Need a Jump Start? (Penny Rader)

Since we’ve been discussing writing resources and inspiration this month, I thought I’d share what helps me jump start my brain.

Pictures and Collages

One of my favorite pastimes is flipping through magazines, looking for pictures I can use for characters and settings. I also like to clip out motivational words and pictures and fix them onto my writing notebooks with clear contact paper.

I’d also like to make a collage for a series I’m planning. Since I haven’t done one yet to show you, I found this site with some great examples and how-to info:
The links she gives for the Jenny Crusie collage don’t work, but this one does .


I love to listen to music, especially songs with a story. I’ve heard many authors say they create soundtracks for their stories. I’d love to try this, but haven’t quite figured out how to go about finding the songs that would fit the story I’m working on. I think it’d be a helpful tool, sort of like a habit maybe, where I’d get used to turning on the soundtrack and the story would leap into my mind and out my fingertips.

Books about Creativity (As many of you know, I love writing exercises!)

Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Igniting the Writer Within by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett. Turn fifteen minutes a day into productive sessions that get and keep your creativity flowing. Here's an exercise to try: " Detail the senses by writing for fifteen minutes on a certain food...for someone who has never tasted it. Write about a visual scene for someone who can't see, and write about a piece of music for someone who can't hear."

A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life by Judy Reeves. This book has writing prompts for every day. For example, one for today is “Returning takes too long.”

The Writer’s Retreat Kit by Judy Reeves is a workshop in a box, with a guidebook and interactive cards. An example of one of the prompts: “It’s what whispers your name at night.”

Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True by Elizabeth Berg. Here’s a quote: “You feel the call…Now answer it as fully as you can. Take the risk to let all that is in you, out. Escape into the open.” This book has exercises that unleash creativity and fire passion/emotion into writing. Here's an example: "Write a description of something you look at every day in three different types of light (e.g., morning sun, dusk, lamplight)."

Panning for Gold in the Kitchen Sink: Everyday Creative Writing by Michael C. Smith and Suzanne Greenberg. This book has 40+ exercises based on daily life. For example, “Invent two plausibly odd remedies for whichever ailment you wish to cure…Begin a poem, story, or essay that incorporates one of these ‘cures.’”

Pencil Dancing: New Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit by Mari Messer. “Fun…is a central element of creativity.” Try this exercise: "Do something a kid would do. Walk in the rain and splash through puddles, play with bubbles in the bathtub, leap into a pile of leaves, run on the dewy grass in your bare feet. Write about how this experience felt."

If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland. I found two chapter titles particularly intriguing: “Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It for Their Writing” and “You Do Not Know What Is in You—an Inexhaustible Fountain of Ideas.”

Room to Write: Daily Invitations to a Writer’s Life by Bonni Goldberg. Here’s an example: “Today pick a stranger who fascinates you. First, describe the person’s spirit, soul or energy, without relying on physical appearance. Then begin the physical description.”

The Pocket Muse: Ideas and Inspirations for Writing by Monica Wood. This is a book of prompts, exercises, and illustrations. Here’s an example: “Write about your earliest superstition.”

The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron. “…writing is best broken down into a one-day-at-a-time, one-page-at-a-time process. We do not need the courage to write a whole novel. We need the courage only to write on the novel today.”

Writing toward Home: Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way by Georgia Heard. “My notebook…always reminds me I’m a writer, and it helps me live a considered life that doesn’t spin by focused only on groceries, dinner, and car repairs.”

I’d Rather Be Writing: A Guide to Finding More Time, Getting More Organized, Completing More Projects and Having More Fun by Marcia Golub. Prompt: “Something is lost, not long ago but now. What is lost? What does the character do?”

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. There’s a chapter about giving yourself permission to write “shitty first drafts” and one about writing what you can see though a 1” x 1” picture frame instead of worrying about writing the entire book right now. Or something to that effect. :D I don’t own this book and it’s been a while since I read it, but these two things are what stick in my mind.

So…what works for when you need inspiration? Care to try your hand at any of the prompts and exercises listed above?


Terry Spear said...

I read books. Sometimes they'll give me an idea for a story. Like one of my favorites is a hero or heroine half drowned on the beach in a couple of historicals and one romantic suspense I read. My version: a werewolf hunk naked, half-dead on an Oregon beach with an approaching winter storm in Seduced by the Wolf. So for me, beloved themes jumpstart my own muse. :)

Penny Rader said...

Great idea, Terry! I like that. Beloved themes. Thank for sharing. Sounds like an excellent story, btw. :D

Tanya Hanson said...

Hi Penny! Sometimes a picture but most often a name of a person or a place inspires me, also old photographs, as I write Western historicals.

One theme I love is H and H getting snowbound. I imagine in the Old West is was pretty miserable LOL but doesn't it sound cozy LOL?


