Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Generating New Ideas

Julio Casares IV
The most common characteristic I find in all creatives is fear of the blank canvas. For writers a blank page can be paralyzing, which at times seems silly but in the moment it is extremely real.
But before you run off to bed early or start to reprimand yourself for buying all those 15-dollar moleskin notebooks, consider some very simple aids to generate fresh creative ideas.
Get Some Fresh Air!
Actually being outside observing the world tremendously improves your ability to create your own on paper. It seems obvious but, as writers, we forget that at times we can interchange sitting on the couch with a book and tub of Ben & Jerry’s with talking a walk to the park with a tub of Ben and Jerry’s.
The Indiana Dunes State Park is a great place to start. It is sometimes taken for granted by us in Northwest Indiana, but let us not forget that we have such a beautiful space in our backyard to visit and squeeze the old mind grapes!
P.S. I suggest leaving the smartphone in the car.
Address: 1600 N 25 E, Chesterton, IN 46304
Art Inspires Art
Having a great conversation with another artist, no matter what the field, can inspire great ideas. Often, the best way to converse with great artists is by experiencing their art. Whether it’s listening to a challenging album, going to an art gallery, or seeing a great film, there are plenty of opportunities to take in artistic expression.
A great option is the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Chicago. It houses fantastic art and exhibitions and has extremely reasonable admission prices: $12, or $7 for students, teachers, and seniors.
Address: 220 E Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
Read Some Non-Fiction
Sometimes real world events can be as hilarious and dramatic as fiction. Picking up a newspaper, magazine, or good non-fiction book that showcases some good writing can be extremely helpful for ideas. We are in an election year, therefore material is in abundance.
Historical non-fiction can also inspire great pieces set in some past time. The research alone can strengthen the authenticity of your world building.
Be Strong
The moment between an idea popping in your head and becoming lost forever in the library of what was that thing I said that one-day is infinitesimal. When you have a grasp on something, write it down! Write and write, even if the whole time you’re lashing yourself for having the audacity to think it can be. It’s perfectly natural to think it’s nothing special and you should get back to the new season of Orange Is The New Black, but maybe, after a little time, you’ll read it back and have a new lovely literary baby to cuddle up with.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Your Creative Environment

Mitchell Wiesjahn
Most writers will want to have a separate environment for writing their greatest works. So if you have this separate space, wherever it may be, you should now prepare it to be a proper writing environment. You may ask: what would qualify as a good place to write? How do I prepare it for writing? Why do I really need to prepare it for writing?
Preparing a proper space is necessary because your designated writing space needs to allow you to write without distraction and needs to ensure maximum creative productivity. This is part of the reason you won’t want to write in a living room that could have distractions like television, people, or pets disturbing a peaceful writing session. Distractions like these not only hinder your writing, they can take away from your creative muse. That great idea you had is gone as quick as your dog can bark. A proper environment should block out the rest of the world to let you write in peace. Think of places in your home that might provide such a place. You may have an office space already, but if not, you could set up shop in a laundry room (Stephen King did that at one time), an attic, a basement, or even possibly your bedroom, if you can modify it to your needs as a writer.
             That’s not to say that your environment should just be about finding peace. It also can bring up great inspiration. As a writer, you may be building fantastical worlds for readers to escape to. Think of setting up your writing space as an exercise for building your grand world. Think about your work and what you need to envision as you write, then just decorate as necessary.  As a fantasy writer, maybe you’ll try to fortify your space with illustrations of Middle Earth. Science Fiction writers will probably want to use this space to properly set themselves in outer space by setting up constellations. Throwing in a Death Star would most likely help too.
            You might also want to think about making your space as real as possible, not just an artificial environment that you are piecing together. If we are to think of this place you’ve constructed being as real as any setting, not to mention making the space help you write about vibrant settings, could you add a touch of smell that could invoke your creative muse? Maybe you are writing about a doctor as a main character and his adventures in the medical field, how about making your working space smell as sanitized as a hospital to help you become one with the character? Depending on what you want to write about, you may want to put some thought into what sort of smells your characters will encounter, for that can only help you in making your own writing come off as realistic and sensory as possible.
            If we talk sensory, then touch is also noteworthy. It might be easier to envision than smell, as you might be more aware of what you touch than what you smell (unless the smell is very distinctive from others). If you’re in fantasy, maybe incorporate some tree bark or castle concrete into your space. This not only serves as a visual element, but if you are procrastinating and suffering from writer’s block, touching these items could get you back into the fold, and they will serve as comfort in such times. In this case, your environment is becoming a breathing entity, and if you’re incorporating smell, then it becomes even more alive with every addition you make.
Decorating doesn’t need to be expensive, but it needs to inspire you to write. What you write could potentially benefit you tremendously, so keep in mind that this expense of decorating (or world building exercise if you prefer) is really just a small investment. Posters are not expensive, and if you’re nerdy like me you may just use childhood toys to help you out. Something that you may also want to consider is the positivity you should put into your space. You may think a cheesy line about believing in yourself doesn’t help, but a few inspirational quotes can go a long way in getting through those plot holes you need to fill up.
Maybe this doesn’t work for you, or you aren’t sure how to go about using space to generate creativity. You might consider examining some of these articles, which can provide you more information about where to write your great novel or short story.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Adopting Ideas and Maintaining a Journal

