Posts Tagged ‘writing inspiration’

writemotivation_header1I’ve sprained my wrist from too much writing and I have this really awkward splint on that’s making it difficult to type, today. Please forgive any wonky formatting or glaring typos. Yes, I should give it a rest, but it doesn’t hurt in the splint. Why not carry on? Besides, my nurse husband isn’t here right now to make me stop working, so I’ve got some time to squeeze in a bit of writing before he gets back. I’m such a naughty patient.

I will keep today’s post short as a compromise. Let’s get right to the #writemotivation goals:

1. Participate, post, push, and praise much better this month, especially where #writemotivation is concerned. I have been more virtually visual this week and have been cheering on my fellow #writemotivation friends on Twitter and in post comments, so yes! one goal is being actively achieved.
2. Revise, revise, revise! I am making actual progress here as well. Worked on revision of my middle grade as well as two query letters. I had to submit those for our Agent Day event that’s coming up next month, which is now completely sold out! It should be a great time. Who knows? I may even find the strength of will to submit another round of queries with one of those query letters later this month. It could happen.

Getting some nightly prodding from my local SCBWI chap on the listserv, which has kept me honest with my revision progress. It’s also cool to check in every evening to see what others have been working on all day.
3. Read, read, read. Doing a bang up job on this one. I’m only 3 books (or 5%) behind my Goodreads goal of 75 books for the year. That’s tumblr_inline_ms1kh5UqZm1qz4rgpthe closest to caught up I’ve been almost since I made the damn goal. My TBR pile isn’t shrinking, though. My daughter just added I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak and said I had to read it immediately so we could discuss the ending. When the youngling commands, I must obey.
4. Keep on freaking exercising. Hit and miss this week – still more hit than miss, though. We did take a really long, scenic walk with the boy this week and when we told him we could go home when we were done, he took off running. I did NOT have that kind of drive, but I did cheer him on.

Here’s a pic from our walk for your moment of zen before we all head back to our perspective goals.

Zen pic

Enjoy your week!

scbwi2013

I have a confession to make.

I came away from the SCBWI LA Summer conference with a brand new author crush.

 

Matt de la Peña.

-Resources-Image-1Matt de la penaH175W175A1

And not just because he is ruggedly handsome. Or because he took the time to notice where I was from when I was in line to get my book signed and then asked me where exactly Broken Arrow was. He even talked to me about an upcoming author event he had scheduled in my area. Very nice.

And it wasn’t because he said it was great to meet me. See?

MAtt Autograph

Or because he took the time to stand up to take a picture with me. Not many authors do that. So thoughtful.

Me and Matt de la Pena. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.

Me and Matt de la Peña. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.

Or because he gave me a copy of his short story, Passing Each Other in Halls,  por nada. So awesome of him, wasn’t it?

Matt Books

Okay, okay. Ma-ybe he did that for all of his quasi-mental, yet adoring fans. Still, not all authors take this kind of time with their readers/stalkers/fans, believe me. Better than any fabulous swag I may have gained from the conference was the knowledge he imparted during his keynote speech and break out sessions. For that, I will be eternally grateful and a forever devoted stalker reader.

During his break out session on exercising patience, one of the first things he said was:

The first page is important but don’t mistake this for EVERYTHING has to happen on the first page.

You don’t have to cram all the major drama – the break up, the car crash, the gun shot – in that first page to make your story great and to keep readers interested. Allow your characters to tell the story; let it unfold naturally. Sometimes you have to get out of your own way and let your readers come to their own conclusions.

Which brings me to de la Peña’s next nugget of wisdom:

Not every reader has to get every thing.

He shared the opening pages from Denis Johnson‘s Tree of Smoke with us as an example of writing that allows the story to unfold without tree of smokeprejudice or narrator comment. The opening line is “Last night at 3:00am President Kennedy had been killed.” Within this passage, as the young soldier stalks through the jungle, there is a 2nd assassination with the death of a monkey, but the narrator doesn’t draw attention to it. If the reader gets the parallel, great. It adds another layer, a deeper connection to the story, but the reader doesn’t need to understand this connection to follow the plot.

