Tips and Hacks, Writing Tips

Dear Anne #7 – Finding Inspiration

Dear Anne,

ideaToday I want to talk to you about finding inspiration. The truth is, the firing of the synapses in your mind will only take you so far in the creative process. Your brain needs a database of inspirational input in order to come up with truly creative ideas. Think of it as putting things in a hat. If you need an idea, you simply reach into the hat for one or two. But if there are only a handful of mundane daily things in your hat, you’re not going to get a lot of great ideas to work with. So you have to fill your hat with as much random junk as you can. Pull two or three things out of the hat, and suddenly your brain has a spark of creative genius.

This is what it means when people say you have to practice being creative. Being creative is not something that just comes randomly to especially creative people, but it comes to those who have stock-piled a collection of random things that they can draw upon to be inspired in their creativity. If you don’t make it a habit to keep your collection up-to-date, your creativity will begin to stale.

So where do you get these random things that fuel your inner creative genius? Here are just a few places…

1. Other stories. Reading and watching movies are great places to find unique ideas to put into your hat. It’s okay to be inspired by other writers…chances are they were inspired by other writers too. There’s nothing new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9). The inspiration you have from other writers will come out differently with you than it did with them. You’ll have a unique spin and a unique story, even if certain elements might have been inspired by another story or movie. Take all of these stories, especially the elements you like the most, and put them into your hat.

2. Observing life. Sure you live life. You see life. You talk to people. You do things. But are you really observing what is happening? Do you listen to the subtle nuances of a conversation? Do you look for possible hidden meanings in a word or phrase? Do you speculate on the secret thoughts behind a look on someone’s face? Do you notice the variations in shadows on the wall? Do you lay on the floor or turn your head upside down just to look at things from a new perspective? Do you wonder about sounds you don’t recognize? Do you see weird things while riding down the road and try to figure out what was going on? Do you ask the question “why?” about anything and everything, not to get the real answer, but to give your creative mind a chance to fabricate an answer true or not? Never forget to take time to observe life. Watch it with all the analyzation and wonder you might new movie…always wondering what might come next and always trying to predict the most outlandish outcomes. Everything you see, everything you hear, and everything you speculate all goes into your hat.

3. Dreams. Yeah, I know. Cliche, right? But don’t knock it. Some of my favorite scenes in my books were inspired by dreams. In fact, I have an entire book in my “To Write List” that was almost 100% inspired by a particularly vivid dream. Dreams are when your brain is at its most creative and random. You might be able to use whole dream sequences or maybe just a small impression, emotion, or snippet of conversation. The point is, put these things in your hat and pull them out whenever you need inspiration. When you first wake up, take a few moments to try to remember your dreams. Think about details. Think about over-arching plot lines in the “story” of your dream. Think about the emotional affect it might have had on you. And if necessary keep a dream journal to write them down.

4. A dictionary, encyclopedia, or text book. You’ll be surprised what learning something new will do for creativity. If you read an article about the early Aztec Empire, you might find something there that you can put into your hat. Maybe a certain word in the dictionary has a sound that rolls off your tongue in just the right way to give you inspiration. Maybe a definition gives you the insight to tweak an idea a different way. As boring as it may sound, plain academic studying can sometimes inspire you in big ways. Learn random facts about history, learn new words, and put them all into your hat.

The bigger your hat the easier it is to find the right spark of creativity at the right time. Practice creativity, stock it with plenty of fuel, and you’ll find all the inspiration you need.



Tips and Hacks, Writing Tips

Dear Anne: #2 – You Are What You Read

Dear Anne,

Tennis players watch tennis on TV. Football players study tape of other teams. Musicians listen to the popular trends in music. Chefs watching cooking shows.

Writers read.

The point is that if you want to excel in anything, you not only have to devote yourself to practicing that thing, you must also study what others have done before you. It goes without saying that writers must spend an enormous time writing. I think the axiom is that you must write a million words before you actually start writing anything good. But in all of that writing, you must also balance reading.

My books are mostly paranormal/supernatural, with some fantasy and modern urban elements. What I devour the most, however, is fantasy. I also have an appetite for horror. I’m not into teen paranormals. That’s why my books don’t read like teen paranormals. How I write has become a reflection of what I read.

What you write will reflect what you read, too. So you should not just read any random thing. You need to be purposeful in your selections. I think I can break up the categories for you a little.

