Archive | May, 2010

The Verdict | Creativity Workshop Goals, Week 4

30 May

This week, in terms of my Creativity Workshop writing goals, was pretty void of progress.  I was going to say abysmal, but that would be just a bit too harsh.

My project of choice involved fluffy, innocent sheep who turn up tail-less in the field.  Oy.  Perhaps I should have considered what that would mean, in terms of a story, before I chose it: it means that somehow, someone needs to sever those little tails.  Poor, poor, fluffy sheep.

My problem with this week was not a lack of ideas.  It was not a lack of ability, or time, or even writer’s block.  My problem?  The idea I came up with rattled me a little bit, because it’s totally not something I would normally write.  Yes, yes, I know that’s what the workshop is for — to get out of my comfort zone, to try something new, to push myself, for fun and for practice.  Eeeeek.  Schizophrenic Bo-Peep?  Innocent sheep, harmed by their own trusted shepherdess?  Um…not completely my scene.

Still, once the idea snaked into my brian, it coiled up and would NOT move.  I was intrigued by it — I just wasn’t so sure I wanted to write it.  Something about it was off-putting, and I hid from it for a few days.

It scared me, but I did not ditch it.  Friday morning, I took a deep breath and faced it.  And you know what?  I like it a lot better than I expected to.  It’s colorful and vivid and dizzying, intense.  I still feel like I’m sort of closing one eye to it, not going as deep with it as I could, but the eye that’s open thinks the story’s pretty intriguing.

Though I didn’t finish it, and I only worked on it those two days — one for planning, one for facing the plan — I’m satisfied with the fact that I didn’t ignore the things that scared me.

This week, hopefully, will be better.  My inspiration for the new story the nursery rhyme “Sailing, Sailing,” and it will deal with love interrupted by nature and time, and waiting for someone to return home.  I have a smattering of social plans this week — holiday on Monday (YAY for pools and lakes), friend coming to visit on Friday, taking another friend to the airport, a reunion with my old roommates — so the challenge this week will be a busy schedule.

I can’t believe this is already the last week of the first set.  So far, I have one completed story that I like, one idea I’m SUPER-EXCITED about, and a half-written idea I’m still somewhat unenthused about.  I’d like to add another completed story to the list this week!

Happy creating, everyone!

PS: If you’re new-ish around here and have no idea what the Creativity Workshop is (also known on Twitter as #CreateWS), click here for a post about the workshop itself, and click here for a post about my goals for the workshop.

10 Things I Learned From First Graders…

28 May

Well, since you’ve all been dying to find out whether or not I got eaten alive by a den of hungry first graders the other day at my event as a guest speaker, today’s post is about that.  (About the event, rather — not about me getting eaten alive.)

Thank you, everyone who gave me encouragement and advice and ideas!  The event went well, especially considering I don’t baby-sit often and the only kids I see on a regular basis are the ones who treat the Starbucks café like their own personal zoo.

These kids, though?  These kids were adorable.  Maybe it’s fun-aunt-slash-kind-grandmother syndrome — they were adorable because I had no responsibility and was only around them for a very limited amount of time? — but whatever.  It was fun.

I’ll spare you the details of what I said, since I did pretty much what I told you about in the last post.  Instead, I thought I’d give you a fun list of the stuff they taught me.

(As usual, I feel I should advise you to click over to the actual post, rather than attempt to read it on the main page — the list below is much less cramped that way.)

