Recreate: Inspiration To Write New, Fresh, Unique Stories

Recreate from the Mosaic of your MemoriesWriters recreate – everything we write is not truly unique. It comes from outside of itself.

Did you know? “The muses, the Greek inspirers of the creative arts, were the daughters of Memory, or Mnemosyne.” 1

Everything we experience, see, read, watch, hear, is archived on some level in our brain. As we write our subconscious draws from these billions of fragmented memories. This does not mean we plagiarize. Instead, drawing from experience, our own and that of others, we recreate, innovate, change, and forever alter the original. We create; new, fresh, and unique.

One night, I lay in bed watching the opening scenes from the movie Twilight. Bella’s voice-over talks about her decision to leave Arizona. “And this will be a good thing; I think.” In deciding to leave Arizona she is right into the event that begins her story. This is “The Inciting Incident”2. As I considered “the inciting incident” in Bella’s story my mind wandered into the intricate folds of my current work-in-progress. My thoughts ran through and weighed significant details as I considered new ideas and improvements to strengthen the initial scene, “the inciting incident”, in my own work.

My story is not Twilight. But something within that movie triggered a connection within my subconscious that influenced my writing. Echos of Bella, the scene in Arizona, and her softly spoken but decisive words are recreated in the inspiration that gave me new insight into the opening scenes of my current project.

In another example of fractured memories influencing new content, I was recently working on my current novel, ruminating on it in the darkness of the night, and daydreaming through the day. In it, the death of my protagonist’s father is a significant memory but the actual event had not found itself on the page. A scene came to mind but I couldn’t grasp the details. They were hazy, fuzzy. I delved deeper, trying to gain clarity in the image so that I could put it onto the page.

Aspects of the scene I could visualize in my mind’s eye echoed other memories. The setting reflected one I remembered from The Mummy Returns starring Brendan Fraser. The rich opulence, ancient artifacts, varnished wood surfaces, and the palpable sense of old money was mirrored in the room where I visualized my protagonist’s tragedy.

In my head I saw a picture and aspects of it echoed the set from that movie. As I dug deeper into my image, as I dissected it, I discovered a mosaic of memories. That setting was made of a thousand different rooms, ornaments, experiences. I could recreate from each segment of the mosaic, but collectively they created a unique setting.

From the mosaic of our mind and memory, we can recreate and find inspiration for new, fresh, unique stories, scenes, characters, and plots. Do you recreate, within your own writing, inspiration found in books or movies? How much influence do you feel your experiences and memories have on your writer’s voice and the stories you write?

Footnotes
1 “The Poetry Dictionary” by John Drury – First Edition, Page 158: Memory
2 “Hooked” by Les Edgerton – Chapter Three, Page 47: The Inciting Incident

Photo Credit: 03-25-10 © Nancy Ross

Unearth Your Archive Of Fiction Stories

Fiction stories and novels buried in an archive.Most writers have fiction stories from years ago that have since been abandoned to the dark recesses of a desk drawer archive. Some stories never made it past the opening lines, others were just a few chapters away from their dramatic conclusion. While some stories are best left hidden away, others can be revived and fashioned into more exciting plots.

If your current ideas aren’t inspiring you, go digging through your old files to find treasures you may have forgotten that you have! After years have passed, you can read over your partial first drafts with a fresh eye, as if they were written by someone else. Once you find a story that still has potential, read it over and look for areas that can be crafted into a new short story or novel.

Mine the Introduction

Most writers have the peak of their enthusiasm within the first chapter or scene of their story. Introductions bring the first characters and plot points into main focus. It is possible that your characters are incompatible for the story you put them in. A confident, powerful businesswoman may not belong in a sleepy Midwestern town when she’d shine in a bustling city. (Then again, she just might, providing a marked contrast. Your story may vary.) When you can extract characters from a weak plot, you can transfer them to a more exciting storyline.

On the other hand, your plot may shine, but your characters just aren’t interested in seeing the story through. They may be flat and lifeless, and not yield any additional information when you try character building techniques. It may be time to send those characters on their way, and give the story to more enthusiastic protagonists who will care about what’s happening in the world around them.

Dig into the Heart of the Story

For lengthier abandoned manuscripts, it can be harder to pinpoint exactly what went wrong. Characters seem to get minds of their own, going off in unexpected directions and wandering away from the story. Plots can weaken and meander, to the point where even you don’t know what is going to happen next.

While many writers prefer the excitement of an unplanned route, others need a solid plot outline to bring their story and characters back on track. Write out an outline of the plot so far, and see where the story is actually heading. If it is workable, then you can revive that story and get back to writing. If not, see what needs to be cut, rearranged, or expanded into new avenues. If you’re at a loss, use a mind map to free associate possibilities for your plot.

