Sighing at a Blank Page

Maybe if I leave my laptop on the floor while I shower, Eli will blog for me.

(Insert shower break here.)


Yeah, that didn’t work.

Of course, I didn’t expect my dog to write for me!  Honestly, who am I kidding.  The bird is more likely to help out than the dog. 🙂

Tonight I’m having one of those moments that writers dread: a blank page in front of my eyes, a blank mind behind them.  Not entirely blank, really, but none of my ideas are worth much.  I thought about posting an existential not-a-post post, but I’ve done that already.  I considered playing another game, but that seems somewhat ridiculous two nights in a row.  (Thanks to those who played along, by the way!)

My usual default options when I can’t think of a good post idea are writing practice and query letters.  Neither of these things are bad; not only are they reasonable posts for this blog, they are also good for me as a writer.  Tonight, however, maybe not so much.  Writing practice probably wouldn’t have turned out well, given the current state of my creativity – I would have been sitting here for some time, staring, while I tried to gather scattered thoughts.  As far as queries go, well, the posts themselves are little and easy, but they require actually putting together the query packet, and it’s already late and I want to go to bed.  🙂

It’s harder to write a blog about writing when I’m not doing a lot of actual writing, the latter of which is an issue I desperately need to address.  I’ve drilled down to what I think is the problem, and it’s really two problems.  I’ve continued to be very busy at work, and here lately a lot of the work is somewhat creative in nature, causing me to spend my energies there.  That wouldn’t be too much of an issue – I’ve written a lot more while busier – if it weren’t for the fact that I seem to have a dearth of motivation.

Thankfully, November is approaching (next week is October?!) which means two things to help.  First, work should be a bit slower, giving me more time to write.  And second is, well, NaNo!  I always seem to use NaNoWriMo to kick-start my creative process.  Unlike some writers, I don’t fall down in mental exhaustion after a month of intense writing.  Instead, my brain jumps into gear and keeps me going.

So I guess I just need to make it through October!

Incomplete Thoughts

As I was pondering a post for tonight, my initial thought was to do some writing practice.   The only problem was that I had two competing ideas.  Additionally, both were incomplete.

There was a weird sound outside when I walked the dog, so I thought it would be fun to do an auditory scene description for a change.  I even started it in my head as Eli did his business, but the weird sound disappeared before I could really describe it.  I won’t totally discard the concept of an auditory scene – sound can be challenging to put into words, and I think it would be a good exercise for me.  But the “weird sound” idea got tossed, due to the abrupt lack of weird sound.

When I came back inside, my apartment smelled like bacon.  (I made a fancy CSA BLT for dinner tonight.)  Food is another one of those things that can be tricky to describe, particularly the tastes of things.  Most of the time it comes across as a recipe, or a description on the Food Channel.  Once again I thought this might be a good post; some practice describing food could be good for me.  This time I don’t have a good reason for the incompletion.  My brain simply got as far as “the bright green of the pesto was startling against the rich brown pumpernickel” and stopped.

Of course, when you have an incomplete idea as an author, just quitting and using the experience as a blog post (like I did tonight) isn’t going to cut it.  There have been plenty of times that I’ve buckled down and made myself finish the scene, or done one of my usual idea-flow activities (like hiking or showering) to help figure it out.  If the idea is only partially formed because I am tired or distracted, I will set it aside and come back to it.  Eventually, though, the thought needs to be completed.

Fortunately, as this was simply meant to be writing practice, I don’t have to be so strict with myself.  And who knows?  Maybe one or both will lead to a post for tomorrow!

Evolution of an Idea, part three

(Not sure what’s going on?  You might want to start with part one.)

The mousy young woman glared silently at him from across the lecture hall, glasses concealing the anger in her vivid green eyes.  He was ruining her life and he didn’t even know her.

When you answer the right question, it’s like a key turns that unlocks the story.  I finally had an interesting idea to answer the question from yesterday, and here’s what came from that answer:

That was the point, after all.  She had moved halfway across the country to this university in the middle of nowhere precisely because no one knew her here.  She wouldn’t get the odd, sympathetic looks of everyone in her hometown.  She was anonymous, just another face, just another student.

And then this diplomat’s son had to choose the same school, and now she was facing a background check.  Of course, they couldn’t screen everyone in every class, but she had been assigned to the same lab section as the kid.  That class they were screening, and she was stuck.  Soon her secret would come out.

This needs a little revision, of course.  The purpose of this exercise is to share my process as it happens, so we’ll have to come back and do some tweaks later.  For now we have a new question to answer: what’s she hiding?

Evolution of an Idea, part two

(Don’t know what’s going on here?  Start with part one.)

The mousy young woman glared silently at him from across the lecture hall, glasses concealing the anger in her vivid green eyes.  He was ruining her life and he didn’t even know her.

