Writing prompts and inspiration

Following Nicole’s awesome post from last week is not an easy task, but I’m gonna try. If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor and go read it now. I’ll wait.

When Nicole brought up the resurgence of witches in the late 90’s, it got me to reminiscing about me and my friends being swept up in that New Age renaissance, which would eventually lead to inspiring my very first book, Earth: Book One in the Elemental Series.

And that led me into thinking about inspiration and what has worked for me to think of story ideas. Since we’re talking about witches, I’m gonna stick with those stories right now.

Like I said above, my first book was inspired by my friends and I discovering witchcraft and Wicca in high school and finally feeling something like normal and empowered. Obviously, the story evolved into the fictional story that you can read now, but it was very much about wanting to have those awesome, magical abilities and what would have happened if we did. We were obsessed with The Craft and Hocus Pocus and those types of witches.

My next witch story came to me thanks to none other than Chuck Wendig. I know what you’re thinking, wait? That bearded weirdo? Doesn’t he write Star Wars stuff? How did he inspire a witch story?

So Chuck is a pretty cool dude and has a lot of writing advice if you ever feel yourself stuck, go check out his blog.

He used to have Flash Fiction Fridays. I didn’t always participate, but occasionally he’d have a prompt that would spark an idea in my mind that I couldn’t ignore. There were two that helped me start the very first Matilda Kavanagh Novel: Wytchcraft.

Chuck likes profanity. No. Sorry. Chuck LOVES profanity. He’s a master at it. A life-long love affair has made him an expert at creating new and exciting profane words and phrases you might never think of. That love made him give it as a prompt one week. That was it: a 1,000 word story focusing on profanity.

Of course the key word there was “story.” Couldn’t just be a character spewing filth for the fun of it.

A spunky, dark-haired woman burst through a door in my mind, angry and vengeful and full of biting profanity.

“Dirty little numb nut bastard!” I threw my keys into the bowl on the table by the front door, slamming the door shut with a kick. “Goddamn fucking gremlin thinks he can cheat me!” I screamed at the ceiling.

“Mrrrow!”

“Ugh,” I sighed. “Hello baby,” I bent down and scooped up my cat, Artemis, before I tripped over him. He purred loudly in my arms becoming boneless as I buried my face in his fur, stepping out of my wet shoes, kicking them away.

“Alright, Artemis, it’s time for Mama to perform a little payback for that shit-faced dick weasel,” I whispered, feeling a sense of giddiness come over me as I walked into the kitchen. I set Artemis on the counter and poured him some cream from the fridge so he’d let me work in peace.

“So he asks me to make him a fucking spell. I make the fucking spell. I gave him the fucking spell. And what does that stupid mother fucker do?” I asked the cat as I slammed my spell pot on the stove top. “He stiffs me!” Sparks erupted from my fingertips in blue and white in my anger.

“Says he doesn’t need the spell anymore. Says I took too long to brew it. I told that maggoty piece of dog shit that it would take a week to brew! A whole fucking week of my life out the goddamn window!” I snatched a wooden spoon from the utensil holder on the counter, spinning it in my hand. “Well this is one bitchy witch he shouldn’t have fucked with!”

“Mrow?”

And thus, Matilda Kavanagh was born.

A second writing prompt he gave, for a quick 500 word flash fiction, was to pick the name of a cocktail and let it be your inspiration. Luckily, I have a few cocktail recipe books so I grabbed one and had a look and found “Irish Gold.”

I don’t remember why it stood out to me, but thanks to that, the race of Royal Fae came to me, another building block to Mattie’s world and I had the opening of her first story. A troll had stolen a Fae’s clover to blackmail her into giving him riches, but you know what they say, Never trust the Fae. And the troll’s greed would get him into a world of trouble and he would drag Mattie into it.

Thanks to these two totally unrelated writing prompts, I’d thought of a brand new main character and started world building around her and would eventually have eight novels worth of her adventures.

It’s been a long time since I’ve used a writing prompt to help me think of a story, but if you’re finding yourself stuck, it might be something that helps turn the key in your lock.

Look at a picture you didn’t take and try to think of a story unfolding on the canvas.

Listen to a song, something obscure, and unspool the lyrics into a novel. Or even just the title.

Wonder, what would happen if you found a door in the middle of nowhere, open it, where does it lead?

