Category Archives: Creative Writing

Need inspiration or a cure for writer’s block? You’ll find it here. This category focuses on the creative process from organizing your writing time to developing your ideas and finding your author’s voice.

Browse through the list or use the search box at the top of the page to find just what you are looking for, and may the Muse be with you!

Be Your Own Critic Without Being Critical

Be your own critic without being critical

Here’s how: First write a single descriptive sentence.

Now look at that sentence not as an author, but as a reader or critic.  You can see what’s there, but what’s not there?

To find out, ask some questions about what hasn’t been conveyed (yet).

For example, I write, “It was dawn in the small western town.”

Then I stand back and ask:

1. What time of year was it?

2. What state?

3. Is it a ghost town?

4. How many people live there?

5. Is everything all right in the town?

6. What year is it?

These are just the questions that come to my mind – things I’d like to know more about.  Your questions would likely be quite different and for the purposes of this example, you may want to jot down a few additional questions of your own.

Next, let your Muse come up with as many answers for each question as possible.

Example:

For question 6, What year is it?, my answers might be:

A. 1885

B. Present Day

C. 2050

D. After the apocalypse.

Now go back to answering questions, but this time, ask questions about each of your answers to the original question.

Example:

For the original question, What year is it?, one of our answers was D. After the Apocalypse.

So now ask:

1. What kind of apocalypse?

2. How many people died in the Apocalypse?

3. How long ago was the disaster, and so on.

Now let’s expand on this technique.  Suppose you write a one-sentence description of your story.  Then, by alternating between critical analysis and creative Musings, you will quickly work out details about your story’s world, who’s in it, what happens to them and what it all means.

But you can also use this technique at any point in the story development process.  Pick any sentence from one that describes your plot to one that speaks to an attribute of one of your characters.  Apply the technique and you will expand that area of your story quickly and easily into some fascinating new material.

In the end, you may very well turn out to be your own best critic.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver

This technique is at the heart of my
Storyeaver Story Development SoftWare

Are You Writing a Tale or a Story?

When an author tells a tale, he simply describes a series of events that both makes sense and feels right. As long as there are no breaks in the logic and no mis-steps in the emotional progression, the structure of the tale is sound.

Now, from a structural standpoint, it really doesn’t matter what the tale is about, who the characters are, or how it turns out. The tale is just a truthful or fictional journey that starts in one situation, travels a straight or twisting path, and ends in another situation.

The meaning of a tale amounts to a statement that if you start from “here,” and take “this” path, you’ll end up “here.” The message of a tale is that a particular path is a good or bad one, depending on whether the ending point is better or worse than the point of departure.

This structure is easily seen in the vast majority of familiar fairy “tales.” Tales have been used since the first storytellers practiced their craft. In fact, many of the best selling novels and most popular motion pictures of our own time are simple tales, expertly told.

In a structural sense, tales have power in that they can encourage or discourage audience members from taking particular actions in real life. The drawback of a tale is that it speaks only in regard to that specific path.  But in fact, there are many paths that might be taken from a given point of departure. Suppose an author wants to address those as well, to cover all the alternatives. What if the author wants to say that rather than being just a good or bad path, a particular course of action the best or worst path of all that might have been taken?

The message has now become no longer just a simple statement but a “blanket” statement. Such a blanket statement provides no “proof” that the path in question is the best or worst, it simply says so.

Of course, an audience is not likely to simply accept such a bold claim, regardless of how well the tale is told.  The audience will want proof.  In the early days of telling tales, an author related the fiction to his audience in person. Should he aspire to wield more power over his audience and elevate his tale to become a blanket statement, the audience would no doubt cry, “Foul!” and demand that he prove it. Someone in the audience might bring up an alternative path that hadn’t been included in the tale.

The author might then counter that rebuttal to his blanket statement by describing how the path proposed by the audience was either not as good or better (depending on his desired message) than the path he did include.

One by one, he could disperse any challenges to his tale until he either exhausted the opposition or was overcome by an alternative he couldn’t dismiss.

But as soon as these expanded tales began to be recorded in media such as song ballads, epic poems, novels and stage plays, , the author was no longer present to defend his blanket statements.

