Creative Spaces — Post by Victoria M. Johnson

Creative Spaces

I love my writing space. I have a large Mac computer where I do most of my writing. It sits in a corner of my office surrounded by bookshelves, writerly magazines, and notepads. I wish I could say I keep the desk clean, but paper clutter is a constant struggle for me. I’m always working on something, taking notes for something else, and keeping track of things to do. I’m sure I’m not the only writer who fights the paper demon. I also have a weakness that often overtakes my office–I love books. I have too many but there is always another one I want. Fiction, nonfiction, poetry, short stories and anthologies all beckon me. If I lived in a larger home that wouldn’t be much of a problem, but we live in an 800 square foot mobile home!  I’m happy here; it’s the perfect size home for us, set in the perfect location. I know I just need to read faster so I can pass the books on.

My office inspires me. When I first enter the room I see a few writing awards I’ve received hanging on the wall. I have encouraging quotes and affirmations around my desk area that I can easily see as I’m writing. And some interesting images and fun pieces of art make me smile when I glance at them. All of these things spark my creativity. But what about sparking my productivity?

I’ve had to resort to using an egg timer. That’s right. I have an egg timer on my desk. I use it to limit my time doing things that I find irresistible that aren’t writing. The major temptation that takes me away from writing is Twitter. Followed by Pinterest. Both of these distractions are so enjoyable that if I don’t watch myself, I can spend hours every day there. The egg timer is my only defense to ensure I stay productive and create new material everyday. I also use the egg timer to trick myself into doing tasks that I don’t feel like doing. I’ll say to myself, “You only have to spend 25 minutes editing this piece” or “Just take 15 minutes to read email.”  If I don’t do a little bit at a time, then the task piles up into a really unpleasant chore. So the egg timer serves a dual purpose, and I found a cool looking one.

Creative Spaces post by Victoria M. Johnson

Victoria finds inspiration in her small corner desk space.

My husband and I have lived in this home for nearly three years. I created a short story collection titled, The Substitute Bride, while living here. I’ve also written my first poem and several more poems since moving here. I’ve worked on film projects in this home. I’m editing two major pieces that were partially written in our previous house: one is a mainstream thriller and the other is a nonfiction book. And I’m working on a new short story collection. I’m eager to return to a romance novel that I entirely mapped out last year, but I got distracted by my publishing house (Avalon Books) selling to a new publisher (Montlake Romance) and I decided to wait until all that dust settled before writing it.

I don’t listen to music while I write, but I do like music when I’m on social media, tidying up my office, or handling the business aspects of writing. I don’t look out the window of my office because that distracts me. But I sometimes sit by the window of our dining room when I write poetry.

My office is my creative sanctuary. My writing style is reflected in this space.  One glimpse at my office and you’ll know this about my writing: 1. I have an optimistic outlook. 2. I believe in clearing away clutter and leaving only what’s absolutely needed 3. Timing is everything, and 4. I adore intriguing images.

No matter the size of your space, make it an inviting atmosphere. Then, once there, write. Fight off the distractions. Protect your writing time. Only you can control your productivity. You also need to fight off insecurities about yourself as a writer. Many writers experience doubts at one time or another. Write down affirmations and post them near your computer. One of mine says, “I have interesting stories to tell.” Another says, “I have a unique voice.” I see them everyday and these help boost my confidence. Write four or five and post them where you’ll see them.

Bio: Victoria M. Johnson is published in fiction and nonfiction. She also writes and directs short films. Read her full bio here. You’d make her happy if you followed her on Twitter and Facebook, or even Pinterest.

Is Your Idea a Novel or a Short Story?

You’ve come up with a brilliant idea. How do you decide whether the idea is suitable for a novel or a short story? While sometimes you just instinctively know, other times you may be stumped. Let me offer a few points to consider that may save you days, weeks, or months of writing only to discover that you’re heading in an unpromising direction.

There are two other reasons to identify your project’s structure early. First, if you’ve experienced writer’s block with a story that initially had high promise, it’s possible that your case of writer’s block stems from not choosing the best format. Second, it’s also possible that comments from editors’ rejection letters such as “not enough conflict” or “pacing too slow” may be signs that you’re telling too little story for a long form, and comments such as “too many characters to keep track of” or “plot too confusing” may indicate that you’re telling too much story for a short form.

There are a few essential elements that both short stories and novels have in common: a compelling premise, a compelling character with a compelling goal, and compelling conflict. Both forms have a beginning, middle, and end. Did I mention compelling?

What is a short story?

In short stories everything is condensed. There’s no time for subplots, and there’s a limited number of characters. Short stories capture a significant moment in time—often a snippet of time in the character’s life.

What is a novel?

Obviously novels are longer. What fills these extra pages? More characters, more complex plots, and a longer time span. The added length allows for a deeper exploration of main characters, however shorter lengths are no excuse for cardboard characters.

Is Your Idea a Novel or a Short Story? by Victoria M. Johnson

How to decide

Start with your end in mind.

What does your character have to confront or overcome to achieve his goal? If that path can be shown to the reader in a compelling way without too many characters, without a subplot, and without a lot of layers of revelation, perhaps you have a short story. If your character has to undergo much trial and tribulation to achieve his growth and change; if his actions affect many others and the reader needs to see those other characters and the impact on them; if subplots add more significance to the goal, theme, or resolution, then perhaps you have a novel.

Theme

What do you want to say with your piece?

Whatever message you hope your reader gets, ask yourself if you can convey that message with the form you’ve selected. Of course, you never want to hit readers over the head with the moral of your story; rather, you want all the elements of the story to lead the reader to that “hidden” message.

Michael Crichton’s novel Next tells a riveting tale that leads readers to his theme of the real-world catastrophic mess concerning gene patents. The novel is as fascinating and fast-paced as any of his books, and I was convinced by the end of it that gene patent procedures in this country needed a drastic overhaul. I don’t believe he could have conveyed this theme so convincingly in a short story.

On the other hand, Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain” uses a relationship between two gay men in a time and place where homosexuality is unacceptable to draw the reader in. Proulx skillfully provides insight into a theme of intolerance with strong characters and gripping conflict all in about 15,000 words.

Conflict

Does your idea have enough conflict to sustain a novel?

If it doesn’t, you have a short story. Going back to comments from editors about the lack of conflict, don’t try to add conflict with arguments and petty bickering. Editors can spot weak conflict a mile away. Successful novelists prolong conflict throughout their books by altering, twisting, and elevating it. Static conflict causes all sorts of problems (which is an article by itself). No matter what length your project becomes, when the conflict’s resolved, the story is over. Tie up all the loose ends and finish it.

Once you decide where you want to take your idea, dive in. Whether your project ends up as a short story or as a novel, make it compelling. Say what you want to say with confidence, and have fun. Enjoy the burst of creativity a new idea brings.