Friday, October 20, 2017

A Lesson in Writing: Part One

A few weeks ago, I started a Meet-up group. It was kind-of a random thing and kind-of not. I used to host a monthly writing night through SCBWI, but stopped a year or so back when time and life got in the way. It was too bad, really. Writing can be so solitary; it was refreshing to have that time to share with like-minded people. The kick in the pants came when my daughter transferred to a local college. She went to every group she could, trying to find “her people”. I was inspired. Who are my people? My thoughts went to that quiet group. Those were my people. I needed to find them again.

As I said in the beginning, I went to Meet-up and registered my group: Writing in Black and White and waited as the numbers slowly began to climb. My people! They needed me as much as I needed them!

I started planning our first gathering. My last writing night was held at the local Panera, but I’ve changed a bit since then, become a bit quirkier, I guess. I decided to have the new location be at a steampunk coffee shop down by the canal: Steamworks. It’s perfect. We met for the first time last night.

I was surrounded by great coffee and new/old friends. My people. We talked, we wrote, and while I was doing that, I thought of this blog. A lot of times I don’t write anything because I truly don’t think I have anything to say. You’re busy. You don’t want to read my rambling thoughts. But then last night as I sat next to an illustrator who wants to turn writer, and I taught her the very beginnings: how to get inspired, I realized I do have something to say, something worth reading. So, that’s what I’m going to do here on the Fridays after those meetings: I’m going to review the lessons taught and the lessons learned from the night before. So grab a cup of coffee and join me. I could always use more of “my people”.

First, this lovely woman had a blank notebook and a pencil that she was staring at while the rest of us plunked away at a fast pace on our computers. You could see the anxiety on her face, growing by the second. I pulled out my phone.

“My inspiration comes from lots of places,” I said, “But I’m a visual person. I’m guessing, as an artist, so are you.”

She nodded, relief on her face. She wasn’t looking at the blank paper anymore.

I scrolled through my pictures, showing her the *one that inspired Rachel, one of the main characters from my series. “See,” I said. “See how that woman looks scared, how she’s pulling her shirt in, how she’s trying to cover herself as best she can?”

The woman nodded. She saw.

“And look how she’s in a hurry, almost running to get away. What do you think she’s thinking? What do you think she’s feeling?”

“She’s scared.”

 I nodded. “Now show me some pictures that inspire you.”

She got out her phone and scrolled down. Within five minutes she was looking at a picture of an old building, wondering who worked there, what they did, and how life would have been like in those days. Within five minutes her paper wasn’t blank anymore. She was scribbling, writing as fast as she could.

What inspires you?

Let’s look at some pictures, and as you do, ask yourself questions.  

Who lives here? Who owns that car? What are they like? Are they poor/rich? What are their dreams? Have they lived there their whole life? Are they just waiting to move out? Is that why they bought that old Bug--and tried to fix it up with spare parts they found? What is their story? I want to hear it, don't you?
How about him? Is he running away--or is he just out for a walk? How old is he? Is he an only child? Who are his friends? Why is he alone? Does he want to be? Is he lonely? Is he lost? Tell me about him. Help me to know him. Help me to love him.
One last one:

Who are they? Did they just meet, or have they known each other forever? Did they grow up next-door and only recently realize that what they've been looking for all along is right there? Are they afraid to reach out again, to let themselves try, just one last time?
See how protective he looks? She how he's looking at her--and how she's looking at him? To them, in that moment, there's no one else in the world. She in him and him in her. Do you feel that? Because that's what this exercise has been about: feelings. Drawing them out, writing them down. People, all of us, are feeling creatures. We want people to make us want to give a damn. We want something to love, to fight for. As a writer, it is up to you to give that to them and you can't until you feel it first in yourself. Try it. Your future readers will thank you for it.
Until next time--
All pictures on this post have been obtained from Canva. Try them--highly recommended.
*An American Girl in Italy by Ruth Orkin