Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ask the Muse: Get That Idea Out of Your Head and Onto the Page

Dear Muse,

I've got an idea that's been in my head for years about a fiction story. I've Googled all sorts of stuff about how to begin, but nothing stands out to me about how to get going - e.g. using Word or another program, just start writing, or any other method. I used to have a monthly column in a trade magazine but nothing like this. Can you point me in a direction for me to get started?

Steve K. Oklahoma City, OK
Dear Steve,

Getting started is always the hardest part of writing fiction.  First of all, the tool you use whether it is a word processing program such as Microsoft Word or simple pen and paper, doesn't matter.  Use whatever you are most comfortable with and encourages you to write

But I can offer you several additional tips that should help get you started if you have an idea already in your head:

  1. Use my flash writing process (as outlined in my first column for flashquake back in the spring of '05) to power through some initial exploration drafts. Although I created this process for flash fiction, these guidelines can be used for any creative writing assignment: fiction or non-fiction.
  2. Following rule #1 of my flash writing process, set a timer for 15 minutes and, as fast as you can, write down everything that you know about the project.  Write about where you got the idea, who the characters are (complete with descriptions, motivations and roles within your story), the general plot and events that occur within the story.  Write down EVERYTHING you know about the tale. Hold nothing back.  Don't worry about spoiling any plot twists or revealing any surprise endings. This exercise is for your eyes only to get as much information about the project down on paper as possible.  The best thing that you can do at this stage is get that idea out of your head and onto some paper.
  3. List, in as much detail as possible, everything that you know about your ideal, target reader.  For example: The ideal reader for my new book Running Away from It All is a college-educated 32 to 45 year-old man  who is married, has at least 5 kids and 3 pets, a thankless white-collar job in middle management with little chance for advancement within the company.  His employees hate him. He might have suffered from a mid-life crisis within the last six months, has a passion for watching Mythbusters on TV, and dreams of someday capturing definitive evidence of the existence of Bigfoot.
  4. Make a list of books and authors that are similar to the book you hope to write.
  5. Write a letter to this ideal reader telling this person all about your story.  Or better yet, write this letter to a loved one such as a best friend, beloved spouse, child or parent. This will help you think about the story and explain it to an audience with a sympathetic ear. This person will not judge you, and is looking forward to hearing about your new status as a New York Times best-selling author.
  6. You don't have to begin at the beginning of the story.  In fact, many writers do not write the beginning of the story until the end of the writing process.  Begin writing in a scene where you have a clear idea of what is going on or introducing a major character.  Begin in the middle of that scene and make sure it has some ACTION or CONFLICT.
That should be enough to get you started. For those of you in the Columbus area who want to learn more about how to begin writing fiction, sign up for my class, Getting Started Writing Fiction, on Saturday, April 24th at Upper Arlington Lifelong Learning. Go to for details on registering for the class online.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Spring edition of Flash Writing has been posted on flashquake

This column is all about Urban Legends and how they have thrived in this electronic age.  Not to mention that they serve as great inspiration for stories.

Check it out at

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Guest on the Writing Show podcast!

I just finished an interview for the Writing Show about Flash Writing! So thrilled about being asked to be a guest on one of my favorite podcasts!  Let's see if audio editing can make me sound like I'm a coherent, focused guest speaker.  It was fun, but like a lot of my classes, a bit rambling and a bit repetitive, but (hopefully) informative and interesting.

I'll let everyone know when it is released! In the meantime, check out some of the other episodes at

Friday, February 19, 2010

e-Book Empire?

This week's Writer's Weekly newsletter has a GREAT article from Angela Hoy (Publisher and co-owner of regarding the dustup between Amazon and some of the big-league publishers over pricing of e-Book titles.

The core of her argument is this:

"The price of just a printed book, even a hardcover edition, is nil compared to the costs associated with bringing that book to market. The publisher has to pay the author (the advance, when applicable, and royalties), the design team (for those awesome covers that scream "read me!"), the editors, the entire secondary support staff (secretaries, marketing department, and more), advertising expenses (when applicable), overhead expenses (office supplies, electricity, Internet connections, warehousing, etc., etc.) and more. The human and physical resources required to produce a traditionally published book are FAR more than just paper, ink, and glue (for a printed book), or bytes (for an ebook)."

