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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: notebooks, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. SCHOOL'S OUT! Or is it . . . ? by Anna Wilson

In January I wrote about the joys of giving children notebooks and letting them run riot with their story ideas. Since then I have met many teachers and parents who have done just this. They have told me how wonderful it is to see this space being used. The freedom to write or draw whatever the child wants has fed into stories she or he has often then gone on to polish in class in structured writing time. (This has not, of course, always been a direct result of my post – many teachers and parents were already giving their children the chance to explore their writing in this way.)

I would not be blogging about this again, were it not for something I witnessed on a long train journey last week; something which had me thinking again about how constraining we can be in our approach to our children’s education and the damage that can be done when pleasure is forsaken in favour of ticking boxes and getting things ‘right’. And, perhaps more importantly, when this approach leaks into home life.

A mum got on the train with her two small daughters, whom I guessed to be about five and six, and her son, who, I thought, looked about eight. They settled into their seats and the mother brought out some pens and pencils, paper and notebooks.

The little girls immediately clamoured, ‘I want my notebook!’ ‘I am going to write you a story!’

How lovely! I thought. What a great way to spend a few hours on the train.

‘Yes,’ said the mother. ‘You each have twenty minutes to write a beautiful story, and then I will read it and check it. Now – remember I want to see “wow” words, good punctuation, proper spelling, neat handwriting and lots of interesting verbs and adjectives—’

The boy groaned loudly (or was it me?) and put his head in his hands. ‘I don’t WANT to write a story!’ he complained. ‘I don’t like writing stories and I am no good at them.’

His mother placated him with promises of chocolate biscuits if he would only ‘be good like the girls and write for twenty minutes without making a fuss’. His sisters were indeed already scribbling away and reading aloud what they had written, eager to share it with their mother. She praised them and told them to keep going for the full twenty minutes.

What is it with this twenty minutes thing? I thought. Maybe she is desperate for a bit of peace and quiet. Don’t judge! You were in this situation not so long ago yourself: long train journeys with young children are tiresome and they have to have things to do otherwise you go crazy and so do they.

The boy then handed over his story. His mother, glancing at it, said, ‘Well, that’s not very interesting, is it? You haven’t used good connectives, there are no “wow” words, your handwriting is messy and you just haven’t made an effort.’

Pretty harsh, I thought.

Then came the killer blow.

‘You really have got to start making an effort with your writing, you know,’ the mother went on. ‘Next year you will have to write for twenty minutes and put all these things into your stories. You have been on holiday for a week already and you have done no writing. You must promise you’ll concentrate on this for another twenty minutes, or you will be no good at this next year.’

I must confess that, at the time, I wanted to lean across and engage the boy in conversation. I wanted to ask him if he liked reading and, if so, what kind of stories did he like best? What about his favourite films? I wanted to get him chatting about his likes and dislikes and encourage him to scribble them down, to use this precious ‘writing time’ as a chance to let his brain go wild. I wanted to tell him that it was OK to do that, and that afterwards he could go back over his story and concentrate on the connectives and the punctuation and the neat handwriting. I wanted to say that all those things his mother was talking about were indeed important, but that perhaps the reason he hated writing so much was that he was struggling with remembering the rules; that if he could forget the rules to start with, he would then perhaps find he loved writing stories, and that he had piles and piles of them to tell. I might perhaps have added that, as a published writer, I would be paralysed if I had to write a clean first draft from the off which obeyed all the rules of Standard English . . . 

Of course I didn’t. I did not want to upset his mother – after all, it was none of my business. In any case, on reflection, it was not her behaviour with her children that upset me the most, rather the fact that she clearly felt anxious that her son was not up to scratch with his English. Indeed, she was so anxious that he improve that she was insisting he work on it over the summer holidays, and work on it in the exact same way he is required to at school. She was armed to the hilt with educational jargon and was turning this terrifying arsenal on her weary son.

I was an editor before I was fortunate enough to develop my career as a writer. I know as well as anyone the importance of good grammar and correct punctuation. I appreciate clean, clear writing and a well-structured plot. I know good dialogue when I see it. My own children will roll their eyes and tell you that I am the first person to howl at the misuse of the apostrophe on a street sign or restaurant menu. Of course I can see why we have to teach these things and why parents should care about their children’s level of competence in English.

However, it makes me extremely upset that an obsession with such technicalities has the potential to wreck a child’s love of their own language. When you are as young as that little lad, creative writing should be fun, shouldn’t it? Leaving aside the dubious value in making your child work over the summer holidays in such a joyless way, I found it heartbreaking that the mother seemed not to see the potential for fun in giving her son a notebook and letting him run riot with his imagination before giving him guidance and advice on how to hone his ideas. Even more heartbreaking, though, was the thought of how anxious the woman seemed to feel about her son attaining certain targets in the academic year to come. She cannot be alone in feeling this.

