Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Your Real Education Came from the School Bus

The WSJ Writer strikes again. Remember last time I was rather willing to concede a few points to her? I still appreciate her concerns and recognize that they're coming from a good place, but this article really struck me as taking a turn too far in the wrong direction. A couple points made me think for the rest of the evening after reading, and I hope you don't mind indulging me as I ramble on them a bit.

One was referring to YA readers as "children." By the time I was twelve, I no longer considered myself a "child" in the same sense that I did when I was six. And certainly we're stretching a bit to apply the term "child" to a sixteen-year-old reader. The fact is, perhaps it is the perceived age of the readers themselves that is most troubling to Ms. Gourdon. They do not see themselves as children even if their parents or teachers would like to apply that label. And already we see the appeal of many of these stories--they treat the reader as capable, able to comprehend a more complex world than a child can. Beyond this, they show similarly aged protagonists learning agency and taking ownership of their own futures. Contrast this with a middle-aged woman who wants to call you a child, and we'll see where the readers fall every time.

This is only tertiary to what I found myself really chewing on after reading the article, but perhaps vital to understanding what I considered next.

The author notes that "Well-intentioned messages, in other words, can have the unintended consequence of opening the door to expectations and behaviors that might otherwise remain closed."

Really? These doors would have stayed closed? Where does Ms. Gourdon think that young people learn about the darker side of the world? School? Their parents? That these more difficult elements stay locked in a neat box until the individual's 18th birthday?

I'll tell you where I learned about the darker stuff in my young life.

The school bus.

Most of my real education came from the school bus. I learned about pot from our resident stoner, and discovered that, handily, it was quite true what one hears about "the munchies" when I pawned off my lunch leftovers on him every day. (This was in my mother's Mrs. Claus "You don't eat enough, you're too skinny, EAT, EAT!" phase when she insisted on packing me lunches equal to my own body weight.) I learned about cutting because a friend was, for a short time before seeking help, a cutter. I learned the struggles of schizophrenia and that anti-psychotic medications can cause crazy weight gain when the kid who lived the next street up ballooned fifty pounds in a couple months.

I learned about all these things whether teachers or my parents let me in on them or not. And I learned them better than I could have from my parents or teachers, because, intrinsic in all these lessons was another facet: These were all people.

They were real people, with more elements to their personalities than just "kid with mental problems" or "kid who smokes too much pot" or "self-destructive kid with self-mutilation issues." We laughed together, sneaked snacks onto the bus together, made fun of our insane cranky bus driver together. Was I ever tempted to engage in any of these "deviant" activities? No--I saw how dumb pot made Resident Stoner in a way I couldn't have from a textbook.

The point is, a good book can be a lot like a school bus full of peers. You can learn about those darker elements of life while understanding that those who engage in destructive, dangerous, or deviant behavior are people, too.

And that's an important lesson. Resident Stoner eventually grew up, joined the Marines and the church, and became what society would call respectable. But even before that, I knew that he was a good person who just happened to have some faults. Like everyone else. His just happened to be more visible. Same with the rest of the cast of misfits.

So what is it that YA literature can teach that probably shouldn't stay locked up, behind closed doors? That people struggling with issues are people. That they could be a friend, a sibling, could be you. Books show this in a way that other venues just plain can't.

I still say that there may be examples out there where sensationalism is, if not the goal, the end result, and that this trend toward darker issues does set us up to make sensationalism that much easier to fall into. I still say that I think the trend toward darker stories may be excluding perfectly good "lighter" stories that happen to not be trending right now. But in the end, young adults read to experience and learn what they don't experience and learn in their own lives. And books are a perfect medium for exploration while maintaining an outlook that embraces humanity.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

...And Called it Macaroni

With Fourth of July nearly upon us, I thought I'd take a moment to look at that patriotic American favorite, Yankee Doodle. Everyone knows that the line "stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni" was a jab at provincial colonial fashion sense, as "Macaroni" was a term for high-fashion gentlemen. Yet, the term also carried derisive notes--contemporaries poked fun at the Macaronis:

There is indeed a kind of animal, neither male nor female, a thing of the neuter gender, lately started up among us. It is called a macaroni. It talks without meaning, it smiles without pleasantry, it eats without appetite, it rides without exercise, it wenches without passion.

Remember when the term "metrosexual" first came into being, and though plenty of people made fun of the feminized look, plenty of men still imitated it (and plenty of ladies still liked it)?

Yeah, seems it was kinda like that.

So not only is Yankee Doodle not pulling the look off very well, he's attempting to engage in an avant-garde, not-quite-socially normative group.

You know how there were those kids in your high school who didn't quite fit in, so tried to fit in with the goth kids or the stoner kids or the Under-the-Stairs Kids (my school had big stairs and all the alternative-types congregated there)? But that didn't quite work, either?

Yeah, that's how bad off Yankee Doodle is.

Of course, the rebelling colonists adopted the song as their own and turned the meaning on its head. Somewhat of a "we don't want your stinkin' Macaroni fashion, we'll stick our feathers where we please, thank you!" (Please imagine a British regular attempting not to laugh at that line and then offering to tell Yankee Doodle where to stick it...) Of course, by the height of the Revolution, Macaroni fashion was becoming a touch passe.

Let's enjoy some satirical prints of Macaronis, shall we?
An obscene amount of hair, ludicrously skinny physique, and giant sword bow (talk about symbolic--it was considered improper for a man to go about unarmed, but the Macaroni has found a way make even that symbol of masculinity his own) seem to be the standard for the Macaroni.
The Macaroni Family Returning from Church. I love the kids pointing and laughing in the foreground. Pointing and laughing--the ridicule that transcends all time.
The Macaroni Painter, or Billy Dimple sitting for his Picture. You know, not every man can pull off a gigantic cravat-bow like Billy here.

