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Motivation & Writing: The Initial Spark that Captures the Writer's Imagination

The Initial Spark that Captures the Writer's Imagination - Ed Borowsky



Synopsis: Here I discuss the relationship between motivation and writing, and describe the ways in which we can be ignited by the spark of a story idea (or, infected by its germ!). I also briefly touch on the reason why NaNoWriMo may not be your next step - yet.


Motivation & Writing


In the month of November, authors are encouraged to sit down and set a goal of 50,000 words in a brave effort to write a novel in a month. There's a whole support group set up to assist the authors in their endeavor.

NaNoWriMo is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that according to their website "provides tools, structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds – on and off the page."


The event has caught on, and I believe anything that inspires a writer to write is commendable. However, the intense writing practice doesn't quite work for me unless the writer has explored the story idea in his/her head and has meditated on it to the point that they've defined the four elements that make up the core idea of a story. I'll discuss how these elements relate to motivaiton and the writer's imagination in this and upcoming posts.


An author's idea for a story will emerge from daily life in one of two ways. At times, this idea ignites a spark within the writer's imagination, engulfing their being, only further fueled by the oxygenated breath of ink on paper. Other times, the idea infects a writer, an unnoticed germ, until one day the consequent symptoms beg prognosis of an imagination consumed. 


As of this writing, I've completed three novels, two novellas, and a two-act play. I can say I've been both ignited and infected by story ideas. That is, the genesis of each work began by an incident that happened to me which triggered my curiosity. The only tangible difference was whether it was an immediate spark, or an infectious germ. When these incidents occurred, they nonetheless stayed with me to the point that I couldn't drop them from my thoughts. It's a process that is at times instant, others took years to develop before I sat down to write.


I find what sparks the writer fascinating. I'd love to hear when Ernest Hemmingway came up with the idea for Old Man and the Sea or what sparked Eric Segal to sit down and write "Love Story."


Therefore, to simply sit down and write from November 1st till the end of the month without this hashed out first, in my opinion, will be an effort in futility.


The writer has to feed their flame, to put their germ through the grist mill of thought, until he/she understands or defines what the "central idea" of the novel will be. Whatever the central idea is, it should raise a question that needs to be answered. This question should cause people to ponder; it should arouse curiosity; it will cause people to take sides; they will either root for or against the characters involved in the story. The central idea is what keeps the reader reading and the audience in its seat. The central idea needs to be defined, as it is the starting point for creating a story, and I'd suggest no words should be written until the author has this worked out. If you write prior to the central idea being defined, then the writing should be laid down only to help the writer in the meditation process.


This central idea rouses an emotion in the writer, one that the reader needs to feel in order to fully grasp this central idea. From this emotional conflict, characters arise; embodiments of the forces causing this emotion. These elements then shape the cruicibe in which they are contained. The initial spark that captures the writer's imagination; the germ which infects us.


The Four Elements of Writing a Story

"It has been said that any set rules are impossible to a writer, that novel and plays cannot be written by measure, that all one can do is have a "story to tell and tell it." But surely, it is better to tell your story so that the writer's meaning comes clearly to the reader/audience, and that it must first be clearly laid out in the author's mind."

-Ken Eulo (The Causative Formula, Labyrinth of Design, August 1991)


They say there are two types of writers. First is the 'Outliner,' who carefully outlines and then writes their story. Second is the 'Intuitive Writer,' who discovers the story as they write, and as they discover so does the reader.


If I had to pick, I'm an intuitive writer. However, I'll argue that I always have a rough outline in my head. My stories change within the outline as I go, I just don't write it down. Behind all stories there remains four elements that both intuitive writers and outliners share. Without these four elements, there is no story - only process. This process is as follows:

  1. Spark/Germ.
  2. Meditation.
  3. Outline.
  4. First Draft.
  5. Rewrite.

The five stages of the writing process are self-explanatory. 


