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Magic space pens and secret answers

Have you heard the story of astronaut pens? At the dawn of the space program, NASA encountered a sticky problem. They discovered that ball-point pens would not work outside of our atmosphere. The government quickly went to work developing a special new pen which could write upside-down, at any temperature from freezing to boiling, on any surface known to man, at any pressure, and in zero gravity. People were hired and ideas were considered, developed, tested, discarded, and considered again. Hours of research went into the project, and it was made top priority in the department. It took  many manhours and twelve billion taxpayer dollars to come up with the space pen, but NASA finally got it down. Whew. Crisis averted. The Russians, of course had the same problem. So they used pencils. Okay, fine… truth be told, this is just an urban legend.  It never really happened. But it’s still a perfect metaphor for the plot problems you might be having. Are you wrestling with why your protagonist would feel the need to serve as whistleblower on his company when he’s been working there happily for twenty-five years with no issues? Does it not make sense that the daughter would fall in love with the gardener upon whom the whole rest of the story hinges? Do you have a handful of stubborn characters who just won’t do what you tell them? Forget them. Don’t get so stuck in your path that it becomes a rut. It’s your path, your story. You can make up whatever the heck you want.  Just write it another way and see what sticks. Assuming you aren’t staring down some giant deadline (and really, even if you are), what’s the worst that could happen?  You write something in a totally different direction, and toss it later to return to your original idea?  What’s the loss there?  That your creative juices are now flowing and you pushed the stubborn what-ifs out of the way? That you ignored some formula or outline that obviously wasn’t working so well anyway? Standing still is never a good idea.  Keep it moving. Even if it’s in a direction you don’t like. Even if the idea seems so freakishly simple that it sounds stupid at first thought. Let it go, and write something on the page. You can always go back later and fix it. Who’s going to read it if you’re unhappy with it in the end? Easy: no... read more

Of rainbow nails and unlocked doors

I was at my friend Cathy’s house for an overnight brainstorming session about the new blogging series we are putting together for Inkwell Basics. Between work sessions (okay, fine, and drooling over boys in movies, and eating tiramisu, and playing with her hilarious cats), we ventured into town, where she spotted some funky nail polish that was on sale. She doesn’t get to mix it up very often because she has a top-level day job in which order and corporate dress are the law, but she felt the urge and scooped them up anyway. When we got back to her place, she sampled it all by painting one nail in each color — blue, green, yellow, everything she’d bought. She gave a pleased smile and mused, “You know, there’s just something so freeing about having rainbow-painted nails.” On the way out of town, I stopped back at the shop she’d found them at and bought one of each myself.  Her comment and smile were a pleasant temptation, and I haven’t bought anything but Grownup Red and Look-I’m-Professional Pink in a long dang time. A few days later, I did the same thing she had done; I got out all my new cosmetic toys and painted each nail a different color. I used a grapey purple, a goldenrod yellow, an amazing orange-red that would make Crayola proud, a deep oceanic blue, and the palest of kelly greens. I walked around with them like that for a few days, and she was right. They did make me smile every time I looked down, because they brought back memories of a fun weekend. But it wasn’t because of freedom. It had nothing to do with originality. It wasn’t even exerting my own individualism; I was just parroting her. The whimsy was gone. Idea was just stale. ***** New story. I was getting together with one of my favorite combination of friends at Eileen’s house. (They’re hilarious, but that’s a long story I’ll tell you some other day.)  On her property there is an external building which her husband uses as an office, and our plan was to commandeer it for the evening to tell goofy, possibly off-color stories to each other and commiserate about womanhood and life in general. We stood on the deck of the office and waited to get in. Eileen fumbled with the keys and was having visible trouble getting the door to open.  She said, “This lock is... read more

Guest post: Mining a writing tip from Mandy Patinkin

Editor’s Note: During a conversation thread on author R.J. Keller‘s Facebook timeline, I was intrigued by fellow writer April Hamilton‘s take on a Youtube video featuring a few acting tips from Mandy Patinkin.  He’s one of my all-time favorite actors, so I was hooked already, and I loved hearing him speak so passionately. But when April started relating his tips to writing, I knew she was on to something, and I asked her to write a guest post. Below is her text (and then the video.).   Writing help can come from the most unlikely sources. I recently saw a video where actor and Broadway star Mandy Patinkin was being interviewed about his experiences with The Princess Bride film.  At one point in the interview, he talks about how, as an actor, he learned to boil down every scene he played to one word or a single sentence and use that as his grounding, or guiding principle for performing the scene. It occurred to me that writers can do the same thing when writing or editing scenes: distill the scene down to a single word or phrase that conveys the point of the scene (e.g., a specific action, a feeling, an incident that must occur, a reveal, etc.) and use that as a yardstick and delimiter. In other words, if the point of a given scene is to convey a character’s insecurity about something, then the word is “insecurity,” and as you write or edit, you can use that as a guidepost for what does or doesn’t need to be in the scene / does or doesn’t serve the point of the scene. This could work very well to help keep a scene on-point, and might save a writer from having to cut a lot of extraneous material during the editing phase if it’s employed during the drafting phase. This tip can also prevent or cure the dreaded “sagging scene syndrome” — in which a scene just seems to lose its focus or pace partway through, but the writer can’t tell precisely where it went wrong. I’d suggest that any writer who struggles with writing “tight” give this method a try. It may turn out to be the quick and (relatively) easy fix you’ve been looking for! April L. Hamilton is an author and the founder and Editor in Chief of, as well as being Editor in Chief of Kindle Fire on Kindle Nation Daily and Digital Media... read more

A Christmas wish for writers

Optimism and faith. Maybe they’re the same. Whatever be the names of the things that make us stronger, make us better, make us stretch into whoever it is we’re becoming, I wish them all for you.

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The truest December memories

It was adrenaline and restless sleep, being banished from the living room, overhearing the adults joking and wrapping. It was the feeling of flying, knowing you’d be safely caught.

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A secret glimpse into the real world of writing

This is how it REALLY is. Unfortunately.

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Ringing true: creating realistic characters

Fiction readers do not want role models. They want to read about themselves. And no one is the antagonist in his own movie.

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Nothing bad can happen to a writer

Nothing bad can happen to a writer.

Everything is material.

~~Philip Roth, novelist

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13 free writing meters, progress trackers, and word counters

Here are the best places to get a free word counter, meter, or widget for your blog, profile, or website.

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Forget the facts and let’s be practical

Whatever your story, whoever the players, the odds are good that the folks who saw your life unfold remember it completely differently.

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