A year ago on the CBA Blog: Maria Oka shared a writing exercise she learned from Kathi Appelt that helped snap her out of a writing funk she had found herself in.
I'm not sure what it is about August but this post really echoes the encouragement in last week's entry from Marsha Diane Arnold: The Deep, Dark Den of Doubt. Perhaps we all feel a little out of sorts around this time of year and just need a little help gathering our thoughts and focusing our efforts to pull us out August's grip.
If you've recently found yourself lingering in the clutches of uncertainty and you're looking for a way to climb out of that deep, dark den of doubt or maybe you're looking for a way to shake off that little funk you're caught in, Maria's post (as well as Marsha's) offers some great resources to help set you back on track.
This entry originally ran on August 21, 2015 -
I recently did this writing exercise under the tutelage of Kathi Appelt at WIFYR's summer conference. It inspired a piece of writing that surprised and delighted me, and that may not have come to me in any other way. It certainly pulled me out of my little writer's funk and forced me to write in a new way.
Here's what you do:
Step One: Sketch. Think of a place you know well. Now sketch it. It doesn't matter what your sketching looks like (trees for trees, x's for trees, no one's judging), but try to include as much detail about the location as possible. For instance, if you choose your childhood backyard, make sure to draw every corner, every tree, and every spot that is memorable at all.
Step Two: List. Write each corner and crevice that you have drawn in your picture at the top of the paper so that the places form columns. Under each heading, list specific memories that happened in that location. List anything that comes to mind, whether it be the time you fell out of the tallest tree, or the way the tomatoes in the garden used to smell, or the place where you had "zucchini stands" as a child (and made about $2 because you lived on a back road that no one ever drove down).
Step Three: Circle. Circle one to three of the words, snippets, or memories. The ones that jump out and grab you. Don't think too hard about it.
Step Four: Write. The fun part. Because there are really no rules here. Just write something based on what you circled. It may be fact. It may be fiction. It may be a little of both. But it will definitely be coming from a very real place inside of YOU, as all good writing should. Write for at least five minutes, but if you can manage it, write for longer, for as long as your fingers keep keep scribbling. And if you want, go back and edit. And maybe, just maybe, as you do this exercise, and do it again (and again) some story seeds will fall out. And it's possible that they may be your best seeds yet.
So what are you waiting for?! Grab a paper and pencil and....GO!
This post was written by Maria Oka, mom of three girls and wife of one handsome fella. Maria reads and writes from Southern California.
My granddaughter takes a great deal of joy in the act of completion, of accomplishment.
“I did it!” she exclaims after catching a ball, stirring the pancake batter, or picking up her toys. If someone else is involved,, she shares the triumph: "We did it!"
People say they see a bit of me in my granddaughter. But in one big way, she’s very different. She doesn’t spend one second being upset over her "failures." She exuberantly keeps on going. She never doubts herself.
I, on the other hand, doubt myself a lot. Last Monday, I received four rejections. I spent the rest of the week doubting, feeling lost, not knowing what to do, not knowing where to turn to get out of that deep, dark den of doubt.
Yet I know if I’m ever going to say, “I did it!” again, I have to pull myself out of that den. I have to open the door to my office, sit down, and look at the blank page again...or even worse, wade through the messy manuscript I’ve been working on for months.
Educators tell me they love my school visits because I inspire both them and their students. I’m known as “the writer who inspires.” But inspiring myself is so much harder than inspiring others.
Rejections and failing have always been part of the writing game. My first book, Heart of a Tiger, which went on to win the Ridgway Award for "Best First Book by a New Writer" and remains my top award winner, was rejected 13 times before I found the editor who loved it as much as I did. Doubt dragged along with that story and me for years.
But there is light at the end of the dark den, though the darkness may be thick. Here are three women I greatly admire who move through doubts in their own way, with their own style, until they can shout “I did it!”
Yet, Thelma has often had her doubts, which she shares here: “As writers it is sometimes hard to continue to believe in the beauty of your dreams. Daring to get started, actually putting your words on paper and then having the courage to share them with others is hard. And receiving a rejection for all that daring is like a kick in the arse. It is not for the faint hearted. I got, and still receive, my share of rejections.”
“It was a cold, dreary, sunless day when I received a letter from Lee & Low regarding my submission of HULA HOOPIN’ QUEEN. I was at a low point in my writing path. I was literally at the bottom of one of those steep hills. I had just come home from a critique group meeting where one of my friends was sharing her newest book. While happy for her, I also felt despair of ever achieving that same dream.
Feeling sure it was just another rejection, I tossed the letter from Lee & Low aside without even opening it. Several hours later, I noticed it sitting on the table and I actually started toward the garbage with it in hand. I was in such a spot that I felt I couldn’t take another rejection. But suddenly without even thinking it through, I had opened it. It was two pages of things the editor liked about my story and also things she wanted me to think about working on for the possibility of Lee & Low accepting it. And suddenly my mood and the day became all sunshine and warmth, because that two-page letter was actually the beginning of my dream coming true.
