Writing

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Encouraging Quotes

Published November 6, 2016 by Elsa Pla

A few encouraging quotes from the little book The Mindful Writer (a collection of short essays on writing inspired by quotes by famous writers and thinkers) by Dinty W. Moore:

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”    –Thomas Mann

“Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” –Barbara Kingsolver

“What crazies we writers are, our heads full of language like buckets of minnows standing in the moonlight on a dock.” –Hayden Carruth

“For me, writing starts with a line, or some imagination, or some notion, and I just go with it as far as I can.” –Thomas Lynch

“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” –C.S. Lewis

“A writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.” –Junot Diaz

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” –E.L. Doctorow

“Writing teaches writing.” –John Mc Phee

“Love the writing, love the writing, love the writing… the rest will follow.” –Jane Yolen

“We do not write to be understood. We write in order to understand.” –C. Day Lewis

“I write to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see, and what it means.” –Joan Didion

“How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” –E.M. Foster

“Writing is a struggle against silence.” –Carlos Fuentes

“I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.” –Stephen King

“As a writer you are free. You are about the freest person that ever was. Your freedom is what you have bought with your solitude, your loneliness.” –Ursula K. Le Guin

And a few more from my favorite book on writing: Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury:

“I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows, or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”

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

“I came on the old and best ways of writing through ignorance and experiment and was startled when truths leaped out of brushes like quail before gunshot.”

“It is a lie to write in such way as to be rewarded by fame offered you by some snobbish quasi-literary groups in the intellectual gazettes.”

“The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”

“Who are your friends? Do they believe in you? Or do they stunt your growth with ridicule and disbelief? If the latter, you haven’t friends. Go find some.”

Disengage and Carry On

Published November 7, 2015 by Elsa Pla

I recently read a memoir titled Five Pages a Day: A Writer’s Journey by Peg Kehret. Peg is a prolific writer who has published many books for children, the first one when she was fifty years old. She is now 78 and continues to write. Her memoir touched me deeply. I enjoyed her straight-forward, no-frills style and the candid and tender way she shared so many details of her writing career and personal life. I was encouraged by her persistence and clarity of purpose and by her simple and unassuming lifestyle. She has dedicated her life to the things she loves–family, writing, animals–in spite of physical weakness (she suffered from polio as a child and from post-polio syndrome since her fifties). She truly embodies the saying “Life is what you make it.”

She does, however, recognize that she has been fortunate in one important way: she has had the luxury of time to write:

“After three days of [attempting to work at a “real job”], I admitted that I would forever be a writer. My novel had not sold, but at least I had written it. I had done my best, and that was better than not trying. How I use my time is more crucial than how much I earn. From then on I did the work I love and never again took a “real” job.

“I was fortunate to have this choice. Carl made enough money for our family to live on, and he enthusiastically supported my writing efforts. Even in the years when I published little, he believed in my work and encouraged me.

“Writers need time to experiment with ideas and words, time to concentrate on a manuscript, time to revise, time to daydream. My husband gave me the luxury of time to write.”

I don’t have the luxury of not having to work at a “real job,” but I do have more time to write now than I when I was a teacher. What I must learn is to be persistent, no matter the circumstances. I can’t write five pages a day, like Peg does, but I can definitely write five pages a week.

What I love most about her memoir, however, is that it reminds me that, in an age of internet hullabaloo, there is still room for unassuming creative souls who just want to quietly dedicate themselves to the work they love.

But for me to do that, I’ve realized, I must periodically disengage myself–from anything and everything that holds me back–and determine to carry on.

(What are the things that hold me back? Personal problems, family problems, health issues, heartache, worries, my children’s needs, the tragedies of the world, the voices around me and inside me… In other words, the terrible business of being a human with a brain and a heart.)

So, because I don’t have much time to write, because sometimes life renders me immobile and speechless, and because persistence is key, from now on, my creative battle cry will be:

Disengage and carry on.

