Upon returning..

A belated Happy New year to you all. So whats new? Or is it same old. Do you believe in new beginnings or new starts, or do things just continue? They do continue don’t they? Myself I’m more with the latter, although the new year is a convenient break point to freshen a few things up should I want to. I’m not one for New Year resolutions. Pointless.

I enjoyed my time away from the blog, although I was relatively busy with work, but I did get in some nice family time, and of course with a 2 year old boy, there was  fun to be had. Really I had next to no time for the blog at all. The free time I did have went on other non writing projects or just leisure time. It was enjoyable to the extent that I genuinely wondered whether to return at all. Should I just take an even longer extended break from the blog?

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Notes on where ideas come from 3 – Or when they don’t

(Image courtesy of Microsoft clipart)

(Image courtesy of Microsoft clipart)

A relatively short post for you today – It is not un-common for me to have a bunch of draft posts waiting to happen, or waiting to be completed, and posted. Some I might work on from time to time over a few weeks, others I will just pick up and complete. When it came to completing a post for this friday, I was completely uninspired. Nothing I had in the drafts I fancied picking up on. Nothing new was coming to mind. I had not had much time to work on blog this week, I thought about giving this friday’s post a miss. This was wednesday evening.

Thursday lunchtime I still did not seem too inspired, but I figured I could write a short post on being uninspired. Then I realized that fit in with the “ideas” posts, and suddenly I did have a post. You see, thinking about writing this topic, in this context, sparked something. It is a process of generating connections. Once you have a connection, an idea or two, and a context, then following the trail of more connections can begin. It may be something small or lead to something large, but where you choose to take it, is up to you.

So my question to you is, what do you do when feeling completely uninspired, but still want to put something out there? What gets you going / motivated?

In other news, whilst I have not been blog inspired over the last few days, I have had an idea for a bunch of small stories, which are just daft things, but may well make for an interesting experience on the blog. Well an interesting learning experience for me. They follow the adventures of one character trapped in a daft sci-fi scenario, but don’t worry, it isn’t too geeky, and is more humorous. I think I may develop this some more then see what I can come up with. Hopefully they will make for good reading.

Lexicon word of the day: Provenience (US) Provenance (UK).

Notes on where ideas come from part 2, – focus

I’m posting this on Thursday this week, instead of Friday, where in the US it is Thanksgiving. So happy Thanksgiving to the US folks. For those readers who like notebooks, check out the picture of this notebook that my wife got me as part of my birthday gift last week. It has the brainsplats blog on it. I thought it was a good idea. Now it just needs notes in it. More on that below.

Its the blog notebook 🙂

Where ideas come from is interesting to me right now, as I have more time for ideas, and more ideas, then time to deal with the ideas themselves. Often in the past it has been the reverse. I could sit down to write, but not be sure what to get on with, or what to write about. I would hope inspiration would strike. Now the ideas are flowing which I believe is for several reasons. The first that I used to write this blog daily, so my mind is kind of in the routine still of regular ideas for blog posts, especially now I am only averaging two posts a week. The other is that with restricted time, I use a spare 5 or 10 minutes for something constructive. Forcing myself into a time limit exercise, somehow stops my mind wandering and instead has focus, in turn opening up ideas. Take these three scenarios:
  1.  I’ve mentioned before, my wife and I take it in turns on alternating nights to read books  to my son, and put him to bed. He used to be slightly fussy getting to sleep, because of his age, so we would hang round in his room for a little while whilst he settled down. I would use this time, lets say 10 minutes, or a little longer, to think about story ideas, that I would then note down after I left the room. One time I had an idea for a short story collection with a common theme. I thought about different story ideas, using this time, over a month, and now I have notes enough for a whole book. When I write the stories of course. This time worked well. Now though, my son is settling down a lot quicker, so I am out of there a lot quicker. Perhaps I still need to find this 10 minutes elsewhere.
  2. Slightly related to this point is choosing a spare five minutes during the day. Just find a quiet place. Decide whether to write down blog ideas, perhaps of a certain kind, for me like “Monday Mess”, or something else such as story ideas. Just put down what you can, and only for the five minutes. Again the focus is interesting and I seem to be able to get things down. Not all of it useful, but most of it is. Maybe ideas are floating round my head waiting for the focus opportunity, I don’t know, but either way it seems to work.
  3. I sometimes do 100 word fiction, such as “Jack and the beanstalk revised“, where I will get a prompt about something, maybe an idea I’ve been thinking a little about, may not. Then I will take a max of thirty minutes to write something in the word limit, with no revision allowed after the time limit. Sometimes I may have an idea of what I am wanting to write about in terms of the actual mini story, other times no idea. But the time limit brings focus and I can normally get something out, which is coherent and sometimes interesting. It is as though, with the time limit, I can find an angle or a way to investigate

