A Writing Resource You Should Be Using: Hoopla Digital

A while back I wrote about falling in love with audiobooks and how listening to books is a great way to fit in more reading in your life. At the time I had just discovered the app Hoopla Digital—a resource my library lets me use for free—and I had no idea how life-changing this app would be.

You can sign up for Hoopla with your library card, and then you have access to thousands and thousands of titles. Hoopla has ebooks, comics, movies, music, and—my favorite—audiobooks. And the best part is that you don’t need to wait for books like a traditional library or even some digital libraries. There is a limit to how many you can titles you can borrow per month, but you can download and enjoy right away!

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This is what your Hoopla library looks like. I always have a bunch of audiobooks checked out.

As writers we’re supposed to read as much as we write. This lets you know what’s out there so you can keep current in your genre. Reading also inspires you and shows you how to write.

But it’s hard to find time to read that much. And when I do sit down and read, I sometimes feel guilty I’m not using that time to write.

Even though it’s difficult to fit in all of my reading hours, Hoopla makes it so much easier with their vast library of audiobooks. I can read books by listening to them so much quicker than if I sat down and read print copies. And Hoopla lets me fit in reading easily throughout my day. Some of my favorite times to listen to audiobooks are when I’m:

  • getting ready in the morning
  • getting ready for bed
  • cleaning
  • crafting
  • doing puzzles
  • coloring

I’ve been able to read so much more and I love it.

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Some of my favorite books-the Selection series-are all on Hoopla. And my favorite part of the app is that I can listen to books at different speeds, like 1.5x.

This is a writing resource you should definitely be taking advantage of if your library provides it.

How to Get Ideas: Sermons

Writers are always asked how they come up with their ideas, but it’s often hard to know exactly where a story idea comes from. Ideas seem to come from anywhere and everywhere, and they sometimes come when you’re not even trying. But for those who are newer to writing and for those who are having trouble figuring out what to write next, ideas can be hard to find and you might have to force yourself to come up with them.

That’s what this blog series is all about—how to get ideas and how to develop stories from those ideas. So far I’ve written about what if questions, titles, prompts, and first lines. Today I’m going to take a look at sermons.

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How to Get Ideas: Sermons

The Bible is full of so many incredible stories, and many writers have drawn inspiration from it. Some of my favorite books inspired by the Bible have been C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series and Kiera Cass’s The Selection series. The Bible can be an amazing resource to find inspiration for your writing.

But I’m also inspired every week by the sermons I hear in church.

If you go to church regularly (and if your pastor is as awesome as mine), every week you get to hear amazing sermons that explain the Bible and share incredible stories. Sermons expand on different stories in the Bible, then connect them to your life and something you can be doing to follow Christ.

I don’t want to be a Christian fiction writer, but I do want my faith to infuse everything I do and I want to use my writing as a way to serve the Lord. To serve God with my writing without making my stories overtly about God or Christianity, I like to take themes from the Bible or sermons and infuse them into my stories in a more subtle way.

For example, the book I had been working on for the past couple of years was a science fiction book set in a world without written language. The whole book stemmed from my what if question of What if there was no written language? I was really intrigued by this question. However, the story just lacked passion for me because, while I was growing in my faith every day, I couldn’t find God in my story.

That changed when I heard a sermon about making your life about God, not you. My pastor talked about how we live to serve God, nothing more. And it’s not about you but it starts with you. And suddenly it clicked: my two very selfish narrators who only wanted to help themselves and not their world were going to learn this lesson in my book. And by doing that, even without mentioning God, my book was going to share my faith.

I’m always going to infuse my faith into everything I write because I want to serve God with my writing. And the sermons I hear every week in church are a well of ideas to draw from.

You can use things you hear in sermons to supplement your ideas and help you show God in your writing, like I did, or you can use the things you hear to spark new ideas. The best part is that you get to hear a new sermon each week, and so there will always be something new to draw from.

How do you infuse your faith into your writing? Do you get ideas from the sermons you hear?

Give Yourself a Break

Are you burnt out from trying to reach your goals?

Last week I wrote a reflection about how I’m falling behind with my 2018 goals. I discussed how I was going to refocus, since focus is my word for the year. I realized I needed to focus on God and what he is doing in my life in order to accomplish my writing goals. And I took a deep breath so that I could refocus.

But first, I’m giving myself a break.

I’m burnt out from struggling to reach my goals for this year. I felt like I should be a lot further than I was, and I was beating myself up because I wasn’t. So this week I’m resting. I’m taking a step back from my writing work to give myself a reset.

Breaks like these are necessary to keep going with writing. Writing is hard and lonely work, and it’s so easy to get burnt out. It’s especially easy to get burnt out if you’re struggling to reach goals that maybe aren’t the right goals for you or if something happens in life that gets you off track, like dealing with a medical issue.

