The New Latte

You’ve had caramel lattes, french vanilla lattes, cinnamon lattes and just about every latte ever poured and steamed into a paper or china cup. But, there’s a $1000 prize to anyone who can come up with a new best selling latte, all season. What are your ideas? One more thing, the contest closes in one hour so you have to hustle!

Hand Drawn Style in Web Design

Smashing Magazine: Hand-Drawn Style in Modern Web Design

The most valuable and innovative ideas had all been handwritten first. That’s no big news, since designers tend to produce first sketches as paper prototypes anyway; still it’s important, because web design is different from “usual” design. Of course, it also has a personal note and it is hand-made, however users can’t see that. As CSS is “boxy but good”, designs tend to have a rather limited appearance — they are too boxy and too right-angled.

If designers want to achieve a different design, they have to draw their sites by themselves — or at least some parts of it. And in fact, this is done quite often: whether a blog, a shop, an ad, a private page, or some collaborative project — doesn’t matter whether with Flash or (X)HTML. The main purpose of hand-drawn elements lies in their ability to convey a personality and an individual note in times when colorful, sharp and rounded Web 2.0 elements can be found almost everywhere.

Sometimes designers create whole pages with paper, pencil and/or a tablet PC. More often single layout elements are designed in a special way — curved links, hand-made icons, backgrounds, notes, stickers and fuzzy lines are supposed to give the site a “human touch”. These elements makes a web-page which might not look different from dozens of similar pages, stand out and arise users’ curiosity. Caution: a quickly installed hand-written font can harm more than help (hint: Comic Sans is definitely not the way to go).

It’s Okay to Lose Your Mind

Next time you’re on the bus or taking a shower or any one of a dozen things and places where you can let your mind wander, write down at least three of the things your mind comes up with. I always get interesting ideas while in the shower or waiting for the bus to get me where I’m going. I don’t always write them down. Sometimes I just don’t have pen and paper or I am just too busy once I’m at my destination. I regret it cause the best ideas come when you just let your mind have free reign.

Getting Ideas

How do you get ideas? It’s not like you sit down in front of your computer and automatically you know what you are going to write about and how you are going to write it. Not each and every time anyway. There is some planning and organizing involved.

I keep a messy idea file. Most of it is in a notebook which I keep in my purse. I use it to note down the ideas as they occur to me. But, ideas tend to pop up at the worst times, as far as being able to make notes. That’s because its usually when I’m doing something else that I get my best ideas. Driving along to work, running a bit late, suddenly I have a great idea for a new story. I can’t just pull over and start writing. Traffic would be in a mess for one thing.

So, I try to remember my idea until I can write it down. Usually I do this by focusing on a key word and depending on that to jog my memory later. It doesn’t always work but it’s something.

Anyway, back to how you get ideas. If you’re lucky you find an idea in something already published. Those can be kept easily enough. Just get a copy of the article and store it in an idea file at home. Try to keep them organized so they actually are useful and not just a collection of paper you will use ‘someday’.

Other ideas can come from freewriting and brainstorming. Two versions of the same thing. Freewriting is just letting yourself write, without stopping to think too much along the way. Write until you’re finished. Ignore proper grammar, don’t check spelling and leave punctuation nitpicking for later. Just write everything that comes to mind about a topic or don’t even start with any one topic in mind. Brainstorming is the same but I always think of it as making a list of points more than writing in sentences.

Need more ideas? Read! Start with the newspaper and work your way along to magazines, books, newsletters, cereal boxes and so on and so on. The more you know about the more you will bring into your range. You could be writing about buttery toast and add in all kinds of information from what you know about butter, safe use of knives, etc. But, if you don’t know about using a knife to butter toast you won’t know to write about it. If you don’t know what to look for you won’t find it.

Something I do when looking for ideas to add links to my column is randomly combining words. Just think of topics, things you are interested in and put them together in ways you’ve never thought of before. It’s really interesting what you can come up with. Sometimes you find really unique ideas this way. Best of all is finding a group of people who have had the same ideas. That is always a gold mine to a writer, a research gem.