Sometimes all you need to build an entire world is the first stone in a wall, whether you’re placing it or pulling it out to make it all come falling down.

The Benefit of the Exploratory Trip

One of the most important things a writer can do when writing a book, is to make the reader feel fully immersed in the world of the story. The reader should see the world as if they’ve been there; they should smell the city streets with its cars and restaurants, or country road with the sun-baked dirt and drying leaves, or the crisp, cool, lung-burning cold of snowy mountains; they should hear the languages, the voices, the animals, the hum of the world.

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If you’re writing a fantasy world, obviously, you just gotta make this all up and try to remember these precious little details and hope the reader can see what you’re trying to paint with your words. So often when books are made into TV and film you hear people say, “It’s exactly as I imagined it!” If so, then that means the writer did a great job conveying to multiple people to see the same thing in their heads.

But what if you’re writing about a real place?

If you’re writing about a place that people are familiar with, you gotta hit those notes and those notes tend to be different for everyone. Take Paris for example. For me, I have a scent memory of roasting chicken that evokes a neighborhood in Paris where I spent my honeymoon because one of the grocers from the neighborhood market always had roasting chickens in the windows. That’s pretty specific and might not work for everyone, but talk about warm rain in the summer, where the sun refuses to set until after dinner and almost late enough for bed? That’s more universal. But if you haven’t been there in the summer, you might not know that the sun doesn’t set until well into the night. If you don’t know a place well enough to describe it accurately, your world won’t be believable.

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Which is why a lot of writers will make sure they’ll set their books in places they’re familiar with. Like me, again, for example. I have one fantasy series set in the town I live in and one apocalyptic series mostly set in the county I live in. I know this area inside and out. So I can imagine it in an apocalyptic setting and what that might mean. I know what it’s like in summer and winter and I know what our beaches smell like and how long it takes to get from one side of town to the other. I can immerse a reader even if they’ve never heard of my town.

So what do you do if you want to set a book in a real place that you’ve never been?

I highly recommend an exploratory trip. Obviously, I’m talking about something that takes time and money and not everyone can do that, so if you can’t, try to reach out to locals, read travel blogs, check Insta posts, do whatever you can to familiarize yourself. But! If you can, then go.

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As writers we’re not always sure what we can and cannot claim as write-offs on our taxes, but an exploratory trip can be. Just make sure you’re actually going to do research and can back that up should you need to. (Also, do not take tax advice from me, go get a CPA or an accountant to help you make sure everything is on the up and up.)

Last year I was lucky enough to take an exploratory trip to Ireland. I’d studied many, many things about Ireland through my life, but nothing could give me the education that I got by actually being there. For example, I had no idea how many wild blackberry bushes grow all around. What a detail!

In a week I’m taking a road trip to Las Vegas. I know, Vegas, right, sure, it’s for work, wink-wink. But it is. I have a trilogy set in Vegas and I am on the verge of starting to write the last book (FINALLY) and I need some inspiration. I’ve been struggling all year to get back into writing after taking a much needed break, and I think immersing myself in the desert, reminding myself what that world feels, smells, sounds, and looks like will help me spark that inspiration. You behave differently when you’re some place different than home, you have new experiences even if you’ve been there before. You eat strange things and you meet new people. All fodder for a book and the world building of that book.

If you can do an exploratory trip, make sure you research ahead of time so you don’t forget things you wanted to see or do once you’re there. And take pictures, lots and lots of pictures. Notes are good and can help some people, but taking photos to remind yourself what something was like can be invaluable. Especially if you want to remember the details of something you might not write down.

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A Woman of History Who’s Time Has Come

Madame Presidentess eBook Cover No Quote LargeIn her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert poses an interesting question: Do we find our ideas or do our ideas find us? She believes that the ideas find us, and if we don’t do something with them in the time they are willing to wait, they move on. I agree with her. Here’s why. I firmly believe that Victoria Woodhull chose me to write Madame Presidentess, my biographic historical novel about her life, which was just published July 25. Actually, I believe that Victoria’s soul was floating around a few years ago, screaming for creatives of all types to help her get her name into the history books where it belongs. Victoria was a Spiritualist who held a life-long belief she could communicate with the departed, so I don’t think she’d argue with me.