I switched writing projects recently, and so am only starting to begin the research on this new book. So of course I’m not going to reach the goal of writing a draft of my book this year. And that’s okay.

Taking this week off has helped me to reset my mind. It’s helped me to relax and refocus, which is exactly what I need to do if I want to write this new book.

However, just because I’m taking a break from most of my work, it doesn’t mean I’m not working at all. I’m just doing relaxed work. Some things I did this week are:

  • Build a 1000 piece puzzle while listening to audiobooks, both fiction and research books for my work-in-progress.
  • Kept up on social media, but only spent half as long online as usual.
  • Had coffee with a writer friend and discussed the themes in my work-in-progress.
  • Not write out my normal daily to do lists on my white board.

I still managed to work this week, but I did so in a completely relaxed, no-pressure-to-get-things-done way.

And because I did this, I feel ready to get back at is next week and refocus.

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The bookish puzzle I built this week.

Are you feeling burnt out too? Give yourself a break. Keep your mind active, but rest. Build a puzzle. Go for a walk. Talk over ideas with a friend. Relax. And get back at it next week.

How to Get Ideas: First Lines

Writers are always asked how they come up with their ideas, but it’s often hard to know exactly where a story idea comes from. Ideas seem to come from anywhere and everywhere, and they sometimes come when you’re not even trying. But for those who are newer to writing and for those who are having trouble figuring out what to write next, ideas can be hard to find and you might have to force yourself to come up with them.

That’s what this blog series is all about—how to get ideas and how to develop stories from those ideas. So far I’ve written about what if questions, titles, and prompts. Today I’m going to take a look at first lines.

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How to Get Ideas: First Lines

The first line of any story should hook your reader into going on and reading the rest of the story. In order to hook the reader, that first line has to be interesting and get the reader curious about what’s going to happen next. The first line should have an inherent question to it that makes the reader keep reading to find the answer.

K. M. Weiland’s book Structuring Your Novel goes into detail about every aspect of story structure. I loved her chapter about hooks and first lines because she helps you understand what exactly makes a first line great. Weiland discusses the five elements a first line can have: an inherent question, character, setting, a sweeping declaration, and tone. The first line should set up some or all of these important story elements in order to make the reader want to keep reading.

Weiland also makes an important observation—that most first lines aren’t that memorable. First lines don’t have to be super-memorable, amazing lines. They simply have to make the reader want to read the next line and the line after that.

I love first lines. First lines can convey so much. They can show you the main character and setting, set the tone for the book, and ask a question that the story will answer. When I write a story, I spend a lot of time on the first scene. I love taking my time on that first scene and first line, working to make them perfect. But I also love creating stories from first lines.

With the very first full-length novel I wrote, I initially thought of it by thinking of the first line: I’ll never forget the day he came. Looking back I know that that isn’t a great first line—it’s vague and not that interesting—but that line just popped into my head one day and it got me started.

You can always change your first line later on when you edit, but you can take a line and use it as your launching point for a story. A seemingly random line—a random sentence, a piece of dialogue, and interesting description—can all be a starting point for you to write from and build a story around.

For me though, first lines usually just feel right. I had the idea for Somewhere Only We Know rolling around in my head for years, but it wasn’t until I thought of a new first line that I was able to write the entire book. I love my first line. It introduces Frankie and Susan, explains what happened to their mother, and asks the question of why Susan is boxing up her books. It piqued my curiosity and made me want to keep writing. I hope it makes readers want to keep reading

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The first lines of Somewhere Only We Know

What’s your favorite first line from a book? Do you like creating stories from first lines?

Finding Your Time

Are you an Early Bird or Night Owl?

We’ve all be asked this question before, but I’ve never really liked it because I’ve never felt like either. I like to sleep in a little and take my mornings slow and easy. And, while I do stay up later, I don’t do anything productive later at night.

I’m not an early bird or a night owl. Instead, what I’ve found is that I’m a 10:00 am person.

I take my time getting ready in the morning, relaxing and spending time with God, and after I eat breakfast I get down to work. I can usually be pretty productive between 10 am and 2 pm.

I know that I’m lucky to get to work from home. I get to plan how my days go and can work whatever hours I choose. I know not everyone has that luxury. But the point I’m trying to make is to find your time.

People are not necessarily early birds or night owls, but everyone has a time when they feel the most awake and energized and can be the most productive. Finding that time for you is imperative because fighting your body’s natural rhythm will not help you be productive. This is especially important for creative people because it’s really hard to create when you don’t feel energized.

Once you find what time works best for you, make the most of it. Plan your schedule around it. Save the most important tasks or activities for when you can give them your complete focus. And if you write or create something, do it during this time.

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What is your time?

