Friday, June 29, 2012

Teachers Write Week 4: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes a.k.a. Veering Off Course

Yesterday, June 28, 2012, sixty-six Pocatello homes and twenty-nine outbuildings burned in a rapidly moving brush fire fueled by very flammable Juniper trees. Two of the homes belonged to retired colleagues.

The fire-charred area is in the Gibson-Jack and Mink Creek (photos) areas that border the Caribou National Forest. People who live in the area generally revere nature and love the mountains. But living in high desert country poses a natural fire risk, for many one worth taking.

As I've thought about the losses and challenges my neighbors south of town and in Colorado face, I pondered the metaphor of blinding smoke, those things that get us off course and derail us from accomplishing our goals. Of course, many we can't control. Certainly fire victims are at the mercy of nature.

The fire still on my mind, I turned to the Teachers Write Facebook page and found a link Gae Polisner shared. "How to Have a Career: Advice to Young Writers" by Sarah Manguso.

Manguso's admonition to "Avoid all messy and needy people including family; they threaten your work" rings true for me this week, beginning last weekend. Since then I have struggled with staying focused on the writing. I let "smoke get in my eyes," and it was smoke that in the big scheme of things I can't control. I wish I could extinguish others' fires, whatever form they take.

The tragedy in Pocatello, and Manguso's advice have steered me back on course---at least for now. I'm cyclical when it comes to these things. I need constant self-redirecting. As Manguso's says, "You may believe your messy life supplies material, but it in fact distracts you from understanding that material, and until you understand it, it is useless to you."

Really, most things in my life are far less messy than I make them out to be at the time. I must remember that.

Roundup of Teachers Write Posts

Ruth McNally Barshaw's Monday quick write focused on Art Literacy: "the act of creating art improves subsequent writing.  When you draw – even doodle – it changes your thinking so that richer writing results."

You'll find samples of Ruth's story-boarding and character sketches here.

I love this idea, which reminds me of the early Greek pastoral romance Daphnus and Chloe that uses ekphrasis, the verbalization of art in literature, to tell the lovers' story. Of course, we wouldn't have Keats' "Ode On  a Grecian Urn" without the artistic rendering on the vessel.

Tuesday's quick write stayed with the art theme. Julie True Kingsley tells us how to "Find the Character Within" by using magazine pictures and giving the image a name and a life. You'll find directions and examples in the post.

Authors Rosanne Perry, Kristina Springer, Erin Dealey, and Erica S. Pearl answered queries on this week's Wednesday Q&A.

Yet another way to use Wordle is what I found on Thursday's Quick Write. Barb Rosenstock suggests one way to discover one's theme when we wander what we're writing about is to paste a couple of pages into Wordle and see what pops up.

I love this use of Wordle so much and can actually see having students use if for expository essays, as well as argumentative and persuasive ones, too My students often have trouble keeping their writing focused on the topic at hand when analyzing literature and writing other types of essays, as well.

Kate Messner offered a second Quick Write option:

Choose a scene in your story that’s important to the main character or primary figure. Write that scene from a completely different point of view — the antagonist, or the character’s childhood friend who shows up, or the clerk at the grocery store. How does the scene change?

For those still brainstorming ideas or working on something without a main character…
Choose a scene from one of your favorite books that you’ve read, and rewrite it from a totally different character’s point of view. You might try this from a few perspectives. For example, a character who is friends with the main character is one option, but what if you wrote from the antagonist’s point of view?  What if you wrote from the point of view of a child? Or someone much older? Or the family dog?

Sometimes, this writing prompt will lead you to discover something you never realized before. Other times, it may help you to see your character through someone else’s eyes.

Friday Happy Hour

The delightful and funny and dependable Gae Polisner brings us Friday Feedback and a lesson on authentic voice with guest author Margo Sorenson. I'm on my way there to guess the ages of Margo's and Gae's characters. You may guess my age only if you guess younger than I actually am! 

Another great giveaway awaits Teachers Write participants, too. Rosanne Parry is giving an audio book of Second Fiddle