As a result, some authors opted to stick with simple tales of good and bad, but others pushed the blanket statement tale forward.  Through centuries of trial and error, a new art form evolved that was able to support a blanket statement and satisfy an audience even when the author isn’t present: the “story”.

A story is a much more sophisticated form of communication than a tale, and is in fact a revolutionary leap forward in the ability of an author to make a point. Simply put, when creating a story, and author starts with a tale of good or bad, expands it to a blanket statement of best or worst, and then includes all the reasonable alternatives to the path he is promoting to preclude any counters to his message. In other words, while a tale is a statement, a story becomes an argument.

Now this puts a huge burden of proof on an author. Not only does he have to make his own point, but he has to prove (within reason) that all opposing points are less valid. Of course, this requires than an author anticipate any objections an audience might raise to his blanket statement and include a response to them as part of the story itself.

The most efficient way to do this is to create additional characters, each of which represents one of the major alternative approaches to solving the story’s issues that a reader or audience member might consider.    The story’s plot is then designed to pit one approach against another until only the character representing the author’s “message approach” must make the final choice or take the final action.  As long as each approach has been given its due, the audience will tend to accept the author’s message that his promoted approach is either the best or the worst.

In time, these characters evolved into the archetypes we know today, such as a character who represents the voice of Reason, and one who stands for the Passion of the heart.  The Mentor, Trickster, Conscience, Temptation, Sidekick, and Skeptic all developed to illustrate the impact different approaches had on solving the story problem.

The avatar of the author’s point of view became the Hero, and the diametrically opposed approach became the Villain.  As the art form continued to grow and the arguments became more complex, the Hero stopped being a single player in the story and split into two separate kinds characters:  a Main Character who grapples with the moral or ethical aspects of the story’s problem and a Protagonist who struggles with the physical or logistic aspects.  Similarly, the Villain split into an Obstacle Character who represents the opposite moral or ethical stance to that of the Main Character, and the Antagonist who works in the pyhical or logistic realms to thwart the Protagonist’s goal.

Today, this subdivision of archetypes continues and has reached a point where stories clearly exhibit as many as sixty four different character attributes, each representing a different attitude or approach to solving the story problem.  And just as some approaches are compatible while others mix like oil and water, there are underlying dynamics that indicate how we might combine groups of these basic character building blocks together to form more complex characters, more appropriate to this complex age.

But of course, that is another story….

…and you can continue that story and your story
with our Dramatica Story Development Software

Try it risk-free for 90 days

Writing With Reversals

Reversals change the meaning of something by changing the context. In other words, part of the meaning of anything we consider is due to its environment.

In storytelling, we can add surprise to a story by leading the reader or audience to perceive something one way, than shift the context to show that it is really quite different.

For example, there is an old Mickey Mouse cartoon called Mickey’s Trailer which opens with Mickey stepping from his house in the country surround by blue skies and white clouds. He yawns, stretches, then pushes a button on the house.

All at once, the lawn rolls up, the fence pulls in and the house becomes a trailer. Then, the sky and clouds fold up revealing it was just a painted backdrop and the trailer is actually parked in a junkyard.

In your own story, look for opportunities to liven things up by intentionally creating a false first impression and then reversing it when more information is provided.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver
Co-Creator, Dramatica

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a name?  Choosing names for your characters can be perfunctory or can provide your readers or audience with insight into your characters’ natures, add humor or surprise, or even at the very least break out of ordinary monikers into the realm of the unusual.

To illustrate  how to leverage character names in your story, we’ve excerpted this story development step from our StoryWeaver Story Development Software:

What’s in a Name?

INTRODUCTION

So far, we’ve been dealing with characters primarily by their jobs, vocations or roles since we derived them from your plot. Now it’s time to start building some personality into your characters to see if they really have potential for your story, and we’ll begin by giving them names.

Few people (other than performers, artists, and writers) get to choose their own names. But as a writer, you have the power to choose the names of all your characters. And with this power comes the opportunity to say something to your readers or audience about a character’s inclinations, accomplishments, or outlook.

A name could convey military service, religious affiliation, or status. A nick-name might illuminate a major character trait, some event in a character’s past, or the way other characters feel about him or her. Names can add to comic value, hint at danger, or flirt with with mystery.

