Chasing Inspiration….

Writing is an unusual job, and frightening at times because it is so dependent on the magical muse known as inspiration to get good things happening. Nothing is more frustrating to the writer than to sit down at his or her keyboard, or laptop, or typewriter, or notebook or whatever, and realize with horror that they have nothing. No ideas, no mental nudges, no untapped goldmine of material from which to carve an article, blog, or story. It is a depressing feeling, made all the more so by the fact that we never know how long the dry spell will last.

There are many ways that you can attempt to break the cycle of non-productivity. Not all of them will work; you have to find the ones that work for you.

Personally, whether I’m working on my own material or at my day gig writing for a water damage company, I have found that nothing beats just putting pen to paper (or whatever method you employ). Sometimes just the act of writing is enough to get something going.

I also enjoy getting out and driving, preferably in the country. Locations, buildings, homes, even people that you see on your journey have a way of inspiring stories, characters, scenarios, etc. For example, an isolated farmhouse at night, with one light visible, set far back off a desolate back road, provided the impetus for a short story, currently being written into a screenplay for a horror film. An abandoned quarry near my childhood home became the setting for my short story “The Mountain”. Always be open to inspiration from what you find every day around you.

Reading about writing. I love to hear from other authors, and see what works for them. There are enough blogs online about writing to keep you busy reading two years after you are dead.

Some of the methods suggested may seem a bit unorthodox (and that’s putting it mildly), but in the wonderful world of the written word, there is no right or wrong way to get inspired. Go with what works.

Listen to people. When you are in a crowd, don’t be afraid to eavesdrop. There are some very interesting real life characters out there, and many times a conversation or even a snippet of dialogue may be enough to get the gears humming.

Read bad work. I love this, partially because I am amazed at how much bad material gets published, partially because we all like to watch a good train wreck, but mainly because it fires me up with a “Good grief, I can do so much better than this” fervor. I particularly like reading the work of one specific author who is amateurish on almost every level, yet has had a thirty year career publishing novels. Hey, if he can do it, I certainly can.

Movies can also be a valuable inspirational source. Most of the fiction I write is firmly ensconced in the suspense/horror genre, and when I write, I tend to think of how those movies are constructed, with shaky, grainy camera work, sparse dialogue, and threatening music. By writing with those images in mind, it helps me to frame the story in my head and have a good idea of the end effect that I am going for.

Music can also be a wonderful source for the writer. I don’t normally listen to music during a writing session, but when I do, it is usually movie soundtracks, specifically one that attempts to grab the atmosphere of the work I am creating.

Dreams. I don’t dream often, but when I do they are usually quite bizarre. One particularly disturbing dream ended up as a nightmare sequence in a novel that I am currently outlining. Keep in mind that dreams tend to fade in memory after you wake up, so keep a journal beside your bed and write down these dreams when you wake up.

Along the same lines, keep a writing journal. Make notes on ideas, plot lines, characters, lines of dialogue, etc. Then refer back to it. It can be an invaluable source of inspiration during those dry spells.

The internet. If you can think of it, it can be Googled. Sometimes researching a given subject can inspire a new work. Film director Eli Roth claims that his controversial horror film HOSTEL was based on an actual website. While this may be an urban legend, it certainly isn’t hard to find infinite variations on any subject you care to name.

So get out there, chase the inspirational muse, and put your pen to paper. And make memories for all of us to enjoy.

Best Ways To Proofread Your Work…

Proofreader

As the Director of Content for a company servicing the water extraction and damage restoration industry, I have to knock out a lot of written material on a daily basis. Set up in my little corner of the shop, I get inspired, research, write, edit, and proofread everything before sending it out the door to wherever it is going to be published, posted, distributed, etc. I am a one stop shop.

One of the hardest things for any writer to do is proofread their own work. It is truly amazing just how many goofs get out the door as a result. Unfortunately, many of us don’t always have the luxury of another pair of eyes to help us out, so we have to double our efforts at making sure the product is solid.

So how do you proofread your own work and not let mistakes slip by? Listen, children…..

Go line by line. Ideally, cover the entire page except for the line you are reading. It prevents distractions. Otherwise you might just skim right over the top. You’ll be surprised at how many more errors you catch this way.

Third time’s the charm. Read your paper several times. Put it down and read it again the next day. I have caught mistakes on the third or fourth time through that completely escaped my notice initially.
If you find an error and correct it, re-read the sentence again. Sometimes the act of correcting an error can be the basis for an entirely new problem, either in construction, syntax, or flow.

Read the document backwards. Isolating sentences, removing them from being a part of the whole, allows you to better concentrate on that one sentence and hopefully catch anything that might be questionable.

Read the work out loud. You’ll be surprised at how many goofs you catch this way. This works even better if you have someone who can follow along with the printed copy.

At the risk of stating the obvious, use Spell Check. Be forewarned however, that Spell Check doesn’t always correctly identify incorrect words or punctuation. You still need to know your stuff.

Keep a list of your most common errors (or of the writers you are proofing) and proof for those on separate “trips.”

Be aware of homonyms. Homonyms are words that share the same spelling or pronunciation, but have different meanings. Switching accept with except or complement with compliment could be disastrous, so pay attention to them.

Differentiate between contractions, apostrophes, etc. People often mix their and they’re, its and it’s, your and you’re and so on. If there is something that can hurt the credibility of your text, it is a similar mistake. Also, remember that the apostrophe is never used to form plurals.

Proof your work at the beginning of the day, when your senses are the sharpest. Listen to music or chew gum to keep yourself relaxed during what can be a rather boring process.

Continue your education by refreshing your memory on grammar rules. Take nothing for granted.

So yes, it is possible, if not desirable, to successfully proofread your own work. Take your time. You don’t want to let your masterpiece go out in any form that is less than flattering.

If you do find a mistake, however, don’t spend a lot of time fretting about it. After all, nobody’s perfekt.