My Mission Statement

I write to serve, to unite, to educate. I write to share literature and flesh out ideas that may be of interest to others. I write to document an emotion, experience, or a blip in time. My mission is to write in such a way that the reader is reminded that we can find humor in all situations. It's one of the great blessings of life.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

I feel like Sally Fields-Day 4 Highlights Writers Workshop Writing for Children

Remember when Sally Fields accepted her academy award with "You love me. You really do"? That's how I felt this morning when I saw how many hits I had on my blog yesterday. WOW. My biggest day since I began, so thank you. I'm going to attribute it to my insider status at Chautauqua and press on with the news from here. I'm hoping to get caught up and on the correct day after today. The workshops are in the afternoon, so I'll type up yesterday's high points this morning and hopefully today's before bed tonight. Whew! But first, a few personal points about Chautauqua. I'm feeling a little melancholy today, missing my family and worrying about all the nuts and bolts of home. My husband has his hands full, even with the help of his mom, and I hope they're not all just worn out. I talked to the kids this morning, and it made me really miss them. It feels greedy to miss a week of their summer vacation with them to do something like this, but I don't think THEY're missing ME at all. They're having a ball with Grandma, friends helping out, and a visit to their other grandparents at the end of the week. Plus, I'm very tired. I've been going to bed way after midnight, up by 7, and working like crazy all week. In between all the wonderful workshops, I rush off to write, write, write. It's amazing how the ideas flow when you're in an environment so conducive to creativity. Sara commented yesterday that she was at another Highlights writing event last week-end. If you get a minute, Sara, tell us which one it was and give a brief description. I've become a huge Highlights fan. I can't imagine there is another group that is so supportive of writers for children. This experience is so well organized, helpful, etc.

Okay, yesterday, Day 4, was a GREAT day for me. Definitely the best day yet. We began the day with a keynote by the amazing Patty Lee Gauch. She spoke about heartbeats as a measure of our body's health and vigor. Then, she likened it to the heart of a story. Like the other keynotes, it was heavily peppered with reading from children's authors (awesome, awesome, awesome). Her two main points were this: Writers need to write with heart. A story can never go to the heart if it doesn't START at the heart. And Write with a voice of authority. Never flinch. Demand that your character get what he needs. She said that if you could post anything in your workspace, it should be this question: Will my readers CARE about my character?

I loved her analogy that a good story is like a storm. You see it coming with little hints of what's to come, but you've got to sit in the middle of it to really see how it's going to shake out. Then at the end, the storm clears, and the sky is different.

In summation, she said, "Give us a story we can care about, a character we can love, let us hear your heart, and never flinch." Good stuff.

Then my first session was with Eileen Spinelli on poetry. First of all, I must say that ES must be the sweetest, most adorable woman I've ever seen. She has such a gentle spirit, contagious joy, and is truly the original Stargirl, as I've heard suggested.

She read a lot of poetry, her own and others and made the following suggestions.
1. Write, write, write poetry.
2. Read and reread lots of good poetry and absorb it.
3. Make a scrapbook of your favorite poems and go back to it again and again for inspiration and to get your mind in the flow.
4. Immerse yourself in your own childhood. Keep a picture of yourself as a child in your workspace.
5. Start with lots of fun, playful energy. Always write the first draft with the joy, energy and recklessness of a child. Then put on your adult hat for revision.

After her presentation, I bought her collection SUMMERHOUSE TIME which is a collection of verse that tells a story of a young girl's summer. I read the whole thing last night. It's so charming and original. It will change the way you perceive a collection of poetry.

My second session, as if Eileen Spinelli wasn't treat enough, was my all time favorite middle grade author, JERRY Spinelli, her husband. He spoke on humor in total deadpan and told us all not to try to be funny. Which, of course, was hilarious. He said he never knew he was funny until he'd sold his first novel, SPACE STATION SEVENTH GRADE, and was proofing it. He laughed out loud, and said to his wife, "Honey. I think I might be funny."

