Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Love & Outlining

Heart Amulet from Egypt (ca. 1295–1070 B.C.)

This is the month of love. Our kindergartner was asked to decorate a shoe box to receive Valentines and to bring a Valentine for each classmate. He was also asked to choose an African-American to present in class and he chose Michael Jordan. To add to the month's love, our child is excited to celebrate Michael Jordan on his birthday on Sunday, Feb. 17th, with "round like a basketball" food.

I'm quite taken by how basic assignments - exchange cards on the holiday! Choose someone to study and present! - can morph into discussions about friendship, history lessons and new interests. What do you love? What can you learn from your loves?

I challenge you to return to the books that you love this month. Choose 1 - 3 of your favorite books, essays or stories and outline them. Look for their bones and notice how the books are constructed. When are key plot points introduced? Who are the most important minor characters? Where is the book's central climax? What is the conflict that drives each chapter?

Study the resulting outline. You can use this as you think about structure for your own piece. Think about your pacing, character development and overall plot development. If you follow another structure, you aren't plagiarizing the book, but building on the craft that the writer used. You will write a different piece and likely make many adjustments along the way.

For more, read:
It's Alive! Your Outline
From Writer's Digest: The 4 Story Structures that Dominate Novels by Orson Scott Card and 5 Things to Consider When Structuring Your Memoir by Cheryl Suchors
From Ploughshares: How to Structure Your Memoir by Amy Jo Burns

Monday, February 4, 2019

Adults Starting the Writing Habit: Rely on the calendar

Our 5.5 year-old-child took this picture of the library stacks
at the Georgetown Neighborhood Library

I work with many adults who are returning to school to finish their undergraduate degree or starting (or returning to) a writing practice. These are busy people who are adding new deadlines to professional, familial and personal obligations.

It isn't easy, but it is possible to squeeze in something new to already full lives. I think the best way to do this is to rely heavily on a calendar.

I ask my writers to not only introduce themselves, but also to discuss time management. When and how will they complete their proposed projects? What has or has not worked for them in the past? Most of them remember having missed deadlines and are committed to avoiding that error again. But how?

Let's imagine that you are like these busy adults and you want to start something new. If, say, you want to submit a research paper or finish a draft of a short story, you might start by adding the deadline to the calendar. But that's not enough. The next step is to find time when you can work on that writing. You'll need time for editing, revising and maybe research, too. If you can block time off, then you are more likely to complete the assignment.

I recommend giving yourself enough time so that you can finish early, just in case you end up needing some extra wiggle room. Online classes or personal projects can be deceptively flexible. It seems like you have all the time in the world, but then suddenly you run out of time.

Think of these writing projects as in-person appointments. I suggest blocking off the time to work and treating that time as an appointment. If you miss the appointment, which will happen sometimes, then be sure to reschedule. But work hard to keep the appointments and complete the assignments.

It can take an average of 66 days to develop a new habit. I know, that sounds daunting. But instead, think of this new, desired habit as something that won't happen naturally. You will need to work at establishing the new pattern and making it happen.

I know that you can do it (with your calendar!)