I just decided I love writing contests now.

I’m REALLY excited because I just paid to enter the 2012 Short Story Challenge after a friend of mine told me about it. Basically, it is a writing contest with three rounds. For each one you are given a genre, subject, and character and you have a limited amount of time to write a story using them. For the first round you have 8 days to write a 2,500-words story, and then if you move on to the second round, you have 3 days to write 1,500 words. If you make it to the final round, you only have 24 hours to write a 1,000 word short story and have a stab at the $1,500 grand prize!

But let me clarify: I did not enter this contest to win money. I paid the $49 entry fee and have blocked off those first 8 days for two reasons. First of all, it is a creative challenge with a serious deadline, which is something I haven’t really faced since my college creative writing classes. And secondly (and most importantly), each writer gets in-depth feedback from the judges for every story submitted, which will be amazingly helpful as I try to sharpen my fiction writing skills.

Once I’d paid the entry fee and then felt the rush of excitement about this new challenge, I realized that this would be a great year to start entering writing contests like these. They are a great opportunity to refine my writing ability, and the deadlines are awesome motivators to get my ass down in that chair and write.

So, in typical Lindsay fashion, I found 5 more contests to enter and added them to my calendar. This is what I always do – find a new obsession and throw myself head first over the cliff into it. But since this is a productive one, I’m letting myself take the leap. I might actually get some okay writing done because of it!

I’m excited and ready for the challenge, and I will definitely keep you all updated on how it goes! And if anyone is interested in entering, you should check out their website to learn more. The deadline to enter is January 18th.

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Creating Characters With Pictures

Every writer has their tricks for creating memorable characters, whether it be borrowing from quirky family members and friends or talking to interesting strangers at coffee shops while scribbling in a notebook like a mad person.

For me, I draw inspiration from pictures. For some reason, writing up my detailed character profiles (which is a necessity for me to write anything coherant) is much easier if I have a clear image in my mind of what the person looks like. I collect pictures of people that strike me as someone in my story and save them so that I have someone to look at when describing my characters or writing their dialogue. I accomplish this by two methods – “stealing” someone I’ve actually met or by using Google images to poke around until I find the perfect face for my character.

It is pretty fun actually. I just type in the age and basic physical attributes I have in mind for a character and just click around until I find the right one. It is weird to think that I have photos of strangers saved all over my computer who exist in my head under a different name and presumably very different personality.

This is a great idea methinks, except for my fear that someone, someday will get a glimpse of my search history and see that I’ve Googled “images of 12-year-old boys”. That may be difficult to explain….

Anyone have a different weird method for creating realistic and memorable characters?

My First Writing Seminar

Aside

I’m about to head out to my first writing seminar here in LA! It is actually being taught by one of my former Pepperdine creative writing professors, Nancy Ellen Dodd, who just wrote The Writer’s Compass: From Story Map to Finished Draft in 7 Stages. The seminar is based around her book.

When I get back, I’ll let you know how it went. If anyone has any tips for how to make the most of these seminars, let me know!

Business Trips and Writing

I stumbled upon the Columbus Day Parade down 5th Avenue today.

I am on a plane taking me back to LA from New York, still reeling from two 17+ hour days of shooting. Thankfully I love my job, but this weekend did a number on me. I did manage to catch up on sleep last night – it was one of the few times I was able to resist the urge to get sloshed with my co-workers after our last day of work – and I even spent a couple of hours wandering around the city today before getting to the airport.

 While the hours I put in on the road are outrageous, I actually love traveling for work because of the writing time I get while in the air. I know I’ve written about how much it sucks to write on a plane, but there is a sense of contentment I always get when I take my seat for a cross-country flight. I know there is nowhere I have to be, not much I have to do and very few ways I can waste time – all I have to do is just wait while I’m taken from Point A to Point B.   My laptop and some reading material is all I have with me, and I have no excuse to leave my computer. I usually talk myself out of buying the in-flight internet so there are minimal distractions, and I can just get to the nasty business of writing a scene or a blog entry without worry of being interrupted or tempted by an invitation to meet friends at a bar.

