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“To Write is to Take Some Words for a Walk”

Published July 20, 2013 by Elsa Pla

Neighborhood Walk

I just finished reading My Name Is Mina, the prequel to Skellig, by David Almond, one of my favorite children’s writers. The book is an intimate portrait of Mina, a creative and philosophical girl who loves to observe nature, reflect, and write. The story reads like a journal and is sprinkled with interesting exercises made up by Mina, which she calls “Extraordinary Activities.” Here are the ones that have to do with writing:

1- Write a story about yourself as if you’re writing about somebody else.

2- Write a story about somebody else as if you’re writing about yourself.

3- Write a poem that repeats a word and repeats a word and repeats a word and repeats a word until it almost loses its meaning. (It can be useful to choose a word you don’t like, or that scares or disturbs you.)

4- Joyous version: Write a page of words for joy. Sad version: Write a page of words for sadness.

5- Write a page of utter nonsense. This will produce some very fine new words. It could also lead to some very sensible results.

6- Write a sentence that fills a whole page. Write a single word at the center of a page.

7- Take some words for a walk. Find out what you’re writing when you’ve written it.

And here are two excerpts — extraordinary as well — from the book:

First excerpt:

I’ll let my journal grow just like the mind does, just like a tree or a beast does, just like life does. Why should a book tell a tale in a dull straight line?

Words should wander and meander. They should fly like owls and flicker like bats and slip like cats. They should murmur and scream and dance and sing.

Sometimes there should be no words at all.

Just silence.

Just clean white space.

Some pages will be like a sky with a single bird in it. Some will be like a sky with a swirling swarm of starlings in it. My sentences will be a clutch, a collection, a pattern, a swarm, a shoal, a mosaic. They will be a circus, a menagerie, a tree, a nest. Because my mind is not in order. My mind is not straight lines. My mind is a clutter and a mess. It is my mind, but it is also very like other minds. And like all minds, like every mind that there has ever been and every mind that there will be, it is a place of wonder.

Second excerpt:

“So let’s walk,” she [Mina’s mother] says, “and think about a theory about walks by Paul Klee.”

“Who’s he?”

“One of the great artists of the twentieth century. He said that drawing was taking a line for a walk.”

I thought about that, about the way a pencil point moves as you draw.

“So if drawing is like walking,” I say, “then walking is like drawing.”

“Yes, and if you think of it like that, it allows you to wander and to roam and to explore.”

[…]

“Maybe writing’s like walking as well,” I say. “You set off writing like you set off walking and you don’t really need to know where you’re going till you get there, and you don’t know what you’ll pass along the way.”

She smiles.

“So writing’s like taking some words for a walk,” she says.

“It is.”

Wonderful reflections, right? My Name Is Mina is a great little novel for creative minds of all ages, and especially for writers. Reading it will bring you joy and spark your creativity. I found it delightfully inspiring.

 

A Push

Published July 9, 2013 by Elsa Pla

The Salty Sea

I took a leap of faith and self-published my second collection of poems in eBook format. It’s available through the Amazon Kindle store.

Today I’m posting 20 quotes.  (Because we all need a push sometimes.)

1- “The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.” — Neil Gaiman

2- “You are responsible for the talent that has been entrusted to you. Go work with it.” –from workisnotajob.com

3- “Guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.” –J.K. Rowling

4- “By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” –Roald Dahl.

5- “When asked ‘how do you write?’ I invariably answer, ‘one word at a time.'” –Stephen King

6- “It doesn’t matter how slow you go, so long as you don’t stop.” –Confucius

7- “Why worry? If you’ve done the very best you can, worrying won’t make it any better.” –Walt Disney

8- “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking down your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” –Mark Twain

9- “We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to the art of living. Writing is sensual, experiential, grounding. We should write because writing is good for the soul.” –Julia Cameron

10- “Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.” –Kurt Vonnegut

11- “Dance above the surface of the world. Let your thoughts lift you into creativity that is not hampered by opinion.” –Red Haircrow

12- “Why do I write for children? There is one good reason. I would hope to encourage some part of one generation at least to use their minds as minds are supposed to be used.” –Diana Wynne Jones

13- “I became a children’s book writer because it was the most subversive thing I could think to do.” –Bruce Coville

14- “You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” –Stephen King

15- “Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.” — C.S. Lewis

16- “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” –Ray Bradbury

17- “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” –C.S. Lewis

18- “Never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do.” –H. Jackson Brown Jr.

