Monday, January 31, 2011

Idea Shopping

"The task of a writer consists of being able to make something out of an idea." --Thomas Mann

Where do you go for your ideas?

I found that I've been inspired by objects, places, and people--particularly those that have played a role in history, as obscure as the historical details might be. My inspirational sources include...

A hollow sycamore tree.

A stone barn, built during the Civil War.
(This is for you, Jess, because of your comment in my last post! Notice the "1861" mounted on the front.)

My grandmother, who was a child at the turn of the 20th century.

Some say they get ideas from photos, some from music, art, people-watching, snatches of conversation, or simply by taking a walk. Some journal, some freewrite. I find stories in history. Where do you shop for your ideas?

"Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different." --Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sharing in the Fun of Blog Awards

It's been just over a year since I started blogging. What a trip it's been, like heading out for parts unknown without a map but finding, after driving awhile, that you've embarked on a rich experience you wouldn't trade for the world. It's been stretch at times, but so far a lot of fun. Along with exploring writing ideas and trying to hone the craft of writing, the road has led to a wide-open vista of new sites, insights, ideas, helps and encouragement. Especially encouragement!

Such encouragement came in the form of this recent award, The Stylish Blogger Award, passed on to me by Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina at Elizabeth Varadan's Fourth Wish. Thanks a bunch, Elizabeth!

And, so, in the spirit of the idea--which is to highlight and share information about other blogs--I'd like to pass along the fun. The tradition is to tell 7 things about yourself AND pass the award on to an additional 10 blogs (although there are far more than ten out there that could be mentioned, for sure). Here we go!

1. My favorite ice cream flavor is Graeter's Mocha Chocolate Chip.
2. I was the assistant editor of my high school newspaper, and church newsletter editor for nine years.
3. I was once a bridesmaid in each of three weddings in one week--a Saturday in Ohio, Sunday in NYC, the following Saturday back in Ohio.
4. Once for an aniversary, hubby gave me a book titled Historic Homes in America. Now whenever we travel we try to visit one of the featured homes if in the area. To date we have toured 17 houses out of 67, including Paul Revere's house in Boston, Charles Lindbergh's childhood home in Little Falls MN, Laura Ingalls Wilder's home in DeSmet, SD, and Jefferson Davis' Beauvoir in Biloxi MS (later destroyed by Hurricane Katrina). Only 50 more to go!
5. I taught school for a year before becoming a stay-at-home mom, tutor, house fixer-upper (mainly by painting/wallpapering/refinishing woodwork), and WRITER.
6. I've been published in two Cup of Comfort and the My Dad is My Hero anthologies, along with a number of various magazines.
7. I'll drop everything to answer a phone call from 2 1/2 year old Angelica, or get a chance to skype with 8-month old Nicholas out in CA!

Blogs I often visit, enjoy, and glean valuable tips and info' from include:
 1. Tina at Excuse Editor   
 2. R.L.LaFevers and Mary Hershey at Shrinking Violet Promotions
 3. Writing Nut at Writing in a Nutshell
 5. Cathie at Words World and Wings
 6. Jess at Falling Leaflets
 7. M.B. at M.B. Writes
 8. Diane at Diane Estrella
 9. Kathryn at Kathryn Jankowski
10. Rachna at Rachna’s Scriptorium--who also recently passed this fun award, The Wholesome Blogger Award, over my way, too. Thanks again, Rachna :-)

Drop in and pay these great bloggers a visit, if you haven't already. Each offer their own kind of style and specialness to the blogging/writing community.

Enjoy--and happy weekend!

Monday, January 24, 2011

On What I Learned About Writing from Winnie-the-Pooh

"Ideas may drift into other minds, but they do not drift my way. I have to go and fetch them. I know no work manual or mental to equal the appalling heart-breaking anguish of fetching an idea from nowhere." --A.A. Milne

The Outdoor Song for Snowy Weather
The more it snows (Tiddely pom),
The more it goes (Tiddely pom),
The more it goes (Tiddley pom),
On snowing.
And nobody knows (Tiddely pom),
How cold my toes (Tiddely pom),
How cold my toes (Tiddely pom),
Are growing.
--from The House at Pooh Corner, Chapter I
"In Which A House Is Built at Pooh Corner for Eeyore"

It's been snowy and blustery around here again. How Pooh would love it!

