Monthly Archives: April 2011

Writers Inspired by Everyday Things

Anyone who’s a writer has struggled to find inspiration to write. Books and articles are written about inspiration. I myself have searched the internet and the shelves of Barnes & Noble and my public library for books that contain writing prompts and advice about fostering inspiration. Certainly aspiring writers should seek the advice of veteran
writers who have given generously of their wisdom and time to mentor others,
but what we authors-to-be must realize is that story ideas truly are all around us.

Alison Radley is a writer living in West Yorkshire, England. Her blog, Radley Rants:Ramblings from an ordinary life, is a perfect example of a writer finding inspiration in everyday things. In a recent post, Radley writes about relying
on her mother to help her rescue some neglected clothing. The simple, everyday
act of cleaning out her closet resulted in Radley’s reflection on “Why mothers are important.” My favorite post – so far – is about her bus ride to work. In “Shoes hold the key to the answer,” she is continuously bothered by a “nutter” on the bus, and insightfully and succinctly reflects that, “For some reason, people who do not read seem to think that they can hold a conversation with someone who is blatantly keeping themselves to themselves and do not wish to engage.” How many times has this happened to you?  In other posts Radley laments at the difficulty in obtaining an urgent dentist appointment for an agonizing toothache, plans her future for her ultimate demise, analyzes and tests her horoscope, and…well…rants about every day annoyances. The point is Radley’s blog makes the reader realize that our lives and interactions and conversations with strangers are fruit for the writer’s harvest.

Radley makes clever observations that many of us may overlook; observations that very well could lead to that story we’ve been meaning to write. Many of us commute to work, or faithfully read our daily horoscope, or update our will and buy life insurance, or rip out our hair while talking in circles with the dentist’s receptionist who doesn’t quite understand the concept of “emergency.” Any of these and other events in our lives could hold the seed of a story or article or novel.

For this reason, many “how to write…” books advise writers to keep a journal or notebook and jot down ideas as they occur to you. However, in order to jot them down, you need to be able to recognize when an idea is presenting itself to you. These seeds are not always as large as walnuts that drop from a tree and land on your head. Sometimes they are subtle and work their way into your consciousness much like that same walnut that manages to germinate and is not noticed until you have to mow around it! So, the next time life drives you to the edge of insanity, pause and listen carefully for the whispering voice that’s trying to get your attention. Inspiration is found in everyday things.

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Reading, Writing, and…uh…‘rithmatic

When my daughter was barely two-years-old, another mom commented on how advanced she was verbally. This mom wanted advice on how to help her young son, who wasn’t talking that much, improve his verbal skills. “Talk to him,” my husband and I replied. “About what?” she queried. “Everything.” We said. She seemed confused by this comment; as if “everything” was a vocabulary word she didn’t comprehend herself. I continued, “When you’re in the car, talk about signs. Talk about the Stop sign; what the letters are, what color it is, what shape it is, anything you can think of. Go grocery shopping and point out the fruits and vegetables, their colors and shapes. Have him hold them and feel their texture. Talk about whether they’re smooth, rough, or prickly.”

Now, this advice we gave is pretty simple, right? How hard can it be to talk to a baby? But the thing is I don’t think our society is used to doing that, at least not in a productive way. How often do we put the baby in the high chair or bouncy seat or swing and not engage them in conversation, even in one-sided dialogues? I have to admit that the whole idea of talking to my babies about everything was daunting at first. I’m the kind of driver whose mind is busy planning the day’s activities, or I’m  daydreaming about getting more sleep, and when it comes to being a passenger, well the scenery looks lovely! Nope, I would rather write, or read, than talk. Lucky for me (and our kids) my husband likes to talk – a lot – so they’ve been exposed from infancy to his non-stop monologues about everything from the weather, to license plates, to the song on the radio, to the flock of migrating geese overhead. Perhaps it’s his penchant for chatting people up that makes my husband a great baby-talker, but he’s got it right. An article in the Sep/Oct 2009 issue of Pediatrics for Parents states that, “the best way to help your child learn to speak it to simply talk with them.” Yay, Daddy!

