Tag Archives: writing ideas

Common misteaks made by writers

I once wrote a newspaper editorial about making mistakes. I wrote it because I’d made a mistake in the newspaper a week or two before and I felt really bad about it. It was an honest mistake. However, the person affected by the mistake came into the newspaper office and really let me have it; said I shouldn’t make mistakes because I have a degree. Well, degree(s) or not, I still err like anyone else. I put it online for all to see, and if you want to read it, go here. It’s a little difficult to read and it was an attempt at humor (you can decide whether I was successful or not).

But that made me think about mistakes that I see often from writers. So, I thought I’d blog about that…maybe I’ll hit on something that even you weren’t aware of…editing this, I see it will take more than one…so consider this part 1.

One of the quickest ways to get tossed off an editor’s desk is first, format. Follow the directions for formatting. There is a general standard, but not all publishers are alike. Failing to follow their formatting guidelines proves you didn’t do your homework and that you don’t really care what they want. Thus, if you don’t care, why should they?

Next is work that is replete with errors. When submitting to a professional publication that you’d like them to pay you money for your work, yes, even one single solitary error will affect your submission. Proof, again and again.

So, what are some of the no-brainers of errors? Here are a few:

A lot of writers use “suppose” when they really need “supposed.” The first is in essence, thinking. “I suppose we could go there,” or “Do you suppose they arrived safely?” While the latter can be the past tense of the former (“We supposed they arrived safely.”), it is most often used to mean should have. “He was supposed to go today,” or, “You are supposed to stop at a red light.” I’ve seen many writers use the former in those situations. Thus, “He was suppose to go there,” is incorrect. As is “You are suppose to stop at a red light.” Both of these incorrect examples should use “supposed.”

Its/it’s often gives writers fits. The easiest way to remember the difference here is, the apostrophe takes the place of an “I” and means it is. Its is possessive. It’s (see, it is) one of those possessive exceptions in that it is possessive and yet doesn’t use an apostrophe. Thus “It’s a long time until Christmas,” is actually “It is a long time until Christmas.” Whereas “What will you do with its wheel,” is possessive. Meaning the wheel belongs to something (presumably a car…or maybe a bike…or wagon).

Another easy one that writers shouldn’t get wrong is your/you’re. As in the its/it’s case, the former (your) is possessive and the later (you’re) has an apostrophe in place of a missing letter—in this case, “a.” Thus, “This is your blog,” means the blogs belongs to me (possessive). While “You’re going to run over your word count” (see how I got them both in one sentence?) means “You are going to run over your word count,” and the “your” indicates that word count belongs to me.

And, as this has gotten long, I’ll write more mistakes later!

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Where do those wacky ideas come from?

Okay, in my attempt to blog a little more about writing, I reckon I’ll start at the beginning, which is where all writing starts, right? Even if not all stories start that way, the writing does. It all begins with an idea.

Truthfully, this is probably the single most asked question of writers. I’ve been attending writer’s conferences and speaking on assorted panels since the late 1980s, and I’ve heard “where do you get your ideas” more than any other question. The problem is, there is no easy answer for it. Sometimes when that question is asked, I think the askers assume the response will be “oh, I use the idea-chest I picked up at Wal-Mart for a buck ninety-nine. I just reached in and grabbed the first idea I came to.”

There is no idea-chest: Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. But, because I’d be doing those genuinely interested in an answer a disservice if I left it at that, I’ll cover some of the possibilities.

First, ideas come from reading. Writers should read. A lot! They should read good stuff and they should read bad stuff (though more of the former, if possible). Writers can be inspired by good writing. When you read something done well, you’re inspired to go and also do well. I’m not meaning mimicry, but writing something that makes the reader feel like you felt when reading the good thing.

Believe it or not, writers can also be inspired by bad writing, and in more than one way. The first thought is that you can do better than what you’ve just read—and it was published! On a smaller level, you can easily see all of the mistakes and commit them to memory while vowing never to make those mistakes. Doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes, but you will diligently work to not make those same mistakes.

Writers can get ideas from other entertainment: movies, cartoons, television, music, you name it. Something clicks and an idea is hatched. I’ve talked about writing to music before, but never really mentioned how I can get ideas from songs. Maybe sometime later I’ll go more in-depth. Often, though, we see a show and think how cool it would be if something different had happened…and thus is birthed a new idea.