Winnie-the-Pooh and friends at Pooh Corner are dear to my heart. In college, a group of us read from A.A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner on numerous occasions one particular semester. Sort of like a reader's theater except that the stage was an old ratty couch on which we gathered, and there was no audience. How this got started, I don't remember, but the idea caught on, and it was a fun--albeit strange--activity for a group of college kids. Jeannie was Pooh, Linda was Piglet, Debbie was Christopher Robin, and Seth...well, let's just say Seth had the part of Eeyore down pat. I was narrator and read all the "he saids" and story descriptions. Others filled in as needed for Kanga, Roo, and Owl.

Fast forward a few years and the book (which somehow ended up in my possession) provided opportunities for me to not only read it to my kids, but to incorporate some of the fantasy into real life, like playing our own version of Pooh Sticks down at the creek. But that's another story.

Whimisical Pooh, the Bear of Little Brain, has touched children's lives--starting with Milne's own son Christopher Robin--since 1924. His story's been printed and reprinted, translated, movie-ized, and theme-parked until he must be one of the most recognized characters on the face of the earth. If he were to give writing lessons, what do you think he would say? Let's take a guess.

Winnie-the-Pooh On Writing
On the Outdoor Song for Snowy Weather. "...he jumped up and down to keep warm, and a hum came suddenly into his head, which seemed to him a Good Hum, such as is Hummed Hopefully to Others."
Lesson #1: Writing Ideas Are Everywhere If We Listen to Our Inner Hum.

As Pooh and Piglet set out to find Eeyore. "In a little while Piglet was wearing a white muffler (of snow)around his neck... 'Pooh,' he said at last, and a little timidly, because he didn't want Pooh to think he was Giving In, 'I was just wondering. How would it be if we went home now and practised your song...?'"
Lesson #2: Writing Needs Practice--and Perseverance

In which Pooh worries about Eeyore. "'You have a house, Piglet, and I have a house, and they are very good houses. And Christopher Robin has a house, and Owl and Kanga and Rabbit have houses...but poor Eeyore has nothing. So what I've been thinking is: Let's build him a house.'"
Lesson #3: Writing is Built on Craft--and Heart

In which Eeyore finds his house missing. "'Hallo, Eeyore,' said Christopher Robin, as he opened the door and came out. 'How are you?' 'It's snowing still,' said Eeyore gloomily. 'So it is.' 'And freezing.' 'Is it?' 'Yes,' said Eeyore. 'However,' he said, brightening up a little, 'we haven't had an earthquake yet.'"
Lesson #4: A Writer Always Has Hope

In which Pooh and Piglet realize they've built Eeyore a house out, out of Eeyore's house. "'Well,' said Pooh...'the fact is,' said Pooh...You see,' said Pooh...and something seemed to tell him that he wasn't explaining very well, and he nudged Piglet again. 'It's like this,' said Piglet quickly."
Lesson #5--A Writer Needs a Critique Group to Help Along the Way 

Eeyore concludes that his house really is in a better place. "'It is a remarkable thing,' he said. 'It is my house, and I built it where I said I did, so the wind must have blown it here...It just shows what can be done by taking a little trouble...Do you see, Pooh? Do you see, Piglet? Brains first and then Hard Work.'"
Lesson #6: Writers Accept that Writing is Hard Work--and They Do It Anyway

And, finally, on Voice. "So...Christopher Robin went back with his friends Pooh and Piglet...they told him of the Awful Mistake they had made. And when he had finished laughing, they all sang the Outdoor Song for Snowy Weather...Piglet, who was still not quite sure of his voice, putting in the tiddely poms again. 'I know it seems easy,' said Piglet to himself, 'but it isn't every one who could do it.'"
Lesson #7--Voice May Not Come Easy, But It Comes to The Writer Who Doesn't Quit

Happy Snow Day, tiddley-pom!

What have you learned from one of your favorite children's characters?
(photo courtesy of

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Public Service Announcement: Free Edit Giveaway!

Just want to pass on news of a wonderful giveaway, thanks to DearEditor is celebrating the completion of her manuscript, Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, and wants to share in the excitement!

