What Did Picasso Mean About Inspiration

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

-Pablo Picasso

It seems on first reading that unless you sit down to work you will not find inspiration. There is something to that, for when you are involved in a creative endeavor the more focused you are on your work inspiration does occur, taking you in directions you had not thought of. That is one of the joys of creating.

My mind will be writing with a certain intent, but then inspiration swoops down, sneaks through my ear, seeps into my brain, where it whispers a strikingly singular thought that ignites a bursting light, giving me an ‘aha’ moment. Now I am heading into another direction. And I love it.

But . . .

Inspiration does not have to find you working. Inspiration can come through dreams. Many of my short stories have come to me through dreams, or just letting my mind wander where it chooses as I sit in a chair, TV and radio off, just me waiting for something to creep into my thoughts. It never fails (almost never). Or it can strike you as it did when I was walking in a cemetery, saw a well dressed old man, carrying a shovel among the graves with intent and purpose in his walk. I turned away and let inspiration strike me and it did. The result was Flowers for Martha Clemens.

I may be confusing inspiration with imagination. My Roget’s offers for inspiration: animate, invigorate, energize, vitalize, exhilarate, awaken, stir, thrill, and exalt, among other words. Imagination in my Roget’s says: dreaming, creative, visualize, idealize, vision, reflection, whim, fancy, among other words and phrases.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary I found this about inspiration: “The sense evolution seems to be from “breathe into” to “infuse animation or influence,” thus “affect, rouse, guide or control,” especially by divine influence. Inspire (v.) in Middle English also was used to mean “breath or put life or spirit into the human body; impart reason to a human soul.” Literal sense “act of inhaling” attested in English from 1560s. Meaning “one who inspires others” is attested by 1867.”

For imagine I found this: “mid-14c., “to form a mental image of,” from Old French imaginer “sculpt, carve, paint; decorate, embellish” (13c.), from Latin imaginari “to form a mental picture, picture to oneself, imagine” (also, in Late Latin imaginare “to form an image of, represent”), from imago “an image, a likeness” (see image (n.)). Sense of “suppose, assume” is first recorded late 14c. Related: Imagined; imagining.”

It seems that inspiration and imagination are connected in the creative process. When inspired something ‘breathes’ something into your soul and it infuses your imagination.

I don’t like that Picasso appears insistent that inspiration only finds you when working, because nobody likes to be working. I will take revelry, dreams, and lazing about. But I was inspired to imagine the following e-Books available on Amazon. And now back to work as my revelry is over. For now.

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Two exercises to tone up your novel writing

In order for your novel to flow smoothly, keeping your readers interest, there are two writing exercises to challenge yourself with to make the writing better.

One is to experiment with short stories, and I include flash fiction as well. Writing a short story  is like going on a diet. It forces you to take the fat out of a story, leaving you with lean writing. In a short story you can not pad with cake and ice cream, meandering through a landscape of unneeded calories as you struggle to build a word count acceptable for a novel. Short stories and flash fiction  mean getting to the climax quick with shorter wordplay, using fewer words, and less is more. It is about thinning your writing, compressing and condensing.

The second exercise is to write poetry. I confess my creative sense and sensibility does not lend itself to this discipline. If I could overcome this obstinate obstacle my novels would be better. But do as I say, not as I do. Challenge yourself. I do have a degree in English Literature and have read and studied poetry, so I have background to fall upon. What poetry does is force you to develop a better understanding of imagery and metaphor. And of course a rhythm.

Imagery are the sensory feelings and thoughts conveyed to the reader through words; so use the right words for the right image. For instance, take the cliché phrase ‘He has as much chance as a snowball in Hell.’ Blah. How about ‘He has as much chance as a Dracula does of getting a suntan.’ Two things here, a cliché has been eliminated and a more colorful imagery has been put in it’s place.

All writing, even a novel is an experiment, but through short stories and poetry, you are preparing yourself for a marathon called a novel and the better prepared you are the better you will do. When you compress your writing from exercising through short stories and mix in appropriate imagery you will be a lean, mean writing machine.

I could have written more, expanding on my theme here, but I am trying to cut down on words.

At Amazon my E-books, fat or thin, depending on your sense and sensibility.

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How To Write a Novel in 60 days + 24

Not only can you write a novel in 60 days, but it only takes a few hours a day. And that leaves you more time for watching cute animal and baby videos.

I am about to give you a formula that you can use to write a novel in 60 days, plus an extra 24. The extra days I will explain later. This formula is predicated on math, but  the formula is something you can play with, adjust, and toy with as your mileage will vary.