Tiffany T. Cole
Adopting Ideas
I'm one of those writers who gets more ideas than I can handle. Possibilities and what-ifs are constantly on my mind, and I'm acutely aware that nearly everything I look at and everything I hear has some kind of story if I ask the right questions about whatever features stood out to me. When I walk past a group of people and hear fragments of an animated conversation about something that happened, I automatically fill in the blanks of what I didn’t hear with a what-if story of my own. Similarly, when I see an item that is out of place or unusual, I start asking how and why until a scene emerges.
Sometimes, though, those ideas are too self-contained for me to develop a full story—maybe just a character, scene, or setting. When too many of my ideas are self-contained, I consider adopting ideas in one of three ways:
Nanowrimo's Adopt a Plot Thread
NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is a writing movement that takes place every November in which people write 50,000 words in 30 days. NaNoWriMo has a writing community that's beneficial all year around, especially if you're just trying to find ideas. The Adopt a Plot thread is viewable even if you're not a member. You can simply scroll through the pages of the thread and adopt as many plots as you want. To access the Adoption Society, where you can pick from a variety of adoption threads, go to
Because anyone else on the thread can also take the ideas, I suggest you change any specific setting or character names and give whatever idea you choose your own personal twist.
Dreams and Nightmares
My dreams are vivid with recurring themes, so much so that I make a habit of recording all the characters, settings, and feelings in a dream diary because I'm certain I can get a story out of it. If your dreams aren't vivid or you don't remember them, that doesn't mean you can't benefit from this method of idea adoption. You don't have to use your own dreams, especially if you're close to them. You can always ask your friends and family to share their dreams with you or just go on Google and read about people's dreams.
Writing Prompts and Idea Generators
For me, the only type of writing prompt I can get a full short story or novel from are prompts that indicate characterization and specific conflicts. However, there are many different types of prompts, and every writer responds differently to them. Finding prompts and idea generators is as easy as doing a quick Google search. However, here are a few recommendations:
Maintaining a Journal
Regardless of whether you adopt ideas or they just bombard you on a day-to-day basis, it's absolutely vital to have two journals:
·         A small journal or some place on your phone to record any thoughts that occur to you. Often, I just end up writing ideas all over my hand and arm, but that makes washing my hands a devastating process.
·         A document or idea journal where you gather all these ideas and then, later, go through the ideas and section them. In my idea journal, I categorize each idea by its genre; whether it'll be a short story, flash fiction, novella, novel, or part of a series; and if I'm likely to actually pursue the idea. I then flesh out the ideas I'm likely to pursue.
Ideas come in all shapes or forms. No matter how they come to you, whether you borrow them from someone else or they pop up when you least expect it, each idea is valuable and has the opportunity to be the story you were looking to write.  
Tiffany T. Cole is a freelance editor and a copy editor for Limitless Publishing and the Purdue University Chronicle. She has edited and critiqued dozens of newspaper articles and dozens of books, fiction and nonfiction alike, in a variety of genres. Before that, she was an editorial assistant for Month9Books and the president of Reader's Den, a website where she reviewed and promoted books for small publishers, self-published authors and traditionally published authors, for two years. If you need an editor or editorial advice, e-mail Tiffany at

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Post by
Kathryn Page Camp
Some writers have trouble coming up with ideas. I have the opposite problem. I have computer files filled with potential story lines, and my challenge is deciding which one to use next.
So where do they come from? Many of my ideas are generated by what is happening around me. I’m not as good an observer as many writers are, but I see enough. A good story line comes when I watch strangers interacting or read a newspaper article and ask questions: What makes them act like that? What will happen next? What if the facts were changed?
Sometimes my ideas come from reading books with similar themes. The idea for my first middle-grade historical novel, which I am now circulating to publishers, came from reading Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston. Their book introduced me to our infamous actions toward Japanese Americans living on the west coast during World War II. But those events are quickly fading into history and losing their impact. So I wondered what it would be like to write a story that brought children into the experience and kept them from forgetting it.
But maybe you would rather hear it from a widely-published writer. Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is one of Indiana’s best-known children’s authors, and her works include the Newberry winning Shiloh. She also wrote How I Came to Be a Writer, which is a memoir for middle-grade readers. She describes how she gets her ideas in a chapter called “The Things That Make Me Up.”
Many of her ideas come the way some of mine do—from reading the newspaper and observing the world around her. But what does she do when they don’t flow? Here is her answer from How I Came to Be a Writer.
I found it helpful then to just sit down in a quiet place and get reacquainted with myself. What things were important to me? What did I know so well I could almost write about it with my eyes closed?
So if you are having trouble coming up with ideas, don’t panic. Watch the world around you. Read. And if that isn’t successful, find a quiet place and think about what matters to you.
It works for Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.
Kathryn Page Camp is a licensed attorney and full-time writer. Writers in Wonderland: Keeping Your Words Legal was a Kirkus’ Indie Books of the Month Selection for April 2014. The second edition of Kathryn’s first book, In God We Trust: How the Supreme Court’s First Amendment Decisions Affect Organized Religion, was released on September 30, 2015. You can learn more about Kathryn at