Tag Archives: Ideas

Happily Ever After

I love it when my muse just shows up unexpectedly. No call beforehand. No knock on the door. No need to pick up that pile of clothes in the corner or sweep the floor. It’s like having the best house guest in the world, and they come bearing gifts!

I’ve been under a lot of stress lately and the urge to do any writing or editing has been at an all-time low. I finished a short novel for NaNoWriMo and took a couple weeks off in December and then found out that the date for my daughter’s scoliosis surgery would be January 20. Suffice it to say I have been a bit distracted ever since.

A funny thing happens when I’m doing nothing but trying to take my mind off something. I think of the strangest and most wonderful things. I suppose it’s a byproduct of an active imagination going into overdrive in an effort to shield itself from the scary, unknown, things that are keeping me up at night. That being said, I hadn’t had any new ideas worthy of pursuing for quite some time and it was starting to get on my nerves.

Then she showed up. My muse. And she was wonderful.

I had just finished seeing the movies The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything. I had also just read the book Fahrenheit 451 and was working my way through Slaughterhouse Five when it hit me: the best idea for a novel I’ve ever had. In my mind it’s destined to be one of the best novels ever written, but for now let’s just say that it’s a good idea, and I am thrilled that it popped into my head when it did.

I quickly scratched out some notes and sent them along to a couple writer friends whose opinions I trust and asked them what they thought. I was pleased to hear that this would be a book they would read – and they weren’t just saying that because they were my friends. They’ve both given me direct feedback on excerpts that didn’t only contain praise. I gave my notes to a third person to look over and they verdict came back the same. Yay me! I had an idea that I was passionate about that, at least at first glance, had some from people living outside my head.

I figure I’ll start writing it when my daughter is in the hospital this week. I won’t have much else to do and while I’ll be contributing to the family scoliosis blog those posts won’t take me hours upon hours to write – and we’ll be spending full days and nights at the hospital for about a week! I figure I’ll get 10,000 words done if I keep off the damn Facebook and Twitter. The only obstacle I can see in front of me is the fact that I have absolutely no idea how the book is going to end.

I can envision a prologue and epilogue that bookend the story nicely but I can’t seem to dream up that last page. This is a strange feeling for me as I normally start with the end and then create all the things that needed to happen to get the reader to that last point. I thought I had the perfect ending and told one of my idea sounding board friends and she didn’t like it. Her husband did because it wasn’t a “standard” ending, and that’s probably why I liked it too – at least initially. Happily ever after endings drive me crazy. Sometimes people die, sometimes the bad guys get away with it, sometimes the boy doesn’t get the girl. The more I thought about it though, the more I was worried about what kind of message my ending would be sending.

This was also a strange feeling because to this point nothing I’ve written had any sort of message. At least nothing that I would consider profound or noteworthy. They are just bits of entertaining fiction meant to be enjoyed. Move along please, nothing to learn here. This new idea however has a message and one that I feel is rather important. How the main character ultimately relays that message to the reader, I think, will make a substantial difference in how that message is digested. Get it wrong and risk the reader becoming too focused on the actions of the main character instead of on the message she is carrying.

Maybe I’m over thinking it? Maybe I should just start writing and see where the story takes me? I’ve got a couple hundred pages to churn out before I hit the third act climax and have the MC realize their dramatic need (or not). Still, it doesn’t quite feel right. Not knowing how that last page unfolds is disconcerting. I guess I’ll spend some time thinking about the possibilities and jot them down with my other notes and see which one feels right.

One thing is certain, it won’t end with “and they all lived happily ever after”.

~ Andrew

Mid Life Crisis: NaNoWriMo Style

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, and close to keeping pace (or right on pace, or even slightly ahead of schedule) then you know exactly what I’m talking about.


Welcome to the saggy middle.

