Write Lightning is a blog from writer Deb Thompson.
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(Some links or topics may not be completely kid-appropriate.)

Thu, Apr 29 2010

Writing under the influence of allergies and allergy medicine

It's evening and I've had to take something for the symptoms that have harrassed me all day as a result of the wind blowing pollen and other allergens all around the state. Rather than subject you to the blitherings of one under the mild influence of antihistamines, I'll keep this brief and hope that, unlike me, you're able to think well enough to write something intelligible. It's good to keep a sense of humor handy for these kinds of days and make certain that we do write, but that we don't make any of that writing permanent in a medium that could prove embarrassing later. For instance, I've just now had to adjust at least 6 different verb tenses and correct 9 typos in this single post. The implications of continuing further speak for themselves.

posted at: 22:20 | category: | link to this entry

Tue, Apr 27 2010

This or that, as long as it's still writing

Sometimes I have to work on writing something a bit repetitive, so I've learned to break it up into various tasks. I'll do the research needed for updates and make the changes by hand, then type the new information later. Switching between those two tasks helps keep my mind from getting too jaded and missing mistakes. This isn't a problem with creative writing, such as ficiton. But lists of information or similar projects cause a sort of hypnosis for me. It's good to know a trade, but learning a few tricks is great if it helps you get actual work done. Writers can be easily led astray, so anything that keeps us focused on the task of writing is helpful.

posted at: 22:26 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, Apr 26 2010

Planning a whole pot of words

Sometimes I cook a large pot of chili and freeze portions of it for later use. Some of it is intended to just be eaten from a bowl. Some gets served with cornbread. Some is used for haystacks with corn chips, lettuce, cheese and other toppings. Some gets served with macaroni as a sort of casserole. I know when I make it that we can get more than one kind of meal from it, so that justifies making the large amount.

The same can be true of certain kinds of writing. A novel can foster several short stories. a short story can inspire a novel or a poem. Research for a work of fiction can nudge a writer to do an article. A short piece done as a filler might lead to a longer article or some other work. You might call it repurposing or recycling or reworking or whatever you like. One basic idea can often be the core that leads us to funnel our words into whole new projects.

posted at: 17:04 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Fri, Apr 23 2010

Seven things to write

Write what you know.
Write what you don't know.
Write what you wish you knew.
Write what you've learned.
Write what you want to learn.
Write what you've had to unlearn.
Write while leaving some secrets unspoken.

posted at: 17:58 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Thu, Apr 22 2010

Doodling fiction

We had an electrician do some work for us today and I found myself wondering what I would get done if we had to have the power off for more than a few minutes. This is usually only a factor if I'm at home. When I'm away from home I often take great delight in being able to write in longhand. I sometimes sit in the car in a parking lot and jot down notes on existing writing projects or ideas for new projects. It's almost meditative in the same way that doodling is meditative to someone who is sitting in a meeting or talking on a phone. Maybe it's a good idea to go without power on purpose now and then, just to use other parts of the brain in putting words together.

posted at: 22:42 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Wed, Apr 21 2010

Murphy may have today, but may not have every day

Some days are not the best for being productive. Writers have slumps and Murphy's Law weeks like everyone else does. But fiction writers don't usually have co-workers to boost us. It's a matter of making up the word count on another day or of accepting that not all days will be stellar and then making the next day of work a better one. The only option not worth considering is that of quitting. We have to take our strength from our favorite sources and move on.

posted at: 16:29 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Tue, Apr 20 2010

A dash of this, a verb of that...

We made chili this afternoon, in preparation for making haystacks, a simple dish made with corn chips, chili, shredded cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and whatever other toppings one wishes. We never use a recipe. We have basic things that go into the pot, but the spices and seasonings are always a matter of tasting and adjusting. I suppose we could get the whole process down to a more exact recipe, but there's something satisfying about tasting and adjusting our way to a great pot of chili.

