Thursday, January 22, 2015

Words-of-Week Survey: Are You Lucy, Linus, or Charlie Brown?


graphic courtesy weheartit.com
The scene is bucolic. The three characters in the Peanuts comic strip (Charles Schultz,  The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 5, 1959-1960) are lying on their backs on the top of a knoll watching the white, fluffy clouds float by above them in the sky.

Dialogue:

Lucy: Aren't the clouds beautiful? They look like big balls of cotton. I could just lie here all day and watch them drift by. If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the formations. What do you think you see, Linus?

Linus: Well, those clouds up there look to me like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean. [Points up] That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor. And that group of clouds over there...[points]...gives me the impression of the Stoning of Stephen. I can see the Apostle Paul standing there to one side.

Lucy: Uh, huh. that's very good. What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?

Charlie Brown: Well.. I was going to say I saw a duckie and a horsie, but I changed my mind.

Ah, poor Charlie Brown!

Actually, I can sort of identify with him. The past week has been relatively successful--the rough draft is moving forward, about 4000 words-worth so far. That in itself is amazing since I procrastinated so much on this project last year. I'm not looking back over the mess (see last post about the messy first draft here) to edit or fill in the blanks. Just pushing forward at this point. I'm afraid when I do go back, though, the voice will sound more like Charlie Brown than Linus.

But maybe that's okay. Duckies and horsies might be just what my story needs!

Are you Linus, Lucy, or Charlie Brown in your writing this week? Watching very many clouds go by? And how is your imagination faring?
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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

New Year, New Draft: 14 Tips to Grow It


photo courtesy pixabay
"I hate first drafts, and it never gets easier. People always wonder what kind of superhero power they'd like to have. I wanted the ability for someone to just open up my brain and take out the entire first draft and lay it down in front of me so I can just focus on the second, third, and fourth drafts." --Judy Blume

We had all five grandkids in the house over the recent holidays in different stages, different combinations, different numbers of days. Happy times (well, except for the flu bug that visited some family members--we could have done without that), albeit messy. Let me count the ways: legos, bristle blocks, books, puzzles, markers, scissors, glue, Whoonu game chips, all that wrapping paper, random lost socks, and spilled flour during a cookie baking session. But I wouldn't have it any other way! Planting seeds in the soil of family is always a good thing.

Can I be as positive in this new year about the new draft I've decided to tackle--I mean really tackle and not just talk about? It promises to be messy, too. In preparation, I "dug up" tips to help me weed through its mess--which I offer to you, too, hoping they'll help you in turn.

14 Tips to Help Grow That First (Messy) Draft

1. Put Your Boots On. You know it'll be messy. You face knee-deep frustration and feelings of inadequacy. But there's a first step. START. Like Pixar's Emma Coates says: "Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone."

2. Plant the Seeds.  Put down words and let them germinate. Don't edit. Don't stew. Sow seeds you will later fix. "The first draft is just you telling yourself the story." --Terry Pratchett

3. Get Your Hands Dirty. Hubby used to watch Master Gardener Rebecca Kolls talk about gardening on TV. He especially liked her signature sign-off: "Get out there and get your hands dirty." Same with our first draft. We just have to dig in no matter how unpromising the pages seem at first. Darcy Pattison explains her process in Awful First Draft: It's Hard to Trust the Process this way: "Most of all, I remember: the purpose of the first draft is to figure out what story you are telling. The purpose of all other drafts is to figure out the most dramatic way to tell that story...I am trusting the process and writing a really lousy first draft."

4. Go With the Wind. Elizabeth Sims, in Writer's Digest's Get Messy With Your First Draft says it this way: 'learn to love anarchy.' She explains, "Ignore the sequence while writing your first draft...Nothing is as freeing as writing what comes to mind next, not necessarily what must come next...the first execution of your ideas must be as unfettered as possible. Which will result in--yes!--some crap: false starts, pretentiousness, clunky images and cliches. Fine. Get them out now. They'll contaminate the good stuff only until you get around to your second draft."

5. Greet the Sun. This is one of my main targets this year. In Write That First Draft: 6 Ways to Generate Material for Your Book, Huffington Post's Lisa Tener says make the time: "You want to talk bills? Kids? Out-of-town guests, day jobs, commutes? At times it seems life was designed explicitly to obstruct us from writing...So when I do manage to set time aside to write, I stick to it. I keep my writing appointments." And what about penciling in that time first thing in the morning? Will Self makes a point: "I prefer to write as soon as possible after waking, so that the oneiric inscape is still present to me." (Okay, I admit, I had to look this one up. Oneiric [adj]: of or having to do with dreams; inscape [n]: an interior view or scene.)

