Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Haiku Attempt

I needed to write some haiku for a class I'm taking, even though I hadn't written one since grade school. Anyway, I thought I'd share. Enjoy.


Pink fire paints the sky
Sparks the blaze of lover’s hearts
Strolling summer sands


The pigskin sails true
The blue shirt leaps and reaches
Sixty thousand groan


Sun peaks above lake
Chill glass shimmers beneath me
Sick wake makes me fly


Gold leaves swirl the trees
Icy drops drench graying path
Trudge the long trek home


Tiny fingers wrap
Around my pinky and heart
Dawns love forever


Note: Autumn leaves image by Ian Britton courtesy of

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Getting Unstuck with Research

When you get stuck in your writing, sometimes researching your subject or new ideas is the best way to get unstuck. In my office I have shelves full of books that help me research. I have books on birds, mammals, horses, plants, trees, gardening, castles, medieval life, comedy, body language, baby names and more. I also have an assortment of encyclopedias, visual dictionaries, rhyming dictionaries, reverse dictionaries, regular dictionaries, thesauri and atlases. While early in my writing career I used these books extensively, my use of them has become less frequent with the rise of the Internet.

The Internet is a treasure trove of knowledge that allows you to do research in ways unimaginable years ago. If I need a quick answer, I simply Google it. Want to know the flight speed of an African swallow? Google it. Need to know the fashion trends or street slang of today, the sixties, or the 1300s? Google it. If I’m unsure of the correct meaning of a word, it’s often faster to Google the word than to look it up in my dictionary. Google and the Internet can take you places that you’ve never been before, giving you insights and ideas that bring color and detail to your stories.

While Google can quickly direct you to multiple sites with the information you need, there are a number of sites you might want to bookmark (aka make favorites) so you can easily visit them as needed. Wikipedia is one these, providing a virtual online encyclopedia with quick access to basic information in often easy-to-understand language on over 3 millions subjects. But be careful, some information in Wikipedia is not always accurate. So, before you rely on it, verify the information from another source.

Other favorite sites include, the social security administration popular baby names site, which can help you in naming your characters. It lets you see the popularity of the top 20 to a 1,000 boys and girls names for every year from 1879 to the present. provides you online field guides. The CIA World Factbook provides detailed information on almost every country in the world such as population, ethnic groups, native languages spoken, economic conditions and factors, political systems, communication infrastructure, international relationships and more.

As great as the Internet is as a research resource, don’t let it make you lazy. There’s nothing like experiencing a setting or getting ideas first hand. Talking to someone who has actually experienced something that you’re writing about can deliver much more valuable insight than anything you can get off the Internet. Researching a location online doesn’t expose you to the sights, sounds, smells, and attitudes that you get walking the streets, back alleys, and dirt paths of the place itself.

Still, there are times when the Internet becomes your next best option. For example, this past summer I visited D.C. for a book I’m working on. Unfortunately, in the week I was there I couldn’t visit all the places I needed to get the details, insights and imagery I needed for my book. In fact, there are places that I didn’t know that I needed to visit until after I got home and continued with my writing. Google Images lets me see the sights that I didn’t have a chance to visit. Google Maps makes it easier for me to get a feel for the layout of the city. But one of the coolest tools, is the street view that Google Maps provides, letting me virtually travel down any street in Washington D.C. to see its people, shops, parks, monuments, and more. If only it had a Google Smell and Google Sound, then I’d be that much closer to actually being there.

What are the most valuable research tools you use in your writing?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Getting Unstuck with Brainstorming

When you’re stuck for ideas in your writing, brainstorming is one of the best ways to get unstuck. There are a number of brainstorming techniques, but a few of the most popular ones include listing, free writing, what ifs, and webbing (aka spidering, mind mapping, ballooning, clustering).  No matter what technique you use, one of the most important things to remember when brainstorming is that there are no dumb ideas. When you brainstorm, you turn off your internal editor and write every idea that comes to you to allow your creative juices to flow freely.

Listing is perhaps the easiest brainstorming technique. As the name suggests, you simply make a list of every idea that comes to you. Listing can be particularly helpful if you have a general topic or idea of what you want to write about, but you need to get a little more specific. For example, you might want to write a story about dogs, so as fast as you can you start listing everything you know about dogs. Your list might start off something like this; bark, fleas, collar, drool, fetch, roll-over, food dish, snoopy, leash, Frisbee, and the list goes on.

Free writing is another great way to get the creative juices flowing. Sometimes we stare at a blank screen for so long, we condition ourselves to think we’ll never come up with a good idea. Free writing is a way to shove aside that negative thinking, by simply writing whatever comes to our mind. It can be words, whole sentences, paragraphs—whatever comes to our mind, we just type it, no matter how nonsensical or unrelated the thoughts are. Once again, you turn off your internal editor and let your imagination go free.

“What ifs” is a good technique to use in conjunction with listing and free writing. You can take some of the more interesting things from your list, and ask what if questions about those items, and free writing your thoughts or answers. For example, you could free write answers to the question what if dogs couldn’t bark?

Webbing or spidering is my favorite type of brainstorming, especially when it comes to creating and developing plots. Like the other techniques, with webbing you write down whatever ideas come to you, but you make visual connections between your different ideas. For example, to web a story idea about dogs that can’t bark, you write “dogs can’t bark” in the center of your paper and as you come up with your “what if” ideas, you write them down and connect a line between it and main your idea. If one of your new ideas sparks another idea, you draw a connecting line between those ideas, and you just keep writing and connecting ideas until you have what looks like a spider web of ideas or something like my picture at the top.

I like to use a whiteboard for my web brainstorm sessions, but the problem with whiteboards is that they aren’t permanent. But here are two easy ways to solve that. The first is to take a picture of your web. The second, which is my preferred method, is to enter your results into a webbing program like FreeMind, (a free mind mapping program). Or if you prefer, you can skip the whiteboard and just begin with the webbing or mind mapping software . My preference is to use a pen and whiteboard first. For some reason, my creative side seems to like the feel of a pen in my hand.

What are your favorite brainstorming techniques or tools?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Getting Unstuck

Once in awhile writers can get stuck at a certain point of their story that prevents them from moving past that point. This might happen for a number of reasons. Perhaps, you’ve discovered some plot problems that need to be fleshed out further. Maybe the characters you’ve written are developing in an unexpected way that requires you to rethink a few things. You might simply be running low on ideas. A lot of times it simply comes down to the fact that you’re not sure what direction to take the story next. This can happen even if you’ve created a detailed outline of your story, requiring you to rethink or revise your outline.

Reworking or further developing my outline is often one of the first things that I do when I get stuck like this. But to do that often requires the acquisition of fresh ideas. So, if a quick fix of the outline isn’t sufficient, I usually do one of two things, or both—more research and brainstorming. Sometimes, it’ll just take a few hours of these activities, other times it can take days, weeks or months. But the longer it takes the more frustrating it can get, especially if I’ve already spent months or years developing the ideas and plots for a story. Once I dig into a story, I don’t like getting stuck. I just want to write.

In the next few days, I’ll talk a little about some of my favorite research and brainstorming tools that I use to get unstuck so I can resume the writing process.