Every writer I know also has other creative outlets they enjoy. I'm never surprised to learn of knitting prowess, or metalworking skill. Many writers also draw, or paint, or are talented musicians. What is it about creative minds that require multiple outlets for their creativity? I'm sure there's been some scientific or behavioral studies about this phenomenon, but I've not seen them. All I know is what I've learned in my own small sample size analysis of writers in my circle.
Here's a brief list:
I believe that if you ask any writer of their 'other' creative outlets, you would find an immense variety. I also believe that this is very healthy. I use my quilting to satisfy my love of geometry and tactile sensory input. I also love history, and have spent most of my quilting hours creating quilts from traditional patterns that I've researched. Photographing snowflakes arose from my fascination with the intricacies of nature, and a strong sense of order and pattern. These skills of research and patterns, and parts to wholes, and wonder around me have added immensely to my abilities as a writer. So far, I've incorporated quilts into every book I've written, in one form or another, and I even have a manuscript out on submission that features my main character as a snowflake photographer.
Giving ourselves permission to explore our creative passions beyond writing fills a very important need. I believe it ultimately makes us much better writers. So get off the computer for a bit sometime today, and go do some coloring. Or dancing. Or make some chocolate mousse. Your writer-self will thank you later.
My house is filled with the smell of garlic. I have a cookie sheet covered in minced garlic drying in the oven. I'm not sure my husband will be happy about the smell when he gets home, but he'll love the tasty pieces in the meals I prepare for him over the next while. I love to cook. I also love to can foods, and dehydrate foods, and preserve fresh things for future eating. One of my goals this year is to experiment with a few types of food preservation that I haven't done before. One is to dehydrate some fresh garlic. So here I am, the pungent aroma soaking into me.
I'm a goal setter. Over the years I've gotten better at being specific, but broad at the same time. I distinguish between goals and dreams, and keep my lists realistic. Acknowledging that, I also push myself to do new things, learn and grow. Another goal is to write another book. I've decided to pull out an older manuscript that I love and retell the story completely from scratch. With this plan, I've been plotting and scheming and planning and recreating. I'll let you know how it all goes.
I'll let you know how the garlic turns out too.
I have some exciting news this week. After years of running the writing race, I was offered representation from literary agent Stephen Fraser with the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency! I couldn't be more thrilled, and more shocked, and more scared, and more happy. I've been working for so long to get an agent, and now I've leaped over that hurdle, my eyes firmly set on the finish line ahead. Hopefully not too far ahead.
I met Stephen Fraser for the second time this August in Los Angeles at the SCBWI Summer Conference. He was selected as the agent to give a critique of my writing. After an extremely positive discussion, in which I explained that I was in the middle of revisions on this particular piece, he told me to send the full manuscript to him as soon as I was ready to have another set of eyes on it. He said it didn't have to be perfect. Now, the rest is history.
I've been around long enough to know that getting an agent is not the same as selling a book. It's just one important step along the way. But because of this step, this hurdle, I can really focus on my writing, and let Mr. Fraser do the rest.
I've always been a plotter. I spend weeks or months planning and plotting and outlining and sketching and bullet point listing before I ever even start writing the story. Then, when I'm 'ready' I start to write. I've always felt like this worked for me. I like to have things lined up before I dive in. I'm a toe dipper in the cold lake too. So when I started plotting out my most recent novel, I got sort of stuck.
I'd been thinking about my main character for a long time. I'd written a few sketches of her. I knew where her strengths were, and her faults and weaknesses. I had a fairly clear picture of what her arc of change would be. The problem was, I didn't know the events of a 'story' to get her there. But this character just kept pulling on me, wanting me to write about her. So I did.
I started writing. Without a plot. Without an outline. Well, I sort of had one, but I knew going in that is was weak. I knew that there wasn't enough happening. I knew the story would never work unless I came up with more action and excitement and adventure. And I knew I didn't have that yet. But I started writing anyway.
An amazing thing happened. As I wrote about Sal, the story plot revealed itself. I knew exactly what was going to happen in the story to bring her traveling along her arc. I'd actually written four chapters before I realized what the external plot would be. I had to go back and insert it into those early chapters of course, but it worked. A plotter like me actually did a little bit of pantsing.
Here's what else is amazing. I love this book. I love this character. I feel like as the writer, I understand her at a level I never have. I feel like I let her tell her story, instead of me forcing a story onto her. Maybe it's all part of my progression as a writer, but I feel like I've turned a corner in how I craft a book, and in how I understand a character.
These baby steps of progress for me create leaps of progress for my work.
Just recently, I finished another play production week at Monforton School for the 5th graders. I was invited in to help again, since the 5th grade play is tradition. The students did a great job! This year was a pirate play, the first I've written that included two ships, ghosts, and castaways on a lonely island with buried treasure.
Play production week fell the same time I was focused on revising the main character in my newest novel. My critique group needed more from her, and knew she still wasn't complete on the page.
