Different Minds

The crazy, creative part about writing a blog is the freedom of writing it, posting it and moving on.  I admit, I sometimes look back and make corrections but for the most part, it’s a task I complete with that last period on the page and then I focus to other things.  It’s so freeing.  You have to be a little daring because posting off the cuff means laying out something rough and unpolished.  But, sometimes I think the result is better than a piece that has been edited to death.

Have you every finished a free writing session and looked back and thought, “Wow, that was in my head?  I didn’t know that about me.”  I like that feeling.  I also love when someone reads something I’ve written and the perspective, based on his or her unique life experience, alters the effect.  We often forget as writers that we are not alone in our writing.  Each reader contributes to our story by bringing his own point-of-view.  We can’t base our writing on this collaboration because we don’t have access to other brains (at least I don’t.)  But, the result adds richness all the same.

Material

Remnant of Great-Grandma Clay's Quilt

When writers talk about material, it means the fabric of our lives, used to inspire and craft our stories.  My husband, the construction worker, is referring to drywall and lumber and nails when he talks about material.  For me the word material conjures images of gingham and ribbon and lace.

My mother and her mother before her were seamstresses during my childhood.  My grandma on my dad’s side was a seamstress too.  For them, a new bolt of fabric was the possibility of a new dress and scraps were saved as potential for a quilt in the fall. 

There was a closet in our house devoted to sewing.  Mom and Grandma worked at The Garment Factory and at the close of a season, the factory hosted a fabric sale.  Mom kept her bargain finds neatly folded in a rainbow of colors stacked on shelves in the sewing closet.

When I was very young that closet held cotton material.  One summer, Mom made me a maxi-length red and white gingham pinafore with a ruffle around the bottom to wear in The Little Miss Windsor pageant during the celebration of our country’s bi-centennial year (1976).  I won the contest and at 7 years old was an absolute princess in that dress.

A few years later, polyester was the only fabric to be found in that closet.  My grandma made my cousin and me matching, sea-foam green, polyester pant suits with silver and pearl snaps.  I was not a fan of polyester, it was scratchy, and it was becoming un-cool to wear homemade clothing.  I entered my teen years and found every excuse to avoid learning the craft.  I was required to take one year of home economics in high school and declared myself a failure at sewing, vowing to never pick up needle and thread again.

As an adult, I’ve learned to appreciate my mother’s and grandmothers’ skill.  I especially cherish the quilts made by loving hand from scraps of our history.  Not only do the quilts contain discount cloth from factory sales but in them can be found scraps of Grandpa’s pajama bottoms, and that old flannel shirt.

I’m still a failure at sewing; probably from lack of trying. But, I write, and  I hope through my stories I’m able to  capture a little scrap of family history in the threads.

Old Friends Revisited

Old Friends

My husband doesn’t ever want to see a movie a second time.  If I pop in an old classic, he will walk in the room and declare, “Seen it!” and then go upstairs to play Halo.  Actually, I’m pretty sure he’s not a movie fan at all.  He commonly tells our friends after a night out at the local AMC theatre, “Well, I just paid nine bucks for a nap.”  I give him points for going with the flow to make me happy.

 I love movies and I like to watch the same ones again and again.  The first time is purely for entertainment.  The second time, I’m looking for elements I originally missed, and the third time I actually start to appreciate the work of the people behind the scenes. 

I read books the same way.  It’s actually become a problem around the house because I can’t seem to let go of any of my books and we’re running out of space.  I don’t enjoy checking books out of the library because I never want to give them back.  After the first reading, the characters become my friends.  I put the book on a shelf and walk away but then I start to miss my friends.  I start reading a new book and become distracted by my new friends for a while and even start to forget about the old ones on the shelf.  Eventually, I have to dust that shelf and before you know it, the old book is back in my hand and then back on my night stand for another read.

For a writer, there are benefits to re-reading a good book, especially a book that has inspired you in a profound way.  The second reading can be done with a critical eye to see how the writer achieved making a connection with you, the reader, allowing your own writing to grow.  I’ve noticed since I’ve made writing a priority in my life, I look at things from a writer’s perspective.  Certain subtleties that I once might have overlooked now catch my eye.  While watching a sitcom on TV, I now take note of clever or stale dialogue.  When reading a book, heavy on location description, I find myself skimming over an entire paragraph and nod my head.  That paragraph could have been left out.

Taking note of these strengths and weaknesses in the works of others may seem arrogant, but only if I don’t apply what I’ve learned to my own writing.  I invite you to take some time to revisit an old friend.  Even if you’re not a writer, you may find that the life you’ve experienced since your last read brings a fresh perspective and you’ll enjoy the book even more.

Writing for Love’s Sake

I’ve managed to write every morning for about two weeks now.  Today, I am just not feeling it.  I think it’s partly because I have to be out of the house early this morning and partly because I’m in a bummed out state of mind.

