July 12, 2016
I’ve been working on Assignment Three for a few weeks now. It’s effectively slowed me down. The mini-assignments within this one help me look at where my writing needs more crafting. I work hard on these activities because I really want to learn more.
I find my natural tendency leans toward wanting to write more aimlessly with a focus on saying “I’m done.” This method garnered a lot of content at one time in my life, but not a shift in how I write. For a long time my mantra was: done is better than perfect. For some things, this still rings true. I don’t need a perfectly clean house. I don’t need a perfect Facebook post about my kids swimming. Other things do need to be perfect or as good as I can get it. This hard work toward perfection might be a game changer for me.
If I want to get an agent or sell a story, my writing needs to be polished. It needs to have a unique angle in order to get noticed, and it must be practically perfect. After rereading the letter from my ICL instructor, I quoted him in my notebook:
“Keep in mind that the only reason to take this course is to learn to write better than you already do. You’ll be learning about plotting, dialogue, and character development. You’ll also learn how to write for different ages and what kind of subjects kids enjoy reading about. Finally, you’ll learn how to pitch your stories and articles in a professional way, which will tell editors you are serious about your craft. There’s a lot to learn. If you race through the course you might not learn these things as well as you could. A diploma from the Institute of Children’s Literature isn’t going to impress editors. Good writing will.”
I need to remember this regularly because I want to be a good writer. I never took any writing courses in college or in graduate school. So I don’t feel as confident about my craft as some of the people I know who majored in English or Creative Writing. Many people have told me that I don’t need a class, that I should just put my bottom in the chair and write. I need guidance and the mild pressure of an assignment to hand in.
The interesting thing about this course is that I am never too far from thinking about it. Even when it sits on my desk for a week, alone and unloved, I notice it as I walk by and remember that I must get back to the learning. It’s this learning that supports my work and helps me think in new ways. After reading a few pages or trying out an assignment, I feel motivated and charged up to practice my writing again and again.
Does it help that I’m paying some money each month to take this course? Sure. People value what they pay for.
Does it help that I write this blog post each week detailing how I think? Absolutely.
Ultimately, though, the motivation is coming from the way these assignments are crafted. They have me thinking more regularly about what I see and how I would write about it.
Notebooking for the win
This brings me to my pink notebook where I’m supposed to be writing down everything I see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. I haven’t made that a habit yet. I want to though! I really want to be that person who sees things and stops to write them down. I am not the person who remembers the things I thought were important last week! I barely remember if the milk in the fridge is out-of-date.
Some people think writers should have three notebooks. One for writing morning pages which is a concept developed by writing coach and author Julia Cameron. Her concept is that a writer should get up each morning and write three longhand pages in a stream of conscious manner. This, she believes, will warm you up and get your creative juices flowing. You will be able to put the issues of the day behind you and move into creating new ideas that flow into more new ideas. I’ve tried this. Some days it’s worked and some days I’m more annoyed with it than helped, so it doesn’t work so well.
The second kind of notebook is a pocket notebook. In this one, you are supposed to keep a tiny notebook in your pocket or bag for those times when you must remember something. You can quickly stop and write it down to use later when you are in a more appropriate writing situation. I’ve never tried this and I’m pretty sure I never will. It’s just not in my nature to stop everything and take notes. My version of a pocket notebook is my iPhone. I use the notes section, the camera, and the dictation feature to capture things on the run.
Do you do this? It’s a super easy way to get started with documenting your thinking and observations, especially if you like to have your phone nearby anyway. I’ve been thinking about using my Twitter and Instagram accounts for this purpose as well. Creating my own hashtag to store my thoughts and capturing photos and videos on Instagram for when I need to remember things.
Finally, the writing notebook is the third type. This is the kind I’m trying to maintain. A place to put writing prompts, collect ideas, write down quotes and samples of things you want to save. Lately I’ve been keeping short writing that moves me; a few words that convey just what is intended without using too many words.
Vocabulary to show not tell
When choosing just the right word, it’s critical to have an extensive vocabulary. Mine is pretty good. I play a mean Scrabble game and I can generally give anyone the meaning of words based on their parts and my wide breadth of reading experience. In Assignment Three, I was challenged to find new words that showed a definition instead of told a definition.
What does this mean? It means that a good writer doesn’t ever write that something is handsome because it’s a relative term. I like very dark, mysterious looking men with green eyes, but you might like tall red haired men. They might both be handsome depending on who’s looking, right?
Instead it’s important for a good writer to write about what is there instead of giving an opinion about what something looks like, sounds like, feels like, or tastes like. It’s better to write what the camera sees. If the words are telling the reader what to think instead of showing the picture and letting them do the thinking, that’s not going to work because everyone thinks differently and reading is about constructing meaning. No one wants to be told what to think.
It’s the figuring out of things that bring people joy and understanding. This means that your vocabulary must be in tip top condition. Words like bird and fast must be transformed into Cardinal and rocketing so that the reader can see the picture you are trying to convey. The assignment was tough for me. I didn’t want to use a Thesaurus at first because I wanted to push my brain harder. I got nearly all of them without a Thesaurus and then I used this wonderful resource to see how much better I might have done. The lesson taught me that I have much to learn and that I probably always will. I am seeing my craft move forward, albeit inching along snail-like, but I know it’s headed in the direction of my dreams.
Kimberley Moran's site
Kimberley Moran is a gifted and talented teacher and freelance writer who lives in Hampden, Maine. She has two children and one very nice husband.Kimberley would like her bio to make her sound brilliant, witty, and kind because she knows that when you write and read you get to be anyone you want to be.