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by Deb Lund
I’ve been restless lately. Uncertain. Wondering what to work on next, but not taking action. Growing up in northern Minnesota, the outward version of that was an approaching storm—a blizzard, a tornado, torrential rains… It starts out in stillness and quickly gets dark.
There’s something in the air that you can’t quite identify, and then it whooshes in…
Energy builds. Everything whirls around you. There’s nothing to hang on to. It all feels impossible and there’s nothing you can do about it—except face it. Be brave! Lean into the wind! You got this!
Creativity needs chaos. It needs a storm. Once in a while we need to be shaken out of our pitiful patterns and hideous habits. You know what I mean. Those crazy excuses—I’m too old/young/busy/whatever. Or… just another game of Solitaire, or another snack. Yeah! That’s what I need!
When the storm hits, don’t hide out, and don’t run away. What matters to you? What’s your big dream? What would give your life more meaning? Claim it! Step into the eye of the storm.
Snatch the ideas flying by. Add more snatches to them. Don’t look for pieces that fit—go for curiosity, not judgment. Just grab them. Own the storm!
Are you wondering what you’re getting yourself into? Feeling lost? Unprepared? Me, too! When it comes to creativity, if you don’t know what you’re doing—you’re on the right path!
Still feeling anxious? What do you say to yourself? Here are some of mine…
- “Who do you think you are?”
- “It was only a fluke that you ever got published.”
- “Someday they’ll figure out you can’t write.”
Change those conversations! We all run around scared that someone else is going to find out we don’t really know what we’re doing. We’re afraid we’ll die in the storm.
Take back that talk, and talk back!
It’s hard work finding your way through torrential rains, hail, sleet, or snow. The wind might mangle your umbrella. You might slip on the ice. You might end up in your own version of Oz. Do it anyway.
I grew up with stories of farmers tying ropes between their homes and barns so they could take care of their cattle during blizzards. We have no worries there. Tara is our tether, and she’s tenacious! You may feel lost now and then, but the rope is always within reach. Come back and read this post when your doubts drift up around your ears. I promise you can do this!
When a storm approaches, you get ready. You gather up all you need. You make a plan.
Here’s a short list to help you get started:
- Piggyback on elements of your favorite stories.
- Glance through book titles on bookstore and library shelves.
- Start with first sentences from books you haven’t read.
- Drag out past idea lists or folders to mix and match
- Look at photos—your own, social media, online image searches.
- Mine your memories.
- Think emotions: Sad, angry, hurt, frustrated, relieved, determined, etc.
- Search magazines, newspapers, and online resources for interesting stories.
- Observe kids in libraries, stores, parks, schools, or your own at home.
- Think “firsts”—teeth, steps, birthdays, school, friend, kiss, etc.
- Identify epiphanies and turning points.
- Ask kids, parents, teachers, librarians, friends, family—anyone!
I’m sure our amazing Storystorm line-up will cover some of these in detail and more. Still feeling anxious? Change your default reaction to calm. Tough order, I know. But it’s possible.
As tornadoes touched down around us on Minnesota summer days, neighbors without basements would run to our house and gather in ours. My mom would ask me to play the piano while we waited out the storm.
Playing through a storm is a pretty good analogy of the creative process.
Here’s how you do it…
Ignore the dangers around you. Stay focused, deny the distractions, and entertain yourself until the wind dies down enough to step out into the new landscape before you. And when you do, stay curious. If you label the storm a disaster, you’re not free to experiment and explore.
Keep an open mind as you assess the possibilities. You can shovel out a path or pick up pieces later. Until then, enjoy the wonder and the rainbows. After this month, you might just become a storm chaser.
Deb Lund is best known for her rowdy, rollicking dinoadventures. She’s helped many writers forge their way through storms with her card deck, Fiction Magic: Card Tricks & Tips for Writers. Deb is a creativity coach who claims that outsmarting her own fierce inner critic makes her more qualified to lead storm troopers than all her training, teaching, and years of coaching experience. Visit Deb at deblund.com.
Deb is generously giving away three prizes: two 15-minute creativity coaching sessions and one set of Fiction Magic cards.
Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.
by Deb Lund
“Amplify the Longing!” That was the first card I randomly pulled from my Fiction Magic card deck for writers on the first day of November. Jan O’Neil and I were hosting about a dozen writers for a PiBoIdMo and NaNoWriMo kickoff at the Diamond Knot Brewery next to the Whidbey Island ferry.
