Monday, February 27, 2012
Ah--another tip of the hat to earlier times, I guess. This time to the Brontes. Margot Livesey has a nice post today on that family of writers. The Bronte story is a familiar one, but the lesson (perseverance, boldness) is always useful.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Remembering Marsha’s pep talk, I turn to one of my favorite web newsletters -- the free emailed monthly “Writing World: A World of Writing Information for Writers Around the World”. The newsletter is part of Moira Allen’s cornucopia of writing links to genres (including children’s, of course), how-to, book resources, craft specifics, marketing, self-help, “Free Stuff for Writers,” book reviews, and a gazillion more. Plan to stay a while.
In Moira’s Feb. 2 editorial, “The Dither Factor” is when a writer’s worked so hard on Project A, B and C that he (or she) gets sick of them, but doesn’t want to begin Project D or E because, well, the first projects haven’t been finished. As a result, nothing gets done.
Sound familiar? To rid yourself of “The Dither Factor” (after piling guilt upon your head and having to take a nap to knock it off), Moira writes that you “go work” on one project and then stop, and -- deliberately -- and move to another.
Simple enough. Key words here are “go work”.
Streamline your literary plate to only a few writing tasks at a time rather than several so that you don’t feel overwhelmed. “Rotate” from one to another of THOSE tasks in an intentional, purposeful manner until you’re finished.
This way you’ll get at least one of them completed, even if it’s done chunk by chunk. Thanks, Moira!
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Ron indulged in metaphor last week, and now it’s my turn. More accurately, I will pass on another writer’s plunge into metaphor
For a long time one of my favorite books on writing has been Fay Weldon’s witty Letters to Alice on first reading Jane Austin. The Alice of the title is a fictional niece who has complained to her novelist aunt about being forced to read Pride and Prejudice for a college course. She just doesn’t get the point of spending time on that book--or any other, for that matter. What follows is a series of letters in which Weldon holds forth on literature, popular culture, and writing as she attempts to persuade her niece that reading is worth while. Published in 1984, the book’s cultural references are a bit dated, but Weldon’s ruminations still resonate with me. Here’s the metaphor I promised:
"For what novelists do (I have decided, for the purposes of your conversion) is to build Houses of the Imagination, and where houses cluster together there is a city. And what a city this one is, Alice! It is the nearest we poor mortals can get to the Celestial City: it glitters and glances with life, and gossip, and colour, and fantasy: it is brilliant, it is illuminated, by day by the sun of enthusiasm and by night by the moon of inspiration. It has its towers and pinnacles, its commanding heights and its swooning depths: it has public buildings and worthy ancient monuments, which some find boring and others magnificent. It has its central districts and its suburbs, some salubrious, some seedy, some safe, some frightening. Those who founded it, who built it, house by house, are the novelists, the writers, the poets. And it is to this city that the readers come, to admire, to learn, to marvel and explore." (pp 15-16)
Aside from her use of colons, what I like about this passage is the idea that all books are part of this city. I imagine, too, that the entrance portals are framed by children’s books, portals with plenty of “towers and pinnacles,” as well as “swooning depths.” It is the rare reader who enters the city without passing through those gates.
Saturday, February 18, 2012
#1 Don't overwhelm yourself about perfection. Celebrate your small steps.
By day, I'm a Teaching Artist. I instruct teachers on arts-integration techniques (using drama and storytelling) to incorporate into their curriculum. One of my teachers said, "I have to be perfect. The administration will look at my lesson plans and expect perfection." She was so tense and obviously lost some of the joy of teaching. She added, "I want to be able to teach the way you do, with your drama." At this, I tried to remember the quote (If you know it please correct me): "Don't insult me, it took years for me to be able to do this." After she exhaled, I helped her to celebrate her small successes. That's when I realized that I must do the same for myself.
#2 You might have to celebrate all by yourself.
While having your little congrats party, realize everyone won't join you. You might have to celebrate alone. While working on a big project, there was a friend with me at the beginning of the process, but when it was time to break out the champagne--she was a no-show. I could rationalize many reasons for her lack of support, but in the end I knew that she wasn't truly excited for me. Don't cry for me, Argentina. That valuable lesson taught me that I must do me--even all by myself. Remember, everyone can't climb to the mountain top with you.
#3 You're meant to tell a story in a way that no one else can tell it.
Yes, every story has been told. It doesn't matter because we've accepted the call to write and signed the student loan promissory notes to prove it. Now, we have to trust the voice within ourselves and just write. There's only one Neil Gaiman, one Gary D. Schmidt, one Anne Ursu, one Kate DiCamillo, one Whomever. And, there's only one YOU.
At the end of the day, I can't continue to whine to my advisor. I'll have to pull my shoulders back, look into the mirror and say with attitude, "I'm the fabulous Alicia Williams."
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Carol L. Gloor is an attorney living in Chicago and Savanna, Illinois. I especially like this poem of hers for its powerful ending, which fittingly uses the legal language of trusts and estates.
At the moment of my mother’s death
I am rinsing frozen chicken.
No vision, no rending
of the temple curtain, only
the soft give of meat.
I had not seen her in four days.
I thought her better,
and the hospital did not call,
so I am fresh from
an office Christmas party,
scotch on my breath
as I answer the phone.
And in one moment all my past acts
Thanks to Chris Heppermann for passing this along to me; Ted is the poet who takes his poems to the office and if the people who work there don't get them, he revises.
The austerity of this appeals to me. I'm such a chatterbox. It's also the kind of poem that means what it says. No searching for deeper meanings. Lord, spare me from deeper meanings.