In this step, add a name to each of your characters that doesn’t already have one and reconsider the names of those characters who do.

TELL ME MORE

In this step, you’ll start interviewing all the folks that showed up for your casting call so you can learn a bit more about them in order to decide who to hire to be in your story.

The first step in any interview is to get to get the character’s name. You probably already have names for several of your potential cast members, but there are likely to be some whose names you don’t yet know.

For the nameless ones, it’s time to give them a moniker. Names give us our first impression of a character. In most stories you’ll want to keep most of your characters’ names normal and simple. But if they are too normal or if everyone has an ordinary name, you’re just boring your readers.

However, if your story requires typical names, try to pick ones that don’t sound like one another or your readers may become confused as to which one you are talking about. Personally, I’ve always had trouble remembering which one is Sauron and which is Sarumon, but that’s just me. Nonetheless, try to stay away from character combos like Jeanne and Jenny, Sonny and Sammy, Bart And Bret and – well, you get the idea.

If your story might benefit from giving some of your characters more unusual names, consider nicknames. Nicknames are wonderful dramatic devices because they can work with the character’s apparent nature, against it for humiliating or comedic effect, play into the plot by telegraphing the activities in which the character will engage, create irony, or provide mystery by hinting at information or a backstory for the character that led to its nickname but has not yet been divulged to the readers.

Keep in mind these are just temporary names for identification. You’ll have the chance to change them later. So for now, just add a name to every character in your potential cast list.

TIPS

What’s in a name? Not a name like “Joe” or “Sally” but something that opens the door to further development like “Muttering Murdock” or “Susan the Stilt.” Often coming up with a nickname or even a derogatory name one child might call another is a great way to establish a character’s heart.

What can we say about Muttering Murdock? The best way to develop a character (or for that matter, any aspect of your story) is to start with loose thread and then ask questions. So, for ol’ Muttering Murdock, the name is the loose end just hanging out there for us to pull. We might ask, “Why does Murdock Mutter?” (That’s obvious, of course!) But what else might we ask? Is Murdock a human being? Is Murdock male or female? How old is Murdock? What attributes describe Murdock’s physical traits? How smart is Murdock? Does Murdock have any talents? What about hobbies, education, religious affiliation? And so on, and so on….

We don’t need to know the answers to these questions, we just have to ask them.

Why Does Murdock Mutter?

  1. Because he has a physical deformity for the lips.
  2. Because he talks to himself, lost in his own world due to the untimely death of his parents, right in front of his eyes
  3. Because he feels he can’t hold his own with anyone face to face, so he makes all his comments so low that no one can hear, giving him the last word in his own mind.
  4. Because he is lost in thought about truly deep and complex issues, so he is merely talking to himself. No one ever knows that he is a genius because he never speaks clearly enough to be understood.

You get the idea. You just pull out all the stops and be creative. See, that’s the key. If you try to come up with a character from scratch, well good luck. But if you pick an arbitrary name, it can’t help but generate a number of questions. If you aren’t trying to come up with the one perfect answer to each question, you can let your Muse roam far and wide. Without constraints, you’ll be amazed at the odd variety of potential answers she brings back!

EXAMPLE

In our sample story, we’ve added names to all our characters with a good mix of the ordinary and the odd, including proper names and nick names. Some names just came to mind. Others are alterations of names of characters I’ve seen in television shows and movies. Some are based on sound-alike first and last names. In other words, names aren’t hard to come by, and mixing them up a bit just livens the party.

You’ll note that in several names, such as those of the posse, the gang, the businessmen, and the shopkeepers, I’ve given them organizational names such as The Gazpacho Enforcers. In so doing, I’ve given the town our example story the name of Gazpacho, so always be aware of opportunities to extend other parts of your story than the one you are currently working on. I’ll put the town name of Gazpacho in the Notes window to make sure I can refer to it later.

Also note that I’ve added an all new group character at the end of the list – a charitable organization: the Sons of the Gazpacho Ladies Auxiliary Support Society. The name just fell into my mind when I was naming all the Gazpacho groups and it struck me as to how ridiculous and pompous they sounded. Again, be on the lookout for random creative ideas: they can pop out of the shadows at any time!

