I had a black grandfather not by blood, but in all the ways that mattered. From my infancy to his death bed his gentle soul left a heartprint on mine. I learned about unity seeing my black grandfather, born 1900, and my white grandfather, born 1910, - both having seen their share of the worst of this world - tend our vegetable garden then sit together on the porch and watch the garden grow. But this sweet treasure of my childhood doesn't mean I understand the Black Experience. I taught several years in a black school. Some of my students put me through the wringer my first year, but not all, not most. But some. And it became a special connection we laughed at together a year or two down the line. For some, but not all, not most. I could not encapsulate their world, here. But their humor and humanity strength and pride sass and sweetness left their mark on my world. I likely learned more than I taught, but it doesn't mean I understand the Black Experience. Some of my closest friends have been black women. A lot of laughter and keeping things real came in equal measure in the hours spent talking in the classroom after hours walking laps, pushing strollers in the mall. We shared the highest celebrations life brought to our doorsteps, held each other close during the devastation of loss. Our times together shaped who I became as an adult. Though we journeyed so far together I still do not understand the Black Experience. Because I am white. White, white. Blond haired, blue eyed white. I am slow to speak. I watch and listen. I'm taking it in. I don't know my part. But I'm listening. I'm learning. I will bath my actions in kindness and my words in love. I will teach my children to do the same. Like my grandfathers, I'll tend this garden out of control before us, pull out the weeds fertilize the land and plant good fruit. And hopefully one day soon we too can sit together and watch this garden grow.
Absolutely relentless. As soon as the liftgate is open, these two jump in. I call them out so I can load the first suitcases. They jump back in. Call them out so I can add the cooler. They jump back in. And this pattern repeats as all of the linens, food, and forms of entertainment that are needed to open our camper for the season are loaded into the vehicle.
They don’t know where we’re going. In fact, the puppy has never been “to the camper,” but they are determined to not give up. No matter how much is squished in, they would find space. They’re part of the pack.
This was their solution.
Maybe I could use a little more of this doggedness applied to my writing. Life has a way of over-packing my time-trunk too. The first layer is normal responsibilities of existing. I jump right back in and get to writing. Then the hats start adding on – wife, mother, business owner, homemaker, small group leader, daughter, sister, property owner, on and on. With each of these hats comes responsibilities. But relentlessly, I keep jumping back into the car. I’m growing my dream. I’m writing. Until the point my time-trunk is overpacked. I look in the trunk-space of my energy, my brain-space, my heart-space, trying to find a spot to jump in and keep writing.
Admittedly, my doggedness wains. Writing, right now, is a luxury. I have absolutely no deadlines. No commitments. No editors. No agents. So doubt is quick to accuse and excuses are easy to make.
My daughter has been ill most of this year. Ill to the point I had to remove her from school and home-school once she was able. When your child is sick nothing else matters. Truly. I do not regret, not even an ounce, putting a pin in writing and many other things to care for her. But now that she’s doing better, will I be relentless?
In my list of hats I did not say Christian. I do not think it is a hat to wear. To put on and take off. It drives my every movement and thought, or at least that’s the direction I’m aiming. The fuel is my prayer time, personal devotion, opening up with close friends. In a recent Francis Chan video I listened to, he brought us to Jeremiah 1:5 where God says, I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born.
This means, before God made me, he knew the purposes he designed for me. He knew which “ingredients” to put in so that I may be able to accomplish those purposes. It’s so easy to doubt this “writing thing” when I think it’s just about me. When Moses told God he couldn’t speak and do the things God called him to do, God reminded him, Who made your mouth?
Perhaps the reason I don’t give up on writing, the reason it provides a contentment and satisfaction that nothing else does, is because it is one of those ingredients God decided to put in me before he formed me. I’ve had every reason to stop writing. But it calls to me, relentlessly. Time to stop doubting.
Psalm 37:5 says, Take delight in the Lord and He will give you your heart’s desires. Maybe our hearts desires were planted there, long ago, before they were a thought in our minds.
The thing about a faith journey is there’s a lot of maybes. When Jeremiah doubted himself, God told him, Do not say “I’m only a youth,” for you will go to everyone I send you to and speak whatever I tell you . Do not be afraid of anyone for I will be with you to deliver you. Jeremiah 1:7-8.