De la Peña does the same with his own writing as well. In Ball Don’t Lie, a story about a foster kid who’s only constant in life is basketball, you don’t have to understand the game of basketball to appreciate it. In Mexican WhiteBoy, there are tons of Spanish passages that he doesn’t translate. You don’t have to know what’s being said to appreciate the story, but it enhances the experience. De la Peña says that when a kid who isn’t a big reader can translate a passage for a teacher who’s reading aloud to the class, he takes ownership of the story, which is what you want.

When reading a book, you are doing half the work; you take ownership of it. You picture the action in your mind.

 I love that.

When de la Peña returned to the discussion of how we as writers can show patience in our work, he talked about his experience in his MFA program. At one point, he was trying to show off, be a real stylist by throwing everything he’d learned into his current writing project. His advisor told him the story was suffering because of it. She told him to slow the f*ck down.

Just slow down.

She was so right.

This advice has followed him throughout his career.

Sometimes the slow build is the best build.

 When something big is about to happen in your story, slow that moment down. Car crashes, gun shots, even break ups can take seconds. You can slow it down in a book with many different strategies. Do you go with hypersensitivity? Backstory? Try different ways and see what works.

Sit there with the audience in the palm of your hand and make them suffer.

 Ooh hoo hoo! Gives you chills doesn’t it? I’ve heard of hurting your characters, of torturing them until it hurts, but your reader? I’d never thought of their suffering while I write, have you?

But he does make an excellent point. Some of my favorite books have those delicious scenes that have kept me on that edge, prolonging the moment. It’s almost an agony, suffering the pain of the moment along with the character, but I find myself rereading these passages again and again, soaking up every bit, until I’m satisfied enough to move on.

If you are lucky enough to live in the Tulsa area, come see this dynamic author for yourself. Matt will be speaking on September 24th at the Martin Regional Library.

Learn more about Matt de la Peña here.

Follow Matt on Twitter here.

Follow Matt on Facebook here.

scbwi2013I love being a part of the SCBWI tribe.

And not just because I get to run away every summer and play with my fellow writers in a celebration of children’s books. I don’t think I could make it through this grueling struggle towards publication without such a crazy-supportive community.

As Lin Oliver stated in her opening address of the SCBWI Summer conference, “Let’s admit that we’re all kind of weirdos”. That’s probably why I feel so at home when I’m there; the place is chock full of kindred spirits.

I always enjoy the parade of the faculty that follows her opening speech. This is when each speaker marches across the stage, introduces themselves and sums up life, the universe, and everything in one word. (Strangely, I have never heard someone use the word forty-two.) As usual, not all writers follow the rules.

Here are some of my favorites from this year:

David Weisner  “Plastics”

Richard Peck  “Surveillance”

Jay Asher  “Subtlety”

Then Jay spoke for his writing partner who couldn’t attend the faculty parade: (in high-pitched voice)”Hi, I’m Carolyn Mackler and my word is Asparagus”.

Matt de la Peña “Honesty” and “Tequila” (I think the tequila helps with the honesty.)

Kristin Clark Venuti “Brain fart”

Ari Lewin “Bacon”

Laurie Halse Anderson made up a word, “Frenergy” which she described as frenzy and energy.

After wracking her brain all night trying to think of a word, Alyn Johnston was inspired by the talking elevator in the hotel : “L-lobby!” (Did I mention that the elevator has a very laid back Californian accent?)

LiveImage.ashxAfter several other inspiring words, the conference got rolling with a great keynote from Laurie Halse Anderson that just made me love her forever. (Okay, I was already a fan of her work, but now it’s permanently carved into my heart: me + LHA = reader love forever and ever.)

I’ve felt an emotional disconnect with my writing lately. It’s all tied up in agent-submission fatigue and self-doubt. Anderson shot straight to the heart of that when she discussed her early writing struggles. At one point she said:

“Your fear is that you are a fraud with no talent.”

I wondered how she could see into my soul from eight rows back. I almost cried. She told us that there was a reason that we could hear dialogue and see in pictures. We have the gift of magic, of ‘Once upon a Time’.