Today in The Daily Writer, Fred encourages us to write out of love.  Most of my writing comes from a place of love because I write personal essays inspired by memories.  Fred talks about taking it a step further and using our writing to reach out and take part in the world.  His challenge is to come up with a project about a topic close to our hearts and write in a way that will convey our love to the reader.  His assignment is a call to action to take a stand about something from our community, country or world and write it down out of love. 

Shortly after the 2008 Presidential Election, I wrote about my feelings.  I think it’s time to find that essay and edit it with this assignment in mind.

Where am I?

Bargersville, Indiana

Have you ever read a scene in a story and been transported to the location you’re reading about?  Not actually transported but so involved in the story you could almost close your eyes and picture yourself  there.   Fred refers to the opening scene of George Orwell’s 1984 in which the reader finds himself in what Fred describes as, “a dystopia where military time is kept, where propaganda reigns, and where springtime feels more like midwinter.”  For me, an exceptional example of setting up atmosphere is in the opening scene of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.  She describes the trees with, “brindled bark like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason.”  We see in her African jungle, “A single-file army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen.”  This girl can set a scene!

Rich description involves the senses, all of them.  To really transport the reader, the writer has to put himself there first.  Today Fred challenges us to set up some atmosphere for our characters so I’m going back to my neighbor’s barn.  Since I’ve never been inside I get to imagine what it might be like.  Here goes:

                Bent over in the hot sun, I hear the crunch of tires on gravel as the little black truck passes by.  I straighten my back and offer a neighborly wave.  He’s gone.  Mr. Orville is headed to town so it’s now or never. 

 I drop my trowel and handful of weeds onto the dirt and turn slowly to confront the barn.  The boards are worn and faded, weathered by eons of sun and rain and frost.  A ghost of the red beauty it once was, cracks in the gray slats show slices of sky near the hay loft door.  I take a step into the pasture.  The tall brown grass crackles underneath my boots.  Orville cuts the grass in the pasture a few times every summer, but he was sick last fall and winter hit before he got in the final mowing.  As I move closer, the shiny tin roof looms overhead.  It’s strange.  Orville keeps the roof of the barn in immaculate condition, but the walls seem to be rotting away.  “What is he keeping in there?”

                I approach the corner of the barn furthest from the view from Orville’s house.  He’s gone but maybe his wife is on watch today.  The earth around the barn’s foundation is mounded up.  I have to climb to put my face against the wall.  The boards are rough with age.  Leaning in pressing my hands against the wall to steady myself on the raised earth, I peer through a crack in the board.  I squint and close one eye trying to see into the darkness.

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Well, that’s a start.  Duty calls and my writing time is up for today.  I think I’ll come back to this later to see where it goes.  It’s true that scheduling time to write every day and sticking to it is inspiring.  Now, it’s stopping to go to work that is hard.

Fact of the matter

Get the facts, mind your p’s and q’s and get it straight.  Don’t forget to cross your T’s and dot your I’s.  Today Fred talks about fact checking, making sure your writing is accurate by backing it up with research.  Since I publish my own blog, I don’t have the luxury of an on staff fact checker.  I do it myself and frankly, sometimes I blow it off.  Fred and I agree it’s important but it shouldn’t get in the way of the creative process.

Fred suggests keeping a fact checking notebook as you write or assigning yourself a “fact to be checked” symbol to write in the margins to remind you to check into it later so in the midst of writing you can continue to go with the flow.

My friend Amy and I spent quite a few weeks last year in a local coffee shop working on writing a collaborative script from scratch.  It still sits unfinished on our respective laptops but the experience was a blast and we both discovered a love for research.  In fact, we would often get carried away reading each other snippets of history about our story’s location or obituaries of people with names the same as our characters.  It was so much fun and the hours passed too quickly.  We would often finish the day with only a page of dialogue but a plethora of information about lingo used by short order cooks in greasy spoons of the 1940’s.  I miss those days.

Eventually, we made a pact to note items to be researched later so we could plow ahead with the dialogue and the plot.  Of course, we found other distractions but we did make a little headway after that.

My plan of action is to continue noting my ‘to be checked facts’ in the margins.  The idea of maintaining another notebook seems like too much trouble to me and that’s a fact.

I think I thought a thought.

Being the organizational freak that I am, I’ve been bothered by my digital journal and the fact that I have to scroll to the bottom to add the next post.  So, I spent the last 15 minutes cutting and pasting each entry so the new posts could go on top.  There was probably an easier way but this is the way I know and now it’s done.

Organization is important in writing but often we don’t notice our mistakes in filing and archiving until it’s gone too far.  How often have you thrown something away that’s been nothing but clutter for years   only to exclaim a week later, “Now what did I do with that thing?  Oh yes, I threw it away.”

Today, Fred talks about keeping track of good ideas.  We all know to keep a notepad close at hand wherever we go but then what?  Fred suggests looking back through journals and organizing by topic or using scrapbooks to file clippings and notes and ideas.  He also describes an idea file as “a soul-satisfying way of surveying the full spectrum of your personal philosophy.”  I like this technique and happen to have a drawer full of blank index cards because my kids use them to make flash cards when studying Japanese.  I even found an old plastic avocado green recipe box on a dusty shelf that will be thrilled to be of service.  Fred offers a list of question to get started.  I think I’ll look through the notebook at the bottom of my purse and see what I find.

