Our local ski hill Bridger Bowl got a whole bunch of fresh snow this week. That turned out to be a very lucky coincidence because this week was also 5th grade ski day. Once a year, as part of the PE curriculum at the school, 5th graders get to travel to the slopes for a day of lessons and ski fun. Many of my students are very good skiers or snowboarders already, so they were thrilled about the two feet of powder.
Then there is me. I didn't learn to ski until I was old. I don't care much for going fast, and I have to be able to see my skis. When skiing in two feet of fresh powder, one can't see their skis all the time. I am pretty good at doing pizza, though, so I figured I'd be okay. My whole family skis very well, thanks to my husband, and has nice equipment for me to borrow. They ski whenever they can, but for me, 5th grade ski day is usually it.
And usually on 5th grade ski day, I have several students who are beginners themselves, having just moved to Montana from Texas or somewhere else warm. Once their lessons are over, they happily seek me out as the adult ski buddy. Not this year. Lessons ended, lunch ended, and I was suddenly alone in the lodge. I looked around for a few minutes, seeing if anyone was left. No one.
I had a decision to make. No one was asking me to ski with them. Snow was still falling in beautiful, fat, flakes. The temperature was perfect. Hundreds of skiers were right outside the glass having a blast. Sure, I should justify my daughter's efforts to get her skis to me to borrow for the day, and my husbands efforts in adjusting the bindings to my skill level, but maybe they would never find out. Really, no one should ever ski alone anyway, right? Always ski with a buddy. Well, maybe that's not so important on green circles.
I looked out the window. I love the mountains of Montana, and the snow in winter. I love the trees covered with icy frosting. I love that we have such a great ski hill right next to town for everyone to enjoy. Not to mention the luck of the powder. So, I sat down and clipped on my boots.
In Martha Alderson's The Plot Whisperer, she encourages writers to identify the four energetic markers of their stories. The first one is the "end of the beginning", or the point where life for the main character shifts to new. The second is the "recommitment scene" where she forges ahead despite setbacks. Then there is the "crisis" where everything is out of control, which forces the main character to take control in a new way. Introspection happens here, which leads to the push and climb to the "climax" where the hero fights back, rebelling against the antagonist, and ultimately prevails. These four scenes, when created in a natural cause and effect flow, will make for an enjoyable, well constructed plot.
I've been applying these plotting techniques to my revisions lately, and it has made me see my writing process in a similar light. In my personal writing story, what stage of the plot am I at? I passed the "end of the beginning" a long time ago. That was my first draft, which subsequently needed major work. So after months of analysis and critique, I entered my "recommitment scene" where I chose to willingly edit and recraft. I forged ahead, and rewrote the whole thing. That led to more critique and analysis, which made me feel somewhat out of control after so much work already. Then I hit the "crisis". My story sucks. No matter what I do. Should I keep going at all? Is it worth it?
Luckily, I have the support of a wonderful critique group, who have an amazing knack for seeing what needs to happen. After ruminating on their suggestions a little while, along with serious introspection, I think I'm ready to start the climb. I've done some experimenting, created a plan, and I feel once again that I'm in control.
So now I'm climbing. Heading to the "climax". I hope all goes well, because this main character really needs to succeed. With my trusty band of rebels at my side, I'll write my story through to the end, come what may. And we all know the pen is mightier than the sword.
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...
It's snowing outside. I've checked several times to see if the flakes are photo worthy. They aren't. This morning they are just clumps of ice crystals, which are beautiful in their own way, but not photo worthy.
It's quite a chore to set up my computer, camera, and equipment outside on a winter day. Not to mention preparing myself. I'm a naturally cold person, so I have to bundle up a lot if I'm going out. I have to have at least one hand bare through the photography process, so I can adjust the focus as needed. My fingers get frozen pretty quickly.
Despite the nature of the hobby, my heart gets excited when I'm home, with no place to be rushing to, and it starts to snow. If I check, and the snowflakes are good, I even jump around a little. This only happens a few times a year, when the planets align just so.
Earlier this month I had the chance. Bailey and I took hundreds of pictures, and ended up saving 104 of them. It was ideal snowflake conditions: just the right temperature (about 12 degrees), just the right humidity, and time for us to work. So many beautiful creations! Every flake was amazing! My new digital microscope met all my expectations. I didn't want to stop, but standing by the fireplace to thaw out finally won me over.
It's interesting the adrenaline rush I get from capturing and preserving those tiny marvels of nature. This is my idea of extreme sports.
Yesterday, I scrubbed the bathrooms and shopped for Thanksgiving dinner instead of writing. I had earmarked this weekend as a writing weekend, but I'm afraid it just didn't happen. I may get to it later today, but probably not. My 'catch-up' list somehow has taken priority.
How do you find time to write? Mine tends to come in spurts and waves. I'm feeling the need to write, but life is happening too much around me. I'm a morning person, with my best writing happening the first few hours of the day. So what do I do when those first few hours are filled up with other things?
My weekdays start at 5:15 a.m., and I'm running until I crash about 9:00 p.m. I don't think I can get up any earlier. I think I just need to figure out a way to add another day to my weekends. Is anyone else in favor of an 8 day week? We could call it Writeday. It could be sandwiched between Saturday and Sunday. I think that would work really well for me. We could all band together and sign a petition to send to the International Date Committee.
Oh well. I'd better get back to my list.
My youngest child turned 12 this past week. Weird. I remember when I was 12. I was a short, skinny nerd who loved to run and read and hang with my family. Yeah, I was a unique tween. My son is too. He loves to kick people in the head (taekwondo), disrespect Bach (he prefers playing his piano pieces in his own way, not how they were originally composed), design websites as gifts (Christmas last year), and buck the educational system (already years ahead in math).
What does a parent do with an unique tween? My parents let me be, and made sure I knew I was loved. I think this worked fairly well. Of course there's lots more to it all than that, but in a nutshell, they let me figure things out on my own, in my own way, with lots of loving support.
Why can it sound so simple when you look at it from a broad perspective, but be so complicated in the details? Raising kids is the challenge of a lifetime, but oh, what joy is also wrapped up in the package. I was reading in an old journal of mine this morning from when my son was three. I had written that he often said to me, "Mom, I want you really bad!" I had forgotten that completely, so I got a good smile and rush of memories. I think I'll embarrass him later today and tell him about it too.
Embarrassing our children is also a very important parental job. Like I said, there's also so much joy!
I love reading and analyzing and synergizing critiques for my fellow writers group members. I love celebrating their great successes! There's something really cool about being in on the story long before the world gets to be. It's like a secret I just can't wait to finally share.
I finally get to share! Author extraordinaire Janet Fox is super close to a much anticipated release of her newest novel Sirens. As many of you know, Janet has two much acclaimed historical YA novels already out there - Faithful, set in early 1900's Yellowstone Park, and Forgiven, at the time of the great San Francisco earthquake. Well, Sirens is just as cool. This story is set in the 1920's in New York City. It takes the reader into the world of gangsters and speakeasys, but gives so much more than that! Janet weaves a mystery driven by the love and loyalty of a sister for her brother. Oh, there's also some romance, and a tiny bit of a ghost story.
Sirens is a fantastic book folks, ready to hit the stores on Thursday, November 8. For all my Bozeman friends, Janet is hosting a book-launch party at the Country Bookshelf on that night - November 8th - and everyone is invited! Come meet Janet, check out Sirens, have some treats, and win a prize. You can even come dressed in your favorite 1920's attire. The party will run from 7:00 until 9:00. Hope to see you all there!
Writing for children is a passion - along with reading kid's books, writing plays for kids, and teaching kids how to write!