Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Did you know you can't copyright an idea? Anything you write is automatically copyrighted to you, but only the words themselves, the ideas can never be copyrighted. However that's okay, because no matter how original you think you are, the idea has been done before.

In fact, that's the great thing about ideas, plots, tropes and clichés. They're free for everyone. The other good thing about them is that if people love a plot, trope or setting, they're probably going to go looking for other books, movies, TV shows and comics with that same idea.

Writers get asked where they get their ideas all the time. The true answer is probably something like: 'Cultural narrative is a concept and tradition that has been passed down since mankind developed language'. We don't 'get' ideas. We 'reuse' ideas.

I think when writers tell would-be writers to read widely, this is one of the important reasons why. Sometimes I meet people who don't read much, or maybe they only read one genre, and they are often convinced they have a really, truly original idea. They're nervous to share it with me. It's always ultimately a huge cliché in a genre they don't read/watch. One that has been done to death, but they have no idea.

A woman in her 50's once told me about her 100% original, never been done before plot where a person from our reality passed through some kind of gate or portal into a fantasy setting. No really. She was super offended when I said it was its own subgenre.

So really, when someone asked me where I get my ideas, the answer is: I mush together a couple of things I love into a new Franken-plot. Take the plot from Die Hard, shove it into the setting from Avatar and then stick in my favourite characters from Psycho Pass and Ouran High as love interests and BAM, that's a novel right there.

Notice I didn't just say I was re-writing Die Hard, I took elements from a bunch of places, themes and ideas that I liked and wanted to play with. This is how you come up with ideas. However for a lot of writers this comes so naturally, it's hard to see what we are doing.

David Farland addresses a similar idea in his book 'Million Dollar Outlines' and calls it resonance. I highly suggest reading his book and even listening to some of his interviews on youtube. Resonance is when ideas remind us of, and build on the culture that comes before in order to give readers a call back memory to other things they have loved.

I think some writers are deathly scared of using ideas that are 'too similar' to other works. Pro tip. Your idea, whatever it is, is similar to other works. If you don't know what they are, it's just because you haven't read them yet. No one cares. Its fine. Once you get over that fear, 'finding' ideas is much easier.

Recently, Meg and I greatly enjoyed watching Yuri on Ice (check it out on crunchyroll if you haven't seen it already), a gay romance about competitive figure skating. Instantly, we knew we wanted to play with the idea. So we wrote a gay romance about a figure skater and an ice hockey player (Bite the Ice). Because we were so enthusiastic about the show, it only took us two weeks to write a complete novel, which is now in editing.

Currently, we are writing a book that is based on an idea I had when I first watched frozen. However instead of a princess fleeing her home to hide her magic powers, it is about two brother magi who were driven out and hunted for years, but now the people who persecuted them are begging for their help to save them from an even bigger magical threat (As Light As Ashes).

So if you are struggling to come up with ideas, read more, watch more, play more then take a handful of the ideas you love the most and jam them together into something new. If you love things, it comes through in your writing. And I can promise you you are not alone in the tropes and ideas you love. Other people who love the same things are looking for more. Your fans will be the people who love the same things as you, and that is an awesome situation to be in.

So go forth, write the things you love.

Remember, you can't copyright an idea, so stop worrying about it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

7 Ways To Recharge When Your Writing Tank Is Empty

We all get blocked. Maybe we're not stopped, but we've slowed down. We were aiming for 1000 words a day and we're hitting 200. Writing feels hard. We're struggling for words, even though we really love writing and have great reasons to be writing. It's not writer's block, it's just an empty tank.

You need to refuel.

1. Read.

Reading is the number one way I recharge my writing battery. Hands down, it is the more effective thing for me personally and I love doing it. However because I am so busy, I rarely make time for it.

I think the top three best things you can read to get you out of a writing funk is to re-read something you really love, read books about writing craft, or read something well outside if your normal comfort zone that still looks good, a new author or genre, for example.

Re-reading something I love always makes me excited to get back to my own writing. There are four trilogies that I go back to over and over when I want to be inspired and they are: The Tamir Triad by Lynn Flewelling (I've probably read it a dozen times, all up), The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, The Captive Prince Trilogy by C.S Pacat and The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie (along with other books in the same world). I also regularly re-read China Mieville's short story collections. You will undoubtedly have your own favourites.

Books on writing craft often give me new ways to look at writing, or ideas I can implement to fix the weaknesses in my own writing, which immediately makes me want to go back and work on that.

New books, books out of my comfort zone, often introduce me to new ideas, tropes and styles. Which is always good, as it expands your mental writer toolset. For me, this is the highest risk option, because it is hard to find books I enjoy and I can just as easily get annoyed.