However you get ideas, don’t forget to talk to people. Talk about all kinds of stuff. Everyone has different life experiences, you can’t experience everything yourself. So learn to pick up what you can along the way from the people you bump into. Great ideas are all around you it’s just a matter of keeping your senses open to them. If you do get stuck, take a break. You’re most likely to come up with something when you stop trying too hard.

Pictures for Word Spinners

A writer can be more than the words they spin.

Ever thought of drawing something to go with your writing? Or taking a photograph to go with your article? Or even backwards, creating words to go with your drawings, like a comic? Scanning pictures, drawings or photographs into your journal or blog?

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. As much as we love them, words are typography on paper but pictures bring a new element into your words, light and shadow and instant gratification. One look and half or all of the story can be told. The words become more information, details, the rest of the story.

Publishers looking for photographs or drawings will pay for them. They could be paying you.

The Stashing of Ideas

Do you wake up in the morning with the plot for the world’s greatest novel formulating in your brain? Not every morning, but about once a week I do. Often when I’m in the middle of something else: driving, showering, putting away groceries, watching TV, talking on the phone, making dinner, plotting my greatest ever Canadian World Domination… I get the best ideas but have no paper handy to jot them down. I forget a lot of great ideas before I can write them down.

Sometimes I can rip something out of a magazine or the newspaper or the back of the box, etc. That way I can remember what I was thinking at the time. I keep a notebook in my purse, it takes up more than it’s share of space but gives me a chance to keep some of my ideas. Not so handy while driving but, like using a cell phone, I can usually find a place to pull over to use it.

A lot of ideas are stashed in folders inside a file cabinet under my desk. They aren’t well organized but they are there and I have some hope of tracking them down. It’s great to know I have some kind of backup.

I write non-fiction so articles along my topic area are great as sources of quotes, research and people to contact. I’d like to write mysteries, maybe horror but it wouldn’t be icky stuff. I thought about writing romances because they would be easy, they seem to be a formula more than a story. Put it on the list for someday. Everything I find to inspire me in those genres has a folder too.

For now I’m working with non-fiction and I do love it. For me its a combination of teaching the world and learning more myself. Each time I research one idea I find another dozen from there. Life is great.

Decluttering

Clutter! There, I said it! Are you cringing just thinking about it? I do. You see, I am a clutter bug.

Sitting in front of my computer I am surrounded on nearly all sides with a clutter of my own making. It’s 90 per cent paper, biodegradable eventually, if I let it sit in the same spot that long. But, there is the odd coffee mug (empty but for the dregs on the bottom), a jar of vitamins (because here I know I will remember to actually take them), there are multiple and assorted pens. The pens are kind of funny since I type everything. But, I do make the odd note, maybe once or twice a week. There are also many PC games. Everyone needs their procrastination of choice. I’d be doing myself a favour if I made them less accessible. Like, if I moved them out of easy reach. That’s not likely to happen, get real!

I’m not a complete pack rat, but everything does seem to settle around my computer, eventually. I could throw out some of the newspapers. If I haven’t read them a month later I should make myself give up on them. But, I might find a really great source for something I’d like to write about. Or, I might come across an ad with a great graphic I could use. (Not copying graphics, just using the ideas to make my own.) Or, I might find an article that says something really amazing, even better than I ever thought to say it myself. *Sigh* It’s so hard to let go.

What’s your clutter? If you had to make a dent in it today, could you? What pile could you sort through fastest? Which one did you last trip over or have to restack when it all slid to one side?

We have an endless supply of information. But at some point we each have to find a way to control it. You can’t do much about the source or the temptation but you can try to limit how much you keep. If you’re living with a path to the computer, it’s really time to take action and let some of it go. Don’t worry, there will be more information overload tomorrow.

You are the company you keep, don’t surround yourself with paper, it has a really bad habit of bringing those little buggy worm things. Ick!

Happy decluttering, you know you won’t be alone. I’ve just brought a big green garbage bag to the computer for my own clutter.

Musing with Words

Words are great. They come in a variety of styles, sizes and shapes. They don’t need to be fed and clothed or taken for walks. They won’t beg for food at your table and they never pee on the carpet. They have other ways of nagging at you, digging into your soul and making you lose sleep and even your sanity along with it. Words really are mightier than the sword. Just ask any writer staring at a blank sheet of paper or word processor screen.

