If we were having coffee, I would ask you if you have ever read Turn of the Screw? This novella has come up several times over the last week for me. Nina Lacour used it as an inspiration for her wonderful book Watch Over Me. I downloaded it on a reader on my phone and started it last night.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I have been participating in OCTPOWRIMO and writing poetry all week. It has been a nice change from my regular writing routine.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I did not walk every day this week. At school, we had to stay late both Tuesday and Thursday to do virtual parent conferences. I missed the feeling and the routine of the walks. The weather is quite windy this weekend so I have to bundle up! Winter is coming.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I am excited how the 100 writing prompt project is moving along. The responses to the prompts are good and everyone is making them their own. You can be part of the fun! Sign up at my Patreon here.
If we were having coffee, I would ask you, “Do you know I have a podcast?” A close friend of mine has jokingly accused me of hiding it so here is the link!
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I adore Ray Bradbury and his influence. So many of his quotes have had an impact on my writing life. I came across a new one.
Write a thousand words a day and in three years you will be a writer.
My friend Amy has convinced me to do the million words in a year challenge. We are starting November 1. It is more than 1,000 words a day but doable. I am excited that I am taking on challenges that have expanded past the 30 challenge boundary I usually participate in.
Do you need a warm up on your drink? Ice water perhaps?
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I heard an exercise taken from screenwriting called “List of 20”. When you need anything for your story, make a list of 20. If your characters need to get out a situation make a list of 20 ways they can get out it. Your brain will make you write down the obvious ones first. After you get past number 10 then you may get to something more unique.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you my October workshop for my Patreon is impactful! I made it a self guided recording this month because the exercises are more personal. One participant, Jenna, said: The October Workshop was SO good! Thank you for sharing so many incredible insights and exercises. I’ve been feeling a little low and fuzzy-headed lately, and this workshop was really a breath of fresh air.You can have access to this workshop and the past ones by clicking here.
What are you most excited about from your week? I would love to hear in the comments. How are you getting ready for Halloween – if you do anything?
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I ordered whiskey glasses that are created for Old Fashioneds because I saw this drink recipe. I cannot wait to make it!
I have a list of stories I return to that I use as models for writing. One I love is Amber Spark’s Thirteen Ways to Destroy a Painting from her collection The Unfinished World. You can listen to the story here.
Amber is one of the short story writers I follow closely. In interviews she talks about how she takes old fairy tales and puts a modern spin on them which I admire. Her most recent collection is magical and I highly recommend it.
One of the many aspects I love about this story is that the title draws me in because of the use of the number. There is something seductive about numbers, especially thirteen. There is much debate about the luck of thirteen. The structure of the story also follows a numbered sequence. The story is told with a time traveler attempting to destroy a painting that stubbornly keeps reappearing in her own time.
Another element that is a takeaway for my own writing is how she uses the repeated element of an object. In this case it is the painting. The painting is an anchor in the story and is referred to in each numbered section. Each iteration of the painting shows the title changes and the size depending on how the time travelers actions affected the painting. These are small details that contribute to the pacing of the story. You keep reading to find out what happens to the painting next.
As you read, you wonder if she will succeed and destroy the painting eventually. Your brain also knows there are thirteen iterations and then some conclusion will occur. There is also perseverance as a theme in this story. She doesn’t try to just destroy this painting three times (Magic 3 in fairy tales often) it is 13. There is a stubbornness there from the time traveler which we wonder about throughout the reading.
Time travel is always an element I am drawn to but I have seen it done well and done horribly in short stories and in novels. Satisfying time travel is hard to pull off. Time travel requires a relationship with magic for the author and the reader.
This story also reminds me of the connection between the writing practice we do and how that eventually emerges in a finished piece. Kathy Fish teaches an exercise in her flash fiction classes where you take a scene and write it three different ways. This story shows how an author can do this and make it a published story. This idea also reminds me of an earlier exercise in the course with the I don’t remember prompt and how a similar list shows up in Tobias Wolff’s Bullet to the Brain. I have learned to pick out some of these freewriting elements and how they show up in published pieces.
The characters are identified by their labels in this story, not by name. The names do not matter in this story and gives the reader a bit of distance. The painting itself falls into this category for me as well. The descriptions of the people are tight and pack a lot in a few sentences. For instance:
He is so young, the artist, a white smooth face in the dark of his walk-up. She supposes this will be easy-from the empty, hungry tilt of his face, to the stooped posture from painting under this sloped attic roof.