Jedediah Farnsworth – The Old Sheriff

James Vestibule – The New Sheriff

The Hole in the Head Gang – Gang of Cutthroats

Armoire Vestibule Gang Leader (The sheriff’s wife)

The Gazpacho Enforcers – A posse

Stiff-Leg Sam – Deputy

Shandy Stilton – Mayor

J.W. Blinkers – Banker

The Gazpacho Consortium – Businessmen

The Gazpacho Retail Trade Association – Shopkeepers

Nell Goodtime – saloon girl

Slick Nick – bartender

Hugo Laughter – blacksmith

Bart Costello – rancher

Brother Bob – preacher

Nancy Lacy – schoolmarm

The Tumbling Troubadours – A troupe of traveling acrobats

Ulysses S. Grant – President of the United States

Percy Prancy – A bird watcher

Ghost of Julius Caesar – Annoying Spirit

The Sons of the Gazpacho Ladies Auxiliary Support Society – Charitable organization

*******

This is just one step from the more than 200 steps in our StoryWeaver Story Development Software.  Click the link to try it risk-free for 90 days!

How Art is Made (The Battle Between Heart and Mind)

heat-and-mindRealize that your mind is a narrative-generating machine. That is why narratives exist in the first place: because they mirror the processes of the mind. But the mind is also a repository of topical information – subject matter – and engages in the process of synthesizing two or more old ideas into a new one. The new ideas may or may not fit into the narrative the mind is constructing. And yet the heart is drawn more to the new ideas, just as the mind is drawn more to a balanced and complete structure.

And so, in waking and in sleeping our conscious and subconscious minds each rule for part of our lives, with the other being the opposition party for a few hours. And in the term of office of each, they push through their agendas: more subject matter, ever-expanding or more accurate structure, ever-refining.

The act of creation is a political war between our conscious and sub-conscious selves – our hearts and our minds – our love of a subject and our need to put that subject in a contextual framework.

Only when negotiations commence and compromises are made is a balance between topic and matrix achieved. And then, though our hearts and minds will never be fully satisfied with the treaty between them, they will let the work of art go out into the world and call it complete, as the loss of some of our most important story elements ultimately is less than the ongoing losses within us in a war between our emotions and our reason.

That, is how art is made.

–Melanie Anne Phillips

The First Step In Writing ANY Novel

Before you write your first chapter, ponder your opening sentence, or jot down a single word, there’s one step you should always do first, no matter your genre or style.

First, the problem, then the solution:

When you first come up with a concept for a story your head begins to fill with ideas for it – the genre, setting, year or historic era, a concept for a main character or an intriguing subordinate one, a few twists for the plot, a few examples that illustrate your theme and/or support your message, and many, many more.

Before long, you have hundreds of notions running around in your head bumping into each other.  You don’t want to forget any so you either keep revisiting them over and over again or you jot them down on napkins, sticky notes, or even index cards.

At the same time, you are trying to figure out how to make all these mosaic pieces fit together into the single image of your story, and that just adds to the chaos going on in your creative mind.

You might as well admit it – it’s a mess in there.  And the problem is that there is so much going on you don’t have room to stand back and see the big picture much less space to come up with new ideas either.  This leads to gridlock, anxiety, and frustration, all of which are the breeding ground for writer’s block.

That’s no way to start the story development process.  It might even stall you out before you really get started.

So here’s the solution:

The moment you decide you have enough ideas that you’d like to develop them into a story, sit yourself down and do a “core dump” of everything you already have rattling around in your head.

Just start jotting it all down with no rhyme or reason – every character trait, storytelling trick, plot twist, genre element, dialog or style notion that you are juggling in your mind.

This isn’t the time to try an organize it or make sense of it or try to make it all work in concert.  This is just the time to clear you mind by getting all the ideas into one place, safe and saved in a document.

There’s no limit to how long or short your list of ideas needs to be.  You write them down until you run out of them.  And there’s no rule about how to format them – it can’ be in a list, a series of sentences, or even short descriptive paragraphs that really capture the flavor of what you have in mind.

The magic happens when you are finally done and the myriad of creative notions you’ve been entertaining are all in front of you in one place.  Then, you can finally clear your mind, stand back, and see the big picture.

