honing the writing: figuring out what to write

Let’s not regard this as a real post; let’s regard it as homework, since that’s what it is. That way, anyone who reads it is helping with my homework.

Our new season of classes began yesterday, and my first one–chosen specifically to unlock my mental writing block–is called “honing your writing,” or something like that. Just to be clear, Osher classes usually don’t require homework, but some Greek smartass a long time ago said If you wish to be a writer, then write!” and that’s more or less what the writing prof said too. So all of us promised to try to write a few words EVERY DAY for the six-week duration of the class. So here I go, with the idea of combining the two blocked areas of my life–writing/blogging–to see if I can overcome both.

Yesterday’s class included an in-class exercise of finding our stories by Bubbling. I remembered doing it long ago, but with the prof  standing over us with a bullwhip (I jest a little) I began with the note page you see below. (That’s my handwriting–lousy, huh?) For years I’ve wanted to do a long piece on the place where I grew up. Some of the people there, my family too, were real characters to say the least. And my life growing up on a farm in the 40’s and 50’s was so different from the lives of my children and grandchildren, I want to leave it as a legacy. That way, should they lean too heavily to self-importance, it will remind them my humble beginnings. Maybe someday they’ll be happy to have it. So here’s my first bubble. From there I bubbled whatever came to mind. I found I didn’t run out of ideas, but I did run out of time. Does this bubble look like a best seller to you?

bubbleWhat makes a book a best seller anyway? I suspect it happens when a book begins to sell well enough that suddenly everybody wants to be in on whatever the latest cool read is and goes out to buy the same book, especially if it has lots of explicit sex (Think: Fifty Shades Of Grey and Lady Chatterley’s Lover of my day).  I’m sure I’ve acquired books in that guise myself. If you can’t produce the cool stuff yourself, then be one of the first to read it. I think that’s how it works. Then there are the others that don’t need explanation (Think: The Book Thief and To Kill A Mockingbird). Anyhow, I’ve come to a good place in my writerly life. I still want to learn to write the very best that I can even if I’m too old, too lazy, or not smart or talented enough, because the older I get the harder it gets to organize my ideas.

So where do I begin? Nothing in class was new, I admit, though it’s good to be reminded. I know the best place to begin is not necessarily at the beginning, but in the middle of something. I think of it as putting the reader right there in the scene as an unseen observer. But I did learn a new Latin phrase In medias res! In the middle! Our next in-class exercise was to write without editing–for five minutes–a scene that begins in the middle, and see where it would take us. Here’s mine.

Look at her! Eighteen years old and she had never been to the circus, never done much of anything to tell the truth. Now she had a boyfriend who called her “Princess,” so when Barnum & Bailey came to town she asked him if he would take her. Now here they were, sitting in the bleachers up high enough to see all three rings at one time. The ring in the middle was empty, but in the first one she watched a man dressed in fancy britches coaxing a tiger through a series of hoops. But it was the high-flying trapeze artists that were lining up to enter the mid ring that intrigued her the most.

In my mind as I wrote I was seeing the net stockings the tired-looking performer was wearing, especially the hole in the back, on the thigh, that I was pretty sure she didn’t know was there. Suddenly the circus I’d always thought of as so glamorous looked a whole lot different than it did in my dreams. Did this circus portend her future, her life as an adult?  But five minutes didn’t allow me time to include those images.

There! That’s enough for one day!  I’ve done slightly less than 700 words already. Tomorrow, or should I say “next time,” I’m not sure where the muse will take me. Perhaps I’ll write about a few of the other questions a writer faces, such as a beginning hook (to snare the reader from the get-go). Or maybe I’ll write about things that bug me in general, like grey-haired 0ld men with flat-top haircuts.

Meanwhile, if anyone reading this aspires to be a writer themselves, then I refer them back to the opening paragraph and that Greek guy’s words: If you wish to be a writer, then write! Feel free to use the prompts that I’ve shared from my class.  And then let me read it.


