In continuing my series of short collections of writing prompts, I thought I’d venture into a genre I absolutely love reading – perhaps more than any other genre. Let’s see if my prompts live up to my own expectations!
A travel photographer on assignment in the jungles of India gets a far more personal look at the big cats she photographs than she ever intended – and discovers something truly incredible in the depths of the jungle
A treasure hunter, a Catholic priest, and a civil rights activist find themselves working together on this rather unexpected mission: to save an ancient farm in the hills of Tuscany
The setting: deep in the Amazon jungle; the lead character: a female missionary pilot; the problem: a missing American passenger
A British art thief, a Kenyan international beauty queen, and an Italian housewife must save the world from a merciless dictator bent on ruling the world
July is over – and therefore Camp NaNoWriMo is over for the year, at least the official ones. If you’re unfamiliar with this “Camp” aspect of National Novel Writing Month, it is the time when writers can create their own writing, editing, or revising goals instead of the “set” 50,000+ words that the official NaNoWriMo has for November.
If you missed Camp, you can still do your own novel-writing goals.
The first time I ever did a NaNoWriMo unofficially was when I was 18 (yikes – 20 years ago!). I had a novel I’d written one chapter per year on for three years but in January 1999, I decided I wanted to finish that book already! So, I sat down on January 2 or 3, and basically didn’t get up again until the whole 105,000+ words was written, less than a month later.
I have done this again for 10 consecutive years for the official NaNoWriMo, completing drafts on 9 of the 10. I’ve also occasionally done others, drafting my first self-published novel under a pseudonym, Nobody’s Girl, the second in the series, Drop Dead Daisy, and some others I have yet to revise and publish.
If you have a novel you NEED to write, but just don’t make the time for, I’d highly encourage you to participate in your own NaNoWriMo during the lock-downs or at least the official NaNoWriMo come this November.
Select the Book You Want to Write
If you have one idea, you’re all set. If you have multiple ideas for plots, sort through them and see which one stands out to you the most at this particular point in time. Does one topic resonate more than another? Does one character feed your soul? Does one setting feel more comfortable and familiar?
Choose wisely! You’ll be living with this book for a month every day!
Outline and Research As Much As Possible First
If you’re writing a historical novel, be sure to look up books on the era, websites that focus on that era, etc. Writing a sci-fi? Figure out those parameters to make the science work first. Writing a fantasy? Choose your character types ahead of time.
Do as much “advanced work” as possible before you sit down to write to help free up time to focus primarily on the writing itself.
If you’re an outliner, outline the plot points ahead of time so you have something easier to work from along the way.
The key is, though, to do these things before you sit down to write. For my projects, I give myself a month to research and outline, then a month to draft.
Create a Clean Creatively Stimulating Work Space
Ideally, set up a spot in your home where you can write your novel that is separate from your at-home work station or bedroom. You want to separate your creative spot from the realities or work and sleep as much as possible.
If you can’t separate because of space, family, or other reasons, be sure to at least change up the environmental elements when you’re ready to write. When I lived in a studio apartment, I had one desk and no table. To change things up, I cleared away all work related documents, folders, etc., and set myself up with some lovely little bits to make the space feel more comfortable and less work-oriented, like scented candles, tea lights in pretty holders, used a special tea cup instead of every day mugs, and changed up the lighting with Christmas lights instead of bright white lights.
When You Write, Use Place Holders
Don’t get hung up on small details you can’t remember or don’t know. If you can’t remember the difference between the first revolver and a pepper pot, just put a place holder instead for now and come back later during revisions.
For myself, I insert “(look up)” or “(research)” – which is an easy-to-search-for term later on when I go back to revise/edit.
Take a Run or Shower When Your Well Runs Dry
If you’re getting stuck on something while you’re writing, give yourself a break and go get outside and take a run or walk. If it’s too cold walk around the house, use the treadmill or exercise bike (don’t have one? Look on Freecycle, Craigslist, OfferUp, or similar sites to find one cheap or even free).
Or, if activity isn’t doing it for you, get a hot bath or shower and let your mind wander.