If you’re like me this represents two moments of opposing emotions:
  • First, you’ve already written more words that you have yet to write. It’s all downhill from here, baby! These are good times and certainly cause for celebration. Take a moment to soak it all in and realize that even if your laptop were to melt in some freak background microwave radiation solar flare electromagnetic accident that you would have around 25,000 words backed up somewhere and ready to use (thank you Dropbox!)
  • Second, you still have more than 20,000 words to write. This damn journey is uphill BOTH WAYS! Don’t let that moment soak in though. For one, it’ll mess up your mojo you just gained from the awesome milestone of passing the halfway mark. Also, it’s too darn depressing and wallowing in it will sink your back end. 
Saggy middle. Sinking back end. What is this, a book about turning 40? This looks like a job for MOTIVATION!
Some people use the resources right from the NaNoWriMo website (profile inbox, discussion boards, etc…) Another good resource is another writer. There are tons of videos, articles, blog posts out there where famous faces like Anne Rice, Stephen King, and Chuck Wendig. 
Another good one is go to the mall. I’m serious, especially at this time of year when people are either gearing up for Thanksgiving in the U.S. or Christmas everywhere else. Sit on a bench or chair with your laptop open and just wait for all the wonderful character traits and ideas to walk past. Imagine the conversations of the people across the aisle. Find ways to shut up that snot nosed brat screaming for the latest whatever-it-is at a mother who looks like she just dropped her last nerve in the garbage with the empty cup from her Chai Latte. Plus, the sooner you get motivated and writing the sooner you can get out of the hell pit of doom, destruction, and despair that is The Mall in the weeks leading up to December 25. 
Me? Keeping in line with my last post on community I have a standard go-to for motivation in my writers’ group on Facebook. Others, they head straight to Twitter for words of encouragement and inspiration. Either way, what could be better that reaching out and commiserating with a group of people all facing the same sort of challenges. Reach out to them (remember, “Ask and you shall receive?” Well I’m not making this up, folks. That shit works!) 
Ask them for a boost, a shoulder to cry on, an empty face to yell at, an idea. They’ll help you out and whip your saggy sinking ass into shape. Even if they’re jerks about it, they won’t be, but even if they are, don’t worry about it. You’ve just been given a great opportunity to kill them off in your book!
~ Andrew.

Whisky Is My Muse

With only 19 days left until November 1st it is time to make an important decision: to NaNo or not to NaNo? I have attempted NaNoWriMo every year since 2010, failing in my first attempt but succeeding in the last two. This year, however, I’m torn. You see, I have a fully written novel and it requires a good amount of editing. I’m about one third through my first pass of identifying plot gaps (in come cases chasms) and other major blunders. I should be able to get through the remaining two thirds in a few weeks, and then take a week or so to go back and make some of the additions that I have identified.

That would put me in a pretty good spot to start shopping this baby around sometime early in the new year. On the other hand, I have a half written novel I’ve been sitting on since last NaNo that I really should finish off. It would be nice to have two completed novels under my belt. On the other, other hand, I have this entirely different idea that should squeeze into roughly 60,000 words and make for a nice short little novel that I think would make a great introductory piece for my future readers.

Decisions, decisions.

By Serge Bertasius Photography at http://freedigitalphotos.net 

I really want to move along my finished novel, but the unfinished piece has been sitting for far too long as well. Plus, I really don’t want to anger my muse by ignoring a right proper good idea for too long. Argh!

How to tell if you are a writer:

  1. Do you write?
  2. Do you have more projects started than you have completed?
  3. Do you think procrastination should be an Olympic event?
If you answered in the affirmative to all of the above then congratulations! You are a writer. 

Here’s the thing: I enjoy writing, but I’m a bit lazy turd, but I must also exercise my creativity or I start to get twitchy and depressed. This is why I blog, take a photo a day (as well as many others), write novels, short stories, am about to start a podcast, and write lyrics. Of all these things it’s the writing that I find most rewarding. As mentioned last week, I’m giving it more attention in the next few weeks and through November in hopes I can keep the groove going into the new year, but with what?

Methinks the editing and unfinished novel can wait, if only so I can get this idea that’s been rattling around out of my head and keep my muse from forgetting about me.

What do you think?

