goals

Brainstorming Techniques for Writers & Bloggers

I had an epiphany recently that vastly improved my approach to writing and blogging. I’d somehow fallen under the notion that the only way I knew of to generate  writing/blogging ideas was to free-write (write without stopping or editing) until the answers came. And, yes, that kind of worked, but I was getting frustrated with having to write so many blind pages. Free writing didn’t always seem that efficient.

The  best solution is usually the simplest one. There are TONS of brainstorming techniques other than free writing. I knew this but wasn’t using them. Using a variety of brainstorming techniques mixes up the brainstorming process, makes it fun and interesting, and maybe even saves time.

Maybe you’re working on an outline but have a plot hole you’re struggling with, or you’re planning a blog post that’s missing  key ideas. Try some of these brainstorming techniques to fill in the gaps. You probably already know this, but when brainstorming remember to never censor yourself. The BEST ideas come right after the most outlandish ones. Good luck! –Eve Messenger

BRAINSTORMING TECHNIQUES FOR WRITERS & BLOGGERS by Eve Messenger

ROLE PLAY

1. Perspective Shift

Approach your brainstorming topic as if you were in a different place or time, or even as if you were a different person. What if you were in your favorite hiding spot as a kid? What if you were on Mars, in the middle of an ancient forest, in a great library, or sitting at a Paris cafe with  Lost Generation writers? What might your approach be if you were your favorite writer? What if you were the best you living life in your dream situation?

2. Attribute Change

This is like Perspective Shift, except you’re only imagining changing one aspect of yourself. Approach your brainstorming topic as if one attribute about you is different: gender, race, socioeconomic status, religion, ethnicity, nationality, profession, etc.

3. Super Power

Imagine you have a super power that lets you get right to the root of your answer. Explore your topic from that super power perspective. If your topic feels murky, imagine you’re Aqua-man (or Aqua-woman), who can see clearly beneath the water and swims quickly and powerfully toward the solution.

BE A REBEL

4. The Opposite Approach

It’s remarkable what good ideas can be sparked by exploring bad ones. Deliberately try to cause problems for your topic. Now write down those problems and see what solutions come.

5. The Five Whys

In this brainstorming technique, you get to be the little kid who asks “why” ad nauseam. Starting with your brainstorming topic/problem, ask why at least five times: “Why is this happening?” Answer. “Why is that happening?” Answer. And so on.

MIX IT UP

6. Z to A

Write whatever comes to mind starting with each letter of the alphabet, Z to A. For example, let’s say you’ve got a lot of half-ideas floating around in your head and you want to solidify which you should write on. First, solidify your question: “What should I write about in my next blog entry?” Then open up the floodgates to your subconscious and let the ideas flow. Each idea you write must begin with the next successive letter of the alphabet.  The trick in brainstorming is to not beat yourself up about bad ideas. In this brainstorming technique, you’ll come up with 26 ideas. Pick the three best ones.

Zoo animals in YA fiction.

Young people are frustrated by not being properly represented in YA fiction.

X-ray closely the dark underbelly of  publicity for YA books.

and so on until you reach “A”. . .

7. Cubing – D/C/A/A/A/A

Approach your brainstorming topic from six different angles:

  1. Describe
  2. Compare
  3. Associate (what does your topic make you think of?)
  4. Analyze (what is your topic composed of?)
  5. Apply it (how can your topic be used?)
  6. Argue for or against your topic

8. List

This brainstorming technique is simple and straightforward. Just make a list of the story/passage/character ideas and elements you want to convey.

9. Fill in the Gap

You probably already have some solid ideas for your novel or blog post, but now you’re looking to fill in the gap. Make connections from your solid ideas to the one that’s still missing. Build the bridge. Fill in the hole.

10. Commonalities

Parallel your topic with other similar topics. What does your topic have in common with what other writers have written? List the commonalities and apply them to the topic you’re brainstorming.

11. Sentence Starters

Give yourself sentence starters.
“What if ___________.”
“The way this will work is if ______________.”
“The best solution to this problem is  ________________.”

HAVE FUN WITH SCHOOL SUPPLIES

12. Mind Mapping

This brainstorming technique is probably the one many  of us  learned about in school. Get a big piece of paper or a dry erase board, In the center, write your brainstorming topic. Without censoring yourself, write down all ideas related to that topic–the sillier and more outlandish the better. After exhausting all ideas, start connecting them and branching other ideas off of them.

13. Starburst

Draw a large six-pointed star. At the tip of each point write: who, what, when, where, how, and why. In the middle write your topic/goal/problem. Now answer each of your “tip” questions.