But it does give you a road to discipline yourself, something a writer needs. Especially me.

It works like this. An internet search will tell you a novel is anywhere from 80,000 to 100,000 words. It is not a law, there are exceptions, we are using this as a guideline. Let us use 90,000. It is not difficult to write 1,5000 words a day. Of late that has taken me three to four hours, depending on what little roadblocks I encounter. If you write 1,500 words a day it takes 60 days to reach 90,000. Feel free to do the math, that was never by strong suit, but the calculator has told me 60 is the answer.

See how easy that was. For many who have not tried writing a novel because it seems overwhelming, the math says it is doable in 60 days.

So what are the extra 24 days for? After each five days you take two days to review your previous 7,500 words, using this time to edit, correcting grammar and spelling, and doing so in painstaking, letter by letter, period by period if necessary, manner. Do that for the first day and the second day make notes of how you want to the story to move forward and of what you want your characters to do next.

I pause here to remind that there are two approaches to writing fiction. One is to map out the story ahead of time with outlines and everything necessary to where you only have to fill in the details. I can’t do that, too much work. I prefer, like Ray Bradbury, Elmore Leonard, and many others, to make it up as I go, trusting the characters to let you know what happens next. So that is what I do the second day. Make notes for the next few chapters. And I run with it for the next five days.

So after sixty days of writing and two days after each set of five days you have written a novel, have done the editing and rewrites and you breath a sigh of relief, congratulate yourself, and eat a cookie. Take six days for your vacation to the Bahamas and you have 90 days. Since a year is over 360 days, you can actually write four novels a year with 24 days in the Bahamas. You are prolific. You are as crazy about writing as Stephen King. Scary isn’t it.

As I said, it is a formula, a place for you to start and tinker with. Good luck.

I wrote the following e-novels before I figured the math. They are found at Amazon here.

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What Writers Should Do Second, Not First

When writing a story writers can fall into a trap, one based on what they have read or seen in movies, a trap they  must escape. Let me explain.

A short story I wrote, Flowers for Martha Clemens, was based on something I saw, then I ran away with it into the twilight zone. I saw an old man, perhaps mid 70’s, carrying a shovel  in a cemetery. He walked with purpose among the graves, his clothes not those of a cemetery worker. I stopped to watch the old man, but then thought if I saw what he was going to do it might make sense and I would forget the whole incident. Better to turn away, not see what he was going to do and make up my own story.

The first thought of a writer would be obvious. The old man is going to dig up a grave. We have seen and read about grave robbers, and though the idea of a 70 year old grave robber has a bit of interest, I though it better to ignore my first instinct. Instead of robbing a grave he would dig up the grave for another reason, one more macabre. One reviewer said she liked the story “for the hauntingly melancholy vibe that sucks you into the story.”

Because of her comment I knew I made the right choice, one not based on the obvious, but one going in a new direction. That is why writers need to make unusual choices and not trust your first instinct. Better to play around with choices, bouncing things around in your mind, coming up with a few to choose from is even better.

Creativity is found in challenging your mind, writing outside the page, creating a sense of play, and getting a bit weird if need be. Creativity is challenging yourself to make new things. Writing need not be stolid, it should be fun.

6,466 Words That Anger And Please

Writers have bad days when words come slow, if they come at all. Then there are the good days where words pour out like a Pacific Northwest rain, fast and hard. But what happens when they flow to fast, too hard.

Maybe it was the two pots of tea that stimulated the senses, but 6,466 words is one heck of an output for me. I did not know what was coming next, I was in a zone where characters, situations, dialogue took over, my fingers tapping keys with little thought. I was not in control, some creative force was. I loved it.

But something happened when the words began piling up. Fingers must have got tired and when they did, bad things happened; then my mind got tired and bad things happened.

I noticed after a few thousand words there were more typos. Then they began increasing with two or three in every sentence, then three or four. When you are in a zone this becomes irritating seeing those words underlined in red, the color that infuriates bulls. I saw the red, the cape, and the bull in me took over. My fist pounded the arm of the chair. Then as typos overran my brain, my fist pounded the table behind me.

As I got close to 6,000 words loose objects were thrown with fierce bullheadedness. Soft objects will not do, noise is the only way to ameliorate the anger, the only way assuage the frustration.

I finally came to the end. The tornado was over. FEMA came in to assess the damage. I received counseling and was released from the hospital. In the end I was thrilled with my 6, 446 words.

And now I must go, this post a warm-up to another day of writing. I am not planning on a 6,000 word day. The room is empty except for desk, computer, and chair. I have no idea what will happen. Writing is adventure, writing is risk, writing is dangerous.

