I pulled out Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic, which I've been using with the girls, to see what help she had to offer them. In a chapter called "Stuck!" Levine says that young writers quit because they don't know "There is no such thing as a perfect book." She goes on to say:
Levine's words reminded me of a video clip my friend and former student Cathy Cronin recently shared on her blog. The clip features the voice of Ira Glass explaining that it's "normal" for there to be a gap between our vision for our creative work and the actual results of that work. Glass's comments confirm my own observations, and this "gap" is something that affects not only my young students but many adult writers, too, including me. So often, what ends up on the page doesn't match the ideal I have in my mind. I found Glass's words heartening--I've embedded the clip here in the hope you'll find them encouraging, too. (If you're an email subscriber and the clip doesn't show up in the email, you can watch it online at http://vimeo.com/24715531 .)
"When you're just starting to write, you may be miles away from perfection, and you may be well aware of it. It's maddening. It's disappointing."
Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.
So how do we shrink the gap between our vision and our results? According to Glass, the answer is to "fight your way through" the disappointment and feelings of inadequacy to create a large volume of work. Or, as I tell my students, "Write. Write. Write." The more we write, the better our writing becomes, and the closer we get to matching our output to our vision.
If you're looking for ways to motivate yourself to write more regularly to produce that "large volume of work" Glass talks about, I've included two challenges in the Blogosphere Buzz below that you may find helpful. And if you need help to "fight your way through" feelings of inadequacy, try the following Writing Workout.
Ways to Get "Unstuck"
Here are three suggestions for getting "unstuck" that I'll be sharing with my students on Saturday:
- Give yourself permission to write the story out of sequence. Mary Ann described this approach in her last post. If you know how the story will end, for example, go ahead and write the ending even if you haven't finished the middle. That's exactly what I did when I was working on Rosa, Sola. After I had a draft of my final chapter, I was able to go back and figure out what needed to happen to get my characters to that scene.
- Doodle. Doodling is a great activity to stimulate the creative side of the brain. Set aside 10-20 minutes. With your story in the back of your mind, put your pen to the page. You can draw images or just dots, lines, and shapes. Have fun and enjoy the process. If any story ideas come to mind, make a quick note about them, and then go back to doodling until your time is up. (For more about using doodling to stimulate creativity, see this website.)
- Engage in a repetitive physical activity. This is another way to stimulate the creative side of your brain. Go for a long walk, jog, or bike ride. Again, keep the story in the back of your mind, but don't think about it too much. Instead, focus on the sound of your steps on the pavement, or your breathing, or the feel of the wind on your face. And be sure to have some pen and paper handy if you do get an idea.
- Need ways to motivate yourself to write consistently enough to create that "large volume of work" Glass discussed? First, check out the site 750words. The site challenges members to write 750 words per day, or about 3 pages. You can type those words directly into the website and it will track your word count and statistics over time. You can also participate in the site's monthly challenges--participants who write 750 words per day for the whole month earn a place on the "Wall of Amazingness." Those who fail, end up on the "Wall of Shame." And many participants also set their own personal rewards and consequences.
- Second, If you're a picture book writer, here's a challenge specifically for you: the 12 x 12 in 2012 Picture Book Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to "write one picture book per month for each of the twelve months of 2012. This means a first draft: beginning, middle, end. NOT a submission-ready piece." Sign-up deadline is January 29. (In addition to the support and camaraderie, there are prizes!)
- A totally different kind of challenge is also taking place this month: the annual Blog Comment Challenge, which runs through Wednesday, January 25. This is a chance to share our appreciation for all the terrific blogs out there, and also to make some new blogosphere friends. Sign up over at the MotherReader blog and check-in weekly at Lee Wind's blog. (And a welcome and thanks to all the bloggers who've already commented here on our TeachingAuthors blog this month as part of the challenge!)
- Speaking of comments, another HUGE thank you to all of you who participated in our December charity drive for First Book by commenting here on our blog. As Jeanne Marie reported last week, we received around 160 comments and we donated $175 to First Book. With Disney's matching donations, that means we helped provide 245 books to children in need! If you'd like to participate in another FREE way to help book charities, visit the Playing By the Book blog. Zoe, the "British mum" who blogs there, has compiled a list of 125 charities around the world whose focus is literacy, reading and /or books. Post a comment on her blog about how she should best organize her list, and she'll make a donation to one of these worthwhile organizations.
- As a great supporter of independent booksellers like my local wonderful Anderson's Bookshop, I encourage you to also participate in the 50/50 Challenge: Support Indie Booksellers, especially if you're a teacher or librarian. Join librarian Travis Jonker in committing to using at least half of your yearly budget to purchase books at your local independent bookstore.
- And, finally, the finalists have been announced for the 2011 Cybils, the Children's and Young Adults Bloggers Literary Awards. You can find the lists here.
Now I have to get back to writing so I can work on shrinking my own gap.
P.S. I've had all kinds of problems with spacing in this blog post. Sorry, I did my best. If it doesn't look right on your screen, I guess it's another example of my vision for a project not matching my results. :-)