What do you say when someone asks, "How is your writing coming?" I always respond with "good," or, "making progress," or, "it's coming." But what exactly does all of that mean?
I'm currently getting to the end of a major rewrite. We're talking, only the skeleton remains from the original manuscript. Now she's almost fully clothed. But because it's such a huge revision, in some ways it's like a first draft anyway. Once I'm done, I'm really just starting.
Next the critique group will have a go with it. Lots of discussion, suggestions, thoughts. Then I'll dive in again with the next round of revision.
"How do you feel about it," you ask? I'm not sure how to answer that. Each draft has things I really like, scenes that click, places that still feel awkward. I'm pushing through, because that is what I do, and then I'll distance myself a bit and see if I can get a clearer look.
Still, it is exciting that I took on a huge job, and I'm now nearing the end of it. Hopefully, I've nailed it better this time. Hopefully, I've shifted the story to a more likable path. So I guess I'm making progress. It's coming. Doing good.
Dear 5th Grade Students,
Like every teacher across America, I have been doing a lot of thinking since the tragedy at Sandy Hook School. I've thought about all the things grown-ups can, from politics, to blame, to detailed sadness. And I've thought about you. You are mine. I know each of you, and care for you, and want so badly for you to all reach your potential. That's why I'm a teacher.
Through all of this thinking, I've come to the realization that you are the ones I need to talk to. You are the ones who can change the world. You and every other 5th grader across our nation. You don't need to wait for the grown-ups to change things for you. You are capable of doing that yourselves.
Remember all the times we've talked about how powerful your brains are? We've talked about how whenever you learn or do new things, your brain neurons are building and strengthening new pathways for passing information. You are growing your brains. Those new pathways build knowledge, open avenues for creativity, and make fresh discoveries.
You are growing your brains at school, and also at home. Every time you play your video games, your brain is creating new pathways. If you are killing the bad guys, your brain is learning how to do that better and better. You are building a strong pathway for killing on instinct.
5th graders, is that a pathway of knowledge that you need?
You can change the world by putting away the video games. Instead, pick up a book. There are tens of thousands of wonderful books that can build valuable and useful brain pathways, and be super entertaining at the same time. Think books are boring? Come talk to me. You just need to find the right book.
You have all started band this year. Put away the video games, and pick up your instrument. Make up a song. Let your senses send input to your brain that is beautiful, rewarding, and all yours. Get together with your friends and form a quartet, or a rock band.
Start a drama club with your friends. I'll give you plays to perform. Build those neurons in a fun, creative, energetic way. Memorizing, characterizing, dressing up, building set, performing for an audience. What a great way to use your time.
5th graders, there are so many ways to build your brains, and every time you do, you are changing your future. You can choose what your brain holds. You can choose what your future holds. And your future is the future for us all.
Here in Montana, our regional SCBWI chapter gets to put on some pretty cool retreats. Several years ago, we gathered at the Nine Quarter Circle Ranch up Gallatin Canyon for several days of writing, critique, and discussion. This working dude ranch, with hundreds of wild rabbits, has a breathtaking setting, way up in the mountains just north of Yellowstone Park. Incredibly peaceful. The perfect place to really absorb some of the best writing advice I've ever received.
That year, Linda Sue Park came to our retreat. I think I learned more from her speeches and one-on-one interactions (yes, one-on-one. There were only about 30 of us there) than from any other retreat or conference I've been to. Sometimes good writing advice takes years to fully mature as it's marinating in my brain along with my stories. That was the case with Linda's words. She talked about learning how to try new things, and liberate our writing selves from what we 'think' is the only way to do it. During critique, as ideas or suggestions would come up, she repeatedly said, "Well, just try it. See what happens."
Since then, I've 'just tried it' countless times. Other times I've forgotten that advice, and locked myself into what I 'thought' was the best way to take a story. Eventually, I have the moment where I remember her advice. Then I pause and say, "oh". I can almost feel my brain chains relaxing and falling. Just try it.
I recommend the 'just try it' approach to EVERY idea that comes along. Just try it. If you hate it, throw it out. But so far in my writing, just about every time I've tried it, my story gets better. Right now I'm in the middle of a 'just try it' revision, and I think I like where I'm headed. Thank you, Linda Sue Park!
One of my very favorite subjects is school was Physics. I loved learning about how things work, and would get excited when I could figure it all out accurately. One specific topic that I have incorporated into my life has to do with waves. The superimposition of waves to be exact. With any wavelength, there is an equal and opposite swing of the line. If there is a high swing, there will be a low one, and visa-versa.
My life is full of wavelengths swinging all over the place. This past week was a doozy. I had hectic days at school - end of trimester report cards, parent/teacher/student conferences, mixed up schedule so crazy students. At home we had some big milestones. My oldest found an apartment after a long search, and got signed up for the next semester at college. My second oldest is preparing for exciting cello competitions and trips. My third oldest had his first speech and debate tournament where he broke semis in persuasive speaking - as a newby freshman on varsity. And my youngest had a taekwondo clinic that I forgot to pick him up from. I got there eventually.
So what does this have to do with waves? For me, this was a high stress, high anxiety week. Which means next week will be a low stress, low anxiety week. Right? Equal and opposite. That's what I'm counting on. A little help from the laws of nature to balance out my life.
I did get to write a bunch yesterday. And I chose not to vacuum. Hmmmm. Maybe I have a little control over the waves after all...
Writing for children is a passion - along with reading kid's books, writing plays for kids, and teaching kids how to write!