Happy Birthday!

IMG_5613Today is my granddaughter, Lola Mae’s, third birthday. I’m jazzed to have her in the world and in my life. See that look in her eyes? That’s the look I always want to see when a kid listens to me read one of my books…heck…any book. Those inquisitive young minds need stories that will transport and transfix them. They need stories that will show them how to become the best humans they can be. I recently read a stat from, if I remember correctly, a British publication that said you can predict the number of prison cells a population will need based on the number of illiterate 11 year olds. Books change lives. Lola Mae is one of the lucky ones. She has parents who adore her and who read to her and surround her with music and a beautiful natural environment. As monies drift away from hiring school librarians and entire counties in Oregon have had to close their libraries for lack of funds, I fear for the future of our citizenry. So, writers and book lovers and teachers and parents wherever you may be, please…put books into the hands of kids and help them learn to read them!

Cover-Artwork-233x300While I’m here, let me tout the Oregon S.M.A.R.T. program (getsmartoregon.org). They’re doing a great job of making new readers and they’ve even published a book of short stories written and illustrated by Oregonians to celebrate their 25th anniversary. It’s a great book and a purchase supports this vital volunteer organization. If you get your hands on one, check out my story “Will and the Piper.” You’ll also find stories by my awesome writer peeps Judy Cox, Barbara Kerley, and Nancy Coffelt, and many more. Enjoy!

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Sketching for Writers

Reading back through earlier posts gives me ideas I forgot I ever had. This one’s a keeper and I need to start doing it again. I offer it to you as a writing challenge. Enjoy!

Kim T. Griswell: Bespectacled & Bookish

Fresh back from teaching Mastering Setting with Kelly Going (K.L. Going), I am excited about a concept that arose and wanted to share it with my writing peeps. On Friday evening, we were fortunate to have Melanie Hall as a a guest. Melanie is an illustrator whose work I would characterize as musical and flowing. Every illustration reveals a dreamscape of some kind, in a very Chagall-like way. As it turns out, Chagall is one of Melanie’s major influences.

One of the things I most love about having illustrators as guests for writing workshops is that artists are wonderful at showing process. They bring sketchbooks along and show us how many drawings it took to get to a final characterization or composition.

Melanie’s sketchbooks gave us a great opportunity to talk about the concept of “sketching.” I pointed out the difference between artists–who do sketch after sketch after sketch–and writers…

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Deep Peace

Sometimes when I sit down to write my mind is still. Totally at peace. My life right now is virtually stress-free, filled with leisurely moments (and long hours) of contentment. I have all I need–a home, plenty to eat, and the love of my life finally showed up to joined me. I live in the beautiful artsy town of Ashland, Oregon. The RV my hubs and I live in is cozy, parked beneath a towering redwood. It’s our version of the American Dream and it fits us as perfectly as we fit together. So when I sit down to write, my mind is still. Turns out, that’s a bit of a problem. To write, that stillness must in some way be disturbed. Often, I find it difficult to disturb the peace of my existence to make way for story. I can hop on the Internet and rile myself up about something, but that just sucks away hours that would be better used writing. Often, I crave a change of venue to give me back a bit of the edge I need to write. Coffee shops. Writing outside. Putting together a makeshift workspace with a chair and a music stand to hold my iPad with keyboard so I can sit outside my husband’s workshop and do a bit of crafting. Those changes help, but what helps most? Writing practice. Just putting my fingers on the keys and starting to type. I get sucked into writing the same way I would if I’d chosen to open Facebook and scroll through the posts. I forget at times how well writing practice works. This blog is helping me to remember. So…what about you? How to you train or trick your way into writing? I’d love to hear!cropped-kim-griswell-header.jpg

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The Problem with Series

This gallery contains 1 photo.