6. Thin the Rows. In other words, don't worry about length the first time through. "I generally write a first draft that's pretty lean," Nora Roberts is quoted as saying. "Just get the story down."

7. Shovel. I love this quote by Shannon Hale: "I'm writing my first draft and reminding myself that I'm simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles." Keep shoveling!

8. Shake it Out. Elizabeth Sims again (see #4): "Get Loose. Relax, physically and mentally. If, as I do, you write your first drafts longhand, consider your pen a paintbrush. Hold it relaxed in your hand and move it from your shoulder instead of with your fingers. Your whole arm will move freely, and you'll pour out the words...Legibility is overrated. Remember that."

9. Plow. As in plow on through, surprises await. "Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised." --John Steinbeck

10. Water. It's okay to step away, take a breath, let the story work its magic in the subconscious. Ernest Hemingway advocated reading during such breaks: "When I was writing, it was necessary for me to read after I had written. If you kept thinking about it, you would lose the thing you were writing before you could go on with it the next day...I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it." Go to the well of reading. It will help.

11. Water Some More. Annie Dillard, from her book The Writing Life, admonishes: "One of the few things I know about writing is this, spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a  later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water."

12. Enjoy the Fruit. Have fun! Again, from Tener (above): "This probably seems like the most obvious one. If you're having fun, if you're experiencing the joy of discovery at all, then that freshness and excitement will be contained in the work you are creating. If you've made the time, you know how many other things you could be doing, but tonight or today you get to write. There's fun to be had. It is up to you to have it."

13. Harvest. It's simple wisdom, but as Julie Musil said in her blog post Why a Messy First Draft is a Great Thing: "A messy first draft means you've finished a book." Yes!

So where does this bring us? Why, to...hope for the second draft.

14. Celebrate the Bounty. Messy first drafts offer more than we first think. As Sims concludes, "If you practice looseness and receptivity when writing your first draft, the day will come during revisions when you realize you have a surplus of good writing to sort through." Good to know! Like rain on parched fields, there's hope in what we planted, propelling us to the next step.

So slog through that first draft. Don't let it get you down. And one last word of advice: "The first draft reveals the art, revision reveals the artist" (Michael Lee). So, in the next few months, I'm wearing my boots and getting my hands dirty in the mess of my first draft--and then on to the second. How about you? Are you ready to dig in and grow something with words, too?
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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns, and Paul Simon

photo courtesy of pixabay.com
"And there's a hand, my trusty fiere! And gie's a hand o' thine! And we'll tak a right guid willy waght, for auld lang syne." --Robert Burns

Auld Lang Syne--the signature song as one year ends and another begins. Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne...

Auld Lang Syne. Originally a poem, written by Scotland's famous poet Robert Burns in the late 1780s, it was popularized as a New Year's Eve song by Guy Lombado when his band used it during a live performance at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York in 1929 (source: abcnews.go.com).

For us today, the original Scottish dialect is quaint: For auld lang syne, my jo, for auld lang syne. We'll tak a cup o' kindness yet. For auld lang syne. And surely ye'll be your pint-stowp! And surely I'll be mine! And we'll tak a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne. ('For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we'll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne. And surely you'll buy your pint cup and surely I'll buy mine! And we'll take a cup o' kindness yet, for auld lang syne.')

And yet the sentiments remain the same. Auld lang syne, the meaning translates to times gone by or old long ago, and rings true with messages about love and friendship of times past, important things not to be forgotten.

We twa hae run about the braes and pu'd the gowans fine; But we've wander'd mony a weary foot sin auld lang syne. ('We two have run about the slopes and picked the daisies fine; but we've wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.')

We twa hae paidl'd i' the burn, frae mornin' sun till dine; but seas between us braid hae ror'd sin auld lang syne.* ('We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine' but seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne.')

Ah, but if Auld Lang Syne is the song to close out 2014, what song should usher in 2015? May I suggest something from Paul Simon? A verse in his song, "Hurricane Eye," goes like this:

You want to be a writer,
Don't know how or when?
Find a quiet place,
Use a humble pen.

Doesn't have quite the 'ring' to it, and it isn't Auld Lang Syne. Still, I think I'll be humming a bit of this from Paul Simon for 2015, telling myself to just pick up that pen. Get those words down. That's how a writer writes. And then, by this time next year, after having continued and appreciated contact with writer friends--real time and blogging buddies--I might be able to sing, And there's a hand, my trusty fiere! And gie's a hand o' thine! And we'll tak a right guid willy waught, for auld lang syne. ('And there's a hand my trusty friend! And give us a hand o' thine! And we'll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.')

How about it? Robert Burns or Paul Simon for 2015?

Or some other songwriter? Who would be your pick for inspiration in the new year? If so, what's the title/sample verse you would choose?

