Happy Birthday, Mr. Twain!
Sunday, November 30, 2014
As a writer, I've been asked where my ideas come from. Mostly I haven't known how to answer because it's always felt like Grace and her story came from nowhere. Or everywhere. But when I read the word "harvest" as the writing prompt this month, it came to me that a novel is a harvesting of experience. My ideas come from the seeds I have tended in my own life. As we create characters and a world around them, decide where they walk and what moves them, we can't help but look to what we believe to give them purpose and direction.
When I sat down all those years ago to write about Grace, I didn't know it would involve getting into the muck of my life's experiences. But doing anything worthwhile means disturbing the muck, I've found. And after all those years of working and dreaming and disturbing, I finally had a harvest of words sitting on a bookshelf.
I also had something far more valuable. A better understanding of myself.
I don't know what I'll say in the future when people ask where my ideas come from. Probably something along the lines of seeds and life experience and something else fantastically awkward because I have a hard time talking to actual people. But I'm hopeful I'll find a way to talk about harvesting insight. Because that is the key to everything. And without it, we are lost.
Thursday, November 27, 2014
But if it's not...if the day is unpleasant, un-fun, or even a train wreck of a disaster of a calamity, remember that conflict is a writer's friend. Smile. Take notes. Observe the emotion involved with the impartiality of a scientist. Then put it all in your next book.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
"Do we have one conversation and then “move on”? Schedule a town meeting and then get on with the business of learning? As a parent and children’s author who regularly visits with children in a variety of school communities, I firmly believe that schools should take on the responsibility of engaging students around this story, and do so on an ongoing basis; it’s necessary, it’s relevant, it’s learning."
Please visit The Brown Bookshelf for more.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Wishing all of you a bountiful Thanksgiving!
|I recently spotted these guys in a field near my house. They took one look at me and skedaddled.|
Friday, November 21, 2014
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Now, as readers, even as young readers, we know that most of Toad's work here was completely unnecessary. The stories, songs, poems, and music didn't make his seeds grow. What did? Sun, rain, soil, and patient waiting.
So here is my question for us as writers. How often are we like Toad, wearing ourselves out with work that didn't need to be done in the first place? Now, it's true that we can't just produce our stories by commanding our story ideas, "Now ideas, start growing!" And it's also true that Toad's garden is going to take a lot of weeding and watering, and more weeding and watering, before those sprouted seeds flower, the part of the story Lobel leaves out. But I think sometimes we make our writer lives harder than they need to be, when we could just write on faithfully, accumulating word after word with patient waiting, letting sun, rain, and soil - the creative process - do its thing.
I'm thinking about distractions like second-guessing ourselves, letting that nagging editorial voice intrude on the process too soon, polishing text that isn't even ready for major revision yet, procrastinating on a project that needs to get done by starting another one that doesn't, doing revisions with an ax when all we needed was a scalpel, sharing ideas with people we already know will be critical of them, comparing ourselves to others. All those things that make our seeds too frightened to grow, and so "necessitate" endless rounds of pointless seed-reassurance.
What if we just planted, watered, weeded, and waited? And then celebrated our "nice gardens" like Frog and Toad.
Monday, November 17, 2014
Sunday, November 16, 2014
Saturday, November 15, 2014
I think my favorite part of this process (besides eating) is when they open up the farm at the end of the season for gleaning. During that final week, all the share holders are allowed to go out into the fields and basically pick up whatever is left. As much as you want. It is mostly root vegetables like carrots, daikon, rutabaga, and kohlrabi. A lot of them are small, misshapen, or imperfect in various ways. This is a lot of fun, especially with kids.
One of the things I've ended up doing in my writing reminds me a little of gleaning. My natural tendency is to overwrite. I'm not a big talker, but I guess I'm a "big writer." The first time I showed one of my YA novels to an editor, he told me I would need to lose about 100 pages! That gives you some idea.
I still overwrite, but now of course I go back over the manuscript and cut and cut and cut. Some of the cuts, I just delete. But some I save. Sometimes whole scenes or even pages. Some of those pieces took a long time to craft and they're not bad, they just aren't propelling the story forward enough to keep in there. Sometimes they contain a description I like or some dialogue or an idea, that may be useful in the future.
I tend to cut these pieces and paste them at the back of the manuscript in case I need to put them back. After the manuscript is final though, I will eventually put them in a file marked "Deleted scenes from xxx" and leave them in the desktop equivalent of the attic for future use. On a few occasions I have actually gone back and gleaned a few bits and pieces and given them new life.
I thought I was the only one who did this until recently when on a freelance job I was reviewing a draft of a television script, and lo and behold there at the end of the script were some snippets the writer had cut and pasted and I guess had inadvertently left there. It made me smile to see it wasn't just me with this little habit. Anybody else out there do this kind of thing? Fellow gleaners?