I love series…and I hate series. A great series has characters and settings to fall in love with and get to know. There’s edge-of-your-seat anxiety as the plot heats up and unfolds, and you can’t wait for that oh-so-satisfying conclusion. … Continue reading

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Why Sketching Matters

ImageOne of my wonderful writers shared with me something picture book author Candy Fleming told her: to keep in mind that most of what we write will be crap. Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron also remind us to feel free to write the worst garbage in the world, especially first thing every day. What I like about the idea of “writing sketches” is that we can explore all kinds of things in quick sketch form. Writing sketches are much like the sketches artists do for a painting. Before uncapping an expensive tube of alizarin crimson oil paint an artist will do page after page of sketches, often looking directly at a subject in different poses, different lights, on different days. That’s what it takes to truly understand a boy dressed in blue or a woman draped on a couch or a vase of sunflowers or a starry night.

If we think of quick writes to explore place or character or emotion or tension as sketches and realize that we’ll do many of them before we find the best way to write something, we’ll be polishing our skills the way artists polish theirs. I’m reading The Monster Calls by Patrick Ness which has the most amazing illustrations by Jim Kay. On his web site Kay writes about doing 30 sketches of the boy for one scene. 30! How often do writers write something 30 times trying to get it right? Ever? Few of us do. We are too attached to the way our words first fall on the page or we think we are supposed to be able to get things down perfectly the first time. We even feel like we’re not really writers if we don’t.

That’s just weird, really, when you think about it. How many times must a choir rehearse a song or a violinist practice scales? What I think now is that we’re not really serious writers unless we sketch as much with words as artists do with pencils. We writers haven’t developed enough ways to do writing practice nor have we required it of ourselves. As if out of all creative types we are the only ones who can (and must) get it right either the first time or after a few little tweaks.

Let go of that! Give yourself permission to write and write and write some more knowing that among the sketches will be some things that might become masterpieces. It might be the way the girl at the next table keeps laughing as she reads her journal or how the cold coming off the plate glass window beside your table has seeped into your bones or the fact that the man standing in line for coffee wears light gray pants with creases sharp enough to cut paper. Think about this—if you’re not doing lots of writing sketches, your stories and books will have the quality of a first sketch. And that, my writing friends, will not a masterpiece make.

And if you’re tempted to submit a manuscript to an editor before you’ve done enough sketching, just take a look at Leonardo da Vinci’s journals. You’ll be inspired, I hope, to buy and carry around a writer’s sketchbook. And if you use it, I promise your writing skills will begin to shine. And you’ll have a lot of fun, too!

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Sketching for Writers

Melanie Hall, Bridge and Fish

Fresh back from teaching Mastering Setting with Kelly Going (K.L. Going), I am excited about a concept that arose and wanted to share it with my writing peeps. On Friday evening, we were fortunate to have Melanie Hall as a a guest. Melanie is an illustrator whose work I would characterize as musical and flowing. Every illustration reveals a dreamscape of some kind, in a very Chagall-like way. As it turns out, Chagall is one of Melanie’s major influences.

One of the things I most love about having illustrators as guests for writing workshops is that artists are wonderful at showing process. They bring sketchbooks along and show us how many drawings it took to get to a final characterization or composition.

Melanie’s sketchbooks gave us a great opportunity to talk about the concept of “sketching.” I pointed out the difference between artists–who do sketch after sketch after sketch–and writers, who seem reluctant to change a word once they put it in on the page. I wondered if there could be an equivalent of sketching for writers, and we talked about Julia Cameron and her idea of “morning pages”–quick writes first thing in the morning as writing warm-ups. Those are great for getting the writing juices flowing, but I don’t think they are the equivalent of sketches.

What is a sketch? It’s a way to try things out. It’s a way to search for different ways into a subject. It’s a way to train the eye to “see” clearly and in detail. It’s a way to explore elements–perhaps you draw a hand over and over and over, or an eye, or a fingernail. Sketching is loose and fluid; it’s not meant to be “final.” It’s a prelude, an entry point.

As writers, we seem to think that every word we put on the page must march in lockstep toward a finished product. We don’t give ourselves room to sketch. But what if we did? What if we carried around notebooks and sketched–in words instead of pictures. Free, loose, meant only to closely examine and capture something in particular.

