Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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Creativity’s Workshop Has a New Look!

Creativity looking extremely cute in her purple outfit.

Hello world! Here’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for!

You haven’t been waiting for it?

Well I have, so don’t burst my bubble.

I’ve had my portrait painted! Just like queens, spaniels and other famous personalities from history.

I tell you, posing for it was agony. I don’t like standing still, but the artist said if I moved I’d smudge the image. So I was very patient.

Well, mostly patient. Except for that one time when I snuck out while he wasn’t looking and nipped off to a beer garden in Germany. The blighter followed me and sketched me there! I refuse to post the picture, although Jessica says she’s more than happy to release it if there’s enough interest.

It’s always the people closest who turn on you.

As you may also have noticed, our website has been redesigned with yours truly centre stage. This is all part of the exciting changes we’re making this year. There’s plenty more interesting stuff in the pipeline.

So, what do you think? Does it make me look fat? Tell me the truth.


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Words Are Not Stone

German words preserved for us through history

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Hi, I’m Jessica’s Creativity and today I’m talking about words.

There are very few words I hate.

Most words have their uses, like ‘snot’ and ‘condescension’ and ‘shrill.’ But there is one word which I absolutely cannot stand. It’s one of the most damaging words in the creative world.

What is it?

Perfection.

What’s so bad about that word? Well, nothing if you’re describing a baby’s toes or a spectacular sunset or the straightness of a picture on your wall. But when it comes to the production of anything creative, perfection is a very bad word.

For starters, it’s so transient. One person’s idea of perfection is another person’s description of Absolute Bilge. Don’t believe me? Look up Amazon reviews for your favourite book. Perfection is unachievable.

In fact, the pursuit of perfection is the most efficient way to choke the life out of your Creativity. 

I think the hardest part of writing is not the routine, or the ideas, or the characters, or the plot twists, or the descriptions, or the comedic moments (including the stomach-churning worry that no one will laugh at the right places). The hardest part is convincing yourself that your first words don’t have to be perfect.

Years ago, when Jessica first started writing, she believed (like most budding writers) that stories sprang into life like watered seedlings and flowed onto the page like fresh honey on a warm summer’s day. (What do you mean I’m mixing my metaphors? Mixed Metaphors are my favourite kind; like Mixed Nuts, only less salty.) Once on the page, she believed words quickly solidified into the finished product – set in stone, as it were, for eternity. (Three metaphors in one paragraph! I’m on fire today!)

She was unfortunate enough to write several stories that flowed fully formed onto the page. Why unfortunate? Because it slowed her learning of an important lesson: Words are not stone.

Words are free. They can be changed, quickly and easily with a stroke of a pen or a tap of a keyboard. Gender, tense, season, location, emotion, interaction – all these things can be changed with simple word selection.

Words are not stone. They are clay, to be moulded at your whim.

Words are beads to be chosen, strung together and then restrung over and over until you’re happy.

Words are finger paintings – messy and beautiful and expressive. They are to be played with and smudged.

Words are spices to be dashed across your most recent creation to enliven and enrich your tastes.

Words are beacons, shining their light into the nooks and crannies of subjects.

Words are yours, to do with as you wish.

And the best thing is, words can be changed – anytime, easily. If you don’t like them, choose new ones!

Be not afraid of words, for you are their master. And if they do not appear correctly the first time, keep playing and scribbling and painting and scattering them until they eventually come out right.


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How to Keep Writing After NaNoWriMo

A girl sitting at a table, writing.

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Hi. I’m Jessica’s Creativity and today I’m talking about how you can keep your Creativity fired up long after November 30th.

So, you’ve had some time to recover from the mayhem of November. Have you been using it wisely?

Laundry all done? Nicely folded and ironed? What about the dishes? All washed? Pets fed?

What? You even went for a walk outside? Head-spinning stuff!

But I promise you, when the novelty of novel-less-ness wears off , the normal world of non-NaNoWriMo-ness is nowhere near as exciting. (Now try saying that sentence 10 times fast!)

Think back over November. Hasn’t it been fun? Have you learned things? Enjoyed yourself? Bonded with your Creativity?