First, you need to read the kinds of things you want to write. If you want to write fantasy, you should read lots and lots of fantasy. If scifi, then read lots of scifi. Get to know the quirks and intricacies of the specific genre you want to specialize in. Each genre is a little different (more on genres another time). So live in what you want to write. Become a part of that world. Learn who the great authors are and what makes them great.

Maybe you’re interest is in fantasy, but you find that most fantasy books don’t fully resonate with you. Try something else. Try paranormal, scifi, horror…find what resonates, then read that. You might discover that your sweet spot in writing is a combination of elements, like I did. There are fantasy paranormals, fantasy romances, fantasy horrors, fantasy scifi…you name it, and there’s a “sub-genre” out there. When you find your sweet spot, devour it.

Somewhere you’ll find an author that is a true reflection of the writer you want to be. When you find a specific author like that, read as much of them as you can. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and in the beginning your writing will take on the tones of the author you most admire, before you eventually develop your own style and voice. So pick good favorite authors.

Don’t pick all classic authors, though. You’re a modern writer and you need a modern style. That was my problem when I was starting. I wrote like a combination of Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Edgar Allen Poe. Nobody wanted to read my work until I updated my style. So I read lots of Peretti, Dekker, and good mix of independent writers you may have not heard of. My style changed, because it began to reflect elements of what I was reading.

Second, you need to read both classic and contemporary. Writing styles have changed. It’s good to know and geek out about classics like The Hobbit or The Time Machine, but as great as those books are, the sad fact remains that they probably would not have been published today in their current forms. Writing style has changed. So you must also spend a lot of time reading new stories, new authors, new writing.

Unfortunately, you may find that some of the new stuff pales in comparison to the classics…but that’s the way this animal called “publishing” works. More on that another time too. Twilight is certainly no Dracula and Eragon is certainly no Lord of the Rings. So it’s good to know the classics and the modern versions of your preferred genre. Study the classics for their story development and creativity. Study the moderns for stylistic construction.

Third, you need to at least be familiar with what’s popular right now. You don’t always have to read everything that’s popular…I mean, I don’t. Some of the popular stuff is really bad writing and honestly not worth your time. But these things are popular for a reason. These stories resonate with readers, regardless of the poor quality of the writing. And before I begin to sound too cynical, let me clarify that not all popular writing is bad writing. Some of it is quite good. The point here is that you need to familiarize yourself with the kind of writing that readers are attracted to, with the focus being on learning how story elements resonate with readers. So know what’s popular, maybe read some of it, and try to understand what makes them popular.

Things like If I Stay and The Fault in Our Stars resonate because they are honest about life. Twilight resonates because it paints a love story in a new and exciting way.

I was trying to get my first book published when Twilight was most popular. So I read Twilight. I wanted to know why it resonated with readers. Readers are fickle though. What is popular right now may change by this time next year. Most people are over sparkly vampires now.

So don’t obsess over what is popular. Don’t say, “Holy cow! Dystopian steampunk is really popular right now. I need to drop everything and write about air machines and the end of the world!” Relax. Next year paranormal martians may be popular. Just be aware of what’s going on, and if something really popular comes out that’s close to what you’re working on, it would probably do you good to take a closer look at it.

So create a “to be read” pile and fill it with a great mix of books that you know will help you better understand what you want to write and how you want to get there.

Go read something. And then go write something!



Tips and Hacks, Writing Tips

Dear Anne: An Introduction

Have you ever had friends for so long and did so much together that your children all call the other parents aunt and uncle even though they are not really? That’s who Anne is. She’s my niece that’s not really my niece. But we were there before she was born. Her father sang at my wedding.

Anne is now 15 (as of 2016). She’s the oldest of all the children from both families, the next two being 12 going on 13. Anne has not only fallen in love with the wonderful world of books, but she’s beginning to understand that human creativity is not limited to those worlds created by other people. She’s beginning to have ideas of her own and is writing them down. It’s the beginning of becoming a writer…a moment every writer remembers.

I began to write much younger, actually. I was 11 when I first started…fan fiction based on a the old NES video game Dragon Warrior. I spent the next few years piddling around with ideas, writing short stories that never really went anywhere. In high school, I began to write more seriously. I wrote several short stories and a good deal on my first novel. Those writings have never been released to the public, but that novel is on the list of future projects I’d like to revisit.

