It’s Wednesday! Writer’s Prompts and Inspiration Day.

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How often does the opener of a new writing project have you staring at a blank computer screen for an unacceptable amount of time? Some of us become nearly paralyzed over those first words. Why isn’t sentence number two, three, or four this darned hard? It seems once sentence number one is written, the next words flow freely! Probably because the pressure is off, our brains unclamp, and the story takes form.

Here is a typical scenario of my writing process…

An idea comes. I feel a rush, typing that first brilliant sentence. Then I read those earth-moving words and…delete it, retype it, and delete it again. “I’ll bet agents have seen this kind of opening line before.” delete, delete, delete. “This isn’t even original!” delete, delete. “Billions of words in the world, and all I have to do is choose a handful of them, group them in the right order, and I’ll have it!”

Today being Wednesday, it’s time for another installment of Prompts and Inspirations to get your creativity flowing. And speaking of first sentences, here are the first sentences from some of my all time favorite books.

1. You wouldn’t think we’d have to leave Chicago to see a dead body.  — Richard Peck, A Long Way From Chicago

2. Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away.  — E.L. Konigsburg, From The Mixed-Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

3. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.  — Louis Sachar, Holes

4. It seems there should have been some warning, but I felt none. — Marlo Morgan, Mutant Message Down Under

5. Until almost the very end, Han van Meegeren thought he had committed the perfect crime.  — Edward Dolnick, The Forger’s Spell

6. There’s something frightening, and magical, about being on the ocean, moving between the heavens and the earth, knowing that you can encounter anything on your journey.  — Lynne Cox, Grayson

7. I know I’m not an ordinary ten-year-old kid.  — R.J. Palacio, Wonder

Now it’s your turn. The pressure is off. After all, this is a writing game to loosen up your thinking, open yourself to crazy ideas, hilarious ideas, or darned serious ones. And what if one of these “just for fun” sentences spurs on your next novel?

A friend of mine lent me his/her favorite book, and the first line took me by surprise. Chapter one began…

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Want to share a first sentence from one of your favorite books (current or classic, it doesn’t matter here.)

Welcome To The First Wednesday Writer’s Prompt!

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WELCOME TO MY NEWEST BLOG ADDITION.

As writers, we hope something we overhear will ignite that bestseller, lurking deep inside us.

We listen with fine-tuned ears.

We observe our surroundings with sharpened eyes.

We touch and breathe with heightened senses.

Sometimes we need a little push.

When answering, think outside the box… WAY OUTSIDE THE BOX.

I thought this was my suitcase until I got home from the airport, opened it, and found…

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What could happen because of what was found? Might this spur a comedic picture book, a thriller, a middle grade mystery, a limerick? When answering, consider the many different kinds of people you’ve seen at the airport: young, old, student, retired, athletic, introverted, extroverted… Think about the countless occupations and pastimes people have: banker, circus performer, photographer, baker, ice cream taster, scientist, stamp collector, seamstress, journalist, etc…  The lists you could make are endless.

Open yourself to new possibilities. Let your answers take your writing in completely different directions from your norm.

Feel like sharing something from your list? I’d love to hear from you!

 

Follow this blog to receive your Wednesday Prompt and Inspiration.

POCKET NOTEBOOKS

Yellow notebookI have low shopping resistance to little notebooks. You know the ones…they’re about 4×6 inches big (small) or smaller, fit into a pocket or purse, can sit perfectly on a nightstand, wait patiently in the glove compartment of a car, and could be tucked inside a file folder for in-progress stories.

I learned the hard way that my memory isn’t programmed for instant recall. After I experience an event, I hold a jotted blurb of it in my head, and when time permits, I sit at my computer and try to hammer out a flawless, detail-packed recollection. While I’m typing, I believe what I’m writing is moment to moment perfect, but in actuality, the finer details and impressions the event made on me weigh in at a fraction.  I wouldn’t have believed this if it weren’t for one event in my life.

In the few days before my father’s death at 93, I wrote an extensive list of the countless ways he touched my life, helped shape my life, boosted me up, patiently listened, and cheered me on. My father was my mentor, my hero, my teacher, and my best friend. I wished I could stop time. I couldn’t stand the thought of facing a day without him. Each night, although we lived only 20 minutes apart, we hung on the phone for an hour or so, sharing our day with each other, telling jokes, laughing and remembering old times. And then he was gone.