Friday, November 14, 2014
|My little comp book.|
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Each passing lifts away a fallow, useless bit to wither and delete, leaving behind the small, sparkling gems that were always there, but needed pruning. As the perfect words, phrases, and scenes settle onto the page, it's as satisfying and refreshing as a day spent outdoors. Breezy, sun-filled and clear; newly dusted off with all the dead debris removed. Now visible in all its splendor.
Like a crisp, juicy apple nourishes the body, my aim is to harvest the prose that nourishes the soul.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
|Garlic plants, summer.|
Understand, I am not a gardener. I love the idea of gardening, especially of food gardening, but there’s a big problem; a collection of problems, actually. I forget to plant in the proper season. I fail to thin my crops. I don’t like to weed or water or otherwise tend to things like that. And yet, year after year, the garlic comes back, full and healthy, producing ramps and seeds and the type of heads you find in stores.
|Garlic plants, yesterday.|
Sunday, November 9, 2014
Friday, November 7, 2014
It's not just showers. I bet if you sat down right now and listed daily-life obstacles, you'd have a list of at least ten, and maybe even fifty. We have slo-mo hours in traffic, weeks when inexplicably our devices stop speaking to one another so we have to reboot and reload everything, and even months when every time we sit down to create, question leads to question, creating what feels like an ever-tangling spiderweb that we're sure we'll never escape.
This morning, I read a post by Michael Hyatt about how a shift of perspective can lower stress. I, for one, need a shift of perspective regarding all of these obstacles. Maybe you do, too. Not a fake one that kind of makes me feel better because I'm sugar-coating the truth, but a true shift that feels solid and authentic.
If you're anything like me, you're trying to harvest all the time, hoping you have the superpower of not needing to plant seeds or let the crops grow. If we consider wheat or grapes or any other crop, we see that growing seasons are long. In fact, they influence one another year after year. Maybe this is what all that slo-mo is about, allowing a growing season for our creativity short term, and long term, too. Maybe as question piles on top of question and I'm sure nothing is happening, the true work is being done. The crop is maturing.
And thus, the shift of perspective. That time isn't wasted time--it's the growing season.
Okay, but here's the thing. When I'm reaping a harvest, it's not so hard to nod my head and say, "Yes, I wish the development hadn't taken so long, but I see the value of the process." In the midst of the questions, I'd be more likely to bang my head against the wall rather than spout anything so reasonable.
That's why, when we do come to the harvest, when the book or project takes form, we must savor the experience. We need to gather the crop and then take the time to reflect on the journey. The WHOLE journey. Maybe we need to write ourselves a letter about how this creation came to be. That way, in the next growing season, we have a tangible reminder. We have to remember to let our crops grow, to not harvest them too soon, too impatiently.
Right now, I'm in the growing season. I wish I had such a letter. I'm going to put a sticky on my desk to remind me to write one when this project comes to maturity. And then, I'm going to do my best to let the questions pile up, let the spiderweb tangle, knowing that with time, the crop will be ready to harvest.
How about you? Are you in a growing season? Mid-harvest? I'd love to hear your thoughts on showers, our piles of questions or the value of writing letters to oneself during mature moments.
photo credit: Carosaurus via photopin cc
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
Monday, November 3, 2014
Sunday, November 2, 2014
Yesterday, I gave a mini workshop on grabbing onto ideas and putting them into a story.
I explained that you must make the reader fall in love with your character from the very first second, so that they will cry right along with your character when bad things happen, and cheer for them until the very last page.
A woman sat in front of me, listening intently, with a pained expression on her face.
Great, I thought. My talk must completely stink, and she'll be heading for the door at any moment.
But she finally raised her hand tentatively. "I have lots of ideas," she said.
"Do you write them down?" I asked. "What's the idea that is closest to your heart?"
She hesitated for a moment, then went on to talk about her characters and her setting.
"Does your character have a problem?" I asked.
The pained expression soaked into her face again. "I don't want to give her too much of a problem. I would feel too bad for her."
"It will keep your reader turning the page," I explained.
Then, as if the Writer Fairy had cast her magic wand, in walked my friend and author-extraordinaire Eric Luper. "You have to do it," he said.
We tag-teamed the poor woman, trying to convince her that the worse things got for her character, the more her readers would want to--and have to turn the page.
I hope she is home today feeling truly bad for her character. I hope she is crying sloppy tears as she harvests her ideas and makes her character's situation almost untenable -- almost. Then I hope those tears become joyful ones as her character climbs out from under the heavy rock pile.
Now I'm going to go and try taking my own advice. The character in my WIP had better be prepared, because things are going to get ugly . . .