So, Sue, (and you too), do not say, I’m only an aspiring writer; I’m only a stay-home-mom; I’m only a . . . Do not be afraid to go after those heart desires that God probably put in there in the first place. Don’t doubt. Head in the direction of your dream. Relentlessly!
(By the way, the doggies made it to the camper too. We just had to use two cars.)
Begin with gratitude. Walk in gratitude. Write with gratitude. That’ll fix any attitude.
I have found a much needed shot in writing arm through 12 Days for Writers.
On this third day of Christmas Julie challenges us to consider the successes we enjoyed in 2018. It’s so much easier to think about the places we fall short. Isn’t it? With permission to brag . . .
In the spring the very kind local school librarian agreed to organize a group of beta readers for my current work-in-progress. (First tip: volunteer at your local public library or school library to build relationships with librarians and keep your finger on the pulse of your reader.) My story is a middle grade novel-in-verse that features a largely female cast with some typical coming-of-age issues. For that reason I requested to have girls only for my beta readers. Two girls from each grade 4-6 were asked to read my story and meet with me and the librarian to discuss it. (Bonus: the librarian was going to read it too!)
The set up:
How it worked:
These girls are real girls with real lives which include school work, sports, family, and here I am asking them to read something else on top of it all. It took time. We met three times during their lunch periods and discussed the story as far as they had read.
This was absolutely wonderful to sit and talk with readers about a story I wrote! And they didn’t hold back. There was no feelings of intimidation on their part to talk to the author. I loved that.
If they didn’t understand something, they were forthcoming. If they didn’t like a character, an energized conversation ensued. It was interesting that a character that I thought was lovable in his own way, the beta readers were angry with. Not all characters need to be likeable. It’s actually good if characters have both likeable qualities and pitfall in their personalities.
I quickly found out which parts didn’t work and the parts that made them keep turning the pages. Settings that were unclear. Phrases that were confusing. The insight I received was beyond worth. It was incredibly rewarding when they “got it.” The things I hoped the reader would pick up on, the set-ups, subtext, duplicity, the pay-outs.
I love my critique group and wouldn’t change them, but there’s something special about having beta readers. No better litmus test than honest readers who hold no stake in the story. Can’t wait ’til I have another story to do this again!
It would be interesting to have beta readers from the schools I once upon a time taught at read this. How would kids with different world views and experiences take to this story? I guess I will find out when this WIP gets published!
Thank the readers and especially the librarian in a generous way. They gave up their time and provided feedback that clarified, sharpened, and deepened the story.
Bonus: I loved listening to the banter between the girls. Perhaps they are inspiring some future characters!
BIG CHANGES in small steps. Like the man who bargained from a red paper clip to a house. From big debt to big savings. Shedding 20, 50, 100 pounds. Finishing that novel. Defending your dissertation. Buying a home. Traveling the world. Changing the world. It happens in small consistent faithful steps.
In honor of the first Snow Day of the winter . . .
Snow and ice they say
Will soon be on their way.
Adults grump and gruff
Burdened by the white stuff.
Children watch the skies
With thoughts of sleds that fly
Down the hill,
But better still,
“Snow Day” the anchor cries.
I have a 10 and 13 year old. They have two weeks off. I’ve got stuff to do. They don’t. In an effort to work smarter not harder, I tweaked this list to help keep my sanity at the start of winter break. Fix it to fit your family too. Here’s to helping our kids stay out of trouble. For the sake of their brains (and our composure) . . .
You know how we teach our kids to write a basic story summary using the somebody-wanted-but-so-then model? It holds up from picture books through grown up books. So when I hit a plot problem I applied the somebody…strategy.
I noticed quickly that I couldn’t complete this framework covering the expanse of the story from beginning to end. Since I knew there was a plot problem this didn’t surprise me much. So I ended up doing somebody. . . hops. I completed the framework for the opening sequence of this plot, knowing (hoping! expecting!) that each little hop would grow into a full plot.
After about 4 hops I hit the midpoint of the story where everything changes for my MC and her world starts to fall apart, so did this story line. I decided to ignore previously written scenes and tried to figure out what the next logical hop would be. From there I kept hopping until a new resolution showed itself, the timeline changed, character actions turned on their heads, and drama ensued in ways I hadn’t been able to piece together before.
