Writing Inspiration: Siblings

sibling quote
Photo by: istanabagus.com

With the holidays coming to a screeching halt, I felt it was time to take a break and get away from the season. We’ve often discussed inspiration and certain things that spark great stories. This week, I’ve been thinking about siblings, their importance, and how they inspire us to be better writers and people.

Our brothers and sisters, blood relatives or not, can help motivate us in ways no one else can. I’m fortunate to have two younger brothers, one 6 years younger and one 12 years younger, and they each add something special to my life. One is more introverted and sarcastic, but his passion for the things and people he loves is contagious. The other is more outgoing and sensitive, but his drive to succeed makes even me jealous. Both are very bright, talented guys who will go far in life.

The Perks

When recently talking to a friend about her sibling she said, “Your sibling is the only person who really understands you and your faults. They know how you were raised and where you came from, and there’s no judgment. Even though we [her and her older brother] are complete opposites in most ways, it’s that foundation and those differences that bring us together … the jabs, the sparring make it fun.”

I couldn’t have said it better. My brothers and I fought when we were younger, but thankfully we have a bond stronger than ever as adults. We are alike and different in many ways, but we were raised similarly. I had it a little harder being the oldest, but it made me who I am today, and I would not trade anything for that. They understand where I’ve come from and who I am, and seldom question my decisions, even when the rest of the world does. We don’t always agree, but we’re always there for one another.

People in a sibling role can remember those little details you forget, making for great stories. They can be a great source when writing because sometimes you have the memory but not the details. I remember one brother acting out The Mask and Aladdin in almost their entirety. I remember the other one dumping an entire case of fundraiser M&Ms and mixing it with baking soda and dish washing liquid when I was supposed to be babysitting him. I got into so much trouble for that …

Helping raise my younger siblings also made me a better mom. I had already changed diapers, rocked a little one to sleep, cleaned up various bodily fluids, and so on, so when it came time for me to have my own, I was somewhat prepared. Over the years, they have become my safe haven at family reunions and holiday functions, and help break the ice when things get uncomfortable in social events. And things always get uncomfortable. As the oldest, I want to set a good example, and I want them to know they can do anything they set their mind to. They help fuel the desire to be a better person.

What If You Don’t Have a Sibling?

My friend also said she was sad she had an only child because her daughter wouldn’t experience the sibling bond. I disagree. I believe you can have a sibling-type person in your life – the kind of friend you’ve grown up or maybe even a close roommate. The kind of friends who get you, the ones who are always there, and you may not always see eye-to-eye, but you know if you need them, they’re there. That’s what it’s about.

This week, try to write a story about your sibling or a person who is like a sibling to you. If you don’t have such a person, pick the person who you fight with the most but still love unconditionally. That sums up most sibling relationships (wink, wink). And if you have an estranged sibling, maybe consider reaching out. As a new year approaches, it may be time to take the step and see what happens. Happy writing!

If You Want to Write: Novel Organization

“Consistency is the horror of the world.”

– Brenda Ueland

This chapter ranks as one of my favorites in this book. It’s all about how to write a novel, which as many know is one of the hardest things you’ll ever attempt.

Ueland encourages writers to “write the novel first, and plan it afterward.” When I read this, I immediately thought that she was crazy. How would you keep up with the story, characters, conflict, etc. if you don’t plan it?

Then I thought about my own book and how I work on it. I write chapters at a time and plan to put it all together once it’s done. As I write, I don’t think about where it will fit or the chapter sequence; I just write. Ueland recommends this technique because it allows the writer to write freely without bogging down on the details. She says you must tell the story first.

outline exampleHowever, novel organization depends on the writer and the story. Some writers need everything laid out so they stay focused, while others can just write. My book lends itself to writing freely because there’s no story arch or developing characters, instead it’s mini stories. If your novel has these things, you may want to consider organizing as little or much as you want.

Here are some ways to organize your thoughts:

1. Outline. Do you remember the Roman numerals? Here, you may actually use all those outlining lessons! Start with your topic and work your way down the page. Events you want to include, new characters and conflicts. You can even write an outline for each chapter or major event, and piece them together in the order you want. You do not have to finish all the outlines either. It may feel less overwhelming to start with one or two and write off those at first.

2. Index cards. You can buy a stack of lined index cards and plan anything you want. Group the index cards with paperclips, or you can buy different colors to represent different things. I like to use legal pads or spiral notebooks too because I can’t always work on a computer and may want to jot down the basics.

3. The snowflake method. Until this post, I was unaware of this method, but it seems interesting. You start with a one-sentence main idea, then turn that into a paragraph summary. Then you flesh out characters and start writing the narrative. Check out Randy Ingermanson’s site for the full process.

Of course, Ueland would advise against any of these methods, but some people need guidance and organization in order to produce. I could not sit down with an idea and say, go! I wouldn’t get very far. Also, what works for one may not work for another, so I encourage you to find a method that appeals to you and get to work – even if it’s only 30 minutes a week.

