Saturday, January 26, 2013

Space, The Final Frontier

The essential question for today: Why do I never, ever write at my writers desk?  (Teachers out there, I probably lost you when I volunteered an essential question.)

For as long as I can remember, I've always carved out a writing space.  The first was in my bedroom on a floral desk that looked like it climbed straight out of the 1950's.  And I lined the desk with pencils, pencil grippers, a trapper keeper, and a bin for my typed pages.  These were retro pages from a bona fide grey Royal typewriter with a burgundy lining.  I stored my white-out cartridge on the desk, and a stack of unfinished books I intended to read sat precariously on the corner.  (I'm not sure I ever finished all of them.)  It was pretty darn professional for a teenager before the time of computers and flash drives. 

But I never wrote there.  I balanced my feet on the edge and painted my toenails.  I lined up hermit crabs in obscenely painted shells and watched them race across the desktop.  I thought about writing.  But I never actually wrote there.

Flash forward to today.  My window looks out on a pretend busy road, but there are more trees and flowers and pretty things to watch than cars.  Three glass mermaids my mother bought me a million years ago live on this desk by the window.  At seven I used to rest the trio on the lip of my bathtub and pretend I could be one of them except I hated dunking my head under the water.  Sort of a roadblock for a mermaid wannabe.  I keep pens and pencils, scissors and the ultra cool Doane paper and traced handprints of my children on the desk.  I made a montage of beautiful notes my husband has given me over the years.  I even have a copy of the book my mother made for me when I graduated college.  She gathered all of my important stories and writings since I was five and bound them together.  I often look back at my Scholastic Writing wins (a national gold key, I have to add) and the very first story I wrote about turning into a cat.  Literally if great writing can't happen here, at this desk, well I just don't know where it can.

Yet when I sit down, my pen or laptop freeze.  It's quiet, too quiet.  I can hear the cogs in my brain grinding against one another.  Even when I look out the window there's an eerie sensation of watching a film with no sound.  I get little done.  I wonder what Sophia and Matthew are doing.  If our dog is eating crayons as he is apt to do.  He has an odd predilection for shades of red.  And after a few scribbles I realize that my best work is not done when I'm sequestered away from all of the bits that make up my life.  I know that many writers recommend, insist, that you must have a special place reserved for your writing and writing alone.  (See Laurie Halse Anderson's awesome video on the topic.  Her writing cabin would make any writer drool.) 

I've learned after years of writing, though, that I need the movement of life around me.  I'm fairly convinced that this movement invigorates my writing.  Ideas take form from the smallest things.  My latest story starts with an anecdote my husband told me about a former teacher of his.  Had I been sitting at my writing desk, it would have never happened.

Please do not take this to mean that Facebook and the evil internet are necessary requirements and should be blinking in the background.  I have been trying little by little to cut back on those things, tv too.  But I write better when my daughter is brushing my hair (violent toddler style!) or my son is telling me about middle school lunch table drama.  Sure I can't devote my full attention to my writing but I also find I'm sifting through everything playing out in front of me for inspiration.  And without inspiration, little gets done.

I'll certainly always keep a writing desk, but I know what works for me.  Don't ever be afraid to explore nontraditional spots to write.  In the end, you're in charge of what will inspire you to be the best writer you can.  Happy writing!


Saturday, January 12, 2013

When We Were Young

I'm not sure how we got on the topic, but my husband mentioned a few days back that when he was in middle school he absolutely loved the author Piers Anthony.  I'd never heard of him, and experiencing the insane urge that most teachers/writers/book lovers do to know every single author in the universe, I looked him up and even ordered the first book in one of his fantasy series.  (Thank you Amazon for the crack that you call Prime, literally getting me anything I want in two days.  Evil evil evil.)  We also found a super cool This American Life, "Show Me The Way" where coincidentally two young men discussed adoring this author, one so much so that he actually ran away to go live with Anthony. (Anthony politely but appropriately refused.)  I've only read a couple pages of A Spell for Chameleon, but the guy seems pretty cool.
This also spurred me to revisit all of the old books that drove my parents nuts when they saw me reading them.  Both my mother and father are academics, and if it wasn't Little Women or The Stranger, they were appalled.  I've read the good stuff, the beautiful stuff.  With sentences so perfectly constructed that they would make you cry.  But I thought it would be more fun this afternoon to reflect on the 'fluff' books that helped mold me into the writer that I am today.  I still maintain (and always will) that there's a huge difference between recreational books and garbage.  The books I'll be discussing have value.  They don't promote poor ideals or stereotypes of women and teenagers that shouldn't exist.  These books are just pure, unadulterated fun reads, and I enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed my first reading of Great Expectations.
(I still have every single one.  See below.)
We Hate Everything But Boys - Linda Lewis
Who isn't boy crazy in high school?  This one is great because the girls form a club, a secret club, hiding the very obvious fact that they are boy crazy.  Thankfully none of them lose their souls (sorry, only Twilight bash, I promise) or even their friends but instead do whatever it takes to find out who these objects of their affections like, even if the answers are crushing.  My absolute favorite part?  The protagonist gets the boy, things are resolved, but Lewis leaves her wondering what the heck happens when she heads to Junior High.  Shockingly getting the guy was not the only happiness or looming question in her life.  Good show, Lewis. 
Cassie - Vivian Schurfranz
Back in the early 90's there was nothing like today's Young Adult and Middle Grade book markets.  Little did I know when a friend gave me this book that it was not at all geared for my age group but was instead a Sunfire romance.  This particular gem was about a spunky Caucasian girl captured by an Iroquois family, learning to survive and assimilate with a perky smile and flowing blond hair.  This book (and many others in this serious that I completely devoured) all had brilliant pacing.  I learned so much about moving a story along with action, even if from time to time the writing was so cheesy it begged for crackers.
The Secret Circle - L. J. Smith
Never judge this series based on the short-lived television show of 2012.  By the author of the Vampire Diaries series, this town of witches is so, well, cool.  I am embarrassed to admit that this is also about the time I started buying into crystals.  Yes I very briefly thought there might be something to all that healing jazz.  I also became obsessed with Toad the Wet Sprocket's "Walk on the Ocean" and believed that these three things were somehow cosmically related.  I also loved the town that Smith created and started considering how a landscape might shape the characters rather than be just a static aspect of a work.
Facing It - Julian F. Thompson
I love this guy.  His books contain the quirkiest characters who all just exist in the warm spaces he creates.  This is actually the quietest of all of his books.  (The Grounding of Group Six is a better one to start with.) I specifically remember this one because I didn't read about many male protagonists, and Randy Duke captured my attention immediately.  His dialogue was spot on.  I even liked the way he dressed.  And I started considering how I would develop genuine male protagonists in my own writing.
Freshman Dorm (Book One) - Linda A. Cooney
This was of course required reading before I headed off to Dickinson.  I mean, I was sure everything in this book was absolutely representative of college life.  Actually I think that's why I loved this awful, awful series so much.  I knew college life couldn't be this insane ball of turmoil, so it was fun watching the trio of girls (in their blazers and leggings and Maybelline Kissing Koolers) take on freshman year.  I honestly can't think of one good writing lesson to draw from these except perhaps read what you love, and if it's a series more power to you because you get to visit and revisit the spot that makes you happy.
There are dozens more.  Feel free to add you own guilty reading pleasure as long as it is not Fifty Shades of Grey or Twilight.  I suppose when it comes to the two of them, I am a book snob.