I find that I solve almost all of my creative blocks on the running trail or in the shower. Hands down the most effective way to break writer’s block for me.
Unplug While You Write
Finally, unplug from the internet while you write. You’ll easily fall down the rabbit hole of “research” otherwise and look up at the clock two hours later to realize you’ve written 1000 words today instead of the planned 4000.
Obviously, the hardest part of writing a mystery is creating a believable and intriguing mystery to be solved. The same stories are told over and over again, wrapped in different packaging – so it can be tedious or challenging to come up with something new.
So, I thought I’d offer some fun writing prompts in the genre. Maybe it will help someone kick past a blockage they’ve been dealing with as they write. Who knows?
A cat prowling around a murder victim’s house while the police detective investigate knocks over an urn. But instead of ashes, an ancient Egyptian necklace falls out.
Setting: Small village in Iceland. Murder victim: local tour guide. Single clue left at murder scene: a hunk of rare Italian cheese. Whodunnit?
Florida Man wins the lottery and finally goes on the vacation to Colorado Springs he’s always dreamed of. Out on the hiking trail, he discovers something in his knapsack. Before he can do anything about it, he keels over dead.
The murder weapon: a stone globe. The victim: a veterinarian in New York City. The murderer: the owner of a small, yellow bird. Why’d they do it?
In my writing group lately, we’ve been using prompts and games to work on our craft each meeting. I thought I would create a few prompts in multiple genres this summer for fellow writers looking for a boost in creativity.
These are all completely just from my brain – there’s no backstory to discover. Just use the imagery the words elicit and write away.
Who is the Righteous Ryder and what is her/his mission?
There’s a magical plant in the woods, which a young girl discovers one day while collecting herbs for her father’s cookery. What does the plant do? What happens after the discovery?
What would happen if three owls, two unicorns, and a dragon were all best friends?
A talking medieval cat discovers something sinister in the castle dungeon while hunting mice one morning.
A duck and her ducklings hold the secret to the universe.
Recently, I wrote a personal essay for Tor.com, involving sensitive topics. I’m well aware of the challenges of writing about sensitive issues like mental health and suicide – which are in this story. I’ve written on them many times before.
I asked a friend who I know has understanding in these things. She carefully evaluated the words I used in reference to the loved one who dealt with mental health challenges. She pointed out better ways of phrasing things that could be felt by someone who has similar mental health challenges as potentially insensitive.
Though I am aware of terms that can be hurtful, I live in my own head as I write personal stories. I know what I mean. But readers don’t know. They aren’t stuck in my head with my history. That’s why we need sensitivity readers.
What is a Sensitivity Reader?
Simply stated, a sensitivity reader is someone who is aware language that can be considered painful or offensive to given readers.
For example, if an article touches on racism, ethnic, or cultural topics, a sensitivity reader will be able to point out words and phrases that could be read as unkind, insensitive, or otherwise offensive – whatever your intent behind them.
Some Great Sensitivity Readers
If you find yourself in need of a sensitivity reader, here are a few to check out.
Thanks to the slower economy and chaos the world is in, I have had more time to write for publications, yet had fewer clients giving assignments. In one way, this has been great. I recently had two articles accepted at dream publications! With a third semi-dream pub in the works.
But it does remind me of the challenges we freelance journalists have. Some publications are splendid at paying in a timely fashion (usually 30 or 45 days after invoice, which comes after publication in many cases). Others, not so much.
Last year, I sold an article to a large publication for a sizeable amount for me, but pittance for them. The editor I worked with was marvelous. The story turned out beautifully! But it was a nightmare getting paid. The check wasn’t sent for 4 months. I moved. And because of the long delay, it went to the wrong address. It took another 10 weeks to receive the check again.
If this had been an isolated incident, I wouldn’t tell you about it. But many other journalists face the same issue. As I commiserate with fellow writers, the story repeats hundreds of times a year.
If you are looking at going into freelance journalism, don’t expect to be paid immediately for next month’s bills. Hopefully, you will, but you’ve got to have a backup, especially when you first start out.