The artist looks at her aghast but defiant. The artist knows his way around this kind of truth.
Another pacing technique I noticed is shown in section seven through ten. As the reader is moving through the destruction attempts, this section is written in two sentence bursts with repeated phrasing. This reiterates that the painting still exists and you can feel the frustration of the time traveler’s efforts.
Seven: The time traveler sets fire to the unfinished painting. The painting is still there.
Eight: The time traveler pours acid on the unfinished painting. The painting is still there.
Sparks is a short story writer that achieves a satisfying ending sometimes with unanswered questions which is a reason I read this type of story in the first place. Kelly Link is another author that does the same. Link is more blatant in her “unfinished” endings and has been unapologetic about it.
Thirteen Ways is a story I feel is satisfying but also has sticking power. When I first read this story I kept coming back to it. I felt a connection to these characters and the frustration from both sides.
I appreciate the style Sparks writes in and underline many of her sentences.
Here is a sentence I love from section Thirteen:
She was more in love with life than with him-she’d never have believed how black and long the days could stretch over her, mean and empty, like shadows in the winter.
I would love to hear your impressions of this story and lines that popped out to you. This is a piece I have used to teach short story to my middle school students along with Neil Gaiman’s Click Clack Rattle Bag.
I hope you enjoyed it and found something in it for your own writing.
Need a writing prompt today?
I am sending out a writing prompt for the last 100 days of 2020!
I am so glad we can sit together and chat today. Thanks for joining me. What would you like to talk about today? What is really on your mind? What is important to you in this moment?
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I took some action for something that was not working for me. I feel good about the response, but it is not quite resolved.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I went to Madison this week. It was early morning and beautiful on the lake. I sat in a waiting room for a little while which was nice to watch people.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I walked every day. Some days I had to start later since I had meetings that stretched after my normal leave time. The sun is setting earlier now. The time change is looming.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I shared my 100 random sentences story with my Patreon community. I like this story a lot. I have revised it quite a few times. I am not saying it won’t be revised again either. That is just how writing works!
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I have been writing poems for my people! One of the bonuses for my community is to write each of them a poem inspired by a word they give me. It is an idea from Natalie Goldberg called the Spontaneous Poetry Booth.
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I used a drift exercise with my kindergarteners. There is a list of words that are given. The writer’s job is to find a word that is illogical to make a couplet. One of the given words was SLEEP and one my little people said OCEAN. It was perfect!
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I am rewatched I am Not Your Guru from Tony Robbins. I love this documentary. What is missing from your life? is one of the questions he asks. What are you willing to change?
If we were having coffee, I would tell you I took a class yesterday from Nina Lacour that was amazing. It was about revision and critique partners. It was the most honest and transparent conversations I have ever heard about process and writing partners.
This week has been full of amazing life giving conversations and I am so grateful for the people in my life.
Looking forward, this week is going to be full of long days. I am honestly not pleased about the schedule, but I will put things in place so it will be more manageable.
Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds! Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!
October 7 question – When you think of the term working writer, what does that look like to you? What do you think it is supposed to look like? Do you see yourself as a working writer or aspiring or hobbyist, and if latter two, what does that look like? The awesome co-hosts for the October 7 posting of the IWSG are Jemima Pett,Beth Camp,Beverly Stowe McClure, and Gwen Gardner!
It is interesting to. me that this is the question posed for this month’s ISWG because it has been on mind.
I was doing an exercise examing the big negative energy depleters in my life and the idea of my “paycheck” work vs “fun” work came up. By day, I am a teacher and I love the aspects of the students and the actual teaching. The skills I have acquired through this career serves me well in all the other areas. I am a professonal writer.
I have been obsessed with the idea of an MFA for quite a while. I waver back and forth about how I feel about it in the vein of “do I need it”. I don’t and I know it. But what I do need is immersion in reading and writing and the community tied to those two things.
The shelter in place time allowed me to sustain a writers schedule. Now I have my schedule dictated to me and the transition has been tough.
A friend pointed out to me I have an MFA in experience and self guided study. I have created a community of trusted writers.
There is no choosing your cohort when you attend an MFA program. You have no idea if you are going to mesh creatively with these people.
I have attempted to find a place where all my writing needs are met and cannot seem to find the perfect fit. I think maybe that means I have to create my own!
