Category Archives: Inspiration

Exploring Doodling Again

Teachers Write never ceases to amaze and surprise me. Today on Kate Messner’s blog,  guest author Elizabeth Dahl explains how she became a writer, and how doodling while writing helped her with that process. She challenged us to give it a try. I have to admit, this is one of the hardest exercises I’ve tried this summer. I was an art major way back when, but quickly changed my major when I realized I could not compete with those more talented than I am. When I set out to doodle today, I couldn’t do it… at first. Then, just like with writing on that blank white page, I started and before I knew it, I was lost in the creative process. What I produced is not extraordinary by any means, but it was fun to do! So much so, in fact, that I plan to doodle as much as possible from this point on. Who knows, maybe I’ll one day illustrate a book (yeah, ok).

Anyway, here are my efforts from today. What do you think?

(c) 2015 W. Scalfaro. All rights reserved.

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Exploring Setting from Different Points of View

Author Elana K. Arnold presented the Tuesday Quick-Write on Kate Messner’s blog today. She had us shift points of view and describe the same setting. Here are my descriptions. They’re very rough. I have not worked extensively on any of them, and have not spent time editing them.

A description of my surroundings

I live on a corner, where one street is busy and the other is a side street. We have weeds – which we call alien plants because they grow so quickly – bordering the property line on one side. The birds love these weeds because they can hide in them. Our neighbor behind us mows his law a couple times a week, and is precise about where his (unmarked) boundary is. He’s planted a shrub – possibly a lilac – on the side. Across the street is a young motor head. He fixes cars in his driveway. His next door neighbors hate him and spy on his constantly. We all jockey for a parking position on the street because no one likes these neighbors.

 

The same surroundings, now from the POV of a lost six year-old child. 

I don’t know this neighborhood. How did I get here? The streets are strange. There’s a dog barking somewhere. I hope I don’t see it, or if I do, I hope it’s friendly. Should I go to someone’s house and tell them I’m lost? There’s no one outside, so I don’t know if anyone is home. There’s a motorcycle parked in front of this house. Cool! My mother said never to go near anyone with a motorcycle because they make bad decisions. Some houses have nice yards. Oh, there’s the dog. He’s a huge, black, furry dog! And he’s barking a deep booming bark. I’m not going near him! Now I see a lady with two kids. Mom always said that if I got lost, to find another mom and ask for help. I’ll go ask because she looks nice.

 

The same surroundings, now from the POV of a housecat. 

Ah, I love it out here. I think I’ll just creep under these bushes and wait for the birds. It’s dark and cool under here. What’s that? Oh, a bug crawling over the stones. I’ll just watch for a while. Maybe give it a good sniff. I’ll try smacking it with my paw. Here come the birds. They don’t know I’m here. I’ll watch them preen and chirp. Hey! They’re flying away! Oh, it’s the woman and her two kids. They scared the birds away. I think I’ll take a nap now.

 

The same surroundings, now from the POV of aa fifteen year-old whose parents are divorcing.

I’ve always hated this place, now I hate it even more. Dad’s leaving. Figures. I have to stay here with Mom. Not that it matters. She’s never here anyway. NONE of my friends live around here. Dad used to take me everywhere because he works from home. From this home. House. It’s not really a home. And this neighborhood is not really neighborly. Bunch of old people, or people with little kids. They always look at me funny, like they’re afraid of me or something. Like I’m gonna hurt anyone. I’m too puny anyway. All I have is this stupid skateboard. That doesn’t get me very far. And the stupid sidewalks around here are all cracked and broken. There’s parts where the tree roots have pushed sections of sidewalk up. I have to stop when I get to them. Or I could ride in the street, like I see everyone else doing. Mom would have a fit if she saw me do that. Too bad. I’m going down this person’s driveway. The yard is up so high that the apron of the driveway is a ramp. I put my earbuds in and crank up Eminem. I’ll get a good start on that and just ride down the street, away from this house.

 

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An Interview with one of My Antagonists

In today’s lesson Teachers Write on Kate Messner’s blog, author Tracey Baptiste explores Voice. Two of the exercises have us become one of our characters and answer interview questions, and then flip the switch and become the opposite of that character and answer the same questions. Here is what I wrote as a result.