10 Things I Learned From First Graders

  1. Six- and seven-year-olds are way more articulate than I thought they were. They expressed themselves with confidence and clarity when they spoke.
  2. They aren’t afraid to ask questions, and they asked some really good ones! Among the questions: Is it hard to write a novel? (Yes and no.) How many books do I plan to write? (Several, since I’m hoping this will be the first in a series.) Am I going to be rich? (Hahahahahahahahaha.) Where do I write? (Starbucks, or home, or anywhere quiet.)
  3. While many questions were surprisingly articulate, there were a few that were so adorably first-grade: “What is the cover made out of?” Not, “Who gets to design it?” — but what is it actually made out of? Um…thicker paper?  Thin cardboard?  Cardstock?  (Forgot to put that on my list of answers to prepare.  Silly me.)  Also adorably first-grade: “Do you have to write a lot of books when you write a book?”  Translation: “How do so many copies get printed?”  The sweet girl thought authors had to make, by hand, every single book that makes its way to a store.
  4. First-graders, these days, are not sheltered kids. They were all already familiar with Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, which totally surprised me.  Like, not just familiar with the names, but they recognized the cover from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Plus, at least three of them are currently reading the third Percy Jackson book.  Huh.  Good thing I didn’t bust out Dora the Explorer or Magic Schoolbus and expect them to think I was cool.
  5. They like to talk.  A lot. It’s probably more like they just enjoy the attention, but that meant lots of talking.  They were well-behaved, though.  The talking made things easier for me, because they were neither bored nor disinterested, and the Q&A time went on for longer than expected.
  6. I learned that I do, indeed, have a catchy title/main character name. I’ll call him “S.H.” for now, because at the rate my edits are going, someone might be able to whip up something with his name before I get the chance, and that?  Would not be good.  I didn’t even mean to bring his full name up, but I opened my notebook to the title page and they all read it out loud!  From then on, it was, “S.H. this,” and “S.H. that.”  Something about hearing his name said over and over again by strangers just warmed my little heart.
  7. Along with that, they are idea generators! My book is geared more towards the YA audience (though with first-graders reading Harry and Percy, I guess anyone could end up reading it one day), but if I ever decide to write for six-year-olds, I am now well-stocked with ideas.  “Miss Olson!” they exclaimed, “You could write ‘S.H. and the Missing Eyeballs’!” [giggles] “Or, ‘S.H. and the Missing Cheeks’!” [cue adorably freckled kid covering his cheeks as if they’ve fallen off] “Or, ‘S.H. and the Missing Freckles’!!”  I guess, to six-year-olds, all it takes to make a hit is a good name and something that’s missing.
  8. They’re perceptive without really knowing how perceptive they are. I asked them, “What tools do you need to write a book?”  Among the usual — pencil, pen, paper, computer — I got an interesting answer: an eraser.  That was fun to work with, because it led to a conversation about revision and multiple drafts.  I learned how to explain revision to them on the fly, and it was part Stephen King and part luck: “When you’re writing, you want to share the ideas in your head with someone else,” I told them.  “After I finish writing them down, I read them.  If I look at what I have and go, ‘Nope — other people won’t see the ideas in my head like I do,’ then it’s time to write it again.  I change it until it’s able to make other people see what I see.”  They got it.  Miraculously, they got it.
  9. In case there was ever any question, kids ABSOLUTELY DO CARE if their parents show up for things. After the Q&A time, the kids were herded to the library, where they got to read the books¹ they’d written in front of guests and family.  It’s a great idea, actually — very bookstore-book-signing-esque, where they get to be the author for the day, complete with refreshments and flowers.  Anyway, I had to console a little girl whose daddy told her he was coming, then didn’t show up.  Sigh.  They notice.  Yes, they do.
  10. The tenth thing I learned?  Even though it didn’t take much to impress these kids, their enthusiasm was contagious and motivating nonetheless. “I’ll buy all your books, Miss Olson!” one kid said, with the others nodding.  “Will you let us read it when it’s published?”  Count on it, babes.  You may be in fourth grade by the time it’s out of manuscript form and covered with whatever a cover is made from, but when that day comes?  Heck yes, you can read it.  Your library will get the first signed copy.²

All in all, you can probably tell I had a blast.  Who knew I liked interacting with kids so much?  Not me.  Maybe one day I’ll have some of my own.  (Sigh of relief heard from my parents, in-laws, and husband, I’m sure.)

Now: on to writing!  I’ve got ambitious goals for the day, to accompany my heightened motivation (and to make up for my less-than-stellar rest-of-the-week), so here goes.  How’s the writing going for all of you guys?  We’re several weeks in to the Creativity Workshop — are you guys hanging in there, or are you discouraged, or somewhere in the middle?  How’s the writing going for those of you not participating in the Workshop?

¹Illustrated non-fiction books about sea horses, starfish, octopi, and sharks. (When I saw these books, it became clear where the “What’s the cover made out of?” question came from.)(Construction paper, in their world, FYI.)

²By the way, nothing after the part about them being in fourth grade when it’s done actually met sound waves.  Kept the rest in my head.  Didn’t want to frighten them with happybabble.

Who, What, When, Where, Why

26 May

Well, today should be interesting.

I’m breaking from my usual routine of get-up-drink-latte-write-blog-write-workout-and-so-on and am merely drinking black coffee from a French press, preparing to go do something I’ve never done before.

A friend who is a first grade teacher invited me to come speak to her class for Author Day, and I’m this mix of nerves-meet-excitement about it.  When she invited me to speak, I warned her that I’m not technically an author, yet — that while I’ve made significant progress on my novel, I still have a long road to travel before that word applies to me.

Eh, she didn’t care.  “They’ll love you,” she told me, “They’ll be excited just to meet someone who’s writing a novel, published or not.”  Alrighty, then.  Speak I shall.