Even with a detailed outline, a piece of writing can be like a good pot of chili. We write, we read, we think, we add an adjective or use a verb in a new way. There's a basic method to what we do, but we immprovise and revise our way to the goal. If we do it well, the writing we produce is as tasty for our readers as it is for those of us doing the writing.

posted at: 21:20 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, Apr 19 2010

Chains are inevitable. Escape is optional.

One of the best dogs I ever met who was not my own dog was Bonzo, an escape artist of a boxer who would get loose from his owner's property and come visiting to our house, sometimes still dragging a length of chain attached to his collar. (The owner was arranging a great space for Bonzo, but was having to keep him temporarily tethered due to an emergency.) This dog was exuberant and playful and seemed to laugh at the universe. Bonzo accepted the reality of his situation, but not as fate.

When the cares of the day seem to be tightening the noose around my neck and I think I might let adversity, or even too much good fortune, get in the way of being a productive human being, I remember that look on Bonzo's face when he overcame a challenge and then got called out for it. He seemed genuinely surprised that we didn't applaud his escape. This happy dog seemed to know that his circumstances were temporary. I could see the wheels turning behind those happy eyes, looking for the next challenge and hoping the rest of the world would make the challenge worthwhile and productive in the end. If I'm going to have challenges, I should face them with humor and creativity. If I'm going to have a chance for an adventure, I should make it a big adventure. I wish the same for anyone reading this. I hope you give it all you've got. Be a Bonzo.

posted at: 12:14 | category: /Religious and Spiritual | link to this entry

Fri, Apr 16 2010

Hooked on paper works for me

It's a good thing none of you can see my desk right now. I had it all cleaned off a few weeks ago, but the world of paper has conspired to clutter it again. Since Friday is often a day of tidying up the week's work, I think it would be a good thing to do today to scoop up some of these loose pieces of paper and get them into some sort of organization. Computers were supposed to make us all use less paper, but at this point I would dispute that notion. Some of us simply love putting pen or pencil to a paper's surface and feeling that direct connection to the brain that is probably looked upon as science fiction by the rest of Earth's population. I make no apologies for my vice. However, I do think it's time to cut down on the visible evidence of my habit.

posted at: 10:27 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Thu, Apr 15 2010

When a main character takes a back seat to the ancestors

My husband found a bit of genealogical information for me tonight that I had tried to obtain in earlier years with no success. It appears that there are a great deal more records online nowadays than even just a few years ago. If I had been writing a family history I would have been better off to wait until now. And I suppose there will be another whole round of census records available soon. Some of us may find that we have whole branches of family that we never knew existed, giving us a sort of new identity and maybe the notion that our own life holds more depth because of it.

If you write fiction, have you ever written a genealogy for your characters? I tried doing this a few years ago. I wrote several details about the main character's mother and was having a great time. The mother began to take on quite a life of her own. One afternoon it occurred to me that maybe I should have written the story about the mother in the first place. I suppose the danger in these sorts of exercises is that writers find we've been telling the wrong story altogether. Still, it's certainly best to know that before traipsing too far down the wrong fictional path, now isn't it?

posted at: 23:01 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Wed, Apr 14 2010

A plus B plus life demands--outline failure

Every time I try to sit down and do an outline for a story it seems that something gets in the way. I don't mean little things, like having to take out the trash. I mean big things, like friends having surgery. I've never been the world's best at planning out whole outlines for stories anyway and I'm beginning to think that this is life's way of underscoring my natural tendencies. It may be good and that may be bad, but I'm going to start at least one story without an outline. There's such a thing as taking so much care to prepare to begin that one never actually begins.

posted at: 19:19 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Tue, Apr 13 2010

Did I tell you the one about the time...?

I had a long phone call today and the person I spoke with traded several anecdotes with me. I realized that the stories we tell one another from day to day are popular because they are stories that we can easily relate to as fellow human beings. Even in fiction, the stories we tell should ring true as far as holding themes that are common to the human experience. We've all met people who seemed a little larger than life. We've all been on vacations or other journeys that had funny or or tragic side trips. We've all lost and found important people, pets, possessions and non-material gifts. I hope I can tell a story that will ring true with readers, even though it might technically be fiction.

posted at: 16:17 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, Apr 12 2010

Should you write while sleepy?