14. Index Cards

Get a stack of ten or so index cards. On each one, jot down a key image or idea from your brainstorming topic. Now shuffle the cards, pull out one at a time, read your idea/image, and  brainstorm responses.

Advertisements

Goals for 2017 – Writing, Reading, Relationships, Peace of Mind

goals-for-2017

Hello, fellow book junkies! Happy New Year! ‘Tis the season, so I’ll get this out there. In putting together my goals for 2017, I’ve kept things simple and focused on what will give me joy and peace of mind. Here are my:

Goals for 2017.

  • Finish writing & polishing YA dark modern fantasy manuscript by May 1, 2017.
  • Read more YA books featuring bi females and write a blog post about them.
  • Spend time with people. Nurture relationships.
  • Walk every day.
  • Keep going on Saturday morning hikes.
  • Read 96 books.
  • Devote more time to keeping the house looking nice.
  • Never, never, never, never give up.

–Eve Messenger

Library-Hopping Adventure #amwriting #amreading

Huntington Beach library.jpg

Huntington Beach Public Library – As an elementary school student, I used to ride my bike here and spend the afternoon reading books and magazines.

For a huge book nerd like me, libraries are a retreat, a sanctuary even. Sometimes, like today, a library can even be an adventure. Some libraries are tiny, old, and in need of fresh paint. Others are vast, with elevators, conference rooms, fancy patrons’ plaques on the wall, row after row of study carrels, sometimes with gardens and statuary on the grounds outside. As long as friendly books line the walls, I’m happy; I feel safe.

When I have time, I like to leave the house to write. With fewer distractions and a deliberate plan that includes getting dressed up and packing supplies (laptop, bottled water, sometimes notes), I usually accomplish a lot more. In the evenings and early mornings, I’ll write at Starbucks, but libraries are my preferred destination. Usually I write in our awesome, recently remodeled local library or sometimes at the university library a 15-minute walk from home. On the weekends, I might visit the regional library in the next city where a friend works as a children’s librarian.

I live 15 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, but today I happened to be in a coastal town called Corona del Mar. I had my laptop with me, so after completing my errand I decided to go on a little writing adventure to a library I’d never visited before. Thanks to Siri, it was easy to find the nearest library just a couple of miles away. I took the elevator up to the second floor and set up my laptop in a cozy alcove near a window overlooking a perfect Southern California day. A short while later a woman joined me in the alcove. She tapped away at her laptop, too, and it was nice to have writerly company.

I had so much fun today on my mini-adventure to a new library that now I want to library-hop every week. Maybe, with each new library I write in, I’ll take a picture and post it on my blog.

–Eve Messenger

#RockMyTBR Challenge #amreading

Hello, fellow book junkies! I know it’s early to be saying this, but I am getting so excited for 2016. Not only will it be the year that I start querying my own YA novels, it will also be filled with reading many, many great new books. I’m stunned, amazed and grateful for all the talented new literary voices emerging in the world of young adult fiction (Becky Albertalli, I’m looking at you). I want to read every single one of those new books and also get to the older ones I’ve been thinking about for so long. (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, will I ever know you?) Speaking of which…my pile of TBR books is getting dangerously high.

That is why I’m especially grateful for Sarah K, The Book Traveler’s, fabulous new “Rock My TBR” challenge. (Also worth noting is that Sarah K creates the most beautiful book trailers you’ve ever seen.)

The Rock My TBR Challenge is to…

  • Read a minimum of 1 book per month you already own (published book). This challenge is totally what YOU make of it! You can do 5 books a month, 10, WHATEVER! Anything you accomplish is fantastic.
  • Buddy Reads:  Make a list! If you can, create a list of books you own and want to read then post it, tweet it, video it and try to find others who want to read the same book. Buddy reading is so much fun! It’s great having other people to fangirl/fanboy with while you’re currently reading. This is optional but I think it’d be fun!

Here’s  more info in case you’re interested.

This is a list of books I own that I’d like to read in 2016. I’m shooting for reading two a month (in addition to others I’ll surely buy or borrow along the way). If there are any books on this list that you would also like to read, please drop me a line so we can read them together, kind of like having a workout partner to stay motivated.

