Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Which came first--the research or the idea? I think most writers start with the premise and then delve into researching it. I guess I've always been a bit backwards. I start with the research and actively troll for writing ideas. Let me show you how as we continue with my 4Rs for Ideas.


I know you research. I bet I know why you research.

You need information on that article about radar. You want authentic historical background for your novel about Cleopatra's slave girl. Your short story heroine collects stamps and you require accurate detail. Good writing entails research.

Why not research for ideas? Of course, idea encyclopedias don't exist. Moreover, an atlas won't lead you down the idea path. But go ahead, scour almanacs and peruse geographic tables on average annual rainfalls. Reference books certainly jump start your curiosity. But don't stop there. Engage in creative research.
Eat a bagel for breakfast? Now there is an old world food. Where did bagels originate? When? How are they made? Look it up. Fascinated by industrious ants? Wonder if they ever sleep? How long do they live? Look it up. How do candy canes get their stripes? When were umbrellas invented? Who was the youngest queen in history? What caused the Mississippi river to flow backwards? Look it up.

Idea research requires only minutes of time on the internet or as part of a routine library visit. Jot brief notes in your journal and record the source so you can delve into deeper research if you decide to develop your idea later. Curiosity may have killed the cat; but it generates ideas for writers.

Now you've seen 3 of the 4 Rs. Hope they have jump started your imagination. Only 1 R remains. Once we have reviewed all 4, test them out. Send me any writing ideas or prompts that resulted from my 4Rs and I will publish them on my blog. Details for length and format will follow the final R.


Monday, June 2, 2008


The reviews are in. I don't mean critical reviews on your latest published book. I'm talking about the interactive process that all writers engage in. With one eye on the markets and the other eye on current offerings, we review material related to our writing interests and goals. In 4Rs for Ideas, I demonstrate how reviewing helps to generate writing ideas.


I know you review. I probably know how you review.

You search market guides for age levels, rights acquired, submissions guidelines and response times. You analyze stories and books for character, plot, and POV. You study hooks, transitions, structure and dialog. You examine articles for focus, presentation, tone, and style. You review to determine what editors select for publication and to scrutinize actual published products.

Of course you do. You're a writer.

As long as you're reviewing anyway, why not also review for ideas. Be honest. Wasn't that article on rainbows and refracted light for middle graders way too dry? Wouldn't rainbows be much more fun with a garden hose and a bubble wand demonstration for curious kindergarteners? At least, that's how you would have done it. Now there's an idea.

The market guide for magazine XYZ states they accept fantasy, science fiction, mystery and adventure. You pull out your sample copy and review a story called "Prison Planet of Zinn". The story piques your interest and sends you to What If? Land. Your own characters and settings roil through your mind, different of course, and still vague. Go ahead. Put down that magazine and pick up your journal. What If? Land is a writer's best friend. Indulge.

And don't forget those how-to-write books. Another writer's revelations regarding their habits (good or bad), methods (mad or sane), and sources of ideas (tortured or inspired) always motivate me. From Strunk and White to Barbara Seuling. So review the how-to's and the thou-shalt-not's and get psyched.

Keep your writer's journal near as you review. Don't allow the tiniest glimmers of ideas, characters, plots, or article slants to slip away into oblivian. With a little practice, jotting notes to yourself as you scan or delve into your daily reading will become second nature and not even distract you. You'll be surprised how many ideas for writing opportunities will arise if you practive this, and how few ideas will slip away unnoticed.


Thursday, May 22, 2008


Hmmm. First time I've ever been blog tagged. Bish got me. Blog tag looks like much more fun than phone tag.

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names ,
then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they've
been tagged and asking them to read the player's blog.
4. Let the person who tagged you know when you've posted your answer.

What were you doing five years ago?
The same thing I'm doing now--working full time as a mortgage servicer and writing
in my spare time. Except now, I have several publication credits that I didn't have
five years ago.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular
Walk for 30 minutes. Grocery shopping. Ground my teenage daughter. Return the overdue knitting book to the library. Blog.

What five snacks go you enjoy?
chocolate, potato chips, ice cream, home-grown tomatoes, popcorn

What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?
Quit my day job and write full-time. Design hand-knits. Get my masters/doctorate. Buy a winery. Take my husband on the honeymoon we couldn't afford in the beginning.

What are five of your bad habits?
I bite my fingernails. Sit on my feet because I'm so short my feet don't touch the floor from most furniture. Eat too much chocolate. I'm bossy. Spend too much time playing computer games.

What are five places you have lived?
Durham, NC--Owensboro, KY--Owesboro, KY--Owensboro, KY--Owensboro, KY

What five jobs have you had?
Babysitting, x-ray technician, elementary school librarian, mortgage servicing banker, mom

I'm tagging the following four (all I could think of on short notice) people, some of whom I only know through various message boards. I hope all will visit me here on zoblog.