Carve Into Your Words

An abandoned story will need a lot of work, and you will need to put on your editor’s hat for awhile before getting back to the writing. Ruthlessly cut into your story, removing anything that is not serving the plot. You can literally do this with a pair of scissors and a lot of tape, or you can cut and paste within your word processing program. If you don’t want to toss out perfectly good writing that just doesn’t fit, put those unneeded phrases into an idea file that you can go over later.

Have you revived an aging story? What ideas do you use when called to rework an unfinished or finished manuscript?

Photo Credit: Orcmid

How (and Why) to Create a Portfolio of Clips

A writing friend of mine recently turned down a relatively low-paying assignment for a well-known print publication widely distributed on newsstands. Until now, she’s only written for the Web, and it stung a bit to say “no” to an actual “printed-on-paper” clip.

But the topic just didn’t appeal to her and she realized it would be a lot of work for a very small amount of money. Since she really doesn’t want to write for print in the future, a clip holds very little value for her.

Since the majority of my writing experience has been in print publications, she asked my opinion about the concept of “clips.” What are clips? And do you need them?

What is a “Clip?”

A writing “clip” carries the broad definition of any writing sample that has been published anywhere (including on the Web.)

The word “clip” comes from the days when writers would use scissors to cut (“clip”) their article from a newspaper or magazine, glue it on a sheet of white paper (for uniformity), make a clean photocopy and send it to their favorite magazine along with a winning query in the hopes of getting an assignment.

Nowadays, most writers scan in their clips and attach a PDF to their e-mailed query. (Am I showing my age?)

Do You Need Clips?

Some prospective clients today actually request “samples” rather than clips. There’s a big difference. A writing sample is simply something you wrote. It doesn’t have to have been published. A clip, however, has been published and implies experience. It can give you the leg up over the competition when you apply for a job or submit a query.

Ideally, you will accrue a variety of the clips in the fields you want to work in. A well-rounded magazine writer, for instance, wants to have clips of:

  • Q & A interviews
  • News items
  • Feature stories
  • Personality profiles
  • How-to articles

Many beginning writers ask me, “I don’t have any clips, and they ask for clips. What do I do?” Easy — send a sample. Don’t let a lack of clips hold you back from applying for your dream job or submitting to your dream publication. If they say yes, Voila! You have your first honest-to-goodness clip. Now what do you do with it?

What Should You Do with a Clip?

Scan it in to your computer and save it in a folder titled “Clips.” If it’s already electronic, then do a screen capture and, again, save it on your hard drive. Just because your article is on the Web now, don’t assume it will be there forever. Whether it started life digitally or on paper, also put it on some sort of back-up source, too… an external hard drive, flash drive or CD.

To easily find your clips on the Web, set up Google Alerts for your name. If your name is frequently misspelled, set up Google alerts for alternate spellings, too.

Then, when you need a particular type of article to showcase your writing skills, you can go to that folder on your hard drive and pull out an appropriate story. You can choose to sort your clips by date, publication/industry or style of story. You might even want to cross-reference them so you can find what you need easily.

Remember, only include an attachment if the client/editor says it’s okay. Otherwise, copy and paste the text in the body of the email, including the name of the publication where it originally appeared, and the date (if it’s less than one year old).

It’s totally okay to use older clips if they’re relevant, especially if you can’t see the date on the clip. It’s also okay to use a clip with no byline, or a clip with a pseudonym. (Although you may want to point it out in your query or cover letter.)

For my friend, who really has no aspirations to write for print magazine markets in the future, it was smart to turn down the assignment. Clips are worthless if they can’t help you achieve your writing goals.

Learn from My Mistakes

The answer to the question, “What should you do with clips?” is very different from the answer I gave when my friend asked me: “What do YOU do with clips?” I have clips dated from 1990 and on piled in Rubbermaid containers in my attic. They are, essentially, acting as home insulation.

No one told me back when I got my first clip to start scanning them in so I’d have a digital archive forever. But then I guess I’d have to buy fiberglass insulation to keep the upstairs offices warm all winter, so maybe I’m ahead of the game?

What do YOU do with clips?

Rescue your Darlings by Kenji Crosland

This post is part of the Guest Post Giveaway at the blog Unready and Willing. If you think articles about writing or personal development (or personal development for writers) sounds like a good fit for your blog, please take a look at the Guest Post Giveaway page and see if any of the articles spark your interest.

