Inspiration, Italian Style

So I spent the last two weeks in Italy. It was one of those trip-of-a-lifetime sorts of vacations, where we packed in just about every major tourist site, and quite a few minor ones. My husband is a classicist, so there was a heavy emphasis on Roman ruins–Colosseum, Forum, Villa Adriana, Pompeii, Herculaneum, etc.–but we also spent some time in Venice and Florence.

I visited Italy once before, in college. I had an unpleasant experience there and so cut my trip short. Perhaps as a result, I have never had any particular interest in Italy, other than the food, anyway. In getting ready for this trip, though, an idea for a story stuck itself into my head, and so while I was there I spent a lot of time taking crazy pictures that might at some point be inspiring,

Mt. Vesuvius

or useful,

Scale model of ancient Rome

or just amusing.

I have no idea what this is, but there were about a dozen of them in a row, holding up display cases at the Naples Museum.

I have written about inspiration before–for some reason I find the topic endlessly fascinating. I think the interesting thing about this trip, is that I didn’t find it particularly inspiring, although I expected to. Instead my sojourn in Italy was more about taking it all in–soaking up atmosphere, smelling the particular odors of each place we visited (for as Eleanor Lavish said, every city does indeed have its own smell), tasting the food, feeling the unrelenting heat of the Italian sun, and washing off the dust of ruins built nearly 2,000 years before.  I spent more time than I ever have looking at things through a writer’s eyes.

Perhaps that is a kind of inspiration too.

Germinating the idea seed

 Photo flowers_pics_2067.jpg

When I first started writing one of the many things that made me nervous was that I would run out of things to write about. The fear that I had only one story in me made me hang on for far too long to a manuscript that should have been stuffed under the bed.

I recently committed myself to finishing one manuscript before I can work on the next. Perversely, I now have tons of ideas gathering in my brain, each rather desperate to be turned into the next book. Or the one after that. Almost everywhere I go I find a new idea to plant in my head, and I have to rush home and open a new book in WriteWay to get it down before I forget it. At the same time, I have to stop myself from jumping on the Internet to do research. It’s very distracting.

Famous authors are always asked in interviews where they get their ideas.  I used to think that was an interesting question, but now I know it doesn’t really matter. Ideas are everywhere. It’s how a writer nurtures them that counts.

So I am not going to ask how you get your ideas. Instead I’ll ask: what is the first thing you do to make that idea seed grow?

morningglory dark blue purple

Writing Contests

This post is sort of an update of a piece I wrote last year over on New Kids on the Writers Block, when I was in a contest frenzy. I’ve been in contest mode this spring as well, serving as a category coordinator and a backup judge for the Cleveland Rocks Romance Contest, and as a judge for another RWA chapter contest. Serving as Category Coordinator was a ton of work but both fun and instructive–I certainly have a new respect for the amount of effort that goes into organizing a quality contest, and NEORWA’s contest certainly does rock.

I have also entered three contests this spring. I sent off my last entry just last night, feverishly editing and polishing until nearly 11 pm, just an hour before the deadline (apparently I thrive on deadlines, which encourages my tendency toward procrastination more than you might think). I submitted the same work to each. The first entry was pretty weak, since no eyes but mine had ever looked at it. The judges were kind; they gave me decent scores and pointed out some “duh” moments in the manuscript.  The second entry was more polished than the first–still waiting on that one–and the third entry was better still. (I hope; my eyes were crossing near the end and I probably made some huge mistake.)  Keep your fingers crossed for me, please!

Contests are wonderful ways to get your manuscript in front of unbiased judges, although you do, admittedly, have to pay for the privilege. Most contests include some combination of published and not-yet-published authors in the first round; the best contests train their judges. The benefits of a contest are tangible–you receive objective, generally constructive criticism,  as well as pats on the back for the things you do well. If you have submitted a work you’ve just started and want to get some feedback, contests are wonderful tools. If you are a finalist, your work is reviewed by an agent or editor who is actively acquiring manuscripts. If you win, you seldom gain much in a material sense, but you receive bragging rights and sometimes even a request for a full or partial manuscript from an editor/agent. A contest win can even lead to a book contract, although I suspect that happens infrequently.

Just as an aside, if you are interested in entering a contest or two, check out Stephie Smith’s contest chart first–there is so much good information I can’t even imagine how much work it must be to maintain it.  It has a romance bent, but there are more general contests listed as well. Alexa Bourne also teaches a wonderful class on the ins and outs of contests. She has one coming up in August; check out her website. Her Killer Openings class is great too.

Before you enter, know that there are downsides to contests too, at least in my opinion. First, the costs can add up if you enter too many, and the return on investment probably isn’t that great. Second, I think that being a contest junkie can give you a fabulous first 25 pages, but the rest of your MS can suffer from a lack of attention. (This is certainly true for me. The first five chapters of my current WIP have been edited to death, but I haven’t even touched the end yet.) Finally, as with any criticism of your writing, you need to take the judges’ comments with a grain of salt. Some of them, as painful as it will be to admit it, are spot on and if you take the judge’s advice your writing will be better. Other comments will make you wonder whether the judge was commenting on the right entry. Still others will make a valid point, but you will disagree with varying degrees of outrage.

In my opinion, contests have great merit, but I tend to look at them as a bit of a gamble: it’s important to know when to quit. I am done with contests for the time being, but I am interested to hear from you. Do you enter contests? If not, why not? What have been your experiences?  And have you ever sold a book as a result?



Yes, I’ve taken the plunge, and have started my own blog. I have been part of a group blog (New Kids on the Writer’s Block) for a year or so, but have been feeling the need to spread my wings a bit, so here I am.  I am a new writer with no published work to my credit, unless you count a few law-related articles (which I don’t). Since I started writing seriously about two years ago, I have spent more time learning about how to write than actually writing, but I figure everyone needs to start somewhere.

I write historical romance set in Victorian England.  My husband told me the other day that he thinks I like research more than writing.  It is true I love exploring the little factoids that bring history to life, but I love the writing part too–it’s just a lot harder.

This blog explores my writing journey, including those little historical detours that fascinate and distract me. Thanks for joining me for the ride.

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