A few telling quotes from his presentation.
"I don't write for kids. I write about kids."
"Don't go down to them. Let them come up to you."
"I don't write for myself. I write for the story."

He said he has conversations with his story, takes it to a diner (again deadpan, hilarious), and asks, "How do you want me to write you? What makes you tick? What are you all about anyway?"

"It's not so much that I'm funny, it's that I'm writing funny stuff. If you tell your story right, humor is a byproduct."

"Think of yourself as RELEASING your story. You're digging and kicking dirt away, dusting it off, to discover what's beneath."

"Out of respect to your reader, don't shove it down their throat. Release it respectfully."

Now I want to read his memoir of his growing-up years KNOTS IN MY YO YO STRING. You KNOW there's some serious humor byproduct there.

My last session of the day was Peter Jacobi again. He is truly an amazing speaker and presenter. Impeccable prepared, lovingly presented, you can really tell how he loves his material. His knowledge of writers is amazing. The first night he was introduced, someone said he receives over 100 literary magazines and reads them all. I believe it. He spoke on Beginnings and Endings.

4 Responsibilities of a Beginning
1. Establish the subject
2. Set the tone
3. Attract attention
4. Guide clearly into the story

1. Something to tell the reader it's over
2. Something that makes a lasting impression

Whew. Just an overview that hardly tickles the surface of the Chautauqua experience. I mean, I'd like to tell you that you can experience this through me via my blog, but there's just no way to describe the environment, the experience, the support network, the whole deal. I can't even put it into words except to say
1. I wish I could come every year. (some people have come several times, and I can see why!)
2. You MUST make every effort to do it if you're serious at all about writing for children.

I love you all, dear readers. Thank you for holding me accountable to this blog. I loved sharing with you because I got to experience it twice.

I'd like to summarize a few other things I've learned so far, and these things were gleaned from the overall experience, so I have no famous authors to quote or editors to cite.
1. Get to the heart of your story, write it all about, before you start revising and even the critique process. It's the best way to capture the voice of your protag.
2. Forget about all these stupid rules people tell you. All the best writing has broken at least one. I've found myself really caught up in what 'someone' said should be on my first page, first sentence, etc. and NOT. Throw it out and figure out what works for you. You're the only one who can do it, and the sooner you let go of all the noise and write for yourself, the better your work will be.
3. This is a LONG, LONG process. I've learned that I've come a LONG way as a writer in these last couple of years, but that I have a LONG way to go. My most recent manuscript may never see the light of day, and my next one might not, either. BUT I do know that I will eventually make it if I stick with it long enough. For the first time, I am confident of that point.
4. Listen to the works of others as much as possible. (notice I didn't say read, LISTEN)

Okay, well, gotta run and actually be IN Chautauqua.
xoxox If anyone's reading in or around my hometown, kiss the kiddos and my hubby for me. I sure do miss them.


Dorothy said...

Donna, again THANK YOU for taking the time to report on your full day. I'm devouring these posts. I love your newly won confidence in your writing future. I'd already come to the conclusion that before one submits her material to critiquers, it should be finished enough for you to have gone back and revised it the way you think it should be. That may be hard to do. I haven't figured out just how to manage it. It's so easy to crash too early on an idea when you submit prematurely.
Get some sleep, so you'll stay on top of things up there. Too valuable to miss an instant feeling punk. XXOOOXX

Diane said...

As another member of Donna's crit group (hi Dorothy!) I find it somewhat funny/ironic/natural (not sure which) that we both zeroed in on the comment about critiquing too early. Guess I better stop reading blogs and start writing so I can finish the durn thing, revise it a few times then get ready to sub to the crit group in... what? My turn again in a couple weeks?... oh, never mind!

Thanks again Donna for being so forthcoming with your experiences. I just know you're going to come home and ooze inspiration all over us. Which, really, after a long, no-time-to-write summer, will be much needed and appreciated!

Isabel by Donna Jones Koppelman

Isabel by Donna Jones Koppelman

Major Bear at the Grove Park Inn by Donna Jones Koppelman

Major Bear at the Grove Park Inn by Donna Jones Koppelman