Those things don’t have to change. They don’t end with the beginning of December. In fact, you can have that feeling just about every day of the year. How?

Keep Setting Word Count Goals

NaNoWriMo works because it forces you to get words down. It’s about quantity and not quality. The act of sitting down each day and blasting words onto the page helps keep your writing pump in working order. Don’t let it rust up now you’ve got it into such a good rhythm.

Obviously, 50,000 words a month is a bit intense for most people to keep up every month. But what about 250, 500 or 1,000 words a day? Take a look at Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s Wordcount Challenge and get a badge for your site, because Creativities love badges…and marshmellow sandwiches with strawberry sauce. Or is that just me?

Maintain Your Writing Routine

During November you’ve probably learned a lot about what sort of writing routine works best for you. Are you a morning writing person who needs the chirping of birdsong to welcome your words into the world? Or are you a lunch break writer who’s forever dropping crumbs on the keyboard? Or are you a nighttime writer who has to get her chapter finished before knocking out the ‘zzzz’s?

Whatever your routine, why stop now? Now that you know more about what works for you, turn that time of day into your regular writing time.

Cultivate Momentum

NaNoWriMo is an event. You prepare for it. You get excited about it. You record it. You blog about it. You lose sleep over it. Your Creativity loves these things. It keeps him/her popping up ideas and firing out writing fodder.

You may have to work harder to create these elements after NaNoWriMo, but your Creativity will reward you for it.

Try:

  • Creating a motivational poster or cover art for your novel and sticking it somewhere noticeable. (Why not your wall or desktop background?)
  • Blogging about your writing goals.
  • Starting a graph to track your word count progress.
  • Setting aside special writing time to plan your next few chapters.

Make your writing life the event you’re always excited about!

Remember: You’re Still a Writer

Your status as a writer doesn’t change when December 1st comes around. You’re still a writer! You can still write words, create characters, twist plots and reach your writing goals.

Keep yourself writing this month and on into the future, because you have words to bring into the world!

By the way, how did your NaNoWriMo go? Let us know in the comments. If you’ve blogged about your month, leave a link for us to take a look.


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Oops, I Started NaNo WriMo Without a Plan

Four kids jumping into a pool holding hands

Image credit: Microsoft Clip Art

So, you all know how Jessica’s been dutifully telling everyone she wasn’t going to participate in NaNo WriMo this November? Well, when November 1st came around, force of habit kicked in and somehow she found herself opening a new document and just pouring 2,000 words onto the page.

She was surprised.

I was surprised!

But it was fantastic. By word 1,542 I had woken up to what she was doing and created the most brilliant idea (if I do say so myself, which I do, so there).

We went from averaging half a sentence per day (and the sentence was complete and utter bilge I tell you), to knocking out 2,000 words a day. Just like that. It was wonderful.

Why?

Because we didn’t feel like we had to fulfill any particular requirements. We just had to throw words at the page until we reached 2,000 and then we could do the same tomorrow.

But there’s a snag. Because we didn’t realise we were going to NaNo WriMo this year, we did no preparation. None. Zip. Nada. *Insert sound of air rushing through ear holes.*

So how do you go from having absolutely no idea what you’re gonna write about to pounding out 50,000 words?

Naturally, we have suggestions on the subject.

Start Chasing Wild Horses

Recently Jessica came across a post by Raewyn Hewitt in which she likened writing first drafts to chasing wild horses.

This is a brilliant description of a first draft. You’re chasing the idea and trying to scope out its edges. That’s all a first draft is for.

If you don’t know what your story is about, then this is the time to find out. Just open up your words and chase horses until you catch one. Often, it’s only one thought or one sentence from your first draft which is all you take across to your next draft.

So make that the goal. 30 days. 50,000 words. One good sentence.

Describe the World from Your Protagonist’s POV

If you have no idea what your world is like and what kind of people live there, grab yourself a protagonist and get them to describe the world to you. See things through their eyes, and search for the history, people, experiences, customs and quirks of the world.

In this way you find out about your world and your protagonist at the same time.

Interview Your Characters

If you don’t know much about your characters (Jessica started out not even knowing her main character’s name!) then put your characters in an interview situation and start asking them questions.