I’m going to do my best not to bore the little darlings with my (exciting-to-only-me) array of colored pens, my myriad notebooks, my stacks upon stacks of post-it notes, and the minutiae of what goes into a novel.  Most of that will stay hidden away in my tote bag.  Instead, I’m going to focus on the basics: what is a story, and how do you write it?  Can you do it as a first grader?  Does a book have to be a certain length? (Cue my dear visual aids of A Wrinkle in Time versus Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix.)  Where can you get ideas? (EVERYWHERE.)

After some attempts at engaging them, I’ll bust out my (totally geeky awesome) notebooks that represent the process — I have one with pictures of my villains and loads of brainstorming, a tattered first draft, a three-ring bindered second draft, and an example of some pages that are bleeding orange, purple, pink, red, and a couple of neon highlighting swipes to boot.

Before all of this, however, I need to tame my mane of hair so I don’t scare them away when I walk in the door.  Seriously.  I’m not exactly sure what a banshee looks like, but it’s the word that keeps coming to mind when I think of how my hair looks this morning.

Deep breath.  It’s only a twenty-minute guest visit.  Twenty minutes.  Not hard, right?

Right.

It’s too late for me to fish for ideas, but out of curiosity — what would you guys say to a group of first graders about being an (aspiring) author?

The Verdict | Creativity Workshop Goals, Week 3

24 May

As you might imagine, on the morning after the Lost series finale, my head feels like popcorn popping in a microwave.  (I won’t spoil anything, promise.)  Ben Linus.  Smoke Monster.  Time.  Death.  Life.  Jack, Kate, Sawyer.  Locke.  Flocke.  Lemon-raspberry tart, jungle plates, apple crisp.  Guacamole, cabernet.  Vacuum.  Dishes.  Seating arrangement for nine in a tiny apartment living room.

Now that all the planning is over, the processing of what just happened? has begun.  Thus, I’ve already succumbed to the distractions of message boards, EW.com, and a let’s-discuss-this! phone call with my mom.  Finally, I tore myself away for productivity’s sake.  For now.

You might have guessed it already, but I, um, didn’t quite meet my Creativity Workshop goals this week.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, I blasted off with a full tank of fuel back on Tuesday, when I posted about the flamin’ ladybug story — trouble was, much as I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted (and still want) to spend time on it, it was an altogether strange week.  Admittedly, the most I did on my story this week was to plan it and get way excited about it.

Though party-planning and general I’m-so-excited-yet-sorta-sad-that-I-get-to-find-out-how-Lost-ends bubbly feelings dominated the weekend, that’s not the only reason I was unproductive.  A few of the weekdays were just plain difficult, in terms of some personal stuff going on, and my willpower lacked its usual oomph.  On the days where the oomph was alive and kicking, I made some great progress on my novel edits and at the gym.  I was thisclose to completing a section of the novel, so when it came time to work, I gravitated toward that.

The good thing?

I’m not discouraged.  Still excited, actually, and encouraged that I made progress with the novel and the gym.  It’s really tempting to write the ladybug story this week instead of doing the third story in the set, but: no.  That would put a bad habit into motion, I think.  As excited as I am about it, I shall shelf it for now, knowing I have a great idea to come back to in the future.  Instead, it’s time to press on.

It’s especially tempting to write the ladybugs when I look ahead to this week’s project: Little Bo Peep and severed tails.  What in sideways world am I going to do with that?

No.  Clue.

(Yet.)

Okay, dudes.  I’m feeling that good old oomph right now, so I should strike while it’s hot.  The first goal of the rest of this week: get writing stuff done before I allow myself any more Lost message-board perusal.  Then, I’ll tackle the rest of the week.

PS: That picture of Benjamin Linus and his #8 bunny is a limited edition screenprint made by Todd Slater.  I want this.

Ladybugs Aflame!

18 May

So, I know I just posted last night, but I’m too excited about my next short story to not write about it rightthisveryminute.

Seriously.  Just an hour ago, I had zero clue where I was going with my ladybug story.  In case you’re not familiar with the “Ladybug, Ladybug” rhyme at the foundation of my story for this week’s Creativity Workshop project, it goes like this:

Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home

Your house is on fire, and your children shall burn.

There are several different versions of this rhyme, all of them depressing, but this is the one I remember from childhood.¹

Anyway.  The creative juices weren’t quite flowing when I first sat down to think this morning, and I was worried this idea would end up looking way-too-similar to the nursery rhyme itself.²  Lo and behold, after a little time spent scribbling in my awesome lime green graph-lined notebook, some actual (non-ladybug) characters popped their heads out of the (soon-to-be-burning) woodwork.  Damaged, hurting characters who crave love but aren’t quite sure how to get it.  Characters with multi-faceted motives and cavernous hearts I totally want to explore.

