Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wednesday Writing Workout: Mining for Nuggets of Gold in Those Stories You Left Behind

Please welcome back Tamera Will Wissinger, author of the 2014 ALSC Notable GONE FISHING (HHM), and help us celebrate her second book, the picture book THIS OLD BAND (Sky Pony Press) which released June 3.

Tamara is one of my fellow TA Carmela Martino’s many Student Success Stories.
But I’m happy to report: she’s one of my long-ago Ragdale Picture Book Workshop students too. J
Though she now lives in Vero Beach, Florida, I will always consider her my SCBWI-Illinois kin.

As recent posts noted, most writers’ drawers are crammed full with manuscripts that somehow haven’t found the light of day.
So Tamera’s WWW is more than timely, helping us mine the gold in those left-behind stories.

THIS OLD BAND features a ragtag band of cowboys counting and hollering from ten to one, making music with their jugs, combs, boots and whatever else they can find.
In its upcoming July 2014 review, School Library Journal  commended THIS OLD BAND for the “clever use of alliteration and rhyme, as well as laugh-out-loud funny tongue-twisters, that complement the singsong nature of the story, making the book ideal for both story-times and one-on-one sharing.”

Thanks, Tamera, for sharing your book and your know-how!

As always, I'm cheering you on!

Esther Hershenhorn

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Mining for Nuggets of Gold in Stories Left Behind

Do you have any stories or poems that you’ve trunked, shelved, iced, buried, torpedoed, or locked in the vault? Work that was once your reason for showing up to write every day, but then at some point stopped being fun or interesting enough to continue? I do. Each piece’s end comes differently – sometimes I move on after barely starting, and other times I write through the end only to find that it didn’t turn out the way that I had intended. After the huge investments of time and energy, it can be disappointing, even heartbreaking.
My first picture book, THIS OLD BAND, has its genesis in in the demise of another rhyming concept book that will probably never be published because I’m not sure I’ll ever figure out how to write it. While I was creating it, though, in my mind it had such potential, such flair! There was going to be a duel! I wrote two (what I thought were) really terrific opening stanzas:
West, out near the great divide
Where bison roam and ranchers ride

Above the town of Twisted Pine,
Lived number one through number nine.

I outlined the rest of the story. I knew where I wanted this poem-story to go and I wrote and rewrote, but it didn’t go where I had planned and eventually I had to concede. I placed the manuscript in a drawer and moved on to something else.
Over the months and years, though, the heart of that story kept tugging at me. I loved that western setting, the idea of cowboys and cowgirls, the bison, the numbers. I had already acknowledged that the story didn’t work as it was, but I began to think in “what ifs” and “maybes”:
  • What if I kept the southwest setting and the element of counting?
  • Maybe these characters didn’t want to duel. What if I didn’t make them?
  • What if, instead, the main characters were cowboy/cowgirl friends who played simple instruments and made silly noises? Maybe they could perform as a band.
  • What if I threw out those “terrific” stanzas that were getting me nowhere and chose an entirely different rhythm and rhyme pattern?
Sifting through that old manuscript to mine those nuggets of gold was fun. Leaving behind the rest of the pieces that hadn't worked felt liberating. Equally satisfying was starting anew with my gold pieces of setting, characters, action, and new rhyme and rhythm. I began to uncover a different looking and sounding story that eventually became This Old Band. 

I believe that every shelved story or poem has valuable nuggets to mine if we’re willing to push past the gate of sorrow and frustration to search for them. Here are ideas for ways to approach a buried manuscript:
  • Which one speaks most loudly to your heart and your brain? Maybe that’s the one to consider first.
  • Do you need to actually read it to know what’s in there that is of value to you? Maybe there’s a gem of a conflict that you know by heart. Or a setting that is exceptional. Maybe it’s a secondary character – or an endearing character trait. With poetry it could be any detail that you found particularly charming. Maybe it’s a wonderful metaphor, a delightful image, or a single rhyming couplet.
  • If you do reread the manuscript – after all this time is it more clear to you what was working and what wasn’t? Go in and grab those nuggets that work; they are gold, and they are yours!
  • Consider what you have – it may not seem like much at first, but no story or poem does in the beginning.
  • Based on what you have, allow yourself to wonder. Say “maybe”…ask “what if?” Follow your beacons of gold and see where they lead you.
 I wish you good luck as you consider mining for your own gold nuggets. Maybe your real story is just waiting to be unearthed.

Tamera Will Wissinger


Carmela Martino said...

Yes, this is quite timely, given our series on marketability. Thanks so much, Tamera and Esther!

Tamera Will Wissinger said...

Thank you, Esther and Carmela, for this opportunity to participate in the WWW!

Rosi said...

Thanks, Tamera. This is a terrific post.

Jill said...

Excited for your second book, Tamera! It sounds terrific.

(TAs, I met Tamera in one of my picture book writing classes, too. Crazy that she knows THREE of us!)