There are, of course, many ways to create a novel or play. The creative process is complex, it begins, progresses, and evolves. With all the stories that have been laid down by generations of writers, there is a commonality of elements that make up a well-crafted novel and play. Once a writer gains an understanding of the four elements, they will begin to see them in every story, whether it be a movie they are watching or a novel they are reading. It is enlightening to the writer, however, it's not that easy at first.


This process is simple. Yet, it is only simply once you have that germ which infects us - the kindled spark igniting the writer's imagination into story, and the four elements of the construction of narrative.


The Four Elements of Writing a Story:

  1. Orientation (central idea)
  2. Theme (basic emotion)
  3. Character (personification of basic emotion)
  4. Crucible (container in which all other elements are held)

In upcoming posts, I elaborate how these elements relate to motivation and the spark of a writer's imagination.


Which type of writer are you? Also, are you more motivated as a writer by the spark of imagination, or do you find yourself consumed by forgotten germs? Comment below, I'd love to hear your take.


—Ed Borowsky, Author

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Elements of Writing: Orientation

Elements of Writing: Orientation


Elements of Writing: Orientation


"Whatever the central idea, it should immediately raise an important question that needs to be answered. Well-crafted plays and novels raise important questions that the reader or audience wants answered. A question that will arouse curiosity, cause people to think, take sides, root for or against the characters involved in the action. The central idea is what keeps the reader reading and the audience in its seat. And most importantly, the writer should stay on track until the script is completed."

- Ken Eulo (Labyrinth of Design: A Causative Formula for Writers)


The central idea of a novel or play is its orientation; the initial 'spark' that instantly captured the writer's imagination, the 'germ' infecting slowly within. Without a central idea, a writer will not be able to stay on course and will eventually go astray. Most won't be able to finish their manuscript, or they'll wander or run amok.


It's the idea that gets them in the chair to write their story. Writers are encouraged to carry a notebook with them at all times. The greatest use of a notebook is when a spark occurs. Many ideas have been lost to time because they were not written down. The idea can be revisited in the evolution process that occurs in the meditation stage of a story idea. Like a chrysalis, the story idea will potentially morph to become the writer's next story to tell.


Story ideas sometimes come slowly or at times they hit the writer like an explosion. Many times, I've found myself in the heat of an idea, become passionate to the point that I'm compelled to sit down and just write like hell. However, as I've become more experienced in my writing, I've become more thoughtful in the writing process. Heated inspiration often blocks out cool logic. A writer must put knowledge before passion. This means that a writer must slow down and take a "good hard look" at what is compelling the writer to write that particular story in the first place.


The first and most important element in the construction of a story is orientation, however, it is the least understood. Most writers believe orientation is theme, but this is secondary. Orientation is the starting point, it's the constant guide that will keep the writer on track. How many manuscripts are sitting in drawers, unfinished because the writer lost their way and got confused to what they were writing about in the first place?


Orientation can be derived from a phrase, an aphorism, a title, problem, or perhaps a combination of different ideas that come together to form another new idea. Orientation must raise an important question or reveal an inherent problem. It's a question or problem that is provocative and will compel the audience/reader to stick around for the answer or solution.


Once the writer understands what the orientation of his/her story is, orientation will provide the writer clarity to what he/she is writing. It's something that a writer will explore from the beginning to the end of their manuscript. The audience will be with the writer as they explore and discover together.


Aphorism & Orientation


Aphorisms can be good orientations. Aphorism, according to yourdictionary.com, is a statement of truth or opinion expressed in a concise and witty manner. The term is often applied to philosophical, moral, and literary principles. To qualify for an aphorism, it is necessary for a statement to contain truth revealed in a terse manner.


Two examples of aphorisms that can be used are "if it ain't broke don't fix it" or "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." If a writer used the apple aphorism as the orientation for their story, the author will be compelled in their writing to prove or disprove that an apple a day really does or does not keep the doctor away. There are so many different directions the writer can take from this statement that I ask you to use your imagination on how you would explore this statement.