No keyboard was injured during the creative flow.

My dangerous e-Books on Amazon you can find here.

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Adam and Eve, the truth of the matter

In the beginning Adam and Eve had the Garden all to themselves and frolicked with squirrels and all the other cute critters. Life was blissful.

Women don’t like to hear this, but I did not write the story; it was written by a male many centuries ago. In fact, according to linguists, Genesis was written by at least seven people, including one woman. Though I doubt she was the author of this part of the story.

The point is that Eve strayed. I don’t know where Adam was, perhaps sleeping, reading the sports page, or playing with squirrels. Maybe Eve was concerned about Adam’s performance issues. We simply don’t know, but she did approach the Tree of Knowledge, inching closer and closer to temptation. Then the serpent appeared and he began to hit on Eve, no doubt using the best pickup lines learned from his eating of the forbidden fruit. It was not an apple, that piece of fruit was added to the story centuries later. I once read an archeologist suggested it was a pomegranate, but that is another story.

Well what woman does not like the bad boy and the serpent was all of that. By the way, it was not a snake. That image, again, came centuries later. There are many types of serpents and there also could be a translation problem. But the point is that Eve did what the serpent suggested and ate of the fruit.

Bad Girl.

And what boy does not like the bad girl.

Now keep in mind Adam was loyal, loving, and honest. Not the bad boy; kind of dull, but a good man. Being a good man and desiring of an equal partnership he did not dominate, but strove for compromise. And he trusted Eve, the love of his life. Of course there were no other women around, so any port in the storm.

Anyway we know how the story ends. Adam was convinced by Eve to eat of the fruit. After they both ate they saw each other in a new light. It was an aha moment. The downside was they were evicted from the Garden. They were now party people and they disturbed the squirrels and other fun critters. So for the sake of the neighborhood, for it to remain a quiet place of peace and solitude, they had to leave.

I mention this because the story of Adam and Eve is the first story, one in which we have two characters; a man and woman. There is suspense. Will she listen to the bad guy? Will she give in to temptation or stay loyal to Adam? Two innocent people, a villain, and the results of being corrupted. And Eve the first femme fatale. Everything you need for a compelling story.

And look at what happened after they left the Garden. Millions of sequels.

My e-books can be found on Amazon

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One Simple Paragraph . . .but

I recently read A Stranger in My Grave by Margaret Millar. She is a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master. It was originally published in 1960 and I would describe the book as literary, noir mystery.

The story is about a married woman named Daisy who hires a private detective/ bail bondsman to reclaim a lost day in her life. It has to do with her believing there is another person in her grave.

Of course she is alive; she knows that. But there is a reason for her belief. It is a nice hook to draw you into a story with some great twists and turns among believable characters.

There is a piece of writing, one paragraph that I loved that I want to share. It has to do with her trying to convince the detective, who thinks the woman is a bit off her rocker. The following is the paragraph:

“I didn’t lose the day. It’s not lost. It’s still around someplace, here or there, wherever used days and old years go. They don’t simply vanish into nothing. They’re still available— hiding, yes, but not lost.”

We all have memories both pleasant and not so pleasant. But there are also lost days, days that if you live long enough, increase to the point where they far exceed what we do remember. But are there hidden within those lost days, if they were found, something pleasant that its recovery would be a wonderful memory, like a treasure hunter discovering Captain Kid’s treasure?

Of course the flip side is that there might be in those lost days something you may not want to discover. There are people surrounding Daisy that try to tell her some things are better lost, not found.

So I reread the paragraph. There is something wistful and naïve about her thinking. We as readers may stop and wonder about are lost days, that they can be recovered and wouldn’t that be nice. But then again . . .

It is one paragraph, well written, that lies within a well written story. The paragraph, like the story makes you think. That is good writing.

Whether my e-novels on Amazon make you think or simply entertain you can decide.
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Sue Grafton on Learning to Write; a Novel Approach

There is always someone who has not heard of a famous person, so I will not assume each of your are aware of Sue Grafton, but she is a best selling mystery writer whose titles have used the alphabet, going from A to Z, such as her first book A is for Alibi. According to her website, her latest book is “X” and that means two more novels, then . . . who knows.

She said the following about writing:

“There are no secrets and there are no shortcuts. As an aspiring writer, what you need to know is that learning to write is self-taught, and learning to write takes years.”

I remember hearing writers years ago saying one could not learn to be a writer through taking creative writing classes, that either you are a writer or you are not, and the best a writing class can do is make you a better reader, and understand the ‘craft’ or ‘art’ of writing.