 

Exercise 2: Becoming Your Character

I love my country more than anything else. I hate anyone who makes me out to be anti-American, or not loyal to my country. I am jealous of anyone who has a higher status than I do. If I could do anything, I would convince my husband to ask for a promotion at work, so we could buy a nicer home. My biggest secret is that my mother hated this country. She never wanted to leave Germany, and so she never learned to speak English. I was teased by other children because of her; Therefore I did not love her.

Exercise 3: Flip the Switch

I love my family more than anything else. I hate when people are teased or called out for being Anti-American, when they have given their whole lives to pulling their own weight in America and building a life their ancestors would be proud of. I’m jealous of women who can have more children. If I could do anything, I would have my husband take more vacation time so we could go to the shore.

These exercises helped in that I was totally surprised by Mrs. Schmidt’s biggest secret. I had no idea!

Try these exercises and see what your characters reveal to you.

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A Character Sketch

Here’s the character sketch I wrote today, in response to the mini-lesson from Melanie Crowder on Kate Messner’s blog for Teachers Write.

This is my protagonist.

Lily, age 12, has two items in her possession: the book, The Secret Garden and her doll, Molly. Lily’s mother made the doll, and it was the one item they made sure she had when they left their apartment for the last time. Molly represents love and safety for Lily, which is especially important because Lily ends up in an orphanage. She has the doll with her as much as possible, or she has her in a safe place where she can retrieve her when she needs her. The Secret Garden is another representation of love, but the nurturing kind that Lily can give. It’s also her source of strength and determination to go on, and helps her understand the world around her.

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A Quick Poem about my WIP

This “poem” is the result of a prompt from Jo Knowles’ blog for Teachers Write.

Lily,
Age 12,
a child growing up during WWI.
Her desperate mother,
places her in the care of a cruel woman,
who dumps her in an orphanage.
Feeling torn away from her mother,
she nonetheless
does as she’s told.
She finds solace in nurturing her garden,
kindness from a loving nun,
and a friendship,
that challenges boundaries.
Until a tragedy opens the door to freedom,
but makes her question what really matters.

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Filed under Fiction, Inspiration, Poetry, Writing

Time to Get Moving!

Thanksgiving morning, 2012 I woke up to a revelation. I had been “thinking about” writing a novel (based on my grandmother’s childhood spent in a Catholic orphanage) for several years. I’d been thinking and planning, and thinking some more, but not doing any writing. So, that fall morning, I had this realization – If I had started writing this novel a year ago, then I’d be a year further along. Duh!

And so I began…

to research.

In order to start writing, I knew I had to do a bit of looking at the time period (1918-1919) in order to get a feel for it, before I could begin to form a story. I went back and looked at my grandmother’s genealogy notes that I had collected over the years. I delved into websites, books, and articles. I read and took notes until…well, until I really had to get my butt moving and write!

Then along came Teachers Write! This wonderful virtual summer “camp” is the catalyst that got me really believing that I could do this writing thing. Although I first “enrolled” in the summer of 2012, I was only a lurker. But when founder and children’s author Kate Messner tweeted about the 2013 camp, I jumped right in. I haven’t looked back.

Undoubtedly the most beneficial part of TW for me has been Friday Feedback with author Gae Polisner. She and her invited author friends provide critiques of participants’ writing pieces. They’re helpful, supportive, friendly, and encouraging. I was never so sad to see summer end.

And then…

And then at the end of the camp’s session, Gae offered to continue Friday Feedback on a monthly basis! Talk about generous.

Regardless of her offer, I didn’t participate immediately. I got caught up in getting back to school and into a new-old routine. My own children began their sports activities for the season, and Mommy Taxi (AKA I have no time for myself) started up gain. It took me until this past Friday to get going.

At the end of 2013, I knew I would come up with my writing goals for the new year, and that I would actually write them down. And I did.

As a matter of public record here is my major writing goal for 2014:

FINISH A ROUGH FIRST DRAFT OF MY NOVEL.

In order to achieve this major goal, I needed to identify minor goals as building blocks.