I only hope that, come September, her son will find himself fortunate to have one of the many inspirational teachers we have in this country who are still in love enough with their subject to occasionally throw out the rulebook and teach from the heart instead.


www.annawilson.co.uk

0 Comments on SCHOOL'S OUT! Or is it . . . ? by Anna Wilson as of 7/29/2014 3:44:00 AM
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2. Writer’s Notebooks

Last week I had a conversation with a middle school teacher who has spent her summer studying writing workshop and is excited to make writer’s notebooks the backbone of her writing instruction. This… Read More

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3. A homemade coloring book

This weekend, I will be spending ample time with my four-year-old ballerina friend Solveig. I want to have plenty of fun creative things for us to do together, so I made this coloring book for her.
inside front page (color print) and first coloring page

 I used a ballet theme for most of the inside coloring pages. Since the recipient takes ballet classes, I am pretty sure we will be "on the same page" with the theme!
another coloring page

Something personaized is always extra-special

Everyone likes to "see their name in lights", so to speak! I included the recipient's name in some of the printed pages. It is a small detail and I know she will be delighted!

For a few of the pieces of art on the coloring pages, I tried different colored outlines instead of brown, just to punch things up a bit... and what young lady doesn't love pink and purple?


Back cover

I covered the front and back covers, both inside and outside, with art prints I already had lying around. I picked out a few that I thought were just rig

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4. Friday Speak Out!: Defrosting the Deep Freeze, Guest Post by Karna Converse

Defrosting the Deep Freeze


by Karna Converse

Two or three times a year, I sort and organize the contents of my deep freeze; once a year, I defrost it. Many of the contents are unrecognizable due to ice crystals or the white of freezer burn, and I throw much of it away. But I usually find something that’s worth keeping, and sometimes, a treasure or two: a container of chili that’ll feed two -- perfect for a meal when only half the family is home. A package of sweet corn or a frozen fruit cup that brings a taste of summer to a cold, winter night. A chicken casserole that simply needs to be reheated. A roast I’d forgotten I’d purchased.

I do similar exercises with the contents of my writing files.

Some of the writing I find is truly awful and I send it to the trash bin, but some—rejected from a first round of publications--meet the guidelines of a new publication I’ve recently encountered. Like the casserole or container of chili, these pieces simply need to be defrosted and reheated. I’m re-energized by these discoveries, but the ones that bring the biggest smile to my face are the pieces I’d forgotten about, the ideas I’d begun to develop but never completed. Most are journal entries, and they’re begging to be thrown into the crock pot.

I had no particular plans for the notes I started scribbling notes into spiral notebooks 12 years ago. I was a stay-at-home mom with young children, and to be honest, didn’t have time to develop them into full-fledged pieces. I just knew I needed to capture the moment. Some entries filled a page; others, only a few lines. A few entries were written in response to a writing prompt but most are simply notes about the particular day’s triumph or disaster; a parenting-related news story or controversy; or the questions and funny comments my children made.

Now, as one of Literary Mama’s blog editors, I’m expanding these random thoughts into short essays for readers who understand and can appreciate them. My “For Your Journal” writing prompts connect a parenting issue with a personal experience and encourage readers to keep a journal about their own parenting experiences.
Even though my children are now in high school and college, I continue to make notes in a journal. I’m not sure when, or if, I’ll develop them into longer pieces but I know I’ll be glad I’ve captured the moments. So, I encourage you to pour a cup of tea, settle yourself into a comfy chair, and defrost the contents of your writing deep freeze. You might be surprised at what’s already simmering in the crock pot.

Don’t have a spiral notebook? Get one. Now. Jot down the funny things your friends and family say, the experiences that make you proud, the conflicts that make you angry. Write about the family pet, a favorite board game from your childhood, the first time you tried to teach your child how to cook, the role religion plays in your life, the childhood events that influenced your present-day relationship with a sibling.

And who knows? Maybe you’ll discover a character for your next short story or a theme for a narrative essay. Or maybe you’ll use the idea to create a special holiday card or photo album for someone in your family . . . Or maybe the memories will simply be captured, to be defrosted months—or years---down the road.


* * *

3 Comments on Friday Speak Out!: Defrosting the Deep Freeze, Guest Post by Karna Converse, last added: 10/17/2011
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5. I’ve been studying sentence structure…

I was watching or listening or reading something this week — I don’t remember what — but the message was: You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. True. (And probably the reason I don’t remember who said it since this little tid-bit is fairly common knowledge.) The person went on to say: [...]

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6. I’ve been studying sentence structure…

I was watching or listening or reading something this week — I don’t remember what — but the message was: You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. True. (And probably the reason I don’t remember who said it since this little tid-bit is fairly common knowledge.) The person went on to say: [...]

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7. Notebooks!

Lately, I've been experimenting with making these spiral-bound notebooks (or journals, or sketchbooks). It's so much fun to have a new, FUNCTIONAL way to share my art work! I've always wanted to have my art on note books and the like. So, while I work on finding a partner with larger manufacturing abilities than myself, with a wider distribution than I myself can provide, it's exciting to make it happen all by myself. I really love these books.



This one features bunches of pages of speckled paper alternating with bunches of pages of lavender paper. I also added several pages of 100# watercolor paper at the front of the book for extra variety! (Maybe I should add a lavender scent, too? Hmm...)



The cover and back are a very rigid, acid-free matte board in purple. On the front and back cover, I adhered my art prints, printed on an acid- free 100# fine invitation paper.