Since we’re on the topic, here’s the latest song creation by Jim Tigwell and I, inspired by all our friends over at Writers Without Borders. We don’t have it recorded yet, but we’re working on it.

~ Andrew

By Naypong at http://freedigitalphotos.net

Whiskey is My Muse

Lyrics by Andrew F. Butters
Music by Jim Tigwell

Capo 2 (seriously)

Am             C         G     G
Nothing but potential On the horizon

Am           C          G    G
Close my eyes and feel her warmth

F                                     Am
Standing next to me, Standing next to me

Am        C       G   G
Careful ’cause she is Watching

Am        C       G   G
Open my eyes and look inside

F                               Am
Trying to be free, Trying to be free

Thinking of the options running through my mind
Need something to get started
To get me on my way, To get me on my way
Praying for the answerto my problems
Fighting urges to be weak
And risk staying the same, And risk staying the same

Am      C       E7
Staring at the page

Am          C    G       E7
Listen (to) what she has to say

Am                 C             G
Scattered words to rearrange the whiskey

In my veins….

I better pay my dues today

D                       Am                    
Before she takes it all away

I better pay my dues today

D                       Am                    
Before she takes it all away

Fleeting glimpses of the future
Flash before my eyes
I know there is an answer
All I need is to entice
Too much confusion, too much chaos
Hiding deep inside
There she is providing guidance
But not without a price
Not without a price

Staring at the page
Listen (to) what she has to say
Scattered words to rearrange the whiskey
In my veins…
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away

Everything I do

Everything I say

Every word’s for you

In every single way

Everything that’s yours

And everything that’s mine

Even though I’m torn

D                    Am
I think that I’ll be fine

Staring at the page
Listen (to) what she has to say
Scattered words to rearrange the whiskey
In my veins…
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away
I better pay my dues today
Before she takes it all away
All away
All away
All away
All away

Frame of Mind

I find it fascinating to watch people in the process of creating. I don’t know why this is but I think it has something to do with the fact that I have my own special brand of “getting in the mood” and I’m looking for some sort of validation that I’m normal.  More and more lately I suspect that I am not.

I was on the phone with my wife and she was telling me to get some words done while she was out and the kids were asleep. Sage advice from a woman who knows me very well and wants me to finish this damn book. The only problem was that I was exhausted from a week of working the day job and I wasn’t in the mood to write. Plus, with only 13,000 or so words left in the novel I was beginning to realize that an outline would have been a good idea. These were some of my notes for unfinished chapters:

  • Insert some stuff about the police in here doing police-type things
  • Hint a bit more about extreme nefariousness
  • Peter and Dana come across some disturbing shit

This is going to win me Kafka Prize, I can feel it.

Franz Kafka

As someone with a history of traumatic brain injuries I can attest to the fact that sometimes the best ideas are the ones that come to you when you’re head is not on straight. Out in the real world they are usually called “bad ideas” and people end up losing their jobs, or their loved one, or their friends; but for creators a bad idea is still salvageable – it’s just going to take a little bit of creativity.

A while back I did a post about giving birth to ideas; a process that in my opinion is significantly less interesting compared with what actually happens when someone starts to work on that idea and begins to flesh it out and bring it to life.

For most people, getting into a creative mindset is nontrivial, and for some finding the Creativity Zone is almost as elusive as finding the G-spot (only the Creativity Zone actually exists). You may be thinking, “But it looks like people do it effortlessly” Well these people are few and far between. They are amazing to watch and invaluable to interact with to be sure, but they are definitely a rare breed. For the rest of us schleps, finding the right frame of mind is a fair amount of work – just like anything else.

Frame of Mind (I know, I know…)

Even one of the most creative minds on the planet will tell you that there’s a process to it, that it doesn’t just appear out of thin air like a catapulting cow that’s just been hurled over the wall of a castle. If you have 36 minutes you should watch the John Cleese on Creativity video. It completely changed the way I approach things. If you don’t I’ll sum it up for you:

If you’ve got a nice quiet place to work, about 90 minutes, and access to some like-minded creative people then you’ve got what you need to foster a good amount of creativity.