Often times I've heard or have been told, "That's good writing." I understand that the reader is not merely saying that my words or sentences were well structured, rather the way I tackled the orientation of the story was interesting and enlightening to the reader.


Below I've listed my orientations for the books and play I've written to date:


Hank's Six Days of Happiness (A two-act play)

Orientation: If you lived 50 years and had an unhappy miserable life, and you had the opportunity to erase your memory and begin anew, would you?


The Neighborhood (A horror novel)

Orientation: Can a man ever outrun his sins of youth in hell.


It's a Good Day to Liquidate (A thriller, novel)

Orientation: Can a man who has failed at everything in life find success in failing?


Lizard of Transition (A war story)

Orientation: God commanded us, "Thou shalt not kill/murder." Can a soldier who returns from war after he has murdered find redemption after living a good and seemingly fulfilled life?


The Great Mongolian of the United States of America (A comedy)

Orientation: "Can one live a simple life in a small town, work a small job, live without a family, and find meaning and fulfillment in living?"


If you'd like to learn even more about Orientation, I've discussed the orientations for several of my works in more detail:

What are examples of Orientation in your own work? Comment below, I'd love to read about it. If you'd like, continue reading about the other elements of constructing a story.


- Ed Borowsky, Author.


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Elements of Writing: Orientation (Part I: The Amazing Life of Art Lemon)

Elements of Writing: Orientation (Part I: The Amazing Life of Art Lemon) - Ed Borowsky


This germ infected me about eighteen years ago. I met the store owner who was also the mayor of a small border town in Arizona situated somewhere on the Arizona/Mexican line.


The mayor of the town said to me pointing, "You see that air force base over there, that's a top-secret base. That's where they developed stealth technology."

He then said, "Know what they are working on now? Miniatures! Little bugs that have cameras as heads that can walk under doors to spy on the enemy. They have bugs that can fly into open windows, and then with a push of a button… explode."

Fast forward to November 2007, I get into the hobby of RC model airplanes as an activity I could do with my youngest son. In the back of a national RC magazine, (Model Airplane News) I see an advertisement, about a quarter of a page, in reverse print, that read verbatim,


"UAV Fabrication Technician"


"ITT has an immediate opening for an experienced aircraft fabrication technician to work on prototyping unmanned aircraft designs. Must be experienced in composite, wood and metal fabrication, and repair technologies. A&P training desirable. Experience with home-built aircraft or large-scale scratch-built radio control model aircraft preferred. Must have minimum of 5 years of experience as RC or external UAV pilot. Experience with 5-30 HP size gasoline aircraft engines. HOBBYIST EXPERIENCE ACCEPTED, please send photos and description of projects with resume. APPLICANT MUST BE WILLING TO RELOCATE TO WASHINGTON DC AREA AND BE ABLE TO OBTAIN SECURITY CLEARANCE.
Please submit your resume to…"


At this point in my hobby, I was hooked, almost fanatical. I used to fly every day, and I became a proficient builder. I thought I wanted to write a book about the hobby and had never forgotten the mayor I met in Arizona that day, 'top Secret air force base… miniatures… flying bugs played over and over again in my head.

And then, this ad that read, "Hobbyist experience accepted, applicant must be willing to relocate to Washington DC area and be able to obtain a security clearance."


This blew my mind, the government was recruiting hobbyists to Washington, DC to build predator drones. The idea of a rag-tag team of everyday Joes going to Washington, DC after being recruited by the CIA wasn't far-fetched. Before you knew it, they were stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia soon on a mission to Afghanistan to save the world.


Fast forward eleven years, that's when I sat down to finally write the book. The first line I wrote, "Art Lemon had a very bright name, but his life wasn't so bright."


"The Amazing Life of Art Lemon" was born, a 69,000-word literary novel that turns into a thriller in the end. The manuscript is fully edited and ready to be discovered.


Orientation: The Amazing Life of Art Lemon


Can a person who was rejected by his natural-born parents and ostracized by the community he grew up in find a happy and fulfilled life? Yes, through the loving care of family, armed only with intellect and faith.