The place holder ribbon is recycled - cute, eh? I originally received it from my pet-art buddy Christine Throckmorton of I Heart Dogs Studio. (We did a custom pet portrait trade awhile back, and I did her doggie Rosie. Check out all the process posts here.)

 I've been using them and it is SO MUCH FUN for me. I'm a notebook-a-holic and sketch book-a-holic, and I have been wanting to make them for such a long time, so I can't get enough of them. I'm experimenting with different ways to add variety, embellishments, separators, and different papers within the books. I hope you like them!  Once I have the time to really get into it, I will be creating some to sell in my Etsy shop. As always, if you feel so inclined, I'd love to hear what you think. :)



3 Comments on Notebooks!, last added: 12/15/2011
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8. 12 Gifts of Christmas - For Writers


           ByRuth Symes / Megan Rix

Thereare so many lovely gifts for writers out there, from extremely cheap tolavishly expensive. We must be the easiest people to buy for! Here’s my top 12 Christmaslist:

1.Journals and notebooks and paper: You can never have too many or too much, in myopinion, (recycled paper best if poss). A4 books for getting down to someserious writing. Smaller notebooks for stuffing in a handbag or pocket, alongwith a pen, for when inspiration strikes!


When walking on the beach this spring I even found a waterproof notebook that you could use in the rain or in the bath.


2.Yearly Planner Wall-chart: I love being able to put a daily sticker(occasionally two) on my yearly wall-chart to mark off each 1000 words written.The best part is coming to the end year of the year and having a wall-chartcovered in them - very satisfying.

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9. Observations While Writing

(Because even when you have Freedom switched on there are always ways to procrastinate)

- The David Tennant Doctor Who figure is taller than the Matt Smith figure and for some reason I thought it would be the other way around. I should Google who is tallest. (To which the answer is a) yes David Tennant is taller and b) what an odd site and c) my Google-Fu found that in one click).

- Why have trays on your desk if you're not going to use them for anything sensible? And yes, labelling them WIP / Ideas / Guidelines / Writing Tips isn't much good if you're just going to throw everything into whatever tray you feel like.

- Making graphs is an awesome way to track your progress even if you're not making any progress because you're busy making graphs.

- Scribbling short story titles and throwing them into the trays would be awesome if you used the right trays or maybe had a short story title tray. Ooh, see now I have another reason to procrastinate and then later on I could blog* about all the silly things I write short story titles on like fruit pastille wrappers and gift tags and whatnot. You'd think there were no notebooks in this room.

- If you count all the unused notebooks in your office, you may find they total 30 (at least).

*I won't really blog about that... Although, in the words of James Bond, never say never.

I wonder which James Bond figure is the tallest?

8 Comments on Observations While Writing, last added: 6/9/2012
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10. our regularly scheduled program

Home, friends. I am home. There's no place like it, and I'm glad to be here. Thanks for coming to the low country with me. I had no words last week, but I loved reading yours. Thanks for all the lovely mail. I savored every word.
And now... a return to our regularly scheduled program. I have breakfast with my editor this morning (Sunday). He's here for the Decatur Book Festival, so we will take some time to be together this morning, to meet face-to-face for the first time, and start getting to know one another in person.

If you've been reading One Pomegranate, you'll know that I lost my long time, beloved editor, Liz Van Doren, in early 2007 -- a devastating blow. We had worked together for 12 years. Over time, we had learned to complete each other's sentences as we talked about stories. We challenged each other. We made good books together.

Kate Harrison became my editor at that time. Within the year, she left Harcourt for Dial/Penguin, and I landed at Scholastic with Kara La Reau and David Levithan. The plan was that I would work on the first of the sixties trilogy with Kara, but eight months later, Kara was laid off, just as I was nearing the home stretch of a complete draft of book one.

David and I began working together less than a year ago. In that time I finished the draft, finished another, and another, and have gotten to know David through phone calls and email. He's a good editor. I don't know him well yet; we are learning to work with each other, and I understand that good working relationships take time and trust. It's not necessary for us to become friends, although that would be nice, but we are already colleagues in book making, and I am delighted by that.

At any rate, it will be good to have met face-to-face as we come into the home stretch of putting this novel to bed. There are a million things to talk about, to ask about, to learn. And to share. Many of them have nothing to do with books. I'm looking forward to breakfast. It's good to be home.

As for Charleston: we'll be back. It was good. Very good. And... I have a prompt for you (and your students):

Take a digital camera with you and take photos on a given day of objects that tug at your heart. Don't think too hard about why they tug, just trust your gut. Take as many photos as you want.

Then, take a look at your photos and select the four or five that can tell a story of that day in one word. That one word will be a theme, if you will. Let that one word title and those photos help you tell a story wordlessly. Let them evoke a memory, an emotion, a mood, a narrative. See what you come up with. You can use my posts from last week as a model or guide. This should be creative and fun -- and full of good ways to think about story.

I'd love to see what you come up with. It could be a notebook exercise. The photos, printed on computer or photo-quality paper, could be pasted into your notebook with your one word as a heading. (Conversely, if you are keeping a blog as scrapbook (One Pom is part scrapbook), you can easily construct this as a blog entry.)

So. Personal narrative in photos. I'd love to hear the discussion this engenders, too, and the ways that you adapt it for your own purposes.

