100 steps out the comfort zone

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One of the best things about Teachers Write is the inspiration from guest authors. They always offer a new way of looking at previous work, works in progress, and fresh new work. Today’s Quick-Write from Anne Marie Pace is a prime example. Her “100 steps” exercise won’t put much of a dent in your fitbit goal, but it pushes you to think differently about who and where you are.

As I thought more about it, I saw a connection to yesterday’s Monday Morning Warm-up. Among many ideas for getting your writing mind going, Jo suggests writing something that makes you uncomfortable. The 100 steps would put me in several uncomfortable places: the backyard of an abandoned house, a middle school parking lot, several neighbors’ yards, etc. I thought about my main character, one who sees the potential for criminal behavior in himself, and channeled his point of view. What kind of criminal behavior might be inspired by each of these settings? Some of the ideas that came made me pretty uncomfortable. I don’t yet know if I am brave enough to develop them, let alone share them.

Perhaps the most uncomfortable part of this excercise was when I asked myself, “What if my character is female?” What kind of trouble would she find? What criminal acts could she be inspired to commit? I’m playing with gender and age and considering race and ethnicity, each revealing different layers of trouble.

There’s no story yet, but a lot of pieces. A lot of uncomfortable pieces! This is fun!

Writing in the face of fear

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Just under the wire, I’ve completed my first two “assignments” for Teachers Write, an online writing “summer camp” for teachers. After returning from a weekend away in Florida, I resumed my role as Daddy for the evening; dinner, baths, Band-Aids, and bedtime, before settling in to continue in the far lesser-known role of writer. It’s the role that takes a backseat to all of those listed in this blog’s description.

I began with Kate Messner’s Monday Mini-Lesson about writer’s notebooks. It’s a perfect way to get started because it actually forced me to think about where I keep my writing. If you know anything about my “unique organizational systems,” you’d know that they include little in the way of practical organization. I do my best to post comments to each of the TW lessons I complete. Here was my idea about my “notebook”:

The world is my notebook. That sounds awesome, but it’s not. I have bits and pieces of ideas and writing all over the place. Sticky notes, napkins, receipts, you name it, I’ve got notes, doodles, or writing on it. I’ve gotten better at keeping digital records of these things so they’re not gone forever when the kitchen drawers and counters get cleaned. I’ve also started to use the Rocket Book app to upload images of my work. It’s helping to organize my ideas, but I do enjoy finding an old idea buried in the drawer or in the pocket of last fall’s jacket!

So, this summer, as I continue writing, I will also continue to develop strategies for managing my ideas, writing, doodles, and such.

Today’s second assignment, Jo’s Monday Morning Warm-up, offered encouragement, which TW so often does, and a call to action. One of her possible starting points for stuck writers is, “Write something uncomfortable.” That instantly led me back to my Google Drive, where many of my “notebook” ideas reside, for a single line, “I’m not a criminal, yet.” I have loved that line for a long time, but I was kind of afraid to see where it would take me.

I am fascinated by authors who put it all out there without fear that they will be seen as being like the people they create. Michael Robotham’s Shatter is a good example. How does he think of a character who does horrible things to people? Maybe that’s not the hard part. It might not even be hard to write what they do. But to print it for all the world to see. That’s guts. Surely it changes the way some people look at a writer as a person. “How could he think/write that?” But changing the way people see the world is one of the main reasons to write, so let’s go.