Significance

Published September 6, 2015 by Elsa Pla

I continue to be very busy, so I must accept the fact that, for the time being, I’ll be able to post on this blog only a few times a year.

I’ve been working on several short writing projects, and I’ve been gathering ideas for more. That’s all good.

I’ve also been searching for recent (2010-present) outstanding children’s books for the middle-grade crowd (children 8-12 years old).

A few favorites :

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis (companion book to Elijah of Buxton)

Counting by 7s by Holly Sloan

West of the Moon by Margi Preus

The Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett

These books have three things in common: an engaging story line, exemplary writing, and a sense of significance.

That third element has been on my mind recently. As a reader, I prefer to read stories about stuff that matters. I want stories that will touch me or move me in some way. Stories that will open my eyes and heart to important truths. In short, stories that will help me become a better person. And as a writer, those are precisely the kind of stories I want to write.

So there you have it: SIGNIFICANCE. I will add it to my goals as a writer.

“A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight.” –Ursula K. Le Guin

Grace

Here Comes the Sun

Published April 13, 2015 by Elsa Pla

I’ve been so busy with my job as school librarian and with growing my little online businesses, that time has flown by and I’ve hardly noticed. I can’t believe my last post was five months ago. Truth is I’ve been thinking and reading about writing during my bits of free time, but I haven’t been doing much actual writing. That said, the winter doldrums are over (yay!), and days are now longer and more productive, so it’s time to push forward and get some real writing done.

“Little darling, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter. Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here. Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and I say: it’s all right.” –From “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles.

Three books I’ve read about reading and writing:

Windows on the World: Fifty Writers, Fifty Views by Matteo Pericoli (A collection of  pairings of drawings of well-known authors’ window views with the authors’ descriptions and reflections on those views. “A perceptual journey through the world as seen through the windows of prominent writers.” –Amazon) This book makes us aware of the effect our surroundings have on our writing.

What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund (A fascinating metacognitive study of what we visualize when we read.) This book also leads us to imagine what readers see when they read what we’ve written.

Ray Bradbury: The Last Interview and Other Conversations by Sam Weller (Contains discussions on Bradbury’s creative influences and writing process.) Anything written by or about Ray Bradbury is educational and motivational to any writer. Here’s a quote from the book:

“People will always give advice to a writer to slant, to write for the money. Don’t do that. Don’t do that. You will sicken and die. If you turn away from you–who you are, what you are, what you dream, what you need–you are going to wind up so unhappy, so miserable. It’s not worth it. Being poor isn’t so bad as long as you have your imagination and what you are. Being rich for the wrong reason is a lousy business, You aren’t rich at all.” –Ray Bradbury

Thank you, Ray, for making me feel happy about being poor but true to myself as a writer. 🙂

 

October Leaves

Published October 29, 2014 by Elsa Pla

This past summer I taught a fun writing class on creating stories through comics. I learned a lot of new things about comic books and even created my own! I’ll share some of the skills I learned in a later post.

In August I started working as part-time middle school librarian. I love it! I’ve been very busy, but also quite happy. I had to put my writing and blogging on hold for a while, but now that I’m getting the hang of things at my new job, I’m ready to get back on the writing/blogging saddle.

I’m working on revising a collection of poems that I plan on self-publishing as an ebook. I’m trying to focus on imagery and simplicity. Easier said than done! Fresh images are difficult to create, and simplicity is hard work. I thought I’d be able to breeze through this project, but I was ridiculously wrong. I’m going to have to settle for a summer of 2015 publication date.

Anyway, it’s October–the most amazing month of the year–so here’s an inspirational autumn poem:

October Splendor

 

OCTOBER WALK

Oh, riotous autumn!
Summer greens pale and
Give way to the splendor of
Your burgundy reds and fiery oranges,
Your golden yellows and rusty browns,
Expectancy and possibility
Painted on each and every
Leaf that falls.

