Sunday, October 23, 2011

Where Do I Get My Ideas? The ORACLE

 Whenever I'm in a dry spell and I need something to jump-start my writing, I do what the ancient Greeks did when they needed a spiritual boost: I visit the ORACLE.

The ORACLE stands for: Outrageous Ridiculous And Crazy Literary Exercises.  To the untrained eye, it looks like old, wooden box shaped like a treasure chest.  Like this:

 But when you open it, there's tons of stuff inside to help me start writing.  While the contents of the ORACLE tend to change from time to time (I take stuff out and put new stuff in), there are some staples that stay the same.  Here's a sampling of what my ORACLE looked like a few months ago.

Stuff that's in the ORACLE right now:
  • Postcards
  • Images clipped from magazines
  • Word box: a small plastic Chinese food box containing slips of paper, each with one word on it.
  • Dice (lots and LOTS of dice)
  • Deck of cards (to play solitaire while my brain incubates an idea.)  Did I mention I've written writing prompts on each card?  That way even when I'm procrastinating my brain is getting some creative juice.
  • Pack of paint chips (which you can get for free at hardware or paint stores!)
  • Tarot cards with pretty illustrations.
  • Creative Whack Pack (cards with creativity prompts on them)
  •  Fortune cookie slips.
Of course, the ORACLE--being a bulky wooden box--isn't exactly conducive to writing on-the-go.  I've since also created a PORTACLE (portable oracle) that includes just a handful of postcards with prompts on the back, a Beat Sheet Cheat Sheet, dice and an un-sharpened pencil (to symbolize all the writing that I have yet to do).

So, yeah, when it comes to thinking up ideas, I have no excuses with an ORACLE like this at my fingertips.  All I can do is choose something at random and start writing.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Where Do We Get Our Ideas

Juggling the changes that need to be made in my "finished" novel and putting the details into a biography I"m working on, seem to be more than enough to think about. However, there are those ideas out there, intruding like some computer virus - ideas about a children's bok based on a funny incident with a dog in front of our local deli, or the amazing story of a woman I talked to who uses public transportation to travel the city in a wheel chair, a group of giggling Japanese girls who brought back memories of my three years in their country, and, of course, the daily papers and their stories of the state of the world. Those articles send me into essay mode even though many of them seem more like fiction. It's sorting out all the images, conversations and memories that become the challenge and the joy of writing it down.

Friday, October 14, 2011

What Sparks Our Ideas Part II

In many ways, life is boring. But that doesn't mean you have to be boring along with it. Being bored is the perfect opportunity to let your mind wonder and get creative.

And my ideas are always sparked by other creative people. Whether it's a musician, artist, or a favorite author, my best writing days usually come after I spend time listening to, watching, or reading other artists do their thing. Great artists always spark ideas you can relate to or give you something you can build on. Which brings me to the truth.

None of my ideas and creative sparks would work without the truth. Even though I'm making up a story, if there wasn't some semblance of truth to it, it wouldn't be believable. Good writing mixes honesty with characters that have a unique view of how to deal with what they're being put through.

So start writing some creative truths!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Just For Fun: Group Picture!

The members of Quill and Coffee have varied over the years, but one thing is for sure: you can find us at the David Rubenstein Atrium in Lincoln Center, NYC every Tuesday morning discussing our latest and greatest writing projects.

From left to right:
Jo, Gabi, Dave, Debra, and Julie.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What sparks our ideas?