1) WRITE EVERY DAY.
This goal is probably the most difficult for me to meet. I always have good intentions, mostly to get up earlier each morning, get ready for work, and then sit down to write. I recognize that I can’t always do that (due to personal or professional demands), but I always attempt it. Maybe the writing gets done in the morning, maybe during lunch, maybe at night. Or maybe, like my first excerpt submitted to Friday Feedback on 1/10/14, in five-minute increments between requests from my husband and children. Sometimes I don’t feel like writing, and I know myself well enough that if I don’t feel like doing something, it ain’t getting done! So, in those instances, I read or do more research instead.

2) SUBMIT TO FRIDAY FEEDBACK EVERY MONTH.
Goal number one above directly impacts my ability to achieve goal number two. I’m always cognizant of this. Even if Gae is not able to host FF, I still have this monthly goal in the back of my mind. It’s very motivating. Therefore I write…

3) POST MORE REGULARLY TO MY BLOG.
More writing. Always more writing. In meeting this goal (as vague as it is), I’m actively working at my craft (and maybe even inspiring others to do the same).

So, there it is. This is the first year I’ve actually put my goals in writing. I believe this is the first year I will accomplish what I had in my mind to do.

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My First Tuesday Quick Write for Teachers Write 2013

Sometimes on the south shore of Lake Ontario, the fish wash up and stink up the whole place with their fishy smell. Their mooneyes stare up into the sky and cloud over. Their once-shiny bodies become dull, but the seagulls find them delectable, their cries calling their friends to the feast. It’s hard to find a place to enter the water, with limp bodies strewn about. Still, the sand is cool and soft beneath my feet as I walk along the beach. If I dare to venture closer to the water, careful to avoid the dead fish, the hard, wet sand feels reassuring on my soles. It’s firmer and cooler that the dry stuff. Bits of shells and water-worn glass poke out from the sand. These I pick up. And the piece of driftwood that catches my eye. I place these items in my pocket, running my thumb over each surface, committing their feel to memory; memory of a childhood that drew to a close ages ago. There is no breeze this morning. The water is calm, with only the slightest kiss against the shore. I turn and walk away, the sounds of summer and youth fading behind me.

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Three Ways to Find and Feel Divine Inspiration

I am a divinely inspired writer. I don’t mean to say that I write inspirational, spiritual, or religious material. I simply mean that when I am in need of ideas, the Universe/God/Source provides them. How do I know this? Faith. I believe that the idea, or word, or answer I need comes to me through God. The feeling I experience when this happens is hard to explain, but I’m certain it happens to all of us. The thought I think just feels right. I’ve learned not to question it; I just run with the idea, or write down the word, or walk in a certain direction. I frequently crack writer’s block when I keep my faith strong and remember to recognize the help when it arrives.

So how can you learn to recognize divine inspiration? Try these easy steps, or practice them again if you haven’t done so in a while. Then feel writer’s block crumble.

1. Brainstorming

Have youever brainstormed a story idea? You experience divine inspiration when you do this. Jamee Rae explains the brainstorming process in her recent blog article. I read her article on brainstorming with great interest. I’ve been stuck on a scene in a short story and I thought maybe a brainstorming session would help me get things going again. Jamee’s article is a great “how to” guide for this traditional writers’ practice. You can experience divine inspiration in progress through a session of brainstorming. Once you get started and the word associations or thoughts come to you, let them come freely. Don’t invite your self-editor to this session. Write everything down that comes to your mind, and find yourself in the flow of divine inspiration.

2. Perform the Mundane

Sometimes when I’ve reached a point where everything I write is garbage, I step away from my work in progress and do everyday tasks. When I’m driving is usually a productive time for me because I can think about a particular problem in my writing and usually arrive at my destination for my story. You can even put yourself in your character’s shoes and perform a mundane chore to break out of a rut. What’s running through your protagonist’s mind while she does the dishes, folds laundry, or polishes her nails? Try to focus your thoughts as if they are your character’s and discover what he’s thinking or feeling. Letting your mind wander is a great way to send your self-editor packing and open up to receiving divine inspiration.

3. Meditation/Quiet Retreat

Not only is meditation very relaxing for the body, but it can also relax the mind enough to open it up to receiving inspiration. This practice is not as scary or strange as you may think. You don’t have to be formal about it at all. You can either find a method that you like by Googling “meditation techniques” or simply retreat to your favorite quiet place. Concentrate on your breathing and then relax, and let the inspiration flow to your mind.

