Week Twelve - Writing for Children and Teens
From Inspiration to Publication
Connecting the threads of your characters
August 23, 2016
“Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally into you.” - Maya Angelou
I write three morning pages––longhand––to shake out the rugs, and then move on to my Institute of Children’s Literature writing assignment. In these rugs live old ideas that should have been let go years ago. At 5:30 in the morning, my nose deep into my writing notebook, I find myself writing alternately about things I need to get at the grocery store and what I want to say to my mother who has been texting me desperate messages about where she might find rice pasta that doesn’t get too mushy. I note in my journal to make sure my characters think and connect in different ways as real people do.
Then I move onto assignment 5b where I’m supposed to consider how the characters in my descriptive paragraph think. In order to really do that, I need to consider how people think. I’ve been doing a lot of meta-cognitive thinking lately. It seems to me that people don’t think in organized ways. They bounce around from idea to idea much like we do in dreams. I tend to love characters who do this. I relate to their thinking in a “Hey! I do that too” kind of way. I felt this way when I read What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. The main character hits her head while spinning on a bike at the gym. When she comes to, she thinks it’s ten years earlier and she’s happily married and newly pregnant instead of going through a terrible divorce and the mother to three children. Alice’s thinking is cluttered with lists and thoughts about her life and whether or not the woman in front of her at the checkout has a mirror at home. She has trouble sticking to one thought. Sometimes it infuriates me when those other thoughts dive bomb their way into my thinking, but if I pay attention to them I occasionally find that they are more connected than I presumed. If I pay attention and get the jumble of thoughts in my journal, I can trace the thoughts and pull meaning out of them. My morning notes might run from good coffee to farming in Maine to my children. I can see that my coffee in the morning is ritualistic and might lead me to wonder about where it is grown and how sad the state of farming in America has become and finally to whether or not my children will stay in Maine when they are older. These links are critical to understanding who I am and to hearing my voice.
I went and got this very cool notebook to use, by a Maine artist. I love using it, and I have to admit, this is all due to the Institute of Children’s Literature and the course I’m taking. It seems obvious that I should’ve been doing this but having a one-on-one instructor keeps me focused and on-task and it is getting me down a path I have wanted to go for years. (I’ve said this before that I’m not a shill – they do not tell me what to write, though they do edit my punctuation and tense-more on that in a bit.)
When it comes to writing about how the people in my assignment are thinking, I want to use these random kinds of things to make them more real. For example, in real life my son might stop me from talking about what we’re having for dinner in order to tell me about a Pokemon he has captured. If I ask him how it’s connected, he’ll say something like, “Well we’re having shrimp and the Pokemon is called Magikarp which is a water Pokemon.” See what I mean? It’s easy to let our brains wander and connect in different ways, so I need to make sure that happens to the characters I write about because it makes them a) more appealing and b) more realistic. This is tough work because I have to think like my character and stay in his or her voice and retain my own voice––huh? Yes, it can be done, but it takes a lot of work.
My instructor writes to me about different things with each assignment, but his mantra is that it takes hundreds of writing hours to become a good writer. He tells me that my writing is great, but that I’m not used to writing for children and so I must put in the time and practice that it takes. The more I write, the better my thinking about my writing gets and the better my actual writing gets.
Believe it or not, I have to work really hard to keep everything in the same tense. I often find that half of my writing is in present tense while the other half is in past tense. The more I write, the more easily I begin to correct this tendency of mine. It is in the constant practice of writing quantities of words that may not always be quality where I find my best lessons about writing. I know you can’t just write a lot without instruction, but the writing a lot is the only part you can do all by yourself every single day.
I’ve been crabby lately about how little time I spend on my own writing. I complain that I have to take care of my husband and my children and my teaching work. When people say they see me writing every day, I say I don’t count blog posts or my assignments as my own writing. Isn’t that crazy? Of course this writing counts! It’s like saying you aren’t reading unless you are reading a novel. We read all the time and everything counts.
There is one way to become great at the thing you love and that’s to do it a lot in any form. I strive to make writing the thing I am great at doing. This is my obstacle. The only way out is through. So I keep writing––and sometimes complaining––and every morning I shake out the rugs and curtains in my brain so I can write what matters.
"You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.” -Maya Angelou
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.