And now: What to wear to brunch? It always comes down to the practical considerations, doesn't it?

1 Comments on our regularly scheduled program, last added: 9/6/2009
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11. norma

I'm going to write about my biggest fear with Hang The Moon, the second book in the Sixties Trilogy, but I can't do it today. My friend and mentor died on Friday, and she is part of this Hang The Moon story, so first I want to tell you about her.

But I can't. I'm bereft and don't yet have the right words. So let me direct you to her website and her obituary, and let me say farewell in a most clumsy manner to Norma Fox Mazer today. I loved her and love her still. Her book When She Was Good knocked my socks off and was part of the reason I went to Vermont College to get my MFA in writing. Norma was my advisor for two semesters and became my friend. She loved me, too, with a fierce devotion that always surprised me. She demanded the best from me, and often I failed her miserably. And more than that, I cannot find the words to say.

I'll leave you instead with a piece I read this morning about a student and a teacher. It's Good Writing -- that phenomenon I love. Good Writing elevates the mind, and even life. And today I need a little elevating.

This piece is by novelist Alexander Chee, about his time studying with Annie Dillard. It will appear in the book Mentors, Muses & Monsters, edited by Elizabeth Benedict and published by Free Press/Simon & Schuster later this month.

Here's a tiny excerpt:

In that first class, she wore the pearls and a tab collar peeped over her sweater, but she looked as if she would punch you if you didn't behave. She walked with a cowgirl's stride into the classroom, and from her bag withdrew her legal pad covered in notes, a thermos of coffee and a bag of Brach's singly wrapped caramels, and then sat down. She undid the top of the thermos with a swift twist, poured a cup of coffee into the cup that was also the thermos top, and sipped at it as she gave us a big smile and looked around the room.

Hi, she said, sort of through the smile.

My first meeting with Norma Mazer was very different. I'm writing about it for publication right now (I will post the link when it publishes) and I'm trying to get the words just-right. I want the tone, the detail, the feeling of it to come across... and -- once again -- I'm failing miserably. But I will continue to try.

This is what Norma would tell me to do -- write. Keep working. Try. I may be gone, but that is not an excuse for you not to do your job, not to meet your deadline. I know she is right. And I know I will find the words.

Norma was ever the teacher. So, in her honor, I will put on my teaching hat today, too:

Try. Open your notebook and sketch a scene about meeting one of your teachers -- a mentor, a muse, a monster. What was it like? Notice what works about the Alexander Chee paragraph above, and why it works. Take it apart and see how you can do the same in your own short piece about a teacher whose presence has stayed with you.

My wise husband says that some people leave a part of themselves within you when they die. I think he's right. Norma is still right here, right with me, in my mind and heart, as I write Hang The Moon. What a gift that is.

Thank you, Norma. Thank you for all you gave to your friends and family, to the world of children's literature, and to those of us who came to learn at your feet. How strange the world is without you. How lucky we are to have our memories... and your stories.

3 Comments on norma, last added: 10/22/2009
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12. early kitchen morning and memory

There's a story here. Which one should I tell? Just a few choices:

1. How long it took me to gather all the ingredients this year, to dig up the jars from their basement banishment and wash them, and then how the actual making was (I always forget) a snap. An "inside" story, perhaps of lethargy or procrastination, or is it a wee bit of depression? Nah, it's something else... I could investigate.
2. Making Christmas in my new hometown of Atlanta, segueing into how much delight I'm finding in this holiday season, the first one in several years that I have enjoyed for just-itself, or as I wrote a friend this week, the first holiday in years that I have not been a) destitute, b) traveling, c) on deadline, or d) having my annual nervous breakdown. Nah... too wide. I want to focus on the granola.

Let me strive for one clear moment in time. I'll take a lesson from what I teach. Take one moment, beginning-middle-end. Write short. Use telling detail. Use your senses. Your feelings. Show us that moment in lovely (terrible, excruciating, hilarious, comforting, angry, amazing) bas relief. Let us live it with you. So. Try again. Why is this moment important to me?

3. The first time I made this granola, I made it with my son, Zach. He was almost three. The recipe has the date written on it: December 1984. I took it from an old Rodale cookbook that was falling apart by the time I moved to Atlanta, so I cut the recipe out of the cookbook and pasted it into the front of American Wholefoods Cuisine by Nikki and David Goldbeck.
But wait... I'm straying. I can add this in later if I want to, for texture and reference, when I revise.

I'm on to something. Let me grab my notebook. Scribble: making this granola with three-year-old Zach who is now almost 28. The way the day was so foggy and cold and damp, but inside the fire crackled and the young enthusiastic son stirred and tasted, stirred and tasted, standing on a chair at the table, wearing one of my aprons hiked up under his armpits, an enormous pot and a fat wooden spoon his companions, how he asked a million questions, how he wanted to gift the world with this granola, and how I learned he needed a funnel to fill the jars; how I wrote the recipe on homemade recipe cards, how he punched a hole in the corner of each, and how we, together, tied the recipe to the jar with a length of red yarn.

What else? How his eyes shined with his accomplishment. How we sang "Jingle Bells" as we worked. How he signed each card in green crayon with a crooked Z. How he said, like it was the most natural thing in the world to expect, "Let's do this again tomorrow." How flat-out happy I was... how young I was.