Many people who do not write do not understand the amount of sweat, blood, time and stress go into ANY good writing.

Publishers have to be able to turn a profit in order for new books to be released and enjoyed.  And I agree with her.  No one company should establish the pricing for everyone.  It is not good for the publisher or the writer.  And with the arrival of new devices like the Kindle and the Nook, e-Books have a higher profile now than ever.  While it is important that authors, publishers and retailers need to keep up with the times and technology, it should never be to the detriment of the craft.

And if you haven't subscribed to Angela's FANTASTIC free weekly newsletter, you owe it to yourself to subscribe:

Monday, February 08, 2010

I'm So Proud of My Wife

My wife, Kristen, passed the Praxis test for her teacher certification with a score in the top 15% of all people who took it.  On her first attempt at it.  Was I surprised at this result? No.  She is earning her Master's degree in Special Education. One of the requirements of this program is for her to attempt to pass the Praxis before completing her degree, yet in the fall she thought that they expected her to pass it before completing it.  So she signed up immediately for the next test date. Even though that date was before she took the classes that typically cover the content for the test (she's taking them right now).

What does this have to do with writing? Everything.  How did she do it? Good old fashioned hard work and discipline. During the six-week break she had off from classes between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day she organized a brutal study schedule... attempting to put in at least three hours a day of study time, every day except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  And despite the numerous distractions of our crazy household, she managed to do it most days. Either by getting up extremely early, taking advantage of kids' being out of the house, or studying after everyone else went to bed.

If I devoted even half of the amount of time to writing that she has to studying, I would have a dozen books under by belt by now. Excellence of any form in any field requires many hours spent hitting the books, running miles, hitting baseballs, diagnosing patients, laying bricks, or (in the case of us writers) time spent with our a$$ in the chair... writing.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Procrastination: The Movie

Why haven't I embraced the use of a blog?  I resist blogging. It is hard to sit here and write it. And I haven't really explored this issue until now.  But alas, this is just another tool of the insidious inner-critic (AKA Monkey Mind) who works hard to keep me filled with excuses for not doing this.  Here are a few of them:
  1. I can't format these entries the way that I like.  I am a perfectionist about not only the words I write, but also how they appear on the page.  The text constantly lines up wrong (see the post previous for an example of this), the font ends up too big, or too small, or changes in the middle of a sentence.  There also are spacing issues, problems with bullets, a font changing in the middle of an entry, and more.  No matter how much I mess with it in editing mode, it still seems to be messed up when I post it.  I know that these are DEU (Defective End User) errors, and if I stick with this, and post many entries, I'll get better at it, but I hate, hate, HATE how it looks right NOW.

  2. Cutting and pasting content from MS-Word always causes formatting problems. Even if I use the Blogger tool.  There are many ways to work around this of course, but I'm stubborn. I don't want to use Google Docs to draft them.  Not sure, but isn't there issues in the Terms of Use regarding what rights Google has to the content I create?  A stupid concern, and maybe no longer valid, but I'm too lazy to research it further. And it probably doesn't really matter anyway since I'm using Google-owned Blogger and I've probably sold any creative rights (and my soul) I have for the Grist for the Muse movie or made-for-cable TV series.

  3. Pictures -- I'm not good at formatting them for posting.  I am also unsure if it is OK to link to other people's pictures to serve as clever illustrations to my witty insights because it might be considered to be stealing their bandwidth.  Google seems to think this is OK according to the help file, but who should I believe? I don't want anyone angry at me for this... Who am I kidding really?

  4. Pressure to produce -- If I commit to this, I really have to do it and keep writing. A lot. And maybe even resurrect the Grist for the Muse newsletter that was supposed to be monthly until I stopped sending it out two years ago.  The guilt about not producing is embarrassing since that is the central point of what I teach. Write every day. Even if it is crap. Just do it.

  5. I have to admit that I've been a slacker -- I spend too much time on Facebook. I haven't finished remodeling our master bathroom that I started back in 2006.  I have a book review to post.  I've got a sinus infection and I want to lay here reading comic books and catch up on The Big-Bang Theory on TiVo.  I need to vacuum the master bedroom. It is hard to admit I haven't practiced what I've preached lately.
Tune in for more reasons for procrastination... sometime in the future...