19- “Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.” –Margaret Shepard

20- “You are the gull, Jo, strong and wild, fond of the storm and the wind, flying far out to sea, and happy all alone.” –Louisa May Alcott

Now let’s go write.

Reading Like a Writer

Published May 7, 2013 by Elsa Pla
Romantic Pier in Old San Juan

Romantic Pier in Old San Juan

I finished reading Reading Like a Writer –A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose, and I strongly recommend it. Prose not only explains how to read like a writer — she breaks down the close-reading process into categories of purpose, and she models each one. Plus she includes a useful and diverse reading list.

I made my own close-reading checklist based on her table of contents:

Analyze the Author’s:

1- Word Choice

2- Use of Rhetorical Devices

3- Sentence Structure

4- Paragraphing

5- Use of Narration

6- World (& Mood) Building

7- Characterization

8- Use of Dialogue

9- Use of Details

10- Description of Gestures

11- Revelations of Themes and Messages

12- Writing Journey

I plan to continue analyzing the writing of authors whose style I admire. Right now I’m studying the work of Sonya Hartnett (Thursday’s Child, The Ghost’s Child, Surrender, The Midnight Zoo, and others).

I end the post with three motivational quotes:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelou

“It is the journey that matters in the end.” Ursula Le Guin

“Little by little, one travels far.” J.R.R. Tolkien

Let’s keep writing! 🙂

Moving Forward and Reading Like a Writer

Published March 10, 2013 by Elsa Pla

The Author

What I’ve been up to lately:

1- I’ve been revising/editing a collection of 35 poems that I plan to publish as an e-book. The final copy is almost ready — I just need to figure out the order of the poems. It will be my second electronic publication.

2- I’m preparing two manuscripts — a picture book and a story book — to submit to publishers.

3- I’ve been creating new products for my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

4- I’m reading a fabulous book titled Reading Like A Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose. I strongly recommend it (more on this below).

5- I’ve been working at different schools, guest teaching and helping with state assessments.

6- I’ve been spending time on Pinterest, adding pins to my boards, creating new ones, and getting inspiration and ideas for my work. (I love Pinterest.)

7- I continue to blog (I have three blogs in addition to “The Write Town”: “The Write Kitchen,” weekly writing lessons for middle school students; “The Reading Café,” monthly juvenile and YA book recommendations; and “A Season of Butterflies,” personal reflections on living a simple, frugal, spiritual life.), but I’m keeping my posts simple — I want blogging to enhance my writing life, not hinder it.

8- I slipped and fell on a patch of ice and twisted my left leg. I’m sitting a lot and using a cane to walk. 😦

The point is that — slowly, but surely — I’m moving forward with my writing, searching for different publication venues, studying the craft, feeding the muse, doing actual writing, and remaining focused and motivated. Yay.

An excerpt from Reading Like a Writer:

” In the ongoing process of becoming a writer, I read and reread the authors I most loved. I read for pleasure, first, but also more analytically, conscious of style, of diction, of how sentences were formed and information was being conveyed, how the writer was structuring a plot, creating characters, employing detail and dialogue. And as I wrote, I discovered that writing, like reading, was done one word at a time, one punctuation mark at a time. It required what a friend calls “putting every word on trial for its life”: changing an adjective, cutting a phrase, removing a comma, and putting the comma back in.

” I read closely, word by word, sentence by sentence, pondering each deceptively minor decision the writer had made. And though it’s impossible to recall every source of inspiration and instruction, I can remember the novels and stories that seemed to me revelations: wells of beauty and pleasure that were also textbooks, private lessons in the art of fiction.” (from Chapter One: “Close Reading”)

Yes. I believe close study and imitation are the best ways to learn any form of art. And as we recognize, analyze, and imitate the beautiful, our own style begins to develop.

So here’s my ongoing writing exercise: to identify, study, and emulate the authors I admire. I’m creating a board on Pinterest titled “My Mentors” to motivate me in this endeavor.

“Show, Don’t Tell” and Vice Versa

Published February 17, 2013 by Elsa Pla

Writer's Hand

On my last post I mentioned that I would be working on “showing, not telling” in my poetry.

I have a tendency to write poems that are too “on the nose,” as my writer daughter describes them. In other words, I am often guilty of being too obvious in telling the reader information they could instead infer. I’m trying to become more aware of this tendency, and I’m also trying to figure out when “telling, not showing” actually works.

So here’s an example of a revised poem without the “telling”:

DOMINOES

I wait as the dominoes fall one by one,

listening to the sound of inevitability

as one domino strikes and fells the next one,

cause and effect,

potential to kinetic,

and so on;

until all dominoes are down,

fallen like soldiers on a battlefield,

all energy spent.