Also, being in a new place for a few days is a great way to get the creative juices flowing. I read this post last month at Writing Forward about how getting yourself out into the world can give you all kinds of new ideas and inspiration for your writing. I thought of it when I was at JFK airport and I saw a woman get on an escalator as if she’d never seen or heard of an escalator before. She was walking towards the base of it and stopped, staring in awe for a few moments, before going hesitantly forward and putting a shaky foot on the first moving step. She rode it up, looking around in amazement that no one else thought that this was the most amazing contraption ever invented. It was bizarre, and it made me laugh. I thought of Arthur Weasley from the Harry Potter books, and it gave me the inspiration for a character in my novel.

And, while you would think that working yourself to complete mental and physical exhaustion over a couple of intense work days would stifle creativity, I always find that the opposite is true. Last night, I relaxed in bed in my hotel room watching Legally Blond in a vegetative state, incapable of any kind of higher logic or thinking or even basic math, struggling to find the strength to get up and walk 5 feet to the bathroom to take out my contacts so I could fall asleep. But after sleeping 10 hours, this morning I felt sharp, rejuvenated, and full of clarity. It was like my brain had been scrubbed clean of the built up mess of stress and worry that had been there the week before. I de-cluttered it by exhausting it of all energy and then allowing it to build the basics back up during an uninterrupted night of heavy sleep. I don’t know if that makes sense at all – I’m no good at science – but it works for me.

So now, here in seat 38G, I’m enjoying an uninterrupted 6 hours of writing. Thank you, demanding but amazing job, for affording me time to write that I rarely afford myself.

How I Stack Up As A ‘Serious’ Writer

My current "office" - my kitchen table.

As a first step in trying to get myself to write more, I started scouring my favorite writing blogs to find some inspiration on what it means to be a writer, and I came across a post over at Aliventures called 7 Habits of Serious Writers. When I read it, I started to think about how I stack up as a ‘serious’ writer, by her definition. Besides lacking the obvious number one habit – ahem, writing itself – I’m obviously missing a few of the other habits she lists as necessary.

#1: Writing – Obviously, I do not have this hurdle conquered, otherwise I wouldn’t have started a blog to complain about how I never write. But, I am taking the first steps towards getting serious about this writing business, even if it’s starting a blog about not writing. Hey, they say that if you aren’t sure where to begin, start by writing what you know. I’m certainly an expert on being a non-writing writer.

#2: Focus – This one I fail almost as miserably at as I do actually writing. I have always had issues focusing on things for an extended period of time. I struggle with wanting to plan everything out down to every last detail, but lacking the focus to follow through. But again, hopefully by making a habit of writing in a blog as often as I can will start a disciplined habit of focusing on ignoring distractions and – hold on, wait a second, Facebook did what? I’ll be right back.

#3: Reading – Ah, FINALLY a habit I can say that I have pretty much mastered. I love books, and I love reading. I read everything from non-fiction, literary fiction, YA titles, classics, and I even have an obsession with reading old college textbooks when I have 10 minutes to kill. I rarely get rid of a book after I’ve read it and I have a ridiculous number of books on my shelves that I haven’t read yet but am dying to tackle. I can’t help it, I love being surrounded by books. Ali recommends reading half an hour a day – that’s easy for me. So, I’ve got one down. 1 for 3 – that isn’t bad. I’ll take my little victories when I can get them.

#4: Learning – Ali means learning how to write by reading about writing and paying constant attention to improving your work. I don’t think I’m doing too badly at this, either. Granted, I haven’t been writing much the last few years but I’ve certainly been reading about writing and thinking about what makes writing better. Score another one for me.

#5: Redrafting – I’m going to go out on a limb and say that without writing something, you certainly can’t redraft something. So this one is another megafail on my part.

#6: Professionalism – I’m not going to even tackle this one. I’m a writer that has a blog about the fact that I don’t write. I don’t expect anyone to take me seriously.

#7: Reflection – I think she means looking at your goals as a writer and your work as a whole as you hone your craft and trudge away towards your ultimate goal. I’d say I’m an uber-reflective person, and I definitely have goals as far as my writing goes. In fact, I fear that I reflect too much, set too many goals and struggle with actually taking the steps it takes to get to where I want to be. What little writing I actually do I think I reflect on far too much, beating myself up over the details and the fact that it isn’t what I intended, until I scrap it. I could do with a little less reflection in my life. I want to replace it with more action.

I’d say I’m 3 for 7. That isn’t too bad of a place to start, right? Hopefully the rest will come with time. But then again, I’m feeling pretty damn optimistic today. Tomorrow I may want to toss this computer out the door and start looking into joining a cult.