She's offering a "substantive" edit for a lucky winner's YA or MG fiction manuscript. All you have to do is send her an e-mail to be in the running. Additional chances are available if you are a subscriber, even more if you spread the word. Hop on over here for details.

What is a "substantive" edit? According to DearEditor, "the author receives general feedback about the manuscript's overall pacing, organization, narrative voice, plot development/narrative arc, characterization, point of view, setting, delivery of background information, adult sensibility (children's books only), and the synchronicity of age-appropriate subject matter with target audience, as the Editor determines appropriate and necessary after reviewing the entire manuscript. It is not a word-by-word, line-by-line 'Line Edit.'"

Wow. What an awesome opportunity for some lucky writer. Rules include: completed YA or MG manuscript, 80,000 words or less. Deadline: January 31. I'm in--how about you? Only one winner, of course, but wishing and hoping never hurts.

Isn't the writer's blogging community a fun place to be? Where else can you find such a wealth of help from one writer to another? Good luck to all who enter!

Friday, January 14, 2011

On Scraps and Ambivalence, Itches and Perseverance

If you are struggling with what you
should be writing, look at your scraps.
Encoded there are the themes and subjects you
should be grappling with as a writer. --Betsy Lerner

I've been doing just such a thing this past week--sorting through my scraps. And nearly drowning in them, actually.

The thing is, my scraps have been accumulating for years. Clippings here, manila folders there, boxes of articles torn from magazines waiting to be revisited. But with the advent of a new year, one in which I plan to finally embark on my next MG historical fiction, I decided it was time to put on wading boots, jump in, and pull all the scraps together in some kind of order. After all, the sea of research goes on forever, but the time comes to put a hold on research and begin to write. I just need to know I can find what I'm looking for when the thought hits me.

It's been a long week, but I now have six new notebooks of compiled scraps to show for my efforts:
  • On Plot and Storytelling
  • Character Sketches and Journaling
  • Photo File with Visuals, Idea Triggers, and Character Suggestions
  • Local History of Targeted Era
  • Biographies and Human Interest, Inspirational Stories of Overcoming Adversity
  • Odds and Ends: Names, Motives, Descriptions, Family Trees
Not only that, but the week culminated in a one-sentence story summary, a developing story arc, and determination to get something down on that first page. After all, the first page--so blank and empty--is often our biggest obstacle.

"The ambivalent writer," Betsy Lerner notes in her classic book on writing, The Forest for the Trees, "can't hear himself think, can't commit to a single vision, can't stop wondering if six other directions aren't the right ones to take. The ambivalent writer confuses procrastination with research. He can't hear through the static to find the one true voice."

She also says, "(But) If the voices keep calling, if the itch remains, no matter how punishing the work or inhospitable the world, then you must persevere."

Sorting through my scraps has validated some of my loves: history, real people's inspiring stories, stories of courage and hope, children's fiction, the writing process itself. It has helped provide vision, direction, and voice for my newest work--and hopefully has also silenced those pesky troublemakers, ambivalence and procrastination. But the best news of the week? The itch to jump in and get going is stronger than ever. And only perseverance will scratch that kind of itch.

The Challenge is on.

What do your scraps reveal about your writing?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tap into Potential

"We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives...not looking for flaws, but for potential."
                                             --Ellen Goodman

My word for the day--heck, let's make it this year's word, is potential. As in: n. a capacity to develop, succeed, or become something. We all have potential that is still being unlocked, tapped into. And so, to offer inspiration for those of us who want to take up the challenge to develop our potential--writing or otherwise--in the upcoming year, I share the following quotes:

"Continuous effort--not strength or intelligence--is the key to unlocking our potential." --Winston Churchill

"Focus on your potential instead of your limitations." --Alan Loy McGinnis

"One isn't necessarily born with courage, but with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest." --Maya Angelou

"Joy comes from using your potential." --Will Schultz

"Each difficult moment has the potential to open my eyes and open my heart." --Myla Kabat-Zinn

May this be the year we tap into our potential with a deeper root than ever. And may we nourish the growth that will come with all the opportunities available to us.

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And thanks so much to Debbie over at Writing While the Rice Boils for guest posting my recent post on writing targets for the new year. Not only was I honored to have her reprint it, I take this opportunity to invite you to drop in at her place--she often offers great resources to help all of us in tapping into our potential. Thanks, Debbie!