Brainstorming: Finding Ideas That Work

At a recent write-in, a couple of us needed to work on world building. In my case, I was working on names for magic ceremonies, events in the past, that sort of thing. One technique that worked well for us was what I call idea dumping (aka brainstorming).

I’m not talking about the old style of brainstorming: grabbing a pen and staring at a blank page for an hour until the perfect idea comes. I’m talking about dumping all the ideas out of your mind−good, bad and ugly—until you find what fits. We pulled up a thesaurus, and I wrote down everything that was said. My paper was a mess, cramped and full of notes.

I can’t lie and say magic poured out of our mouths, but as we batted around ideas they morphed into something great. So when you’re searching for that perfect name for your next goblin or handsome hunk remember a couple of things:

*Write every idea that comes to mind, even the crappy ones.

*Write at least ten if not twenty. I find my first three ideas are generic, and middle five to ten suck. The other day, it was not until at least twenty or more names had floated around until I found one I loved.

*Keep the list for a little bit, percolation helps sometimes. One writer thought she had a name, but it wasn’t until we moved on and were talking about something else did she realize the perfect one hit.

Idea Dumping can be used for book names, magic systems, upcoming plot twists, and more. Sometimes our creativity is laying on the service and other times we have to dig a little for that golden nugget.

Filling your writing toolbox with books

Many a handyman will say that without their toolbox, the work can’t be done. Writers are the same. We fill our toolbox with a variety of tools. We may pick these up at conferences, writing groups, or even blogs (wink, wink). Some of my favorite places to find those gems are books. Great writing books help me look at my writing in a whole different light.



The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. I use this book most frequently and keep it at my desk when writing. Definitely a must have. They also have several others that are worth purchasing.


James Scott Bell has so many great books on writing it was hard for me to pick only one, so I didn’t.dialogue-book

How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fasted Way to Improve Any Manuscript




Conflict and Suspense





Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Black Synder. While about screenwriting, this book covers essential elements on storytelling that every author can use.



Story Engineering by Larry Brooks has a great comprehension books on the essential building blocks of a story.



I’m in the middle of another craft book, so this list may grow. Do you have any that I have missed? Please let me know.


Riding the High of a Writers Conference

I recently went to the 30th Annual Anwa Writers’ Conference this weekend, and though my body is exhausted, my mind is filled with ideas, fueled by motivation, and warmed with a slew of new friends in the publishing world.

It took me a several years to go to a writers’ conference. I thought for sure I could learn just as much through classes and books. This weekend I realized conferences are more than the new techniques we learn (though I found some invaluable). Conferences include growing friendships in the professional writing world, and being inspired to fulfill your potential.

Where else could I casually talk to a publishing manager about my book and the current trends in the market? Or learn from New York Times Best Selling authors about craft and get to chat over lunch with them?  With some of the bigger conferences you may not get this opportunity, but you need to find what conference fits your needs.

Now that I am back home and alone in front of my computer, I’m trying to decide what is the best way to keep riding this high and fulfilling my dream. Here are some tips I thought I’d share and feel free to add some of your own.

  1. Stay in Touch: When you make connections at the conference, keep them. Friend them on social media and keep that connection if it works for you. These writers, published or not, are serious about their careers. Support each other on your journey.
  2. Utilize the Connection: If you met an agent and plan on querying them next year, make sure to remind them where you met.  And with other authors, reach out to switch reviews or beta reads.
  3. Read those Notes: We all took notes over the weekend, but don’t let your conference notes get buried in that deep drawer we never venture too.
  4. “Success is in the doing”: Don’t let those negative thoughts most writers have, get to you. We can’t wait for happiness when we get our first book deal, or make a certain list, or win a certain award. Live in the journey. Live in the writing.


Ten Commandments of Reading

The other day while my son was reading book four of the Michael Vay series, skipping book two and three since we’re waiting for them from our library, I decided he needed to learn some very basic rules of reading. So in my horrific English accent, I proceeded to the commandments of reading.

