My girl loves stories. Not just before bed, but any time of day, all day. As we march up the stairs for breakfast each morning she usually says “momma, will you tell me a story?”
I usually respond that I need coffee first, but she will eye me like a hawk, and as soon as I’ve got that mug in hand she will repeat the request (and repeat, and repeat), until I start spinning the morning’s yarn.
Lately, my stories have all been about carrot and sandwich. They have had some great adventures. They hitch-hiked across country to visit our friend Jacqui in Virgina, they opened a dry cleaning shop, and fought pirates for treasure on Carrot’s private island (that he bought with his riches earned through dry cleaning).
It’s a fun ritual, even if sometimes I don’t feel up for it first thing in the morning, but the thing I love the most is what I’ve learned about my girl’s sense of story. When I’m setting up the story sometimes I get to rambling. I’ll tell what carrot is wearing, or what trouble sandwich is having with his wife, or whatever, and when it’s gone on too long my girl will say in a loud voice “and then one day…”
I know she’s just bored and wants me to get on with it, but really, she is illustrating one of the core principals of story telling. You open on a world with a status quo, and then one day something upsets that status quo and viola – you’ve got a story.
Even kids get this, and yet, I feel like a lot of writers struggle with it. I’ve heard young writers talking about telling a “true” story where nothing contrived happens, or worse yet, where nothing at all happens because that’s life, man.
Bah, I say. If that’s life, then my four year old is living it better than you.
As I’m busy today with some freelance work I’m just going to share this and say how very cool I think Maurice Sendak is. Sometimes I wish I were a cranky, old, (highly successful) writer. It’s good to have goals.
Both my kids seem to have some sort of stomach thing going on. I’ve been thrown up on so many times that I might stop showering afterwards and just wait til the end of the day when I can wash it all off at once (okay, not really). I’ve changed sheets 3 times in the last 8 hours, and the washing machine can’t keep up. The whole hose stinks of stomach acid. I’m exhausted, cranky, and slow. So this is parenthood.
I kept my girl home from school and am waiting for the doctors office to open so I can call and ask when I should worry. Hopefully this will all pass quickly. She’s watching Ice Age while I try to get a little work done, and frankly, I think she’s loving being sick. I remember loving it when I was a kid – stay home with mom, eat lots of yummy soup, watch movies – what’s not to like? Being (or acting) sick always seemed like a small price to pay.
Anyhow, assuming I can find any time, I’m plugging away at the novel today. I’m trying to look at it scene for scene. What I’m finding is that as I wrote it, I put scenes in some places that aren’t really scenes. That is to say, nothing happens. Still, as I look at the overall structure, I think my instincts were right, there needs to be SOMETHING in the places I put those scenes. Now I just need to figure out ways to bring in conflict and or revelation so that the scenes aren’t just place holders, but actually serve to move the story along.
I’ve been dying to re-read Winter’s Bone, but I can’t find my copy. I hate that. I remember the structure of that book being really satisfying. No long flashbacks or rumination, and yet you get the sense that you really know the main character. I want to look again at how he did that.
Anyhow, I’m rambling. Check back Friday when I have (hopefully) gotten some sleep and can present my thoughts in a more organized fashion.
As a writer, my job is to communicate. Specifically, I’m paid to use words to express ideas precisely, so that a client’s target audience understands what it is that the client does/offers/sells. That’s it. Sounds easy enough right? But if it really were that easy, “writer” wouldn’t be a job description.
Some of the toughest communication I do is with my own clients, trying to figure out exactly what they want and or need. With some clients it’s very straight forward, while with others there is an extensive whittling process. The tricky thing about us writers is that we tend to be a sensitive, artistic lot. Sometimes it can be hard to take feedback. Even the simplest suggestion (“maybe more adjectives”) can feel like a dagger striking our very core.
One thing I’ve learned in my years as a writer is that I have to be thick skinned when it comes to feedback. This serves me well in both my fiction and my business writing, but honestly, it’s a lot easier to practice what I preach when I’m writing for someone else.
As a writer for hire, I’ve gotten damn good at taking feedback. If a client isn’t thrilled with what I’ve put together, I’ll start over from scratch and not even think twice. I rewrote an entire article this morning because the editor I was writing it for was on a tight deadline and wanted to focus on a different angle. Done. Then I had a conversation with a client who wants a project rewritten with a certain style. No problem.
Is my ego a little bruised that I didn’t get it all perfect the first time? Yes. But I think the reason I continue to build my client base is that I’m not a diva about it. I’m not always going to hit it out of the park on my first try, but I am always going to listen to a client who wants changes and do my best to make the copy perfect through the revision process. As writers we are communicators first and foremost. If we can’t communicate with our clients, we’re pretty much doomed from the start, and if we can’t put our egos aside for two minutes it’s hard to hear anything from anyone.
It’s a little painful.
I described it to Daniel last night like this: it’s as if I was training for a marathon (writing the novel). Then I switched to sprints (the Nor Cal book, written in 200 word segments). Now I’m ready to run that marathon, and I set out to run each morning and I’m tired so quickly.
Yesterday was a little better. I actually managed to write a whole scene, but it took me all day. And many, many times throughout the day I thought “I’ll just go do (laundry, facebook, anything but this),” but caught myself trying to avoid the task at hand and forced myself to work a little longer.
This was a good week to jump back in, as the freelance work was light (just that short magazine assignment), but Monday I have a meeting with a client that will hopefully bring on a new wave of work. So I’ll just try to enjoy today, lounging (battling) with the fiction.
The good news is that I’m actually not too far from the end of this draft. All the basic parts are in the right place, I think. I still need to develop some of my subplots, but all in all I feel like it’s coming along.