What do you do to allow divine inspiration into your life? I’d love to hear your ideas.

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Finding Your Muse at Garage Sales

 Late April marks the beginning of a new season in my neck of the woods. I’m not talking about spring, although Mother Nature does usually show up around then as well. No, the season I’m talking about is such an important part of Central New York that it demands media attention: Garage Sale Season. One local country music station, as well as their sister television news channel, cover the Grand Opening of the season at one large community garage sale. The hordes of shoppers get to enjoy an early breakfast before venturing out, and then they spend the rest of the day bargain hunting. This opening day has become an annual tradition in our region, and in fact draws devotees from other states as
well.

Why is this event, and the smaller ones that follow, such a big deal to a writer such as me?  Well, ok I do like a great deal as much as the next person, but more than that, I have discovered that these outdoor shopping centers provide a unique opportunity to add some depth to my writing. Stay with me here as I illustrate how garage sales can help you with your writing a  well.

 Brainstorming Story Ideas

Ideas for stories can come from garage sales. At one of your stops, buy a nice box or attractive container. It doesn’t have to be very large. Then, as you travel
from house to house, select small items from the sales and place them in the box. Back at home, when you need inspiration for a story or article, remove an
item from the box and start writing! Be as descriptive as possible and before you know it, you will have the beginning of a new story!

Gathering Character Traits

Eavesdrop on conversations among buyers and sellers. When people go to garage sales together, they talk a lot between stops and while perusing the wares. They make comments about the items as they pick them up. Often the seller has an interesting story to tell about an item. Note these conversations, including the body language used and inflections in the peoples’ voices. Also be sure to observe their clothing, the way they walk, and the car they’re driving. At one sale I happened upon, a metal junker dickered with the homeowner for her washer and dryer. His nearby pickup was loaded down with the metal he had managed to collect that day. He was an interesting character. Don’t forget about yourself as a character at these garage sales. How do you feel when you come across a toy or game you remember from your childhood? When you get back to your car, grab your notebook (you do carry one with you, don’t you?) and  jot down these emotions and physical reactions as well.

Establishing Setting

What is the weather like on the day you attended the sale? If you went in the early morning, was there dew on the grass and did you clutch your Styrofoam cup of coffee as you strolled from sale to sale? Was it a community garage sale or one at a single home? Did you venture into a neighborhood completely different from your own? What did the houses look like? Were the lawns nicely manicured, the backyard fenced in? Or did the houses looked “lived in” and in need of some TLC? All of these details and more are important to note for future reference.  A hazy-hot-humid day at a garage sale feels completely different from a cold and rainy afternoon of neighborhood shopping.

Building a Story

My daughter suggests that a garage sale shopper/writer can find items that will help them create a visual representation of their story. Buy stickers, stamps and stamp pads, or other items that will allow you to make an illustration, story board, or model of your story. Buy a map and plan a traveling character’s route. Another option is to buy an item that your character would use so that you have it for an accurate description. Does your character drink coffee all the time? Find a mug that looks and feels like one that fits your character and buy it. Keep it around you at all times. Drink from it to get a first-hand feel for how the coffee would taste and how the mug feels to your character. Start writing!

Feeding Your Muse

At a recent community garage sale, I picked up two books from my summer reading list. I’ve also found great deals on children’s books and sometimes reference books (atlases, dictionaries, a one-year-old Writer’s Market, etc). One sale I went to was hosted by a retiring 6th-grade teacher. She had stocked her garage with class sets of novels, as well as teacher reference sources, non-fiction books, and inspirational posters. As writers we need to keep reading. While you may find that many books sold at garage sales are mass market paper backs, you might be surprised to find that one book you’ve always wanted to read, but didn’t want to spend the money on. Now you’d be foolish to pass it up. Also, some sellers offer bundles of magazines to buyers. Don’t turn up your nose at these, as any pictures in them offer opportunities for you to write descriptive scenes, or even great ideas for articles and stories.

So, have you been to a garage sale lately? Go back to your Sunday paper and open it up to the classified/garage sale section. Or you can search on Craigslist.com for sales near you.  Find one nearby, or far away, and make plans to find your muse when you get there.

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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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