Happy New Year! Wishing you the best in all the year might bring.

(*source for song lyrics: scotland.org)
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Monday, December 22, 2014

Stairs and Thoughts and Other Things

art courtesy of google.com/images
Halfway Down

                                                            Halfway down the stairs
                                                            Is a stair
                                                            Where I sit.
                                                            There isn't any
                                                            Other stair
                                                            Quite like
                                                            It.
                                                            I'm not at the bottom,
                                                            I'm not at the top;
                                                            So this is the stair
                                                            Where
                                                            I always
                                                            Stop.


                                                            Halfway up the stairs
                                                            Isn't up,
                                                            And it isn't down.
                                                            It isn't in the nursery,
                                                            It isn't in the town.
                                                            And all sorts of funny thoughts
                                                            Run round my head:
                                                            "It isn't really
                                                            Anywhere!
                                                            It's somewhere else
                                                            Instead!" --A.A. Milne


My thoughts have turned to the stairs lately. I don't know if it's because this time of year tends to wax nostalgic or what. Memories take me to childhood traditions, family experiences, life changes and life blessings. Staircases can do that, I guess, since they play a key part in some of those memories. The curving staircase of my great-aunt's farmhouse where we had family reunions. The staircase of my youth at the bottom of which I'd sit and talk on the telephone as a teenager. The staircase even years before that at the top of which, when I was three years old, I attempted to throw a telephone book down--and bumped all the way down myself along with it. The staircase that has carried my children's footsteps up and down and now my grandkids pattering feet as well.

The steps to the upstairs of our house have seen many feet. Big feet, little feet. Old feet, young feet. Happy feet, stomping feet. Ours is an aged country house (though the country around it now isn't so much country anymore), built in 1935. Steep and narrow, the steps ascend at the back of the house behind the kitchen. Awkward placement, it would seem, but that's how old Mr. Meyer built it for his bride-to-be all those years ago. I know this because of the day when I was a young mother and a strange car pulled into the driveway. Out emerged an elderly man accompanied by a younger driver. In the backseat were two women, their respective wives it turned out. Upon answering the knock at the back door, I heard the younger man say, "I have someone here you might like to meet." At which the elderly gentleman said, "I am Leo Meyer, and I built this house."

What a treasure. Questions about my house that I'd pondered could be posed and answered. Hands that dug the basement, erected the walls--and fashioned the steps--gestured over things that had changed, things that remained the same. The sweet wife, now wizened but once a beaming bride, who toured what was once her home and who whispered, "If you find any money, it's mine."

A few years later, I learned that we were only the fifth owners of this house--and the two families that followed the Meyers before we came along each had a set of twins. Twins, in this house, times two! One couple with twin girls. The other with a girl and a boy. Imagine the antics up and down the steps in those years. Then came the couple that sold the house to us. The years march by just like the many times feet have marched up and down the stairs.

And I wonder, did any of the children in those years sit in the middle of the stairs and just 'be'--listening and imagining and pretending? How did the stairs help form their view of life and give them a boost up to their futures? Roald Dahl once commented, "I do have a blurred memory of sitting on the stairs and trying over and over again to tie one of my shoelaces..." What are the memories of the children who traipsed these stairs?

What are the memories of children who've traveled your stairs? What are your memories of stairs? And aren't words like steps--links to places, connections from past to present and future, a starting place and a help to a destination? Steps--and words--support, launch, propel, nurture, serve and lift. And on occasion give our imaginations a place to pause and be reignited.

Here's to that special stair that can do all those things!

May your holiday celebrations be blessed this year with much joy and peace--and with those quiet moments that help you reflect and recharge. Happy wishes to all.
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Friday, December 5, 2014

For the Writer's Survival Kit: Humor, Along With 10 Quotes

photo courtesy pixabay
"From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere." --Dr. Seuss

Times, they are a-gettin' busy. Speeding up, with more and more details needing attention. It's time, I'm thinking, for a little humor. Never hurts to slow the pace for a minute and, well, laugh. Or chuckle. Or simply smile. After all, wisdom says "A cheerful heart is good medicine" (Proverbs 17:22).

With that in mind, I share with you the following, in the hopes that it will at least bring a smile to your face as you embark on what might be a busy month for you, too.

1. "Someone asked me, if I were stranded on a desert island what book would I bring...'How to Build a Boat.' " --Steven Wright

2. "I was reading a book, 'The History of Glue'. I couldn't put it down." --Tim Vine

3. "The telephone book is full of facts, but it doesn't contain a single idea." --Mortimer Adler

4. "From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put." --Winston Churchill

5. "If the English language made any sense, lackadaisical would have something to do with a shortage of flowers." --Doug Larson

6. "Listen up, Internet: there is no 'h' in 'wacky.' Got that? THERE IS NO 'H' IN WACKY.' Thank you." --Dave Barry

7. "Practically everybody in New York has half a mind to write a book, and does." --Groucho Marx

8. "Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good." --Dr. Samuel Johnson, to an aspiring writer

9. "Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time." --Steven Wright

10. "How old would be if you didn't know how old you were?" --Satchel Paige

Yes, I believe what Mark Twain said: "Humor is mankind's greatest blessing."

