Saturday, November 29, 2014

Feeding Your Muse

Did you ever wonder why some writers produce an exhaustive amount of material and others very little? The same thing seems to go for songwriters. The answer is complex but usually boils down to the fact that prolific writers do some things that the others don’t. They feed their muses in a number of odd ways.

First, there are the writers that proclaim they have a book inside them waiting to get out. So why can’t it escape the confines of their brains. Usually, it’s because their writing skills aren’t advanced enough to express their idea successfully. Later on in their career, after their writing skills have developed more, they can develop that same idea with little effort.

But what about the writer who produces one successful book and then seems to disappear from the scene. Much like the musical artist that produces one hit and fades into the background, so the one-shot-wonder puts so much effort into their first work that they lose sight of the bigger picture and don’t produce anything again.

The difference lies in looking versus seeing. Most people, including the one-shot-wonders, look only where they have to to survive. They focus so hard on that first, or perhaps even second or third, work that they don’t prepare themselves for anymore. But prolific writers and musical artists embrace the world around them. They pay attention because ideas worth capturing are happening all the time right next to them. They just see it where others don’t. Eyes that look are common while eyes that see are rare.

Prolific writers know how to beat resistance—that insidious force that works to stop creativity and progress. It’s the voice that says, “You’re tired. You can do it tomorrow. You’re really not that good. You could spend ten years slaving away and, chances are, it’ll all be for nothing.” Resistance is the true enemy to success. Prolific professional writers realize this and know how to beat it by constantly keeping something in the works, by constantly keeping their irons hot. They’re constantly writing. While they may not be writing books all the time, they produce blogs, stories, and articles—all sorts of projects that require the same method of creative thinking.

Creating something is difficult, usually lonely work, for any writer. Most think they can do it, but then find out they can’t. There are probably more half-written books out there than there are completed and successful ones. Professional writers live with the fact that producing a book is hard. So if they want to be a successful, prolific writer, they have keep their head down and trudge forward when everyone else has given up.

Successful writers don’t say no to new ideas. They know what risk is all about. They’ve tried things and failed. They can taste success. Let’s face it, mediocrity loves company. Prolific writers see beyond their ideas. They believe anything is possible. Whether or not it turns out to be true doesn’t really matter. Genius is seeing the inevitable before everyone else, the possibilities before it’s even a consideration.

Above all, prolific writers have passion—a passion for writing in general and for one type of writing in particular. Some derive pleasure from writing non-fiction books, realizing that fact is often more tantalizing than fiction. Others like to delve into the fantasy world of novels, literally creating life before them. And still others fall in love with the beautiful rhymes of poetry. Whatever the end result, a writer’s passion is what’s behind a work’s success.

If you’ve ever listened to prolific writers on T.V. talk shows, they all seem to have one thing in common—a stubbornness that’s often seen as ego or attitude. Sometimes it is, but most of the time it’s simply seeing the world for what it could be and expecting nothing less than passion and belief from those who normally don’t. But nothing great ever came from mediocre minds. So feed your muse daily and sit down and write.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Elephant in the Room

Copyright is probably the most misunderstood concept in writing. With information being so readily available on the Internet, everyone is on the defensive. If someone uses even one word of a text, the author is ready to jump on them. The same goes for ideas. Many people believe that if someone uses an idea the same as or similar to there’s without permission that they have stolen it. But actual copyright is very different from these common misconceptions.

Most beginning writers think that if they put their work out in public view that someone will steal it. If it only were good enough, someone might do just that. But most of the time it isn’t worth stealing. So how did they develop this notion.

It all started back when they were in school. Teachers ingrained in them that all their work had to be original. Let’s face it, the last time something totally original was created was at the point of the creation of the universe. Everything since then is influenced by all that came before it. Traditionally, academics have a fear that someone is after whatever they’ve uncovered or created. But that’s not how the real world works.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, copyrighting a work reserves the rights by the author to reproduce, distribute, and perform a literary, musical, dramatic, or artistic work. That covers a lot of territory.

It all began with the Statute of Anne, passed in England in 1710, that recognized that authors should be the primary beneficiaries of copyright law and established the idea that such copyrights should have only limited duration, after which works would pass into the public domain. The U.S. Congress enacted a similar law in the United States in 1790. Over the years, subsequent legislation changed the duration of a copyright and the necessity of registration.

Essentially, a copyright is placed on a work from a particular date onward for a period of time during which the copyright holder has exclusive rights to reproduce, modify, and distribute the work in whatever way he or she sees fit. In the U.S., that period is 70 years plus the age of the author at the time of publication. For anonymous works, that period is 95 years from first publication or 120 years from creation date.