Any questions – easy, hard, random, obscure. You might be very surprised at their answers.

Don’t stress about how accurate the answers are or about getting to the absolute heart of what that character feels. People twist the truth or evade answers and your characters probably will too. Just let the words flow and see where they take you.

Change Elements at Random

This is a first draft. It’s free and it’s written only for you.

So feel free to switch points of view whenever you feel like it (especially if you’re getting sick of your current point of view). Switch time periods. Switch genres. Switch tenses (e.g. instead of ‘he said he would fling a mango at me,’ try ‘he says he’s going to fling a mango at me’).

If you’re blocked for words, use the opportunity to change things around and find another angle to write from.

This is fun! This is exciting! And this is what writing is all about. Fling your words happily and freely at your canvas and see what happens.

Remember. 30 days. 50,000 words. One good sentence. Not necessarily a great sentence, just a good sentence. And take it from there.

How’s your novel coming along so far? Do share.


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4 Ways Song Lyrics Can Boost Creativity

Redheaded girl listening to music through headphones

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Hi, I’m Jessica’s Creativity and I’m here to talk to you about music!

There are many different opinions on whether music is helpful or harmful to the creative process. To a certain extent, it depends on what you and your Creativity feel comfortable with.

In my experience, whether music helps or harms your process depends on the day, the weather, the project, your socks and what’s in the oven at the time.

We’ve previously discussed how instrumental music can help your Creativity. Now allow me to wander through some ways I have found song lyrics to be inspiring.

The Influence of Cadence

Whether you are writing lyrics, poetry or prose, cadence plays a big part in the composition and structure of your sentences. Words have a music all their own, created by syllables and word stress. Great prose lilts to a melody in your mind as your read. (We’ll talk more about the details of this in another post.)

Listening to lyrics can inspire you to experiment with different and creative combinations of words to form unique cadence.

For example, Poisoning Pigeon in the Park by Tom Lehrer (a comedic song not at all to be taken literally) has these gems:

When they see us coming, the birdies all try an’ hide,

But they still go for peanuts when coated with cyanide.

…..

My pulse will be quickenin’

With each drop of strychnine

We feed to a pigeon.

It just takes a smidgen!

To poison a pigeon in the park.

The jaunty tightness to these words is further enhanced by the brilliance of rhyming ‘try an’ hide’ with ‘cyanide’ and many others. Just listening to this makes one want to rush headlong into a piece of paper and follow suit!

Other Songs With Addictive Cadence

  • Private Investigations – Dire Straits
  • Taylor (On and On album, track 4) – Jack Johnson

Exposure to New Words

While we are often exposed to new words in books, there’s something special about coming across a new word in a song.

The first advantage is that you immediately know how to pronounce it. Anyone who has first stumbled across a word in written form, and had to decipher dictionary squiggles in order to sound intelligent when using it, will appreciate this.

Another plus is that music lends new words magic – the swelling strings or gentle piano behind them become like a soundtrack to your very own discovery.

My favourite example of this is Tim Finn’s Winter Light which led to my discovery of the word Fantasmagoria. Listen to the song and see if you don’t fall in love with the word too!

Of course, the ultimate plus is that songs help you remember your new words, which is essential if these words are going to do your creative work any good. Usually you can hum it back into your memory or at least remember what it rhymes with.

Other Songs With Interesting Words or Phrases

  • Gossip Calypso – Bernard Cribbins (you have to love a song that can work in ‘oxy-acetylene welder’)
  • The Tip of the Iceberg (track 10) – Owl City (there’s something about the phrase ‘sub-zero tundra’ which transports me every time)

Playing With Connections

Often we come across song writers who are fantastic at using analogies or creating connections between everyday things.

A perfect example of this is Owl City. Among my favourites is this verse from Dental Care (track 6):

Golf and alcohol don’t mix

And that’s why I don’t drink and drive

Because good grief, I’d knock out my teeth

And have to kiss my smile goodbye

Start listening more closely to your favourite songs. You’re bound to find amusing and inspiring connections hidden (or not so hidden) in the lyrics.

Then start making clever connections of your own.