At the end of it, I tried to apply the somebody-wanted-but-so-then-framework to the overall story, and you know what? It worked! It worked! It worked! It worked! (Insert happy dance!)
“Rediscover the child in you so that you may write for the child before you,” literary agent, Stephen Fraser, urged a room of writers at the recent Marvelous Midwest conference.
Just warning you, there will be no acting like adults here. These times are too desperate. It’s a matter of life and death. I love my characters too much to let them die from a deprived imagination. It may call for some rather awkward moments, but for the sake of the story, I must do what must be done.
Eight Ways to Push Down the Adult in You
1. Ever notice how children dress themselves when they are first given permission to pick out their clothes? They pick out the stuff they love best and makes them feel happy. Go to your closet and pick out something that makes you feel twirly or like you could take down Megatron on your own, or whatever mood you are trying to establish in your story.
2. Get out an art medium and paper: crayons, oil pastels, finger paints, etc. No oil paints. Those are far too adultish. Have at it, but don’t think. Play. See what pops into your head all on its own.
3. Laugh. What makes you laugh? What makes kids laugh? Surround yourself with it. My kids need to laugh every night before they can go to sleep. Bodily noises will always be funny. But what really gets them going is pretending, especially if it involves taking down their dad.
4. Get in trouble. You know those things that would bring your mom to say, “Don’t make me come over there!” or “If I have to tell you to stop . . .one more time!” Do those (at your own risk – not sure what kind of kid you were. 😉 )
5. Play with kids. If you’ve got your own it’s beneficial in so many ways. If you’ve got nieces and nephews offer to babysit. If you’re a teacher plan a fun day and enjoy it with the kids. No grading papers in the background! Just play. Let the kids lead. NO MULTI-TASKING! That’s an adult habit, not allowed here.
6. Play like you use to. Think back to when you were a tween. What did you enjoy doing when you weren’t feeling awkward? When you were free to be you and were having a blast doing it. What did you do? Go do it now! Slumber party? Bike ride? Build an ice cream sundae? Sneak attack your siblings with water balloons? A healthy or fierce round of uno? Pretend you were a spy on a secret mission? Make believe you were a vet? Police officer? astronaut? Go ahead. I won’t tell!
7. Dance. I don’t mean the kind of moves you tried at the club when you turned 21. Have you ever watched kids dance? They just get into it.
8. Build a fort. Bring your computer in there. With all that playing you’re ready to write. Why not do it in a fort!
Okay. Did you shake off all that thick adultish scabby stuff that blocks creativity? Good. Have fun playing with words.
Bonus: 10 Kid-favorite movies
I am pretending that I am retreating at a B&B as any smart writer would after another great SCBWI conference. She knows from experience she needs time to digest all those delicious morsels she filled and refilled her plate while at the all-you-can-eat-buffet of children’s literature.
In truth, this is being written between the becks and calls of a mom wearing the innumerable quantity of hats that moms wear. Nevertheless, I refuse to let these precious morsels fall to the floor to be devoured by dust bunnies. Instead, I will
Discern what are the most valuable take-aways to apply to my writing, my thinking, my view of the world, before they are a jumble of partial, fragmented, and distorted memories packaged into a file in my spaghetti bowl brain.
And a bunch o’picture books to boost the funny thanks to Linda Skeers
Not to mention meeting more kindred spirits in this tribe!
The only problem with the conference is not being able to split in two, really four, to be able to sample all the delicious entrees. Just wondering, how’s the development of Time Turners coming?
All of these food analogies remind me to answer the call of family life and get that dinner going. Cue hat switch. Where’s my chef’s hat??? Onward and forward!
On September 12, 2001 I stood before before my class of confused and scared third graders and lied. You are safe here. No one wants to hurt school children. Columbine was two years past. Sandy Hook was yet to come. Little children get hurt everyday at school. I may not have a voice with the power to change the world. But I can help change someone's world. When our president redirects the dialogue and politicians point their finger, cast your pebble. When a kid is bullied or neglected don't turn a blind eye, cast your pebble. When you pray and get inspired into action, cast your pebble. Cast your pebble into the waters where you stand. Make a ripple. We change the world by changing someone's world. Cast your pebble. In memory of Gayle Dubowski. On the tenth anniversary of her death, alongside four classmates at NIU, 17 more lives were taken and countless changed forever. We now live in a world where most people know someone effected by school shootings and violence. We must do better.