Yeah, let me write about that. Let's see: what happened first? I want a good lead. And what happened next? Let me capture this moment in time; let me preserve it forever.
3 Comments on early kitchen morning and memory, last added: 12/15/2009

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13. When Chemistry Becomes Biology - Elen Caldecott

Don’t worry, though the title of this post might sound like the denouement of a Mills and Boon, there will be no ripping of bodices here. And no besuited gentlemen writhing in ponds. No. The chemistry I’m thinking about are the little atoms of ideas that strike me regularly. Each of which gets scribbled in my notebook. I’m sure most writers carry one or, failing a proper notebook, a handbag full of bus tickets written all over with a blunt eyeliner (or the male equivalent!).
My notebook (that's it on the right) says things like:

Punkin Chuckers is an annual US pumpkin flinging contest.’

A word is a semi-autonomous virtual machine.’

I like marmalade and clean sheets.’

The owl and the pussycat eyed each other warily.’

The notebook records thoughts, overheard gems and random nonsense. Each of these is a separate, discrete element, set apart from each other like atoms on the Periodic Table. Alone, they do nothing very much; they're no more than a bit of hydrogen, a drop of carbon, a dash of oxygen.

However, given time, something miraculous might happen. I like to think that my notebook is a kind of ancient swamp – the primordial soup – and that the ideas in it might just come together to create a living, breathing story. A narrative abiogenesis. I just have to fill the book up with enough interesting chemistry and, with luck, the biology will follow.

So, since submitting my last novel before Christmas, I have been spending a lot of my time filling the notebook. I spent a couple of hours looking at religious paintings; I saw the finalists in the wildlife photographer of the year competition and visited an abandoned shop which now hosts local artists’ shows. I’ve been reading fiction and non-fiction. I’ve been stealing ideas and dropping them into the swamp.

On the 1st February, I will sit down to begin something new. I’m not sure what it will be yet. I’m hoping that the notebook has been getting jostled and shaken and heated and when I open it on that day, something exciting will spring out. Or, of course, grey sludge might dribble onto my keyboard. There’s no way to know when just the right ideas will meet, so until then, I’m out in the world, scribbling in my notebook. Or on the back of a receipt if I’ve brought the wrong handbag.

8 Comments on When Chemistry Becomes Biology - Elen Caldecott, last added: 1/13/2010
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14. the long process

If you look carefully, you will see the date on the top of this notebook page is February 20, 2005. What you don't see is that I have other notebooks with dates from 1995 on them, and they are all part of my working-out of Hang The Moon, which is a working title for the 1966 novel.
I had finished Each Little Bird That Sings when I was writing in this notebook. It was on the cusp of being published. I had turned my attentions to Hang The Moon, but I was still having trouble getting a grip on it.

On the surface, the novel -- which takes place in 1966 -- is about two girls, cousins, and their trip from Mississippi to Memphis to find Elvis Presley, whom one of them is convinced (with reasonable proof) is her father.

But when I scratch beneath the surface, which I'm compelled to do every time I sit down to write it, I find that this book is just... enormous. It has overwhelmed me for years.

Under that surface story is more than I have been able to capably write about. This story has been asking for expression, and I have been trying to hear it. For fifteen years, ghosts have been whispering to me, revealing the deeper story to me, and I have been saying "not yet, not yet. I can't go there yet."
But it's time to go there now. There comes a point when it's worse not to go there than it is to say yes, and to step up to the plate. Below the surface of this 1966 story, running underneath how much Birdie loves Elvis and Margaret loves the Beatles, is a book about cosmic ideas, deeply-rooted beliefs, and love. There is pain and suffering. And deep, abiding joy as well.I'll be talking about the writing process (well, mine, anyway) tonight at 7pm at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, at the Center for Children's and Young Adult Literature. If you're nearby, I hope you'll come out and tell me what you know about love and hope and courage. I need all these things now, as I navigate this revision of Hang The Moon. I am so looking forward to seeing your faces, hearing your stories, and gathering some of your strength for the days ahead.

6 Comments on the long process, last added: 3/26/2010
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15. FIVE THINGS A WRITER CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT - Miriam Halahmy

A few years ago the Independent put out a call for lists and there were some nice examples from well-known people. So they decided to throw it open to anyone.This was my contribution.

Five things I cannot live without ;
my Polar library
twice-daily arthritis pills
tap water – yes, London vintage
Mum’s pre-war copy of Little Women
with a single colour plate
him indoors
This was my inspiration for my contribution to our Ten Year Anniversary Edition of ABBA this month.

FIVE THINGS A WRITER CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT
1. Inspiration

Mine involves staring which is ok when you are on a deserted beach but can give rise to some tricky moments when you are staring at people in Costa cafe  (where I often work) and they start glaring back. Picasso said, "Inspiration is there but it has to find you working." So I write and I grumble and I do displacement stuff and then I find myself going into a stare and there I am - in the wonderful zone of inspiration.




2. Chocolate
I nearly  enlarged this picture and those of you who know me will understand why and probably everyone else as well. If inspiration starts with staring then it certainly can be fuelled by chocolate
Don't believe me?
Give it a go!



