September is my birth month. This year I celebrated big time.
The festivities started early with a chocolate pinata. The chocolate ball is suspended then cracked open in true pinata style. Pineapple, strawberry, and churro pieces fall on a tray edged in whipped cream with cups of dipping sauces like caramel. Yummy confection.
Then on my actual birthday a beautiful bouquet of flowers from my youngest daughter arrived mid-afternoon. A surprise treat. And, I so love fresh flowers, especially roses.
Next Husband-dear surprised me when our dinner-for-two turned into dinner with our two best friends at a local Italian restaurant. Good food, good friends, and great conversation. A lovely evening.
Husband-dear collaborated with my favorite artist on another painting for my Barbara Rudolph collection, my fifth. Each has a specific significance for me. That’s Barbara’s unique gift building your interests into her paintings. Check out her gallery. She accepts commissions for specific paintings.
This delightful little chickadee painted on a vintage postcard is extra special. Our street is called Chickadee Lane and I collect vintage postcards.It was a delightful evening. But my celebration wasn’t over.
On the weekend my sister invited Husband-dear and me to dinner then surprised me by including my brother and my oldest daughter. Another lovely evening around the table with family. My sister also gave me a huge bouquet of carnations
and a picture of us…I’m not sure next year can top this year with surprises.
Once people know you are a writer, they ask questions. Usually questions you’ve heard a thousand times before, and you’d think writers would have a quick answer ready.
Instead, most of us appear at a loss for words. Not because we don’t want to talk about our work. It’s just writing doesn’t lend itself to easy or simple answers.
Let me explain what I mean with responses to some frequently asked writerly questions.
“How’s the novel coming?”
There’s really no good answer for this one because writing a novel is a long, tedious process. It’s like asking a pregnant woman if she’s had the baby yet.
Lauren B. Davis calls novels wild, unwieldy beasts that resist being tamed. “You have to keep at it day after day, even when it seems like absolutely nothing good is happening,” she says.
On a good day, the answer to this question would be the novel’s coming along. On a not so good day, you don’t want to ask.
Are your stories autobiographical?
The short answer is, of course, we writers extract from our lives for the elements of our work. Sometimes we fictionalize and disguise, sometimes we write vivid memoirs and call them fiction.
Fact is everything and anything is inspiration and fodder for a writer’s creative mind, including dinner party conversations and the clothes you’re wearing.
And once that answer soaks in you’ll never look at a writer the same way again.
“Are you published?”
This is such a double-edged question.
Any published author has an easy answer. You should expect to be handed a business card with all pertinent information.
But be prepared. This question may also raise an infomercial about everything a writer’s written since learning the alphabet.
On the other hand, for writers who are submitting to editors and agents with little or no results, it can be like salt in an open wound. It’s hard not to be sensitive when you’re working so hard to grab the golden ring.
When’s the next book coming out?
Writers love this question. Well, I do, but it’s a complicated response because you have to understand the process.
First, a writer has to complete a draft (writer speed greatly influences draft completion). After which, revisions and edits begin (and there can be many, many of these). Revisions and edits lead to more rewriting. A cover must be designed, back cover copy and blurbs prepared, and interior formatting done before the book finally goes on sale.The whole process can take years.
The answer depends on where a writer is in this publication process.
I’m not saying you should never ask questions. Quite the contrary, please do. We writers love to discuss our passion. Just understand when our answers aren’t quick and simple.
Our genres are different, but our process to a finished book is much the same. I also start with a seed. There’s no telling where a story idea will come from, but I rarely have a plan for the story. Except I do know there will be a satisfying ending.
I greatly admire those who can plot with colorful sticky notes and checkerboard graphics designating scenes. I envy the ones who know the percentage of each portion of three act structure or hero’s journey. I can’t do that hard as I try.
I begin with my happily-ever-after seed and watch it sprout and grow into a full-fledged story like a gardener. Sometimes I have to do a lot of pruning along the way to keep the story working. That is precisely what gardeners do for their plants.
If you’re a writer, what’s your writing process like? Do you garden or follow a blueprint?
Welcome returning guest blogger Jack Milgram. Jack blogs at Top-notch study tips for A+ students. Today he shares some ideas with us about how to boost your creativity. You can read his July blog for View from the Front Porch here.
11 Surprising Ways to Boost Creativity
For those who are engaged in creative professions, there’s no time to wait for inspiration. You should be able to turn your creative thinking on every time you start working.
To attract great ideas when they’re needed most, it’s essential to know some quick tips on how to boost creativity any time.
Imagination always relates to your brain’s productivity, and that’s why it’s essential to train it every day. Highly developed problem-solving skills will help you find new ways to approach different situations.