Do you have a muse? I don’t. What I do seem to have is a being that takes over my body and my mind and lets me watch while she/ he creates wonderful things with words. I’m not suffering a split personality or psychic interbody takeover, or whatever. It just seems at times that I am not the one doing the writing at all. I don’t know where it comes from but I can see my fingers busily tapping away at the keyboard. I don’t think that is what a muse is.

To me a muse is an inspiration that you hope you can continue to rely on for as long as you pull words out of the air and put them neatly (or messily) in some form of print.

If I have a muse it is the words themselves. I have long had a love affair with words. I could sleep with them, roll in them and live my life learning all of them by name. My favourite words are the kind that sound like their meaning or those old English type words like bewitching, beguile and serendipity. On a college exam I used the word persnickity as a word that sounded like what it meant. It was not accepted, not that I failed but she insisted persnickity was not a word. I still don’t know. Some dictionaries have it and some don’t.

But, to me any word that more than half a dozen people know about, is a word. Its up to us to figure it out.

Setting Goals

We all have some goals as a writer. Whether you have written them down or just keep them somewhere in your head, they are there. Are they good goals, goals that inspire you to keep going or are you making goals into a torment for yourself? Having high goals may actually keep you from getting where you want to be. If your goals are too high you may not really think (expect) you can reach them. In that case you need to adjust your goals. Set them up as a path you can follow rather than a pinnacle you can’t reach.

These are some goal setting guidelines based on those I read in “Writing for Magazines: A Beginner’s Guide” by Cheryl Sloan Wray.

Start simple. If you are beginning your goals won’t be the same as a writer you has been published a few times and has contacts with editors/ publishers already. Simple goals are comfortable, attainable for as long as you need them.

Challenge yourself. Having simple goals doesn’t mean you won’t be working, challenging yourself to do better and try bigger. Make goals simple so you won’t give up in frustration but challenging enough to be taken seriously, worthy of working for.

Set goals that suit your personality. Don’t try to make yourself into some other writer. Make the goals work for you, your style, your routine, etc.

Be concrete and specific. Goals shouldn’t be too broad or lacking in detail. Don’t have a goal of submitting an article to the local paper. Be specific, plan an article topic and set a date for submitting it.

Share your goals with a few writer friends. Pick a few people who encourage you and let them know what you’re planning. They will help keep you on track.

Check your progress. Mark your progress somehow, keep a goal calendar to show yourself how you are making progress in keeping each of your goals. This way you can look at how far you have come when you need to keep yourself going, along to the next goal.

Stick to it. Remember you made the goals to help you become the writer you want to be. If the goals you set aren’t working for you change them, use the guidelines here to set goals that will work.

Some good goals you could try are: I will write at least a page every day. I will be ready to write by 10:00. I will submit at least 2 of my articles every month. I will challenge myself with the goal of submitting to one big publication each month.

The Reframing Matrix

Here is an idea for the next time you are stuck with an idea and can’t fight your way out of a wet paper bag with it. Try the reframing matrix plan.

The Reframing Matrix is a formal technique used to look at problems from different perspectives. It helps to expand the number of options open to you for solving a problem.

You draw up a reframing matrix by posing a question in a box in the middle of a piece of paper. You then draw a grid around it. Each cell will contain approaches to the problem, seen from one perspective.

One way of using the technique is the ‘4 Ps’ approach. This looks at the problem from the following viewpoints: Product, Planning, Potential and People. Another set of perspectives is to ask your self how different professionals would approach the problem. Useful professions to consider would be medical doctors, engineers, systems analysts, sales managers, etc.

I found this on a site called Mind Tools. Consider applying the reframing matrix to your writing blocks or hold ups. What would your four perspectives or viewpoints be? Overall you could say: Story, Publisher, Reader, Characters. But it could be applied to sections of your fiction too. Look at the situation from the viewpoint of four different characters. If you are working on a non-fiction article look at it from the viewpoint of four possible readers- other writers, professionals, your siblings, a checkout cashier, etc.

It does help to give you fresh ideas and slants/ angles on the ideas you already have.