Lit by sunlight,
The luminous leaves explode.
The world is aflame!
Trees glow like bonfires,
Leaves drop like sparks
Igniting the ground
With golden fire.

I walk the flaming corridors of fall,
Embracing the blazing colors
Until I, too, catch fire
And join the conflagration:
Life, like a phoenix,
Burning itself up;
A million willing flames
Heralding rebirth and hope.

Copyright © 2011 Elsa Pla

Denver Writing Project Advanced Institute 2014

Published June 20, 2014 by Elsa Pla

Flower Bed at CU Denver

The Denver Writing Project Summer Institute at CU Denver provides writing teachers with tools and time to develop as writers and teachers of writing:

http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/CLAS/Centers/denverwritingproject/Pages/DenverWritingProjectHome.aspx

I recently participated in the DWP’s Advanced Institute, a week-long mini-institute for DWP alumni. I’d been in a writing slump for the past five months or so and needed to jumpstart my writing motor, so to speak. I also needed fresh teaching ideas. By the end of the week I had gained insights and gathered seeds for my own writing and had learned several new teaching strategies to use with my students. The presentations, the readings, the small-group workshops, and the camaraderie were helpful and inspiring. What I liked best, however, was the large amount of time we were given to work on our own writing. Being able to step away from the cares and constraints of daily life and devote such a substantial amount of time to my personal writing was such a blessing.  I feel that now I’ll be starting the new school year with self-assurance and clarity of purpose.

Here are seven simple writing exercises (shared by various presenters at the Institute) to help writers unearth memories to use in memoirs, stories, or poems. (I won’t share my attempts because they’re too personal.)

1- Draw a detailed map (all you can remember) of a place you lived in as a child.

2- Make a detailed diagram (all you can remember) of a house you lived in as a child.

3- Make a list of remembrances. Start each statement with “I remember.”

4- Write about the colors of things you’ve lost.

5- Write a list of five things you know, five things you don’t know, and five things you are. Then, using the list, describe yourself in 3rd person.

6- Write about a time when you failed at something.

The following empowering exercise was shared by Slam Poet Jovan Mays and is inspired by the movie Saving Mr. Banks:

7- Write about something sad that happened to you or to someone close to you, but change the story so it has a happy ending. Try adding magical realism.

I love that last exercise. It makes me realize how powerful writing can be. As fiction writers we can change our stories and the stories of others. We can bring closure and significance to senseless or tragic events. We can turn something ugly into something beautiful. We can even create new memories. Stories can indeed save us.

“Now, we all have our sad tales, but don’t you want to finish the story? Let it all go and have a life that isn’t dictated by the past? Maybe not in real life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.” –from Saving Mr. Banks

Writing Action

Published January 20, 2014 by Elsa Pla

I finished and self-published my third ebook, Holding Hands, which consists of two YA short stories. The first story, “Phone Call,” has a couple of violent scenes that I found difficult to write. So I did a bit of internet research and found the following three sites on writing action:

1- http://www.elfwood.com/farp/thewriting/dra2action/dra2action.html (I like the way this fantasy writer demonstrates the revision process.)

2- http://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/12-tips-for-writing-action-scenes/(Great site and great tips! I’m going to add her to my blogroll.)

Here are Kathy’s 12 tips. Visit her blog for an explanation of each tip.

1.  Make sure the stakes justify the action.

2.  Plan for the action scenes well in advance.

3.  Speed up the pace. 

4.  Keep dialogue to a minimum. 

5.  In action scenes verbs are the most important words. Make sure they are full of energy and focus. 

6.  No long scene descriptions when the action starts.

7.  Set up the action in an environment where the place can add to the excitement of the scene.

8.   Make sure your action scene furthers the story. 

9.  If you are not prepared to show blood, then don’t cut off an arm or a leg. 

10.  Use the “ticking time bomb” technique (create a deadline that will devastate the hero).

11.  Write suspense sequences that require an action scene to be resolved. 

12.  Read books with action scenes. 

3- http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2012/11/writing-tense-action-scenes.html#.Ut1KHa6hw-V (Another great site with helpful tips.)

