Monday, April 2, 2018

Middle-Grade Me

I write from the middle-grade me.  I can't help it.  There's a twelve-year-old lodged in the writing portion of my soul.  That's exactly where I go to mine for hidden gems when I need the start of a new story, or just inspiration for a work already in progress.

Listening to songs from that time in my life are perfect for getting the emotional memories flowing.  Often from the very first note, my mind will go back to an exact place, a situation, maybe even a heartbreak or injustice--or happiness experienced by my twelve-year-old self.  Feeling and emotion are everything in story, and airing them out again can spark something worth writing.

If you live near your old stomping grounds, try taking a walking tour with your notebook.  Or if you are far away, try a virtual walk using Google maps.  You may be surprised at what you see around your old neighborhood.  I once looked up my old house on Zillow.  Just the sight of my front yard where I used to sit in the shade of a giant fir tree for hours with my stack of library books brought up so many hidden gems of emotions.

When was the last time you dusted off your old middle school yearbooks?
There can be a wealth of emotions and angst, hopes and fears, scrawled in the purple and pink comments of the endpapers.  (Caution:  Don't get caught up in the time suck of tallying up the number of times it says, "Have fun this summer."  ... or .... "I hope I get you in some classes next year."  There's also the classic, "Don't ever change.")

Give it a try.  Go back to the pages and sounds and streets of your middle-grade self.  You may end up with the perfect detail you'd been searching for.  Maybe you'll end up with an entire story . . .

Friday, March 2, 2018

A Trail of Stories By Ann Haywood Leal

The woman was at the very end of the trail, trimming the tangled ivy from the fence behind her house.  She was blocking the path, but as soon as she struck up a conversation, I was happy I had stopped.  Only weeks into her retirement, she was struggling to figure out what to do with her time.   She loved books and stories, and told me about two of her favorite authors who had lived just up the trail, just steps from her house.  Some of the stories she had weren't on her bookshelves.  They were waiting around inside her head, but had never made themselves out onto paper.  I wish I'd had the wisdom of Ursula Le Guin at my fingertips as a stood next to a tangle of clipped ivy.  

At the risk of sounding like a Nike ad, I told her to "just do it".  Just a paragraph.  Don't worry about what your words look like, or even if you can't read your own handwriting.  Get the words onto the paper.  Natalie Goldberg says, "Write down who you were, who you are, and what you want to remember."  I agree wholeheartedly with Ms. Goldberg, because if you write down who you were and who you are, you have just created a character's journey of growing and changing in a story.  

I am going to keep jogging on that path until I see the ivy trimmer again.  Because I want her to tell me she's done it.  She's written some words.  She's a writer.  

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Make it Real by Ann Haywood Leal

It's so easy.  You are on the treadmill at the gym . . . on social media . . .  in the shower . . . and just like that (!) you have a goal.  But as a wise blogger once said:

So definitely do that.  Write.  It.  Down
 I will ________.
For some reason, seeing it on paper in front of you or on your computer screen makes it real.  It becomes a thing.  

And thank you, Kaye Dacus, for this next one:  Give it a set timeline
 I will ______ by _______.   

Then you've got to . . . 

phone a friend.  Speak your goal OUT LOUD to a real live person.  Do this even before you write down one word, because now it's not just "a thing", it's a real thing.  You have put it out in the universe and you are now holding yourself accountable, and so is your friend.

And maybe the most important thing of all, is something that was embedded in my brain in my teacher life:  Make it attainable.  Sure, I'd like to write 10,000 words today, but it is probably not going to happen. 

What I like to do is to make it two-pronged.  I set what I call my "lofty goal", which is something that is still attainable, but something that is more long-term.  For example, I will finish my first draft by (date) .  Then I'll choose a short-term goal, such as:  I will write two scenes and/or one chapter by . . .