If you "suffer" from a love of cemeteries, there's a word to describe your condition: taphophilia. When a friend recently sent me a link to this great post, "6 Ways for Writers to Find Inspiration in a Graveyard," I was grateful. I love visiting cemeteries and graveyards and don't hesitate to admit it.
One of the most interesting things I've learned lately about gravestones, particularly those in Victorian times, is the symbolism that the stones featured. It's almost like a secret code. I appreciate how cool Victorians were in their interest in the deeper meaning of things. Flowers, for instance, had their own secret languages. So did color in dress...
But getting back to symbols on gravestones, here are some of the more popular symbols. Did you know that a broken column meant a life cut short? Or that a circle represented eternity while a broken flower indicated a sudden death? Ivy symbolized the memories of the deceased that would remain evergreen, while a bird in flight symbolized a spirit going toward heaven. One flying down meant being "with the Holy Spirit." In ancient Egyptian times, a serpent represented life and health. You can learn more about the symbols on gravestones on the BBC website or this blog, Cemetery Travels.
Over the past few years, I've had the pleasure of having some visiting authors provide a guest post. It's always fun to learn more about the writing practices of other writers, and to learn more about the topics that they're passionate about, as well as their books.
Hope you'll enjoy this author roundup. I'm always looking for ways to make the blog more fun. If there is an author you'd like to see interviewed, please share in the comments and I'll do my best to feature him/her here.
"Where do you get your ideas?" I'm sitting at a book group, with my hands around the paper cup of tea. The scent of it along with the smell of books and wet wool make for a cozy experience.
This isn't the first time that I've been asked this question. With books titled things like Epidemic people often wonder if I've had experience as a nurse (I haven't) or after reading Subversion, ask if I've ever really led a secret life as a vigilante (I can't tell you that). :)
The idea for Shadow in the Woods though, came about in a very normal way. It all started with an article that I wrote for a magazine. The topic? Ecotherapy. You can read the blog article on ecotherapy for more background information.
While ecotherapy is a fascinating topic, I never imagined it being made into a book ... not at the time anyway.
That is how the best ideas start though, through a small kernel of information. I can usually tell if an idea is a good one, because I can't stop thinking about. The idea for Epidemic came to me while sitting in a pandemic emergency response training at the local hospital.
There I was, doodling in my notebook when I thought, "what if?" What if this really did happen here, in this rural town in Vermont? And what if the reason wasn't because of a natural turn of events, but something more sinister? (Cue the creepy music or just watch this for more details.)
"So, how do you know when an idea is a good one?"
That's a good question. I guess for me, it's when the idea just has to be written. I have lots of ideas (lots and lots--the movement in my brain resembles popcorn most days) but not all of them could or should be made into books.
But when I come across an idea that just won't leave me be, that's when I sit up and pay attention. And sometimes it takes some false starts to get going. I wrote the first draft of what I'm calling "The Creepy Doll Book," and I'm not sure it will ever be published. Maybe. Hopefully. But it needs a lot of work and re-writing to make it really good.
One method that writers use is to write a short story first, before delving into a full-length novel. That's a great idea. Another is to write just a chapter or two (not necessarily at the beginning) of a book and gauge how you feel about it. Do you love it and want to keep going? Do you lose interest after that one or two chapters is written?
Novellas would be another way to "test the waters" and see if your full-length book idea has merit. I haven't yet written one but would like to.
Think about it this way: when you are looking for a book to read, don't you often pick it up (or look at the preview online) and read a few pages or a chapter to see if you'll like it? The same can be true in novel writing. Authors can always start small and see where it goes. Or jump in with both feet like I do ... and then prepare yourself for a lot of editing!
Welcome to my office! Were you picturing something dark and creepy? :) This is where I write. I love the light that comes in the only window, which looks out over the front yard. I can watch the birds flying into and out of the big pine tree nearby, or the cars driving up and down our street (I prefer the birds).
While I don't have a set writing schedule, I'm experimenting this year with some new ideas. One is writing to a word count with fiction (I have been using my 15-minute writing method for so long that I honestly forgot that I can write longer now that my work schedule has changed!). This morning I wrote about 1,500 words on a fun, new project. I'm not sure it will ever make it into a book or even see the light of day, but I'm really enjoying it.
You might notice that there are a lot of old things in my office (or reproductions of old things). I definitely love things that have history and patina. I'm happy when I get to explore junk shops or antique stores ... all those stories!
I wouldn't exactly say that this office is "where the magic happens," because honestly? A writer's work from the outside is yawn-inducing. There is a reason that they don't let us on shows like "American Idol." Still, I love my little space and am grateful for it.
Remember what a big deal “special sauce” was to McDonalds in the 80’s? Competition between the Golden Arches, Burger King and other fast food places was fierce. Smart marketers knew the importance of setting McDonalds apart from competitors.
(Side note: Mickey D’s recently sent that special sauce recipe to auction ... raising money for a nonprofit.)
This isn’t a post about branding your writing business, though or even setting yourself apart as a writer (both are important). Instead, we’re focusing on that “special sauce” that can help you experience long-term success with your writing business.
How? Through creating a recipe that you love and want to pull out again and again.
First, we’re going to need to gather up some ingredients. There are the essentials, of course: determination, drive and persistence. A thick skin is important because as writers, we accept that rejection is part of the process. What are we missing? Oh yes, skill and ability along with a bit of experience. And now? The pièce de résistance: flow.
“Huh? Flow? Are we still talking about writing here, or Zen meditation?”
Flow, or diversity, is important in one’s writing business.
When I first started writing professionally, I was dedicated to journalism. I wanted to see my name in glossy national publications. I dreamt of browsing the local Barnes and Noble and seeing my byline in one of those magazines on the stands.
I started out slowly, working with one magazine and then more and more national publications. It was exciting and interesting. For a while. But while I loved journalism, I was ready to try something else.
Fast-forward several years and I have three published novels and one nonfiction guide for writers under my belt. Can you guess what else I’m writing? Journalism articles and copy for corporate clients. And now I’m flowing again: teaching writing and writing-related business classes.
My point is without flow in our writing business, we run the risk of becoming stuck. Or stale. Who wants to be those?
How to "flow"
When looking to future success it’s important to make sure we have all of the ingredients that we need, or a way to get them. There are many great programs, books and resources that can help to take our writing to a new and different level.
First though, determine what type of writing you want to include in your business. Books? Ghostwriting? Journalism articles? Freelance blogging? Editing?
It doesn’t have to be five different areas, but it could be that or more. Like building a financial portfolio, writing should include various streams of income to help you diversify not only your checkbook but your creativity. This will also help you beat the feast and famine cycle.
The beauty of creating your own secret sauce, is that it’s just that: your own. Choose the ingredients that make you sing: if writing ad copy doesn’t, leave it out of your recipe. Likewise, if you feel a thrill every time you are paid to create a blog post or write a press release, hone in on those areas.
There is no right or wrong here, other than matching your writing skills and preferences to what customers and clients need.
What are your areas of flow in writing? Do you want to strictly write novels like Stephen King or does crafting stellar blog titles light you up? What makes your writing interests or business diverse?
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