Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Cup Runneth Over A.K.A. “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”

When I attended an SCBWI event with Deborah Brodie, she talked about how writers needed to take a sabbatical from writing. She and Sarah Davies both emphasized the importance of living life to help feed your writing.
So I took their advice.

We went on vacation for 9 days. I unplugged for those 9 days. I took a cell phone, but used it rarely. I checked no e-mails, read no blogs, and only wrote because a character’s voice in my head wouldn’t leave me alone. When she’d kept me up for 2 nights, I finally gave in, wrote everything about her I knew so I could remember. I can’t write her story now, but I have some nuggets saved for after my current book is done.

We did a plethora of things. My husband likened it to a scavenger hunt. You know, the kind where you reach a destination, hop out, get what you needed, then hop back in the car and on to the next destination. I found it relaxing and it fed my writer’s mind. Here’s a few trip highlights and how they fed the writer within.

1. Thomas Edison’s Laboratory, West Orange, NJ: This man was amazing. He had a huge laboratory and was a pioneer in so many ways. This is a picture of a fraction of his library that reminded me a bit of the one in the UVA Rotunda. I was in awe of the amount of trials and failures it took for him to invent and improve so many technologies.

2. Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor: This was my second trip to see Lady Liberty, but I took away new things this time. The first time I saw her, I was on my honeymoon. This time I was introducing her to my daughter. Bartholdi, Liberty’s designer, wanted to have her ready in time for the 100th anniversary of our country, but he was 10 years late. It didn’t stop him. He kept pursuing the dream. And then there were the thousands of people who laid eyes on Lady Liberty before coming to Ellis Island. Each one of them has their own story.

3. Plymouth, Massachusetts: Since my daughter learned about the Pilgrims and the Mayflower in kindergarten this year, we thought we’d take her to the historic site. I learned so many things and dispelled many misconceptions I had. There are always many sides to every story. It made me want to make sure I consider all angles before telling my story.

4. Whale Watching and People Watching Cape Cod, MA: Whales are beautiful creatures. I got see a dozen or so in all of their glory. These pictures just don't do them justice. I was also on a boat for four hours which gave ample opportunity to watch people. People are sometimes as fascinating as animals.

5. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art Amherst, MA: This place is a children’s book lover’s dream come true. I only wished I could have stayed longer. My kids were done in far too short of a time. Next time I will go alone. Plan to spend several hundred dollars in their bookstore—also a children’s book lover and scholar’s dream. Truly. If only I were an artist too...

6. Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden Springfield, MA: To have your characters immortalized into sculptures? Well, that in and of itself is inspiring. They also had some fabulous museums around these garden. I sat on the mosaic bench and took it all in.

6. Norman Rockwell Museum Stockbridge, MA: (No Pictures except for one with all of my family in it. We were rushed because we got there 40 min. before it closed). Wow! An unplanned stop, but well worth it. The paintings are even more beautiful in person. And a bonus William Steig exhibit was there too. Jeanne Steig did some whimsical sculptures when she was having writer’s block because she had to keep her hands busy doing something. They were also on display. We also got to see Rockwell’s studio.

7. Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, NY: Another unplanned stop, but truly amazing. I love baseball (the only sport I watch). So many players with big dreams, who reached their goals. It was also inspiring to learn more about the players who faced much discrimination just to pursue their passion.

What did I do on my summer vacation? I left the "work" at home, and filled up my writer's cup.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Of Jellyfish and Happiness

I went to a workshop all day today about teaching kids writing. As much as I love to write and as much as I love to teach kids how to write, I never get tired of adding another tool to my toolbox. Amanda Donnelly, of IRN, was there. We broke down the three domains (Composing, Written Expression, Usage and Mechanics) that Virginia’s students have to be able to master in their writing. We did a practice writing prompt, and I realized I haven’t mastered those domains either.

Something I learned in the Writing Project many years ago: we really don’t know how much we expect of kids in their writing until we try it ourselves. Writing teachers need to write themselves. We tried a writing prompt today. It was about the happiest memory. I make a list of possible happy memories to write about. I picked my favorite, then brainstormed some more about one particular trip. All things were going well….

THEN…I began to write my rough draft. Two pages into it, I realized something dreadful. I didn’t write to the prompt at all!!! I wrote about spearing jellyfish. Yes, a morbid, graphic, fictionalized tale. It was interesting. It had roots in reality, but it was fiction. It had some figurative language. It had some vivid verbs. It even had a central idea. It just wasn’t the central idea I was supposed to write about.

Author’s Share time came along. We were supposed to volunteer to share our writing. Now, we had been working on it for a whole 15 minutes. I am not a big fan of sharing writing immediately after it is written. It’s like eating bread dough before you’ve given it a chance to rise and bake. It just isn’t for eating. I was NOT getting up to share my OFF-TOPIC two page story beginning. First of all, it wasn’t a whole piece. It wasn’t on topic. And it certainly wasn’t happy. I shared among my small group, made up of people I know. They were so nice to me. They thought it was terrific. But it was off-topic.

As I thought about my dilemma, I realized how common this is for kids. How dreadful to realize you really like the story you are telling, but it isn’t the one you are SUPPOSE to be telling. A lesson learned for me.

I can’t change the state’s prompt. I can’t even change the fact that they will have to write to a prompt, but I CAN teach them what to do when this thing happens to them. I plan to tell them my experience, show them my writing, and brainstorm ideas with them on how to solve this problem.

By the way, I don’t plan to write anymore about the happy memory because frankly happiness and perfectness make very boring stories. I am planning to keep going with this story about the jellyfish maimer and find out what he plans to do next. He’s an interesting fellow.