Too smart for my own good

by Michelle Janene

Not that anyone would ever accuse me of being too smart, but I have been doing some reflecting on my recent writing struggles. I participated in my fourth NaNo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. Love challenging myself this way and I’ve succeeded in the past so I went into it with great expectations. But getting the words on the pages this time around was like slogging through an alligator infested swamp.

49756985 - girl with laptop in the hand in comic style. woman with notebook . girl showing the laptop. girl in glasses. hipster girl. sexy blue hair girl with laptop.I had a project in mind. Had been mapping it out and mentally filming it for a couple of months. I couldn’t wait for November 1st to stike on the clock. The goal to complete the challenge is 1,667 words pre-day. Day one saw not quite a thousand, and each day that followed saw few and fewer. The weekends I couldn’t seem to catch up. What was the matter with me? Honestly, the creation part is the most fun. I love starting a project. Hate ending one. So what was going on?

As it turned out, in stalling for the beginning of NaNo, I filled my spare time by studying some craft. That doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but it ended up getting me stuck.

James Scott Bell advised in his book Elements of Writing – Conflict and Suspense, that every scene needs an element of internal or external conflict. There also needs to be questions and suspense built in.

Did that have conflict? Delete, try again. Maybe more suspense here? Or maybe here? Delete. How many words have I written today?

Jerry Jenkins also says that in editing you need to cut out the obvious. “He crossed his arms over his chest.” Where else does one cross their arms? Jerry asks. Write seven words delete three. Going nowhere fast. “She stomped her foot on the floor.” As apposed to stomping on the ceiling? Delete three more.

Jerry also says to not bore the reader with “On-the-Nose writing.” A writer’s propensity is to explain every action. “She rose early in the morning, yawned, stretched and slid her feet out of the warm covers. The icy floor made her toes tingle as she pulled her jeans from the top dresser drawer and her favorite green silk blouse from a hanger. The satiny fabric caressed her skin as she slid in her right arm then her left and buttoned each tiny button.” Yawn. “The cold floor bit at her toes as she dressed in her favorite silk blouse.” Tighter, better, and oh yeah, minus forty-nine words. Yikes, no wonder I was struggling to reach my goal each day.39582993 - closeup portrait of unhappy guy sad thoughtful young business man thinking daydreaming deeply bothered by mistakes hand on head looking up isolated on white background. negative emotions

I kept trying to remind myself of Jodi Picoult’s wise words. “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” My problem was I wasn’t waiting to edit.

For whatever reason starting NaNo this year I just couldn’t turn off the inner editor and just write the story that had been burning inside me for months. What had been a joy became a drudgery. Fun was now work.

So did I complete NaNo successfully again this year? You better believe it. A day early even. About half way through I started consciously refusing to edit any words until it was finished. It wasn’t easy, but the longer I forbid myself to dwell on the correctness, the style, the have-to’s and should-do’s, the easier the words came. Am I going to go back now and fix everything according to the expert’s advice? New Years Resolution #1: edit all my ‘bad’ writing done in 2016. Happy writing and then happy editing everyone.


Michelle Janene Murray blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind most days. She published Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015, helps edit the Inspire anthologies, and is working to expand her personal press to publish other authors.

What If…

How do you come up with your ideas?

I recently shared lunch with a dear writing friend. The talk turned to our works in progress.

“How do you come up with your ideas?” she asked.

I have no problem coming up with ideas. My mind is constantly running amuck. Many writers are not as fortunate. So where do ideas come from? Here are a couple of things you can do generate ideas, or take the beginnings you have to a new depth.

What If…

I15384997 - what if 3d text surrounded by question marks. part of a series.n Conflict & Suspense by James Scott Bell, he talks about playing the “What if…” game. Take any event, anywhere you are, any thing you are doing and ask, What if. My friend and I did this as we sat looking out the window of the restaurant.

·      What if one of the cars out there on the street is carrying a cache of weapons on the way to an old employer’s office?

·      What if someone put a bomb in one of the cars?

·      What if there was a man on the way to break up with his fiancé?

·      What if one car was full of balloons and supplies to set up for a surprise party?

·      What if someone was driving their newborn home from the hospital?

·      What if a scientist had a time machine that was jostled by a pothole, and triggered so he drove his car in to 1385?

James Scott Bell talked about seeing a billboard of a woman getting sunscreen put on her legs. Here are some of his what ifs:

·      What if the man applying the lotion was sent to assassinate her, but he’s fallen in love?

·      What if they are having an affair?

·      What if it isn’t lotion but something that will turn her into a half woman/half squid?