The Diviners by Libby Bray – read Jan. 2016

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – read Dec. 2015

The Door That Led to Where by Sally Gardner – read Jan. 2016

The Future of Us by Jay Asher – read Jan. 2016

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith –buddy read with Jan and Beth @ betwixt-the-pages  Feb. 2016

 A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab –read Feb. 2016

Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle – read Feb. 2016

Angelfall by Susan Ee – read Feb. 2016

Casquette Girls by Alys Arden – read March 2016

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld – read April 2016

White Cat (Curse Workers #1) by Holly Black – read May 2016

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire Northread June 2016

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray-read June 2016

The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman-read July 2016

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia-read September 2016

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks

Mistborn by Brian Sanderson – planNED to buddy read with Sarah K @ The YA Book Traveler mid-Feb. 2016 but just not feeling it. 

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Gambit by C.L. Denault

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

How about you? What are some books you’d really like to get around to reading in 2016?

 

Writing and Balancing Social Media #amwriting

social-media

graphic courtesy of Ryan Lanz @ A Writer’s Path

As writers, most of us have four jobs: our day job, family life, writing, and social media. For obvious reasons, we have to spend time at our day jobs. We also have to spend time with our families because, well, relationships make life worth living. As for writing, that’s non-negotiable. Except it is. Even when our life’s ambition is to publish novels, we don’t always make enough time to write, and sometimes (often) the culprit is our fourth job, social media.

If you’re like me, you worry that you might be spending too much time on social media. Try not to beat yourself up about this too much. Marketing experts and industry specialists universally agree (I know, that surprised me, too) that, if you’re serious about building a writing career, social media is necessary. Authors must be visible to the public, accessible, and connected to what is happening in the publishing world.

Yay, so we don’t have to worry that we’re spending too much time on social media!

Well, maybe.

How Do You Know You’re Spending Too Much Time on Social Media?

Most of us have an innate sense for when we’re spending an unhealthy amount of time online. And our manuscripts definitely know because they’re not growing as fast as we’d like them to.

According to literary agent and writer’s-best-friend, Jane Friedman, “If it’s starting to drag on your resources and time to do other things more important to you (such as writing), then it’s time to re-assess.”

Why is social media so tempting?

“When we go on these sites, our underlying drive is to satisfy that innate need to connect to others. It comforts us and fulfills us to know that we are not alone.” Well put, Melissa Joy Kong.

Speaking mostly for myself, I’ll hazard a guess that writers are particularly susceptible to social media’s siren call. Since we writers are not the world’s most extroverted creatures (hence, we immerse ourselves in imaginary worlds), the “comfort” of social media is logically a huge temptation.

Now for the Big Question . . . How to Balance Writing and Social Media?

#1 Set Goals and Prioritize

Just like setting goals for your writing, also set goals for the time you spend on social media. Joshua Graham recommends that you “Make to-do lists every day and put tasks in priority order.”

#2 Quality over Quantity

Don’t try to do it all; stick to social media platforms you enjoy and do them well. If blogging every day doesn’t negatively impact your writing time, then go for it. However, Chuck Sambuchino suggests, “It’s very possible to have a platform with the ‘less is more’ philosophy, as long as you focus on the absolute quality of your efforts.”

#3 “Batch” Your Time

There’s this term efficiency experts use called “batching” time. This means setting aside blocks of time for, in our case, writing. During that time block, all you should do is write. Then you can set aside other blocks of time for blogging and each social media platform. You’ll get far more accomplished if you’re not constantly switching between blogging, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr and, of course, all-important writing.

If resisting social media during your writing block is too difficult, consider downloading the Anti-Social app ($15), which you can program to block overly tempting websites during time periods that you set.

#4 Frontload Blog and Social Media Posts

During your “blog time block,” frontload blog posts. For example, set aside each Sunday afternoon to write all your blog posts for the week. You can also write and schedule social media posts in advance using programs like Hootsuite.

#5 Set a Daily Limit on Your Social Media Time

What is a reasonable amount of time to spend on social media? “It varies from person to person” is an answer I hate, so I won’t say that. Instead, I’ll give you Jody Hedlund’s wise answer, which is: “The time we give to our writing should be greater than the time we spend on marketing.” This makes sense, right, writers?

Here’s my favorite answer. (Way to be bold with your very specific answer, Katie Wagner.) In her video blog, Wagner says you should engage in social media for “fifteen minutes, three times a day.” During each fifteen-minute social media block spend:

  • Five minutes posting;
  • Five minutes responding to posts from others;
  • Five minutes reading and commenting on other people’s blogs and social media accounts.

There you have it. If you follow all these suggestions, you will never again have to worry about spending too much time on social media.

Right?