I took a break from writing in college, but picked it up again afterward…writing my first real novel. That too has not been publicly released, but is on deck as needing to be rewritten and released as soon as my currently published series is completed.

My first published book came after I spent much time and effort trying to get that doomed “practice novel” published. After I wrote that second book, I again became frustrated trying to get it published. There was an underlying problem with both of those books that I didn’t understand.

The problem was simply that I didn’t know anything about real writing.

No one ever taught me. No one guided me. I never read a book on writing. I just liked it and I did it. I tried to copy some of the authors I enjoyed most, but I had no concept of modern style or personal voice. It wasn’t until the 11th hour trying to get that second book published that I finally convinced someone to point blank tell me what was wrong with my writing. And they did. I was able to fix the problems and it was finally published.

All that to say this…my niece Anne is in a similar situation at the beginning of her writing journey. She wants to write, but she knows very little about it. But unlike when I was getting started, I can be there to help guide her through it all.

Anne has asked me to mentor her. It is somewhat fortuitous that she did, because lately I’ve been thinking about my early experiences and that I’m now in a position where I can help and mentor young writers who desperately need it like I did. Hopefully, as I help Anne, I can help others.

I’m going to be posting blogs on my website, starting with the very basics all the way to publication, about the writing process.

My audience…Anne.

Each blog will be in the form of personal instruction directly to her. She’ll read each post and we’ll talk about it privately as she works through her own projects. But I want these blogs public so that other young writers might also take advantage. If there are any other teens that want to be mentored, I’ll do my best to help guide you too. Maybe there are some other authors out there like myself that want to help. Just let me know.

I have plenty to write about and a long way to go. I’ve compiled about 60 topics so far, and if I write on one of these each week, it’ll take me over a year to get them all! So, without any further introduction, let’s get started!

Dear Anne,

I pinged several of my author friends and asked them for some advice. I asked specifically for one piece of craft advice and one piece of practical advice that they might give to a 15 year old that knew nothing about writing. Most of these things I’ll cover later in full blogs, but the advice is important enough that these writers believed them to be the most important things for you to know now. In fact, you’ll notice that several of them repeat similar things. Take these pieces of advice and digest them, until we get to talk about each in more detail. Message me if you have questions.

Kat Heckenbach, author of Finding Angel and Seeking Unseen, and one of my editors says:

“Read the genre you want to write. A lot. Get to know what’s already out there, so you’re not writing a book that’s already written. At the same time, remember that EVERY book is different. You are going to be inspired by other authors’ ideas. You may find that someone has used almost the very same idea you have come up with as an element in your story, but don’t let that stop you from using your idea in your unique way. Practical advice: Every professional has their own opinion about how a novel should be written. Some say outline, some say don’t. Some push minimum words counts, writing early in the day, working in the same spot every time, whatever. You need to find what works for you. Maybe structuring your day and writing the same number of words each time works, or maybe you need to go days or weeks without writing and slam thousands of words out at once. No one way is “right.””

Morgan Busse, author of Daughter of Light (Follower of the Word series), Tainted, and Mark of the Raven says:

“I would advise that if you are serious about writing to get into the habit of writing. That doesn’t necessarily mean writing every day, but writing consistently and pushing on until you write the “end”, that way you know you can write a book and finish it and know somewhat how long that takes you so if and when you sign a contract or need to meet a deadline, you know if you can do it and how long it will take.

Have a website. It can be as simple as a wordpress blog or more extravagant. But as people discover you as a writer/author, they are going to look for you on the internet. Have a place where people can find out about you and your writing. There is nothing more frustrating to me than to find a writer I like and discover they don’t have a website where I can find out more about them. Facebook, Instagram, and twitter don’t count. Those medias are changing all the time, so you need a website, a permanent place for you and your books.”

Mike Duran, author of The Ghost Box, The Resurrection, and The Telling, says:

“It’s cliched, but I’ve always loved the old proverb: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” No matter where a person is in the writing journey, they can only ever start from where they’re at. This will mean taking “first steps,” using the knowledge they have, developing the tools at their disposal, seeking out those they respect, and networking with like-minded people. It’s a huge process, one that takes time. Simply from a technical perspective, there’s much to learn about style, grammar, plotting, character development, etc. When you compound that with needing to understand the industry, the market, advertising, and platform development, it’s like an immense mountain looming before you. But the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. The aspiring writer needs to give themselves permission to take time. Becoming a good writer is a long haul. In some ways, it never ends. What ever “first step” is right in front of you, take it.”