Then – because there’s still time –

I stand them up, position them again,

this time making sure they follow

a different path.

(by Elsa Pla © 2013)

And here’s the original version:

Dominoes

The ignorant choices we make early on,

if we are granted such a privilege

(for most have ignorant choices thrust upon them),

result in the start of a chain of events

known as the Domino Effect,

and we are surprised to be left with no more choices

and no other option

(if we are responsible and brave)

but to wait,

to weather out the storm

as best we can,

watching as the dominoes fall one by one,

listening to the sound of inevitability

as one domino strikes and fells the next one,

cause and effect,

potential to kinetic,

and so on,

until all dominoes are down,

fallen like soldiers on a battlefield,

all energy spent.

Then – if we’re lucky –

if there’s still time left to make

one final, less-ignorant choice,

we’ll lift them up, position them again,

this time making sure they follow

a different path.

(by Elsa Pla © 2013)

So, less words; more meaning, right? (I’ll save the unnecessary “telling” portions for a different piece.)

Now here’s a poem where I think the “telling” works (my daughter agrees):

SEA OF TRANQUILITY

My heart belongs to salty, blue mornings

By shore and shallows,

To places where living water and parched sand

Kiss and make love,

Where life is gentle and kind

And the water is cool and clear

And the whole world glistens.

Where time slows down to allow

The lazy rhythm of the tides,

Where foamy, aqueous fingers

Stroke and comfort the land,

And all hurts are forgiven.

A place too beautiful, too light, too blue

For violence of any kind,

Where the sea is a safe haven and a healing balm,

Where dreams spawn and multiply,

And peace and tranquility reign.

(by Elsa Pla © 2013)

What I’ve learned from this revision process:

We need to know, understand, and internalize the rules in order to break them.

To close, here’s a great blog post on “show, don’t tell” and vice versa.

http://writerunboxed.com/2012/03/05/flip-the-script-tell-dont-show/

James and Jamie

Published January 28, 2013 by Elsa Pla

Woman Writing

A few years back, I did an “Author’s Study” with my 6th grade Language Arts class. I worked alongside my students, modeling the process. We chose Roald Dahl as the author whose body of work we would analyze and emulate. We studied  several of Roald Dahl’s children’s novels (James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Witches), and developed a list of recurring elements of style, plot, and characterization. Here’s a list similar to the one we created:

Roald Dahl’s Elements of Style

1- humorous names, figures of speech, sound words, adjectives, and poems.

2- wacky characters and preposterous circumstances

3- black humor and grotesque scenarios

4- foolish and/or evil stereotypical characters (often abusive adults) that can be ridiculed and who always get their comeuppance

5- criticism of abusive authority figures and of social issues such as spoiled children and violence

6- good children who rise above negative circumstances and punish the evil characters (usually adults)

7- good characters (including adults) who help and support the good children

8- unexpected but happy endings where the villain gets his/her comeuppance and the child gets his/her heart’s desire

The goal of the unit was to write a short story that incorporated as many of these elements as possible. The students had fun with this assignment and created and shared excellent little stories.

As part of the modeling process, I wrote the beginning of “The Famous Story of Jamie Jones,” a story about a 6th grade girl who is bullied into locking herself in her locker for a class period. The students loved it and encouraged me to finish it. A few months ago, I finally decided to do so.

I’ve shared this because the exercise I’ve been working on is a characterization study of the main character in a well-known story or novel and of the main character in one of my stories, and I chose James from the novel James and the Giant Peach and Jamie from my story “The Famous Story of Jamie Jones.”  You will notice the parallels between the two (there are also parallels between Jamie and Matilda from Matilda).

Here’s the characterization chart:

Know Your Character 2

MC = Main Character

The interesting and great thing about doing this exercise was that as I was describing my MC I realized that there are revisions I need to make to develop or “round”  my MC more. That’s the point of the exercise, of course; I just didn’t expect it to be as helpful as it was. In other words, I highly recommend it.

(A round character has a complex, realistic personality. A flat character is stock-like and simple. A dynamic character changes in some way during the story. A static character remains the same throughout the story. Usually the goal is for the MC to be a round, dynamic character.)

I plan to continue revising the Jamie story, and I’m also revising a collection of poems I intend to self-publish. I’ll be working on “showing, not telling” through the use of imagery and figurative language. I’ll share more on my next post.

Happy writing!