3. Paper
It has to be the right type. My husband has been perfecting the art of buying me the correct notebooks for over 30 years and trust me, he is the current world expert. Mainly because he can't think of anything else to buy me for birthday presents. I have notebooks to fill from Harrods, the Metropolitan m

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16. Capturing, Organizing and Developing Ideas

In December I wrote about being ready to receive – and record – ideas whenever and wherever they come. I also mentioned a few tools I use to capture inspiration when the moment strikes, such as special notebooks, digital recorders (I use an Olympus VN-6200PC), Dragon Dictation (an app on my iPhone that turns my voice into instant text), and the Notes app which looks like a post-it note or yellow legal pad in digital form. Other folks I know use Post-its or index cards and move them around the floor or the wall.  Many use Google Docs – which can be accessed from any where in the world via computer, as everything is stored in ‘the cloud.’

Lately I’ve been experimenting with mind-mapping to further organize and flesh out an idea.  This is an invaluable exercise that involves doing a ‘brain dump’ of everything related to the idea in one area.  Once you have everything down, it becomes much easier to see how the idea might be organized. It literally begins to take shape before your eyes. The traditional way to mind map is to scribble every associated thought, image, word etc. onto a large piece of paper, then draw lines connecting those that are related, and continue reorganizing accordingly. You can also do the same thing on a white or chalk board. If you’ve moved into the digital world, there are a number of mind-mapping software programs worth experimenting with – a few to check out are FreeMind (free), MindJet (paid) and SimpleMind (paid). Most of them provide an app version as well.

Whatever method you choose to use, I highly recommend keeping an ideas file, folder or notebook, in which to consolidate everything. You never know when you’ll use something – whether it’s an idea for an entire book, a compelling character or just a great line – and this way you’ll always know where to find it.

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17. Friday Speak Out!: Lists I Love, Guest Post by Betty Auchard

Lists I Love


by Betty Auchard

I am obsessive about making lists for story prompts, and have more than I can possibly use in a lifetime. Most of my ideas spring from letters I write.

Long ago I started a file called Stories in Letters, and it’s so large now that I have files within files. A few of the subtitles are Mom, Grandkids, and Teaching Junior High (I’m renaming that file My Gin and Tonic Period). Other categories are Menopause, Raising Teenagers, Mating the Dogs, Living with 12 Men, Catechism Classes, Escape from Las Vegas, Jury Duty, Student Teaching at 40, College Graduation at 42, and To Make the Bed or Not to Make the Bed. I get such a kick out of just reading my ideas that I’ve often thought of putting the lists together and sharing them with other writers in a program called Lists I Love.

In addition to computer folders, I have a drawer full of spiral notebooks filled with first drafts and notes about writing. Some notebooks are completely full and others contain many sheets of clean paper. (Does any of this sound familiar?) When I get an idea that I don’t want to lose, I grab a half full tablet, make sure I put the date on my new notes, and then start writing by hand. One tablet I grabbed recently is dated December, 2001. The date on the next page is January 1, 2011. The note read, “I am not making resolutions this year—period!” I love reviewing these entries. Some became published stories.

There’s also a Ziploc freezer bag full of stuff that is just as much fun to sort through as the notebooks. The bag is an odd assortment of first drafts dated 1998, thoughts I didn’t want to forget the year my husband died. These old drafts are written on all kinds of paper—used envelopes, napkins, the white margin of a torn out hunk of newspaper. I scribbled on scraps and journaled on junk. Writing kept me afloat.

One item I cherish from that plastic bag is a white paper placemat from The Fish Market. An idea struck and I just had to get it down. I pushed my almost empty plate a little to the left and wrote on the placemat over stains of tomato sauce and salad dressing. The shape of the story is curved like the plate on the left and straight at the edges on the right. I cried privately while writing, glad that I had already eaten most of my food. That story ended up in my first book.

Idea lists are precious. We might want to mine them for stories more often.

* * *
IPPY Finalist Betty Auchard is a popular speaker and the author of two memoirs. She lives and writes in northern California. Blog with the author at http://www.bettyauchard.com/.

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Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!
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18. the power of paying attention

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19. How do you make writers feel welcomed?

This time of year thoughts about creating a safe and inviting classroom fill our minds. This is one of  my favorite things to think about. Today I shifted the question slightly and began thinking about writers specifically. How can we make writers feel welcomed? Here are some ideas I’m tossing around. More importantly, I can’t [...]

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20. Uncurtained windows: reading writers' notebooks - Anne Rooney

Writers' notebooks are personal, valuable, essential. Somewhere to jot down thoughts as they occur before they disappear back into the ether. They contain the germs of ideas, solutions to problems, plots and titles that never went anywhere - a nostalgia-fest for the writer and a boon for literary biographers and critics in the case of the famous. Reading them is like looking into lit, uncurtained windows on a winter night, especially those in the backs of houses passed on the train. They give a privileged insight into the interior life - the writer in the wild, roaming his or her territory unaware of observers.

I've been using a facsimile of Bram Stoker's notebooks for Dracula while researching my own vampire series, Vampire Dawn (Ransom, March 2012). They look familiar. Spattered with odd jottings that are hard to interpret later, but also with longer pieces meticulously copied or summarised from books and conversations. There are typewritten notes and annotated bits of typescript as well as pages of handwriting (thankfully neat in his case). They offer a fascinating glimpse into the process of composing Dracula. The bits he didn't use are just as interesting as those he did.