This month, we decided to talk about where our ideas come from. I jumped on this one because for me, that's the easy part!
I get my ideas from all over the place. My family, friends, (always changing the names and specific circumstances to protect the innocent, and not make a lot of enemies) songs, tv, movies, Facebook drama, newspaper articles and one of my favorites, The New York Times obituaries! I know that may sound a bit disturbing, but every day, they publish the stories of two or three people who have done amazing things. Musicians, politicians, scientists, the list goes on and on.
No, the hard part for me is not coming up with the idea for the beginning of a story or character, it's what happens next...but that's another post.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why I Write

Why do we write? It is the journey into the unknown, but one of our own making. Characters, situations, even cities, countries and outer space, are there for the making. The experience of wondering what the characters will do and say becomes the reason for turning on the computer. These characters take up residence in our heads - are with us before we go to sleep and there when we wake up. It is, we hope, the joy of taking others with us on this journey that keeps us going.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Why I Write

When people ask how I got into writing, I jokingly say that I was always really good at typing and figured I’d put that skill to good use. But in reality, I became a writer thanks to my grandma, a troublemaking cartoon six year old and a purple crocodile.

My grandma worked at The Coop, Harvard’s official bookstore. Every birthday as a kid, instead of giving me intellectually stimulating books from the world’s most prestigious university, I could always count on unwrapping either a Calvin and Hobbes comic book or a collection of children’s poems by Jack Prelutsky.

Growing up, I simply couldn’t understand why anyone would read anything other than Calvin and Hobbes books. Reading about the misadventures of Calvin and his tiger was like getting to eat dessert for every meal (which, quite frankly, would have been perfectly ok with me). It was great writing paired with hilarious pictures. Entertainment in its purest form. I knew then that I wanted entertain people in some way and make people laugh because of something created. I just needed to figure out how.

I found my answer after reading a collection of Jack Prelutsky poetry. The poems were funny and imaginative (my favorite being My Neighbors Dog is Purple) and I loved seeing how he rhymed words and phrases as if they were born to be together.

So now I write. Sometimes the words rhyme and other times they don’t. But they are always meant to entertain, make the reader laugh, and maybe one day inspire someone to say, “I’d like to do that too”.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why I Write

I was walking my son home from school. He was about nine years old at the time. We passed by a freestanding kiosk that contained brocures from Gotham Writers Workshop. I grabbed a brocheure and we continued on our way.

"What's that?" my son asked.

"It's a brochure for writing classes."

"Why did you take one?"

"Because I'm thinking of taking a class."

"Why would anyone choose to take a class that didn't have to take one?"

I considered going into all the details. As much as I loved the luxury of not having to work, and being able to spend so much time with him, I felt as if my brain was turning into the consistency of overcooked oatmeal. I was trying to figure out some way of proving to myself that my gray matter was still a working organ.

"I always enjoyed writing when I went to school," I told him instead. "I thought it might be fun."

We arrived home where I stuck the brochure in a pile somewhere and completely forgot about it, perhaps out of fear that my creativity had disappeared right along with my pre-child freedom.

Several months later, while sipping coffee and watching my son joyously open his gifts on Christmas morning, he handed me a gift from him. It was a flat package. I opened it to find a Gotham writers Workshop brochure with a note enclosed; Pick out any class. Love Adam.

Not only did I find it incredibly sweet that he had remembered, but now I was forced to take a writing workshop. I didn't want to let him down.

Was it scary taking a writing class for the first time in a million years? Absolutely!
Did I love it? Definitely.

That first class was five years ago. I've taken many more since then.
I recently completed my first 277 page novel.
Was that writing class the best gift I've ever received? Aside from my son Adam, positively.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Why I write

In JM’s initial blog entry, I am the one peering out of car windows and into home windows, making up stories about the people inside. I am wondering what their hopes and dreams are. I am making up stories about where they will be going tomorrow or about the city from which they have just returned.

Usually I was in the car with my dad. My dad worked two jobs so most of our time together and most of the parenting he did (and, of course, in those days no one talked about parenting at all), was done while doing errands or being driven to school or a friend’s home. I would ask him, “Did you see that man and woman in the garden, Dad? Did you see how they were talking, like they were mad at each other? I think…,” and I would tell him a long, rambling story.

Now as far as I know, my dad’s seafaring adventures were limited to a rowboat on Lake Erie, but he would usually nod approvingly, and say, “That’s a darn fine yarn. You should write it down.”

