Sunday, August 4, 2013

Teachers Write Sunday Check-In Week 6

When ALA was in Chicago this summer, I had the opportunity to meet Laura Golden, author of Every Day After. Seeing as Laura is a debut author, I had lots of questions and ideas to share with Laura about writing. It was fun to share my experiences with writing through Teachers Write. 
It just so happened that Laura’s husband was with her at ALA and I talked to him about what it’s like to be married to a writer. Just the week before, I had talked to my husband about a scene in my work-in-progress and I shared it with Laura’s husband. My poor husband...and then Laura’s poor husband had to answer my ridiculous question. My question was this:

When someone’s learning to kiss, what do they practice on? 
How might they practice?

Isn’t that a great question? While I have an idea of what most kids might do, I was curious what someone else would say. (I would love to hear your answers, by the way!) This type of anecdotal research can be so helpful and Laura and I are so grateful to have our husbands to refer to when we want to share writing ideas. When I'm brainstorming how stories will go together or how to get through a revision, I usually run my ideas by my husband. Sometimes he thinks I'm a little goofy, but he always does his best to listen and try to help me work it out.
The hubster and me - my #1 supporter!
In general, talking through problems, with a husband or a friend, can be super helpful. For me, I usually work my way out of my problem when I talk about it but it helps to have someone ask questions or offer some ideas. Last summer, I found a Maquizga (a mini-critique-writing-support-group partner) in Brian Wyzlic. I know that I can go to him for anything about writing - whether I’m stuck or excited to share, I know he’ll be there to support me, too. Thanks to the awesome-ness of Teachers Write, I found Brian and a wonderful community to connect with. It’s a great support network!
Me and Brian - Maquizgas Unite!
Today, I invited Laura to Teach Mentor Texts to talk to me about how helpful it is to have her husband or others to talk to about ideas. This week, the tip is to talk it out. When you are brainstorming, plotting, drafting, revising...just talk it out. Both Laura and I find that it helps so much.

JEN: Hi Laura! Thanks for joining me today! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your writing?

LAURA: Hi, Jen! Sure! I began writing with an eye toward publication about 8 years ago. I started with picture books, but they proved too tough for me. I’m not kidding. Writers of picture books have my utmost respect. They possess mad talents. My husband convinced me to give middle grade a chance, and four years ago I began working on what became EVERY DAY AFTER. I enjoyed the process, and I’m now working on my second novel. It’s much harder this time around. I’m constantly worrying over perceived successes and failures of my first book, and it’s a huge challenge to shut out the noise and focus on writing. But...I’m learning.  

JEN: Give a big hello to your husband, Michael, for me! Can you talk about how he helps you brainstorm or talk through ideas?

LAURA: (Michael says ‘hi’, Jen!) I didn’t discuss ideas or drafts of EVERY DAY AFTER with him as much as I should have. I was super-scared of failure, so I kept my progress on that one relatively private. I didn’t want to look or sound stupid. But now that I’m working on a second book, all that self-censorship has gone completely out the window. I ask him his thoughts on everything from plot points to names. I hope he’s not sick of me yet, because I have quite a ways to go!  

JEN: Hi, Michael! *waves* Do you find yourself needing to talk through different parts of the writing process more than others? For example, with my own writing, it really helps for me to talk through the whole book so I can see how it comes together. It really helps me during brainstorming. I find that it helps to talk about ideas whenever I get stuck, too. If I get to a part that I’m writing and I just can’t seem to figure it out, it really helps to share that and work through it with someone else.

LAURA: Yes. I’m a pre-plotter, not a pantser. I want to know everything is going to fit--that I’ve found the right pieces to put the puzzle together. I talk to Michael (and my mom) most during this phase of the writing process. I want to know if something is believable or too outlandish/coincidental. If it’s the latter, I’d rather address it before I’m 30,000 words into the story.

I also talk out character motivations and arcs. I’m a total character arc nerd. I want to see change of some sort in the main character at the very least, in several characters at best--not merely that they do or don’t get what they want in the end, but that that desire caused some meaningful change inside them. During my discussions with Michael, I’ll try to make sure that the “goal” leads to “change”. I don’t want to write a story where the MC’s personality remains static the entire time.

JEN: I'm not sure if I'm a plotter or a pantser yet! I kind of do both, going back and forth throughout the process. Do you ever find that by talking to someone else about your writing helps you figure it out on your own? Sometimes, I think I have a problem but by just having someone listen to me, I can work through it on my own!

LAURA: Talking things out definitely helps to get me unstuck. I think perhaps that casual conversation and brainstorming helps to relax my mind. When I’m staring at my notebook or computer screen wracking my brain over a story problem, it typically ends in a block. My brain just shuts down. But when I’m talking things out, my mind opens up to new possibilities and solutions. It’s like magic. For what it’s worth, sleep and riding shotgun in the car also help relax my mind. And it’s nice to know that if I do these things--talk it out, take a ride in the car, or sleep on it--and a solution still doesn’t arrive, chances are Michael will have a suggestion I hadn’t thought of. A nice bonus.  

And, if you don’t mind my asking, I totally have to know: did you arrive at an answer to your kissing question? Michael and I voted “a pillow” and “arm”. Final verdict? ;-)

JEN: Right now, the practicing kissing scene is how my manuscript currently starts off and I went with my husband’s suggestion of...fruit! My main character’s best friend actually suggests she practice on her but she ends up going with the fruit, a plum, as a matter of fact. But there’s a chance I can work in some more practice and maybe I can work in her arm or her pillow.

LAURA: Ha! A plum! Love it. Excellent choice. Thank you for sharing. :-) And many more thanks for having me on your blog. I’m a big fan, and it was such fun talking writerly processes with you--both here and at ALA. Hope we meet again soon!
Laura and me at the Newbery banquet in June!
JEN: Thank you so much for sharing some of your process with us! I so appreciate it and love the idea of going for a ride or sleeping on an idea. I can see how both of them would help me clear my head or help me work through ideas.

My Teachers Write Weekly Recap:
I'm so happy to be able to look back at this week and know that I really got a lot of great writing done. It was such a wonderful week. I'll share more about my experience at the Choice Literacy writing retreat during my Slice of Life on Tuesday, but what I can share today is that I wrote over 3,000 words between articles for Choice Literacy and my Slice of Life from last week and then I also revised the first chapter of my novel. Delving back into my novel and piecing together a first chapter that I'm proud of feels phenomenal. I think the beginning is much stronger now. I shared part of it on Friday Feedback with Gae and with Brian and another friend. 

At the Choice Literacy writing retreat, I was able to talk so much about writing and the writing process. It's really amazing to talk with others who are writing and share the ups and down of writing. It was like Teachers Write come live and in person. It made me think about how phenomenal it would be to have a Teachers Write retreat someday...how awesome would that be?

I also worked on developing writing habits which I'll share Tuesday. Can't wait!

A reminder of my rules for Teachers Write Sunday Check-Ins:

1. We respect each other and the type of writing we do.
2. We only offer constructive criticism.
3. We are positive and encourage each other at all times.
4. We recognize and maintain this as a safe environment.
**I reserve every right to put the smackdown
on anyone who messes with our positive energy.**

Today, in the comments section:
Do you have someone you turn to for writing support?
What do you look for in someone to talk to about your writing?
How did you do this week? Did you meet your weekly goal(s)?
What was the pit of your week? (The hardest part, the non-fun part?)
What was the peak of your week? (The best part, the most-fun part?)
What are you looking forward to and planning for the week ahead?

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