For the most part, though, ideas come from simply living life! Everyday things: mowing the lawn, doing laundry, worrying about kids who’ve just gotten their driver’s license, listening to annoying folks on talk radio! There is so much material to be mined in our day to day existence that if you were to write it all, you’d be blogging several times a day, if not more. The problem comes in that we live our lives, but fail to write the ideas down as they occur. How many times have you been driving and an idea strike you? That evening, you can’t remember what it was.

The solution? Carry around a small notepad with you everywhere you go. Write down the ideas as they come to you. Before long, you’ll have too many ideas and not enough blog!

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Plot to the end

Writers are bombarded with endless suggestions of how to improve their craft and what to do to make their work “successful” (successful is, of course, defined differently by different writers). I guess this blog is another of those. My response has always been though—take all the feedback and ideas you can get, pour them into a pot, stir them up, and take out of it something that is useful to you as a writer.

I’ve always been one who’s plotted a story from start to finish before sitting down to the nitty-gritty of writing. Part of that is the nature of comic books, the industry where I’ve gotten the over-whelming majority of my work. Comics are episodic by design and stories must be tailored and crafted to fit within a specified number of pages so that writers have to know what is happening and when it’s happening. It’s not limiting, as some might suggest, but it is what it is.

I’d often read about writers, though, who just begin typing without really knowing what the story is or where it is going. Obviously, I’m talking prose writers—comic writers don’t have that liberty. After having finished two novels, I wanted to give it a try just to … y’know…see?

I didn’t get to finish the one before I started on another (The Interns, listed at the side of this blog page, for those of you keeping score) and started it the same way. Actually, it was much easier for The Interns because I was only supposed to generate 20-ish pages for my Spalding MFA workshop—it didn’t matter what the story was or where it was going, right?

As is often the case for writers, the more I wrote on The Interns, the more I liked the character and the situation in which I’d placed him. It was fun watching him squirm. But I still didn’t know exactly where the story was going. Oh sure, I’d developed ideas because of the situations, but it seemed like endless possibilities and I’d started to really want the story to mean something.

So after 70 pages, and a nice talk from my writing mentor this semester, I knew I had to go back and figure out what the story was and where it was going. To put it simply, I had to go back and plot it out from start to finish. Okay, maybe not from the very beginning because I’d written a good deal of that. I did have to figure out the ending. Getting there was fun as I got to explore the myriad paths of possibilities.

But ultimately, I picked one…and that’s where we’re going.

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Where do writers get ideas?

One of the questions writers are frequently asked is “where do you get your ideas?” If you happen to be in a big room full of writers, you’ll usually hear a collective groan go up just after that question is asked. It’s the groan of “not that question again.”

Why is it that wannabe writers seem to ask that question again and again? It’s almost as if they think there is some secret fount of ideas and that writers secretly drink regularly from it but don’t want to tell anyone. Or it’s the magic lamp that writers decide not to share, lest the genie decide there are no more wishes.

Wannabe writers seek the easiest path to whatever it is they’re seeking—usually publication. Many of them don’t want to have to spend the hours writing and then the hours upon hours upon hours rewriting. Many of them think their own first drafts are gold. When success doesn’t come immediately, they seek answers from someone who’s “been there.”

The truth is, of course, there is no secret web site that feeds writers ideas. Ideas come from anywhere and everywhere—which is why the question is really so difficult to answer. “I” don’t know where I get my ideas, they just happen. Many times they come when I least expect it—in the car driving on a long trip, or—more often for me, while I sleep. Not dreams so much as ideas just come to me while I’m sleeping.

That’s one of the reasons I took to carrying around notepads with me everywhere, and placing them in strategic spots—I want one handy when an idea strikes. I want to write it down and not forget it.

There’s also the belief that “there is nothing new under the sun.” While there may be some truth to that, I don’t think I necessarily agree with it 100%. I’ve heard that those things that seem new are actually old ideas, but a little different. I guess my thinking is different is different. If it is different enough to be called different…then it’s different.

I think good work also inspires good ideas. I’ve frequently found ideas flooding in when I read a good book. Generally there’s something about the work that causes me to think of something different—something different enough—and then I write it down. Good movies, too. I can sometimes watch a good movie and get an idea. The “idea” is not merely a rip-off of the entire book or film, but usually just one single thing that I thought was cool, and then my brain worked overtime on taking that idea or concept elsewhere.

There’s also television news, newspaper stories, and magazines.

Of course, real life is probably the single biggest idea generator. Not to tell the “real life” story, but to take some real life event that happened to you or to a friend, and then turn it into something bigger. It’s the “inspired from a true story” kind of thing…only it’s not true, it’s made up.

In short…writers get their ideas from…everywhere.

And then some.

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