If you have a job right now, wait until you can save at least two months’ expenses before handing in a resignation in pursuit of a writing career.
If you are unemployed and looking to start in journalism, look first for content writing jobs and develop a client base that covers your bills for at least the first few months. Then start pitching publications.
Develop a solid portfolio to accompany your pitches.
Build a website with a bio, links to articles (or your portfolio), and start a blog (maybe).
Understand that many – possibly most – freelance journalists also have regular clients of other kinds (content writing, social media, etc.) and/or have other gigs (dog walking, house sitting, consulting, life coaching, teaching, etc.).
When I first started out, I was scouring Craigslist want ads for one-off gigs, part-time work, and writing work. I did things like running booths at craft fairs, product tests, consumer research panels, home organizing, and became an occasional assistant to a magician (a job I still love doing, and look forward to doing again once the social-distancing lifts!).
I have a big story in my life that deserves far more than a single article for a single outlet. This story has international significance, historical prowess, and huge equality importance.
This is a story I have lived and studied all my life.
But it’s still hard to find different angles on it.
I thought I had it down last year. I pitched the story to four different outlets. One snatched it up, then a second. The third asked me to pitch it to them. Same with the fourth. The third never responded. The fourth said my angle was too similar to the two that had been published.
I was flabbergasted. Yes, they were inspirational in nature, but their focus was narrative. The pitch I sent to the fourth outlet was strictly inspirational. It was a dream publication, so I was kind of crushed.
How I Found New Angles This Year
I have been wrestling with this idea of new angles for a year now. The anniversary is in a couple of days, so I started wondering how I could celebrate again this year with more pieces at more outlets.
I clearly couldn’t use the same pitches as last year – I’d already sold them. So, I read through what I had written. I jotted down notes on things left out of these articles. I noted the emotions that I experienced while reading the stories again.
These simple notes opened up the new angles. And now I have two more pieces on this story coming out within the week (including one for a different dream publication). And about a dozen other angles on my Trello board, waiting for the right call for pitches.
I’ve participated in 10 NaNoWriMo events in Novembers, winning 9 of them. And I’ve often thought of participating in the other events throughout the year, specifically the April Camp NaNo. But I’ve just not made time for it.
This year, thanks to the lock-downs and quarantines, it seems like the perfect time to dedicate my April to doing another NaNo project. Especially as I have some big disappointments in my creative house right now.
This year, I am the same age that my grandmother, Jerrie Mock, was when she became the first woman to fly around the world. April 17 is the anniversary of her landing that flight. I was supposed to take my first flying lesson that day in honor of her dedication, spirit, and the wonder of it all. But with COVID-19 shut-downs, that probably won’t be happening.
I do have ideas for books to write about my grandmother, however, so I’m finding a different creative way of honoring her – through writing those during Camp NaNoWriMo, while I’m stuck indoors so much.
If you’ve got a creative project you’ve been putting off for a while, I encourage you to take advantage of this strange time in our world. Use these times to create and bring joy into the world through those long-term dreams of writing a novel, a new podcast, or whatever else you’ve got to offer to the world.
Here’s just a little fun, revamped and “restored” from my old writing blog that has been painfully neglected in recent years.
You know you’re a writer when…
…every other email in your inbox has the subject heading, “idea for book.” And nothing is capitalized or punctuated because you didn’t have time for such frivolities before the traffic light turned green again.
…it suddenly occurs to you that nobody has actually ever heard of the greatest band on the planet, because your book hasn’t hit the presses yet.
…You dream in blue ink, but your nightmares are full of red.
…the idea of seeing your book in print is more exciting to you than the idea of marrying the perfect man. (Of course, I’m lucky. I got both!)
…your best friend dreads Facebook conversations with you because she’s certain you’re going to ask her for more commentary on “the book.”
…you have conversations with imaginary people to work on your dialogue writing skills, since your husband is passed out at four in the morning and can’t help you.
…and then you discover that those same imaginary people talk back. And they’re way more intelligent than you are.