This brings us to my problem from the second paragraph of this article. Exacerbating it is the fact that there are very few moments in a day where I have all those things at the same time. The best I can do most days is have the kids asleep, a couch to sit on, the Internet on my laptop, and 120 minutes before I go to bed. The other night it turns out that this was close enough.

What I did then, was sit by myself with my manuscript open in one window and YouTube and Facebook in another. My cursor was set to the part of my story that was in need of attention. Then, I watched a good half an hour of Louis CK stand up comedy. This guy is really funny and I find that laughing out loud has a way of relaxing the mind. Then I hit up a friend on Facebook who had a few minutes to spare. We chatted for a bit and just tossed random silly ideas back and forth. The last one I came up with went something like this:

“I think I’ll write a story about a window washer. A transsexual window washer who doesn’t use scaffolding but instead floats down from the roofs of buildings on one of those big Cirque du Soleil velvet ropes, squeegee in hand, washing the windows and winning the hearts of big city Dallas.”

All he needs is a squeegee


I had been reading something about transsexuals recently and my story takes place in Dallas. There was that Cirque person who tragically died a while back during a show, so that was probably in the back of my mind as well. As for the window washing, I can’t explain it. I think I just like the word squeegee.



Once I hit that point I was off to the races and I flipped over to my MS and just started typing. I guess it worked because 24 minutes later I had more than 700 words on the page and was still going strong (anyone who has done NaNoWriMo knows that this is a pretty good clip).

So there you have it. One example of what it took to get from “I’m not in the mood to write” to real life words on a page. I hereby dub it The Squeegee Process™. Is is fascinating? Probably not to most people, but it works for me, multiple concussions and all.

If you have a creative process you’d like to share please comment below. I’d really like to know that I’m not alone.

~ Andrew

The Overlook Hotel

Sorry that this week’s post is a day late. Spending most of the weekend up at the cottage has messed up my routine. Plus, there was a pretty good hockey game on last night (Go Sens Go!) Anyhow, on with the post…

I have a Facebook friend who sends out a note every now and then asking if anyone has a secluded cabin in the woods that he can rent so he can do some writing. I have often thought that this would be my optimal writing locale. It’s quiet with lots of beautiful nature to reflect on life and generate wonderful ideas, and I am unlikely to have access to the internet – at least not on anything but my cell phone (which is easy enough to ignore because it’s slow and such a small screen).

As it turns out, I am not in a position to just take off for a couple months and write a book. My day-to-day existence requires me to wear a few hats: father, husband, project manager, friend, son, brother, cousin… writer. As a result, most of my writing happens on my couch in my living room, which works well enough but is far from what I would consider ideal. If I really want to buckle down I’ll go sit in the big chair in the bedroom. I suppose I could go to a local coffee shop or a park if the weather is nice – or anywhere that has a bench to sit on for that matter. Ultimately, those all seem like a lot of a hassle for only a little gain. 

Of all of my realistic options the only one that seems to guarantee a good spurt of words is the chair in the bedroom with some white noise blaring through some headphones and my wifi turned off. This is what leads me to believe that a secluded cabin might just be my ideal writing spot. Of course everyone is different and there are many other options that could work. Are any of these on your list?

  • Beach house surrounded by gulls and waves and a light breeze
  • Leather chair surrounded by mahogany and walls of books
  • Bean bag chair, tattered note pad, and that old pen that should have run out of ink years ago

Wherever it is, whatever you prefer, is there a specific place or setting that gets the words flowing better than any other?

On the other side of that coin are the things that take a productive writing session and throw it right in the crapper. For me, this is a list that’s probably a wee bit too long. In no particular order (and sadly, nowhere close to exhaustive):

  • An Stanley Cup playoff hockey game
  • A golf tournament where Tiger Woods in in contention
  • Someone mentioning me on Twitter
  • The Internet
  • Shiny objects
You can see now why I think a cabin in the woods is my ideal writing spot. Realistically it could be any place where I am as far away as possible from anything on that list. That being said, regardless of your circumstance and location one thing is certain: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. 