He was very thorough. He went to Romania and interviewed local people. He wrote long lists of Romanian words he might use. He researched boats that had sunk off the coast of Whitby and boats that carried their cargo to shore. He recorded any odd episode or story he could use. Just as we all do.

I have two types of notebook. There's always a general notebook that is carried almost everywhere, and filled with odd ideas, observations, scribblings of any kind. Those are a chaotic jumble that probably make little sense to anyone else. Then there are specific notebooks for each project. These show the genesis and evolution of a book. It's interesting later to see the bits that never made it, the ideas that look really stupid later, and how far the final book has wandered from the original idea or plan.

My notebooks will never be of real interest, like Stoker's, but I can't show his as the facsimile is copyright, so here's a peek inside mine as a poor substitute for the curious.



This is a Moleskin softcover brown notebook. On the cover is a printout of an early version of one of the covers of the series (the first cover we fixed on).

I always stick a picture on a notebook or folder as it's the quickest way to see which is which.







Inside... these are bits printed from the web. I needed to know exactly how a guillotine works and the position of the body of the victim just before execution. This continues on further pages. In case you ever need to know, there is a tilted bench that the beheadee lies on.


13 Comments on Uncurtained windows: reading writers' notebooks - Anne Rooney, last added: 9/16/2011
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21. Drafting

If you are a regular reader, you know a lot of my thinking lately has been about writing process, and specifically nudging third grade writers into more traditional drafts. Today’s post is a collection of my thoughts about drafting. I hope it is applicable to a range of writers — not a specific grade level. [...]

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22. the cat came back

The ingrate. Just look at him, belly on the cool wood floor, little right foot sticking out so coyly. We rescued him from the bushes two years ago, when he was just a few weeks old, nurtured him to health, spent a bazillion dollars in vet bills -- he was always getting torn up outside by some thing or some other cat. We cooed to him and coaxed him and played with him and educated him and lovingly encouraged him to love us right back even as he chewed on our fingers and nipped at our ears -- hahahahaha. Our mistake.
Here is Cleebo, named for the same character in The Aurora County All-Stars. Cleebo the Clueless, I called that character. But this Cleebo is not clueless -- he's wily and crazy like a fox.

He stays away for months at a time. Yes, months. He returned at Christmas after an absence of a month, and we rejoiced. He sauntered in, chowed down, and waltzed right back out the door. He was gone for over two months this spring -- we were sure the coyotes that live across the way had gotten him. But here he came on the Fourth of July, still wearing his collar and name tag (with our phone number on it), loping down the driveway like he'd never been gone a day, right past me as I stood in the garden and watched him, my hands full of weeds.

We were overjoyed to see him the first time he came back. We had been so worried about him and had missed him so much. Now, when he shows up again, we hardly move. Someone says, still lovingly (we are suckers for Cleebo, we can't help it), "you ingrate..." as he sashays past us heading for the food bowl. Then I make sure he has his flea meds and is up to date on his shots before he can get back out the door.

He has been in and out since July 4, and I don't know if he intends to stay for a while or not. I've thought about writing about this cat, making up a story for a picture book, but I don't have a strong attachment to that idea, and I need that strong pull to the heart before I can make any story successful, so I'll pass on using Cleebo as a story idea.

So I won't write about Cleebo, and I don't write about my children or grandchildren or even the present day. I tend to plumb my young life for stories instead. I always go where my heart leads me, in trying to tell a story. The craft can and must come later. But if my heart's not in it, if there's not something strongly and steadily pulling me toward writing a story whether or not it ever becomes a book, then I leave it alone -- it's someone else's story to tell.

I've got four or five stories clamoring for my attention right now. I've got to turn my full attention to book two in the sixties trilogy soon, but I think I can work up one of these shorter pieces now. Which one is yakking the loudest? Time to sit down with my notebook and see.

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23. finally, rain

We've had the best rain this week. Thunder, darkening skies, steady showers, even downpours, then clearing and the sun shines again. For a drought-weary city, this rain has been a blessed relief. The garden lives again (no amount of watering helps a parched garden, especially when watering restrictions are in effect), and there are indoor things to do.
A rainy evening calls for cookies. Thanks Hannah.
A rainy afternoon calls for a cucumber/tomato salad... the last of the farmer's market produce this week. We eat in Irene and watch the rain sluice all around us, like a curtain. The smell of rainwater on dry earth is exquisite. My Aunt Mitt used to say, "Just smell the earth! I like to think God washed it!"
A little hula hoop practice is good for the rain-bound soul.
And a little administrivia. Web page building, email answering, work-related phone calls, and bill paying. All a distraction while waiting for the sun to come back out.
Thanks for all the anniversary good wishes yesterday! We had a wonderful day doin' nuthin' much.

What do you do on a day when you do nuthin' much? What do you do when it rains? Pull out your notebook and write one paragraph, one pomegranate, full of the most luscious details you can muster. Write with nouns and verbs.

Have a great weekend.