Good thing I pulled that card before everyone got there. It didn’t take long for Jan and I to discover the afternoon would be more of a social event than an idea-gathering one. Fortunately, using the Fiction Magic cards got us half way through our 30 ideas in record time so we could be social along with the rest of them!
When Tara asked me to write about using Fiction Magic for a Post-PiBoIdMo post, I said yes, because I always say yes to Tara’s challenges. In this case, though, I knew the cards would work well for generating picture book ideas, but following up on those ideas? My first thought was that it would be challenging. That’s good and bad.
It’s difficult for me to resist a challenge.
Fast forward to the last day of November, with my unfinished PiBoIdMo list. How could I write a Post-PiBoIdMo post if I didn’t complete the challenge myself? With my crazy schedule (and clothes-dryer mind), I hadn’t touched that list since our gathering. There’s nothing like a deadline to make a challenge even more exciting!
I pulled out my cards and completed my list in one short sitting. (Should I be admitting that to Tara?)
And then I heard from Jan:
“I had 30 ideas done in 28 days, with the last 11 ideas coming on day 28. That’s the day I was sitting in line for a ferry, pulled out your cards, and whipped out those last puppies.”
All that is great, but I still had the new challenge from Tara ahead of me.
I did say I like challenges, right?
I decided to keep going with the unknown (always a good thing to do when creating) and randomly drew a different Fiction Magic card to apply to each of the original ideas.
Remember the “Amplify the Longing” card? My PiBoIdMo lists in past years were a few words at the most. Not this year! The original idea from that card was:
Kid is never satisfied, wants more, more, more. Parents get run down, tired of trying to keep up with his demands, and when they can’t give any more, he gives them more and more love.
Jan revealed another similar experience:
“In the previous three Novembers, I finished all of the challenges by the skin of my teeth and came to understand that I am not one of those people for whom ideas come fully formed. Most of my ideas fit on one line of my journal paper. Later they may have notes written in the margins, but not at the time the idea first comes. This year, using the Fiction Magic Cards, my ideas are way more fleshed out. I mean, some even take six lines in my journal!”
So I held my breath, reminded myself that I love challenges, and drew a card as a follow-up to “Amplify the Longing.”
Yes! I could revolt and pick a different card, right? No? But the guidebook has creativity coaching tips following each craft suggestion! Couldn’t “Revolt” be a coaching tip?
My first thought was to have the parents go on a strike, but I didn’t want them to have any direct part in solving the problem, so I decided my main character needed to revolt. Maybe he’ll throw a tantrum until he’s all tired out, too. Then he can relate to how they feel and figure out that they all need love.
Don’t we all?
Here are a couple more examples of my PiBoIdMo ideas and how I used Fiction Magic cards to flesh them out:
“Speak the Unspeakable”
Original Idea: This little girl can only say no.
This little girl can only say no. When it’s time to go? No!
This little girl can never say yes. Clean up your mess? No!
This little girl can only say no. Would you like ice cream? No!
This little girl would like to say yes. Does she? No!
Can she still have ice cream? No!
The additional card I selected for this idea was “Take a Break.” I thought the girl could insist that she can’t say yes, but when she gets tired of all the no’s, of not getting all she wants, she stops talking instead of saying yes, and later, when she finally says yes, she saves face by saying the change was because her tongue needed a break. I also decided that I needed to take a break from all the “This little girl…” lines—and maybe a good long break from this idea!
Are you getting the idea that you have to come up with a lot of bad ideas in order to get a good one? Good! That’s one of the reasons Tara does all this work.
Okay, one more…
Baby learning to walk. It’s a risk for the baby, and the artwork could show the determination and obstacles to walking.
I thought this would be a story from the Baby’s point of view, but then I knew it had to be a sibling watching the baby learn to walk. The sibling, of course, is not happy about the baby getting all the attention until the baby chooses to walk to the sibling.
Well, there might be a little hope for that idea.
The card I chose to follow up on that one was “Provoke a Response.” That’s exactly what the baby does. Naturally, there would have been a response from the sibling, but because of the second card, I’ll make sure it’s big enough. And maybe the baby will even say the sibling’s name as the first word. Hmmm… And that means I will work in a little bit at the beginning about how the baby “can’t even talk” and just “makes noise.”
See how this works? Fiction Magic isn’t magic. It just feels that way because it triggers new ways of seeing and deepens the concept and plot by combining ideas to create what Tara and I call “High Concept Picture Books.”
Will I work on any of these stories? Maybe. Will any of them be published? It doesn’t matter. It’s all practice. You have to mine a lot of rock to get at the gems.