Highs and lows; twists and turns. But through it all, even at the lowest point, you have your words and the magical thing that happens when your words become a story. You have the dream of having those stories touch a child’s heart.”
Salina Yoon is a "superstar" writer and a writing friend. I got to know Salina when she championed my book Lost. Found. Salina is always championing other writers’ books as well as writing her own best sellers. Many know her through her popular Penguin books (Penguin and Pinecone, Penguin’s Big Adventure) or Be a Friend. She always creates adorable characters that you can’t help but love.
Salina was in the middle of writing Book #3 in her Duck, Duck, Porcupine series when I contacted her, but she still had a strong statement about doubts.“Battling doubts and distractions are a way of life for this author!” Yes, even "superstars" have doubts.
In order to get to “I did it!" we must first say, “I can do it.” That takes admitting that there will inevitably be doubts. Writing is hard. Competing with thousands of other brilliant creators and getting that contract is hard. We have to always keep our minds on what we want, not what we don’t want. We must have no doubt that we will push through the doubts with discipline, patience, and courage to get to something we can celebrate with a joyful “I did it!”
Marsha Diane Arnold is an award-winning author with over a million books sold. She has doubts every day, but when she is slipping toward that deep, dark den of doubt, she pulls out this photo with her "rock star" editor of Lost. Found., Neal Porter, and says "I did it!" Then quietly and determinedly, says "I can do it again." Rise up with me Doubters, so we can shout together, "We did it!"
by Bryan Patrick Avery
Not long ago, I watched a magician perform a card trick for a small audience. The trick had a great premise and started off strong. In the middle, he combined humor and a bit of suspense to keep his audience’s attention. Then, he got to the end. The trick ended awkwardly. In fact, none of us realized he had reached the end of the trick until he spread his arms out wide, said “and that’s the trick”, and strolled off the stage. He left us bewildered and a bit disappointed.
As writers, we often run into the same problem with our stories. A magic trick is, after all, just a story. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning and middle keep the spectator (or reader) interested but it’s the ending that ultimately provides the satisfaction (or not). Magicians and writers must carry the story all the way through to the end in order to create the best experience possible.
But how? I struggled with this years ago when I wrote my first play for my high school drama class. It was a one act piece called “The Box”. It was then that I learned about the very Hitchcockian “water cooler” principle. The idea is to create a story that will have people gathering around the water cooler to discuss it once they read or see it. In my case, the last thirty seconds of the play took place in total darkness. At the end, you could hear just three things: a scream, two gunshots, and something fall to the floor. The audience was left to determine what happened.
A great example of this approach at work in children’s fiction can be found in Bruce Hale’s Chet Gecko Mystery, “A Malted Falcon”. Hale’s hero, private eye Chet Gecko, is hired to find the winning ticket in the Malted Falcon contest. The Malted Falcon is described as the “biggest, most chocolatiest, most gut-busting dessert ever imagined” and the ticket entitles the winner to a year’s supply. I won’t give away the ending but Hale’s Malted Falcon raises two questions: (1) Will Chet find the ticket? and (2) If he does, will he return it to its rightful owner or will he keep it for himself? The ending lets the reader reach her own conclusions.
Another type of ending that works well is when the story comes full circle. Laura Numeroff’s “If You Give…” series, illustrated by Felicia Bond, uses this approach with great success. In “If You Take a Mouse to the Movies” the story begins with our helpful narrator taking a mouse to the movies. The mouse’s requests start off simple (some popcorn) but quickly escalate (buying a Christmas tree and building a snowman). Once the day is done, the mouse remembers his popcorn. When he gets the popcorn, it’s back to the movies all over again! When she was younger, my daughter loved this series. We would read them again and again, following the mouse through his escalating requests until we had come full circle and would start all over again.
One of the most satisfying endings comes when something significant changes for the main character at the end of the story. In “The Ghostwriter Secret”, book two in Mac Barnett’s Brixton Brothers series, Steve Brixton is a young detective who has been greatly influenced by the Bailey Brothers Mysteries. When he takes a most perilous case, Steve discovers that his hero, the author of the Bailey Brothers Mysteries is a criminal mastermind. As a result, he quits the private detective business.
As you're working on your stories, give some thought to how your ending will impact the reader. As with my magic tricks, I try to end my stories with something that will stay with the reader after they’ve finished the story. Whether that’s a mystery to puzzle over, the desire to read it once more, or the hope that they’ll meet up with the characters again, the ending can be, in itself, a new beginning.
Meet the Friday Blogonauts
First Fridays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer , man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
Second Fridays will feature awesome multi-award winning author Marsha Diane Arnold who will be writing about character-driven and/or nature-based books and/or anything she likes :)
Third Fridays will feature independent Aladdin/Simon & Shuster editor Emma Sector who has helped bring many books into the world.
Fourth Fridays will feature the great Christine Taylor-Butler who has published over 70 award-winning fiction and non-fiction and nonfiction books including the acclaimed new middle grade series - The Lost Tribes.
Fifth Fridays will feature the fabulous Carl Angel award-winning multi-published Illustrator and graphic designer.
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