Friday, July 31, 2015

The Part Impressions Play in Writing and Life: 11 Thoughts

July walk 2015
"Impression (n.)--1. an effect produced on a person; 2. an effect produced by any operation or activity; 3. an idea or notion; 4. something made by pressure such as a mark, stamp, or print; 5. the act of impressing; 6. the state of being impressed."

I did not realize there were so many shades to the meaning of the word impression until I consulted a dictionary. I simply thought of impressions as those memories of childhood printed on the brain--like these black-eyed susans I came upon while on my walk. They brought back to mind the field next to my childhood home--how they filled the lot on the north side of the house, hovered over by red-winged blackbirds. Mom's bachelor buttons were there somewhere, too. I remember them as being one of Mom's favorite flowers to plant.

in the park 2015
Other impressions came during a recent visit with Mom, now in a nursing home after suffering a stroke that left her with aphasia. Unable to communicate like before, she works hard at recalling stories. We sat on this park bench where she tried to tell me about an apartment she and Dad lived in when first married, 1946--how they had to share the facilities with other renters and how the kitchen left much to be desired. Though she struggled to express herself, it was obvious the place left quite the impression on her even after almost 70 years.

on the lake 2015
We also visited college friends up in northern Ohio, great hosts, always ready to show us a good time. We roasted marshmallows, visited museums, puttered around the lake in their boat. But what kept the conversation and laughter going were the "remember whens" and "whatever happened to" impressions of those days of our youth. If you could have been a fly on the wall (or maybe one of the mosquitoes around the campfire the first night)...!

an impression of original blue coat
Then there was the email I got a few weeks ago--a message from a childhood playmate I only knew in first and second grade. Somehow he found me. His email said, "Are you the same person in whose blue coat pocket we put what turned out to be a live coal from the campfire, subsequently burning a hole in the pocket?" I responded, "Oh, my, this is too funny. Yes, you have the right person--who else would remember that blue coat, one which, by the way, I hated. Mom bought matching coats for my sister and me, and since I was the younger one, I got her hand-me-down. I wore a version of that coat for years!" Can you believe it--sixty years later and here we are. We are still exchanging memories, one impression triggering another. It's been a lot of fun.

All this led me to ask the question, if impressions play such a huge part in our lives, what role do they play in our writing? What gems of wisdom can help steer us down this road? A sampling of what I found:

1. The Query. "Above all, a query letter is a sales pitch and it is the single most important page an unpublished writer will ever write. It's the first impression and will either open the door or close it. It's that important, so don't mess it up. Mine took 17 drafts and two weeks to write." --Nicholas Sparks

2. Story Endings. "How a piece ends is very important to me. It's the last chance to leave an impression with the reader, the last shot at 'nailing' it. I love to write ending lines; usually, I know them first and write toward them, but if I knew how they came to me, I wouldn't tell." --S.E. Hinton

3. Influential Books. "Name the book that made the biggest impression on you. I bet you read it before you hit puberty. In the time I've got left, I intend to write artistic books--for kids--because they're still open to new ideas." --Gary Paulsen

4. Place. "A place makes a deep impression on you when you're young. It's like your childhood. It fertilizes the imagination." --Richard Eyre

5. Language. "I grew up in a house where language was appreciated and cared about. I'm sure that, although I wasn't aware of it at the time, it must have made an impression on me." --Marian Seldes

6. Inspiration. "The moment of inspiration can come from memory, or language, or the imagination, or experience--anything that makes an impression forcibly enough for language to form." -Carol Ann Duffy

7. Names. "A name, of course, is like a piece of clothing, isn't it? It gives you an impression right away." --James Salter

8. Relationships. "I grew up with an incredibly loving and supporting family that gave me the impression there were a lot of options for me out there." --Esperanza Spalding

9. Note-Taking. "I started to write things down, as a very young child, wanting to find a way to remember--to keep close somehow--moments that made an impression on me. --Anne Michaels

