Friday, August 24, 2012

My Creative Well is Choked with Tumbleweeds

This summer I wrote a research-heavy, fiction/nonfiction mashup of a book with a very short deadline. Its style and content required input from book teams at two companies on separate continents and lots of hurried revisions. During this time I also planned and planted extensive landscaping, revised a couple of picture books, led a writing workshop, tried to keep our newly-seeded lawn (and that landscaping!) alive during the drought, walked the dog every day, returned to a hobby (quilting and fabric arts) after too many years away, and–

I'll stop there, because it's simply LIFE. You know how it goes. But because this summer felt especially crazy for me, my well of creativity is currently running on empty. It happens to all of us at times, and I've enjoyed learning how my fellow TAs tackle the problem. Amazing how we all find different ways to refill.

What works best for me is reading.

Writing excellence inspires me, refilling my well like nothing else can. Mystery. Humor. Biography. Historical fiction. Books for kids. Books for adults. Doesn't matter, as long as it's great writing. Lucky for me, I recently stumbled across Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce mysteries, which are tripping my creative trigger, big time. He's a fabulous writer overall, but one thing I've particularly appreciated is his mastery of the simile. Here are a few examples:

"The voice – a woman's – cut through the shop like a falling icicle."

"She was staring at me through her lenses like a birdwatcher who has unexpectedly come upon the rare spotted crake."

"I could almost follow her thoughts as the piano's notes went flying past my ears like birds from a forest fire."

Ideally, a simile provides insight into your character and/or makes a reader see something in a new, very specific, way. An effective simile should be distinct, delightful, unexpected. I don't know about you, but reading the ones above makes me want to write snappier similes myself. I also know that when I feel ready to begin the middle grade novel now lodged in my head, my writing is going to benefit enormously from having read Mr. Bradley's work.

Read on!

Jill Esbaum

Writing Workout

This one's easy and fun. Below are ten clich├ęd similes. Brainstorm fresh alternatives. If you can make them voice-specific to a character from your current work in progress, so much the better.

eat like a pig
fight like cats and dogs
sleep like a log
work like a dog
dry as a bone
black as night
hard as a rock
busy as a bee
cold as ice
quiet as a mouse


Carmela Martino said...

Yes, I too enjoyed reading our varied approaches to dealing with "drought." And thanks so much for sharing these great similes. I wasn't familiar with the Flavia de Luce books--I've just put a library hold on the first one.

Jill said...

Oh, good. Hope you like them!

Kristi Holl said...

Loved this post--and it came at such a good time! Will pass it along!

Jill said...

Thanks, Kristi!