Why do I believe it’s not a random act of inspiration? Well, prior to Hillary Clinton’s second Presidential campaign, very few people had heard of Victoria. This is because she’s not been included in most history texts, so prior to a year or two ago, you’d have to look for specialist publications (like biographies or certain books on the suffrage movement) or consult historical or political experts to learn more than a line or two about her. However, that has changed rapidly.

  1. Since August 2014, four historical fiction novels (including my own) have been published about Victoria. Prior to that, none existed. (I started research on my Victoria book in early 2014 when there were no fictional books about her on the market.)
  2. In the last year, two more biographies or other non-fiction works about Victoria’s life have been published.
  3. A 1980 musical titled “Onward Victoria” just had a one-night, off-Broadway revival in Manhattan last week. (I was asked to sign books in conjunction with it, but given I had less than a week’s notice, I couldn’t make the travel happen.)
  4. A two films on Victoria’s life are currently being filmed and produced.
    1. The Coming Woman
    2. Scandalous Victoria
  5. Maggie Gyllenhall has publicly expressed interest in telling Victoria’s story and is quietly working on a project to that effect.
  6. Since June, when Hillary Clinton became the presumptive Democratic nominee, nearly 100 articles about Victoria have appeared online, including a Snopes page created in the wake of a social media debate over whether Hillary or Victoria was the first female presumptive nominee for President. (The historical truth is that Victoria was the first woman to run for President. Hillary Clinton is the first woman to be nominated on a major party ticket. Many women, including Victoria, preceded her as part of smaller parties.)

Victoria Woodhull
Victoria Woodhull

That’s a lot of concurrent activity for mere inspiration or coincidence, especially for someone most people have never heard about. Now, it could be that all of us had the same foresight to look ahead to the 2016 election and see that there was a strong possibility that Hillary Clinton would get the nomination for the Democratic party. It could also be that American society is finally to a point where we are naturally looking back and the women who were the silent “firsts” ignored by history or co-opted by men are finally getting their due.

But I don’t know. The funny thing is, I’m normally a writer who hears the voices of my characters in my head. That didn’t happen with this book. I don’t know if that’s because this is the first real person I’ve written about or what. But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t there. I felt her guiding presence the whole time.

And now that the book is out, I look forward to collaborating with all of those other creative people who are also interested in telling Victoria’s story. Imagine what we can accomplish together…

Do you believe our subjects pick us or do you think we come up with them? Why? Do you have a story to share about a time an idea found you?

Let ‘Em Go

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

And they say, don’t forget where you come from. Don’t die holding
onto your words, cause you know you got a whole world to change,
but understand who you got to change first.
Victory Lap
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

You’ve heard of Macklemore, right? The Thrift Shop dude? What? What?What?What?What? Yeah, that one. I bet you didn’t expect to find him in a Spellbound Scribes post. I mean, our posts generally lean towards vampires and the writers who love them, right? But I have tickets to see Macklemore & Ryan Lewis this week, so I’ve been listening to a lot of their music.

And you know what?

Much what they have to say can be directly applied to just about anyone who reaches out creatively, whether through writing or music or visual art. Hell, their music can be applied to anyone who tries to live.

Check out the quotes I included with this post. Victory Lap is a song about coming up the hard way and finding success. Ten Thousand Hours talks about practice and dedication and getting sober. And Inhale Deep is another song about recovery, about finding yourself without the crutch of drugs or alcohol. These are songs that demand thought. They challenge you to raise the bar of your own life.

The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint.
The greats were great because they paint a lot.
Ten Thousand Hours.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Since most of us are writers here, let’s take a look from that perspective. The main reason to dive into the NaNoWriMo craziness is so we don’t die holding onto our words. And not just a few words. A lot of writing. 50,000 words. Writing as a daily practice. Writing to tell your truth. Writing that comes from your heart and from your soul.

The spirit’s there to knock you down, but if you make that the end, then you’ll never know the beauty of being able to stand up again.
Inhale Deep
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Dude can even make me feel better about getting yet another rejection: success won’t happen if I’m not putting it out there.

Some of their songs aren’t quite so…serious, and I fully intend to dance pretty much from start to finish. Yes, I’m 51 years old, so not necessarily part of their usual demographic, but I’m more excited about this show than my teenagers are. I’m only going to get one chance at this life, and on Wednesday night, at least, I’m going to have a really, really, really good time.
Peace,
Liv

Please take a moment to enjoy my current fave…And We Danced… and if you have a favorite Macklemore song, leave the title in the comments. 😉