There are many more germs that have infected my being, one's that I've been meditating on for varying times. At some point, I'll finish my latest book and I'll move on to the germ that has infected my imagination the most.


Germs are all around us and they infect the writer. We can't help it. The only remedy for us it to write. Once the story is completed, the germ is finally out of the writer's system. But there is no cure—there are always more germs that infect us.


Interested in learning more about Orientation, and other Elements of Story?


Stay tuned for more. In the meantime, have any germs bitten you? Comment below if they have—I'd love to hear about it.


- Ed Borowsky, Author


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Murray's Famous Checklist


In the story of the Great Mongolian Bowling League, Murray Schwartz, the protagonist Harold Kushner's best friend and roommate of 30 years, is a mechanical genius. He can fix anything and is always looking for ways to make his fortune on his next best invention that will change the world. Like many very smart people, Murray sees life from a different perspective. However, at times he has difficulty tying his own shoelaces.


Murray and Harold are two single men, living together for all of those years, helping each other navigate through life. Like a married couple, they take care of each other and travel through life hand-in-hand in a masculine way.


One of Murray's inventions is what he calls "Murray's Famous Checklist." It's a preprinted list that he developed out of a need to control his environment, and to help ensure he doesn't forget to pack anything whenever he goes away on a trip.


Doesn't All Fiction have its Roots in Real Life?


I traveled on business across the nation for over twenty-five years, so I can tell you one tale after the other when I forgot to pack something. Like the time I went to Dallas from Hartford for a very important sales meeting scheduled for the next morning. I left in the afternoon and arrived in Dallas late that evening. I packed my expensive Canali Blue Suit, pressed nice dress shirt, a tie that cost me $150… you get the picture. When I arrived in my hotel room and unpacked my suitcase, I realized I forgot to pack my dress shoes. My meeting was scheduled for 10 a.m. the next morning. There was a high-end strip mall near my hotel so I called the prospect the next morning and told him I'd arrive a little late. They opened at 10 a.m., and I figured I'd go in to buy a pair of shoes, and then head to my appointment that was only fifteen minutes from the mall. Well, lo and behold, there was only one shoe store that had dress shoes — but they were very expensive. I had no choice but to choose because I was running out of time for this important meeting. I ended up purchasing Bruno Maglis, the only pair that would fit me in the shop, for almost $500. The shoes were very comfortable, but not my taste. I believe I wore those shoes twice, and years later sold them at a yard sale for $20…


So, where did I get the idea for "Murray's Famous Checklist?" I have a good friend named Bob (last name withheld to protect his privacy) who is a sales rep in New England.  Bob developed, "Bob's Famous Checklist." Over the years, Bob had figured out what he needed when he traveled, and listed the items on a pre-printed form. He would lay out his suitcase sometimes weeks before a trip and as he loaded up, he'd check off the box next to the item listed. Bob never forgot anything. Oh, and did I mention that Bob also has a degree in Nuclear Engineering?


Bob grew up poor, and has told me stories of his childhood when at times he went without. Sometimes these childhood memories get seared into our brains; Bob has never forgotten those times. I'm happy to report that Bob has become very successful and doesn't want for anything at this stage in his life, but old habits are hard to break. Bob still heads to the metal shelves at the back of the closeout store for his favorite expensive coffee that comes from a rainforest in Africa. "What a score on coffee," he always says.


What a Character!


I firmly believe that by combining a self with a character, a writer brings what feels like another person into the world, even if only for a moment. Every writer seems to leave a bit of his or her life in every character he/she creates. Harold's friend Murray in some ways parallels my good friend Bob.


When reading, one can wonder if the author's writing is art imitating life.