During his last days, I couldn’t be moved from his side. My left hand held his hand while my right hand never stopped writing in a little, yellow, 4×6 notebook on my lap. I wrote a letter to my dad. I recalled memories as they rushed back to me, and I wrote of the heart-breaking experience of losing him. And then a month later I misplaced the notebook.

Time passed. I sat at my computer, trying to type the events as I remembered them happening. I tried to remember the thoughts and feeling I had…. Then I read what I had written, satisfied I captured my father’s last days perfectly.

Yesterday while straightening out my notes for a story, I found a little, yellow notebook. I almost didn’t want to open it. I found a quiet place to sit while I turned the pages and returned to three of the hardest days of my life. What I read touched my heart. My own words made me cry. I read—stunned—at the critical pieces time had taken away from my memory. What I had recreated on my computer was a fraction of the event.

Since that day, I have purchased and made many more pocket-size notebooks. Important moments can happen at any time of the day, and I never want to risk leaving the details to memory for later when they have softened.

If we are going to tap into our lives for emotional events to bring into our writing, those events must be faithfully recorded—in the moment or as close to it if possible.

What I learned from what I had written in my yellow notebook and what I captured later on my computer is this: The pages I filled while sitting beside my father were a perfect example of showing, and the pages I typed later were nearly 100% telling. Showing vs. telling. Emotional vs. distant. Three dimensional vs. flat.

Do you keep notebooks everywhere you go? Do you write your thoughts on anything handy from backs of receipts to napkins? Is there an event in your life you are glad you were able to write about in the moment?

Living A Wabi Sabi Life

wabi-sabi-daisiesSince my daughter was two she has amazed me…shamed me… in her innocent appreciation of the world–a world I hadn’t truly seen in years with my mature eyes. Now almost nine, she continues to notice the simple beauty, imperfect beauty, impermanent beauty around her. Through her, I have come to walk slower so she can remind me how to see like a child, breathe deeper so I can notice the many different smells, and to pause along our walks to marvel at the intricate work in a fallen bird’s nest or appreciate the determination of a dandelion, thriving between a crack in the sidewalk.

I remind myself often that the best way to see is to forget the names of everything around me. I like to pretend I don’t know what something is made of, what it feels like to my touch, and what it smells like. This is how children approach everything shortly after they are born. A whole new world awaits them. My daughter’s favorite question, once she learned to speak, was, “What’s that? What’s that? What’s that?” I used to answer that question all day for her.

“What’s that?” She ran her fingers around the rim of a cup.

“That’s a cup.” I said.

“What’s that?” she asked again, still touching the cup.

“It’s still a cup,” I said, taking a closer look at what she was pointing to. A hairline crack ran down the side of my favorite teacup. I can’t drink from it anymore, there’s no point in keeping it in the cupboard with the other perfect cups, but still, I couldn’t throw it away. Too many memories lingered in it.

My daughter studied the meandering crack, nearly meditating over its path with greater interest than she took in the spray of flowers decorating the cup.

This appreciation of beauty in all things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete is something I never knew had a name. I figured it was one of those gifts some might call a quirk but for which I felt lucky to have since my daughter awakened it in me. I used to be this way when I was a child, and somewhere along the road to adulthood, school, work, and grownup responsibilities squeezed it into a smaller place inside of me.

A year ago as I browsed through the stacks at the library, I came across a display of recommended books for writers. Many of them I already had at home on my well-stocked, dedicated shelf. But one little book caught my eye…Wabi Sabi for Writers by Richard R. Powell. What is wabi sabi? At first I wondered if somebody thought up those catchy little words which are so nice to say and hear, but as I began reading, I discovered an entire world behind those words. I discovered that the appreciation for all things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete is wabi-sabi.

To quote Richard R. Powell, the author of Wabi Sabi for Writers, “Part of the job of a writer who knows and loves wabi sabi is to remind others of what they already know but have forgotten…”

These words are special to me because without knowing it, my daughter, since the age of two, has lived a wabi sabi life and thankfully has reawakened it in me.

On the process of writing

 

crayon fairyMy daughter flopped on the living room rug armed with a box of crayons (one of my favorite smells since preschool) and a pad of paper. “I’m going to draw until Daddy calls to say he’s coming home from work. Do you want to watch?”

“WATCH? Are you sure? It’s not going to squash your creativity?”

My daughter pushed her hand through a mound of crayons in an old tin box and pulled out a blunt, magenta crayon. “I’m going to draw a fairy.”