I am modeling my working writer career after Nina LaCour right now and have been binge listening to all the podcasts she has been on and her own. She does a nice job of unpacking her own process. She also is an emotional writer which is an area I am currently working on.
If you had to think through the teachers in your school what are the adjectives you would use to describe each person’s style?
What would people use to describe you in the classroom?
There are many discussions about what teachers “should” be. There used to be a defined set of rules of the do’s and don’ts for teachers that was ridiculous for today’s standards.
Teachers still have a story attached to them from the outside world of what they should or should not be. I do not believe it is as strict as the list above but it is in the subtext of conversation.
Some characteristics are more accepted than others.
I have tattoos. They are in places I can cover them if necessary which I thought about because I am an educator. They are not offensive in nature, but there have been cases where it has been expressed as a surprise when people find out what I do for a living. I once had a man at a training become obsessed with my tattoos and kept making jokes. He finally said to me, “What you look like and what your resume reads doesn’t match to me.” In his mind, an award winning teacher couldn’t have tattoos.
I have covered my tattoos for every interview except the last one. I finally decided that if they weren’t going to hire me just for that reason I wouldn’t want to work there anyway. (They hired me.)
In college I was told it was not a good idea to wear red dresses or red nails to school. People may get the “wrong idea.”
There is a “good girl” persona attached to teachers. If you have ever spent time in a teacher’s lounge you will hear stories about dating, drinking, and corruption of various degrees told. People have been fired for pictures on social media and their behavior. In some cases I believe this may be warranted, but public perception can be a bitch.
It can be a hard line to walk. People can only pretend for so long.
Each person has their own passions and talents they bring to the classroom. Some are thriving in this new normal we have and some are not, depending on experience and gifts.
I have been thinking a lot over the past week about my “paycheck” work and my creative work. These two categories do overlap but I tend to think of them separately. After a conversation with a friend I am beginning to see they overlap more than I think.
I teach intuitively. I usually think of this as “student centered” or “child centered” but those terms do not describe the scope of what I achieve in my classroom. It was freeing to discover a word to describe my style.
There is no step by step because my process is organic. Certain things must be in place like culture and routine and a belief system. And I have found it incredibly difficult to explain to people.
There is an element of letting go in my teaching that many people cannot handle. They feel they must be “in control” in the room. Letting go does not mean I do not plan. I do. Quite extensively. I also know that those plans may go out the window depending on how my students react to the objective of the lesson.
Last week I read David Shannon’s Too Many Toys to my students. I do live teaching in the morning and in the afternoon. My students have the choice to attend the AM or the PM session so essentially I am teaching 1/2 day kindergarten.
The plan I had was for the students to write a group story together about what we had too much of in the classroom. One session did this wonderfully and they had a great time creating details all together. The other session; it didn’t work. I changed it to individual sentences and choices. I still taught phonics in both sessions. I taught about capitals and details and controlling the reader with punctuation. It was tailored to the needs of the make up of each of these sessions. I didn’t know I was going to do this ahead of time – I just shifted in the moment to what my students needed.
I had a teacher ask me one time how I knew what to ask kids while they were writing. I have always been able to get kids to produce writing more sophisticated than other people thought they “should” be able to write. I told her I didn’t know, I just asked what made sense at the time. She literally followed me around for a writing session and wrote down what I asked kids in the moment. Being a writer myself, I know what the process feels like which makes it easier.
Thinking about how you learn often helps when pivoting in the classroom. There is nothing wrong with think alouds or admitting when you don’t know something. I have to untrain some of my students at five years old that just because I ask a question doesn’t mean they are wrong. They find it hard to believe I am really just asking for more information because I want to know. I have to establish a culture of risk and experimentation. I want their imaginations to thrive.
I literally told my students the other day when we were writing a chart story that the crazier the details the better. We were writing a story about a bear. He went to have pizza. You should have seen all the things that bear ate by the end!
Storytelling is part of the culture I have established intentionally. We start every day with a priming exercise with breathing and talking about what makes us thankful or a story connected to something we are learning.
Over the last week they have shared stories of taking cats to daycare, trees that grow bubblegum, and Venus fly traps. What stories have you heard in your classroom?
You have to be open to hear these stories and listen to what the students are saying.
I don’t have all the answers and I , for sure, am not perfect.
I do believe my students are all readers, writers, problem solvers and artists and they believe they are too.
That defines success every day in my classroom. What defines it in yours?