Other Songs with Interesting Connections

Envisioning a Story

Music elicits emotion, which makes it a brilliant storytelling device. The storytelling becomes even more incredible when your get a lyricist like Billy Joel on the job. The Downeaster Alexa (about a fisherman who is struggling to make ends meet) is one of my all-time favourite songs, because of lyrics like these:

And I go where the ocean is deep

There are giants out there in the canyons

And a good captain can’t fall asleep

….

So if you see my Downeaster “Alexa”

And if you work with the rod and the reel

Tell my wife I am trawling Atlantis

And I still have my hands on the wheel

Just listening to that song conjures up clear images of the sea, the boat, the birds, the waves. Take that picture and write about it.

Look for the stories other songs conjure up and let them grow inside your imagination. Perhaps your next novel is waiting between the lines of a song.

Other Stories in Song

  • Sailing to Philadelphia – Mark Knopfler
  • The Best Day – Taylor Swift

What song lyrics do you find inspiring? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

A practical note from Jessica: You may notice that not all the songs mentioned here have links. For the older songs we linked to the YouTube versions (as there may not be too many easy ways to find that music anymore), but with the newer songs we’ve either tried to direct you to the performer’s own website or to an official music video. Where that hasn’t been possible, we leave you to find your own way to the music rather than send you through to a copied version.


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Favourite Posts You May Not Have Read – Creativity’s Picks

A little boy with binoculars looking into the distance

Earlier this week we looked back on Jessica’s favourite posts. Now here are mine!

I take my job of blogger very seriously (I remove my Groucho Marx glasses every time I settle down to write to you). A lot of these posts are not just crazy, random humour, but were written to help you understand your Creativity better. Several of those listed below  cover essential secrets to keeping your Creativity happy and healthy. Please take a look. You might learn something helpful.

And my favourite post so far is…cinamon roll please…

  • Building Trust in Your Creativity – I take you on your very own jungle adventure with the action hero of your choice! (It gets helpful somewhere towards the end.)

Well, there. Doesn’t that list make it look like I’ve been working hard? I’m off to reward myself with some unabashed saxophone playing and a long drink of chocolate mud cake.


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Tips for Using Your Holiday to Replenish Your Creativity – Tip 4

A little girl with paint all over her hands, looking very pleased with herself

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Hi, I’m Jessica’s Creativity and I’m back again to give you more tips about how your holiday can actually be a great time to boost your Creativity, if you use it right.

Okay! So we’ve spent this week looking at how stepping back from work, spending time with people and slurping up creative fodder can benefit both you and your Creativity.

Now it’s time for my last tip!

Fourth Tip: Create Something Random

Yes, you were told previously to step away from your work. This is not work. This is unadulterated play.

Take time (an hour or an afternoon if you have it) and work on a project – something that has no bearing on anything else. Something unrelated to stress. Something that’s not attached to you making money. Something that doesn’t have to wow an audience. Just something you and your Creativity want to play with.

Perhaps it’s something you’ve been wanting to try for a while now, but haven’t had the chance or the time to give it a go.

Perhaps it’s something you’ve never done before because you were worried you’d mess it up.

Throw out the worry and pressure. Just create!

What sort of things could you try?

Painting

The set up for this may take a little bit of outlay, but if you know a friend who has some paints stored away you might be able to ask for a lend. Oil painting is messy, intriguing and sometimes even addictive. Painting with watercolours leaves Jessica in a state of dreamy calm (especially after she discovered the easiest way to do clouds was wash the canvas with blue and then dab the clouds in with tissue). Face paints are also ridiculously fun and require volunteers (who won’t know what you’ve painted until afterwards). 

Compose a Song

If you have an instrument lying around the house, why not tinker with a tune and create a song of your own? Try writing some lyrics (steal a melody from another songwriter if you have to…temporarily of course…you’ll give it back later). 

Invent a New Recipe

Have you always wondered what adding paprika to your chicken would taste like? Or maybe you’ve been tempted to pour smarties into your muffin mixture? Now’s your chance!

Keep on the lookout for places and times when you could create something random. Involve the people around you. Smile, laugh and enjoy yourself. 