Once upon a timeI pictured myself at my computer, ready to write a story. NO  WAY would I ever say, “I’m going to write a story about a fairy. Do you want to watch?”

“Don’t you want to plan it out first?” the writer in me asked.  Do you even know what the fairy’s normal life is like? Have you given thought to the inciting incident that will cause her to flit from her world?” I pressed on… “Don’t you, at the very least, want to dump out the crayons and consider some of the other colors?”

“Writers.” She shook her head. “This isn’t the last piece of paper I have.”

As you probably guessed, this got me thinking about my own creative process.  Why can’t I write with the freedom my daughter feels when she draws? Why can’t I sit at my computer and fearlessly begin a new story? Probably because I’m never alone when I write. Aside from my dog, Max, sprawled over the larger portion of my chair, my pesky self editor, with good intentions, constantly reads over my shoulder. Let’s call that well-meaning voice in my head…Gretchen. (Now where have I heard that name before?)

“Gads!” Gretchen says. “Are you sure you want to start off your story with that sentence? Think of Charlotte’s Web! Think of Where the Wild Things Are.”

“You’re right,” I say. “And let’s not forget my all time favorite, A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck. I lean on the delete button and begin again.

“Ah hem,” her familiar voice nags. “You’re not actually considering starting with back story?”

Delete, delete, delete.

“Cliché!” her voice rings in my ear. “Stereotypical!    Done before!    Can anyone say SLUSH PILE?”

Writing, I have come to accept, is NOTHING like drawing.

Change of plans. I spread out my note cards, grab my set of highlighters, a bag of chocolate chips, and systematically create a character I want to write about.  Her personality must be endearing, yet suitably flawed in a way that contributes to the story problem.  Her fears, hopes, and wishes carefully chosen, too. I fill in the blanks on my lengthy Character Questionnaire. Then I write a series of more personal questions in the form of a letter and answer them the way I believe my character would. (I learn so much this way.)

Does this always work when I want to start a new story? No. Sometimes the writing flows better when I start with a problem common to most children. I then decide what kind of character would make a perfect match for such a situation, a humorous match, an unlikely match…. (So many factors to consider.) In most cases, the unlikely or humorous match makes the best fit for an entertaining story.

Now that I have a character, I have to place her someplace. I can’t have her bobbing like an astronaut in outer space across a blank sheet of paper. Once I decide upon her call to action, I add a few failed attempts at solving her problem, a low point, a moment of revelation, and one last go at resolving her issue which leads to success. (Maybe not the success my main character hoped for, but one that is better than she imagined.) And all this must cleverly tie back seamlessly to the beginning of the story, finishing with a suitable denouement.

Easy?

NO.

Little does my daughter realize the gift of mental clarity and freedom children naturally possess.

What is your writing process like? Do you like to create characters from scratch? Do you like to start with a problem or situation first? Do your childhood memories play into your writing?

Welcome to my blog

 

country roadEvery weekday I drive the same route to take my daughter to school. We pass familiar house and tree-lined streets. We stop when the crossing guard holds up her stop sign to let a string of happy children cross. A mile further, our car rattles over a number of closely laid railroad tracks. We joke that those tracks are holding our town together.

It’s the drive home that started me thinking about my blog direction…. I arrive at a fork in the road. Turning right takes me through town—a couple miles of fresh-paved road lined with a variety of well-stocked grocery stores, charming boutiques, floral shops, department stores, and quaint coffee shops. The road leading left takes me on a country drive past barns, a rolling field of grazing horses, and a llama farm. In the winter, this drive is a scene from Currier and Ives.

Both roads serve their purpose.

Both roads tempt with their abundant shopping and pastoral views.

Both roads will take me home.

Why does this fork in the road make me think of my blog? 

I imagine the path leading to the bounty of tempting shops symbolizes blog posts in which the rules of good writing are discussed, blogs in which new books are reviewed, and favorite authors are interviewed.

And the country road? Maybe this road symbolizes blogs in which the writer gets personal and shares photographs, life stories, and inspirations.

Yesterday I stopped at the fork, questioning which direction suited me best. After a moment, I decided to aim between them…with my writing and not my car.

I will meander around my personal observations, tying  in how I relate all that beauty to my writing. Occasionally I’ll share my take on the ingredients of good writing. I’ll also inspire you with some of my favorite writing games. And I’m sure I’ll want to share the books I’m reading, too. I might even toss in a recipe.

Welcome to my blog.

I hope you’ll visit me often.