2. Exercise.

If I am using exercise to clear my head for writing, its important I only listen to instrumental music so I am forced to be alone with my thoughts. For this reason, doing manual tasks like gardening, washing, sweeping, etc also count as 'exercise'. The important thing is your hands and body are busy and your mind is not distracted by TV, games, facebook or anything else.

Getting blood into the brain is also good for thinking, so getting your pulse up can really help. But mostly I think it is the 'busy hands, distraction free' element that is helpful.

3. Go somewhere new.

You don't have to leave the state or country, just go to a nearby town you've never visited and walk up and down the main street. Go to that shop you pass all the time and never go inside. Go to national parks near you and check out the facility. The important thing is, that you go to places you have never been before. It's amazing for creating new connections in the brain.

As an added bonus, if you do this once a week or more, it will make the year pass much less quickly. Novel experiences break up our routine, which stops the brain from condensing our memories of time so much.

4. Talk about it with other writers.

Being part of an active writing community is, in my opinion, one of the best parts of writing. The people I choose to be around are friendly, supportive, intelligent and interesting. Not all writing tribes are and you get out of it what you put in.

However when you are stuck, being able to meet for coffee or chat online about your project, feelings and obstacles can be very cathartic. Find a tribe, support them, be nice to them, listen to them and they will do the same for you.

5. Create something else.

Writing is an act of creation. There are thousands of ways you can create things and sometimes if you are a bit depleted in the writing front, creating something else will help you feel energised again.

It could be art, sculpture, cooking, gardening, music, video games, web design, making something practical, wood working, sewing, knitting, the list goes on. You don't have to be good at it, you don't have to make something you could sell. Joy comes in the act of creating itself. And learning new skills helps your brain make new pathways. It makes you smarter and happier.

6. Finish one of those unfinished jobs.

If you are like me, you have a huge list of things that need to get done. Crossing them off can give you a huge rush of accomplishment and a massive ego boost that you can then channel into your writing. Choose whichever job has been sitting around the longest and get it done. Buckle down. Finish it.

You will feel amazeballs.

7. Journal your feelings.

I journal a lot and I am so grateful to my friend Scarlett, who inadvertently got me back into it. It doesn't matter what in my life is stressing me or frustrating me, I write about it in my journal. I am 100% honest. I let myself ramble and say a bunch of nonsensical shit. I say things I would never, ever say out loud. I say things I don't mean, just so I can get negative feelings out of my system. Sometimes I say I want to punch people in the face or I wish something horrible would happen to them--I don't really want that. I'm just angry or upset with them for some reason.

I write about my writing the same way. I let all my fears and rage and hopelessness out on the page. I say a lot of stuff I don't really believe, so that those words are out of my head. All that negative self talk has to GO SOMEWHERE. Put it in a journal, so it's not in your head anymore, repeating itself like some demented parrot.

Think of words and thoughts as a real, tangible thing. As taking up space in the world. You can't make them disappear. If you think negative things, they will stay in your head until you put them somewhere else. It's like food. You eat it and if you don't poop it out agian, it's still in there, festering in your gut. Some of it its turned into heat and energy and that leaves your body too. Food never just vanishes.

Poop out the gross words in your head into a journal. You'll be glad you did.

And hopefully, you'll be able to go back to writing.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

More Time Management Advice

A friend messaged who read Half AMillion Words In Nine Months messaged me recently, asking me how I stopped distractions when I am writing. The things that she listed as distracting, were mostly things that could have been avoided with proper organisation. Here's a few tips for saving time and organising your life so you can get the most out of every day:

Plan meals in advance.

I love the CSIRO diet books, because not only are they super tasty, super healthy and extremely varied, but they also include monthly meal plans and weekly shopping lists to make shopping easy.

Depending how much variety you need in your life, you can sit down once and plan 3-4 weeks worth of meals and use that repeatedly, pretty much forever. If you get sick of it, plan a new week and add that to the rotation. Repeat infinitum.

The point is, to have a list of your meals for the week on the fridge. You never again have to wonder what you are going to have for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Just follow the plan.

Online shopping saves time.

If you know what you are eating all month, you should also know your entire shopping list for the week. That makes it easy to buy it all and once and making one trip to the supermarket will save you a lot of time. Save even more time by buying it online and having it delivered to your house. You can choose your delivery time. Time the deliveries with meals that have ingredients that don't keep. EG if you're having fresh grilled salmon on Wednesday night, have your shopping delivered Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

If you are currently driving to the shop 3-4 times a week, once a week delivery will work out much cheaper. The only downside is sometimes certain things aren't available and won't ship with your order. If you need them for that night's meal, you'll be stuck.

Cook meals in advance.