Go for a walk.
We often forget to look around, while there are so many things there to inspire! Have you ever heard of biomimicry? It’s when designers or scientists find ideas in biological processes. Take a breath of fresh air and try to do the same thing.
Read different genres.
What does it mean to be creative? It means being able to produce new ideas and apply them to various tasks. And where can you find more great ideas than in books? Be interested in all genres—fantasy, classics, romance, detectives, horror, and more.
Turn off the lights.
Research shows that dimmed lighting helps people feel more free. In one experiment, this sense of freedom let the participants perform more creatively. The tip is—don’t try to work when the lights are too bright.
If you’re stuck and can’t start thinking outside the box, try some physical activity. A session of yoga or 20 minutes of jogging can enhance your imagination. This is a universal way to get inspired in a short time.
Follow talented people online.
Almost every artist subscribes to blogs and galleries of other talented people. Just scrolling through your newsfeed on Instagram or Pinterest can inspire you to develop something entirely new. Keep up with those who share your hobby.
Play music or doodle.
If you’re a writer, try painting. If you’re a musician, try to write a novel. Creativity is the ability to broaden your horizons, and you can do so by trying new activities.
Try out some writing prompts.
There’s no opportunity to come up with new ideas when you’re stuck in the same old work routine. For example, if you write about motorcycles every day for half of the year, it’s no surprise that you’ve run out of ideas. What can you do? Try some prompts to boost creativity when writing.
Spend time with friends.
Communication, especially with those who share our interests, is what makes us happy. And happiness increases our chances of thinking creatively. So, go to your friend’s place and watch a movie.
List all your ideas.
Why does brainstorming help us with being creative? Because we don’t judge ourselves or set limitations. We just develop as many ideas as possible. The key thing here is to write all these ideas down. Such an approach helps you find the best solution to any problem.
Sometimes thinking too much can lead you to a dead end. Try to relax and demand nothing from yourself—and you’ll see just how many ideas come to mind when you aren’t concentrating on the topic.
Today Constance Walker, a new friend and fellow writer, is joining me on the porch. Sunday we celebrated our fathers. I think you’ll find Constance’s answer to the frequently asked question about where authors get ideas for their stories a fitting honor to her father.
I think the beginning of my newest novel, Storytime at the Villa Maria, came about when my Dad moved into a senior citizens’ facility.
I thought about all the memories, all the long-time friendships, the neighbors he knew so well, the familiar stores where he shopped, the sounds of the neighborhood … how do you say goodbye to all that?
How do you leave a house that has been “home” to all your dreams, your hopes and your fears? Where your every known emotion existed, where every celebration — whether a life or a death or a graduation or birthday, or a new job — mattered?
And how do you begin again when you’re in your golden years?
Next I played the “what if?” game – what if the central character didn’t want to move? How would that affect his children?
That evolved into thinking about the other seniors who lived in the building: They all would be about the same age – they all lived through the bad and good times of America. Many of the men and women were World War 2 veterans. And most importantly, all these people had memories. All these people had life stories to tell. What if they shared their storytelling as a way of bonding?
So, I dug back into my own remembrances of hot summer evenings and sitting on our front steps with family and friends and neighbors. I recalled listening to the senior adults as they talked – in everyday conversation — about their jobs, their families and friends, even the weather and how “really hot or cold it was a few years ago.”
They spoke about when they were kids or teens or young adults … when and where they went, their first jobs, politics, their favorite baseball teams, the music they danced to in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and just about all phases of nostalgia they wanted to share about their lives.
I put bits and pieces together, added my own thoughts and imagination and that was the beginning of the book I knew I wanted to write.
One more thing — about the characters in the novel — none of them are real — although, I must admit, I wish they were, because, in writing them, and I know this sounds strange, I absolutely loved them. But they are imagined composites of people I have known or met – or even just briefly seen, and they exist only in Storytime at the Villa Maria. I hope you like them.
Storytime at the Villa Maria
A charming novel of senior citizens, storytelling, nostalgia, and a world gone by but not forgotten.
Dominick, who married “the most beautiful woman in the world”
Sophie, who is haunted by terrifying memories of the Holocaust
Ella, who made “sweet apple pies” for her war veteran husband
Tom, whose music lured women into his arms
Artie, who is plagued by the ghosts of long dead soldiers
Frank, who can’t let go of his yesterdays, though a better tomorrow beckons
Join them and others as they gather every Monday night in the library at the Villa Maria to share their memories, their fears, and their dreams.
Storytime at the Villa Maria is an unforgettable book about life lived and still to be lived, and about the mysterious threads of joy and heartache and love that are woven into every life—including your own!