Today, I will have the distinct honor at presenting and teaching at Bloom District 206 Writers Day for the…6th time (I believe). This is an annual gathering at my old stomping ground where graduates who have pursued professional writing come back to interact with current students who are active in creative writing. It is all orchestrated by my long time friend and writing mentor Mort Castle and the wonderful powers in the district that continue to set funds aside for the arts, even while many schools across the country and in good ol’ Crook County-Chicagoland are having to cut out everything but the floors, walls, and flushing toilets.
What has made the last 3 years particularly special is that Mort has also extended an invitation to my husband Rod to sing and share with the students…the mindset being that because I write about life as a gospel wife, Rod can be a living object lesson to the kids. Today, the icing on my cake is that Rod will be singing the first song we ever wrote together.
Every year, the hardest part of this for me is deciding what to talk about in my workshop. The company I keep at this event includes 2 guys who publish comic books, another who makes movies, and a very dynamic professor – tough acts to follow, indeed! So tomorrow I will talk to the kids tongue-in-cheek but totally transparently about my own growth as a writer and what I am currently doing to keep getting better. Here is what I will share:
My Life as a Writer
My first finished story was written when I was in 2nd grade. It was about my friend Sabrina coming over to spend the night. I was so excited that I filled up 2 sheets of “handwriting paper” instead of the one-half that Mrs. Hircshman required.
The next year, I began my first “novel.” It was a young adult story that traced a group of friends in junior high (they grew older as I did). They dealt with the issues of jealousy, redecorated bedrooms, drugs, and drunk driving. I had no idea what I was talking about. When I was in eighth grade, I finished the story. My Language Arts teacher sent it over to MORT CASTLE for a critique. His EIGHT page analysis was about 10% the length of my story. It was kind, patient, and encouraging. That story is somewhere on a hard drive on my 80/88 (green screen) computer in the garage (unless my husband has finally thrown it out without telling me). It will likely never see the light of day again, but will live in my mind forever, along with its main characters, Samantha, Mike, Nina, and the non-descript boyfriend character whose name I can’t recall.
I wrote another novel in high school. This one was a “heroic fantasy” about a sexy blond knight name Katlen who was also an orphan from a young age and a widowed young father who was injured in battle. He had friends, a sorceress aunt who raised him, and the favor of the king. He of course met and fell in love with a woman who was so, so different from his dead wife, as she was a warrior too. This book never had a title and received something like 40 pages of analysis from Mort. He took me to Giordano’s to let me down easy that the work, the world that essentially got me through my otherwise depressing junior year of high school was in no way a finished novel. I needed to research, I needed to fill out the plot, and for the love of all sexy knights everywhere, I needed to not address so many issues in my writing. (Katlen’s best friend went blind from a war injury. I will never, ever, ever forget Mort referring to him as “Jake Blindy Blind.” I still use that term in my everyday life, though only my husband knows what I mean…)
After high school I had a huge creative dry spell. I was consumed with college papers on things I didn’t care about, then business emails about more stuff I didn’t care about, and the occasional Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan fiction story (which, frankly, is some of the best writing I’ve ever done). Thankfully, however, all of this writing – and my four-year tenure on the staff of the illustrious and applauded Bloom Trail Express staff (2.5 years as editor, thank you very much), rolled into invaluable experience. In my late twenties, I began writing a column for a southern gospel ezine, of all things. I now write for several and am the editor-in-chief of another, and I’m also a blogger for a large blogging community and have guest written for several others. I recently co-wrote a song with my husband for which we have high hopes. I have written copy for websites and created marketing campaigns for several businesses. In the next weeks, I am hoping to take a job as the Director of Marketing for a regional theater.
I still have not published a novel – or any fiction, for that matter. And when I watched the Academy Awards last month, I wondered if my time to dream about winning Best Screenplay had passed me by. But I think not. When writing is in your veins, it is always a part of your life. The bonus of my current life as a writer is that STRANGERS read what I write and sometimes find it interesting enough to comment on it. I’m grateful. I will never stop writing, and I’m happy for the opportunity to tell you that you shouldn’t either.
11 Things That Make Me Write Better
1. Reading everything I possibly can
I am addicted to reading…signs, bumper stickers, brochures, product labels, magazines, blogs, closed captions, Tweets…and on occasion, BOOKS.
2. Carrying a notebook at all times.
I take notes at church, at meetings, when listening to talk radio, and when something ‘pops’ into my head. You can always, always go back to these things later, and the more your write, the more you will find yourself flipping back through pages of notes.
3. Talking to people, listening to people, even a little eavesdropping
How can you write about humans if you don’t know how they talk? Dialogue is everything. Pay attention to what people are saying.
4. Realizing and acknowledging that my own life is interesting…
The mundane of my everyday existence is much like that of some other people like me (moms, stepmoms, wives, people who work at home, etc), and if I can put a fun spin on it or in some way elicit emotion from it, it’s likely that other people will respond to it!
5. Writing…Every. Single. Day!
Whether it’s a 200 word blog entry or a note to myself, it’s important to flex my muscles and keep my writing voice in shape.
6. Trying a voice recorder
While this is not something I do often, it is helpful when driving or in a place where I simply can’t write something down. If an idea strikes, record it. Most smart phones include a voice recorder now. If you don’t have one, call your own voice mail and leave a message for later.
7. Turning off “reality TV…”
…as it includes some of the worst “unscripted” dialogue every scripted! Try watching the news, movies without CGI, old TV shows (I sadly concede that this now means shows that went off the air before 2005 or so). Identify overused plots and good/believable vs. bad/fake dialogue.
8. Putting down the DVR remote once in awhile and watching the commercials.
In order for writing to reach people, it has to be a little bit slick/commercial.
9. I don’t wear my heart on your sleeve, but don’t hide it completely either.
In order for writing to reach people, it has to be human!
10. Having a branded, consistently updated online presence
Writers are narcissists. We want people to read what we write. I have been blogging for about 8 years, and with the social technology of LiveJournal followed by Facebook, Twitter, and genre-specific blogging networks, I have more readers and more reader feedback than ever. Knowing we are being READ makes us want to write more, so start a blog somewhere, keep it updated, and tell people about it.
11. ***Advice from Auntie Kelly: No matter how long you have been writing, keep doing what you do well, keep learning, and keep trying new things.
Somewhere, I have notebooks full of song lyrics I’ve written through the years. A few months ago, I finally co-wrote a real song for the first time. Soon, I will embark on my first full-fledged marketing campaign for a business other than my own! I’ve been writing for almost 30 years…the world is big and as long as the words come, I won’t be afraid to try something new. In the mean time, I know that my writing strength is personal stories with a humorous flair and writing about faith with a humorous AND teaching flair…so I will continue to do those things and continue looking for places to showcase that style of writing.
And as an example of my “best” writing, I will be sharing this blog post with them…
One Christian Fan’s Viewpoint of Harry Potter