~ Andrew

Remembering Legends

Last week Canada lost a legend of music in Stompin’ Tom Connors. Best known in this country for his slap shot hit, “The Hockey Song”, Stompin’ Tom’s music was enjoyed coast to coast by just about every Canadian stereotype you can think of. He died a member of the Order of Canada, with flags flying at half mast at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Everyone loved Stompin’ Tom. When he met Queen Elizabeth II at a dinner he outright refused to remove his trademark black Stetson and Buckingham palace came to his defence by likening it to a religious headdress so as to not cause a scene. So what was it about Stompin’ Tom that made him so gosh darn lovable?

He smoked 3 or 4 packs of cigarettes a day and drank just as much, but that didn’t matter. He wrote songs that spoke to Canadians of every age and of every background. He sang about things that people could relate to. Based on their titles alone you can get a sense of what his songs were like.

  • “Bud the Spud”
  • “Ketchup Song”
  • “Snowmobile Song”
  • “Tillsonburg”
  • “Moon-Man Newfie”
  • “Fire in the Mine”
  • “Canada Day, Up Canada Way

My personal favourite, “Margo’s Cargo”, is a song written about what can happen when you take a piece of cow shit and turn it into a wall clock:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0dzMeDm8AU?rel=0]

His nickname may have been Stompin’ Tom but I prefer to refer to him as The Canadian Legion’s Dr. Seuss.

They say you’re supposed to write about what you know; that if people can associate with something they are more likely to appreciate it. My friend Jim Tigwell wrote a song that exemplifies this concept really well. Taking ideas from Twitter, Facebook, and his own brain, he wrote a song about all the things you could do with a simple cardboard box. Everyone can relate to the unmitigated joy experienced by playing with a brand new, kick-ass cardboard box. Have a listen – the song starts at 2:29.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZNXJDiZhJFY?rel=0]

Andy Warhol’s art defined a genre, if not an entire generation. His most iconic image is that of a simple can of Campbell’s tomato soup. One of the Barenaked Ladies’ most popular songs answers the question “What would you do if you had a million dollars?” with answers of Kraft Dinner, faux fur coats, “K” cars, and Dijon ketchup.

All of this got me thinking: What do I know? I am writing a novel, the topic for which I am certainly familiar, but I wouldn’t say that I “know” any of the concepts any more than anyone else with access to Google. Maybe that’s why I’m having a hard time with some of it. I am doing more research than I thought I would have to and that’s hampering progress. I think it will great for the finished product, but it’s certainly not doing much for my word count!

This is the time of year where I remember a dear friend and family member who passed away on my birthday in 2009 and one story I do know, and know all too well, is the story of what happened in the days following his death. From March 13th to 17th a unique series of events transpired that, in looking back at it, has me shaking my head and laughing. If you subscribe to any sort of afterlife theory you can imagine Ryan following us all around and laughing his ass off at what was going on. Last December I wrote about it and submitted it to the Orange Karen Anthology – and it was accepted.

Maybe there’s something to be said for writing about things with which we are familiar. Maybe “they” were right after all.

Today we say goodbye to two legends: Canadian music icon Stompin’ Tom Connors; and my brother-in-law Ryan. Two souls forever linked together in a blog post and by the fact that the memorial service for one will be taking place on the day we lost the other.

We remember Stompin’ Tom’s lyrics, his black Stetson, and all the toe tapping, hand clapping enjoyment he brought into our lives. We remember Ryan; who had the heart of a giant, the compassion of a child, the soul of an angel, and laughter so honest and pure you you’d swear it was the best music you’ve ever heard.

We remember them, and all the other people who have shared their lives with us, even if it was just a small part. We thank them for opening up and letting us in and for giving us all something worthwhile to write about.

~ Andrew

Giving Birth

Wow, was there ever a lot of talk this week about meteors and asteroids! It’s a good thing too, because I was in need of an idea for my post for this week. “What?!”, you say, “How can you possibly tie meteors and asteroids into a column about writing?” It’s a good question and one that I intend on answering.