So I suppose what I am getting at here is that ideas freely float round our heads. Especially those of us who consider ourselves creative in some way. Getting the ideas out and turning them into something can be difficult. A little focus for a short period of time, can actually go a long way. Maybe I can add some of these notes in my new notebook.

What focus exercises do you do, if any, to work on ideas?

Lexicon word of the day: ethnography.

Short Fiction – The unusual map

Two things changed my original idea for this Friday’s post. On Tuesday I went to see Bon Mould play in L.A. where he did a complete run through of the album “Copper Blue”, which he recorded under the band name “Sugar”. This album, one of my all time favorites, meant I was really looking forward to it. He also played some of the new album and a few other “oldies” of his. I had never seen him live before, I loved it. The band played really well. Hearing a complete run through of Copper Blue live was, well, worth the wait. For me anyway. It made me want to use it in some small way.

Last Tuesday night at the El Rey

My original idea for this post was to write another 100 word fiction. However the second thing that changed the post, was the idea of writing a short story to tie in with another post I am going to put up soon. I think the gig more tied in with doing that post, than this one. It is a post I thought of a few months back, but had not gotten round to write yet. More on that idea at the end. It was however, clear then that 100 words were not nearly enough for the short story. I think this one ended at 300+ words so it is still a short read, but way over the 100 word exercise. I did this in about 30 mins so apologies if it needs a few corrections.

The Unusual Map

In the moonlight, the Man stood for a moment, closed his eyes, and cast out his net. He took a deep breath, then with a flash of light, it began. For he was not a normal man, and this was not a net of rope and hole. He was what is known to some, as a net-caster. He who saw things in a different way. His cast, a net that could attract unusual maps and people. You might call these music maps if it helps you understand. They can tell you a lot about a person, their stories mostly, how these songs attach to people. These things being what he existed for.

A few seconds later, he withdrew to check if it was working, and to see if there were any bites. Already there were. Adjusting a frequency, like you might tune a radio, he found a track called “Changes” by a band called “Sugar”, and he found a young man attached to it. A rock band, a young man beginning to find his identity, nothing unusual there. Tapping a slender Index finger on his chin, the net-caster ran his eyes over the map. The young man was not young anymore, and there was much more to his story. He hung this map up on his review board. It would require more time and effort later. For now in his net, there was a map seemingly incomplete.

Louis Armstrong’s “Wonderful world” was a destination on many maps, yet this one very significant. A man called Lewis, 27 years old with bad ideas. He wanted to try many things once, odd things like jump from a plane, and attach this song as a soundtrack. One of these bad ideas was to enter a freeway exit the wrong way. To the net-caster this seemed especially strange as there did not seem to be a plan for how he might turn around again. As it turned out, there wasn’t. Lewis hit another car head on. As the map demonstrated “A wonderful world” linked to many of his daft ideas, his life events, to his end, and ironically, his funeral. Lady Gaga’s “Poker face” was the end for the two people he hit head on with his car. The net-caster did not know what to make of this. You often do not choose what fits on a map, but that is what it is.

The net-caster thought humans were strange sometimes. Like the way they describe the reflected light from the moon as cold.

The post this links to, or should I say will link to, is themed around how certain music tracks are linked to you, through certain events in your life. They may not always seem significant. They may not be things you would necessarily choose, but nevertheless they are there. You will hear the song, it puts you in a particular place. The post looks at this from the other side. I will likely put it up next friday.

Lexicon word of the day: oniochalasia.


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Notes on where ideas come from – 1

This is the crux of writing isn’t it? Well creative writing, fiction, poems and the like. Generating ideas and turning it into a “something”. This is one of those things that sets us apart from other animals, in that we can get ideas beyond our instant needs or requirements, and take them somewhere. Build them into a different thing. Something that speaks to our minds, or if you want to put it this way, our hearts and souls. Fundamentally, writing about “a something” derives from two functions. Having an idea, and the ability to turn that idea into that which communicates with people. Both can be tough. Especially the first part.

In having less time to spend on writing lately, I’ve begun to evaluate the different facets of it, and how I do it. What are my strengths? What works for me? What doesn’t work for me? These are the sort of questions I’m asking. Ideas might be examined in different forms. For simplicity, I first thought about the context of smaller projects, with the initial idea as it appears, and a little on how that idea is expanded on.

(Image Source: Microsoft Clip art)

I’ve been asked a few times about how I work the 15 minute poem exercise, which is not to say I am an expert, but that the results, for the allotted time, have been decent, at least on some occasions. Or at least interesting on some occasions. For me it is a fun exercise, which involves some focus, but also allows the dropping of some boundaries, which in real terms means, “opens up the subject matter which I can write about, to anything”. Usually I do not sit at the notebook / blog with entirely a blank slate. I will usually have a prompt first. This prompt comes from many places. It might be a phrase I read, the name of a book or song, or the name of an episode of a tv show. Regular readers will know that I took got two poems from the name of an episode of the eighties animated show “Spiderman and friends”. The first because I misheard the name of the episode, and the second where I then decided to use the correct name.

Having the prompt, I then can begin. Sometimes I have the prompt for several hours prior to the writing, during which I might (or might not) think of the odd idea. I try not to think of actual lines of the poem unless a strong line pops into my head, mainly because I like the exercise of doing it at the time, within the time limit. Other times, I just have the prompt only, and sit down to begin.

With that in mind, I will then think for a minute or two, usually not more, of what the prompt might mean to me, or what might be a good angle to approach it. For example with the prompt “Knights and Demons“, It made me think of what might make a person be a knight, and head off from there. The line with the naughty word pretty much appeared at the beginning so that set a tone. Married with the other idea, I set off to see what came out. In this instance, I did not want to tell a direct story such as a knight vs a specific demon, but that was where I was at the time. Another day another idea. Possibly.

To me it seems odd, but quite quickly I normally have an idea or two for a mini story (which may be a story thematically), and the means to tell it is then spread across how many verses it may be. For example, I might be thinking of four or five verses of four lines. Perhaps each line has a certain amount of syllables. Or perhaps I want a couple of large verses. It depends what I feel at the time, so I write to that. Maybe add or remove a verse, change up some words here or there, occasionally change the structure as something better has come out. I think of the main beats of the story and map it to the verses. For example, verse one the character asks a question or has a revelation. Verse two, something that relates to it. The final verse, adds a conclusion or switches it by asking a further question. And that is pretty much it. Working to the time limit I can “hit the story” pretty quickly. So far I don’t feel I have anything unfinished, although I do think on some I could add more if I wished to do so. A sort of directors cut.

Thinking about this now, I do not know why this works for me. My mind doesn’t go blank, I have virtually the opposite of a blank slate. If this was a larger project, I would dawdle along. Perhaps it is the allotted time limit. Perhaps I need to start doing things like this on my larger projects e.g. 15 minutes on ideas only. 15 minutes on the specifics of a scene. Something to experiment with? Perhaps.

Where do your ideas start from on smaller projects, e.g. poems, short fiction or blog pieces (I will save longer fiction for another time)?

Lexicon word of the day: parsimonious.

Buying into a strategy – plus a small update

This way or that ?