A work that was created in tangible form for the first time on or after January 1, 1978, is automatically protected from the moment of its creation and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author’s life plus an additional 70 years after the author’s death.

Copyright law protects short stories, novels, nonfiction articles, poetry, computer software, software manuals, text advertisements, manuals, catalogs, brochures, and  databases. Other categories include plays, films, musical and sound recordings and multimedia works. Copyright law doesn’t protect your ideas, facts, words, and names, although it may protect the way you express them.

You own the copyright to your work, unless you assign those rights to a third party. Copyright protection arises automatically the moment you create it. The work must be "original," and not based upon someone else's work. The fact that your short story may be similar to other stories doesn’t mean it isn’t "original” for copyright purposes, so long as you don’t copy the complete story from another source.

For works published before March 1, 1989, you needed to place a copyright notice— “Copyright © 2014 by Your Name. All Rights Reserved”—on your work in order to receive copyright law protection. That’s no longer the case. For works published after March 1, 1989, you don’t need to place a copyright notice on your work in order to be protected by copyright law.

Such a notice warns people who view your work that you take copyright issues seriously and may have a deterrent effect upon possible infringers, especially those who are unfamiliar with the intricacies of copyright law. Furthermore, if your work carries a proper notice, in the event of a subsequent infringement lawsuit the defendant will be unable to claim "innocent infringement"—that he or she didn’t realize that the work was protected.

Do you have to register your copyright? Not necessarily, but if you need to take legal action, a registered copyright will hold up in court. You may register the work after someone has infringed upon the work, but the registration will only apply to infringements that occur after the registration. However, if you register your work within 90 days of publication, the statutory damages provisions apply to infringements before and after the actual registration. Registered works may be eligible for statutory damages up to $100,000 and attorney's fees in successful litigation.

Registration costs $35 per work. To register, you simply fill out the copyright application and mail it to the U.S. Copyright office with a check and a nonreturnable copy of your work—one copy if your work is unpublished and two copies if it has been published. Works that have been published must be registered within three months of publication. This is called "mandatory deposit."

Copyright registration is considered effective the day the Copyright Office receives all the materials required for registration. You may copyright the work in a pen name or pseudonym by simply checking the "Pseudonymous" box on the application.

Works published or created after January 1, 1978 aren’t subject to renewal registration. For works published or registered prior to January 1, 1978, renewal registration is optional after 28 years but does provide certain legal advantages.

The length of copyright protection depends on when the work was created, who created the work, and when the work was first distributed commercially. For works created on and after January 1, 1978, the copyright term for works created by an individual is the life of the author plus 50 years.

The term of the copyright for "works for hire" is 75 years from the date of first "publication" or 100 years from the date of creation, whichever expires first.

Remember, it’s up to you to enforce the copyright to your works.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Getting the Flow of Ideas Started

Ideas are fleeting. If you don’t catch them in time, they’ll likely disappear. Your main source of material is your ideas, so as a writer you need to practice some idea-saving techniques. Granted, not all ideas are worth saving, but if you don’t do something when the idea enters your mind, you won’t know unless you save it.

Get your idea out of your mind and onto paper—any kind of paper. This might be a piece of scrap paper, a used envelope, or a page in an organized notebook. It really doesn’t matter, just as long as you write your ideas down. Above all, look for ideas that are ripe with meaning for your reader—not yourself.

The are two main methods for developing those bits of concentrated thought. The first is
brainstorming. This method uses word associations to develop lists of words that get more detailed as you go.

To begin, start with one word, preferably a noun. Under this word, list five to ten words that come to mind that are related to that word. Now take a word from that list and place it at the top of the page, then repeat the procedure from before. After completing the second list, repeat the whole process a third time so that you have three lists. Now look carefully at the original word and compare it to the last word in the third list. Notice how far removed or not it is from your original idea.

Brainstorming helps to empty your brain of related ideas. While you may not use any of the words you produce, some of them may spark new ideas of their own.

The second method for developing ideas on a subject is clustering. To begin, choose a word, again preferably a noun, and place it in a circle in the middle of a sheet of paper. Free associate branches of words fanning out from the center, each encircled and connected by a line to the original word. Some of the words you’ll come up with are details of words you have already, so place them in a circle connected by a line to the secondary word or subject that branches off from the original one. Let evocative words on the branches be nuclei for other branches.

Clustering enables you to develop groups of words on topics related to the main subject in the middle of the page. In this way, you’ll be able to focus your subject down to a narrower level.