Yesterday I figured out a bit of what’s going on with the scene that popped into my head last night.  We now know where it is set, something of the relationship between the two players, and a bit more about our main character.

Tonight we track down the big question.  How is he ruining her life?

This question has proven to be a bit more difficult than I initially suspected, partially because of that last tweak I made in the previous post.  This whole thing is tricky because she knows who he is, but he doesn’t know her.

There are many ways for one person to ruin someone else’s life when the ruiner doesn’t know the victim, but they typically involve a major difference in power.  This would be the case with a CEO closing a factory, for example, or a banker foreclosing on a loan.  With the setting involved in this case, it would be very unlikely that this is what’s happening here.  There are some ways this could work, but they’d be pretty forced, so for now we’ll table that idea.

My first thought was that the two are instead peers, classmates taking similar coursework.  Following this track, I thought a roommate or friend had started to date this guy, and was now no longer available to spend time with our green-eyed girl.  This is possible, but strikes me as very petty.  It also makes our main character kind of needy and stalker-like, which isn’t really that wonderful.

So let’s go back to this concept of power balance.  Along these lines it would be possible for the guy to be in a position of slight power.  Perhaps he’s a grad student and she’s an undergrad, or maybe he’s the teaching assistant for the class she’s taking.  Again, these lead me to possibilities, but none of them are very good.  He’s paired her with the wrong lab partner, either thwarting her dreams of flirting or tethering her to an idiot.  He’s assigned seats and she’s way in the back, where she can’t make an impression on the professor she idolizes.  He’s gotten in the way of her pursuit of a prime research project or assistantship.   These join the pile of petty (and shallow) and present another conundrum: in these cases he’d have to at least know of her, since he’s either assigning her to something or in the same field of study.

Looks like I’ll be chasing this one a bit longer.  I’ll mull over the options tonight, including pulling that major power balance off the shelf again, and maybe this tale will have some bones in need of fleshing out tomorrow.

Evolution of an Idea, part one

Tonight while I was walking my dog, I was thinking about a topic for my post.  Since I was having some trouble coming up with something, I thought it might be a good night for writing practice.

Almost as soon as that was decided, these two sentences popped into my head:
She glared at him from across the room.  He was ruining her life and he didn’t even know it.

Now, I will be the first to admit that these need some work, but the idea was intriguing.  As I started to chase the nuggets of story, it occurred to me that I could write a post about how inspiration (above) becomes story.  This will end up being a series of posts; while I can usually follow the path subconsciously and come up with something, tracing the path as I follow it is likely to make this a much lengthier process.  So let’s dive in!

Two trains of thought followed the inspiration.  The first was the development of the idea, which usually happens in my mind as questions.  Why is he ruining her life?  What relationship do these two have?  Where are they, and what’s going on around them?  I’m not always fully aware of these questions, although I’ve thought about them before in a more amorphous way, and I’m sure this is a similar process every time.  (I haven’t answered the questions yet, because my awareness of them led to the idea for the post.  We’ll pin them down at some point.)

The other idea rabbit we’ll need to chase right away is the one that started working on the initial sentence ideas.  I think that’s actually the one we’ll follow now.

Let’s be honest, these two sentences could be so much better.  How, you ask?  They can say a lot more without adding action.

Okay, first sentence first.  Some description of our main character would be nice.
The mousy young woman glared at him from across the room, glasses concealing the anger in her vivid green eyes. 

That helps, don’t you think?  We are running into the risk that the sentence will get too long, but I think that one more word might help.  Making a word change can also answer one of our earlier questions.
The mousy young woman glared silently at him from across the lecture hall, glasses concealing the anger in her vivid green eyes.

And the second sentence?  Sometimes simple is effective, and mixing up sentence length is a good idea.  Let’s see how we do without changing it.
The mousy young woman glared silently at him from across the lecture hall, glasses concealing the anger in her vivid green eyes.  He was ruining her life and he didn’t even know it.

Not too shabby, but I want to make it more interesting with a quick word switch.
The mousy young woman glared silently at him from across the lecture hall, glasses concealing the anger in her vivid green eyes.  He was ruining her life and he didn’t even know her.

That’s a pretty good start!  Typically working on revisions is not the best way to start a story, but this one led to the answers to some of our questions.  We know that the two have only a peripheral relationship (since he doesn’t know her, but she must at least know of him) and that this one-sided exchange is occurring in a lecture hall.  I’m thinking college – I actually played with a few different options (cafeteria? classroom?) but I decided that college would be more interesting than high school.

I’ll try to get my brain to leave this alone until we pick it up again tomorrow, but no guarantees.  I’ll at least make sure to track the process, so I can share it with you after the fact!