Unlock the Muse – July 18, 2018

It’s been HOT this week! We’ve had the highest temperatures of the year so far around my part of the world. Not record-breaking temperatures, thank goodness, but still too hot for me! I’d like to say my writing has been just as hot, but to be honest, I’m moving a little slow. I will have big leaps forward, followed by slow plodding progress. Still, I’ll take the forward progress however it comes!

Inspire
Here is your writing prompt for this week:

Make a list of all the things you hope to accomplish or experience by the time you are 30, 50 or 100 years old and tell why.

Now, create this same list for your protagonist. And again for your antagonist. What big goal of the latter’s stands in the way of one of the former’s? Use this to create more conflict in your story this week.

Encourage
It’s Week Three of Camp NaNoWriMo. Here’s some advice from Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! to keep things moving forward on a month-long novel writing challenge:

One of the worst things about being an adult is not getting to color as often as we should. This week, give your monitor-burned eyeballs a rest for an hour or so and go old school, forsaking the computer for a big piece of blank paper and some colored pencils or crayons.

The goal of this exercise is to create a map of your fictional world. On the map, you should include all your characters’ homes, their schools or workplaces, and any place they’ve visited in the book. This may be the first time you’ve thought about the spatial layout of your world, so feel free to make things up as you go.

Baty goes on to suggest you add further details to your map, things that don’t already exist in your book – a tattoo parlor, a clock tower, a giant swamp. Use this as a creative opportunity to add color, detail and new life to your story.

Equip
It’s vocabulary week, and this our word for today is:

e·piph·a·ny
əˈpifənē/
noun

1. a. (1) a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something. (2) an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking. (3) an illuminating discovery, realization or disclosure.
b. a revealing scene or moment.

2. an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being.

3. capitalized: January 6 observed as a church festival in commemoration of the coming of the Magi as the first manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, or in the Eastern Church in commemoration of the baptism of Christ.
(from merriam-webster.com)

It doesn’t surprise me to learn that the word epiphany originally comes from the Greek. It comes from the late Greek word epiphaneia, meaning “manifestation, striking appearance, festival held in commemoration of the appearance of a god at some particular place.” In the New Testament, this refers to the “advent of manifestation of Christ.”
(from etymonline.com)

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

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Unlock the Muse – July 11, 2018

It’s the second week of July, and my Camp NaNoWriMo project is booming. I begin to wonder if I set my word count goal too low. But I’m sort of liking the no pressure fun, and the freedom it’s given me to really play with ideas. Though, my plan to finish drafting my novel has turned into plotting out the larger series. Work is getting done, however, so I’ll go with it. I’m working on my “deliberate prelude.”

Inspire
Here’s your July 2018 week two prompt:

If you could be reborn during any time in history, which era would it be? Why?

Now, set the scene for a new historical story. Free write about the pros and cons of your chosen era. What sort of story will you set there? A romance? Paranormal western? Zombie apocalypse?

Encourage
Getting through week two of a month long novel writing challenge might be the hardest. The newness and enthusiasm of week one has settled into the reality of a horrible first draft. By the way, all first drafts are horrible, so you’re not alone!

In No Plot? No Problem!, Chris Baty offers this tip for week two:

On days when you don’t have the time to write or energy for a full writing session, you can help keep your word debt low with quick writing sessions I call Check-Ins. These are noveling quickies where you just poke your head into your novel for twenty minutes or so, add a pinch of color here, an embellishment there, and then call it a night after 500 words or so.

It may seem like a pitiful drop in the bucket, but every word you write is one less you’ll have to tackle the next day. The main point of a Check-In, though, is to help you maintain a creative connection to your book so your imagination will continue to nibble away at the story until you sit down for the next full-blown write-in.

