October 25, 2016
When I write anything, I want to be original. I’ve said before I do love to use other ideas and rework them to say something new, but ultimately I want to produce original work. When people read what I write, I want them to know it’s mine. The challenge is so much goes into good writing it can be hard to follow all the directions for good writing, stick to responding to an assignment, and retain one’s voice. But, it can be done.
During my commute to one of the four schools where I teach, I listen to audio books. One of the books I’ve been listening to recently is Originals by Adam Grant who “is Wharton’s top-rated teacher, author of the bestseller Give and Take, and a former junior Olympic springboard diver and magician. He has consulted for Google, Merck, Goldman Sachs, Disney Pixar and the United Nations.”
This book is riveting. It’s all about characteristics of people who are successful at starting new companies and inventing products. The common bonds amongst these successful people is interesting.
* These people do not take huge risks, but instead stay in their jobs with benefits and try out ideas part-time.
* They rely on intuition only when the concept is in their wheelhouse, otherwise they do lots of research and find experts in the unknown field.
* The more they do something, the more creative they get.
There are other common features, but these three push my thinking. They apply to my writing projects just the same way they do to inventing products. I love my writing. I make some money with my writing, but I am not ready to quit my teaching job to hope that the writing will pay off big. When my writing is very successful, it’s because the topic is totally in my wheelhouse. I am a teacher with a master’s degree in literacy. When I write about children or education, I don’t have to ask as many questions or research nearly as much as when I try to write about sports or something else I know very little about. Finally, the more I write, the better I’m getting.
I’m noticing subtle changes in my writing ability since this course started.
This week I pulled out an old manuscript of a picture book I adore. It is so close to my heart but as soon as I re-read it, I realize the big problem. There is no problem. None. Nothing. It’s actually kind of boring. So I printed it and began revising it. What a huge difference! It took me three hours to transform it. Now––
* it’s funny
* there’s a problem
* there’s a solution
* the main character is charming
* and the best part...drum roll please...it’s less than 500 words.
If you aren’t impressed, you must not be a picture book writer.
Now what I notice as I write is I’m instinctively using fewer words and consciously varying my sentences. Word choice is now intentional. I spend long moments of time reviewing synonyms for certain words to choose the one that means what I want. It’s fascinating to observe your own transformation from writing words to crafting a story or article.
Now that my craft is growing, I find myself reaching deep inside for the art. That part of me that writes the words only I can string together. It is this writerly part that makes me the original I want to be––someone who produces original art. When I read my stories that have been put away, I scrunch my forehead in an attempt to recall who wrote this. I mean I know I am the author, but the words sometimes feel so foreign. My writing shows me who I am in ways I never expected when I began to write. This is the thing that can’t be taught, but as Stein states above it doesn’t come out until you understand the craft of writing in a way that becomes second nature. That’s what instructors know as they watch their students in the ICL course. It reminds me of Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid when he teaches Daniel to catch a fly with his chopsticks or clean the windows. “Wax on, wax off.” Daniel is bewildered by the purpose of these seemingly unconnected random activities, but Mr. Miyagi knows Daniel will find the connection on his own or it won’t mean anything. It feels miraculous to Daniel when suddenly he pulls the pieces together to become The Karate Kid. In that great scene, Mr. Miyagi smiles like the Mona Lisa because his work here is done. This is the joy of being the teacher.
This is where I am as a student right now. I am becoming The Karate Kid, so to speak. My writing is starting to make sense to me in a way it honestly and truly did not before. In fact, I remember going to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference in May of this year and feeling like an outsider. There seems to be a trick, I thought. These people are so intentional in what they are writing about and I am just putting down words. I’m not saying that readers didn’t know what I wrote before, but that I couldn’t see the difference between my first draft and my fourth. I made revisions because people told me to, but now I make them because I see where I went astray.
Now that I have the tools and I know how to dig in my soul and my brain to integrate my art, I have begun to create original pieces that have voice. It’s still hard––every single time––but now I know hope. I know I don’t have to take a huge risk. I now feel good relying on my intuition when it’s something I do well. And, now I know the more I do this, the better it will be. The possibilities are endless.
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.