Monday, June 28, 2010

Creative Write & Playshop #3 School Years

Write what should not be forgotten!

Good morning, writers!It was nice to hear from so many of you about the writing workshop. Some of you may still be madly scribbling down memories of those early years. As one of you wrote, some of us have a longer way to travel back. Some of you wrote that you were checking out the assignments and planned to work on them once school was out. I hope that you have been having a good journey so far.

School brings me to the subject of your next assignment, but first be sure to keep the memories you’ve already written from your first five years in a safe place, because I’ll be asking you to go back to them to hunt for treasure in a future assignment.

Assignment #3. School years. For this assignment you’ll be writing about your elementary through Junior High school years. You may want to refer to the list I gave you in the last assignment, because what we’re digging for in our memories are our emotional experiences. So it won’t just be remembering that special dress for the first day of school, for example, but your whole experience of shopping, how you felt about your new outfit–what did you like or dislike about it? Did it seem perfectly beautiful at home but sort of plain when you saw the amazing dresses the other girls were wearing?

Another great topic for school years are friendships. Friendships can change overnight or over the summer or over a holiday. Do you remember how heartbreaking it was to suddenly be the odd girl/boy out or to lose your best friend or to move and suddenly have no friends? One of my favorite books about the loss of friendship is, All Alone in the Universe by Newbery author Lynne Rae Perkins. My own Secrets of Greymoor (click on jacket cover top left for more) and Hattie on Her Way show a lot about how not to make friends. Poor Hattie desperately wants friends, but then she keeps going about it all wrong. You get the idea. Look for experiences in your school years that are charged with emotion, and you'll never lack for story ideas.

These assignments are about you and about finding your stories, so keep that in mind as you start to set down your school days stories. This time, I want you to write down memories of as many of your first days of school as you can remember. Then move on from there and write down your most evocative memories of special holidays throughout the year–Columbus Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, etc. Go through the school year drawing out the most vivid memories you have of each holiday and each season. Recapture the smells and sounds of school along with the everyday sights. You may want to write some character sketches for some of your teachers and close friends or bullies. Again, be sure to use as many of the senses–touch, sight, sound, smell, taste as you can to make your experience spring to life on the page. Once you have recaptured these special times, I think you’ll begin to see how some of them might be material for a short story, a picture book, a poem or a chapter book.

Take a trip to the library and search out books that involve school. There’s a wonderful picture book by Rosemary Well’s called Timothy’s First Day of School that’s about Timothy’s first few days of school and how things go wrong and how he finally gets it right and makes a new friend. Patricia Reilly Giff’s Polk Street Gang series is perfect for those of you who want to write for younger readers. I especially love the first one in the series, The Beast in Ms. Rooney’s Room. Of course, there are all the wonderful Ramona books by Beverly Cleary that you’ll want to check out. I’m sure every library has well-worn copies of those. Please feel free to send titles of your own favorites to share with the rest of us--please! Have a fun week writing down your school memories. Write from the heart!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Creative Write & Playshop continued

Assignment #2 Art lies in the details. Observe. Notice. Experience.

Good morning writers! Let's get started on our journey. To begin, you will be going back to your own beginnings and for this assignment you'll be writing down your memories from your first five years. I know that some of you have done this already for other workshops (including this one from last year), and if you have, dig out those old notebooks or files and review what you've written. You'll need them for future assignments.

For those of you who are tapping into your emotional memories for the first time, read on. (okay, read on anyway!) And don't forget to do those morning pages as per The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. I'll be writing along with you, and we'll all be writing buddies for the summer. If you don't have a copy of her book, just write nonstop for 10-30 minutes each morning without making any judgments. Write about anything or nothing, and don't worry about spelling or grammar or punctuation or content, just write! See, you can do it.

The long option is to just start writing everything you remember from your first five years--the years when you experience so many firsts--walking, talking, learning to tie shoelaces, button a shirt or blouse, zipper a jacket. . . Some of those things none of us will remember, but write down the ones that you do. You may start with the anecdotes that always get told at family gatherings. That's fine, but you'll want to move beyond those. Once you start, you'll be surprised how many memories you have. For this option, you can skip around if you want because one memory often leads to another and soon the memories will pour out of you, and you'll simply want to keep writing and writing. When the flood comes, get down the most important details first like a synopsis and go back and fill in later. If it's a memory that was emotionally significant for you, you may want to write the whole event as you experienced it.