Equip
It’s grammar week! Though not precisely a grammar issue, in the “Elementary Principles of Composition” chapter in Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, there is this advice on writing:

Choose a suitable design and hold to it.
A basic structural design underlies every kind of writing. Writers will in part follow this design, in part deviate from it, according to their skills, their needs, and the unexpected events that accompany the act of composition. Writing, to be effective, must follow closely the thoughts of the writer, but not necessarily in the order in which those thoughts occur. This calls for a scheme of procedure. In some cases, the best design is no design, as with a love letter, which is simply an outpouring, or with a casual essay, which is a ramble. But in most cases, planning must be a deliberate prelude to writing. The first principle of composition, therefore, is to foresee or determine the shape of what is to come and pursue that shape.

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand – A Review

I chose to listen to Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand on audio book narrated by George Newbern for the 2018 Reading Challenge, a book about sports.

This book takes the reader through the history of horse racing in America during the Great Depression. Seabiscuit was racing at a time in America’s history when the people desperately needed heroes. And Seabiscuit was the perfect hero for such a time.

Hillenbrand opens her book a bit slow, with a detailed history of how the three major players in Seabiscuit’s career came together. It begins with Charles Howard’s move to San Francisco where he became a bicycle repairman at a time when automobiles were only beginning to make an appearance. He made his fortune selling cars and soon became interested in horse racing.

She then details the journey trainer Tom Smith and jockey Red Pollard each took as they came together with Howard and Seabiscuit and a racing legacy that would have a huge impact on the American people.

Laura Hillenbrand has crafted a well-written story. Though it’s a true story, she has managed to give it the dramatic flow of a good fiction story. She used the natural drama of the horse racing scene and the incredible events of Seabiscuit’s career to create a really good book. Hillenbrand took advantage of the natural suspense in a horse race, capitalizing on it beautifully to increase the tension as the story unfolded.

It ends much the way it began with a detailed description of the end the careers and lives of Tom Smith, Red Pollard and Charles Howard. And of course, Seabiscuit himself.

Unlike many of the nonfiction books I’ve chosen to listen to recently, this one is well suited for the audio format. Newbern did a fantastic job narrating this story, often imitating the voice of race callers to great effect.

Breaking Into the Current: Boatwomen of the Grand Canyon, by Louise Teal – A Review

For prompt #48 on the 2018 Reading Challenge (a microhistory), I chose to read Breaking Into the Current: Boatwomen of the Grand Canyon, by Louise Teal. My sister lent me this book awhile back when I started looking for interesting stories of real life women. I am writing a series of middle grade adventure stories featuring girls, and I was looking for inspiration. This book has that in spades!

To all the women navigating the changing currents of our time.
(book dedication)

Teal’s writing style is beautiful. She writes with great description and a clear love for her subject. And she manages to instill a good deal of suspense into this little nonfiction book. I can almost feel like I’m on the river with these women.

In this book, Teal profiles eleven women (herself included) who worked on the river from the mid-1970s through the early 1990s when this book was written. Many of the stories she shares are quite exciting. I connected more with some of the women than with others, but all of them are certainly fascinating.

She also includes a few chapters about what it meant to be a woman river guide breaking into an arena that up until that time (early to mid-1970s) had been strictly a man’s domain, as well as specific elements of the guiding experience, like the boats they piloted and the high water event of 1983. Her concluding chapter, “Breaking Into the Current”, talks specifically about some of the obstacles these women faced – sexism, isolation and criticism.

Teal is a master storyteller. I enjoyed reading about these women so much, I didn’t want the adventure to end. This book is a real treasure, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the outdoors, running rivers and hiking, the Grand Canyon, or seeing women succeed in a male dominated activity.

Unlock the Muse – July 4, 2018

Happy Independence Day, America! It’s a day for barbeques, water games and lots of family activities. It’s also a day for celebrating freedom and liberty. Today, we’ll make it a day for celebrating freedom in our writing.

Inspire
Today’s writing prompt fits well in the barbeque theme for the day:

Create a short story that takes place inside a refrigerator. The main character’s name is Ketchup. Who will be the antagonist?

When I asked my 5-year old if Ketchup is the good guy, who’s the bad guy? He said Milk. Ketchup vs. Milk: An Independence Day Adventure!

Have fun and be creative!

