He Lived Long and Prospered

spock

RIP, Mr. Spock.

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How I Got My Writing Groove Back

That nasty cold that’s been going around finally found me. Since I’m unlikely to come up with a new post this week, I’m reblogging this one from last February. It was the second one I posted, so most of you will have missed it the first time around.

Storyteller

I was always supposed to be a writer, at least that’s what my teachers said.  I was pretty good at it.  Report, essay, poem?  No problem.  Character sketch?  Boy, do I know some characters.  But college was out of the question for me.  It wasn’t just the money; I needed to get away from home.  Things there were difficult.  So, I joined the Army instead (bad idea-I made a lousy soldier), married John six weeks after our first date (great idea for more than thirty years now), and had two boys.  Over the years, I helped write or edit reports for the military, a couple of private investigators (arson, mostly), and have spent the last ten years transcribing and editing medical reports.  Dry, boring, soul-crushing work.  If you’re looking to scrape the creativity off a storyteller’s tongue, technical writing is the tool to use.  The rules can be a little crazy.  One…

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The Happiness Question

“In happiness you must create.”

from For Writer’s Only, by Sophy Burnham

Writing is easiest for me during those times when I’m not faced with a major personal crisis. The “write-no-matter-what” crowd always made me feel guilty about putting my pen down when my emotions were pulled elsewhere by financial worries, illness, or family problems. I’m not talking about the everyday stuff. We all have that. I’m talking about the gut-wrenching stuff that keeps you awake at night and invades what little sleep you get. I’ve had a lot of that over the last few years. But there have been periods of relative calm that have allowed me to unhook the logical half of my brain and get some writing done. Sometimes that has meant letting go of my grasp on someone else’s problem and realizing it isn’t mine to solve. As a mother, that’s a tough thing to do.

Happiness is something that always seems to be off in the distance, something just out of reach. Maybe happiness isn’t the right word. Peace. Calm. During those times, as Ms. Burnham says, we create. We write, paint, and dance. It isn’t just that the process is easier then; it’s necessary. Singing a happy song when you’re down is the psychological equivalent of whistling past a graveyard. It lacks authenticity.  When we’re sad, if we sing at all, we sing the blues. But good news or a beautiful day demands creative outlet, like those moments when you can feel God standing next to you and all you can do is worship.

In the dark, icy grasp of winter, in the midst of troubles present and those looming on the horizon, happiness and creativity behave as fugitives. Weary of the chase, we drop our weapons for a while. Spring will come and fresh tracks will appear in the wet earth. Happiness will grow careless about its disguise and we will pick up the trail once again.

A New Form of Writer’s Block?

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That’s my cat, Gandalf.  I was struggling with the plot for my next book when he decided to make himself comfortable on the papers in my lap.  Gandalf is 12 years old and hasn’t been feeling well lately, so I let him stay.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get much work done.  I suppose this is one form of writer’s block I can blame on the cat.  I was bemoaning my lack of productivity to my husband who said, “Of course you didn’t get anything done.  You just cleaned up cat vomit and then he sat on your work.”  He’s good at talking me down off the ledge.  You need someone like that on hand if you’re trying to write.

Titles, characters, and how to say things all come relatively easy for me.  Plot is where I struggle.  I can hear some of you asking, “It’s a picture book!  How hard can it be to come up with a plot?”  To a picture book/early reader author, them’s fightin’ words.  Meet me in the octagon and we’ll settle this like civilized people.

I have to grab the attention of a small person will a small attention span.  If you’ve ever had to entertain a young child, you know how hard that is.  Next time you see a group of kids playing, stop and observe them.  They never stay on one topic or task for very long.  Especially if they’re boys.  Boys are wonderful to watch because they just make up the game as they go along (“OK, now let’s pretend that…”).  Their play is a series of plot twists.

What age-appropriate adventure can I take my main character on this time?  This kid solves mysteries, but I can’t have him breaking up the local crack smuggling ring.  Should I bring in the supporting characters from the first book?  Should I give the dog a bigger part in the story?  I want it to be a little bit scary, but not so much so that it causes nightmares.

Last week, I managed to work out some of the main character’s dialogue.  Since I don’t have a fixed plot, the dialogue is still pretty generic and can be used in a variety of situations.  But the dialogue was what shaped the plot last time, so I may have to content myself with working on that for now.

If Gandalf will let me.

Unbroken Binding

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I always feel bad when I see the clearance bin at the bookstore.  Do any of us think we’ll end up there? The manuscript we brought forth after hard labor reduced to a fraction of its worth?  Why do we do it? Why do we work so hard on something that may never even have a shelf life?

I found one of my favorite books from childhood on Amazon a few months ago. “How to Make Flibbers” by Robert Lopshire was published in 1964. It’s full of fun things to make out of stuff that’s just lying around the house. We had so much fun with that book. We made flibbers out of newspaper, hairclips out of clothespins, whirligigs, paper lanterns, finger puppets, and birdhouses.  We grew miniature “trees” out of carrot tops and leafy plants out of potatoes.

The sad thing is that the 1964 copy I found looks brand new.  The binding isn’t even broken. This book and all the magic it contains sat on someone’s shelf for 50 years, untouched and unexplored.  How is that possible?

We used to receive a new book every month through some book of the month club.  When a new book arrived, we couldn’t wait to open it. Books were the one luxury we had, and we appreciated each one.

“How to Make Flibbers” didn’t land in the bargain bin. Someone paid for it and gave it to a child. Full price paid for fun that would never be had.

Unpublished is bad.  Unsold is bad.  But unread is far worse.