“Books are proof humans can do magic.”

Amen! and Hell, yeah! I almost screamed out. She said that we are NOT like the other grownups; that we defend, protect, and celebrate childhood. We write books with integrity and honesty. In short, she said all of the things that recharged my writer’s heart and reminded me why I loved writing. She reminded me to forget about trends and to write what I love. It was the best way for me to start the conference – letting go of the negative crap and embracing the creative. Throughout the conference, this was the focus for me. I didn’t care this time about how to best market myself or which agents to pursue or what editors were wanting; I looked for things that inspired me.

I spent some quality time with my writing friends and sampled the local cuisine.

Me and most of the Oklahoma gang

Me and most of the Oklahoma gang

Eating at Toscanova with the whole gang.

Eating at Toscanova with the whole gang.

Bavette Alle Capesante (OMG! so good!)

Bavette Alle Capesante (OMG! so good!)

I checked out the art of a billion illustrators – not an original idea.

I think I see Jerry's bald head somewhere in the back.

I think I see Jerry’s bald head somewhere in the back.

I may have even donned a costume and danced a bit.

The Great Catsby and the girls.

The Great Catsby and the girls.

The Movie Mogul and Who is that fabulously feathered masked woman?

Jerry, The Movie Mogul and Who is that fabulously feathered masked woman?

I met some authors and took some awkward photos – they were all so generous with their time and kind words.

Laurie Halse Anderson at least knows how to keep her eyes open...

Laurie Halse Anderson at least knows how to keep her eyes open…

Joking around with Mac Barnett

Joking around with Mac Barnett

Me and Matt de la Pena. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.

Me and Matt de la Peña. The flash went off and I froze like a deer waiting to be shot.

I may have gone overboard with the books.

too many books

(My bag weighed in at 49.5 lbs at the airport – score!)

I’ll be sharing posts in the weeks ahead about some great talks that helped me find the inspiration that made me excited about writing again. I hope you enjoy them.

As for my writing goals this month, I’ve toned them down a bit. Last month was a little crazy (which may have contributed to my negative state of mind).

Here are my #writemotivation goals for August:

1. Enjoy the SCBWI Summer Conference. DONE!!!
2. Revise, revise, revise. I have tons of critique notes from crit camp to review – not to mention my critique from the conference. I will be very busy with this.
3. Write, write, write. DITTO.
4. Read, read, read. I’ve indulged in this goal for the past few weeks and have read over six books already. More on that to come!
5. Keep that exercise routine going. Blech. Yes, I’m working on it. Stop nagging me. I’m just back from vacation, er, a business trip, whatever.

I hope you’ve all had an enjoyable summer and are rejuvenated from your various adventures. I know I am. Here’s to a productive and inspired fall!

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeI had so much fun mentoring my fellow writers and seeing the immediate progress my little group made after just one day of revisions. I also thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with my writers friends and staying up way too late to get to know some of them better.

I ended the weekend by attending a party for my lovely writing friend, Gwendolyn Hooks who just received a fantastic book deal on a much-anticipated project. We’re all so excited about this book that we felt like it was our success as well as Gwen’s. I couldn’t be happier for her. I didn’t even mind being “volunteered to participate in an original skit written and narrated by Anna Myers (who somehow got out of wearing any kind of ridiculous and embarrassing costume – the rest of us weren’t so lucky!)

 

 

Karen Grencik played by Jerry Pati played by Helen

 

The not-so-lucky ones – some of my fellow cast members

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I felt so inspired after such a beautiful weekend that I’ve worked my ass off this week. I’m so excited about the trajectory I’m on right now. Friends and unconditional support can sometimes make all the difference. Thank you to everyone who has inspired me this month! You all rock.

book pornI also returned home to find this lovely literary pile of gifts waiting for me, including two books signed by Maureen McGowan. I’m looking forward to reading the first two books of her Dust Chronicles series. All of this swag, including the Dan Krall book I received earlier in the month, was the result of entering contests on fellow writer blogs. It does pay to engage! This collection is an awesome way to add to my TBR pile! I don’t know which one I want to read first…decisions, decisions, decisions!