What if is a lot of fun and can generate many possible plot lines to play with later.


Make it worse

This comes from a class another great writing friend took from Donald Maass author of Writing the Breakout Novel. You have the beginning of an idea. How can you build on it, and take it from an idea to a full novel?

Go back to the what if about the man driving to break up with his girlfriend.

·      Make it worse.

He has a terminal illness and doesn’t want to leave her as a widow before their first anniversary.

·      Make it worse.

After he as crushed her with the break up, he realizes how very much he needs her, but there is no going back.

·      Make it worse.

He is abducted by an alien life form who cures him so he can save their planet from destruction.

·      Make it worse.

In order to save the planet he has to battle a creature, save a princess, and marry her. But he still loves the woman he left behind on earth.

These are some fun ways to get the creative juices flowing. Have fun. Play alone or get some writing friends together and play as a group. There will be no end to the possibilities and your “To be Written” file may soon be larger than mine.

What if …

We all had too many stories to complete for God’s glory to keep working at anything but writing?

Michelle Janene Murray blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind most days. She published Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015, helps edit the Inspire anthologies, and is working to expand her personal press to publish other authors.

What’s In A Name?

Creating the right name for every character

‘A rose by any other name, may smell as sweet,’ but what about our characters? Are all names the same? Can they be interchanged and still carry the same meaning and impact? Does a Fred give the reader the same impression as an Alfred? What kind of person do you picture with the name Marci, how about Mariamne, or Mary, or Meraera, or Malith?

Names have power in our stories. But how do we create the right name for every character?

When I first started writing, I bought a baby name book. When I created a new character I’d pick a letter I wanted the name to start with and then go through the pages looking at meanings and spelling variations until I found something to suit my character.

As time passed and I roamed the web more, I discovered a plethora of sites to find names. Most baby or new mom sites have a dedicated page for names. But I took my naming to the next level by choosing a name based on its meaning. Sites like the following are a small list of possibilities for search by the meaning.

name generatorIf you don’t want to waste hours on the net and have Scrivener, there is a name generator built in. You can to pick a name based on gender and nationality. (Edit > Writing Tools > Name Generator > )






I have also found some apps I enjoy: (these are free for Android, but they might be found for Apple as well—or something similar)

  • Name Generator
  • Fake Name Generator is fun. It will give you a name: First and last, along with an address, occupation, fake SSN, and a long list of other stats.

fake name generator

Since I write most of my books with a medieval feel, I have several sites bookmarked for Old English names. Here are some of my favorites.

I have also looked for names popular in the old west. More recently I Googled ‘most popular names in 19—’. When you know the age of your character you can get a feel for the names many parents were giving their children the same year as your character was born.

Here is another free app for fantasy names

  • Fantasy Name Generator. This one has an extensive list of possible fantasy characters to choose from, including: hobbits, elves, angels, dragon, dwarves, and a host of others.

By far, one of my favorite new finds as a fantasy writer is Donjon. You can create an entire world with this site. Each of the names below is link within site that leads to worlds of possibilities. You can name your characters, your world, and the locations in your world. There are occupations, population stats, maps, and diagrams. A person could spend days on this site—and never get a word written.

  • Fantasy Name Generator
  • Random Generator
  • Fantasy Calendar Generator
  • Fantasy World Generator
  • Medieval Demographics Calculator
  • Random Adventure Generator
  • Random Dungeon Generator
  • Random Inn Generator

Do you have any tried and true ways of naming characters? Share your insights and happy naming.

Michelle Janene Murray blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind most days. She published Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015, helps edit the Inspire anthologies, and is working to expand her personal press to publish other authors.

Get Serious! The Business of Writing

We creatives write for a number of reasons. A true writer writes because he or she has to. At times, our desire to create overrides our desire for food, drink, even human contact. Other reasons writers write:

  • I have a personal story to tell
  • I have a sermon I want to broadcast
  • I like to imagine fantasy worlds
  • I like making up stories
  • (Insert your own reason here)

Supercharge Your Writing Using Cinematic Techniques

It’s time to Get Inspired!

susanne lakin

Our guest speaker for this month’s Get Inspired workshop is award-winning author, Susanne Lakin. Susanne will teach fiction and nonfiction writers how to use cinematic techniques to enhance our writing. Join us for this informative and fun workshop! Free for Inspire members. Non-members pay only $15 at the door.
shoot your novel

Join us for the Get Inspired Workshop

Saturday, October 17th

9:30am to Noon

Oasis Christian Mission Center

10255 Old Placerville Rd #1, Sacramento, CA 95827