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24. thrifting and the meaning of life

Pictured below is yesterday's haul at Book Nook in Decatur, Georgia. I almost never find anything affordable anymore at used book stores. Long gone are the days I rummaged through boxes of books on the side porch of a little thrift store in Vienna, Virginia and bought books there for a nickel a piece when I could afford the extra nickels.

I also bought my then-three-year-old daughter a nightgown for 45 cents, which stays in my mind for some reason -- even the very look of it I remember... it was soft, well-worn cotton, buttercream yellow with tiny lace trim on the sides and bottom. Oh, how A. wanted that nightgown.

It was 90 cents, and outside my very paltry budget that day, but the owner took one look at us, and especially at A., who had her hands clasped under her chin, longing for that nightgown, and said, "Today, it's half off." My daughter wore out that nightgown before she grew out of it.

I digress.
I am partial to thrifting. Years ago, it saved my life. Even though that sounds like a drastic statement, it's true, and one day I will write about that life. These days, thrifting sports a different hue, but is no less important to me. Most of my home is furnished with thrifted items, and most of the clothes I wear are thrifted.

(Another aside: I once worked in an IRA symposium with the wonderful Naomi Shahib Nye, who boasted at the microphone (because she'd been introduced this way) that she had not bought anything to wear in over 8 years. "Share with your friends!" she said. Say it, Sister!)

Ahem. To the books. I love old cookbooks and gardening books, and old, odd books about keeping house and parenting. Yesterday at Book Nook, I found so many good ones on the half-price bookcases. The entire haul cost me $11.77, with tax, which is harking back to those good old days before thrift stores really knew how much old books could bring.

Maybe these books are important only to me. That's fine. This winter I will savor The Encyclopedia of Cooking (1951), Farm Journal's Cooking for Company, The Winter Garden, and sooner than winter I will try some recipes from Our Daily Bread along with the Chocolate-Orange Meringue Pie ("Light and colorful with grated chocolate as a garnish and a surprise layer of chocolate under the orange custard filling" p. 228) from Farm Journal's Best-Ever Pies.

Wanna come for dessert? A recipe isn't complete until it's shared.

I'm thinking about cooking lately since I have time to cook these days (have made time), and because I see what a community cooking and eating together creates.

Michael Pollan was interviewed on Fresh Air yesterday. It's a 20-min. interview worth listening to. He'll have an article in the Sunday New York Times worth reading about the same topic -- we watch cooking shows, but we cook less than ever. Why is that? He posits that it may well be that it wasn't fire or even language that grew us up into human beings. It may be the act of cooking.

And thrifting. :> Finding new uses for old discards. Or repurposing what we already have. Kids do this instinctively -- the couch cushions turn into a rocket ship or a cave.

What about you? What do you thrift or repurpose, and how do you do it, and why? What's the greatest, neatest, coolest, funkiest, funniest or most amazing thing you ever scored/thrifted/yard saled/repurposed?

Write about that. Short. One seed of the pomegranate. Just one story. Beginning, middle, end. Take a snapshot, draw a picture, give it some heart, make it a song. I'd love to see it, hear it, savor it. It will enrich my life every bit as much as that Chocolate-Orange Meringue Pie. Less calories, too.

It's why we're here, to share our stories with one another.

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25. gathering day

I spent the largest part of yesterday afternoon with daughter Hannah, gathering. We went thrifting and discovered a sixties lemonade pitcher with five glasses, as well as some old sherbet cups, perfect for all that ice cream we've been making. We visited the farmer's market in Decatur, where we bought eggs and bread and cucumbers. Then we picked up our first CSA box as well, full of tomatoes, green beans, okra, peppers, melons, potatoes and more.
All in all, a good gathering day. And, best of all, we gathered more than concrete things. We gathered ourselves together, too -- we confabbed, we reminisced, we shared the doings of the days, and we made some plans for the future. A celebration is in order. Our friend Richard has a new job -- surely this calls for cake and more ice cream.

Yesterday I got busy gathering the new book together as well. As I browsed the aisles of Kudzu with Hannah, as we talked about the coming season three of Mad Men, we'd hold up a find and say, "Oh, this is such a Betty dress!" or "this is so Joan!" and as the lemonade pitcher and glasses came home with us, I slipped back into the sixties.
Once we were settled at home and the produce was put away, I sliced a fat heirloom tomato for a tomato sandwich on two slices of Magnolia Bakery's cinnamon-raisin-pecan bread. I slathered the bread with homemade mayonnaise, layered in the tomato and salt and pepper, poured a glass of peppermint iced tea, and sat down to supper in Irene with my notebook.

I'm beginning again. I'm gathering to me the bits and pieces for a new book. I can see that I need to research again -- I'm making a list of books, DVDs, and music I need to read, re-read/watch, and listen to. The playlist is coming along. Soon I will pull out the art tablet I used for this second novel -- I know what this book is about, thanks to this art-tablet notebook -- I've kept lists upon lists of what I want to know, what I know, and where I think this novel is going.

It will surprise me as I write and revise, but today I expect these surprises. I'm ready to gather them to me as well, to gather together all the pieces and parts of 1966 -- what's in my head, and heart, along with the drafts I have discarded over the years. I'm ready to get to work.

As soon as I make a cake and a little malted milk ice cream. (Thanks, A., for the link!)

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