You may be familiar with the phrase “Murder your Darlings.” This is the mantra repeated over and over again by teachers of the revision process. For many writers this is a painful ordeal that seems to take the life from a piece. Painful as it is, cutting out the parts that seem most precious to you is essential in polishing your work. Oftentimes when an editor will suggest that you cut a passage out of your story or novel, it’ll be one of your favorite sections–this is probably because you felt very good writing it. You were in the flow, and everything that fell onto the page just “felt right” to you. And now this editor wants you to cut it? To trash it as though it never existed? How could they be so cruel?

Is this the part of the writing process that you hate the most? Do hate the feeling that the passages that you had had so much pleasure writing will not see the light of day? I certainly did when I started out writing, but there are good reasons for cutting the fat. Although certain passages are beautifully written, they may do nothing to contribute to a story’s plot or give any insight to the characters. Exchanges of dialogue, though clever, may not really be important at all. The character that you snuck into chapter three was forced into the story just because you thought he or she was interesting. Lost in the flow of your writing, you might have spent two paragraphs describing a horse-carriage and not even know it. These passages simply don’t belong.

Instead of getting out your ax and murdering your darlings right then and there, however, why not consider dropping them off at the orphanage so that another story might be able to pick them up? Essentially you can create a database of written material that just didn’t make the cut for your other stories. Not only does this take some of the pain out of revision, but it also can give you a place to access characters, descriptions, and clever turns of phrases that simply didn’t fit in your other work. Whenever you feel writer’s block coming on, you can infuse some of the good stuff you didn’t use from your previous work into your new one.

To establish this orphanage, create a folder on your computer for your rescued darlings and then make sub-folders with names like “characters,” “descriptions,” “dialogues,” “settings,” and so on. Every time you cut a substantial part from your story, copy it and paste into a new document. Title the document in a way that you’ll be able to recognize it easily when you come back to it. Your “settings” folder would have documents titled “Roadside Cafe,” “African Village” and so on. The “Characters” folder could have documents with the character names, or just a short description like: “Nerdy Mobster” or, “Obsessive-Compulsive Stockbroker.”

Personally I find that I tend not to use too many of my rescued darlings in my new work. It’s comforting, however, to know that they’ll always be there waiting should you ever need them.

Kenji Crosland is a creative writing major who, scared of becoming a starving artist, became a corporate headhunter in Tokyo. Since then he’s regained his sanity, quit his job, and now blogs about creating an ideal career at unreadyandwilling.com. He is also developing a web application that just might change the internet. Follow him on Twitter: @KenjiCrosland.

Have you ever cut a part of your story that you really wished you’d kept? What do you do with the darlings you cut? Have you used a character or scene that didn’t make the cut in one story for another? What kinds of safety nets do you use when editing and revising your work?

Measure Your Artistic Growth

Have you ever stumbled across something you wrote years ago and cringed? While some writers tend to throw away old works or pieces that just don’t work I am a bower bird. I gather up and archive by date everything I’ve worked on and as such have computer disks of articles, poems, stories, snippets, plots and lists that gather dust.

Every now and again I go on an adventure into the past to measure my artistic growth or hunt for long forgotten nuggets and raw gemstones. These archives are a wondrous mine of information and inspiration.

Date Everything: I find the most vital piece of information dug up in my archive is dates. By tracking dates you can watch patterns of creativity and progress. It is also interesting to consider what events caused various inspirations.

For example: In 2000 I wrote a number of poems that focused on creating life and the responsibility of parenting. These track back to the months I was pregnant with my first child and showed how much this major life event was in my thoughts. I compare these earlier attempts with similar poems written in 2004 (the birth of my son) and can stage the amazing growth those four years played in maturity, voice and technique.

Polishing Gems: Sometimes I dig through my archives and uncover an unpolished gem. If I remember writing the piece I also tend to remember the frustration I felt at the time. The work might not have come easily and I may never have been satisfied with what I created. Years later, I come back and the raw material is there. With the experience gained in those intervening years I can shape, craft and polish the writing into something sharper and clearer than the original.

Sifting Ideas: These archives area also a wealth of ideas for new material. Topics that have fallen out of you interest can be sparked or characters you had forgotten about may come back to life with an archive revival. Old blog/journal entries, poems or articles may be the lead you need for a new novel or the character of an older story the bones of a new one.

Photographs and Pictures: Other things to include in your archives are photographs, drawings and graphics. “A pictures is worth a thousand words” and you may just find those words are drawn out of you by an old photograph or painting.

Reading: Being immersed in language and art is a wonderful way to recharge your creativity. Reading is a great way to relax and the added delight of enjoying your own writing and rediscovering pieces you had forgotten about is empowering for your spirit. Yes, some of the work will be cringe worthy, but it is also enlivening. How far has time brought you?

Do you keep an archive of your work? Why or why not? How do you measure your artistic growth? Do you feel it’s important to look back and see the path you’ve trod?