Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Creative Writing Podcast - Episode 002

A Brand New Podcast Format, Outlining and Grapes, and Prompts.

Welcome to HuntingTheMuse.com's Creative Writing Podcast.

(Show notes: huntingthemuse.com/podcast/2)

This week's show had a brand new format, the title has been changed to The Hunting the Muse Creative Writing Podcast after a serendipitous happenstance that occurred when submitting the podcast for iTunes approval.

Weekly creative writing prompts will still be provided as part of the show.

Not subscribed to the podcast? Get it now!

The podcast started out with some personal updates. We visited the Perot Museum in Dallas this last weekend and Pokémon Go launched! We live out in the rural areas East of Dallas, so catching Pokémon and leveling up has been harder for us. The trip to Dallas, however, coincided with the server issues the social game was experiencing, so we didn't actually get to log in and play until just before we headed home.

As for writing updates, I am hard at work with Final Hope, the continuation of the Chlorophyllium Collection, which picks up at a high tension point mid-way through Chlorophyllium 9 and expands the shorter work into a full-fledged novel. Chlorophyllium 9, itself, will be included in Final Hope as Part I and lays an important foundation for the rest of the story.

For this project, I am increasingly realizing that I get my best word count when I have outlined sections in advance. I cover this in the episode and challenge my long-standing beliefs that I had outlining. There's an abstract story about my childhood friend, Joel, and grapes, which I use to break down the path that brought me to where I am today.

If you are interested in learning more about outline vs. writing by the seat of your pants (otherwise known as 'pantsing'), a great resource is: Libbie Hawker's book,  Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing.

What you'll find below is a series of creative writing prompts to help get you through your week. There are no rules as to how you should use them, but I recommend taking your muse's hand; wherever she may lead you.

Whether you find yourself writing a descriptive scene or dialogue, a poem or prose, or anything else (even if it seems entirely unrelated to the prompt), you have won. Happy writing, and may you find success in hunting your muse this week. 

1. Did you say something?

You were going about your business in a public space (a flea market, a farmer's market, or a crowded street), when you catch a snippet of conversation between strangers that sounds out of place and unexplainably alarming, though by itself benign and senseless. For some reason, this odd conversation sticks with you as you get back to the rest of your afternoon. After several hours, however, you come to realize the nonsensical words you'd overheard had a profound correlation to big events that were about to transpire that day.

2. Before the storm.

A large storm is brewing and the weather alerts advise taking cover. While you go about bolting the hatches and securing your emergency supplies, it becomes apparent that something else is troubling you. But just as the approaching storm will leave a trail of torrential havoc in its wake, this central conflict threatens to leave its own path of destruction.

3. His name is Fernando.

You are walking alone in a park, when you're approached by a dashing young gentleman who appears to be dressed in fancy, old-world attire. When he talks to you, his words sound overly proper, if not downright archaic. He says his name is Fernando and he's lost in this land so far from his own.

4. Animal Instinct.

You're visiting a zoo with friends when someone points out that all the animals you pass by seem to be tracking you with their eyes. Every exhibit is the same. Even if the animals were previously occupied, they immediately stop what they were doing and give you every last bit of their attention. Some approach the edge of their enclosures and lock eyes with you. What is it in their gaze? What are they trying to tell you?

5. A modern golem.

You aren't sure why it's happening, but one thing is for sure. You are slowly turning to stone. It started with a hard patch of skin on your big toe that you absently thought you should buff off the next time you took a shower. Now your feet appear to be perfectly lifelike, and mechanically functional, obsidian carvings. What's more, it's still spreading upward at a rate of at least a couple inches per hour.

6.  I didn't ask for this.

Many epic tales start with a call to adventure or a specific point where the hero must make a choice. You've just been given that choice, but you're tired of being the hero. You decide to let fate play out. Maybe someone else will step up and take the torch. What happens as a result of your decision? Does fate let you stay on the sidelines, or does she thrust you back into the thick of it?

7. The damsel in distress.

You're investigating the disappearance of several tourists in a quaint town in the mountains. The place is known for its lush forests, exquisite hiking trails, and mysterious ancient markings engraved into caves and rock faces by a civilization long forgotten by history. All of the missing person reports indicate that whatever was taking these travelers was after a certain victim profile: Young men in their early twenties to mid-thirties. Until recently, you hadn't had much luck cracking the case. But a young man just showed up in town, badly injured and bloody. He says he was lured off the path by the cries of a young woman who needed his help. He insists she's still out there in the woods and is rallying others to venture out to save her. (Or, you suspect, to sate her growing appetite.) 