Just in looking them over you might see connections among the concept that never came to mind before because you’d never been able to directly bring two ideas together in the ongoing stream.

And you also will be able to see where you have lots of development and where it is thin or even missing.  For example, you may find you have a really well delineated plot but only a couple of characters and no message.

It will be different every time you do this for every story you write.  But once your mind is clear and you can get that overview and also start playing one idea against others, you’ll find that from that point forward your story development takes off like a rocket.

Melanie Anne Phillips

Writing Prompt Level: Expert!

Here is a writing prompt picture I posted recently and the amazingly creative response by writer Bill Williams

Bill Williams –

This is actually pretty easy to explain.

*sips coffee*

The cats in the front are feline overlords. They were testing a new human control virus on the people in the so-called “party” (Humans got a fake invitation to a pseudo-party where the drinks were spiked with FeCV (Feline Control Virus)).

Anyway, the cats in the front of the photo are contorting themselves to see if they can get the humans to do the same thing; the humans, forced to attempt to comply, are trying their best even though it’s causing some of them great pain (clearly). The female in the back of the photo with her hand on her head has just come in and hasn’t had a drink yet. She is clearly astonished at what she sees. Of course the infected humans not dancing are controlled to pretend nothing unusual is happening …

*sips coffee, brushes intruding pet cat off the chair*

I saw this once before. I believe it was 1962, San Diego CA. There were no … HUMAN survivors. (No cats were found either, but we all know just how crafty the little bastards are.)

So far their experiments have not been successful – in fact I thought they had given up on it. The photo you have presented is clear evidence they haven’t stopped trying.

My coffee tastes funny … I wonder if – DAMN CAT! OK, that’s it, I’m going national with th-

I have been instructed to tell you it is a photoshopped collage of people and animals. Nothing usual in the slightest ever happened. Please disregard what were clearly insane ramblings.

Yes, Sammie, I’ll get your cat food right now, baby. On my way!!!

You can contact Bill Williams on his Facebook Page

Smothered in an Avalanche of Ideas

One of the writers I coach recently wrote to me about getting drowned in a sea of ideas for his story, unable to organize his material, make choices, or more forward.

Here is the note I wrote him in response that might have some value for y’all:

I noticed in our previous work together that you often came up with multiple potential plot lines for your story, all equally good, but mutually exclusive. In other words, you have a lot of creativity and keep coming up with a fountain of ideas but they are incompatible with each other if they were placed in a single story, and you have trouble choosing the ones that work together and rejecting the others.

You are not alone in this. Another creative writer I have as a client has the same problem as you. He created a whole universe – a wondrous fantasy world with the potential to be another Harry Potter success but this time in a fantasy land focusing on a young girl – so inventive, so imaginative. But, every time he came up with another great idea, it would shatter the storyline he was working on and break it into pieces like shattered glass. He couldn’t put the pieces back together again and so he came up with a whole new storyline in that world in which the fragmented pieces could be sprinkled.

The sad thing was, each of his storylines was wonderful, but he rejected each because of new ideas he couldn’t fit into them.  I believe that is the same problem you have. Basically, you are so durn creative that you pour out wonderful new ideas all the time. But because they are inspirations, they don’t necessarily fit into what you’ve already written.

Now for most writers who aren’t as inventive as you and my other client, selecting a single plot and a single story is the way to go, simply because they don’t have bushel baskets of other ideas about their story’s world. But for you and my other client, the answer is something else. And it is actually very simple. And, in fact, I’ve already given the secret to both of you, but neither of you has used it, and for the life of me I haven’t figured out why yet.

I’m thinking that your answer is not to reject any of the wonderful ideas but to create a series of books, each of which opens a whole new aspect of what we learned in the previous book. In fact, each new book may completely change what we, the reader, thought was going on in the last book we read, because now a whole new perspective has been created that throws everything into a different context and creates a different meaning.

You just pick the story you want to tell first – make that choice – then pull together all the creative ideas that work around that storyline and put all the other ideas into a sack to be used in later books in the series. That way, no idea is ever rejected, it is just earmarked for down-the-line.

So, with my other creative client, we worked out a master story arc of five books, each of which revealed a different aspect of his story’s world until all his creative ideas were included. And that’s also what you and I did – working out multiple stories that would eventually be able to use all your different storylines and situations.