…And then there was the time I was traveling to Memphis. When we arrived, I got up and noticed that I forgot to put the cap on a pen, and the felt tip left a black ink circle about three inches round on the bottom of my shirt pocket. Then, I walked off the airplane and the heel of one of my shoes fell off. I should have packed an extra shirt and an extra pair of shoes. Thank God for department stores and credit cards. Boy, did I hate to pay top retail prices during those times of forgetfulness and desperation. If I had checked off "Bob's or Murray's Famous Checklist," I would have been in much better shape.


What items would you add to Murray's Famous Checklist? If it's not on there already, I'll be sure to add it. Leave your item in the Comments Section below so we all remember it on our next trip.

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On Harold Kushner: Fictional Character Names and Real-Life Coincidences


At the time when I picked the name Harold Kushner for the name of my protagonist, I didn't think of the renowned Rabbi Harold Samuel Kushner.


I just picked a name that came to mind and one that would work with his sidekick, Murray. I hate to admit it but I had no idea who Harold Kushner was. I'd heard about his classic When Bad Things Happen to Good People though I'm not sure I've ever read it. Boy, is that embarrassing to reveal. Like my character, I might not be the brightest bulb in the bunch, or perhaps I'm beginning in the early stages of dementia? God forbid!


I never outlined The Great Mongolian Bowling League of the United States of America. Rather I wrote from a stream of consciousness, week to week. Now when reading my own book, I at times go back and say to myself, "Did I write this?" (Who else has had this experience?)


The names of all my characters just pop into my head and, as they say, "That's the truth, Ruth!"


I knew that the fictitious Harold was an average Jewish man, living an average life in the small town of Land O Lakes, Florida. I wanted to write about the unlikely hero, which exists in most of us. As Harold reveals later in the book:

Not everyone is destined to be great like Genghis Khan so I justified my existence, living in a small town, socializing with small-town people working for the town I called home. I've always felt my work was as noble, as important as any other human being sharing their existence in God's universe."

I believe at some point in our lives we all ask the questions, "Did I live a good life? Did my life have meaning? Did I make a difference in the world? Was I a good person?" Well there! I just gave it away. This is what the book is all about. So if you'd like to find the answers to these questions, I'd suggest you buy and then read the book.


At one point, Harold recites a verse, which I found in and paraphrased from my prayer book, that reflects his values. It reads, as follows:

What do I offer to the lonely human soul? In a word I offer friendship. I can offer myself as a refuge, an island of caring in the midst of a hostile, competitive world. In a society that segregates the old from the young, the rich from the poor, the successful from the struggling, I can open my heart and be the one place where barriers fall and we all stand equal before God."

I'd found this by randomly scrolling through one of my prayer books, Siddur Sim Shalom for Weekdays, published by The Rabbinical Assembly, The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, New York City, in 2002. It's located in the Introduction on page xiii. That's where I found it.


The title of the paragraph was "Religion and The Lonely Soul." It reads,

What does religion offer the lonely human souls need? In a word, it offers community. Our place of worship offers us a refuge, an island of caring in the midst of a hostile, competitive world. In a society that segregates the old from the young, the rich from the poor, the successful from the struggling, the house of worship represents one place where the barriers fall and we all stand equal before God."

—Harold Kushner


It was only at this point that I realized there was another Harold Kushner in the world. I was then completely blown away. Here I was writing about my fictitious protagonist, and now I—by coincidence—had found the perfect verse for my character to contemplate and it was by the real Harold Kushner! The thought popped into my head that perhaps we are born with our individual God-given talents and perhaps, just perhaps, God guides our hand along the way.


As you can see, I modified the verse to fit my novel. And now, as I put down my pencil, I will pick up When Good Things Happen to Bad People. Thank you, Harold Kushner.

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I Stood at the Intersection of Soul-Searching + Fiction Writing... That's How I Came About "The Great Mongolian Bowling League"


Many people ask me how on earth I came up with the idea of The Great Mongolian Bowling League of the United States of America. Here's the story behind the story—including why it's really a spiritual novel that "strikes" the heart with profound reflections on the meaning of life.


At the end of a business trip a few years ago, I called a taxi to take me to Chicago O'Hare airport. When I got into the taxi, the Asian taxi driver asked where I was headed.