And this, from Bob Hope: "I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful."

In our household, when my husband faced retirement after nearly 35 years of teaching, I only had one thing to say: "As long as you keep me laughing, we'll be okay."

He has and we are. After all, from there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere.

Is humor important to you, too? Any humorous lines you care to share?
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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Seeds, Harvest, and a Writer's Thanks


photo courtesy of pixabay
"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant." --Robert Louis Stevenson

Thanksgiving. A day to slow down (even though the to-do list to get the traditional spread on the table can become hectic!) and reflect. A day to consider, acknowledge, and count--count all those blessings that grace our families and our lives. I paused for a few minutes the other day to do just that. It necessitated a period of intentionally stopping, quieting, and taking some deep breaths. After all, that to-do list wasn't going to get done on its own.

But something happened when I got quiet. Yes, I recorded many things I'm thankful for, including my husband and our over-40 years of marriage, my children/their wonderful mates/the precious grandchildren, our home and freedoms and health and all the beauty that can be seen no matter the season of the year. I noted things like the wind through pine trees, grapefruit, ocean walks, sled rides and chapped cheeks, Mom's quilts and warm socks. I added 'time' to the list--time to write, time to learn, time to change and grow, time to meet challenges with more courage than less. So many things, so many directions. In fact, the whole process reminded me of Ann Voskamp's inspiring book, One Thousand Gifts--a book worth pulling off the shelf and rereading.

But the exercise brought me to an interesting point. I found myself remembering some of the people in my life who were influential in helping me get where I am--people who planted seeds, if you will, and who also would probably be surprised to learn they had been included on such list. In no particular order I thought of:

1. Mrs. Stahl who ignited the spark for journalism--and words in general--in high school.
2. Mrs. Moore who taught an elementary child the importance of discipline and kindness.
3. Mr. Walters who, unbeknownst to him, opened up a world of history to a receptive teen--and fired up the desire to bring characters to life through his portrayal of Matthew Brady of Civil War photography fame.
4. Mrs. Bennett who helped an introverted sophomore gain a bit of confidence in public speaking through soft-spoken compliments. 
5. Mrs. Gossett who gave an eight-year old child insight into faith and hope through her weekly neighborhood Bible story times for the children.

These were not the only influential people in my life, but they were the ones that came to mind first. They were happy to plant seeds though they wouldn't necessarily see the harvest. And am I ever grateful for the seeds they planted!

What people 'planted seeds' in your life that you are thankful for?

Happy Thanksgiving to all who stop by!
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Friday, November 14, 2014

On Footprints, Life's Passion, and Centenarians

fall walk 2013 archives
"You can't leave a footprint that lasts if you're always walking on tiptoe." --Marion Blakely

Footprints. The idea was reinforced when I came across the following report in a recent issue of World Magazine (11/15/14): "There's one thing Madeline Scotto didn't wish for on her 100th birthday: retirement. Despite becoming a centenarian on October 16, the 100-year-old Brooklyn woman still works as a teacher at the St. Ephrem School where she prepares middle-school students for math competitions When asked about retiring after six decades at St. Ephrem, Scotto told WPIX: 'Oh, that's a bad word. I don't ever want to hear that word." Her commute is easy enough: just a walk across the street. 'Some people like what they're doing, but I  have a passion for what I'm doing,' she said. 'And when you have a passion for something, you never give up.'"

Madeline Scotto
photo courtesy Daily Mail
Isn't she darling? Imagine the footprints this little lady has left. Simply because she never shook loose of her passion--passion for children, for teaching, for living. At 100 years old!

Synonyms for passion? With varying degrees of meaning: enthusiasm, love for, coming alive, joie de vivre. No two days will necessarily give a full measure of these gifts, but--if we can look at Miss Madeline's life--we might say she experienced a fuller measure than some.

Others who have weighed in on the subject:

"Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for." --Ray Bradbury

"Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing. do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm." --Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." --Howard Thurman

"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious." --Albert Einstein

Thank you, Miss Madeline, for your example. For being an inspiration. For leaving footprints to emulate and follow--no matter our age. I just love examples like this!

How about you--any stories of those who have inspired you to reach higher, to live with more joy?

p.s. want ideas of incorporating joie de vivre in your life? Check out "How to Capture Joie De Vivre" here.
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