If it doesn’t turn out as you expected, smile wider and laugh harder. This is fun! This is play! 

This is good for both you and your Creativity.

Okay, now it’s your turn. How was your week? Have you had a chance to use any of the tips? Do you have tips of your own?

P.S. If you’re looking for ways to improve your creative endeavours in the new year, take a look at these great questions on the Go Creative! blog.


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Tips for Using Your Holiday to Replenish Your Creativity – Tip 3

A huge spiral staircase seen from above

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Hi, I’m Jessica’s Creativity and I’m back again to give you more tips about using your down time to best effect.

On Monday we covered stepping away from your work and spending time with people.

Now it’s time for the next tip!

Third Tip: Slurp Up Creative Fodder

Holidays are usually the time when one goes about ingesting every calorie intensive morsel one can find. But here I’m talking about guilty pleasures for your Creativity, things that are a little more time intensive than you would normally allow. 

Examples?

Read a Book 

Okay, maybe you already read books, but I’m talking about reading a book from cover to cover. Curling up with it near the heater (or the air conditioner, depending on which hemisphere you happen to live in) and devouring it, savouring your favourite parts and plowing through the plot with complete abandon.

Try a book you wouldn’t normally read, or one you’ve been putting off because you just didn’t have the time. (Jessica’s just finished reading Handbag Heaven by Maggie Alderson which is not one she would have chosen herself, but she enjoyed it immensely all the same.)

The hidden benefit: Books provide you with new information, examples of storytelling and opportunities to study writers in action. Even if you dislike the book, you’re learning what not to do. You’re experiencing other people’s expressions of creativity. 

Watch a Movie 

This one can be done with the whole family, and what’s a holiday without a good movie? Yes, I know, it takes up a whole chunk of the day that’d you’d normally spend on something else, but this is a holiday! Get a movie out and watch it. If you’re still feeling guilty, then choose a movie about writing or poetry or art or something very intelligent.  

You might try Dead Poet’s Society, Miss Potter, Bright Star (although Jessica hasn’t had chance to try this one out yet), Finding Neverland, or you could have a marathon of your favourite TV series. 

The hidden benefit: You get to see a story from start to finish in under two hours. The more movies (or series episodes) you watch, the more patterns you’ll find to reveal how stories fit together. You’re exposed to locations, characters, emotions, music, plot and lots of other interesting elements. These will all marinate in your brain and could one day reappear as an idea, a solution to a problem or even a whole story. 

Visit an Interesting Spot

Once again, why not take the family or some friends along for this one? Go somewhere interesting, whether it be a coffee shop, an aquarium, a museum, a play, a concert, a park. Perhaps think bigger. Go swimming, skiing, driving, hiking. Get out of the house, out of your neighbourhood, and experience new things.

The hidden benefit: You’re exposing yourself to new places, people and concepts. It will widen your mind and perhaps create connections you would never have thought of otherwise.

I’ve outlined the advantages of each of these actions, but don’t think about the benefits while you’re doing these things. The benefits will happen automatically. All you need is to do them. Your Creativity will be sitting in the background, absorbing all this luscious new creativite fodder.

Come back past on Friday when I’ll share my last tip.

(Pst! Jessica’s 100th post is coming up fast. Do you have any suggestions on how we could make it special?)


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Tips for Using Your Holiday to Replenish Your Creativity – Tips 1 and 2

A person relaxing on a couch in pyjamas and green stripy socks

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

Hi there! I’m Jessica’s Creativity and I’m here to talk to you about using your time off to benefit your Creativity!

Ooooh. I just got white page fright.

Have you noticed how you can get the best ideas in the shower and then by the time you dry yourself off, get dressed and finally make it to the computer the words have disappeared? Gone off for a party somewhere else in your noggin I suspect. 

Now…how to conjure them back?….Try and remember the subject. 

Ah! Yes. We’re talking about how to use your holidays wisely – and these tips apply to any holidays (vacation trips to favourite destinations, seasonal holidays and enforced holidays for flu etc.). 

First Tip: Step Back From Your Work

You know the ol’ cliché: A watched pot never boils? Well the principle works for Creativities too. We usually clam up when directly watched. 