Structure First…

Outlining as a first draft?  Hmm, I’ve never tried it.  It kind of seems like using structure as a basis for a first write might hinder the process, but Fred says our brains naturally organize things in this way anyway so I might as well give it a try.  I’ve had my short story/book Turning Rows on the back burner for some time now so maybe it’s time to drag it out and make an outline.  Here goes.

  1. Jill’s father thinks she should get a summer job and talks to an acquaintance
    1. Introduce Frank
    2. Describe need for walking beans
  2. Jill is picked up for her first day at work
    1. Introduce Sam
    2. Describe bean field and the job at hand
    3. Introduce Clay, Adam, and Chris
  3. Describe relationship between the girls and boys as they work
    1. Girls keep to themselves
    2. Boys try to get girls attention
    3. Tall tales scene
  4. Sam’s accident
    1. Reveal how young people sometimes make irrational choices
    2. Reveal Jill’s loyalty to Sam
  5. Frank returns to the field
    1. Lunch
    2. Describe progression of time
    3. Describe fatigue
  6. Going home
    1. Girls under the tree scene
    2. Boys arrive
    3. Begin revealing Chris’ dangerous nature
    4. Show Jill’s inner conflict
    5. Jill asks boys to leave and tension builds but then they go.
  7. Sleep over
    1. Describe the inside of Jill’s house
    2. Show girls alone in bedroom
      1. Getting ready for bed rituals
      2. Sneaking snacks
      3. Silly girl time
      4. Discuss the boys
    3. Reveal Jill’s Dad’s authoritarian nature
      1. Girl’s giggle and squeal
      2. Dad opens door and yells for girls to get to bed because they have to be up early to get back in the bean field.
      3. Lights out and whispered conversation before going to sleep
        1. Reveals Sam’s adventurous side
        2. Reveals Jill’s desire to do the right thing but her conflict at wanting to appear adventurous in Sam’s eyes.
  8. Rise and Shine
    1. Introduce Mom
    2. Describe relationship between Jill’s Mom and Dad
      1. Mom is housewife
        1. Takes care of younger siblings
        2. Makes breakfast for Dad and girls
    3. Describe girls getting ready
    4. Girls making their lunches and watching for Frank to pick them up
  9. Back to Work
    1. In the truck
      1.  Sam’s makes a bid for a hook instead of a hoe.
      2. Boys make obscene demands
      3. Jill gives her hook to Sam
    2. Back in the rows
      1. Show changes in how girls and boys interact with one another (more familiar)
      2. Downpour scene
      3. Work day ends early
      4. Summarize rest of week
  10. Saturday
  11. Bike ride with the boys
  12. Jill gets pressured
  13. Sam saves the day

That was an interesting experience.  It’s useful to get the chronology down on paper as a guide.  Who knows where it will go from here.  Fred says to use this outline as the framework for a type of free write first draft.  I’ll give it a shot.  Check back to see where I end up.

Stealing a moment

I am my own worst enemy when it comes to putting up road blocks to my writing.  I tell myself I’ll get to it when the dishes are done and I’ve filed our taxes and after dinner.  I never get to it.  The idea that I enjoy writing makes it a less valuable task than all the others I’m responsible for.  I feel like I’m being selfish if I put it first.

But, that’s just what I’ve decided to do.  I’m determined to write when I first get up in the morning.  Right now my husband is grumpy because he was sleeping next to my writing space.  I’m not sure how he could hear my typing over his snoring but apparantly, I woke him up.

Well, this new plan works better when the kids are at school and my husband is at work so I guess I’ll have to work out some sort of compromise for the weekend.  But it definitely ensures that I keep in practice if nothing else.  As soon as I walk away from my writing desk the phone rings and emails need to be addressed and the hope of writing for the rest of the day is lost.  But, if I can hold those first moments of morning sacred, I’ll keep writing and not feel guilty about stealing time from something else in my day.

Inspired by Thinking about Thinking

When I wrote my essay, The Beach, I started telling a true story from my life.  Because I was retelling events, the first draft (getting the event on paper) was just a linear telling of the event.  Future drafts incorporated details, emotions, and characterization that painted images.  I guess my story evolved like a string of beads.  The string was the chronological order in which the events occurred and each bead was the fleshing out of a character or setting or feeling.  My friend Amy once pitched an idea of a book to me in which she offers a collection of stories described as a String of Pearls. I guess the creative process I use when writing an essay is more like a string of raw clay beads.  Each bead is imperfect and pliable.  In the dark cool space of my mind the beads are reshaped draft after draft then finally tempered when exposed to the light of day.  Of course, this has to be some kind of magic clay that can be sent back into the dark to become pliable again because upon critique in the light of day changes will have to be made.  Maybe the tempering occurs after publishing.  That seems right although even then there could be changes.  I guess it’s good to string up beads of clay.  The beads can always be ground back to dust and with a little rain the process starts all over again.