Here are my #writemotivation goals for June:

1. Submit Museum Crashers (MG mystery) to editor who requested the full. Tons of progress made. Should be sending out by the end of the month. Tentatively marking as DONE because of all the progress made.

2. Submit Institutionalized (YA contemporary) to five more literary agents. DONE! I actually submitted to six agents. Two were rejected. Four are still out. (Five counting the full requested and submitted to an agent four months ago.) Waiting, waiting, waiting. Blech! Not my favorite.

3. Work on first draft of Pretty Vacant (YA contemporary). No progress on this one. I’m going to use this as my Camp Nano project for July. I will get a rough draft of this completed by the end of the summer! I will. I WILL!!!

4. Read at least five books – review one on the blog. I will finish Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk before the end invisible-monsters-us-trade-3of the month and I discussed Tara Hudson’s Hereafter in my last blog post, so I’m marking this one as DONE! 

5. Work on outlining new blog project idea. DONE! More exciting ideas are coming next month.

6. Exercise 3 times each week. DONE! I’ll be increasing this for next month. :/

7. Finish critique of friend’s manuscript. Finally started this! Will have to move over to July’s goals to complete – hopefully by my friend’s birthday.

I hope you all took a velociraptor-sized bite out of your writing projects this month. Don’t forget to sign up for next month! Visit KT Hanna’s site here to join us for #writemotivation in July.

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeA new month with new #writemotivation goals. Woohoo! Let’s get this party started! If you missed the signup this month, we’re now doing this every month, so you can sign up for July near the end of June. You can also follow the chat on Twitter at the hashtag, #writemotivation. Feel free to join in the conversations as well. All who need motivation are welcome.

Here are my goals for June:

1. Submit Museum Crashers (MG mystery) to editor. Almost done with this; a few more chapters to go and it will be ready.
2. Submit Institutionalized (YA contemporary) to five more literary agents. I’ve already submitted to three agents this week, so I don’t think this goal will be too hard to achieve – it’s the waiting afterwards that will probably kill me. Funny that I’m not so worried about getting rejected anymore, I just hate all the waiting. Maybe I need a goal for working on patience.
3. Work on first draft of Pretty Vacant (YA contemporary). Haven’t started this goal, yet, but the week is early.
Asunder-FINAL-200x3004. Read at least five books – review one on the blog. Racing through book 1 – Asunder by Jodi Meadows. I have two other books that I’m halfway through, but those are taking me longer to read.
5. Work on outlining new blog project idea. Still percolating in the old noggin. Need to put some time in on this one.
6. Exercise 3 times each week. I’m so sore after my first day of swimming, I can barely move without wincing. I can’t even tell why some areas are hurting; I didn’t think I used every muscle for this activity. I’m actually okay with the rain, today. My body needs a rest.

And I’m going to add a seventh goal:

7. Finish critique of friend’s manuscript. It’s so overdue it’s embarrassing. Good thing my friend it so patient with me! I promise I WILL finish it this month.

A good healthy list for this month, don’t you think? That should keep me busy and motivated. Speaking of motivation, here’s a quote I found inspiring:

“Failure: is it a limitation? It’s a lot of things. It’s something you can’t be afraid of, because you’ll stop growing. The next step beyond failure could be your biggest success in life.”

- Debbie Allen

Let’s all pledge to keep growing. Here’s to another great month of #writemotivation!

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeI had a slow week last week, but here in the home stretch I’m making up for it. I had to prepare a submission for the SCBWI LA conference at the last minute since their deadline moved up this year to the end of May and I just paid for the conference about a week ago. Nothing like an impending deadline to get all fired up and work like mad. My submission made it just in time. Woohoo!

The recovery effort in Oklahoma is still ongoing. For those of you who are interested, you can still participate in Kate Messner’s  KidLitCares for Oklahoma giveaway. It’s open until June 7th. Great cause, great giveaway, so check it out. There’s also a way you can help replenish the classroom libraries of the two schools that were destroyed in the tornado by visiting the Moore Books for Moore Kids Facebook page and making a donation.