Author Roast and Toast said...

Great blog. The trip to publication can be long and emotionally draining, but when it happens, WOW!
Good luck to you all.

Penny Rader said...

I love snowbound stories, too, Tanya! I imagine that as long as there was enough firewood, being snowbound in the Old West could've been quite cozy. :D

I like names, too. One of our client's (who I've never met) has an unusual name and I wrote it down on a post-it. From time to time I'd see the name and remind myself that I needed to create a character to go with the name. For some reason, I thought it was a male name, then I saw the client's nickname and realized the client was female. Boy, did I feel stupid! :D I did finally use the name in my free read for The Wild Rose Press.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Mary! Thanks for stopping by! :D

Joan Vincent said...

The collages were great, Penny. Thanks for the links. I too cut out faces for my characters. Before I begin a book I make a notebook with pics for all the major ones and I also do family trees. I hadn't thought of a collage--may have to try that. It's like a scrapbook page of a book. I often play music when I write, especially if music is involved. I have a flamenco dance in one of my Honour books. The music was priceless to me there.

I love the exercises given for the Elizabeth Goldberg book. Thanks for a great post.

Nina Sipes said...

Penny! I found merely reading your post made some differences for me.
Thank you. I just turned a corner in my current WIP!
See how inspirational you are! I don't know where you find such wonderful stuff, but I thank you for bringing it to our attention.
Thanks again.

Starla Kaye said...

Another great post, Penny! You're always so helpful with links, etc. I, too, clip out pictures from magazines and catalogs. I scan them into my character/settings file. I also get photos from online places and catalogs. Then I create a collage of characters, clothes, houses, floor plans, and much more for each of my stories. I keep that collage file saved with my files for the finished books.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Joan! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I think a family tree is such a cool idea. Catherine Anderson has them in the front of a couple family series (serieses?) she writes. I haven't tried my hand at a family tree yet.

Penny Rader said...

Wow, Nina. So glad to be of help. What made the difference for you?

Penny Rader said...

Starla, I love how you scan in it all in to create a collage. And what a great idea to keep it with the finished book. That'd be helpful if you ever need to refer back to it.

Deborah Schneider said...

I've done a "Mind Map" of the story and a collage for several recent books. It's a fun way to get the basic story details out there.

I'm going to try creating an Altered Book for the next Western romance. I've already started saving images.

Great resources.

Pat Davids said...

Oh my gosh. If I did all this stuff I'd never get any writing done.

I do like to listen to music sometimes, but not vocals because the words distract me.

Wonderful post Penny. What a perfect way to show that there is no wrong way to go about writing. We are each unique individuals and we have to search out and find what works best for ourselves.

Joanna Aislinn said...

Almost anything can get me going, but music probably more than anything. Maybe the idea for a book will come from a song that tells a story. In scenes I like my characters to act on what they might have heard in a song, too.

Since I'm a pantster an idea--usually 'spinoff' in quality--can take flight from one comment or question between characters (got a whole book from one of those). I even made up a character name and realized she could probably carry a story based on her name!

Joanna Aislinn
The Wild Rose Press Jan 15, 2010

P.L. Parker said...

Great ideas. As I have mentioned numerous times, I watch the Discovery Channel. I've come up with more story lines doing that.

Nina Sipes said...

How can you not be inspired by reading, Panning for Gold in the Kitchen Sink, or the one about the Pocket Muse? The biggest problem I have is not thinking up new material, it is thinking up new material on a Work In Progress.
I haven't got to the sagging middle. I'm at the fainting first third.

Rox Delaney said...

WOW!!! I'm overwhelmed with info. Thanks, Penny!

Penny Rader said...

Thanks for stopping by, Deborah. Can you elaborate on Mind Mapping and Altered Books? Sounds intriguing.

Penny Rader said...

Hi Pat! What kind of music do you listen to?

Penny Rader said...

Hi Joanna! Thanks for visiting. I love story songs and song titles. I have at least one story whose title came from a song. I love country music because many, if not most, of the songs are great stories.

Care to share the character name you made up?

Penny Rader said...

Welcome, P.L. I don't have cable. Are there specific shows on the Discovery Channel that you watch for ideas. I'm tickled that so many shows are now available to watch online.

Penny Rader said...

LOL, Nina. One of the things I like about writing exercises and prompts is they can be quite helpful with whatever I'm working on. They've helped me get to know my characters and generate story possibilities.

Penny Rader said...

LOL, Rox. I was afraid I'd gone overboard.

Pat Davids said...

I listen to the classics like Beethoven, Mozart and Bach. I really love the Chopin Nocturnes. I have some bagpipe music, but my favorite CD is Ladysmith Black Mombassa. Okay, they are vocals, but since I don’t speak African I’m not distracted by the words.