I replied, "Home to Orlando."


"I'm going to Orlando next month," he offered.


"Are you going to Disney?"


"No, bowling tournament."


I then asked him, "Where are you from?"


"Mongolia, originally."


"I've never met a Mongolian/American before." I then asked him the logical question, "Is bowling big in Mongolia?"


"No, not really," he said.


After a brief silence, the taxi driver continued, "I found out that the AMF bowling alleys in Chicago—on Thursday evenings between the hours of 9 p.m. and midnight—were offering 25-cent games, 25-cent bowling shoe rentals and 25-cent hot dogs in a promotion they called 'Quarter-mania.'"


He explained that many Mongolian citizens arrive in the United States as poor immigrants and he was no exception. The promotion gave him the opportunity to have a fun night out with friends. He said, "We had a ball on the cheap!"


He then went on to tell me that he had nine taxis, but he had received a college degree in Finance and Economics from St. Petersburg University in Russia.


That's when I asked him a numbers question. "How many people are going to the bowling tournament in Orlando?"


"Over 600!" he said.


Perhaps I heard wrong, because I visited the AMF bowling alley in Kissimmee, Florida, about six months after my encounter with the taxi driver. I met with the manager of the lanes who told me there had been such a tournament and she didn't believe there were more than 600 bowlers. In fact, her records showed that it was closer to 50 to 60. Still, assuming participants had attended with family members, I'm sure the numbers were quite substantial for the first Mongolian-American Bowling tournament in the United States of America!


And that was the germ that I meditated on for almost two years. I knew nothing about Mongolia other than its people had been ruled by a fierce leader named Genghis Khan, who at one time controlled a vast empire.


As I delved into my new research project, I learned that in 1990 Mongolia broke away from the Soviet Union and in a silent revolution embraced democracy at great risk. The economic transition was difficult for the Mongolian people, as they went abruptly from a broken down communist state to a modern democracy. People had to find a way to make living and many suffered in ways that the American people would find difficult to imagine.


Another intriguing fact was that sometime after 1990 they discovered that the Gobi Desert held a vast trove of natural resources like copper, coal and gold. This rich find had people saying that it could comprise one-third of Mongolia's GDP. Some were calling Mongolia, "Minegolia" now. In fact some of the first Mongolians to immigrate came to study at the University of Mines in Colorado. A fundamental problem Mongolia has been facing since the discovery is finding a way to build the infrastructure that could extract and refine those natural resources. The investment needed is beyond the scope of their government. They've tried to rely on foreign investments by individuals, corporations and friendly governments, but the problem hasn't been solved as of this writing.


Today there are a little over 20,000 Mongolian-Americans. They've settled mainly in Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver and Northern Virginia.


With all of the talk about immigration these days, Mongolian Americans are a shining example of legal immigration in America. They are a proud people and their journey to America is an exceptional example on how American immigration can and should work. They are a hard-working, family-oriented, talented people and those who are in America have woven themselves into the tapestry of American life.


As a novelist, I sat down and tried to write the story several times, but I couldn't move forward because, quite frankly I didn't know any Mongolians. Until one morning when I awoke at around 5 a.m. I found myself in that transitional state between sleep and wakefulness when the thought popped into my head. I realized I could write this story from the perspective of a 72-year-old Jewish guy! When I sat down that morning, the first chapter poured out. The book flowed from there and my first draft was completed in approximately 3 to 4 months. I wrote the manuscript, week-to-week, in a stream of consciousness to its completion.


They say writers either hide or reveal themselves in their writing. I guess I'm very much like the protagonist, Harold Kushner, a man seeking answers to the soul-searching questions we all ask as we get older: "Did I live a good life? Did my life have meaning? Was I a good person?"


In the end, everyone must answer this question for themselves. My prayer is that experiencing the first—and perhaps only—Great Mongolian Bowling Tournament of the United States of America through the fictional Harold Kushner's eyes will bring you closer to your answer.

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