But, to my surprise, neither of you actually got past that point. I don’t know if the desire to “get it all in one book” is too strong to consider a series or if, perhaps, the idea of the potential tedium of a whole series which requires sticking with a particular story world for a long time is a motivation killer.

In the case of my other client, as soon as he saw he had so many ideas it would take several books to express them all, he dumped his whole story world of fantasy and started a whole new story set in the New York world of high-competition design.

This is the curse of the overly creative mind. It has nothing to do with talent or manner of expression or intelligence. It is just that in some folks the Muse is ramped up so high that the new ideas drown their ability to complete – they are constantly drawn to the next truly wonderful idea and cannot help but lose interest in the idea they ostensibly are supposed to be working on. Once it becomes work, the new ideas are far more interesting because, beneath it all, there is more to being a writer than being creative. It also requires an innate ability of self-discipline – to nail oneself to a chair and write, day in and day out and even when it is deadly boring, unpleasant, unsatisfying, and mind-numbing. That’s how books get written, whereas overly creative minds with equal ability in word play will get nowhere because there is too much to lure them from the drudgery.

That’s the best advice I can muster about why this happens and what to do about it.

One other answer I suggested to my other client was to write his work as a series of short stories. Don’t go for a book-length plot, even if you are aware of every step in that plot. Just write a series of short episodes, each informed by the overall plot line, but each as a stand-alone that doesn’t require the others to be read and enjoyed. In this manner you can muster enough self-discipline to complete something in short form before being dragged away, and eventually can bundle all those short tales in your story world into a single book or series of books.

Other than that, however, unless you can bring yourself to pick one storyline and put in the focus to stick with it until it is done, putting all new ideas into a sack for later, I imagine you’ll continue to be frustrated.

So you really have a choice to keep on going as you are or to create a series of books for all your ideas and new ideas but stick with the first one to get it done, or to go to the short story method and then bundle them into books when you reach a “critical mass.”

Someone once said, “I hate writing; I love to have written.” The choice is really up to you.

Melanie Anne Phillips

Get Out Of My Head!

When beginning a new novel, writers are often faced with one of two initial problems that hinders them right from the get go.

One – sometimes you have a story concept but can’t think of what to do with it.  In other words, you know what you want to write about, but the characters and plot elude you.

Two – sometimes your head is swimming with so many ideas that you haven’t got a clue how to pull them all together into a single unified story.

Fortunately, the solution to both is the same.  In each case, you need to clear your mind of what you do know about your story to make room for what you’d like to know.

If your problem is a story concept but no content, writing it down will help focus your thinking.  In fact, once your idea for a novel is out of your head and on paper or screen, you begin to see it objectively, not just subjectively.

Often just having an external look at your idea will spur other ideas that were not apparent when you were simply mulling it over.  And at the very least, it will clarify what it is you desire to create.

If, on the other hand, your problem is that all the little thoughts, notions or concepts that sparked the idea there might be a book in there somewhere are swirling around in a chaotic maelstrom….  well, then writing them all down will make room in your mind to start organizing that material by topic, category, sequence, or structural element.

For those whose cognitive cup runneth over, the issue is that one is afraid to forget any of these wonderful ideas, or to lose track of any of the tenuous or gossamer connections among them.  And so, we keeping stirring them around and around in our minds, refreshing our memory of them, but leaving us running in circles chasing our creative tales.

By writing down everything your are thinking, not as a story per se, but just in the same fragmented glimpses in which they are presenting themselves to you, you’ll be able to let them go, one by one, until your mental processor has retreated from the edge of memory overload and you can begin to pull your material together into the beginnings of a true proto-story.

Whether you are plagued by issue one or two, don’t try to fashion a full-fledged story at this stage while you are jotting down your notions.  That would simply add an unnecessary burden to your efforts that would hobble your forward progress and likely leave you frustrated by the daunting process of trying to see your finished story before you’ve even developed it.

Sure, before you write you’re going to need that overview of where you are heading to guide you to “The End”.  But that comes later.  For now, in this step, just write down your central concept and/or all the transient inspirations you are juggling in your head.