I hope you've enjoyed this week's episode and creative writing prompts.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Creative Writing Podcast - Episode 001

Creative Writing Commentary and Weekly Creative Writing Prompts

Welcome to HuntingTheMuse.com's Creative Writing Podcast.

What you'll find below is a series of creative writing prompts to help get you through your week. These prompts are a part of the HuntingTheMuse.com Weekly Creative Writing Prompt Podcast If you haven't already, please consider subscribing.

There are no rules as to how you should use them, but I recommend taking your muse's hand; wherever she may lead you.

Whether you find yourself writing a descriptive scene or dialogue, a poem or prose, or anything else (even if it seems entirely unrelated to the prompt), you have won. Happy writing, and may you find success in hunting your muse.

1. A large, iron feather falls from the sky, landing mere inches from your foot.

It started out like any other day, but you knew things were about to get strange when you were nearly struck dead by a most unusual thing. You instantly think of that science experiment where two objects of differing mass fall at the same speed in a vacuum. But this is real life, not a vacuum. Where did that iron feather come from?

2. But first, let me take a selfie.

It's been a rough night, but after your friend took a massive hit to their ego earlier in the week, you've been doing your best to be a good buddy and let them blow off steam. But, so help you, if you have to pose for one more stupid selfie, you swear you're going to scream. Your phone has been lighting up like crazy, undoubtedly from being tagged in the online photo archive of your night out on the town. Halfway through the night, however, something strange happens. When you finally give in and check your alerts, it appears that your online friends have seen something in the background of several photos that has them spooked. What is it? Where do things go from here?

3. Hello? Guys? Where did everyone go?

After arranging to meet some acquaintances at an old, derelict factory swallowed by forest on the outskirts of town, you make a quick stopover to grab a video camera from a friend. When you arrive, it appears that the gang has left without you. Their cars are parked where you arranged to meet, but you can see no sign of the group. They must have followed the overgrown path through the woods toward the old building. Turning the camera on, you set out into the dark after them.

4. An unusual request.

You're on your way home when a stranger approaches you. From the tear streaks that have drenched their cheeks to their bloodshot eyes, you can tell they've been having a rough time at it. After your awkward introductions, they hit you up with a very unusual request. They have money, lots of it. What they don't have is a friend. Will you be their companion? You can go anywhere, do anything, if only you'll help take them away from the shadow of their misery.

5. The elephant in the room.

You're called into an impromptu meeting with several people you've only met in passing. Everyone is excited about a new prospective initiative, a veritable goldmine of potential. The only thing is, they're way off base with their numbers and technology can't support their anticipated service. Do you expose the elephant in the room or go on with the ruse?

6.  The map to nowhere.

When you stopped for lunch at a hole-in-the-wall diner, the waitress nodded you over to a booth in the back. Halfway through your sandwich, an older gentleman with shaky fingers and a stuttering step walked up and gave you a map. He didn't say anything, but the twinkle in his eye piqued your interest. Like an idiot, you followed the directions. X marks the spot, right? You pull up to the marked destination to find a pair of shovels and several piles of dirt.

7. Hiding in plain sight.

Take a look around you and then choose any one of the everyday objects in your field of vision. Now imagine this thing anew. What secrets does it keep? How is it more than just ordinary? If there doesn't seem to be any striking detail or attribute to make it special, invent one.

I hope you've enjoyed this week's creative writing prompts.

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Monday, July 11, 2016

Hunting The Muse Weekly Creative Writing Prompts

Hello, all! I just wanted to share a rather exciting update with you. I've decided to take on a little side project to help create useful content for my fellow writers out there.

Starting this Tuesday, (July 12th, 2016) I will be posting free creative writing prompts for anyone who might be interested. I'll also try my hand at creating audio files and producing a very short, weekly podcast, which will include these very same prompts.

Anyway, stay tuned. I've already got the first episode scheduled!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Should I Start a Blog Before Writing My Novel?

Have you found yourself wondering whether you should start writing a blog before becoming an author?

If you have, you're not alone. This is a question that comes up frequently in several online circles I'm a part of these days. And, in truth, it's not a stupid question. Far from it.