Sure, we may have started out with a great idea and helped you along with gusto in the initial stages, but as the sponge began to dry out and our eyeballs began to glaze we lost the impetus to make any useful contributions.

Therefore, a holiday is the perfect time to deliberately step away from what you’re working on. Give yourself and your Creativity time to recuperate. 

I know you don’t want to lose momentum, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. We Creativities usually come up with our best ideas when you aren’t looking, when you’re off doing something relaxing

So, there you go. Relaxing is good for you!

While you’re relaxing, keep the next tip in mind.

Second Tip: Spend Time With People

The beauty of time off from work means you can spend time with the important people in your life. Don’t shirk this or become miserly with how you spend your time. These people are your inspiration and support

Do things together with them. Listen to their thoughts. Enjoy their company.

If you don’t live near your family, even a phone call or e-mail can give you that special feeling of connection.

If you’re traveling, take the time to meet up with friends and make new friends along the way.

Does this help your Creativity? Yes!

A smile, hug, laugh, simple word from a loved one makes you feel happy. That happiness nurtures your Creativity like sunshine to a flower. 

Okay, maybe that all sounds a bit soppy, so let’s just say spending time with loved ones helps you relax, and relaxing provides your Creativity with a better environment for recovering from the intensive staring matches you’ve been inflicting on him/her. 

So go relax! Now! That’s an order!

And come back on Wednesday. I have more tips!


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Hit a Snag With Your Story? Why Not Try…

Lots of scoops of different flavoured icecream. Yum.

Hi, I’m Jessica’s Creativity and I’m here to give you some tips on changing things up with your story.

How’s your word count coming along? Have you reached a bit of an impasse where your character doesn’t know what to do or your plot is refusing to move forward?

It’s possible your Creativity’s attention is waning a little. But you can fix that! How?

I’ll let you in on a little secret: Most Creativities love it when you throw in something random to spice things up. 

Why not try one of these?

  • Introduce a new character – Suddenly your protagonist’s brother, a trapeze artist currently ‘between traveling circuses,’ turns up on the doorstep with an overnight bag. Or your protagonist’s mother calls to ask her how she is and if she’s washed behind her ears recently. Or your protagonist is out kayaking and sees the girl of his dreams, only to have her washed down the rapids and out of his life! 
  • Discover a dead body – It might be the body of one of your main characters (gasp!) or the body of a complete unknown (now you must discover who has been killed) or it might not even be a human body (‘Oh my goodness, George. I’ve squashed an ant!’). 
  • Fire your protagonist – Nothing changes things up like unemployment. Does this give your character chance to apply for their dream job? Jump on the next boat out of here and sail to that harbour they’ve always wanted to see? Or does it mean they now have to work at Greasy Joe’s to make ends meet?
  • Give your protagonist a new pet – Perhaps they buy that cute little puppy which has been making eyes at them from the pet shop window every morning. Or their next-door neighbour goes on holiday and asks your protagonist to look after their boa constrictor for the week. Or a bird flies into the kitchen window and damages its wing, so now your protagonist must care for it. 
  • Kill off a wealthy relative and provide your protagonist (or antagonist!) with an inheritance – The sudden addition of money often shows a person’s true colours (I’m currently aqua with chocolate stripes, but that’s neither here nor there). Does your protagonist buy a new car? A new house? Plane tickets to the other side of the world? Donate to a charity? Or imagine if your chief bad guy suddenly had a windfall? ‘Yes! Now I can finally build that secret evil lair I’ve been planning since childhood!’
  • Inflict a natural disaster – Perhaps an earthquake hits suddenly. Or maybe a hurricane/cyclone warning has been issued and everyone must batten down the hatches. How do your characters cope with disaster? And what will they do with themselves when they have lost everything?

Remember, the first draft is for you to explore all the exciting possibilities of your characters, location, theme and plot. So have fun! Be random. Splash out and paint on your page with great, fearless strokes!

Also, have a read of this post from The Office of Letters and Light blog about where authors found their real life inspirations for characters like Mr. Darcy, Sherlock Holmes and Alice (in Wonderland).