If you want more poems, there are two of mine today at www.culturalweekly.com. One of them is at least 30 years old! Holy cow!!! This is a cool site in general, so drop by now and then.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
I needed to know the names of all the Episcopal priests who had presided over that Episcopal district for an article I was writing. The current priest did not know. "Let me see can I call em down," Miss Ruby said. She named each priest-in-charge (there were many) in order of presiding, and threw in an anecdote about each one. Long memory.
Though I have a hard time even remembering the plots to my own books, the process of memory, or “calling it down,” is central to our writing endeavors.
The elements of memory include:
“Recollection” -- the reconstruction of events or facts through prompts, or reminders;
“Recall” -- the active, unaided pulling up, or “calling down” of something from the past;
“Recognition” -- identifying previously encountered stimuli as familiar; and
“Relearning” -- showing, in most cases, evidence of the effects of memory.
For us writers the evidence is our work.
We writers “call down” our memories (learned, researched, first-hand, etc.), then act on them by creating manuscripts that resonate with readers so compellingly it’s as if -- as writer Jacqueline Woodson once said -- we poked through their closets and ate biscuits with them at their kitchen tables.
Let me see can you call 'em down.
Eleanora E. Tate, Feb. 15, 2012
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Hello fellow bloggers and readers! (I'm typing, deleting and re-typing this next line--on with it!) I'm a graduate student in Hamline Univeristy's program for Creative Writing for Children and Young Adults. I absolutely love it. Just think, I almost didn't apply... (twinkling music for backstory)
In November 2010, I attended the National Black Storyteller's Conference in cold Minneapolis. As I passed by the booth, I sped up thinking it was one of those pushy sales people from Sprint or AT&T. A quick glance and I saw it: Hamline University. This was the program that author, Jewell Parker Rhodes, suggested that I apply to. I literally heard the angels singing, "Ahhhh, Hamline..." The magestic cheribums took me by the arms and led me to the table. Mary Rockcastle and Eleanora Tate greeted me with enthusiasm and kindness. Mary informed me that the application deadline was extended to Nov. 30th. It was meant to be. Right?
Wrong. I didn't believe in myself enough to actually apply to the school. I was one of those fradulent writers. I walked around saying, "I'm a writer," but never actually putting pen to paper. I thought I'd be clever. I sent Mary a nice email thanking her for our meeting, but I couldn't get in touch with Jewell for a letter of recommendation. Oh well, I tried to apply.
Outsmarted by Mary Rockcastle. She replied saying to send a work sample to Eleanora. Every excuse I gave, Mary countered. (She must be a chess player!)
After all my excuses were removed, I applied. The week of Christmas I received a phone call from Anika. "Congratulations..." I couldn't believe it! Me? Acceped into graduate school? To be a writer?
Ladies and gentlemen, it was one of the best decisions I've made in my life thus far. I hope to enlighten you with my lessons, make you laugh and invite you to grow with me.
Friday, February 10, 2012
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
I know, Peter, I know. Almost every precious scrap of paper and disk (aka floppy) I own gets saved in a drawer or box. The thought of throwing away my (or anyone else’s) precious prose horrifies me. I certainly can’t throw away cards and letters from children I met during my forty years of school residencies. The other day I ran across a pile of homemade Valentine cards given to me back in February 1987.
I’ll just share one:
“Mrs. Tate, I’m sorry today is your last day to be with us. Oh by the way I had a million zillion tons of fun with you. I enjoyed it while it lasted but now I have nothing to look at the clock for. Well, bye bye.”
Potential dialogue! Save it!
Eleanora E. Tate Feb. 7, 2012
Saturday, February 4, 2012
I’ve been under the weather lately, which without fail always results in me 1. Not wanting to write and 2. Eating too much toast. This is a writing blog, so I’ll focus on that first thing. Not Wanting to Write is an old blues song we all know. My usual remedy when I begin humming the tune is to mess around with a writing exercise or two for a while and focus on something outside of the novel but related to a character or a scene. I do this for a while and then the juices kick in. Why just last week I was bubbling about a fruitful new exercise I’d cooked up and I told you all about that. Lately, however, I’ve not had the oomph to even tackle one of the exercises. They all just loom so large, so long, so very--
Excuse me. Had to blow my nose.
Anyway, what I have been doing is rereading with pleasure a book called Word Magic, by a Minnesota writer, Cindy Rogers. The first chapters of the book are devoted to a witty and useful discussion of some familiar and not so familiar rhetorical devices that we should all have in our tool box. Alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia—those are familiar to us all. But Rogers delves into some of the less familiar devices.
Anaphora is the repetition of leading words (or clauses): “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired…” (Dwight D. Eisenhower)
Epistrophe is the repetition of a word or words at the end of a phrase, or clause, or sentence: Love beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Corinthians).
Antimetabole is the repetition of a word or phrase in reverse order: “Ask now what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country” (JFK). You can be even more precise with this one and bookend a sentence with the same word: “Break was when she watched the waves break” (MRQ).
Epizeuxis is the repetition of one word for emphasis: “Water, water, everywhere /And all the boards did shrink/Water, water everywhere/Nor any drop to drink” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge).
Okay, the poets in the crowd are by now muttering, “Hon—these are all old tricks in our playbook.” Okay, probably so. But I’m still pleased with my discovery that crafting just a line or two according to a certain form is a wonderful sick-bed writing exercises; tough, sure, but just the right focus and scope for those days when any activity is likely to be interrupted by a period of lung-clearing.
There’s plenty more in Word Magic (anadiplosis, anyone?) but I’ve already lifted enough from the book; Cindy is a tough cookie and I don’t want to get sued. Also, it’s time for some toast.