Additional links I found during my research:

http://writersrelief.com/blog/category/organization-techniques-for-writers/

http://wordsharpeners.wordpress.com/2009/09/02/planning-outlining-and-organizing-your-novel-or-not/

And feel free to share your organization tips and processes below. Happy writing!

If You Want to Write: People Make a Difference

Happy New Year, everyone! As 2014 kicks off, we’re full of excitement as we set our resolutions or simply hope that things will not suck. In honor of new beginnings and change, let’s talk about something that motivates us: people.

Ueland’s chapter 15 “a fountain of ideas” touches on something much deeper. Yes, we are full of ideas – good and bad – but we need certain things in order for those ideas to blossom. We need courage, faith, rest, and as much as I hate it sometimes, people.

Friends, family, coworkers, strangers. People surround us all the time, and whether we admit it or not, they influence who we are and how we act. They can make or break us. They can build us up or tear us down. In order to be ourselves and write from our true forms, we must decide who is worth our time and energy. We must weed out those who hold us back and doubt our abilities, because with doubt, there are fewer possibilities.

In order to be a fountain of ideas and let our creativity seep out, we must know how to handle people – “to work and shine eternally.” Enjoy these tips!

Avoid negativity: This is my biggest challenge. I feel the need to fix things, but sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you have to stop trying – if only for a few hours – and get away from what brings you down. Negativity can destroy creativity.

Meet new people: I love meeting new cool people. Yes, I hate people as a whole, but every now and then I meet someone who is worth time and attention. My best friends are these people; they are people I have developed long-term relationships with, some for more than a decade.

Pay attention: If you want people to listen to you, listen to them. You can also test your observation skills by really listening and getting to know them. You never know when a small detail will fuel something bigger.

Laugh A LOT: We should laugh as much as possible. It’s a great stress release, and the world is too serious. Find those people who make you laugh until your abs hurt and your eyes tear up. Those people are special.

Take a break: Socializing can be exhausting, and we don’t always feel like chatting. Don’t force it, and take a break when needed. If someone gets upset about it, they’ll live. If they are good for you, they will be there when you’re ready.

Be yourself: Honesty goes a long way, and not everyone appreciates or can handle it. It’s okay. Part of fueling your creativity is to not fear who you are and letting those ideas pour out. Your audience knows when you’re bullstuffing them, so don’t do it. Use the good and bad to write honest pieces.

Feel free to share your tips below, and happy writing!

Writing for Web: Style

Beethoven had style. He was one of the most famous composers and pianists in the world, and I quote a dear friend who said Beethoven was, “the heavy metal of classical music.” This week I attended Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and was inspired to tie in the experience into this week’s topic.

Style is different from grammar. It’s not about comma rules and parts of speech, it’s about consistency and professionalism. Felder advises Web writers to create a style guide or use a well-known one. Which style you use depends on your audience, but I recommend the following:

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law (for articles and reviews)

The Chicago Manual of Style (for articles and reviews)

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (for scholarly writing or research-based projects)

The Elements of Style (creative writing or any of the writing types above)

This may seem like a hefty list of sources, but pick one and stick with it. However, proofreaders should be fluent in all of the above to make themselves more marketable and knowledgeable.

So why is style important?

Imagine sitting in the symphony hall. The musicians and chorus members are wearing whatever they could find. Some are in sweatpants, others in gowns, some are wearing bright neon shorts, and others have flashy jewelry. The audience is so distracted by the performers’ attire they are not able to focus on or appreciate the music.

This is what readers experience when reading content with inconsistent style. In one sentence you may see website, in another Web site, somewhere else 7, then seven. If you are inconsistent, your readers will think you are indecisive and unprofessional. Where there are inconsistencies, there is chaos.

Now imagine the symphony hall where the female musicians are in white tops and black bottoms, and the men are in tuxedos. The chorus above them is dressed all in black, and everyone is performing in perfect harmony. You not only have organic flow, but the main focus is the music not the wardrobe.

Most companies need and have a style guide to keep readers focused on the content and product. This also shows you care about the content, therefore, you care about your audience’s ability to understand it.

Another topic Felder discusses is personal style. This is important because you want your readers to connect with you. So, before you start writing, answer these questions first:

1. Will you use text lingo? Will everyone know what the emoticons and acronyms mean?

2. Are clichés okay? What age group are you targeting? Will they understand the meaning if you use them?

3. Is profanity acceptable? Many writers agree this is only okay in creative writing and projects.

4. How will you address your audience? Will you write to them or about them? For example: one must write well in order to succeed OR you must write well in order to succeed.

Once you address the questions and start to create a style guide, you are ready for the world to see your personal style. It doesn’t matter how cool, trendy, or professional you are; if your readers have to work to understand you, they won’t come back. Remember to keep it simple, and make your content the best it can be. We can’t all be Beethoven, but we can show our audiences we care what they think.