It Doesn’t Work

I recently read a blog post that suggested if you needed to remember your creative ideas that come in the night while you are sleeping, just make up a song about the idea and since song lyrics are stored in a different part of the brain, your idea will stay safely stored there until morning when you can get back to you writing.  This sounded like a great idea.  The next time I’m having trouble sleeping because in my head I’m working out the next plot device, I can just start writing a little song, a sonetta, or a ditty.  It certainly sounds easy enough.  I love the idea of all my creative thoughts packing up their suitcase to move to a new and different part of my brain.  Just like finding a clean and relaxing hotel room.

BUT, wait!  I’m a children’s poet.  I’ve tried writing poems at night in bed while I’m trying to sleep.  Wouldn’t my creative projects be stored in the same place as that song?  Wouldn’t the rhythm of the song be the same as the rhythm of my poem? I already know this doesn’t work.  There are thousands of nights when I’ve had an idea for a poem and spent time in my dream state working out the rhyme and meter–a strong marching cadence.  I’ve even congratulated myself on the elegant rhymes, the excellent word choice, the stunning verbs, the fantastic images I’ve been able to pack into a few short lines.  I chuckle at the funny twist I’ve been able to roll into the last line.  I feel so good about what I’ve been able to accomplish in the tight little verse, that I’m able to lull myself back to sleep.  When I awake, I remember the good time I had putting together my children’s poem.  I might even remember what the topic of the poem was, but I’m usually not able to retrieve my end rhymes, or the funny twist at the end.  This drives me crazy.  In fact, in the light of day, my little poem doesn’t sound so funny at all and the twelve lines I had in my sleep, now only comes out as four or eight.

This is why I have a handy little device by my bed–a note pad with a built in pen.  The pad lights up when I remove the pen.  This lets me jot down my ideas in the night.  It doesn’t make my rhymes better, but it does store the thought until I can get up and work on the verses.  It gives me peace of mind so I can go back to sleep until I’m ready to get up and play with the words and poetic lines.  Of course this might be part of the reason my best working time is between 3 and 5 in the middle of the night.  When the words want to come out to play, I want to be there to party with them.

Ah, the life of a children’s poet is a very strange lot.

Do Grownups Color As They Read?

 

Three year-old Grace came dashing into my studio like a clog dancer.

Dressed in summer shorts and a crop top, I could tell she was upset by the stomping

of her cowboy boots on the tile floor.

Do-stomp

Grownups-stomp

Color-stomp

As-stomp

They-stomp

Read-stomp?

I’m a children’s writer and I guess to young Gracie, I would know the answer.

Yes, I thought of saying, readers add the colors to our books. When writers write, and readers read they enter into a contract. The writer puts the words down on the page, trying to tell a story. Then the reader comes along and gives meaning to the words. It is the connections and links that the reader brings to the story that give meaning and add color to the words. But how do I explain this to a three year-old so that she can understand? It is the writer’s job to build bridges that let the reader enter into the story, to develop empathy for the characters and to understand the change that happens to the main character and feel the struggles the character has gone through. Oh yes, adults add the color to books as we read them. But, I had a hunch from her stomping this wasn’t really the question Gracie was asking.

I picked her up, sat her in my lap.

“What do you mean, Gracie? Do you want to tell me about it?”

“Donnie said I couldn’t color the page in my coloring book that I wanted to. I want to color the princess having a tea party with the fairies, but he says I have to color one page at a time, front to back—that’s how grownups read a story. He took my crayons and broke them because I wouldn’t color the next page with a dumb old prince.”

“He wanted to tell you how to read a book?”

“Yes, and that isn’t right!”

“Nope, you should be able to read a book anyway you want. Would a box of colored pencils help?”

“Yes, thank you,” Gracie said as she rushed out of my studio.

Is it afternoon nap time yet? I want to dream about the color readers add to my stories.

Muscular Writing

I get a lot of WRITERS DIGEST ads in my mailbox and I find them fascinating.  Usually they are so well written, they hook me in.  A recent one taunted me to spend my money to “put more muscle into your writing”  As their ads usually do, it got me to thinking.  Do I really want muscular writing?  Do I want more force and power behind my poetry? 

My answer is NO.  I don’t want more muscle.  I don’t want strong, forceful writing.  I want the quiet, subtle writing which lets the reader stumble upon their own meaning.  I want, expect my reader to bring something to the writing and if they discover something in the reading, something of their own, then my writing is a success.

What makes for successful writing for you? 

Writing Advice

The interview started with the question: What one piece of writing advice would you give to young writers?

I knew the answer immediately without even thinking. Isn’t it obvious? If you want to write, then that is what you should do. The only way to become better at writing is to pracitce and to write. Write. Write. Write.

The mistakes you made in your writing yesterday, you don’t make today. And the errors you will make today, you won’t make tomorrow.

One of the best things I ever learned in my writing came from Julia Cameron, she got me started on morning pages, a practice I’ve been using for many years. I write for at least 20 minutes each day. I do a mind dump. I’ve adapted the practice to meet my needs, but I still use writing to calm me, to make sense of my crazy world and to find out what it is my heart desires. I use writing to capture my whiney complaints. I use writing to cry out my feelings of injustice with the world. And, I use my writing to give words to my dreams.

For several years I attended a writing prompt workshop hosted by Nancy Peacock. Writers got together on a Saturday morning. Nancy would give us a prompt and we would write for 15 minutes. Based on instructions from Pat Schnider and Natalie Goldberg we would write, not edit, not worry about spelling,–just write. If we couldn’t think of somehting to wrte, we were told to just keep writing, “I can’t think of what to write,” over and over until we were moved to write something else. If we ended up somewhere in our writing that we didn’t want to be, that was probably where we were meant to be and we should just keep writing.

The interesting thing for me is this practice forced me to write. It allowed me to write even if I knew the writing wasn’t going to be interesting. But what happened was that always there was something I learned from the writing. I learned not to worry about my writing, to just let it happen. Because it is better to have less than great writing than no writing at all.

I’ve recently been playing with art and sketching, using colored pencils and pastels. I have found that facing a blank page is the hardest thing I have to do. Often, I know what I want to draw, but I know before I start that I won’t be able to do it as well as I’d like to. This dooms the project before I even start. So I often don’t do the art, or I’ll revise my idea to something less. I know what I need to do to get over this because I have my writing practice. So now I have a writing practice and a little art practice that I do daily. What piece of advice would you give to young writers?