Keep adding to your ideas, keep writing badly (you have to reach your quota!), and go where your magic leads you.
Deb Lund may be best known as the author of All Aboard the Dinotrain and other picture books, but she has taught writing (the focus of her master’s project) to teachers and writers of all ages for 25 years. Deb is also a creativity coach whose mission is to get everyone claiming their creativity. Visit her at DebLund.com and follow her on Twitter @DebLund.
Fiction Magic: Card Tricks & Tips for Writers is a 3.5” x 5” boxed set of 54 cards with a 60-page guidebook. Fiction Magic card “tricks” help writers raise the stakes in their writing with phrases like “Alienate an Ally” and “Remove the Moral Compass.” The guidebook provides possible interpretations for each of the 54 cards, followed by creativity coaching “tips” to help writers apply the cards’ messages to their writing lives. It’s like having two decks in one!
***THIS POST CONCLUDES PIBOIDMO! THANK YOU FOR PARTICIPATING AND GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR IDEAS! PRIZES WILL BE ANNOUNCED ALL WEEK, SO STAY TUNED!***
***UPDATE 3/28/14: “Fiction Magic” is now fully funded! Thanks to everyone who contributed. You still have 9 more days to get some fabulous pledge packages, too!***
Sometimes writers need a good kick in the pants.
Wouldn’t it be great to have your own personal writing coach by your side every day to get you moving? She could whip the sheets off you each morning, bugle reveille in your ear, even toast you an Eggo while you shower.
Eh, who am I kidding? Writers don’t shower!
Author Deb Lund brought together her 20+ years of teaching experience in a magical way—with 54 surprising writing prompts, tips and tricks for you to apply to your work-in-progress whenever you’re feeling stuck. It’s like having that writing coach right there with you, only a lot less annoying. It’s “Fiction Magic”!
For years, Deb taught 4th- and 5th-grade students how to write, and she wanted to make it cool for them, so she developed these cards. Her real “aha” moment came when she realized that she could teach adults the same way she taught children, using the same FUN strategies. ABRACADABRA! These “magical” cards act as triggers to pull something out of your head that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to coax out.
At the Oregon Silver Falls SCBWI Writing Retreat, star agent Jen Rofé of Andrea Brown Literary Agency attended Deb’s session and then exclaimed, “I want all my writers to have your cards!” Yep, she was that impressed. The only problem? Deb’s cards were a prototype that cost her $200 to produce. How could she make them for a dozen writers? A hundred? A THOUSAND?
Enter Kickstarter. Deb’s Fiction Magic campaign is on right now and it’s 94% funded already! But with just 10 days to go, she needs your help. And believe me, you want her help, too!
Let’s do a few tricks right now, shall we? Whip out your WIP and see if these magical remedies help!
AGREE TO A BAD DEAL
Your characters must make some bad choices along the way. They may even have to negotiate for something they need or want with people they loathe. Characters may know they’re agreeing to bad deals but feel they have no choice. Or the deals appear good, but fall apart later. Or time factors make the deals even more ominous. Make the stakes of bad deals so high it’s difficult for your characters to back out of them.
When you feel stressed by all that’s on your plate, be gentle with yourself. Let your characters agree to bad deals, but the only agreement you need to make with yourself right now is to write, no matter how bad the writing may seem.
REVEAL A SECRET
Secrets can be powerful tools or sources of trouble. Or both. What information could your characters unwittingly slip out to the wrong people? Characters could be in danger because of secrets. Other characters could reveal secrets that affect your lead characters, whether the secrets were theirs or not. In trying to cover up secrets or escaping from those trying to conceal secrets, what could go wrong? Who will be angry? Hurt? Feeling betrayed? Put in life or death situations?
Do you keep your dreams secret? Sometimes they need protection, but when you’re ready and the time is right, reveal them to others who believe in you.
THROW IN AN OBSTACLE
If you’re lucky, you’ll pick this card over and over, because this is Key. Your characters are on quests. Delay them. Interrupt their journeys. Who or what could step in to make your characters stop in their tracks? The interruptions may be people, objects, circumstances, thoughts, feelings… Send your characters merrily down the road, and then run them into roadblocks. Keep tossing them unending hardship. Warm up your pitching arm and let it rip. Throw after throw after throw.
As a writer, you have plenty obstacles. For each one you throw at your character, remove one from your writing life! Where will you start?
There are 51 more Fiction Magic tricks for you to try. But only if you help Deb reach her goal.
Check out her Kickstarter and create your own magic! (Even if that includes the bugle call. But that’s not for me. I am NOT a morning person!)