  • First we get a meteor over Russia travelling at 54,000 km/h (that’s 15 kilometres [9 miles] every SECOND), and exploding over Chelyabinsk, Russia. The shock wave created as this thing entered our atmosphere took almost 30 seconds to reach the ground, and when it did it shattered windows, damaged buildings, and injured over 1,000 people.

  • Then, just a few hours later and asteroid slightly larger than a Space Shuttle came from the south and at a distance of 28,000 km zipped between the International Space Station and a ring of weather satellites. I’m not sure I can put that into perspective. It’s 1/10 the distance to the Moon. It passed INSIDE satellites WE put in space to monitor the weather. Astronomically speaking, that’s about as close a shave as you can get.

Two completely unrelated events happening on the same day, both involving chunks of rock from space, and both causing quite a stir here on Earth. For some, these are the types of occurrences that spawn science fiction books or fantastical Hollywood blockbuster movies. For me, these are the types of types of occurrences that make me wonder where I get my ideas.

I can’t figure out where my ideas come from, and there are times when it feels like I might never get another one that’s worth sharing.

The idea for my current (and first) novel took more than a decade to form and started out as something completely different. It evolved slowly over time with the strongest and most adaptable pieces carrying on to the next generation. It changed from a film about one thing, to a short story about something else, back to a film about something close to the first thing, to a novel about that thing, to a novel about something completely different. The original film idea now sits on a shelf waiting to be fertilized and will probably be birthed as my third novel.

Other ideas of mine seem to be created out of thin air. I have a short story/novella idea that came to me when I was staring at the walls of an elevator. Hey, I thought, I think this would make a great short story. Something kind of Twilight Zone-ish with a feel similar to Ayn Rand’s “Anthem”. I got a bit of help with this one from a friend later that night, but 90% of this idea had formed in the 30 seconds it took to ride up 1 floor.

The idea for what will probably become my second novel came to me while listening to Metallica in my car on the way to work. It was just one scene that played in my head throughout the duration of the song “Nothing Else Matters” (which happens to be one of my favourite Metallica tunes). It was the most disturbing thought I’ve ever had, and within minutes I had created several main characters and a plot, pulling ideas from some well-known religious nut jobs, cultists, psychopaths, sociopaths, and serial killers.

It would appear that I don’t lean toward any one “method” for coming up with ideas but I have noticed a few things:

  1. I get more ideas when I’m left alone
    Whether it’s as I’m falling asleep, or when I’m in the shower, or driving to work in the car, or alone in elevators, my brain needs a certain amount of isolation to work its magic. I don’t think I’m alone in this regard, but there are definitely people whose ideas come out of brainstorming with others – a sort of “think tank” mentality. This is definitely not me. My work even tends to be of higher quality when it’s just me in a room with white noise pumping through my headphones.
  2. My ideas get better when I involve other people

    While I have a harder time working with others to come up with ideas, the ones I get (that I like) only get better as I bounce them off other people. Certainly the four ideas I mentioned above have only improved since I shared them (or bits and pieces of them) with some of the great minds I happen to know.

  3. I can’t force ideas to appear

    Much like a baby, I can’t guarantee its arrival. I need an idea – now! very quickly becomes I got nuthin’. Just the right set of circumstances and the right chemical reactions are needed to bring my ideas to life and as soon as I start to force them out they dry up and I’m left with nothing but cobwebs and tumbleweeds. 

So, what works for you? Where do your ideas come from? Do they come out of nowhere and fall from the sky like a meteor (minus the exploding over Russia), or are they slowly cultivated over time; nurtured, pampered, brought into the world and given life? Are they a product of isolation and solitude or do they bounce around and off others like a stray particle seeking a cosmic partner.

If all the conspiracy talk after recent meteor/asteroid events are any indication, there is no imagination shortage out there, that’s for sure. Now if only we can get Hollywood to step up and give us something original; because even with rocks falling from the sky what we’re really missing is something with a deep impact.