On to my goal progress:

1. Complete latest draft of Museum Crashers (MG mystery) and prepare for submission. More progress made, but still short of the finish. I’ll have to really push hard to reach the end soon. I’m still happy with the progress I’ve made. I will definitely be sending this out next month.
2. Research more literary agents for submission of Institutionalized (YA contemporary) and send out to five of them. I have the short list. I will work on the personalized queries over the next few days and start sending them out.
3. Make some progress on first draft of Pretty Vacant (YA contemporary). Develop main character fully and decide which way story arc will go. More research and more reading done. I really have a good feel for the main character now. I’m excited about starting this project.
4. Exercise 3 times each week. Exercise has been going well. Still on the lighter side. My daughter and I are going to ramp it up next month by joining a gym and being each others work out buddies.

I hope you’re all doing well with your goals. Let’s meet up again in June for the next #writemotivation month! Sign up now!

Motivational quote for the day:

“A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.”

- Frank Capra

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeJust a quick post to update my #writemotivation goals and to lend encouragement to all who are struggling – I hear you! How are we supposed to stay glued to our chairs and write when the weather is so nice? Argh!

We must be committed to our craft or something. (My family is definitely leaning towards the “or something”.)

Goals for this month:

1. Complete latest draft of Museum Crashers (MG mystery) and prepare for submission. Made progress here. Almost halfway through! This story is really shaping up well.
2. Research more literary agents for submission of Institutionalized (YA contemporary) and send out to five of them. Started the research process over. Now compiling the new short list.
3. Make some progress on first draft of Pretty Vacant (YA contemporary). Develop main character fully and decide which way story arc will go. Doing some research reading this week and getting some excellent ideas. Really excited about this project.
4. Exercise 3 times each week. Ummm…two times. Blame it on the rain? (How dare I quote Milli Vanilli!) Next week’s progress on this goal looks better.

I’ll leave you with an inspirational quote to keep your motivation up:

“Writing is harder than anything else; at least starting to write is. It’s much easier to wash dishes. When I’m writing I set myself a daily quota of pages, but nine times out of ten I’m doing those pages at four o’clock in the afternoon because I’ve done everything else first…But once I get flowing with it, I wonder what took me so long.”

Kristin Hunter

excerpt from Walking with Alligators: A Book of Meditations for Writers by Susan Shaghnessy

Who hasn’t done that? Let’s all vow to let the dishes and laundry wait tomorrow and start our writing first!

My friend Anna Myers gave a great presentation at our last SCBWI OK schmooze here in Tulsa entitled “Secrets to Character Development”. Anna knows a little something about character. All of her 19 novels are character-driven. Before she starts a new book, her main characters come to her almost fully formed. When she sits down to write, she puts on some music with a strong connection to the story she wants to tell, becomes very quiet, almost meditative, and waits for her character to show up.

Then she forgets herself.

That’s the most important thing to remember about character development, according to Anna:

“You have to ditch yourself.”

I’ve seen Anna perform a few school visits, and when I say perform,  I mean Anna puts on the semblance of a wardrobe, takes just a beat to get into character, and then launches into a monologue. She becomes a character from one of her books in order to tell the kids about the story – a very effective, attention-getting technique.

Lose yourself and become your character.

http://katherinegscott.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/children_playing_nurse_7.jpg

Is anybody in there?

Anna added one caveat to that:

“You must first learn your craft. If you haven’t learned your craft, you’re wasting your time.”

She then pointed to me out of the group gathered and said that when she first met me, my writing was horrible (I nodded in agreement), but then I worked at it and worked at it and my writing improved. Now I’m on the cusp of success. (Feels like I’ve been here forever, but the publishing world sometimes moves slowly, requiring tenacity…and PATIENCE.)

Once you’ve done this, once you’ve learned your craft, you have to stop trying so hard.

Easier said than done?

Yes. But that also can be accomplished with practice. Lose the barriers between yourself and the child you used to be. After all, you can’t write from the perspective of a twelve year-old girl if you’re stuck in your forty-something mind.

This whole talk sparked a vivid memory for me.