Now, I have on my hands something that has potential to be exciting, adventurous, and action-packed yet full of depth.  Also, the ideas came loaded with a structure I’ve never experimented with, so I’m looking forward to that.  Oh, ladybugs, you’re going to be quite the challenge, yet if you work out in my favor?  Quite the satisfying accomplishment, too.

Alright.  Random excited outburst over.

¹For many, many years, I wondered, “Was that seriously a real song, or did I just imagine it?  Seriously?  And why did I like it so much?  Who was the weirdo who thought those lyrics were appropriate for a tape of children’s music?” Lo and behold, yes.  It is a real song, from a real nursery rhyme, and my little toddler memory preserved every strange word of it.

²I’m talking literal ladybugs here, people, and I was just not convinced I should go that direction.  I couldn’t erase cartoonish images of Strawberry Shortcake and the Peculiar Purple Pieman of Porcupine Peak (with a ladybug and a fire tossed in here or there), and…well…that felt a little too on-the-nose.  Not to mention cartoonish, when I think the rhyme needs more depth to do it justice.

The Verdict | Creativity Workshop Goals, Week 2

17 May

Well, well, well.

Just like that, and the first two weeks of the Creativity Workshop — one intro week, one actual writing week — are over.

Despite the fact that I’m an exhausted shell of myself today, thanks to four days of hosting out-of-town family (plus one impromptu day trip to Austin¹), the first week of actual writing was pretty much a success.

The Story

My first story for the workshop was loosely based on the Humpty Dumpty rhyme.  It turned out much shorter than planned (1,251 total words), but it felt whole at that length, so I didn’t press for more.  I enjoyed writing this story as much as possible, given the fact that the theme (irreparable brokenness) was sort of difficult and lent itself to a not-so-happy ending.

The characters popped into my imagination fully-formed.  On one hand, we’ve got Humphrey Dempsey, a forty-year-old man who is ridiculously obsessed with breaking eggs and gluing them back together, 3-D puzzle-style.  On the other hand, we have his wife Farrah, who is tired of seeing him waste his life on something ridiculous, stupid, and — in her opinion — pointless.  Hence, conflict.  That, I expected.  Lots of little surprises arose along the way — thoughts about being satisfied with appearances rather than truth, thoughts about throwing stones while in a glass castle, thoughts about selfishness versus love, thoughts about futility and hope, thoughts about pretense, thoughts about vicious cycles.

All in all, the story itself is a blinding glimpse into this world.  It’s short, but (I think) substantial.  It could probably be better.  I look forward to reading it after the workshop is over, then making changes to strengthen it.  This was, after all, the first short story I’ve ever written.  I’m betting it could definitely be better.  That said, I like what I ended up with.

The Story Goals

One of my specific goals for this set of stories was:

I want contrast to be essential in my character development: characters who have similar motives, yet manifest opposite actions. (For example, two characters who both feel love, but show it in completely different ways.)

Specifically, this was at the very heart of my story.  Humphrey and Farrah are both trying to fix something irreparable: Humphrey has his shattered eggs, and Farrah has, well, Humphrey.  The manifestations of this are absolute opposites.  Humphrey isolates himself, Farrah presses him for interaction.  Humphrey is unburdened, for the most part, by what others think of him, while Farrah is obsessed with ‘normal’ appearances.

The Process Goals

As far as the process itself went, last week was a learning experience.  I already touched on my difficulties with balancing discipline with patience.  Flexibility in my schedule, as opposed to sheer rigidity, helped get me into a more creative place, and thus helped me to be more productive.  One of my goals, also, was to shut down TweetDeck and all browsers.  This was good and bad.  Good, because I didn’t get as distracted.  Bad, because it encouraged that rigid mindset.  I experimented with both ways, and in the end found that as long as I am disciplined² to not go on rabbit trails whenever interesting tweets pop up, I actually feel more ready to work with TweetDeck open — it’s motivating to see others being productive and tweeting about it.  I’m going to keep experimenting with this, though.

In the midst of the short-story-writing, I managed to get some (not a ton, but some) quality edits done on my novel.  I’m encouraged by this, and ready to tackle more of it.