This tip was excerpted from my free online book,

Write Your Novel Step By Step

Happy New Year, Writers!

I’ve been teaching creative writing now for more that twenty-five years, and here are my best tips for starting your new writing year:

First, schedule your writing time like you would a dentist’s appointment. Why?  Because as Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing; I love to have written.”  We all hate going to the dentist, and most of the time, we also hate writing – coming up with words for the page is like pulling teeth.  But after we’ve gotten the gumption and gotten it done, the afterglow of the results ranges from satisfaction to ecstasy.

So put it down on your calendar.  And then, as soon as it is over, schedule your follow-up visit before you leave the office or you’ll never get around to it.

Next, during your writing session, don’t sit in front of a blank page trying to come up with something to say. Rather, let your mind wander to favorite memories, favorite subjects, or even to problems, worries or fears, and just write about them.  Consider it a warm-up exercise before you get your game on.

As you warm-up, you’ll find that your mind naturally begins to feel its way around the subject you intend to write about.  And at some point, you’ll come up with an idea on that topic that is so logistically important or emotionally powerful to that you find you’ve already started writing about it instead of the warm-up topics.

Third, never try to force the Muse to work on a story problem. Cut her free. By nature, she is full of boundless energy and wants to explore your creative mind with reckless abandon.  Try to shackle your Muse to the task at hand, and she’ll balk.  But if you let her run wild, even if it is WAAAAY off topic, it is like another warm-up exercise in the middle of the long routine of writing.  Every once in a while you need to come up for air, feed your head, and give  your heart some candy.  In short, don’t feel that once you start working on your actual story that you can’t diverge whenever the Muse stands at the door with her leash asking to go for a walk.

Fourth, write about what you love.  Sure, we all have dreams of writing a great novel or script, and perhaps we will, but don’t let that make you choose a less epic topic because you think it has the potential to be more noteworthy.  In fact, the odds of writing something truly meaningful go WAY down if you don’t write about what moves you personally.

But here’s the rub – this is a real pisser for me personally… The kinds of stories I like to read are not the kinds of stories I’m very good at writing. Man, that gets stuck in my craw!  I want to write sci-fi-ish action stories of great adventure, incredible discovery and amazing tales of triumph over unbelievable odds! But every time I try it is all mechanical, stilted, or (worst of all) completely lame.

Yep, I’d also like to be a pastry chef, but I’m good at making sauces. I’d like to be a chess champion, but I flub it all up, yet I can triumph in checkers or tic-fracking-tac-freaking-toe.  My private horror (don’t tell anybody): what I’m good at is this. Yes, this. Writing inspiring articles so others can write all the wonderful things I’d like to write. What manner of hell is this?

Not to worry, though.  I’ve just started a new novel, and for the first time it is something I really, really, really want to work on.  I’m actually enjoying the writing of it and can’t wait until the next session – not like a dentist’s appointment at all: more like an ice cream social.

Yep, that happens too.  But not often.  So don’t wait for it – do the other stuff I’ve mentioned and get things “wrote” in between the rare bromance with a flirty story you just can’t resist.

Well, I’ve come to terms with it. That’s why you’ll find literally HUNDREDS of articles on story structure and storytelling here and also on my writing tips web site at Storymind.com [Self Serving Plug Alert]

I eventually came to the conclusion I’d rather write what comes naturally than get perpetually stuck trying to write what I like to read. If I want that other kind of story – the one I’m no good at – I’ll read somebody else’s.  So, I’ve finally embraced the awful, yet sobering and even somehow calming notion that it is better to be a carefree pianist, bringing music into the world with little effort at all, than a continually struggling trombonist, blurting out a few stilted notes and never affecting anyone nor even finding satisfaction in my own work.

Summing up then my tips for you new writing year…

I urge you all to set up that time where you are forced (by resolution) to do nothing. And from that nothing will rise your Muse like a Kraken of Creativity, snarling out its arms to embrace every shiny, beckoning or threatening notion within its horizon, consuming it, and spewing out prose of a grand and powerful ilk upon the world, upon yourself, upon your soul.

May God have mercy upon us all, for we are writers.

Now get Kraken in this new year, for God’s sake (and for your own)!

Melanie Anne Phillips

Oh – and you might want to try this too: