Neil Gaiman often talks about the compost pile of writing, bits of information and small stories we collect even when we don’t know what we’ll do with them. I’ve got whole Trello boards, post-its, emails, file folders, and cut documents (documents where I place cuts I make from larger pieces of writing) filled with these.
These compost components hit me at the strangest times and in the strangest places. Sometimes, I dream about them and wake up in the middle of the night to scribble them down. This is the main reason that I have a notebook and pen on my nightstand.
Many times it takes years for these bits to become anything. Sometimes they end up strung together with other fragments. Many I’m still waiting to see if they become useful at all in any way. If everything I have in the compost pile now were to become something, I’d have enough material to last a lifetime, maybe two.
Do you have a compost pile of content? How do you sort and organize it? Have any of those fragments been turned into something larger you never imagined you’d write?
One of the most informative actions I’ve taken as a beginning screenwriter is to watch movies with their screenplays in my lap. I read a scene, watch that scene, and read it again to see how it translates from the page to the screen. Here’s what I’ve learned in this process:
If you’re writing a screenplay, reading screenplays and then watching their corresponding movies is the single greatest tool you can utilize. Are you writing a screenplay? Which screenplays do you recommend reading and watching?
One of my favorite parts of the writing process is research. I’ll dig through archives, old photos, memoirs, diaries, online sources, and anything I can get my hands on that helps me get a feeling for a time, a place, or a culture that’s in my writing. And as much as I love this portion of research, my very favorite channel is in-person visits.
My second novel takes place in New York City and Ireland. I live in New York so that in-person research was easy. I also went to Ireland for a week in 2018 to specifically do research for my book. Nothing could beat smelling the old books of the Long Room in Trinity Library, visiting an ancient tomb, learning about Celtic mythology in the oldest pub in Dublin, wandering the road of the Dark Hedges, and walking over the rocks at Giant’s Causeway.
All of those settings appear in the book, and those scenes are richer because of my visits there. Small details piqued by my senses are in the words because they’re in my mind and I can’t help but think of them when I set a scene in those places.
Have you ever done a writing trip to collect research for your work? Where did you go? What did you learn?
I’m a voracious outliner. Not everything always goes according to my outlined writing plan, but an outline gives me a place to start. It also gives me a way to chart my progress.
The tools I use for outlining are free and a combo of analog and digital:
1.) Handwritten index cards (or sheets of paper roughly the size of index cards). I like to pin them up on a wall and move them around as needed.
2.) Trello.com boards – this is a free online tool with a mobile app and website that updates across these channels in real-time. Think of it as an online list maker / bulletin board.
3.) Pinterest boards to store inspiring images.
4.) Unsplash.com is a site with free, high-resolution photos that you can store in collections. Like Pinterest, it’s also a great place to find and refer to inspiring images.
Are you an outliner? What are your favorite tools for it?
How can I write one new work per year for the next 10 years? I tossed this idea around in my mind on the morning of September 22nd, the last day of summer, as I thought about tremendously prolific writers I admire. What separates them from other writers is their productivity and persistence. And that’s what I want to have as a writer.
Here’s the math that showed me that this wild goal is possible: write 250 words per day for 360 days. (Look I’m even giving myself 5 or 6 days off per year!) That’s 90,000 words. That’s a book. That’s almost two books! 250 words a day? I could write that while my coffee’s brewing. That’s only half a page. That’s less than the length of this post. And that got me very excited and curious. Could I actually do this?
Yes, that’s just a first draft. It needs LOADS of editing and rewriting. Yes, if you’re a planner and outliner like me, that takes time, too. Yes, there’s research. And yes, marketing is also time-consuming and extremely necessary. And you also have to pitch your own work if, like me, you don’t yet have an agent.
But in my mind the breaking down of this enormous task moves it from possible to probable. I could write a new work every year.
Always around the end of summer / beginning of fall, the new yearly inspiration for this blog strikes me. Someone says something or I read something, and the theme just clicks. I don’t worry about it anymore because it really does just happen.
So, this is my 2020 theme: I’ll be writing about the process of getting down 250 words of a new work every day. Most of the time I’ll be sharing resources, motivation, and encouragement for writers. If you’ve got questions, please ask them and I’ll do my best to either answer or find the answer for you.
Here’s to a 2020 filled with words and creativity that we can share with one another. If you’re on social media, I’ll be using the hashtag #250wordstoday to collect all of these thoughts this year.
After two long years, I’ve completely edited my manuscript for my second novel, including a round of edits requested by agents in November. Like my first novel, this book follows the story of Emerson Page into a world built from mythology and love.
I’m so grateful to Justine and Erin at Byte the Book who introduced me to literary agents at a recent pitch event. Their comments and requests made the book stronger, and their unbiased feedback was priceless. Now it’s time to resubmit to those agents and start my queries. Here we go!
Shopping with gift cards today? Returning or buying gifts? My young adult adventure book, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, is available again everywhere books are sold and on sale for $8.99 (book) and $2.99 (e-book).
At bookstores, give the store this ISBN if it’s not in stock: 1694109410.
It’s also on Amazon & Amazon Kindle in the U.S. and internationally. If you’re buying on Amazon, make sure to use this link so that you aren’t directed to any re-sellers of the old edition selling the book at a much higher price: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1694109410/
“Though my soul may set in darkness,
it will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly
to be fearful of the night.”
~Sarah Williams, poet and novelist, “The Old Astronomer”
If you’re a stargazer, winter is your season. With more nighttime hours and the brightest, clearest, and most beautiful skies of the entire calendar, winter is something to celebrate. Having more time with the stars is one of the main reasons I love this season. So if cold temperatures and long nights have you down, look up. There’s so much out there to love.
On the first full day of winter, I always read the short essay Winter by Nina Zolotow. It’s my ritual to ring in this season as one of rest, creativity, and inspiration. I love winter, and this essay perfectly explains why. Nina wrote it in Ithaca, New York, where the fullness of all the seasons is present, each in its turn, in its time.
I hope you find as much comfort, peace, and joy in these words as I do.
Winter by Nina Zolotow
“In their garden there was always a wild profusion of tomatoes ripening on the vine, and leafy basil, arugula, and lettuce, and glossy purple eggplants, and red and yellow peppers, and zucchini with its long, bright blossoms, and there was always lunch at the wooden table on hot summer afternoons, with plates of pasta and bread and olives and salads with herbs, and many bottles of red wine that made you feel warm and drowsy, while bees hummed and the sprawling marjoram, thyme, and rosemary gave off their pungent fragrances, and at the end of the meal, always, inexplicably, there were fresh black figs that they picked themselves from the tree at the garden’s center, an eighteen-foot fig tree, for how was it possible – this was not Tuscany but Ithaca – Ithaca, New York, a rough-hewn landscape of deep rocky gorges and bitter icy winters, and I finally had to ask him – my neighbor – how did that beautiful tree live through the year, how did it endure the harshness of a New York winter and not only survive until spring but continue producing the miraculous fruit, year after year, and he told me that it was quite simple, really, that every fall, after the tree lost all its leaves, he would sever the tree’s roots on one side only and, on the tree’s other side, he would dig a trench, and then he would just lay down that flexible trunk and limbs, lay them down in the earth and gently cover them with soil, and there the fig tree would rest, warm and protected, until spring came, when he could remove its protective covering and stand the tree up once again to greet the sun; and now in this long gray season of darkness and cold and grief (do I have to tell you over what? for isn’t it always the same – the loss of a lover, the death of a child, or the incomprehensible cruelty of one human being to another?), as I gaze out of my window at the empty space where the fig tree will stand again next spring, I think, yes, lay me down like that, lay me down like the fig tree that sleeps in the earth, and let my body rest easily on the ground – my roots connecting me to some warm immutable center – luxuriating in the heart of winter.”
“Let us love winter for it is the spring of genius.” ~Pietro Aretino
Wishing you all a restful, inspiring, and creative winter solstice.
I took this photo in Central Park. So grateful for this beautiful place that provides me views like this, great and small, every day.