Well, except that we’re writers and we’ll always find reasons to worry. Plus, we’ll probably still spend too much time on social media. But even if you incorporate one or two of these suggestions into your daily or weekly routine, you’ll be making more time to write, which will move you ever closer to your ultimate goal of publishing novels.

If you’ve found other ways of balancing writing and social media, please share!

— Eve Messenger

To Publish Books, You Must Write #amwriting

https://ebmessenger.files.wordpress.com/2015/12/2c858-ahappywriter.jpg?w=219&h=238

In the mad rush of writing, reading, and living life, it’s important to pause and reflect because from reflection comes awareness, and from awareness comes new goals. Setting new goals helps me continually improve myself both as a writer and as a human being. It isn’t always easy, especially because there are so many things I could improve upon. Where to start?

I decided to reflect upon why I was able to write twice as many words during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) last year than I did this year.  This November, I crossed the NaNoWriMo 50k finish line with 1,535 words to spare. Yay, I’m a “winner,” but it’s a far cry from last year’s 112,000 words. What changed? Here are some of the things I did differently during NaNoWriMo last year.

-I wrote every morning.

-I frequently left the house to write. Coffee houses, the public library, and the university library all worked well.

-I had not yet started blogging and tweeting. Surprise, social media sometimes draws my attention away from writing.

-I wasn’t reading nearly as many books. This November I read eight novels while participating in NaNoWrimo. In order to do this, I had to cut out pretty much all TV shows and movies–which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

-I was a lot more interested in last year’s novel than the one I wrote during NaNoWriMo this year.

-I wrote with 100% carefree abandon. This year I was a tad bit more careful so the resulting first draft wouldn’t be quite such a traumatic mess.

-I didn’t have other areas of my life crowding out my writing time so much. Oh, dear reader, over the past couple of months I had a major personal thing happening and, boy, did it take me emotionally and physically away from writing, but hey, no excuses, right?

So. . . this year, things changed. Life does that. In reflecting on the differences in productivity between NaNoWriMo past and present, I’ve decided to:

  • Make it a priority to reestablish a morning writing routine.
  • Be more mindful of the time I spend on social media. I’m SO grateful for the kind and talented writers and readers I’ve connected with through blogging and social media. They have made the pursuit of a writing career so much less lonely. And I’ve learned so much about publishing and writing, as well as great new books to read. I’ve also gotten a good grasp on what makes a good query letter (thanks especially to literary agent Janet Reid of Query Shark). And I have assembled a long list of excellent literary agents with whom I’d like to work, thanks to lots of internet research, agents’ blogs and tweets, and industry insights gleaned from sites like querytracker.net. Those are all good things to be aware of, and to be prepared to execute well when the time comes. But…

To publish books, you must write.

Though I’m not at a place where I feel the need to set limits on my social media time, I do realize that–as a person whose dream, goal, and mission is to publish successful YA books–more of my free time should be spent writing.

If you’ve come up with good ways to create a balance for yourself between social media and writing, I’d love to hear about them.

–Eve Messenger

Writer, How Do You Reward Yourself?

Closeup image of notepad with pen.

In the amorphous, potentially unstructured existence of a writer, it can be easy to fetter away precious writing time with distractions around the house, catching up on our favorite literary agents’ tweets, researching story tidbits, getting our slippers on just right, you name it. Before you know it, writing time vanishes and it’s time to interact with humanity, do chores, earn a paycheck, whatever.

Enter: goal-setting.  Setting goals, and rewarding myself when I achieve them, has made me a much more productive writer. Goal-setting certainly isn’t a new idea — tons of prolific authors do it. Crime thriller novelist Elmore Leonard wouldn’t allow himself a cup of morning coffee until he’d put in an hour of writing. That’s dedication. ::sip::

GOALS

Having a prioritized list of writing goals on hand really helps keep you focused. Some examples from my writing to-do list include:

[ ] write next two chapters of WIP

[ ] spend 30 minutes outlining next book

[ ] edit new draft of short story

REWARDS

Along the way, as you accomplish your writing goals, it’s important to reward yourself. This, I think, is the part a lot of people overlook. Here are some examples of rewards I give myself.  I’m always on the lookout for new ones, so if you’ve got good suggestions for rewards that cost little to no money, please post in the comments.

  • green pens – I don’t really have writing superstitions or inclinations other than this:  I love editing in green ink.
  • small notebooks for jotting down story ideas where cell phones aren’t convenient or allowed.
  • online subscriptions to sites like Duotrope and QueryTracker
  • allowing myself to spend time on social media, blogs, author sites, etc.

I hope this helps you in some way. Happy writing!