On stage, a character is defined physically - how they move, talk, visibly react. In a book, a character is defined in much more subtle details. There are no exaggerated stomps or arm flings. Instead, the writer hints at past experiences, describes the thoughts without actually explaining them, and weaves in interesting tidbits as naturally into dialogue as possible.
Sometimes I wish I could just throw my character on stage. Let the reader see and hear her in action. Her subtleties would become very obvious. I know what she is as a whole, but getting that whole to the page is the ever-challenge of writers. How do I help the reader see and hear all she has to offer?
Maybe throwing her on stage is exactly what I need to do.
It seems that no matter what shifts my life takes, I always end up just as busy as ever. I retired from teaching school full time so I could write. Now, upon immersing myself in the writer's world, I've found myself as the Regional Advisor for the state of Montana for the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I've been a member of SCBWI for many years, and have benefited from an untold collection of events, programs, and connections. Now I'm a coordinator to bring those benefits to other Montana writers.
This past weekend SCBWI Montana hosted a workshop series titled "Writing Craft - Creative Life". We held four workshops in four cities across the state. In Bozeman, Janet Fox led a class on crafting characters, and the participants created scrapbooks. In Billings, Annie Downer led a class on scene perspective, and the participants sketched storyboards. In Missoula, Kent Davis led a class on character arc, and the participants did improvisational theater. In Helena, I led a class on plot, where we also did some yoga to free the flow. Each workshop combined elements of writing with some creative, right brained activity. Each workshop has gotten rave reviews.
What do you get when you combine writing elements, creative play, and hard-working people? Personal growth. Breakthroughs. New friends. Success. Here's the call: Writers Unite! Bring yourselves together to bring out the best in each other.
I've touted for years the benefits of a wonderful, active writing critique group. Now my group has just expanded statewide. Look out world!
Winter has arrived in Montana, and with that the four wheel drive, snow shovels, and digital microscope. It's 10:00 on a Monday morning, and I've already completed two separate rounds of snowflake chasing. Through the off-winter times of the year, I slowly forget the thrill of finding those amazing tiny creations of beauty, but once the snow falls, it all comes flooding back. I love taking pictures of snowflakes.
I wanted to share a few that I captured this morning, so here they are. I also wanted to share that my newest work in progress has my main character discovering this snowflake obsession herself. I'll keep you posted on how well I can make snowflake catching an extreme plot.
Enjoy the snow!
I love to read! Because I'm also a writer, I get to read a lot of books. I especially focus on Middle Grade books, because that's what I write. I also love to analyze and critique the books I read. Combine all of this, and I now have 'Chicken Scratch Reviews'.
Under my Chicken Scratch blog tab is the Chicken Scratch Reviews tab. On this page, you'll find reviews of books I've read. Most of them will be Middle Grade, which is for ages 8 - 12, although they are still my favorite books, so really Middle Grade is for everyone 8 and up. I rate each book with one to six chicken scratches, with six being absolutely wonderful.
Please use this page for ideas! I'll add more reviews all the time, so you'll be able to scan and find the perfect book for anyone on your list.
Now I have another excuse to curl up with a good book!
I heard this morning that my friend and mentor Elaine Marie Alphin had passed away yesterday. My thoughts have been full of her memories, and appreciation for all she taught me as a person, and a writer. I posted this shout-out a few years ago, when she first had her stroke. Today, I re-post as a remembrance of a wonderful mentor.
Shout-Out To Writing Mentors: Elaine Marie Alphin
Every writer needs support and guidance as they are learning to hone their craft and navigate the world of publishing. I wrote for several years before I found my current writers group, and with it some wonderful mentors. I never knew what I was missing! One of those mentors is Elaine Marie Alphin.
Elaine joined our writers group not long after I did. She is a passionate children's writer with more than 30 books under her belt, and numerous awards, including the Edgar Allan Poe Award for mystery for her book Counterfeit Son. Elaine took me under her wing. She spent hours discussing my stories with me, offering suggestions and critiques, but always in a strong, positive way. She helped me see my writing in new ways. She worked with me during writers group time, in the car on the way to conferences, over gyros for lunch, and by email and phone chats. She taught me what it means to truly live your writing.
Elaine also taught many other people. She traveled extensively for school visits, SCBWI Conference presentations, and writers retreat collaboration. I brought Elaine into my school where I teach, and she worked with me and the entire student body to write our own mystery. The kids actually wrote a mystery novel, with each grade level providing a chapter. This was an amazing project that inspired the writing of countless kids.
A little over a year ago, Elaine suffered a massive stroke that has left her physically unable to write. She is in the process of rebuilding brain neuron pathways to hopefully bring her passion back.
I imagine there are probably thousands of writers out there who also claim Elaine as their writing mentor, but I claim her special. I'm so grateful for her teaching, her guidance, her knowledge, and her friendship. Here's a shout-out to you, Elaine!
Writing for children is a passion - along with reading kid's books, writing plays for kids, and teaching kids how to write!