Inspiration, Bronzed

As a writer, where do you get your inspiration?  To what or whom do you appeal for the creativity you need?

I have a strange confession to make.  Every weekday, I happen to walk by a statue.  Rather than just glance at it, I make a silent wish that the spirit of the man represented will imbue me with the creativity and talent I need for whatever story I’m working on at the time.

Silly?  Perhaps.  But you have to admit there’s something about statues.  At the U.S. Naval Academy, there’s a statue representing the figurehead of the old USS Delaware, a chief of the Delaware tribe the midshipmen call “Tecumseh.”  The midshipman toss pennies at the statue as a wish for good luck in upcoming examinations.

statue_john_philip_sousaBut the statue I pass by twice daily is different.  It’s a representation of the American composer, the director of the Marine Corps Band, the ‘March King,’ John Philip Sousa.  The statue’s pedestal bears the only word necessary, “Sousa,” though in my ritual, I call it J.P.  The sculptor captured him in the act of directing, left hand pointing to a section of the band, right hand gripping the raised baton, head tilted as he enjoys the music.

How, you’re asking yourself, can a writer draw inspiration from a statue of a music composer?  For one thing, there are no statues of writers along the path I walk.  Secondly, composing music has much in common with writing.  Music, they say, is the language of the soul.  Both require creativity and both demand years for the talent to develop.

I’ve blogged before about the benefit of tangible symbols to use for motivation.  If you can come to see the symbol as urging you towards betterment, prodding you to sit in the chair and write, exhorting you to be as good at writing fiction as you can be, then it will always be there for you, a steady and unchanging inspiration.

Do you have a statue or other symbol you use for motivation?  Let me know.  Do you think the whole idea is crazy, that it’s the height of foolishness to assume a statue has the power to grant fiction-writing prowess if one only pleads to it?  Leave me a comment.  In the meantime, many thanks to J.P. for being a great inspiration to—

                                                           Poseidon’s Scribe

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The Software Shakespeare Used

Wow!  There are a lot of writing software packages available!

By writing software, I’m not talking about word processors like Corel Write, Microsoft Word, TextMaker, WordPerfect, etc.  I mean software designed to help you write fiction stories, software packages like Liquid Story Binder, Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, Master Storyteller, MyNovel, Power Structure, Power Writer, Scrivener, StoryBlue, Storybook, StoryCraft, StoryWeaver, WriteItNow, Writer’s Café, Writer’s DreamKit, WriteMonkey, and yWriter5.  I’m sure I’ve left out some…sorry.

writing softwareWould you like a nice analytical comparison of all those writing software packages to help you choose the best one for you?  Again, sorry, wrong blog post.  I don’t have the money or time to buy, test, and rate software packages, (though that would be interesting).

When I thought of the idea for this blog post topic many months ago, I had intentions of test-driving at least two or three and giving you a comparison of those, at least.  Alas, that didn’t happen.

However, I did try out yWriter5, so I can comment on that one.  I also was given a disk with Writer’s DreamKit, but it reacted badly with my computer for some reason, and after restoring things I haven’t been brave enough to try it again.  I don’t blame the Writer’s DreamKit software; I was able to explore around in it and get a feel for it, but I had problems when I restarted my computer the next time.

yWriter5 is free!  It allows you to organize your novel by scenes, then chapters.  It keeps readily available all the information about your characters, scene locations, and significant ‘items’ (objects) in your story.   It has a storyboard feature; it includes a word usage feature to see if you’re over-using certain words; and it keeps track of your daily word count in a log.  There are many more features, too.

I used yWriter5 for one of my short stories.  For a short story, yWriter has far more features than I needed.  It was a good way to organize notes, characters, etc.  Since I do much of my writing while away from a computer using an ancient method involving a ‘pen’ and a ‘pad of paper,’ I was pleased with yWriter’s ability to print reports that could include my characters, scenes, items, and notes.  I think yWriter would be quite useful for a complex novel.

In my brief exposure to Writer’s DreamKit, I found that the software asks you an enormous number of questions before you can get going.  If you have good ideas for your story in your head and the patience to answer the questions, I’m sure the software would prove useful.

My overall point here is to set expectations.  Do not purchase or use writing software with the idea that it will make you a published author.  By itself, the software won’t improve your writing.  It won’t think for you; it won’t come up with engaging characters, clever plot twists, or vivid settings.  It will not write the story for you.  Those are the hardest parts of writing fiction, and no software will do those things…yet.

What these software packages will (or can) do is help organize thoughts, keep information readily available to minimize searching for it, measure your progress (word count), and do the sort of low level, background stuff that you wish some assistant would take care of.