So, what do I do to contribute to my children’s language development? I read to them. After all, reading out loud is an awful lot like talking, right? Only with a plot! Even before I had kids, I read up on the importance of reading to children. I found The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease helpful, as well as MemFox’s Reading Magic. Even when they, in turn, reached 15 months and would push the picture books away, I persisted. I read constantly and consistently, every night before bed, in the pediatrician’s waiting room, in the car, wherever we were and books were to be found, I read aloud.

While all this reading was going on, I knew someday my efforts would pay off. However, I was not prepared when, at age four, my daughter (and first-born), picked up Green Eggs and Ham and started reading. I was stunned. I figured she must have memorized it from pre-school, so I had her flip through the book and read at random. She was able to do this with no problem. I had a legitimate reader on my hands. She entered kindergarten reading at a third-grade level.

I’m writing this on Saturday night, and this morning we attended an awards ceremony with the Central New York Branch of the National League of American Pen Women, who bestowed upon my child the First Place award certificate for her poem. She also received a $35 check. In tomorrow’s Sunday paper I will find her published poem. She tells me she aspires to be a writer and an artist. I think, “You’re already there.”

As for my son, he did not read at age four, and was not reading before entering kindergarten. In fact he grew frustrated that he couldn’t read and that someone (um, me) wouldn’t drop what they were doing and read to him right now! I gently told him that he would learn to read in kindergarten, and when he did, he would take off. As we approach the end of April, he is reading at the end-of-first-grade level. Oh, and he loves doing math problems on his own. You know addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Yes, in kindergarten. Today was his birthday and his favorite gift was an abacus. I think all that talking and reading has helped!

What do you think? Do you think you’re a writer today because your parents engaged you in frequent conversations as a child? Would you rather talk or write/read? As a writer, what do you do to help influence children to read and/or write?

I’d love to read your comments.

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Character Blogging as a Book Platform

One of the great joys of reading is getting to know new characters and following along on their journey. We live vicariously through them as they set their sights on their goal or goals, stumble along the way, and eventually – we hope – prevail. Thus we drift with Huck and Jim down the Mississippi, fight beside Katniss in the Arena, and grumble and grow along with Bilbo in Middle Earth.

As readers, we are traditionally limited in our knowledge of our two-dimensional heroes because their adventures take place nestled among the pages of a book (er…ok…ebook as well), which has a beginning, middle, and end. We close the book and we know all there is to know about the protagonist.

Not anymore. Lisette Brodey is one writer who has taken character development to new levels. The character for her upcoming book, Molly Hacker writes the blog, “Too Picky? (I think not!)“ What makes this blog unique is that the reader gets to know Molly before the book even comes out, much like becoming acquainted with a new friend over a period of time. Molly tells us about her cat, Captain Jack, who displays the feline quality of approving or disapproving Molly’s dates, about dating stupid and deceptive men, the indelicacies of public restrooms, and looking on the bright side of things.

I have a few reasons for liking this blog so much. First, as an aspiring writer I can appreciate the time and creativity involved in developing this book platform. Not only has Brodey written a book, but she continues writing in Molly’s voice, thereby adding value to her character and her novel. As a reader, I love having the opportunity to learn more about a character outside of the context of the book. How many of you wouldn’t love to know what’s going on with Katniss Everdeen right now?

Is Brodey the only writer to build her book platform this way? I’m not sure. Admittedly Brodey and I are Twitter friends, so I first became aware of Molly Hacker through her tweets. However, I’d love to know if other protagonists are leading lives outside the covers of their books, electronic or otherwise.

 I encourage you to get to know Molly and her creator Lisette Brodey, and also to comment below about any other character blogs you are aware of. As a community of writers and readers, we can take part in the development of some of our favorite characters and help an author build her platform.

Think about having your current main character write a blog. Whether you actually post it is not as important as actually getting into your character’s mind and “being” that person. You can consider the exercise a more in-depth character biography. Have fun!

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