The “What Ifs” of Writing

My favorite way to generate a story is to start with a “what if.”  My current novel, Sold My Soul to Rock and Roll, started germinating with, “what if a teenage girl wanted to be in a band, but her musician father says no?”  Previous works came from questions like, “what if a hypochondriac fell in love with a boy dying from leukemia?” and “what if a mother’s boyfriend sexually abused her daughter but Mom doesn’t believe her?”

As I said in the last blog, I’m doing StoryStorm 2018, and this morning, reading this amazing piece by Matt de la Pena – Darkness – I suddenly had another “what if.”  The author mentioned thinking about something as he sat in the airport on a flight delay, and those words triggered a what if for me (I’m not sharing it, because we’re not supposed to!).  I grabbed my mini StoryStorm notebook, which I try to keep close by for when the muse speaks, and jotted down my “what if.”

As writers, we should cherish the “what if” moments.  Be open to them.  No matter how crazy they are, the chances of generating a story from a “what if” are monumental.

What if you listened to all the what ifs that drifted through your mind each day?

STORYSTORMing in January

So I don’t remember which of my friends posted about this on Facebook, but a week or so ago I learned about Tara Lazar’s StoryStorm 2018.  It is a renamed version of PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) and though I’m not a picture book author by ANY stretch of the imagination, I figured why not?

storystorm18participantThe idea is to generate 30 new book ideas in 31 days (the month of January). So I grabbed a mini notebook to keep on hand just for that purpose, and have managed to come up with one idea a day so far.  Some of them I like, some of them may never see light of day, but it’s a really cool concept to force your creative mind to do something even when it may not be inclined to do so.


Official registration for StoryStorm ends today if you want to get in on Tara’s action – there are prizes to be had if you achieve your goal of 30 ideas in 31 days.  Of course, there’s no reason you couldn’t do it on your own, too, if you wanted.  Check out Tara’s blog for more info or to sign up today (January 9).

The more ideas you can generate, the more books you can write, whether they are picture books, chapter books, middle grade, young adult, new adult, or plain old adult.   Don’t wait for inspiration to miraculously strike – get your creativity juiced and generate ideas, ideas, ideas!

For example – this morning, as I was driving to work, the car in front of me had a license plate that read CAL A and a couple of numbers.  Within a few minutes, a new character named Calla Lily Burkhart was tapping on my shoulder and whispering her general story in my ear. (I’m not sharing the idea itself, but just how it came to be).  What will your daily drive give you by way of story ideas?

Write the Wave! 🙂

Gear does not equal “Better”

In addition to being a YA novelist, I am also a photographer.  I have been shooting fairly regularly for about 28 years, having started with film cameras and eventually making the jump to DSLR and now to Mirrorless.  I belong to multiple groups on Facebook for photography and one of the things I see a lot from newbie togs is this:

“I’m getting a new camera!  What should I charge customers?”

Most of the time, this question comes from photographers whose skill sets are not elevated enough to be considered “professional” – their photos are inconsistent, they don’t understand lighting or posing, etc.  They have craft to learn before they should be soliciting paying clients.

And today, I thought to myself, as writers, do we ever say, “I’m getting a new word processor for my laptop! Should I sub my book to agents?”

It’s a little laughable, isn’t it?  Writing and Photography have a lot in common.  They are creative fields that require technical skill – you could have the best ideas in the world, but if you can’t express them on the page . . . well, we all know how that goes.  And photography is similar – you can have a great eye for composing, but if you don’t understand how the exposure triangle works, you may not get decent images despite “seeing” them in your mind’s eye.

Yet, photographers think better gear translates to better photography.  I’ve yet to meet a writer who thinks a better computer or better writing program (Word vs Scrivener, for example) will translate to better writing.  Better writing comes from practice.  Better writing comes from taking workshops on craft, and learning how craft and structure work together, and how dialogue, narrative, and action interact.  Better writing comes from being involved with critique groups, and getting feedback, and revising for improvement.  Better writing comes from being open to that feedback, and allowing yourself to look for imperfections in that “perfect” baby.

I know of writers who, after participating in NaNoWriMo, are so pleased with their rough draft that they immediately start sending out queries to agents.  Anne Lamott called the first draft the “shitty first draft.”  I believe her.  Even if you get a completed rough from a month of frantic writing, you still need to mold it, shape it, and better it before trying to send it out in the world.

So when you’re writing, always remember it’s great to get the first draft down on paper.  But the first draft is just that.  Revise, rewrite, review, repeat.  Because as clichéd as it is, “you only get one chance to make a first impression.”  Don’t try to skip steps in the process. The process results in a sellable product, and isn’t that what we all want?

New computer or not. 😊