10. Grammar. "Your grammar is a reflection of your image. Good or bad, you have made an impression. And like all impressions, you are in total control." --Jeffrey Gitomer

11. Childhood Memories. "Memory in youth is active and easily impressible; in old age it is comparatively callous to new impressions, but still retains vividly those of earlier years."--Charlotte Bronte

Impressions. They play a huge part in our lives which in turn play a part in our writing. What are some of your strongest childhood impressions? And how have they surfaced in your writing?

p.s. What about "first impressions"? Do you remember the story of Susan Boyle's first audition in Britain's Got Talent 2009? Watch it here for a refresher course in being careful not to form opinions based on those first impressions!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

On Peaches, Pandas, and Stress

Indiana peaches in season 2015
"Stressed spelled backwards is desserts. Coincidence? I think not!" --Author Unknown

Humor helps with stress, too, I say. And that's what we found when we took a short trip to the next state over to check out this year's peach crop at Beiersdorfer Orchard, Guilford IN. Not only were we not disappointed in the peaches, we noted the above sign over the cooler and had a little laugh.

What, do not pester, perturb, provoke, perplex, punch, pick or pounce the peaches??

Don't push, pull, pry, poke, peck, prod, pinch, paw or pop?

Certainly don't pluck, plink, plonk, plunk, plaid, paisley or polka-dot them!

I wish I had come up with this one.

The sales lady saw me take pictures of her sign. "My daughter saw that when out in California when the pandas were there," she said. "At the time, it read 'panda' but we changed it to peaches. We've had a lot of fun with it."

Now I want to research the pandas. I don't remember that story. (Maybe she spoke of Gao Gao, Bai Yun, and Xiao Liwu, the three Chinese pandas seen here on a cam at the San Diego Zoo? I don't know, but they are fun to watch.)

Stress-relievers: dessert, humor, a short road-trip, pandas, word-play. A few ideas for you. Can you think of any others?

Maybe a little ice cream with those peaches? That's where I'm headed next!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Notes on 'Notes'

clip art courtesy of
"I make a note, set it aside, and hope it makes sense when the time comes to look at it again."--Donald E. Westlake

How many ways can you spell N-O-T-E?

Well, let's see...

Post-it notes. One of the best inventions ever (which by-the-way were invented by accident--story can be found here). I use them around the house for various reminders and in books to make note of a passage I want to return to. Note cards--as in 3x5 cards, like the ones I carry in my pocket on walks to catch fleeting ideas before they float away. Then there are musical notes and love notestoo, both of which "play" special parts in our lives.

People compare notes. We take note. We take notes. We (especially writers) keep notebooks. Of those, I have too many to count: notebooks for journaling, for ideas, for rough drafts, for writing prompts, for critique group meetings. The list could go on. There's also the Author's Note, found typically at the end of historical books. This is something I particularly enjoy as it's an opportunity for the author to share background information she couldn't necessarily include in the narrative or to give the reader insight into the inspiration that led her to the story. Example, from Kirby Larson's Newbery Honor Book, Hattie Big Sky: "When I heard that my great-grandmother Hattie Inez Brooks Wright had homesteaded in eastern Montana by herself as a young woman, I found it hard to believe." What a story to explore! Authors also use their concluding afterword to explain what was fact and what was fiction as Lois Lowry noted in her Newbery Medal book, Number the Stars: "How much of Annemarie's story is true? I know I will be asked that. Let me try to tell you, here, where fact ends and fiction begins."

There are items that are particularly noteworthy. And then there is the personal note. Today I add a personal note of my own, one I share with a smile because it tickled me and made my day. I received my Summer 2015 SCBWI Bulletin in the mail. Opening it up, I found--surprise!--that my article, "Birds, Bricks, and Story Helps" was published in it. Boy, did I ever note that.

Which, it would seem, should prompt a thank-you note.

Have any notes of note come your way lately? Or a notable "note" word you might want to add?