several YA series with secret worlds hidden in our every day existence. I love those crypto worlds. I know vampires and werewolves have become popular, but I’m partial to magic. Mine were crafters, all specializing in particular old arts, like spinning and weaving and dyeing. The 1920s storyline came much later as I was trying to map out a particular family and their bloodline.

Some Nanowrimo novels develop muses by accident as I’m collecting material. Last year was the first time I heavily used tumblr to record my inspiration, whereas this year was more Pinterest based. What I like about platforms is they’re so visually based. They’re like music playlists for me in a way, where I can get into a certain mood by looking at the right photos or images.

This novel Two Princesses was originally inspired by Grace Kelly and her death, so I was looking at old photos. Then I fell in love with 1950s/1960s era fashion photography and how it conveyed a certain style. As I was writing, I wound up two very different young women — one was pretty and blonde (and a pastry chef! Don’t ask.) and the other princess designed sports cars for a living. I was having a harder time getting her, but I noticed as I reblogged fashion photography I loved of the 1950s/1960s, I was drawn to a particular model — a statuesque red-haired bombshell named Suzy Parker. Parker was one of the earliest super models. Oddly her sister Dorian Leigh is closer to the original model to my Evelyn — shorter and dark haired. But Parker conveys a lot of the style I wanted for the book.


The last Nanowrimo novel has a rather longer history. I started The original story after seeing this photoshoot of Cate Blanchett in Harpers when she first appeared as Elizabeth. Thinking I was oh-so-clever, I loosely modeled my fantasy universe off the conflict surrounding Wars of the Roses (“but with magic!”). Yes, ahem, I’ve written a chunk of that story and then like many of my writing ideas it lapsed for awhile.


When Nanowrimo rolled around again last year, I started fumbling for ideas, when I remembered an old idea I’d written down that might work. Initially I liked the idea of perhaps an Elizabethan inspired world, since that was a period I was familiar with, particularly the politics and espionage involved, but as world building developed with new religion and backstory, it was hard to use. I hadn’t intended the two stories to be linked,until I needed a kingdom and ruler to use. I imagined extending the timeline down the line and seeing what happened after my intial story. Suddenly I had expanded out my obscure little kingdom to see all its neighbors and their problems and struggles.  How will all these world-building changes impact what I’d already developed? Will it all fit? (Magic eight ball says “Future is uncertain. Check back later.”

I found this final inspiration photo was when I was searching bracelets and arm bracers, part of world building ideas I had in mind. (They’re actually from the Roccobarocco Spring 2012 collection in Milan.)


What I’ve discovered over the years is there is no magic answer with inspiration. I can be inspired by a photo or a piece of music or an interesting turn of phrase. The trick isn’t finding what you’re inspired by, but finding ways to expand it further. Many writers will tell you you don’t need just one idea, you need many. But you also need to see when they fit together properly and when you need to adjust your story.


2014 Writing Goals

I honestly did have plans to update this blog more often. Unfortunately plans never seem to work out that way with me, even at the best of times.

November was the usual madness of Nanowrimo with the added bonus of an office move and extra workload. I still prevailed, but I’m left where I usually after Nano – a partially written novel and no idea where to go next with it. Fortunately the Nanowrimo site has stepped up with a “Now what?” months and the local Nano group has promised some pestering too.

So my goals for 2014:

Edit the last Nanowrimo with the eye towards the June deadline for Createspace. I’ve done some of the initial prep work, formatting and outlining what I had originally. Figuring what stays and goes or whether this gets split into two books is the next act in my three ring circus.

Finish writing the prequel story and make sure changes from Nano synch up properly. The backstory of the war didn’t change, but the religion/worldbuilding did significantly and some characters will as well.

I’m debating whether to submit something to SwoonReads. Over Christmas I was working on a YA historical fantasy (1920s New York) that I realized fit their requirements storywise – the only thing I’m concerned about is length. I haven’t plotted it out completely, so I don’t know if it’ll be long enough. (Maybe a Rebel project for Camp Nano?)

So… too much? Should I only focus on the Nano revision?


October is when the weather starts to change and the mind starts to think about writing. Truth be told, I should be thinking about writing every month, but October is when it becomes almost a fever or compulsion. Suddenly I must have an embarrassing array of office supplies (because you can never have too many pens or legal pads), when I start thinking “What do I feel like writing this year?”

To the uninitiated, November is National Novel Writing Month when people all over the world try to write 50,000 words in thirty days. The theory is that everyone has a novel inside them waiting to be written, but they always claim they’re too busy or there’s not enough time. Nanowrimo hands you a set deadline and forces to decide if you’ll find the time to write.

This will mark my ninth year of participating in Nanowrimo. Every year I’ve crossed the finish line with 50,000 words. Only one year did I actually have a beginning, middle, and end of a novel, but the rules are not specific on the complete point. The dread “middles” are usually my problem.

I started in 2002 when I had just moved to a new apartment and neighborhood. I signed up on a lark, thinking there was no way in heck I could do this. But I had just returned from a cool trip to Vancouver Island with this idea percolating in my brain and thought “why not?” I also found a local writer’s group to encourage me along the way. Each successive year, with 2009 off for carpeting and a sanity break, I signed up and blazed through, still figuring things out as I went along. Most books were genre or mish-mash of genres, whether time travel romance or 1940s super-heroes or straight-up epic fantasy. Each year was a different challenge, but I had the little voice in the back of my head that said, “You’ve done this before. You can do it again.”

Some years I was more organized than others. I am not by persuasion an outliner. I have yet to figure out how to outline in a way that doesn’t make me feel like I’ve written/told the story. That said, I do need some planning, whether it’s location or characters. I used to write up a series of story questions for myself and outlined briefly the first couple of chapters, so I had a starting point. Some years I get through the first week and realize that initial plan wasn’t working. I promise you, there will be those moments too.

Some years I had different goals than others. Last year I willingly admit what pushed me over the edge was the Scrivener writing software coupon. Sometimes you need little things like that. Sometimes you just need to be surrounded by other people working on their novels to spur you on. But it’s not a competition or it shouldn’t be. I like the community aspect of Nanowrimo, but only in a Three Musketeers “all for one and one for all” type way, not “I am your nemesis and I will destroy you, bwa-haha-hah”. I will cheer you on just the same if you’re 10K ahead of me or if you’re behind me. We’re all in this together.

A writer that appeared at my former writer’s group used the phrase “stealing time” when he was struggling to find time to write around his busy schedule. And the fact was you had to steal time. You had to find those spare moments in the day, wherever it could be found. I scribbled a little here and there on my commute to and from work. I’d squeeze in hours after I came home. Even when I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about that story and what needed to be written. That way when I sat down at the keyboard I knew which scene to work on.

And that I’m sorry to say is the biggest tip for Nano. There are any number of word count tricks you can find in the Nano forums, you can plot and outline to your heart’s content, you can scowl at the pretty Excel spreadsheet, but the fact remains you have to do the time. I hate the blog posts that boil down advice to “a writer writes”, but in this particular environment, it’s very very true.

I won’t kid you. It will be difficult. There are days/nights you just don’t want to open up your writing file. You will lose the plot (if you had one to start with) or you will meet some character you never expected to write. You may stumble in those opening weeks. You may even hit the Great Wall of Despair. But once you hit that 40K mark, dear god, is it a sweet roller-coaster ride down.

Don’t worry. I’ll be there too.