When he would come home from work, I would fly down the driveway to say hello, to get a kiss and tell him what I had been working on, and he would nod solemnly and say, “That’s a fine yarn too. Did you write it down?”

Then, one Saturday, he built a tree house and said it was my writer’s retreat. With a new notebook and a garland of pencils, I entered my first office, my first retreat, my dad’s vote of confidence in my abilities.

This is part of why I write, and definitely why I encourage everyone here to keep writing. Get it on paper, capture those characters you create, love, and at times, despise. Tell their stories, even if they do things that you would rather they didn’t, even if they do things that you know will lead to their unhappiness. Get it on paper. Tell their stories, make up entire worlds of yesterday or tomorrow and I know it will be a darn good yarn.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Blood & Chocolate

Maybe it was first grade when I refused to hold my pencil the correct way (smart enough to switch to "my way", once the teacher passed my desk). Maybe it was in middle school, my English teacher declaring on my report card Corey has a very unique way of using words and phrases. Or just maybe it was in High school, our town's only college (Francis Marion, which is now a University) sponsored a short story contest open to all three High schools. Out of all the entries (I don't remember the exact number, or if that information was ever revealed), there was first place, second place and honorable mention. The latter prize was bestowed upon me. I was surprised, shocked really, but ultimately very happy about the honor. (Entries were due in the winter; results were in the spring)

Blood & Chocolate, the story was called. A rather pedestrian title, I think, looking back, but at the time I thought it was really cool. Which also raises another maybe scenario: maybe it was Stephen King that hooked me into writing. (My term paper was on contrasting the literary styles of Stephen Edwin King and Edgar Allan Poe!) I've been an avid reader of all his work, Misery and The Shining among my many favorites. Blood & Chocolate premise was a simple one really--a boy who refuses to clean his room, discovers that something has been born there and it is growing daily, getting hungrier. When he does decided to clean his room, well, it's too late.

So yes: I'd say these things (and many others) have been instrumental in my writer's path. So many ideas filtering through my conscious|subconscious, in order to create stories my way: from the heart of Coreyville--with a pencil or otherwise.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Who We Are; Why We're Here.

Welcome to Quill and Coffee. This is our blog.

In 2006, upon completion of Susan Breen's Fiction class at Gotham Writer's Workshop, four classmates banded together with a commitment to carry on the writers' community the class had sparked. Trust, so essential to such an undertaking, was already established; works were submitted, exchanged, and critiqued.

Words flowed.

New members joined. Some left. We have changed meeting locations, times, and frequency, yet the group has met regularly since those first days. Today we number seven in-person and eight online.

We hail from the midwest, the south, the east coast, and right here in Manhattan.

We are Gen Y and Gen X, Baby Boomers, and survivor of The Great Depression.

We have children, step children, foster children, grandchildren, and no children.

We are managers, tech writers, editors and stagehands; former political and fashion insiders, therapists and homeless shelter directors.

We are teachers and students.

We are black and white and read all over.

We are dog people and cat people.

We are people who ordinarily might not mix, save for one reason: We write.

We write children's books and stories for young adults, women's fiction, chicklit, suspense, fantasy, sci-fi, and things we can't quite define. We blog.

We write for pleasure and to lay pain flat on the page. We write to tell the story that will not be silenced. We write seeking truth and we write spinning lies. We write to find reality through fantasy. We write to stay sane. We write to record history. We write to fill in the blanks. We write because we are drawn to lighted windows and people talking in cars, and wonder what is happening in those homes and what the people in the cars are saying and because we don't know, we make it up. We write in search of that elusive writer's high when the words just flow. We write to entertain, to make people laugh. We write, because it's what we do.

We've laid out some questions for our group and presented ourselves with the challenge of answering them here in hopes of spurring discussion and insights. We're glad you're here.

Why do you write?