Here are Jodie’s 12 tips. Visit the blog for an explanation of each tip and for awesome examples.

1- Show, don’t tell.

2- Use deep point of view.

3- Avoid info dumps.

4- Evoke the senses.

5- Amp up the imagery.

6- Show inner reactions.

7- Use tight, staccato thinking.

8- Describe physical actions succinctly, for fast pacing and high tension.

9- Show other characters’ threats and reactions.

10- Use rapid-fire dialogue.

11- Write tight.

12- Use short sentences and paragraphs.

My process: First I write the scene as if I were watching one of those slow-motion martial arts movie scenes: with as much sensory detail and figurative language as possible. That way I can really visualize and experience the scene in my mind. Then I tighten and revise the writing by deleting unnecessary descriptions and making better language and sentence-construction choices. Finally, I read the scene aloud to myself and to my reader (every writer should have a trusty reader they can depend on to give them no-nonsense feedback) and tighten it/revise it even further.

So here’s my scene:

After ten impossibly long minutes, they arrived at the Rogers’ home. The house was dark and silent.

“Stay in the truck while I investigate,” the sheriff said. “That’s an order. Back-up will be here shortly.”

“Be careful, Dad.” Josh’s heart beat furiously.

Josh’s father climbed out of the truck. He took out his gun and carefully approached the front door.

Suddenly a huge figure stepped out from behind a hedge of bushes. Before the sheriff had a chance to turn around, the figure hit him on the side of the head with a baseball bat. The gun dropped from the sheriff’s hand as he fell forward. The assailant dropped the bat, lunged for the gun, and almost toppled over. He was clearly intoxicated.

Josh had no choice but to disobey his father. He jumped from the truck and ran toward the drunk man. He moved fast, but not fast enough. They both grabbed the gun at the same time and stood face to face, each holding one end of the weapon. Fortunately, Josh had his hand on the handle of the pistol. With his other hand he quickly covered the trigger.

“Give me the gun, Mr. Rogers,” Josh said. He tried to sound calm and in control, but his nervous breathing betrayed him. He was worried about his unconscious father.

“You know me, boy?” Mr. Rogers asked. His speech was slurred and he wobbled from side to side. He was tall and wide.

“I know your family.” That was the wrong thing to say.

“Shut your stupid mouth!” Mr. Rogers yelled. “I don’t have a family!” The effort from the yelling coupled with the effect of the alcohol made him lose his balance, and he toppled forward. Josh couldn’t hold the gun and support the man at the same time. The man’s weight made him fall backward. Mr. Rogers, still clutching the barrel of the gun, fell on top of him.

Josh could hardly breathe from the impact and the weight of the big man. Still, he recognized the smell that enveloped him. Alcohol and sweat. As he struggled to breathe and free himself from the massive body that crushed him, Josh realized he no longer held the gun.

Mr. Rogers rose on his hands and knees and sat on Josh before Josh had a chance to slide away. Josh kept struggling to get out from under the drunk man, but to no avail. He froze when he saw that Mr. Rogers was now holding the gun and was pointing it at his face.

“Stupid, stupid boy!”

Josh braced himself for the worst.

After studying the action tips and reading my scene again, I realize it could use another revision. I will continue to work on this skill (writing action). In writing–as in every craft–perfect practice makes perfect. However, there are no rules, only goals. The main goal is for the end product to do what the author set out to accomplish. Each writer has his/her own artistic vision and writing style. 🙂

Holding Hands by Elsa Pla

http://www.amazon.com/Holding-Hands-Elsa-Pla-ebook/dp/B00HQ1VPHI/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1390243570&sr=1-1&keywords=elsa+pla