Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Living the Writerly Life

Today is Tuesday, April 9, 2013, and we're having an ice-and-snow storm, with high winds and even a bit of thunder and lightning.  My north-facing windows are completely iced over, so I have to go out into the common area to find some south-facing windows every once in a while, just to see what is happening out there.  This is one of those days when I'm glad I don't have to go anywhere.

I see that I have published 47 blog entries since I started this project, and today seems like as good a day as any to reflect on my progress.  Writing every day like this was something that I was afraid I could never do, so I've surprised myself in that respect.  Each and every day something comes to mind, and suddenly, the thoughts start coming down like rain, fueled by a little research.  The images that a friend of mind suggested I use have turned out to be much more than "eye candy," as they were originally intended to be.  In fact, they seem to add more fuel for the fire.  Very often, the images are the tinder that gets the fire started in the first place. I've had a lot of fun altering some of the images that I've used to illustrate the various topics I've written about, and the placement of the images has been an exercise in design and composition.  If the layout of the pictures seems pretty standard from entry to entry, it's because I'm the kind of person who likes to fall back on "what works," whenever possible.

Now that I know that I have the stamina and discipline to sit down and write every day, I'm gaining confidence in my writing abilities, and beginning to feel more excitement and less dread when I think about where this path might take me.  One of the problems with starting something completely new in life is that we have to form some images in our heads of how we want things to go.  The images have been a little slow in coming, but I'm starting to imagine some scenarios.  One challenge now will be separating images of attainable goals from purely fanciful daydreams.  I think this is something that has tripped me up before, and I don't want to let it happen again.  It's important to live purposefully, to fashion concrete goals out of our daydreams, and to delineate a path forward in such a way that we are aware at all times when we are on target and when we are getting sidetracked.  With this awareness, we can build an internal guidance system that will propel us toward our goals more directly.  My first usable image has been this blog, and with over a month's worth of blog entries published, I think I'm on target to complete my goal of writing blog entries for one whole year.

When I moved here, one of the things that I missed most was my writers' group in the Twin Cities, which was, ironically, falling apart just about the time I moved.  Fortunately, I've been able to remain friends with several of the original members.  However, I really think it's important to get together with other writers and have my work critiqued, so I was actively looking for a writing group in this area.  It was disappointing to realize that Meetup isn't very active in southeastern South Dakota.  Others who have moved here from areas where it is more active have expressed the same sense of chagrin.

A fellow in Sioux Falls started a writers group on Meetup last fall, and fortunately, I'd signed up to receive info for any groups of writers.  We had one meet-and-greet get-together, then had trouble getting a first meeting going, with winter weather issues playing their inevitable part.  Then, suddenly, the organizer pulled out without much explanation, leaving the Meetup group rudderless and in danger of being deleted.  Some of us tried to start a page on Facebook, but that may not be going anywhere.  Fortunately, a fellow stepped up to the plate as organizer for the Meetup group, which carries with it a financial obligation that I didn't want to take on, just now.  We had a nice organizational meeting last night with a convivial group of people in attendance.  At the meeting, we talked about how we wanted the group to function and planned our first meeting.  One of the members volunteered to be the discussion moderator and two people will submit pieces for critique.  I'm one of the people submitting for the upcoming meeting.  It feels good to get that going, and I'm glad we were able to save the group.  Additionally, since the group's "leader" stepped down, and it took several of us to revive the group, it is now more of a community project, rather than dependent on one person.  We've scheduled meetings through December 2013 and have secured a private meeting room in one of my favorite restaurants in  Sioux Falls.  I see that a couple of the people in the group are published writers who have some connections that may prove useful later on.  Looks like I'm on track with the writers' group. 

Recently, I volunteered to be a "beta reader" for a lady I met in a writers' group on LinkedIn, who was writing a historical novel.  In exchange, she agreed to send me valuable feedback on my novel.  We just completed this exchange today, and she offered to write a review of the novel when I get it published.  That was a nice warm-fuzzy for today.  Another friend of mine who has been offering feedback in bits and pieces will soon finish her comments.  Then the manuscript will go on to some other readers in the Twin Cities.  I'm hoping that by summer I will have a good sense of what parts to cut out of the bloated manuscript in order to get it ready for an agent to look at.  I'm on track with my book, even if it seems that I'm dragging my feet a bit on this project.  Slowly, but surely, this book is going to be published.

When I was teaching, we began to use a curriculum concept called Writer's Workshop.  One of the things we had to teach kids was how to "live the writerly life."  We tried to show kids what it means to think and act like a writer.  We had them start a writer's notebook, in which we had kids write down little tidbits that they would later turn into a more polished piece of writing.  We taught them about noticing, wondering, remembering, reflecting, describing, and retelling.  We surrounded them with good literature in a number of different genres, one genre at a time, and we talked about the special features of each genre.  Each day we had kids practice some element of writer's craft, such as using more describing words or thinking of some powerful verbs to show action.  We taught them how to notice and write their own similes and metaphors.  We taught them to capture dialogue on paper and use it to tell a story.  We taught them to separate events into beginning, middle and end, to notice that a good story usually shows some kind of conflict and to notice how a problem is solved or how a situation comes to a conclusion.  We taught them to notice the main characters versus the supporting ones, and separate the good guys from the bad guys.  (Second graders might not know what a protagonist or an antagonist is, but they know the good guys from the bad guys.)  We taught kids how actions show a person's feelings, and how situations change peopleWe showed them how to edit their own work and each other's work.  We taught them how to express appreciation, agreement, and disagreement, how to ask for clarification, and how to describe what they like about a piece of writing.  

They say teaching something is the best way to learn it.  I learned how to revise and edit work, how to notice my own errors in spelling and punctuation, and how to use words wisely.  I learned how to appreciate a  variety of literary genres and some of the basic elements of the writers' craft.  I'm not much of a notebook girl, but I do keep a list of ideas in my computer.   I notice a lot more about what's going on around me, and when I see or hear something interesting, these days I'm more apt to consider how I might parlay it into a blog entry. I'm finally on track for living the writerly life.  :-)

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