There are literally thousands of recipe websites and blogs and most of them have hundreds of meals you can cook in advance to eat during the week. I like pre-cooking bolognese sauce, shepherd's pies or lasagne then storing it in single serves for lunches during the week. Soup is also good. Each weekend I make my mother quiches for lunch for the entire week and there are even some fantastic 'make in the evening, eat in the morning' recipes for breakfast too, particularly porridge.

Whatever your tastes, you'll be able to find plenty of options online if you look.

Keep a shopping list.

Keep a shopping list in the same place and whenever you realise you need something, get up right away and write it on the list. You might even want to keep the list on your phone, since that is probably always with you. However I like paper lists, because I can give them to other people in the household if they are going to the shop.

I like to separate my list by store. Supermarket, pet store & vet, chemist, etc.

Put your clothes out the night before.

Every night before bed, I think about what I will be doing the next day and lay my clothes out. Then I wake up, fall out of bed into the shower and get dressed. I don't have to make any decisions for the day until I am already clean and dressed and usually breakfast is already in the fridge for me, so I have 45 minutes of unthinking time before I actually have to get active for the day. Don't waste your decision making power on breakfasts, clothes and organising your day--do those things before you go to bed so your first, most important task of the day gets the best you.

Make sure everything in your house has a home.

Every item you own has to have a place in your house it belongs were it is out of the way. That means not on a table or chair, actually in a drawer or cupboard or wherever is appropriate. I also think it's important that similar things are all in the same place. EG: not having bookshelves in different rooms. This can be trickier if you have two bathrooms or different people have their own books, etc and want to keep them in their own rooms.

But at the very least, you need to know where every single thing in your house belongs and if something doesn't belong anywhere, you need to change that.

Put everything in its home once a day.

Once a day, go through every room of your house and put anything that is not in its home, back in its home. This may be hard if your house is a mess to begin with, but once everything is away, you'll find you can only move so many things in a day.

If you have children, teach them all things have a home and have them help you put everything back. Children can do this with their own toys without much supervision from four years of age.

Clean as you go.

To save putting things away from becoming an hour long nightmare every day, get in the habit of taking the extra 30 seconds to put things back when you are finished with them instead of leaving them for late.

Finished eating? Put the plates in the dishwasher. Getting in the shower? Put your clothes in the hamper while you are naked, don't leave them on the floor for later. Interrupted from reading? Put the book back on the shelf rather than leaving it on the couch for later. You'll find your possessions get damaged less often this way too.

Answer emails once a week.

I check my emails once a day and delete anything I don't have to reply to. However unless something is really urgent, I leave it in my inbox until the end of the week, then make a point of completely clearing it out all at once.

Set alarms for the things you forget.

For me, this is drinking water, exercising and medication. For you, it might be preparing breakfast for tomorrow, getting off the internet or turning off the TV, meditation or feeding the pets (my pets are their own alarm, but maybe yours are more apathetic). Anything you need to do every day, or certain days of the week, you can set an alarm for so you never forget.

The trick is training yourself to do it the moment the alarm goes off. If you wait a few minutes, you'll probably get distracted by something else and it still won't get done.

If you have kids or pets who get underfoot, plan distractions for them.

I don't like giving advice about kids, since I don't have any, but this is what worked for my mother and works now for my family and friends. I have lots of pets, so I am pretty confident advising everyone on difficult animals. I have a dingo and a blind cat draped over me as I type this.

Animals and children need mental stimulation and if they don't have it, they're going to come and interact with you to get it. Pets are probably a little easier to manage, because they can't talk and generally require less complicated distractions.

Your best bet with pets is to only feed them with treat and puzzle balls and offer them their breakfast (or dinner, depending on your schedule) right before you write/work. Alternatively, have a big basket of toys that are usually put away and get out three or four new ones each day. Put them down right before you need to focus and hopefully they will get bored around the time you have finished working.

You can do the same thing with children. Keep toys, TV, video games, etc out of reach while everyone is dressing, showering and eating at the start of the day. They should be focused on those activities, not playing. When you are ready to start work, give them their best distraction up first. Lego, video games, books, whatever. Something they are happy to self play with for an hour.

Teach them there is a set time they have to be self entertained before they can have your attention again, then go back to juggling when you are focusing on less important tasks, like washing clothes, etc.

If your children or pets fight or make too much noise together, just set them up in different parts of the house during writing time. Solo play builds personality.  I know some people try and write when their children are napping, but then they're always several hours up on you in sleep. You're better off napping when they nap and using their self directed play time as you self directed writing time.

Be aware of time.

Know how long it takes you to do things and don't over book your day. This one is just here for me personally, because I overbook every single day of my life, then end up stressed and rushing. However because I am pretty organised, I am stressed in a clean house, freshly showered with lunch, so it's not so bad.