I was working in Albany, New York, as a nanny for this lovely family. Both the husband and wife were eye surgeons. The wife, Anna, (I think I’m destined to be influenced by fabulous women named Anna) and I would often have interesting philosophical discussions. It is partly due to her that I learned to open up my empathy and see the world through others’ eyes. We were discussing child abuse for some reason, and let’s just say for the sake of argument that I’d been in close proximity to and witness of some ugly abuse in the past. During this discussion, I made a grand statement as I was apt to do back in my late teens, early twenties, and said something about how I couldn’t understand how anyone could hit a child. Ever.

I thought it was an easy position to support and I thought Anna would agree with me, one hundred percent. Instead she surprised me. In her way of disagreeing, she said, “You can’t? I can.”

Then she had me imagine that I was a single teenaged mother, stuck in a tiny, cramped apartment – day in and day out – with a howling baby that I had no skill in caring for. Imagine that I felt like my life was over. I’m sleep-deprived, hungry, have no coping skills, and no support system. And the baby won’t stop screaming. “Don’t you think at some point, you might just lose it and lash out?”

I was shocked. This was not the answer I’d expected. Then I thought about what she said. I could picture myself as this young girl and what it would be like to live her life. Maybe things were not so black and white.

I now find it easy to understand people’s motivations – what makes them tick – by using this same method of stepping into their shoes. I just need to work on stretching a little farther until I actually feel myself becoming them, becoming my characters, before I start to write. Almost there.

How about you? Do you channel your character effortlessly or do you struggle with characterization?

photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. httpwww.flickr.comphotossahlgoodeI’ve had a pretty productive week on the writing front and not all of that frenetic activity was related to my goals. I worked on a submission for a scholarship entry that was based on a writing prompt. I used to hate writing from prompts, maybe because I’m not great at taking direction. Or maybe because I don’t like limits and restrictions on what I can write. Most of my writing ideas have come to me out of the blue and I have to write them down before they evaporate into the creative ether from whence they came. But then this past summer I heard Kate Messner talk at the SCBWI LA Conference about how she gets her ideas for picture books. She said that sure, some of her ideas come to her out of the blue, but why wait for those rare moments? Why not work at generating them? She gave everyone present her secret matrix for brainstorming ideas and then made us try it out. Within five minutes, I actually had some possible picture book ideas – not that I’m ready to write picture books just yet, but that is a goal I have in the future.

Kate said: “Many picture book authors write lots of crappy picture book manuscripts because it stirs the pot of creativity!” Sometimes while you’re working like this, it can facilitate an actual “fall from the sky idea”. Either way, it’s a great thing to do while you’re waiting for inspiration to strike. Kate does this about twice a week to stir up new ideas.

Ever since that talk, I’ve looked at writing prompts in a different light. Speaking of prompts generating ideas, the one I used for the scholarship entry definitely sparked an idea for a new novel. I got so excited about it that I may sketch it out a little more before pursuing my other first draft novel I’ve already started. Which idea will win out? We shall see.

I know I can’t share Kate’s matrix, but I won’t leave you empty-handed. Here are two sites to get you started if you want to give writing prompts a try.

  • The first is from the Poet’s & Writer’s website. They post a prompt each week, one for poetry and one for fiction.
  • The second is from a teacher’s tumblr page simply called Writing Prompts, where he posts his daily writing prompts that he uses in class. He describes his teaching style as “Nerdfighteria takes over The Colbert Report with Ira Glass as a guest.” Wicked awesome. You can even donate books to his classroom library to help support his cause. I’d say it’s a right worthy one.

So what about you? Do you use writing prompts to kick-start ideas? Do you despise them? Share your thoughts.

On to this week’s goal progress:

1. Complete revision of Middle Grade manuscript (Museum Crashers) and prepare for final critiques. I revised four chapters out of eighteen which is right on track with my goal to finish a complete revision by the end of the month.
2. Continue making progress on first draft of new Young Adult manuscript (Pretty Vacant). I didn’t work on this at all last week. Okay, I did make some mental progress, which does count in my book, but next week I want some physical progress down on paper.
3. Follow up on submissions outstanding for Young Adult manuscript (Institutionalized) and pursue any additional avenues that arise. The time limit for an exclusive submission hadn’t quite run out, so I did nothing but wait this past week. Waiting is the worst, isn’t it? Next week is a different story. Action will be required.
4. Exercise at least three times a week. Woohoo! I did make this goal. That explains why I’m so sore. Everywhere.