Patricia at Chapter Cats Mewsings.
Candie at Moonshower
Kristi at Kristi Valiant
Julie at jmprince.

Sorry, I'm not so good at posting links.


Saturday, May 17, 2008


By nature, writers are also avid readers. WhetherI'm fresh out of ideas or just want to be refreshed, I reach for a book or magazine. Reading not only recharges my batteries but also helps generate fresh writing ideas. How? My 4 Rs for Ideas section about reading will explain.


I know you read. I think I know what you read. You read the magazines where you plan to submit your articles. You read novels similar to your own Newbery-in-progress. You read market guides, professional journals, publishers' catalogs and how-to-write books. Good for you. If you also find time to read for pleasure, even better.

With that much reading, you must read fast. Right? WELL STOP!

Read slowly. Allow the printed words to percolate through your brain cells triggering synaptic sparks. Those sparks may tickle a memory cell. If so, allow the memory to unfurl then write it down in your omnipresent journal. Another spark might jangle your emotional center. Good. Examine your responses—anger, pity, impatience, fear. Where's that journal?

What if the sparks scatter and reap rampant confusion? Think the author organized poorly? Visualize the scene your way, another journal entry.

Feel, think, and ask questions as you read. "Is this guy kidding?" or, "I hear you, sister," and, "Been there, brother." Utilize these synaptic sparks. After all, that's how the brain works. Crackles of chemical energy become thoughts, feelings and IDEAS.

Rapid reading crowds out any thoughtful responses as you race toward the next paragraph. So slow down. Don't gallop. Graze.

Since becoming a writer, I find it difficult to read without keeping one eye and one ear tuned for ideas as I peruse other writer's offerings. Keep a journal or notebook handy as you read. You never know when something you read will trigger an idea about something to write.


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Getting Ideas

I've been so deeply into the revision of my novel that I've failed to start any new writing projects in quite some time. A very unusual state of events for me. I'm usually the queen of multiple projects, knitting as well as writing.

But not this time. I now have a writing workshop coming up towards the end of July with nothing to submit for critique. I don't want to rehash any of my novel at this point. Been there/done that. More input would only muddy the revision waters. Yet the revision has completely absorbed my creative output.

I need to produce, at the very least, a rough draft, of something=anything----probably short fiction, even flash. And for a change of pace, something=anything----not for children. Change is good and often helps jump start my pool of ideas.

So it's time for me to review my own advice. I just pulled out an old article of mine first published on the ICL website and reprinted in the SCBWI regional MidSouth online bulletin, Borderlines. Since both publications accepted one-time electronic rights, I'm free to toss this out again. Any time I'm in the market for ideas, I turn to this article to remind me where to start looking.

I'd like to share this now. I'll start with the introduction and advance through the article by posting sections until the article is complete. Here goes!


Do you panic when your Muse takes a hike? Muses are fickle.

Ever find yourself starring at a blank page or computer screen without a clue? Clues don't just materialize like Captain Kirk on Star Trek. "Beam me up a clue, Scotty."

Let's say you've rearranged your entire schedule for the next three months, bribed the kids with movie tickets, and paid your husband's greens fees. You've carved out an entire afternoon for writing. Imagine—an entire afternoon. You're ready for a writing party; but alas, you're ideas don't show. The party poopers.

No problem. You've already prepared for missing Muses, clueless clues, and inconstant ideas. You've been practicing you're 4 Rs.

You have been practicing you're 4 Rs, haven't you? Not the old school 3 Rs: readin', ritin', and 'rithmetic. You need the 4 Rs for Ideas: Read, Review, Research, and React.

Join me again in a few days for an more on the READ section of 4 Rs for Ideas.


Friday, May 9, 2008

Chat with Harold Underdown

Join host Jan Fields at The Institute of Children's Literature for an informative and fun chat with author and editor Harold Underdown at www.institutechildrenslit.com.

May 22, 2008:"Down the Publishing Path" with Harold Underdown. Remember, to send any questions for Harold, just drop an email tojan.fields@forums.institutechildrenslit.com orWebEditor@institutechildrenslit.com.

Come and hear Harold:Thursday evening, May 22, 20089-11 p.m. Atlantic8-10 p.m. Eastern7-9 p.m. Central6-8 p.m. Mountain5-7 p.m. Pacific

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


It's almost time for KRWW--the Kentucky Retreat for Women Writers. This writer's retreat is scheduled for late July. Although, the retreat is not restricted to women, it does hold a slight feminist slant.

Feminism is very loosely defined for the retreat but the entire program aims to enable, encourage, and empower women.

Workshops and lectures include both fiction (all genres, including writing for children) and poetry. As always, KRWW is presented by and lodged on the Kentucky Wesleyan college campus. This will be my third year in attendance.

For details, pleases click the following link. Hope to see some of you there.