A great example of someone who has found their time is my good friend Alli. Alli is most definitely an early bird. She wakes up around four every day so she can have her alone time and get stuff done. She gets her workouts done in the morning and often does a lot of work for her bakery business. Alli inspires me every day with how dedicated she is to her work and how she schedules her time to make the most of her most productive hours. Also her cake balls are amazing and you should check out her website here.

Have you found your time? In what hours do you feel the most productive?

How to Get Ideas: Prompts

Writers are always asked how they come up with their ideas, but it’s often hard to know exactly where a story idea comes from. Ideas seem to come from anywhere and everywhere, and they sometimes come when you’re not even trying. But for those who are newer to writing and for those who are having trouble figuring out what to write next, ideas can be hard to find and you might have to force yourself to come up with them.

That’s what this blog series is all about—how to get ideas and how to develop stories from those ideas. I’ve written about what if questions and titles, and today I’m going to write about prompts.

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How to Get Ideas: Prompts

To be honest, I usually don’t like writing prompts. When I think of prompts, I think back to my writing classes in college. The teacher would give us a prompt and everyone would write silently for ten minutes, and then people could share what they’d written.

For me, those ten minutes dragged on forever. I can’t write on cue. I especially can’t write on cue if it’s not one of my own ideas. Instead of trying to write something in answer to the prompts in class, I’d ponder them for a moment, then turn to the back of my notebook to write down ideas for something I was already working on. Then when my classmates would share what they’d written I was always amazed by what they could come up with so quickly.

But when I’m stuck on the ideas I already have, prompts are a great way to come up with new ideas. There are so many prompt books available, and all of them are full of ideas that could spark a new story idea. Most prompts are short, a one-sentence situation or a first line of dialogue. One book I’ve enjoyed is The Writer’s Book of Matches by the staff of Fresh Boiled Peanuts.

Prompts can help to spark an idea in you and get you writing, but if you’re like me and don’t usually like prompts, what I’ve learned is that you need to make the prompt work for you.

What I mean by that is that you take the prompt and find some element in it that can help you. For example, if you’re stuck in the story you’re working on, but then hear a prompt about a character in a situation, you might want to try using that prompt with the story and characters you already have. You could insert the prompted situation into what you’ve already started, and that might give you enough help to keep going. Prompts can help you find what’s missing in your story to help you get unstuck.

Do you enjoy using prompts? How do you make prompts work for you?

How to Get Ideas: Titles

Writers are always asked how they come up with their ideas, but it’s often hard to know exactly where a story idea comes from. Ideas seem to come from anywhere and everywhere, and they sometimes come when you’re not even trying. But for those who are newer to writing and for those who are having trouble figuring out what to write next, ideas can be hard to find and you might have to force yourself to come up with them.

That’s what this blog series is all about—how to get ideas and how to develop stories from those ideas. Last time I wrote about what if questions, and today I’ll be digging into titles.

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How to Get Ideas: Titles

I don’t pick up books based on their covers. I choose to read a book based on its title. A good title asks a question, and if that question intrigues me, I’ll choose to read a book.

For example, one of my favorite titles ever is Thirteen Reasons Why. The title of Jay Asher’s novel poses so many questions: Reasons why what? Did something bad already happen? Why are there 13 reasons? Does the number 13, which is usually thought of as unlucky, have any significance? The title alone makes me as a reader want to know what happens. And that’s what a title should do.

Because a book’s title can pose so many questions, titles are also a great place to develop story ideas.

When I was young, I kept a notebook of story title idea—of things that sounded cool but that didn’t really have a story to them, at least not yet. One of these titles was The Means. I thought The Means, as in “do the ends justify the means” would make for such a cool book, even if I didn’t know at the time what that book would be. But in my capstone fiction class when I was in college, I turned back to that title and started writing a book. Even though it will probably never be published, I wrote an entire novel based on that two word title. I took The Means and built an entire story around it about a reality game show where anything goes and the goal is to win by any means necessary.

Writer’s Digest’s July/August 2017 issue had a wonderful article about titling books called “Naming the Baby” by Jacquelyn Mitchard. Mitchard suggested many strategies for naming a book such as places, common phrases made new, borrowed turns of phrases, and religious references. Titles can come from anywhere, but they must stand out and make people want to read the book.

What I’m suggesting is that you take something you think would be a good title and use that as your foundation to build your story around. Take a title that poses an interesting question, and then write a book to answer that question. Anything can inspire a book—why not the title itself?

Even if you have already got a seed of a book idea, you might want to come up with the title before you truly get started on writing the book. I have to know the title to be able to work on something. Having a title helps make the story seem more real, and it will also help you pinpoint the main theme you want your book to emulate.

What titles have made you want to read a book? Have you ever come up with a story idea from a title?