Monday, April 29, 2019

A Love Letter to Chores And Errands (Or: Write-Think Time Today!)

I got distracted by the 80's time traveling to Target.
Here's a mannequin wearing tie-dyed shorts and a t-shirt tied in front. 
Ok, I can't say that I really "love" chores and errands or that I would ever write them a love letter. But, I'm here to argue that these chores and errands can be fruitful writing-thinking times.

I recommend that my my busy writing students read a troublesome part of their piece or think about an issue in their piece before they start their day. This allows their mind to actively - and perhaps subconsciously  - work out an issue. Maybe a character needs a better backstory or someone from the past needs to be better understood in order to move past a boring caricature. Whatever it is, you can think about it while you fold laundry or go food shopping (of course, pay attention while you drive, bike, scooter or walk!)

I recommended this technique recently and I was challenged. The writer said, "Really? You do that and you can still pay attention to whatever you're doing?" I responded with a firm, "Yes!" She looked doubtful and a little annoyed.

I worried I was optimistically misrepresenting myself (so many writers are prone to anxiety and second guessing.) Do I? Do I sometimes or even ever focus that much on a writing problem while doing something else? I think I do, but do I? As it quickly turned into questions about my ability to live in the present (anxiety!), I decided to test it.

I had an essay idea in mind. A friend had asked me a question the other day and as I started to answer, she said, "You should write that! I'd read it!" I decided to take that challenge.

So since I also had to go to Target today, I decided to make it a three prong challenge: 1. Go to Target. 2. Think about the essay I want to write. 3. Prove that I can both go to Target and think about an essay.

I needed to make sure that going to Target with a list of different kinds of soaps and cereals to buy wouldn't be counter to writing. I wrote myself an email with some key words and then thought a lot about the issues, possible scenes and bigger ideas as I gathered items in my cart.

Back home, I sat down to write. And, lo and behold,  I succeeded in writing a 1,500 word draft fairly quickly. Is it finished? Far from it. But I did succeed in getting out some ideas in my "sh*tty first draft."

This is all to say that while it can sound pretty "woo woo" to  make running errands a part of writing, it is possible. Undo your boredom and write-think today!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Memoir Writing Challenges

Old Typewriter

The memoir writing workshop that I teach regularly at Politics & Prose bookstore just ended, which always leads to some nostalgia. I look forward to teaching the class again in the fall (stay tuned for details!) 

For now, I wanted to share some challenges beyond the course material that I offered to the writers in the class. If you are writing memoir or personal essays, you might find these helpful, too. 

1. List the many parts of your self (gender, sex, religion, political leanings, education, class, profession, interests, family roles, etc.) Think about how these aspects - some more visual than others in different settings - effect how you behave and how people relate to you. (This is a very private exercise; you don't have to share this with anyone.)

2. Write the backstory for your characters, especially the ones that you don't like, feel have wronged you or find hilarious. This exercise might help you to develop them as characters, rather than stereotypes or caricatures.

3. Look for 3-5 contemporary news stories that overlap with your memoir (facts or themes.) If you are interested in publishing, you might submit responses to recent events and relate them to your memoir. You can also think about these connections as you work to sell your book to agents or publishers.

4. If you are writing in the past tense, take 1-5 paragraphs and rewrite them in the present tense. Notice what changes.

5. Look at the first three paragraphs of your favorite (or at least well-loved) books from your bookshelf. Notice where these books begin and how important details are revealed (or not.)

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Happy National Poetry Month!

Happy Poetry Month and, on Thursday, Poem in Your Pocket Day! I hope that you will celebrate today, this month and all year long by reading, writing and listening to poetry. You can find many online resources from the Academy of American Poets here

Who are your favorite poets (past, present, English language or otherwise)? I most recently read - and loved and was moved by - Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky. You can watch a recording of him reading here

Our child's elementary school is celebrating poetry by inviting the students to write and submit poems. They also asked the students to bring a poem to school - in their pockets! - last week. Since our child is excited about baseball, I was excited to share these two poems with him: First Girls in Little League Baseball by J. Patrick Lewis and Grand Slam by Marjorie Maddox. This month (and always, really), we'll also be rereading some of my favorite Shel Silverstein poems and poems from Poetry Speaks to Children.

So many of us grew up with sighing teachers who presented poetry as out of date and hard to understand. What a bummer, right? You might find some poetry books for your favorite kids on Common Sense Media. I enjoyed listening to authors Kwame Alexander, 
Eloise Greenfield, and Ayinde Sekou speak with Kojo Nnamdi about their books and music for children on WAMU.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Archiving and Organizing Materials

Some of you might find yourselves with boxes, drawers or piles of papers and photographs. How can you digitize and archive these materials?

Here are some resources to get you started:

The Society of American Archivists have online courses (and much more!) listed on their website.

The Smithsonian's Archives of American Art has a thorough online book with resources that they used to digitize collections (and you can follow, too.) Click through for more from the Smithsonian on Digitizing Collections.

The National Archives put together the useful reading Archive Principles and Practice: an introduction to archives for non-archivists.

Please add any additional resources in the Comments section below.