Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Second chances

Sometimes I buy a piece of clothing that doesn't work out the way I'd hoped. I have nothing to wear with it, or I have no place suitable to wear it, or it has an itchy tag, or something. I am slow to discard such things--well, anything, really--so they lurk in the back of my closet, waiting for another chance.

And it thrills me when I find a purpose for them, when they get that second chance. A maxi dress I bought years ago never made my office-clothes rotation, the way I thought it would, but at some point I discovered it made the perfect beach dress. A short-sleeved sweater I couldn't find a use for has jumped into the lineup during this hot summer when I need a light coverup for the cold commuter train. 

I have pieces of writing like that, too. A character, a name, a setting, a scene, a first line, sparks my interest, and I try unsuccessfully to make it work in story after story. But it doesn't fit; it's like the beautiful bronze skirt I once bought that paired badly with shirt after shirt. Often those writing fragments lurk in files for years, like the misfit clothing lurking in the closet. And what a joy when they find their proper place, when they lock seamlessly into the jigsaw puzzle of a story. 

In hindsight, it seems that piece was always meant for that story. It's one reason I don't consider a failed story to be a wasted effort. The truth is that I may not know what will be useful for years to come.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Book to movie

It was my turn to blog at YA Outside the Lines, and this month I wrote about how films can extend the lives of books. As I say there, "Largely, the books we remember for more than a generation are those that were made into movies."

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Reading

The rhythm of the writing life is not always smooth and steady. There are bursts of productivity; there are lulls. There are times of research, revision, backtracking. There are times when an entire project gets shelved. And sometimes the words just won't flow at all.

What's more constant is my reading habit. No matter what's happening with the writing, I can always engage with stories as a reader. Sometimes I'm studying the craft by reading; other times I'm just immersing myself in the world that made me want to be a writer in the first place. 

I read widely, passing from poetry to long-form nonfiction to magazines to novels and back again. Woe to the people who ask what I am reading, because I will tell them. Do they want to hear about the memoir, the novel, the oral history, the biography, the book of poems, or the essay collection? I'm not even mentioning the news articles or blog posts!

I'm grateful such a feast is available to me. Anywhere from half to three-quarters of the books I read in a given year come from my local library; the books I buy are a mix of new and used. I also reread what's already on my shelves.

The first tip I give in any writing workshop I teach is this: read. But to me, reading is less the writer's obligation than it is the writer's great benefit, and joy.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

That special story

Over at YA Outside the Lines, we were asked to contemplate the question: How do you know if an idea is the one? Worth writing about? Worth making your next project?

I answered with a question that has helped me in the past: If you could only write one more story, what would it be? You can read more here.

Friday, March 8, 2019

For the record

I've been consolidating some old journals and for the past three years have been keeping a recent one, and what strikes me is how often a journal entry will cover something I've totally forgotten. Sometimes the entry sparks a memory--it is still there, though I haven't thought about it in years. Other times the memory stays lost. I might discover I went to a party on a certain night when I was 22, but still remember nothing about that party.

Writing captures so much that we might otherwise forget. I make a note today that the snowdrops are blooming now, a harbinger of spring--a small detail I'm sure I would never be able to date in the future without my journal. It's a choice, of course, what to record and what to leave out. Of all the moments I lived through today, I will capture only a few of them. I polished an essay, took a walk with a friend, noticed the snowdrops, ate a turkey sandwich. I don't know which of these details might matter to me in years to come, and we can't live entirely for the future anyway, can't preserve everything. 

So I write down the first things that come to mind--sometimes from world news, usually from my personal life. Sometimes major, sometimes trivial. I strew bread crumbs for my future self to follow. But it isn't only about the future. The act of jotting a few notes each day makes me pay closer attention to the present. It requires me to stop and observe, at least for a few minutes.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

A bend in the road

I was struck by the section in Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea where she talks about midlife--with its changes, emptying nest, closing of some avenues--as a time less of decline than of potential. The time we often call a crisis is one she likens to adolescence, another time of change and often turbulence. She speaks of midlife as a "second flowering" whose changes may be "signs of growth" rather than decline. We may grow into "a new stage in living when, having shed many of the physical struggles, the worldly ambitions, the material encumbrances ... one might be free to fulfill the neglected side of one's self. One might be free for growth of mind, heart, and talent, free at last for spiritual growth ..."

I certainly have felt this shedding and these changes as a time of preparation, of making room for some new phase. L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables always spoke of a "bend in the road" when faced with uncertainty in the future (as opposed to those times when our next steps lie straight ahead, clearly foreseeable). I identify with that, too: midlife can bring a bend in the road, and it's possible to approach it with enthusiasm as well as trepidation.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Are you having any fun?

If you're like me, the responsibilities and the to-do lists never end. Even when I reach the end of one list, there's always something else I could be doing. Like getting a jump on the next to-do list.

But the chores will never end. So it's important to throw the list out the window every now and then. Or add to it something fun. Something that has no purpose other than pure amusement or relaxation. A day at the beach, or a museum, or a talk with a friend. Skiing, or playing that video game, or just curling up with a book you want to but don't have to read. A movie, a walk in nature--whatever it is, it's time.

I've never believed that life must be all drudgery and work. Even the proverbial ant should get to be a grasshopper now and then.