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June 2007:
27th Tools of the trade
15th Inspiration 101
11th Writers Groups II
5th   Writers Groups
Tools of the trade
Posted by JVJ @ 4:06 pm
June 27th : 2007

Most writers I know are pretty particular about how and where they write. We like our familiar and comfortable surroundings. We also like our familiar, comfortable and usually very ratty reference books. And we donít like to change them very often.
My copy of The New Rogetís Thesaurus is twenty years old and looks it. Sometimes Iíll use online thesauruses but I donít find them as useful and comprehensive as my little blue book. I like the fact it was complied in 1912. Thereís some fine old words in there that are missing from newer editions. Another book I canít find a good online substitute for is the Ultimate Visual Dictionary. Itís useful for looking up the names of body parts, ship fittings, geological features, building terms, etc. Nothing can substitute for its clear, well-labeled photographs and illustrations. I find myself reaching for it on a daily basis. Next comes my one-volume encyclopedia for quick, general fact-checking and my field guides for various details on birds, insects, mammals, flora and geology. These I have close at hand at all times. Other reference works depend on the scenes Iím writing. Some scenes need very little: two characters spilling secrets over supper will probably only need a few specialist details to give the scene a sense of place. Battle scenes on the other hand are always a good way to pile up bodies and books.
Inspiration 101
Posted by JVJ @ 11:03 pm
June 15th : 2007

This week I tried pedal kayaking in Mission Bay. The water was warm and the fish were jumping. I reached a top speed of 6mph (it felt faster--I question the veracity of the speedometer). Thanks to Pat for use of the kayak. After I went canoeing a few years back it inspired and informed Effieís storyline in A Sword From Red Ice, so thereís no telling where pedal kayaking might lead.
People often ask where my ideas come from. Itís a hard process to pin down, but I believe that spending time outside and experiencing nature contributes in a variety of ways. First and foremost it gets you out of the house (please refer to my last entry on this point). Second, it gives one chance to observe nature firsthand. While I was on the kayak I watched cormorants dive for fish and ten pound croakers jump out of the bay. When I trailed my hand in the water, I caught seaweed as tensile as nylon cord. It appeared green until I took it out the water. Without refraction it was yellow.

Of course, we can always read about these things, but nothing is quite as striking as experiencing them firsthand. Plus thereís always a chance weíll observe something special, a tiny detail that no oneís written about before. Reading nonfiction for inspiration is essential, but whenever one picks up a book or an article it arrives pre-filtered. The writer makes choices on our behalf, eliminating extraneous details, highlighting others he deems important. By getting outside and observing nature we can make these choices for ourselves. We can decide whatís worth writing about.

And who knows...we might see something that inspires a description, a crafty plot twist, or even an entire storyline.
Writers Groups II
Posted by JVJ @ 10:21 pm
June 11th : 2007

I've busy working on the new book this week. It doesn't have a title yet, but I'm considering breaking with tradition. 'Something of Something Ice' has been the model for the past three books; it might be time for a change.
If you are considering setting up a writers group, the first thing to do is decide what you and the other members hope to gain from the meetings. It might be that camaraderie and networking are the goal; writers chewing the fat with other writers. This can be every bit as valuable as critiquing one another's work. It gets you out of the house for one thing (never underestimate this as a benefit; writers spend too much time indoors). It also gives you the opportunity to be part of a community. Talk to other writers and you'll soon learn that the difficulties they encounter are similar to your own. Motivation, self doubt, writers block and time management are problems that most of us deal with at some point. Simply to hear that you're not the only having these problems helps. So it's definitely not a bad thing to have a group where members support one another by sharing experiences and chatting over coffee. It's a good antidote to isolation.
Writers Groups
Posted by JVJ @ 7:40 pm
June 5th : 2007

Hopefully this online journal will mostly be about writing and books...with the odd digression here and there.

Last week I went camping in Big Sur. It was beautiful. Redwood groves, craggy sea cliffs, windblown hills. Walking amongst the redwoods is like stepping back in time. The trees are over a thousand years old; as they were sprouting the Anasazi were carving their cities from the Arizona cliffs, MacBeth was murdering his way to the Scottish throne, and the Vikings were pillaging Britain. The forests are still and very quiet; centuries of fallen needles create a sponge-like duff. You canít hear your own footfalls.
Recently Iíve attended a number of writers groups, where fledgling writers get together to share experiences, critique one anotherís work, and swap stories. Groups like these can be a great source of camaraderie and encouragement for writers, as writing is, by its very nature, a solitary pursuit. If it takes a year to write a book then thatís a year working alone. It isnít only up-and-coming writers who benefit from group meetings, but also established ones as well. You may be surprised by how many of your favorite authors still attend local writers meetings and submit their work for critique by their peers.

Practically, if the goal of the group is to evaluate each memberís output for that week, it means writers have to write. An immediate deadline for the group is often more pressing than a faraway finish-the-book-publisherís deadline. One doesnít want to let the members down. So purely as motivation they work. If youíre new to writing and just starting out itís probably a good idea to find a local writers group and attend some meetings. No local group? You could always start your own. The links to the right will help you get started.
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Link List:
Writer's Reference
Pedal Kayaks
Establishing WG's
Fiction Fundamentals
Big Sur Photography