Discipline is a big part of working as a professional writer. It’s important to focus on the task at hand, but I may take a short break to play with new ideas if I hit a lag and need to get the creative juices flowing. After my deadline is met, however, I will have plenty of ideas waiting. How do I decide which to pursue next? I consider two things: exhilaration and marketing. With which of these ideas am I most intrigued? Which will maintain my interest during all the stages of writing–including repeatedly revising and polishing? Once I’ve selected the three most promising, I’ll consider markets. This is especially important for nonfiction. If it won’t sell, why spend the time working on it? Of course, trends change and an idea that may not interest an editor today may interest him in 2-3 months or 2-3 years.
For all things writing, see my Word-Coach blog. “Corralling Ideas” is part of the “Write Through the Year” series.
Earlier this week I finally had a chance to catch up with a dear friend. We went for a walk on the beach and talked about writing. Since she has taken my writing classes in the past (that’s actually how I met her), she reminded me about something I tell my students at all levels: “make your clay and then worry about details later.”
What do I mean by this? A writer’s draft is the medium of our craft which we shape and refine during revision. The real work of writing comes during revision. As writers we need to make our clay, meaning getting the words out of our heads and onto paper where we can then work and rework those words into a finished manuscript. If we were painters, we would have brushes, paints, palette, and paper or canvas to use to create our work. If we were potters, we would begin with a lump of clay and mold, shape, and work in details.
Writers, too, need something to work with–something to shape, trim away excess, add in detail, refine and illuminate. So I encourage all my writers to finish (or nearly finish) a draft before they focus on revising. Why? It’s easier to trim away the excess and add in details, develop a character, refine a plot line, and so on, if you have your basic three-part structure in place. It’s not set in stone. Word processing programs make it (thankfully) easy to move, cut, and add (and return to a previous version if necessary). But, once the words are in black type on white paper or screen, it gives the writer something to see and work with, much like the clay used by potters and sculptors.
Having something concrete to shape takes away the tension of revision for newer writers. Viewing the draft as something that includes debris or flaws to pick out takes the pressure off of creating a “perfect” first draft. The key word is “first,” since many writers create multiple “drafts” before a polished piece is sent to an editor. Incidentally, the editor then refers to that much-revision MS as the “first draft,” since it is his or her first go-round in editing it.
My sister was in town a few weeks ago and stayed with me. While she was here we took a walk through the community where I live and something she said has struck a cord that continues to resonate.
The day of our walk was a typically bright, beautiful day in southern Florida and she marveled at all the colors in the beautifully landscaped yards and common areas. “Even the greens are colorful; there are so many shades of green.”
She’s right. I recall noticing the same thing when I first moved here, but I’ve since taken it for granted. She’s from Michigan and at this time of year even green with a few pops of pink, yellow, or purple from flowering trees is “colorful” compared to gray skies and brown, leafless trees and dead grass.
Though these photos barely reveal the vibrant colors and shades she saw, they do show the landscaping were I live which is thick with tropical plants and trees. The greens vary from light to dark, drab and dusky with yellows and browns in equally varied shades.
I recall being struck by how much green I noticed all around me after moving to Florida. Then I noticed how vivid the greens looked and how many green plants thrived side-by-side, yet the palette was far from boring. It reminded me of my favorite box of Crayola crayons I had as a kid–the largest one with the sharpener on the back and the rows of green in various shades. Olive green, forest green, blue-green, yellow-green, (not to be confused with green-blue or green-yellow, which were slightly different shades), pine green, Screamin’ green, ultra green, and I’m sure the list goes on.
I guess I needed the reminder that I’m lucky to view a tremendous palette of color every day and should show some gratitude. Sometimes it’s nice to see our daily lives through the eyes of a visitor.
For more topics on all things writing, see my Word-Coach blog. This post is part of the “Write Through the Year” series.
Several weeks ago I decided to sprout an avocado seed. The problem is, I’ve been so distracted I failed to trim it back and follow the steps for growing a houseplant from an avocado. By the time I had a chance to plant it, the stem was about 12 inches tall with about six 1- to 2-inch leaves.
I finally made the time to plant it. At first it looked ridiculous in its 6-inch diameter pot, like a stick looming above the soil with a few bits of green at the top. This really bugged me for a few days, and I wondered whether it would end up an avocado tree rather than a plant.
Within a few days, however, I found looking at it calmed me. This stick with a few leaves sprouting from the top, all alone in an overly-large pot became a symbol of simplicity. Simplicity because it looks uncluttered. Just the avocado stick and the pot. Simplicity because it stands tall–lanky but strong and straight despite its environment. Simplicity because it focuses on its purpose–growing. It has now filled out with more than a dozen leaves, several of which are almost the length of the stalk.
My avocado stick is now a plant. It has grown into its pot but remains a reminder to me to focus on simplicity. When I look at it, I’m reminded to keep my life uncluttered, stand tall and strong, and focus on my purpose.