Here is one of those posts where I tie together two seemingly unrelated subjects, usually writing and something else in order to explain a small point. The idea is that it highlights one or more, of the myriad of connections in life, and how we may wish to use these relations in our writing. Today I shall marry football (the one with the spherical ball, US readers, i.e. Soccer), and writing. No, hold on, don’t run off yet, I shall endeavour to make the point in a small number of words and without any prior knowledge of the game. So lets see how that one turns out shall we.

Regular readers will know that I am a Liverpool Football Club (LFC), and pretty much have been since the 1986 FA cup final where Liverpool beat Everton 3 − 1. As anyone who is a fan of any sport can tell you, once you experience the emotional ride once, it is hard to shake off. Liverpool were the main team then. Now they haven’t won the English League since 1990, although thankfully have won other trophies over the years (including the Champions League in another emotional ride in 2005). Now for various reasons, some good, some not, they are on their fourth manager in four years, a man called Brendan Rogers.

Brendan came from managing Swansea City, who had built a reputation on playing good possession football on a small budget, no mean feat. In fact, at the end of last season they went to Liverpool and beat them one nil. Now Brendan has the Liverpool job, still a prestigious one, as Liverpool is one of the most supported clubs not just in the UK, but the world. He is bringing more of a possession game to the club, more along the lines of what the club played in it’s best days. A possession game is the hardest to play because it requires good technical ability, a good understanding of how the team moves, where your team mates should be, where you should be. If you have the ball you need to be able to do something positive as a team, with it. It requires skill under pressure, a cool head, and a belief in what you are doing. It also requires certain movements when you lose possession, or do not have possession of the ball, because part of the game is getting the ball back. Depending on the coaches strategy, you will do a certain thing, for a certain amount of time.

This type of game is the most difficult because it requires good players, but also because without this and a good understanding of what you and the team should be doing, greater risks. For example,if you play out from the back (your own goal) you are at more risk of giving the ball away in a dangerous area than you would be punting it up the field or out of play (letting you regroup). On the other hand if you play out and retain possession, you are in a much better position than punting it or knocking it out of play. Inherent in playing a game like this is players who buy into your philosophy and have the required skills to do so. Those that do not are moved on and replaced with those that do. It is a slower way to progress (potentially), but should it work, it brings a higher chance of the greater reward.

And what exactly does this have to do with writing? Even across the blogsphere, I hear you ask. Well here’s the interesting thing. Anyone out there attempted to write a book? It is a long slog isn’t it? It requires a lot of thought and effort doesn’t it? There is a learning curve isn’t there? Somewhere along the way you learn where you fit on the planning scale. Do you like a strong story plan, and know all the plot up front, or do you work from an idea and see where it takes you? Personally I like a good plan, or as I put it, “a strong spine”, but with some room to see what comes out.

What about a work routine, when do you work? Mornings, evenings, throughout the day? Do you write to a word target, a chapter target, from point to point? I prefer mornings or evenings, and mostly I work to a word count, but that can change if I want to get to a certain point. What sort of advice do you use, and how often? I prefer a few help writing help books, some blog sites and the “community advice”, and the Writers Digest. I enjoy using them but I don’t let them dominate my time. Or not too often.

You might see where I am going here with these question and answers. Writing on a larger project takes some ability and effort. If you have a strategy for working on it, something you have learnt both works for, and compliments you, then you are on the right road. You have a higher chance of success. If you do not have much of a strategy, just dive in, or have a go whenever, you don’t look for your weak areas and try to improve. Things will be much different. You will have a higher chance of failing or getting sidetracked. Your project will get no where fast. I can tell you this from experience. So what I’m saying is you need to learn what works for you. You need to have a strategy that you can really buy into, and commit to and the right tools to do it. Having that commitment will be harder to break. Having the strategy and tools that compliment you will make it come together easier, even if underneath that, there is a lot of time and effort. You may have to learn some technique first, and have some trial and effort, but doing this should benefit you in the long run. Like Liverpool Football club, if the strategy is right and everyone buys into it, if the right players are there, then the chances of going somewhere good, improve.