And even though you generate lots of ideas, focusing them down so they’re manageable is important. To do so, you can start with the broader subject, then focus it down to a central idea which, in turn, can be focused even more to detailed questions that will help you decide exactly how you want to write about the subject. Remember, a subject is the broader term, a topic is what you write about.

For example, begin with the subject “holiday.” Under your Central Idea, list “Thanksgiving.” Finally, under Detailed Questions, try “ What are some Thanksgiving traditions?” Notice the difference between subjects and topics.

But to begin writing, you need to have more than a question. You need to have a Topic Statement, a simple statement about what your finished piece will be about and what it will try to accomplish on your given topic. Using a Topic Statement will help you achieve consistency in your writing.

You can take this focusing procedure one step further. While you’re at it, why not list as many detailed questions as you can think of concerning your Central Idea, in this case Thanksgiving. But what about a different Central Idea, say Christmas. Now you can do the same thing with a different holiday. And the list is endless.

Most writers have an idea and begin to write about it before developing it, not fully developing all its potential. You’ll soon discover it pays to do so. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

8 Ways to Encourage Creative Ideas

Creativity isn’t so much a matter of finding ideas as it is one of learning to become receptive to them. Creative ideas are all around you. It’s up to you to prepare your mind to see them.

The following eight ways will help you do just that. Practicing one or several of them will ensure that creative ideas begin to flow and stay flowing.

1. Have a fresh mind. Nothing blocks creative thinking like a mind clogged with all sorts of other stuff. Everyday life fills your mind with everything from trivial items, like what to make for dinner, to stress over finding a healthcare provider before the deadline. To get creative ideas to flow, you first have to clear your mind of all extraneous thoughts. That doesn’t mean you should forget them, only that you should put them on the back burner.

2. Meditate. An easy way to clear your mind is to meditate. No, you don’t have to seek out the service of a Indian guru. But you do have to find a quite spot where you can be alone with your thoughts. Go sit in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor and your arms at your sides. Close your eyes, take a deep breath through your nose and hold it for four counts. Then let it out slowly through your mouth while you count back from 10. When you reach 1, let your entire body relax. Imagine yourself in a beautiful place. Let your mind wander. Do this for about 20 minutes a day and soon you’ll find yourself overloaded with creative ideas.

3. Exercise your body. Nothing refreshes your mind like physical exercise. No, you don’t have to join a gym. But a brisk walk will do wonders. While walking, breathe through your nose and exhale through your mouth. This will increase the flow of oxygen to your blood and your brain.
You don’t have to be a long-distance walker—even a half mile will do. But do it regularly.

4. Find an activity that unblocks your creativity. To unblock your creativity and get those juices flowing, find an activity that you enjoy. It has to be something that will encourage your imagination—something besides writing. Perhaps you need to reorganize your storage spaces or plan a new kitchen. Whatever you choose, make sure it requires you to think.

5. Try a change of scene. While some writers think that if they go off in the woods that ideas will come to them and they’ll be able to finish that novel that’s nagging to come to life. But honestly, the same thing can happen working on your laptop while sitting at your kitchen table. However, once in a while it’s good to get away. No, you don’t have to book a flight to a far-off island. But you can get away for a weekend to some place different—some place that will stimulate your mind and inspire creative ideas. This may be a trip down a coal mine to learn how miners endured long, hard days below ground, or it may be a trip to a big city to immerse yourself in its cultural sights. Wherever your go and whatever you do will spark bring you back home refreshed and full of creative ideas.

6. Experience new things. Along with getting away, you may want to try new things. If you’ve never flown before, book a flight. Or perhaps take skiing or mountain-climbing lessons. If adventure isn’t your bag, then try something that’s more to your liking, such as trying new foods or experiencing a new, intense culture.

7. Seek out creative people. Nothing brings out your creative side like hanging out with other creative people. See if there’s any sort of creative/artistic group in your area that you can join. Take classes—either writing or other artistic subjects. Meet with your classmates for coffee to discuss the class and the subject, and ask them about what they’re doing creatively at the moment. Collaborate with another creative writer on a project. The two of you will encourage each others' creativity thought process.

8. Know when to stop. Above all, no when to stop. Nothing ruins creative flow like going on a binge. Limit the time you pursue creative ideas. The more time you spend at one sitting working on a project, the more limited your creative thought will be. Periodically give your mind a rest by working on something else or even doing household chores. Because while you’re washing last night’s dishes, your subconscious mind will be hard at work on your next batch of creative ideas.