Encourage
In honor of Camp NaNoWriMo going on this month, I’ll share some wisdom from Chris Baty’s book, No Plot? No Problem! Baty is the founder of National Novel Writing Month, a wild adventure that began as a fun challenge among friends and has grown into an international phenomenon.

During a month long novel writing challenge, each week presents its own obstacles. For week one, Baty talks about banishing the “Inner Editor” until the end of the month. He says:

The fear of doing something imperfectly turns what should be fun, creative endeavors into worrisome tasks. With the Inner Editor on board, completing any extracurricular activity you haven’t already mastered is like trying to ride a bicycle uphill while towing a rhinoceros in a wagon behind you.

This month we lose the rhino.

Equip
The question of the month for July is: How have you found freedom in your writing?

Happy writing!

Please consider sharing your response to the writing exercise. Got a question? Just ask!

No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty: A Review

Next month, July 2018, I will be participating in Camp NaNoWriMo – a relaxed version of November’s National Novel Writing Month. In honor of this event (that begins tomorrow!), I decided I should reread Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! and share my review with you.

I love Baty’s irreverent tone. He creates an atmosphere with his writing style that makes you want to believe anything is possible. Even something as crazy as writing 50,000 words in 30 days. But then, he turns around and gives you solid advice on how to make the impossible happen.

As a long time participant and winner of National Novel Writing Month, I’m already a believer, so this book didn’t have to work hard to convince me. Still, it’s a great book for anyone who’s ever considered trying to write a novel. Baty gives a no-nonsense, practical guide on fiction writing, but it’s a lot more than that. This book is more about completing a novel in a month’s time.

Part one of the book focuses on preparing for the month of writing. He gives a variety of tips and tricks learned from experience – things such as recruiting family and friends as accountability partners and stocking up on caffeinated drinks and sweet treats (or whatever else inspires you).

Part two gives a week by week overview of what the month of writing will likely look like. This book will prepare the participant for everything from the fanatical enthusiasm of week one to the pit of despair that is week two.

Baty’s approach is full of good humor that borders on sassy. His emphasis is on creating for yourself an atmosphere of freedom to finally write the story that’s inside you. He talks about “exuberant imperfections” and allowing yourself freedom to write a first draft that isn’t perfect, but it’s whole.

I realize National Novel Writing Month isn’t for everyone. Not everyone writes like this. But for me, it works. The pressure of the looming deadline and the enthusiasm of writing madly with thousands of other writers just works for me. If you’ve ever thought about giving National Novel Writing Month a try, this book is a great field guide stuffed full with practical advice and real-life tips from other writers who have been there and come out the other side.

For the beginning writer just starting out on this adventure, Baty’s book is as good as any as an introduction to fiction writing. Also, for the writer who has been curious about NaNoWriMo, but hasn’t yet convinced himself to try it, this book could be an excellent motivator.

Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson: A Review

I chose to read Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson for 2018 Reading Challenge prompt #36, a book set in the decade I was born. Originally published in 1977, this book evokes memories from my own childhood. A time that predates cell phones and video games, and children were set loose to roam freely around their neighborhoods. At the same time, it doesn’t ever really feel outdated.

This story follows fifth-grader Jess Aarons, the only boy in the middle of a family with five children. He has a keen imagination and loves to draw, but is pushed by his father to seek more practical pursuits. He has few friends at school, but has ambitions to be the fastest boy in the fifth grade once school resumes. These ambitions are thwarted by a new kid in class – a girl, no less.

And so begins a remarkable, if unlikely, friendship. The new girl and her parents have moved into the house next door to Jess’s family. They embark on an incredible adventure of imagination. Along the way their friendship is tested by school yard bullies, a clingy younger sister and a schoolboy crush on a kind teacher.

Bridge to Terabithia was the Newberry Medal winner for 1978, and it’s well deserved in my opinion. Patterson has written a beautiful, emotional story that doesn’t disappoint. I had seen the movie prior to reading this book, and even knowing the outcome of the story, I still had the same response.

If you haven’t read this one, it is well worth the read. If you read it with children, though, be prepared for some conversation.