There are so many sources and so much conflict out there when it comes to this question. So many writers and would-be writers have an opinion. Unfortunately, that can leave many aspiring authors confused as to which option is best for them. While some would have us believe that blogs are a relic of the not-so-distant past, others still view blogging as the quintessential holy grail of platform building and preach that writing without blogging is doomed to failure.

It's no small wonder so many people are confused and don't know which way to turn. This, in and of itself, can spark a bout of paralysis by analysis. We all know where that leads. That's right! Zero Writing.

So, what's the answer?

If I were to lend my voice to the throng, I would argue that blogging only makes sense if it isn't distracting you from your true passion: writing. Blogging isn't just blogging, you see. There are the social aspects, growing your following, and expanding your platform. There's also design elements to take into consideration. If you really get into the weeds, you might spend your time combing through SEO keywords and arranging guest posts. There will be research to do, graphics to create, and content creation to plan.

If your passion is becoming an author and writing great fiction, perhaps focusing a lot of effort into a blog isn't the right thing to be in the top priority slot of your time table. This doesn't mean you should give up on it entirely, though. If you have the time and capacity to work on a blog after you finish your word count goals, then maybe it's worth a little extra effort.

If, however, you are planning on focusing on non-fiction books, a blog can (and probably should) be a vital part of your author toolkit and writing arsenal. Non-fiction books can contain some of your best blog posts as chapters. You can beta test your content with your regular audience and gauge how well it attracts outside traffic to give you an idea of how well it translates to a wider audience. This can help you fine-tune what you're writing and can drastically help shape your business.

Writing blogs to include in your non-fiction work can also help break the content up into bite-size pieces. This has benefits on both sides of the equation. A reader who is passionate about your subject might not have 45 minutes to pour over a thesis, but a blog post might just be the perfect length. Analyzing your web traffic statistics should help you identify the optimum post-length over time. This might vary, depending on the topic, so there are a lot of factors to consider. Either way, you have access to the web traffic data and can use it to inform your writing and make adjustments over time.

Are there exceptions?

Of course, there are always cases that defy the rule. There are fiction writers who have found blogging to be an essential part of their process and their success. These people seem to have no problem with social networking and forming lasting relationships with strangers. Or perhaps they have a terrible time interfacing with other people but have somehow made it work. Either way, these authors have juggled writing their novels and running a successful blog.

Likewise, there are countless non-fiction writers in the world who have never blogged and are unlikely to ever do so.

Blogging does not dictate success or lack thereof. It is merely a tool, an avenue of displaying your writing, your expertise, and your ability to relate to other people in this very specialized form.

My experience:

I started writing blog posts for HuntingTheMuse.com back in 2008. At first, I thought it would be a great way to reach out to other writers and pursue my dreams of becoming a successful author. It wasn't long, however, before I was consumed with all the minutia that comes along with blogging. For me, blogging wasn't a method to increase my word count. I spent so much time trying to foster relationships with other bloggers and writers and did a lot less writing. I struggled with figuring out what kind of content I should be putting out.

I had it all wrong; instead of pouring so much time into trying to build a social network, I should have been building a back-list. You may have heard this referred to as 'stocking the shelf' and it touches on something very important. Many new writers, myself included, rush into promoting their writing. Some spend loads of their capital and mental resources on self-promotion, but find themselves in what I like to call the promotion paradox. The less you have for a potential reader to sink their teeth into, the less effective your promotion efforts will be, and you stand the chance of losing those hard-earned nibbles.

Blogging isn't for everyone. Or, hey, maybe you were born to blog, but the timing isn't right. The important thing here is to avoid making the mistakes I made. Don't let your quest for blogging overshadow your real goals. If you're blogging because that's your passion, well, that's one thing. It's something entirely different if it's keeping you from doing what you're passionate about. One way of avoiding the promotion paradox is to keep writing the products your readers will enjoy. It's often been said by better writers than I that the most effective promotion you can invest in once you've finished a book is to start on the next one. If you can blog on top of that, great! But you may want to hold off on your promotional efforts until you have a sizable inventory of books or stories or what-have-you. In the meantime, you'll likely gain a slow, but steady, stream of followers who find their own way to your content. These folks will likely be your natural audience, so there's a huge bonus there.

As with all things, a level head, moderation, and steadfast goals will help illuminate the right path for you. No matter what anyone else says, the most important road to travel is your own.