That napkin on the table: it has thousands of little puffy pillows in it. From my vantage point, looking down at the napkin lying flat on the table, those thousands of puffs look like snow-covered mountains seen from a plane cruising at 30,000 feet.

The brick wall beside me, no not simply brick. Rough red bricks embedded in concrete. Not all one color: maroon and burnt sienna and chocolate brown, some scuffed with charcoal . . . some glazed, glowing, reflecting the track lighting shining down on them. Others dull like chalk, broken, chipped . . . The shiny ones feel smooth to the touch, the dully ones raspy.

  • Sketching forces a writer to observe the details, and in detail lies the difference between rich writing and writing that lacks substance.
  • Sketching frees the writer from the confines of structure, plot and character and tension and climax.
  • Sketching allows the writer to develop fluidity and skill.

If you sketch 100 characters in coffee shops–in words, only words–what will you know about people that you don’t know now? If you sketch emotions on faces, what can you reveal without saying “She was angry”? If you sketch settings, what will you be able to bring to your work that you can’t bring now? Sketch the smells, the sounds–the clock that just chimed, the hiss of the coffee steamer, how many questions the barista must ask of every customer. Does her voice sound interested or annoyed?

Sketch conversations: “I have to do homework today,” says the barista . “When I came in today, there was this homeless guy sleeping on the patio.” “What do you think about that hazelnut?” “I wouldn’t say it’s bad.” “It’s soy, right?” “No. It’s hazelnut. It’s actually made out of hazelnuts.” “I thought it was hazelnut flavored soy or something.”

Sketch physical characteristics: The barista is quick, mouselike, her long hair caught back in a wheat-brown tail that whips from side to side as she moves from customer to espresso machine to pie case to toaster to cash register . . . over and over, scampering about behind the counter.

I offer you this concept: sketching for writers. Just as sketching makes artists better at what they do, sketching with words will make you a better writer. And some of those sketches will inevitably find their way into your work–characters, dialogues, settings, sensory details, all of these can come from sketches.

I hope you’ll share some of your sketches here, but maybe you’ll keep that sketchbook to yourself–or share it someday when you teach a writing workshop!

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Chocolate Whipped Cream

Sean's Whipped Cream Experience

Today I’m thinking about chocolate whipped cream and that, sometimes there really can be too much of a good thing. I asked the young barista at Bloomsbury Coffee House in Ashland for “just a little” whipped cream. She proceeded to pile a chocolate whipped-cream mountain atop my almond milk mocha. I’m not quite sure why she did that. Maybe she wasn’t listening. Maybe it just looked pretty to her. Maybe she loves whipped cream and despite the “just a little” she thought–more is always better. Maybe she just wasn’t paying attention.

My favorite barista of all-time, Diana, back in Honesdale, PA, was the queen of whipped cream. Her whipped cream was all about connection–the more she loved you, the more whipped cream you got. As we became friends, getting a mocha from Diana was like getting a mugful of Mt. Vesuvius in full eruption. You had to have a saucer under the cup and then you had to take big gulps out of the saucer or it would run over onto the table and spread across the floor and out the door onto the sidewalk and down the street all the way to the next town. Yes. Diana had a love-affair with whipped cream. And it didn’t matter that most of the coffee boiled out of the mug with the whipped cream. What mattered was that the gesture warmed my heart and made me feel as if someone out cared that I existed.

Human connection . . . really, that’s what writing is all about. The writer connecting with the reader, or the writer revealing something about her inner world, or the writer illuminating something about what it means to be human. If your stories don’t say “human” in some way, then dig deeper. Put yourself inside your characters. Is the young barista passively aggressive? She really hates her job and does the opposite of what customers ask because she wishes they’d just go the heck away. Is she generous? Does she want to make an impression? Is she hungry? What emotion is behind all that whipped cream? Without emotion, humanity, the writing will be flat. So next time you sit down at your keyboard, write yourself a whipped-cream eruption.

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