Everyone has their opinion, but there is something to that. I think you can learn to write by reading and breaking down what writers do, even though there are different approaches, different styles, and the more variety you read, the better you should be as both reader and writer.

And Grafton is correct in that there are no shortcuts, and no matter how many webinars and conferences you attend, and no matter how many ‘how to books’ you read, there are no secrets. Most writers that I have learned about did teach themselves, trial and error, working through grammar, structure, metaphors, imagery, character creations, and everything in between and after; in truth each story, each book is an experiment, considering that the word ‘novel’ means strikingly new.

If you write then the more you write the better your writing should be. At least we hope so, and I think it is for the majority of us. It is a matter of being open to what you are doing and not doing, always challenging your ego to do better, not thinking you have it all figured it out. That is the learning process, and the process never ends.

There are and always will be, ways to improve. With each story you write, consider yourself starting from scratch, beginning a new. It is a novel approach.

My e-books on Amazon:

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A Must Read Book For Writers

The book in question is by Francine Prose, a great surname for a writer, and this book is different from every book I have read about writing.

I read books on the art of writing by Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and Lajos Egri; I learned something from each. But the book by Prose has a unique approach. She breaks down writing by these chapters; Chapter one-Words, Chapter two-sentences, then Paragraphs, followed by Narration and then Dialogue, moving on to Details and Chapter nine Gesture. There are three additional chapters, but let me state how she goes about things.

She does not tell, she shows. For example in the chapter on dialogue she uses a book by Harry Green, Loving, and uses, say two pages of dialogue between two or three characters. She tells you what to expect before you read the passages from Green’s book, then explains following the passage what Green was doing, and why, and how.

And that is why the name of her book is Reading Like a Writer. She teaches you how to read, what to look for, the why and the how of what each writer was doing. And she uses examples from writers with different styles, each of whom have different approaches, but each has a way of doing things, that when you see and easily understand what the writer is doing, you can not help but to learn.

And think about the chapters, starting from words-choosing the right word and why, and of course using examples that always gives you the ah ha moment. Now I get it. She starts with words, then of course the sentence, and on and on’ a perfect structure for writing.

And this book is not just for writers, but for readers who want to enjoy stories with an understanding of how the bones are put together.

Her book subtitled A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them is an accurate description. I love books, and I love writing them. And because I love books I discovered in the course of examples she cited writers I was unfamiliar with, and whose books I have purchased. They are coming in a brown box from Amazon and I looking forward to reading these stories in a new way.

Naturally I could have read any of the unread books in my massive slush pile, but the examples of writers she used made me want to read them. So now thanks to Francine I have learned about Harry Green, about Stuart Dybek, and Heinrich Von Kleist. I have invited them into my home, new friends to encounter, and to learn from. 

It is always exciting to encounter a new writer-new to you-and exploring there stories and now thanks to Francine Prose’s book, I can read them in a way that will make me a better reader, and a better writer.

My-e-books on Amazon

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What the housekeeper in “Rebecca” reveals about the writing process

If you read Daphne De Maurier’s Rebecca, then you know Mrs. Danvers, the mysteriously manipulative housekeeper of Manderley. What you may not know is how her character developed. It says much about the writing process.

In an interview describing the development of Mrs. Danvers, Du Maurier said, “…the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers had become more sinister. Why I have no idea.”

Taking her at her word, I think Mrs. Danvers became more sinister in the story because writers have an instinctive sensibility for storytelling that often surprise them in the writing process. Characters simply take over no matter what the writer intends. I have no idea how Du Maurier originally envisioned Mrs. Danvers, but if she were not sinister, not a creepy manipulative, jealous, spiteful woman, there would be no tension, no conflict between her and the new Mrs. de Winter. The reader senses the conflict, more so than Mrs. de Winter.

Mrs. Danvers is the pivotal character in the story around which so much mystery revolves. Without her sinister character the story is entirely different, our feelings for Mrs. de Winter will be different, for the malevolent spirit of Mrs. Danvers will be mitigated and Mrs. de Winter will not seem so isolated, so vulnerable.

I have read about many writers, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and Elmore Leonard to name three, who have an idea for a story and in the course of writings, minor characters become major characters, and where the story was planned to go ends up going somewhere else. Again, it gets back to the writers instinct, the ability to sense when you come to the fork in the road, you take the one that feels right.

The lesson here is if you write, don’t think too much, just keeping clicking letters on the keyboard, use it like an Ouija board and see where the fingers take you.

Du Maurier also said, “Women want love to be a novel, men want a short story.” I’ll let you sort that one out.

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