No, Shakespeare didn’t use writing software, just the ‘wetware’ within his skull.  I’m not even sure he would have recommended any of the packages currently available if he’d had a chance to try them.  But neither you nor I are Shakespeare.  If you need help with organizing or desire an easy way to sort out scenes, characters, and chapters, then feel free to use software for that.  I’d love to read and respond to your comments about this post.  Now available in version 3.55, I’m—

                                                       Poseidon’s Scribe

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To Know Your Grammar is to Love Her

Grammar LessonYou’d like to write a story, you really would.  But there’s that awful memory of your grade-school English teacher trying to convey the meanings of comma splices, dangling modifiers, gerunds, infinitives, intransitive verbs, and subjunctives.  You’ve forgotten all that stuff, so you think there’s no hope.

There’s hope.  Yes, there are a lot of English grammar terms, and it can be hard to recall what they all mean.  And yes, just like with any occupation, you should know the specialized lingo that comes with it.

However, in my view, a detailed knowledge of all the English grammar terms belongs way down on your priority list.  The very first item on that list is being able to tell a story in a compelling way.  If you can manage that, I think most editors don’t mind correcting a few language flaws.  They’ll take a single passionate spinner of yarns over a hundred boring grammarians every time.

Ever started a car engine and driven a car?  Can you name all the parts of an automobile engine?  Perhaps you noticed you can drive pretty well without knowing all those underlying details.  Writing’s like that.

You can re-learn the grammar stuff at your leisure.  But telling a tale that captivates readers, ah, that’s a skill much more difficult to learn or teach.  Focus your efforts there.

As a service, I’ll provide explanatory examples of the grammar terms I mentioned earlier.  There are a myriad others you might have forgotten, but you can look them up on sites like this.

  • Comma splice.  I’m using a comma to link independent clauses, that should be acceptable.  In most cases, it’s not.
  • Dangling modifier.  One morning I saw a dangling modifier in my pajamas.  How it got in my pajamas, I’ll never know (and thanks, Groucho!).
  • Gerund.   It’s the taking of a verb such as ‘take’ and reshaping it into a noun like ‘taking’ by adding ‘ing.’
  • Infinitive.  To understand infinitives is to know something complex, but to simplify, you’re urged to add ‘to’ before a verb.
  • Intransitive verb.  These are the independent, self-sufficient kind of verbs that don’t need no stinkin’ object. They exist.  They stand alone.
  • Subjunctive.  If I were to take a concrete, here-and-now verb and elevate it to new a new and uncertain stratum of possibility, hope, or opinion, I’d be making it a subjunctive.  (Like to take and be making.)

Don’t despair if you can’t recall all the grammar terms.  I’m sure some famous authors don’t know them all, either.  Learn to write well now, and master the grammar terminology later (or maybe not ever).  Whether you agree or not, let me know by leaving a comment.  No one’s idea of a master grammarian, I’m—

                                                                     Poseidon’s Scribe

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You’re Perfect for This

Hold it right there.  Don’t move.  Though my computer’s connection with yours, I’m getting a sense of who would be the perfect writer for the story in your head.  Just a moment…wait…I’ve got it!

It’s you.

framefaceI suppose I needn’t have gone to all that trouble establishing the complex networked linkage between our computers.  It goes without saying  you’re unique.  No one else shares your exact experiences and passions.  For that story in your head that you think some real author ought to write, I can assure you, no one would write it like you.

Famous authors get this all the time—a fan, always a stranger, comes up and says, “I’ve got a great idea for the next story you should write.”  There are no recorded instances of the famous author replying, “Really?  Great!  You see, I was fresh out of ideas myself.  Tell me yours, and I’ll simply write the book.”

You’re the one who thought of the idea, borne from wherever your ideas come from.  You’re the one with the enthusiasm, the one for whom the story idea has intensity and meaning.  If your mind won’t let go of it, if you can sustain the passion for it, hold on to the wonder of it through the long hours of writing it all down, then and only then was it an idea worthy of becoming a story.  It really can’t be someone else’s story.

No one else in the world shares your craving, your yearning, to see that story in print.  You might be able to convey the plot idea to someone else, transmit the character outlines to somebody.  But the element you can’t transfer is the caring.  No one else will be as enthused about it as you.

Here’s a thought experiment.  Let’s give several famous authors the same assignment.  We give them each the same plot, same theme, same characters, and same setting.  You already know the outcome of this experiment; all the resulting stories will be different.  Somehow each author will have imbued his or her story with a special and unique flair, a style not shared with any other author.  Moreover, it’s quite possible that the resulting stories won’t be the best works any of those authors ever wrote; that’s because they were given the idea by someone else, and didn’t really own it.

Maybe you’ve never written a story since grade school, but with regard to that story idea of yours, no one is going to write it but you.  In fact, you’re the perfect person to write it.  Imagine the odds of that—a great idea occurs to the very person best suited to write the story.  I guess those odds aren’t so slim after all.

So abandon that notion of convincing “a real writer” to write your story. You do it!  After all, you’re perfect for the job.  Meanwhile, I know another writer who’d better get busy on his next story, and that’s—

                                                          Poseidon’s Scribe

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