Wayne Thomas Batson, author of Dreamtreaders, The Door Within, and Isle of Swords, says:

“1) Work long and hard on your hook, ie: first sentence, first paragraph, first page, first chapter. Crush that with suspense! Publishers often don’t read any more than this before deciding whether or not to publish your book.

2) Outline. Always. But don’t be afraid to break your outline if a good idea pops up.”

Robynn Tolbert, author of Star of Justice and Daughter of Anasca says:

“Advice: Finish what you start, no matter how awful. Writers need practice finishing things. Method: keep all your notes forever. You never know what you’ll write next or how long it will be, and you will not remember any of the details.”

Kristen Stieffel, associate editor of Havok Magazine, writing mentor, and author of  Alara’s Call says:

“When you’re creating stories, remember that stories about happy people in Happyland are booooring. What grips readers are stories about struggle, whether it’s an internal struggle over temperament or faith, or an external struggle against a villain or natural forces. Preferably some combination of those things.

Writing is often called a “craft,” but it’s also an art form. Like any other art from—dance, music, painting—writing requires practice. A piano student makes time to practice every day. That’s the only way to become proficient. In the same way, a writer must make time to practice every day, whether that’s writing stories, blog posts, or journal entries. Writing every day demonstrates your commitment to your art and helps you improve.”

Greg Mitchell, author of The Strange Man and Rift Jump, and screenwriter of Amazing Love and the SyFy Channel original Zombie Shark, says:

“1. Write for yourself. At the end of the day, you’ll never be able to chase the trends or predict what will be popular. If nobody buys and read your books, you still have to feel like the writing was time well-spent. Write for yourself. Others will follow along. 2. Be professional. This is a business of relationships. You’ll go further on your personality than you will on your writing. Be friendly, be kind, be willing to sacrifice, work hard, meet your deadlines.”

Finally, I say:

1) Write all the time. Practice it, read writers you want to be like, and finish what you write. That’s what makes you a writer. No one gives you that title…you claim it by BEING a writer.

2) Back up everything you write…and do it with a the deepest sense of urgency and paranoia. Programs like Google Drive and MS Onedrive can be set up to do this automatically on your computer. Even then, find a way to back up to multiple places. There’s nothing worse than working hard on something for a long time, only to have a computer glitch erase it.

Now…go write something!



My writing journey, Writing Tips

I am a production company…

produceThe writing industry is changing every day, and many people aren’t sure what to do next. The waves of change are beating upon us and no one knows which way is up. But I think I’ve figured out how to better orient ourselves, and I challenge authors and publishers to consider this and to get on board with this new way of thinking. I, for one, am ready to make the change.

It begins with the music and movie industries. I’ve made the parallel between the music and movie industries and the future of the writing industry before. But I’ve been thinking a little more practically about such things recently, and I’ve decided that in light of the obvious parallel’s there’s something we’ve been missing in our approach to the writing industry.

Continue reading “I am a production company…”

My writing journey, Tips and Hacks, Writing Tips

Story Building Mastery 10 – Advanced Complexities

Advanced Complexities


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, you’ve made it this far, huh? You’ve taken all the basics of story building (The Tri-Core Substructure, the Five Act Structure, Genre, Genotype, Character Development), you’ve carefully designed your story (Five Stage Plot, The Hero’s Journey, Micro Stories, Episodic Reduction), but that’s not enough for you. You want some tricks and tools to make your story unique…to make it stand out. Most importantly, you don’t really want your reader to figure out what you’re up to. You want to grab the reader by the nose, lead them through your complex, masterful, story weaving, and deliver a climax that will leave them breathless. You want your story to be unforgettable.

Welcome to the club.

Here are a few common tricks and tools you can use to twist your story exactly the way you want. You’ve probably thought of a few of these things, but for the best effect you should make sure they are implemented properly. Each item has some peculiarities you should remember, otherwise your efforts may fall flat or go unnoticed by the reader.

Continue reading “Story Building Mastery 10 – Advanced Complexities”