Lately I seem to be writing my blog posts in the night, when it's difficult to pull energy out of the air. However, writing when one is sleepy does have the advantage of allowing the subconsious to be more expressive. I think it must be a little like writing in a state of hypnosis. One of these days it could be interesting to write a whole short story late at night, just to see if it's a very different sort of work from my morning writing. The human mind is blessed with nooks and crannies we don't always utilize well. Why not explore some of those nooks and crannies as a storyteller? You might give it a try as well and see what happens.

posted at: 22:32 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Thu, Apr 08 2010

Writing freely

Some of the best times I've ever had writing were when I didn't do a lot of outlining or planning and just sat and wrote as though I was listening to a main character tell me what happened. It might not make a great American novel, but it's fun and it keeps the creative juices flowing when not working on some major work-in-progress. And it's nice to have a place to get out some angst and have fun trying some scenes that might never make it into an actual novel or short story.

posted at: 22:33 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Wed, Apr 07 2010

Fiction and research

Have you ever wanted to grow some new plant, but didn't know much about how to be successful? You probably spent hours talking to nursery workers, reading about the plant's optimum growing conditions or maybe even talking to others who had grown some of those same plants. By the time you actually put your own plant into the soil you probably felt as though it was already an old friend.

Research for a writer is a lot like that. Fiction requires a lot of research in order to for the story to flow properly. You need to know who and what will move through the paragraphs. Places, characters and details should all seem natural, as though they have been a part of the story forever. Your reader won't count the hours of research you did, but he or she will appreciate them as they become part of the story itself.

posted at: 22:02 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Tue, Apr 06 2010

Caffeine and cocktails: Writer's best friend?

Do you go through two pots of coffee in order to wake up and write? And then do you use something else to unwind and sleep? Some very famous fiction writers were known for their excessive use of alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes, sleeping pills and even illicit drugs. There is even an element of romance attached to some of these writers, as though their substance abuse enhanced their ability to produce great books. And while a certain number of writers did have a sort of rat pack reputation and a set of groupies at various times in history, I doubt very much that their use of drugs and alcohol made them great writers. They may have even produced better work if they had backed away from so much overindulgence. And let's not forget that a good number of writers never even lived to see their novels come to be considered classics.

It's easy to sit and indulge in food or alcohol, but the hangovers that come later are not fun to write through. And write we must. What we probably really crave is experiences that spark our imagination and spirit. A walk in the park, a reading of someone else's work or a discussion with friends is probably just as inspiring as coffee or drugs and it leaves our body and mind in better shape to create. That being said, I have been known to feel an almost spiritual awakening after discovering the merits of a good restaurant. As the saying goes, everything in moderation.

posted at: 16:30 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Mon, Apr 05 2010

Reading aloud is more helpful than you can imagine.

I just made a silly typo on one of the social media sites and hit the button to send the message before I caught the error. I often read copy aloud to prevent this sort of thing, but neglected to do so in this particular instance. One great way to prevent such errors from making their way to readers (or even editors) is to read your work aloud. It also helps in checking to be sure that character dialogue has an authentic sound in your works of fiction. At the risk of repeating myself, I'm going to read this post aloud before I upload it.

posted at: 14:42 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

Thu, Apr 01 2010

The articles of fiction

If you're writing a novel-length work of fiction and you feel as though the world of the story is not quite real enough, try writing an article about some facet of the novel for a magazine you enjoy. You might not be able to actually submit the article, but you'll gain some new insight. Does your main character relocate from Maine to Alabama? How about a piece on what newcomers to Alabama can do to get used to the climate and local culture? Is your main character a member of a labor union? How about an article focusing on the history of unions? What you choose to write will depend on your particular story and the characters in it. You might even end up with an article that you can actually market for a little profit on the side.

posted at: 17:11 | category: /Writing Life | link to this entry

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Stealin' copy is as bad as horse-thievin'
and cattle rustlin'! Lightning may strike
such varmints when they least expect it!