Be sure to keep a little notebook with you all the time to jot down those memories that are sure to come when you're showering or walking or driving. Memories really can be fleeting, so write them down.

The next two options involve making a list. I'm offering one here. Look over the list. You may want to add some headings of your own, and you may want to leave several pages or more between the headings. If you're a fiction writer, it'll look a lot like a list for character development. It is. Except this time it's all about you! For the short short option just write a list with a few details under the headings. For the longer option, you'll want to add more details. Some of you may want to develop scenes. It's all up to you. Do whatever works best for you. Feel free to add to the list.
1. Things I learned how to do
2. Family, friends--write a little about your primary relationships. You can do mini character sketches of them as well if you want, writing something about how they looked and their personalities.
3. Setting--what do you remember about where you lived. You can draw your house, inside and out, a detailed drawing of how you remember your private world and even your neighborhood. For fun, grab some colored pencils or crayons and put some color in your world.
4. Favorite things--toys, books, food, games, and things you hated, and why.
5. Fears. What frightened you? Why? Suddenly discovering that you were alone? Darkness? Shadows? Spiders?
6. Illnesses. Write about how that felt. Not just the physical but the emotional such as feeling left out, the isolation.
7. Trips.
8. Embarrassed.
9. Angry.
10. Ashamed.
11. What is the very best memory you have of your early years. Describe it as completely as you can. Then write about your most traumatizing memory.
12. Holidays.

When you're writing about a particularly emotional memory, try to recall as many specific details as you can. Was it day or night? Was the sun shining? Rainy? Snowing? Cold or hot. Do you remember what you were wearing? Can you recall any smells? Sounds? Think about touch. Try to recapture your experience through your senses. It is through our senses that we remember, so the more specific sensory detail you can add the more you will feel as if you are right there in that moment, and that's where you want to get--to live it as the child, not just look back from an adult's perspective. Once you can do this for yourself, you can do it in all your writing.

If you have any questions, please feel free to send me an e-mail. claragillowclark (@) If you want to share, do the same. Most of all, I want you to enjoy this journey into yourself.

What comes from the heart, goes to the heart!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Write and Play Shop! Plus Limited time offer on editing fees!

Some of you may remember this series of workshops from last summer, and I know many of you were diligently writing and recapturing lost memories. Maybe you stopped after awhile. That's okay. Find those notebooks and read them over and pick up where you left off! I know you'll find some happy surprises in the pages you wrote and good material for books and stories. For many of you this workshop will be new. Welcome!

The Write and Play Shop will be a series of assignments to help you find your own personal stories and which of those stories are important for you to develop into a memoir, a short story, novel, or poetry. For some of you it may be enough just to do the writing assignments in a journal form. You'll have choices of how much or how little you want to write--I'll give you a long, short, and a very short option to follow. What we'll be doing is tapping into our emotional memories and I'll give you specific instructions about that first thing Wednesday morning.

But first, our very first assignment--and I'm going to be doing this along with you--will be to keep what Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way calls an Artist's Date, which for our purposes means to get happy and cozy with your writing space. For this writing journey, buy or make a journal (decorate it if you want) and choose your favorite writing instrument. I like a marbled black and white composition book and a mechanical pencil for my brainstorming and draft outlines. But if you're really wedded to your computer for everything, well, that's fine too.

Look around for some special things for your writing space--a favorite quote, a favorite "thinking" tool, photos. I have a flat black rock, a mini koosh ball, author/artist quotes... Here's one of the quotes and a good one for our creative adventure: "I have tried to write the best I can; sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can." ~Ernest Hemingway

If you don't have a copy of Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, you'll want to purchase or borrow a copy. So along with jotting down memories, write morning pages as per Julia and find your own spiritual path to higher creativity. What we're doing is filling the well. Mine feels a little dry right now, so I'll be scribbling furiously in my notebook along with you. 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to ask questions, share experiences in a comment to the blog or in an e-mail: claragillowclark (@)  My hope is that you will each find your own special and unique writing voice by plumbing the depths of your emotional experience!

For many of you who have been following me for awhile, you know that I teach writing and do freelance editing. For a limited time (June and July) I'm offering a Summer fee reduction of 30%. That means for a picture book ms up to 10 pages my flat fee of $50 is now $35.  For longer works--chapter books, middle grade and young adult only, please--my fee of $3 per page is now $2 per page. If you're interested, shoot me an e-mail. I'll send you my address and other particulars.

I'll be back on Wednesday when we'll set out on our journey. Have fun setting up a writing space of your own and be ready to write!