Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Job of Writing

This past weekend I attended my first writer's conference. Janna and I packed our bags, and after a woefully prolonged journey to NYC, we arrived to our hotel 13 hours late before collapsing into our beds. At 7AM, we picked up our Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators name badges and hit the first of a series of lectures and break-out sessions.

There were a few things that I heard for the first time, but much of it was information I already knew. Story structure, plotting, the importance of characters over plot to carry a story, the fact that we all "fail" many, many times in the process of producing successful work. But for some reason, there were many things in this list that felt refreshingly new to my mind. Maybe it was just the enthusiasm of the speakers, or the vibe of being surrounded by people who are chasing (and catching!) this same dream. Maybe it was the fact that sometimes you just have to listen to something over and over again to  hear it for the first time. Whatever it was, I feel like this process now has a brighter outlook and a bit of a new beginning.

This thing "Writing" is a job and an art. It takes time, patience and crafting. I need to give it the full dedication any job deserves - preserved, scheduled and uninterrupted time. My calendar will now reflect this. No more writing whenever I can fit it in. My Writer's Habit starts today, and that alone fills me with excitement. I will also cut myself slack, knowing that many days I will produce text that will never be seen by anyone but me. There will be garbage. There will be total junk. But there will be good stuff. Hopefully really good stuff. Stephen King says you have to unearth a story like an archeological dig. Kate Messner says you have to throw a lot of pots to learn how to make one good one.

Let's get to work...

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


I have frequently been surprised at how hard it is to place people when you run into them in an unfamiliar setting. When I am rummaging through my mental Roladex, I am also trying to place a person in the right physical space: are you college, med school, residency, North Memorial, Meadowbrook, Breck, Surly, or the dreaded no-man's-land of "other"....? Given that I am not the best at remembering people to start with, taking someone out of their normal context can completely flummox me. A place for each person, and each person in their place.

Context and place have importance. I want to know which "me" do you know. Was I your doctor, your peer, your friend, your teacher, or the woman running your kid's play date? Not that I am a radically different person for these scenarios, but I can't say I'm completely the same either.

Last night, it became clear to me that place itself holds power. Up to this point in life, the passenger seat of my car has been occupied exclusively by adults. Those over 18 have ventured back to the Chex-Mix, water bottle and Big Nate strewn booster seats of my minivan, at their own peril, but the boys have never ventured forth. The front seat is, by definition, an adult space.

Until now.

Mr. Max, being a somewhat freakishly tall 11-year-old, is officially tall enough to take that long-yearned-for shotgun seat, morphing us from chauffeur position to buddy position. Road trip position. Long hours of chatting position. And I found it morphed not only our physical space, but our mental space as well. We talked differently. I wasn't lobbing questions to the bowels of the back over the din of pop radio and 4-boy chatter. Instead, we were just talking, not only about his day, but mine as well. Talking more fluidly and at ease. Talking equally.

When we hit the house, not surprisingly, it was back to business as usual. Back to the loud banter of our lives and our home. I was the one barking about the need for PJ's and tooth brushing, asking again if anyone was ever going to feed the fish, wondering how so many clothes could be on the floor in one 24-hour period. Back to being Mom. Max back to being Kid. Because that is what we do in that place. Those are our roles on that stage.

But it makes me want to drive a little slower and take the side roads next time he's in the car. Turn down the radio, and eventually roll down the windows. Though I yearn for him to stay a child, this window into the young man he is becoming is even more enticing. This new place, with it's different rules, is a place in which I look forward to many hours together. Road tripping, right here in town.