  The Ten Commandments of Reading

  1. Never tell the end of a good book to a friend.
  2. Read the book before the movie, except if the movie is Princess Bride.
  3. If you’re in a used bookstore, you must buy a book. Unless you’re dead broke, then go to the library.
  4. You should always have a library card.
  5. Always read a series in order, unless there are too many to keep count. Then go crazy.
  6. If a friend lends you a book and you accidentally damage it, replace it.
  7. Don’t break the binding of a book or damage a book, no matter how you detest it. Get a bookmark people, even a sock will do.
  8. If you interrupt someone during a good part of a book you must recite the alphabet backwards, while standing on your head. (Parents are the only exception for underage children, and a fire because the safety of a book comes first.)
  9. No skipping to the end of a book. Yes, you know who you are.
  10. When reciting the commandments, please use your best snooty English accent.

library card

When my daughter broke rule one as my son was reading Harry Potter, I thought she’d catch on fire with that blasphemy. And I recommend two library cards, in case of emergencies.

What is your pet peeve when reading?  Let me know. While these may be etched in stone, like every writer knows, the edits never stop.

Old School Dystopia

I love how dystopia has taken off lately. I devoured Hunger Games with everyone else and recently watched the fourth movie in the theaters. Suzanne Collins told of pain, love, and war masterfully, and of Katniss’s antagonist, the government.

I recently went back to some of the old school dystopian stories that I loved. And reading them a second time, helped me appreciate not only the story but the artistry involved in every word. I couldn’t help but mark up Fahrenheit 451 and pause in awe several times. 1984 left me with the haunting images that I’ll never forget. Another one off the beaten path I found was The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper. There were secrets unseen that left my mind reeling for days.

Enjoying the revival of this genre makes me appreciate the classics all the more. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Ray Bradbury.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder… live as if you’d drop dead in 10 seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there were never such an animal.”

What Doesn’t Kill You May Make You a Writer

Lately, I have run into many personal memoirs. One recently that hit the news is by writer Allen Kurzweil. He has written fiction for years and is releasing a memoir about his experiences in boarding school with a bully. It was the ultimate therapy session he reported as he confronted his bully who was now in prison for fraud.killed you off

It reminds me of how personal writing can be, even in fiction. Writers often joke that if we don’t like you we will make you a character and kill you off. There is some truth in that. Writers pour their selves into every novel, and that includes our experiences. Good or bad our life molds the stories we tell.

I think a great writer can take those experiences and transfer the emotion into every page of their work. During revision, checking for emotion is near the top of my checklist.

Here is a classic example of the power of emotion from the book, Of Mice and Men:

“There is a path through the willows and among the sycamores, a path beaten hard by boys coming down from the ranches to swim in the deep pool, and beaten hard by tramps who come wearily down from the highway in the evening to jungle-up near water.”

The setting is painted with emotion and characters in such a way that strikes us much harder than the color of leaves, or dry grass.

I hope we can all channel those moments that have touched us the most, and turn them into something beautiful. For quoting Steinbeck again, “There’s more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty.” (From one of my favorites, East of Eden.)

If anyone needs to be inspired by some memoirs, here are some that I enjoyed.

*Half a Life: A Memoir by Darin Strauss

* Left to Tell by Immaculée Ilibagiza

*The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls

I’ll Dot My “i”s, but I Want to Murder those Commas

I was never an English major, and my college years are hazy at best. But, wanting to be an author forced my hand at learning grammar. So venturing out of the fiction section, I found several grammar books.

I thought I would share some of my favorites below:

  • The Chicago Manual of Style

For the purely technical side of grammar, one of the books I recommend is The Chicago Manual. It is the bible of grammar, and it reads that way as well, slow and difficult. It has all the answers to my questions though, even if it takes me awhile to find them. They also offer on online edition which is relatively inexpensive and makes searching easier.

  • Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark

This book breaks down the rules of grammar into easy, applicable tools to improve your writing. He has written several books that I enjoy, which says a lot given the subject manner.

  • The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.

It’s a small book with a powerful punch. I’d recommend every aspiring writer to buy it and read it, more than once. It’s a simple book with basic truths about writing.

Grammar isn’t a one-time thing. Heck, I had to look up one-time versus onetime while writing this. I am constantly plucking away at my grammar books, reading a page here, searching for an answer there.  So if you find yourself stuck on where that comma goes for the twentieth time, venture out of the fiction section to find help.

What grammar books do you find useful?