Hop Aboard the Idea Train!

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we had ideas churning in our heads all the time? There’d be no end to the books we’d set sail to. What’s that, you say? You’ve got plenty of ideas? Well, what are you waiting for? You should be writing.

But what if ideas don’t flow so easily? That’s what I was asked by attendees during one of my library appearances. They wanted to know where I find my story ideas. I’ll get to that in a moment. But even when ideas aren’t sitting around, waiting to be picked up, we should still be writing. Forging ahead often gives direction to the train ideas are traveling on. Words and ideas have a swell time hanging out together.

With my latest, MURDER: DOUBLE OR NOTHING, I had a pretty solid sense about how the story would begin. I knew exactly where heroine Corrie would be and what would unfold…but after that? I wasn’t so sure. One thing I did know was that I needed to push ahead and not fall into any lurking black holes.

I start by sitting behind my laptop, wondering where Corrie is going or doing next. Corrie needs to move almost all the time to propel the story forward. Nancy Drew fans: did you ever see Nancy sitting idle? No way. She was a woman of action.

If I’m not happy with the creative direction of my writing, I wander around the house for a short time, performing mindless tasks. I may look like I’m doing the laundry, but I’m really wondering what Michael (Corrie’s long time best pal) will do to help investigate the latest crime. Or what Veera (Corrie’s no-nonsense, tells-it-like-it-is legal assistant) is up to? Mundane tasks sometimes lead to interesting ideas.

I also scan online news articles. Headlines. But not from the usual news sources. Everyone reads those. I look for the more obscure, buried headlines in smaller news sources. While I search, I gather possibilities that may lead to the creation of events and characters. News stories involving con artists, stunt dummies, FBI agents and monkeys made it into my third book, thanks to online searches. All of which makes us writers kind of like Nancy Drew, too. We’re action takers!

Why I'm Bingewatching Hallmark Movies

If you’d asked me a few months ago whether I was into Hallmark films, my reply would have been an adamant, “No way.” They were too predictable, too alike, too rosy even for me who loves all things rosy. Things change.

My husband enjoys action and sci-fi films, and a few detective shows. Because he’s wonderful, he also likes to watch my faves, too: movies from the thirties and forties, and a few, carefully selected, newer TV comedy shows and flicks, and a couple of PBS mini-series. Hallmark was hardly our style.

One night, our streaming service stopped running, and we resorted to Hubby’s iPad. Readily available was a romantic film from Hallmark, a Christmas movie in May, starring a TV star from a show we regularly watched. We were game. The next night we watched another Hallmark…and we’ve been watching ever since. Why? WHY??? What’s the big draw for films that likely took a short time to write, about the same time to film and where all story lines were just about the same? Because they’re pleasing to the eye, cast members come in all ages, shapes and colors, and the story lines make us feel good.

Take last night’s movie: my first reaction was to turn it off. The typical Hallmark heroine (a smart, professional, well-dressed, perfectly made-up woman, who appeared to own her own nicely decorated home (don’t they all?), but had made a poor choice in the man she was dating) was a bit annoying. But as the movie unfolded, the appeal grew. What Hallmark movies provide are reminders and examples of positive behavior: a woman who took her husband for granted realized the vital role he played in her life and her love for him, the heroine’s initial immaturity blossomed into maturity when she took over (reluctantly, at first) temporary responsibility of her three nieces and nephew, and she dumped a boyfriend who showed his true colors when the chips were down. Granted, there was a lot of cheese-ball and corn in the movie, but ultimately, who doesn’t love a happily-ever-after with plenty of eye candy and people who mostly treat each other kindly? Count me (and my hubby) in.

Procrastination: A Writer's Friend or Foe?

There was a time, in the recent past, when procrastination held me captive by my thumbs (it’s not easy to write or type without thumbs, believe me). I caught a bad case of procrastination right after I became a published author. It especially reared its meddlesome head as I tried to complete book three in my Southern California Mystery series (due out June 25th, for wondering readers out there).

I find the word itself icky, like lumbago or bratwurst. Procrastination is like walking in a pair of dress shoes across a floor oozing with crude oil. Wreaks havoc on the soles. Even worse, too much procrastination can fill you with self-loathing. But that’s not necessarily all bad. It may actually turn into a motivator that forces you to return to writing. I disliked the lousiness I felt from putting off writing so much that my only option to feeling good again was to write.

Here’s a fact: when we’re procrastinating, we’re not doing nothing. We’re just doing something other than the pressing task. Granted, building bookshelves, pulling weeds or baking cookies is putting aside the task at hand, but we’re not being idle, right?

Thankfully for me, I overcame procrastination and finished my novels. How? I followed sage advice provided by author Raymond Chandler. He wrote detective novels by setting aside four hours a day and following these two rules:

a) You don’t have to write.

b) You can’t do anything else.

Chandler likened the rules to being in school. “If you make the pupils behave, they will learn something just to keep from being bored.”

Rewards help, too.

How about making a deal with yourself to write for one hour, then watch TV, paint or do whatever you find rewarding? However, I suggest no online shopping (dangerous territory here, as one can plummet headfirst into a time sucker, speaking from personal experience, with little to no satisfaction. Climbing out of that rabbit hole can be very slippery). The better option is to write longer. Chandler had it right with four hours – a respectable amount of time to get the job done. And we’d rather be respectable than procrastinators, right?