An Update on a few things

  • The novel project has been slow in the last week or two for a number of reasons outside of the blog. I am not attempting to finish it by the end of the year (or at least a draft of it) so no big deal. That said I would prefer more progress.
  • However, I have a number of good ideas for a short story project which I shall also be developing and working on. The idea was a tiny bit off the back of “100 word fiction” although these stories will be much larger short stories. This and the project above will be worked on over the next few months.
  • I’m changing my Monday posts from focusing on the previous weekend to focusing on the previous week. It will now be called “My past week in Haiku & other assorted nonsense”. Partially this is so I am not tied into having to write this the day before, and partially because some of my weekends are a bit boring.

Lexicon word of the day: gaucherie.

The blog post trail game aka the other map of blog

Rocket ship tours the blogsphere

Today I have a question or two that I would like a little feedback over. Let me explain first. You might have seen the blog “tag” where you are posed a series of questions for you to answer (obviously), but for you then to pass on to some fellow bloggers. The purpose is to learn a little about your blogging community and for them to get a small dose of you. In fact,  have an outstanding tag to post on, with some very interesting writer questions, posed by jmmcdowell. I shall apologise for being slack on that front, I will get to that soon. However a few days ago, I had another idea.

This game of tag is different. No come back, just bear with me a moment. It is less a game of tag, far more simple, and involves passing it on to less people. It works like this: Lets say it starts with a blog post, derived from a prompt of some kind. The writer, lets say I start, then chooses someone to pass it on to. The person must be willing to accept, or someone willing to accept must be found. What is passed on is a prompt or idea of some kind. It might be something simple for example, “The Trail”, or something a little more specific like for example, “A taste of chocolate”. The receiving blogger then has to do a post of some kind, using this. The thing is, they can do anything they want. It could be a poem,  some short fiction, a story from their life, a recipe, mindless ramblings on the subject, a song list, or something entirely different. There is the freedom to do whatever the writer likes, so long as it relates in someway to the passed on prompt or idea. When they are done they then pass it on to the next willing participant, with a new prompt or idea of their choosing. And so on, and so on. At the beginning of their post they must link to the previous post in the trail, and if they know at the time of posting, link to the next person’s blog home page. When they do know who it is to be passed on to, their post must be updated to include this.

Now to make it a little more interesting, lets say I keep a page (or more if necessary) dedicated to the trail. When a person posts they also send me the link to the post, perhaps they post it in the comments of the page, which I will pick up and add to the page. A reader can then use this page to get a quick look at the trail, to see where it has led and get an idea of the posts in the trail. If someone wishes to participate, but has not yet been picked, they can submit their blog name and link, for others to choose if they want to. Or perhaps a second trail could be started. It might be interesting to see all the different ideas that are passed around, but also interesting how they are dealt with.

The good thing is that, you do not have to select any more than one blog to pass it on to, and even then the person has to agree to do it. The downside is you can only pass it on to one person where you might have several in mind. I’m not entirely sure how to deal with that bit yet. However the main reason to keep the number down is that you want to be able to read the post, plus others following the trail will hopefully want to as well. They might not want seven new posts to have to read, then again with whomever they pass it on to. In this way it will quickly get out of hand and lose it’s purpose, see? Part of the fun is the prompt, part of it the post, and part of it the trail to see where it leads. The hope is the poster puts a little, or a lot, of themselves in the blog posts and the trail gives us a nice map (of sorts) of the blogging scene.

It might need an interesting name, along the lines of “The alternative map of the blog” or something along those lines. I’ll come back to that one. It also might need a little picture along similar lines to the blog awards, stating, “I was part of whatever I’m called“. No requirement to have to post that, on the poster’s blog, but it will be there if they want to use it.

So rules will be simple:

  • The poster might have a maximum of a week to do the post in (although it could be next day if they wish).
  • Must be willing to pass it on.
  • Must link back to the previous poster.
  • Must link to the next poster (when known).
  • Must post the link to the “home” trail page, presumably here, when I create it.
  • No re-blogs, other posts or links can be referenced, but the majority of the post must be original.

So thoughts please? Does it sound interesting, or is it a bad idea? Would you be willing to participate (don’t feel obliged on that one, you can comment and not have to volunteer)? Any questions about the details? Any suggestions?