Generally speaking, I’m on track, but not completely on schedule.  I haven’t done the get-inspired-by-these-pictures assignment yet, and have avoided most posted thoughts about them, because I still want to do it.  Also, this very post is a day late, and I have yet to read the latest Merrilee post on organization.  Last week was an anomaly, since we don’t often take spontaneous trips to Austin or have people at our house for half a week, so I’m not too banged up about being slightly off-schedule.  At least the short story got done, and I’m mainly up-to-date on the other stuff.

Alright.  Long-overdue date night is about to commence³, followed by some intense vegging in front of Glee and a smattering of NBC comedies.  Or, maybe substitute some Curb Your Enthusiasm instead of the smattering…we shall see.  Yes.  Tonight I rest, tomorrow I’ll work.

May your notebooks be delightfully scrawled-upon, your ideas plentiful, and your shattered eggs perfectly cooked to your liking.

¹For those of you not familiar with Texas, you can drive for eight hours and still be in Texas.  Fortunately for us, Austin was a mere 3.5-hour drive away from us.  Out of sheer youthful ambition (ha) we tackled a there-and-back trip in one day, complete with eight hours of let’s-do-fun-stuff in between.  Yeah.

²Italicized, because it is quite the conditional statement.  Makes all the difference in the world.

³Why, hello, little buffalo wings and beer.  You look mighty tasty indeed.

Patience + Discipline = REALLY HARD.

13 May

So, as I’ve been writing this week, the same struggle has been popping up over and over and over again: it’s REALLY HARD to balance discipline with patience.

Seriously.

I can be Czar of Productivity, or I can be Girl Who Puts Thought Into What She Does.  It’s not easy to be both.

On one hand, we have the Czar¹of Productivity version of me.  Give me a calendar, and I will whip up the most ambitious color-coded schedule, complete with alarm alerts that sound like submarines.  I’ll even follow it, and be excited about following it.

On the other hand, we have Girl Who Puts Thought Into What She Does.  Though this girl loves discipline in theory, she also loves freedom.  Freedom to write what she feels like writing, when she feels like writing it.  Freedom to write for another hour past that stupid submarine alert (which then begins to remind her of the Jin and Sun Tragedy).

What I’m learning this week is that the Czar has the tendency to be a bit more dominant.  This leads to a feeling of go, go, go, Go, GO! in me, an unsettled get-everything-done-NOW! feeling.  This feeling lies to me, telling me that I must produce, and produce a lot.  That words are the fruit of each hour, and the less I have, the worse I’ve done.

That.  Is.  Not.  True.

Just because I’m devoting more hours to writing, and devoting more hours to different projects, it does not mean the writing itself will automatically go faster.  That, at the end of the day, just because I’m in ‘productive mode,’ I’ll end up with pages upon pages to show for it.

To remedy this, here’s what I’m doing.

First, I’ve realized that hour-long blocks of time make me feel too rushed.  The time flies too quickly, and I try to cram too many hour-long blocks of different tasks into the same morning/afternoon.  This produces that unsettled bubbly feeling in me, and it makes me write fast instead of write well.  Therefore, I’m doing things in 1.5- to 2-hour blocks, instead, and I’m putting them in different times of the day instead of back-to-back.  Making, and sticking to, a schedule does not mean that schedule has to be tight, tight, tight.  Kind of like a financial budget, it needs to allow for real life tendencies, not just the ideal.

Second, I’m learning patience.  Patience to allow myself the freedom to think, and to think deeply, about the words I put on the page.  Patience to sit in the chair and think, or write, hopefully both, during the whole time I’ve scheduled for the project at hand.  I’m reminding myself to slow down, to insert myself into whatever scene I’m writing, and not worry about quantity as long as what I’ve written feels like quality.

These fixes are already working well.  I finished revising a particularly stubborn scene this morning, one who’s been quite the diva.  That felt good.

Ironically, I’m on a time crunch right now — I’m about to go pick up my sister-in-law at the airport.  A few more things before I go, though: in case you’re wondering why I put a picture of my potted plants, it’s not just because they’re pretty.  I thought they were a good representation of discipline and patience, and planned to write more about that.  (Basically, just that you have to have discipline to water them, but you can’t force them to grow.  Helpful writing analogy, in my opinion.)

Also, to all you sweet new friends I’ve met through Merrilee’s workshop, I’ve given you a horrible impression of my ability to respond to comments in a reasonable time!  This week has been abnormally crazy, and I’m dying to write back to all of your comments.  Thank you for leaving them, and I plan to get better at responding in the future.

You people rock.  It’s off to the airport, and out of this freezing place they call a coffee shop.  I’m guessing they keep it below zero to encourage patrons to purchase more steaming mugs of awesomeness?  (It works on me.)

¹Czaress?

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