Seven Random Things About Me

I was tagged by G at Big Apple to Big Bear to write another meme making the rounds, seven random things about me. Because the cartoon I drew for yesterday’s class and thought I’d post here today didn’t turn out so well, I decided to do the meme today instead. Too bad I’ve lost any inclination I ever had to draw good cartoons. Getting old makes me lazy! As an assignment we were to draw a cartoon character and fashion a hat for it from odds and ends around the house to signify the 500th hat of Bartholomew Cubbins. (Dr. Seuss’s first published book THE FIVE HUNDRED HATS of Bartholomew Cubbins)  So instead of my tacky cartoon character, here’s what you get instead:

(1) Since G (above) lives in Berlin, I was reminded of my visit to Berlin in the late 1990’s. It was around this time of year and I remember it rained a lot and was quite a dreary city overall. Hubby and I stayed in a B&B hostel and rode the buses and trains everywhere. In every one of my travels abroad I’ve noticed how easily people can tell who the Americans are. It’s our clothes! I like bright colors, and because I’d just come from a week in India where it was hot, I had mostly summer clothes with me. Lots of white slacks and bright colored kurtas and blouses and sandals. Everywhere I went, people were dressed only in dark colors, mostly black. I might as well have painted a sign on my back. AMERICAN! but I had a great time anyway. I loved the big department store restaurants popular for afternoon cake and tea. The parks were luscious, the museums superb, I especially enjoyed Saturday morning at the Turkish outdoor market. AND Hubby and I fell asleep during a performance of the Berlin Symphony (jet lag).

(2) I have a bad habit of doing the laundry and a million other things at the same time. That often means bringing the clothes up from downstairs and carefully folding them over the dining room chairs so as not to wrinkle until I can get them folded. Then I get too pooped from everything else I’m doing and they often stay there for a day or two until I get around to folding and putting them away. It’s an awful habit made all the easier because there are seldom visitors to our house during the week. I get away with it because I CAN! (Today’s laundry is waiting there for me right this minute!)

(3) I started taking writing courses at Ohio U in 1987. One of the first things I ever wrote was a children’s book that I called A KITE FOR BALU about a small boy in India and his infinite patience waiting for a kite to fall from its tangled resting place in the tree outside his grandmother’s home. It was the first thing I ever sent out to a publisher. Lo and behold, it initiated some interest and the editor pitching it asked me if I could rewrite it for a different age group. Well, I didn’t know enough about writing at the time but I said I would and did. But it was turned down, and I could certainly understand why. It had lost the charm and the flavor of whatever worked so well in the first version. I think back and know that it’s good it was turned down; otherwise I might have gotten cocky and quit going to school to learn how to write.

(4) I hate to cook! For about eighteen years I cooked essentially two meals, one meatless for Hubby who’s a vegetarian who doesn’t care much for vegetables or fruit unless they’re cooked to death, another with meat for the girls growing up, so they would be invited to friends for dinner without worry. I used to like baking, but since we moved to a high altitude here along the Wasatch I haven’t yet re-mastered my baking technique. Now that he’s retired and home 24/7, it sometimes feels like food is on my mind constantly. I married him for better or for worse but not for lunch! Poor Hubby. He puts up with me. He’s a saint. (But don’t tell him I said that!)

(5) I like people, but I have to admit that sometimes I like animals more. If I were filthy rich I’d buy a huge facility where I could take in all the homeless animals in the world and take care of them. the way I see it people make messes of their own lives, but too many animals have to put up with the mess humans make of their lives. I worry about wild animals and those who don’t have homes or have bad keepers. I keep a little two-story carpet-covered “apartment” thingie outside below the upper deck so the cat that runs around the neighborhood all winter will find a warm place to sleep when it snows. Hubby says they let him inside at night, but I’m not so sure!

(6) When I visited my mother-in-law in India for the first time she didn’t know what to do with me. For a highest caste Brahmin such as she I was an untouchable you see, and I knew from the stories Hubby had told me that as soon as we left, she’d probably be scrubbing the benches I’d sat on while I was there. So he told her I was an American Brahmin. I couldn’t touch her, yet she was adamant about preparing food for me to eat while there to show her hospitality for her infidel daughter-in-law. I don’t think it was for my benefit at all, but I noticed she had a picture of Jesus Christ, the one with the beating heart on the chest, in a frame on the wall. There was also a portrait of Hubby’s deceased father as a young man. They were the spitting image of each other (Hubby and his father, not Jesus).

(7) I’d rather read or write or tell stories than eat when I’m hungry, which only exacerbates the situation of which I speak in item #4. In fact when I’m doing any one of those things I often forget to eat unless Hubby reminds me it’s time! And now it’s time to stop just because I’ve shared seven random things already. But I could go on and on. Aren’t you glad I’m limited to seven?

Thanks G. This turned out to be both easy and fun, and fast too. Now I’ll pass the gauntlet to another of my new young blogger friends on Strawberry Mountain. How about it Monni? Seven things! And if anyone else reading this is hankering to give it a go, please be my guest!