Hope you’re all making headway on your goals as well. Looks like spring’s making an appearance this week. As the kids have some time off from school, I’m sure I’ll be making at least one trip out to our local zoo in between making time for the writing. Have a great week!

dramaqueenIt may surprise some of you, but I was a bit of a drama queen when I was a teenager. What? Mother of all things zen? Oh yes, my daughter comes by it naturally. I was a big door slammer, too. I once slammed my bedroom door so hard, it knocked the center panel of wood right out. Kinda took the steam out of that temper storm.

I did manage to find a creative outlet for my teen hormones-gone-wild; the theatre. One of the few saving graces my little backwater town offered was the delightful community theatre, The Gaslight. Although they had a strong teen theatre program, I actually broke on the scene with one of their adult plays, a summer musical called Sweet Charity. I was the only teen to get a speaking part – very exciting. I played Rosie, the new girl.  It was a small role where I had to play an innocent girl, fresh off the bus in her hemmed up prom dress, the newest addition to the taxi dancers at the sweet charitydance hall where Charity, the lead character, works. As fresh meat, she’s picked right off the line by a smarmy old guy. There was a lot of improv required for that role and the old guy in question was a sweet veteran actor named Gene, who worked at the post office for his day job. He had me blushing many times just by whispering nonsense into my ear. As I recall, “You’re such a ham!” was one of his favorite sweet nothings. I didn’t do so much acting as reacting in those early days. I’m not even going to tell you about the prank he pulled during one of the mid-week pickup rehearsals. Talk about initiating in the new kid! Oy vey! Despite the hectic rehearsal schedules and performances and the embarrassing (yet hilarious) pranks, I was hooked. I was in love with acting.

By the time I went away to college, I still loved theatre, I just wasn’t so in love with the idea of being an actor. I still hung around the acting crowd. I got a job as a stage hand for one of my work study gigs and I even took an acting class at the college level. I’m so glad I did. For one, because I met a fantastic friend in that class. And for another, I learned many things about studying people that I still use in my writing to this day.

We would have to do these acting exercises outside of class and write journal entries about our experiences. Most of these exercises involved many hours of people-watching. Things like, observing how different people walk. An exercise might say something like “Notice that each person walks in a unique way. Describe some of the different gaits you observe. How would you capture that on stage? What does that person’s walk say about them?”

Fascinating, no?

You can surely see how using this exercise could be beneficial when describing a character in a novel.

One of my favorite exercises was about hands. Just hands. How much can we tell about someone by studying their hands? Think about how much we do with our hands, how we talk with our hands, what we do when we don’t know what to do with our hands, etc. So interesting those exercises.

I still enjoy people-watching. You can find many ideas for characters while simply observing your fellow man going about their day. It does take a little effort to put down your cell phone from time to time and actually look around you, but trust me, it’s worth the effort. The other day, while I was sitting in a café, waiting on my order, I noticed this woman standing in line, wearing a very unusual outfit. She had short-cropped brown hair that was full of movement and style. She wore a crazy print shirt with a furry pink vest on top. It looked like a creature from a Dr. Seuss book had been turned into a fur vest. There was baubly jewelry bouncing around her neck and some kind of cross-body purse. Then I noticed her shoes. They didn’t seem to match the outfit. Plain white support shoes? I didn’t get it. Then, the line moved forward and my view of her changed. She had a stilted walk, more like the stumbling shuffle of someone who’s had a stroke. I looked closer at the spiky, sassy hair and realized it was probably a wig. The woman no longer appeared to be a young hipster, but an aging flower child, still showing her individuality as she battles against time and disease. Oh the story ideas that hit me from just that little moment. That brief encounter. That character study, in the flesh.

Take some time to do some people-watching this week. Jot down some of the unique things you see. You might even get some story ideas out of it, if not a little drama.