Do you wonder if these gentlemen, somewhere around 1785, looked back and though "Oh my goodness, what was I thinking?!?" the way we tend to do with the 80s?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

First Page Contest--Come Play!

Shelley Watters is sponsoring a very cool first page contest at her blog. Now, I know what you're thinking--that the cool part is the prize: a critique from an agent. Nope, that's not the cool part (ok, though it is kinda cool). The cool part is what's going on right now--you post your first page on your blog (mine's in its own page--eeeep! scary that it's out there for the world!) and then hop around to other participants to critique and share. Fun!

Writers, come play! There's still time to join the fun.

First pages are such fun--it's like a literary speed date, getting to see the first glimmers of character and plot, and a big dose of the author's voice. I'm loving the variety I'm getting to read and comment on as part of this contest!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

First Things First: Writing and Editing

Sometimes it's pretty clear when to do what. I crack the eggs BEFORE putting them in the cookie batter.I cut fabric AFTER I take measurements. I lather, rinse, THEN repeat.

And of course, first pants, THEN shoes.

But when it comes to the writing process, it's not so cut and dried. The posters in my elementary school classrooms would beg to differ--they say you "prewrite" (which inevitably involved bubbles and arrows in my grammar school days), write a rough draft, revise it, which produces another draft, which you edit and polish into a final draft.

Anyone else feel like it's not so simple?

Now, I know writers who do keep it simple--they butt-in-chair, hands-on-keyboard plow through a full first draft before going back to tinker with it. They draft by Just Writing.

I've heard of other writers who will make their daily cycle editing the previous day's work, then writing new material. Or writing first thing in the morning, then editing in the afternoon.

Some writers write half of their first draft, then reevaluate it and revise it before moving on. Some folks write the end first, and then string together other scenes, then revise to smooth out the bumps.

Some writers make each chapter perfect before moving on to the next chapter.

Me? I have no idea when the best time to start revising is. For my own writing, it's fairly constant. I write a sentence, I change a couple words, I keep going, I hit a stride, I'm still on a pattern of type-type-type-delete-delete-retype. And then as I read through scenes to get me in the right frame of mind for writing on, I'm still swapping and changing and adding and deleting. It's part of a pretty organic process for me--it makes first drafts take a while, but the revision stage is--at least has been thus far--easier. Revision ends up being more about big-picture issues than individual scene or language troubles. Which has its own set of drawbacks: Sometimes I delete well-polished material.

But that works for me.

So all I can really say, when it comes to writing and editing, is, essentially, Pants First, THEN Shoes: Words First, THEN Edit. It doesn't matter when, or how many words, or how long between writing them and starting to tinker with them. Just write them. Then make them better.

What's your writing-editing-later-rinse-repeat process?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Shoe Bling, Historical Style

Think modern fashonistas invented shoe bling?

Think again--eighteenth century ladies added high style to their shoes with bedazzled buckles:





All three buckle images are from the Met Museum's online collection database. All three are also "paste" which is essentially eighteenth-century speak for costume jewelry. They're cut glass set into metal backings; paste jewelry could also include colored paper to change the color of the "jewels." Buckles were removable, as well--so while these gems may not be real, they could be transferred from shoe to shoe or salvaged when the shoes were trashed.

I'm excited--my silk shoes from American Duchess are due to arrive this summer, and I ordered a pair of my very own paste buckles to add some extra flair.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Soundtrack to a Novel

Until I started writing The Currently Complete Project (I'm calling it The Courier--fun title, eh?) and its little sisters, The WIP and The Outline, I was not a "listen to music while writing" person. I was a "silence is golden" person. I was a "crickets and traffic noise will distract me" person.

And then music just clicked with this project. Maybe it was the higher action content or the quicker pace. Maybe it was that it's young adult and music resonates with that part of me that's still seventeen. Regardless--I had to have my soundtrack.

A few key pieces:

First up, I should probably admit I may be the only person under the age of 50 who truly loves Jethro Tull, but I do. And Heavy Horses is my favoritest album ever, and the title track is incredible. Really, "HeavyHorses" and The Courier are about a lot of the same things...but I'd ruin both if I tried to extrapolate on that. No, I'll let Tull do that for me:

And one day when the oil barons have all dripped dry
and the nights are seen to draw colder
...
In these dark towns folk lie sleeping
as the heavy horses thunder by
to wake the dying city
with the living horseman's cry


But even more than lyrics that sing straight to my story, it's the album's folk-influenced rock and earthy sensibility that evokes both my main character and my setting. Earthy. Slightly dirty and raw. Unpolished but thoughtful.

Next up? The soundtrack from Last of the Mohicans. The beautiful music with a dark current winding under it, and the grandiose sweep of the melodies--plus I can't help but see the lush green setting of the film when I hear the music. Put me in the mood to write every time. Especially the piece entitled, curiously enough, The Courier (I swear my title came first, then the connection with this piece!)



Corndog warning--when I hear this piece, I can see my main character, Norah, deftly picking her way through bracken and fallen branches as she runs through the forest--Corndog warning lifted.

Finally, much to the chagrin of Mr. Hyaline, who is tired of this album getting played in the car, I am a giant Fleet Foxes fan. Again with the earthy folk-ish rock, much like Tull. But with Crosby, Stills, and Nash on vocals. I digress. Anyhow, their "Your Protector" totally conjured the romantic storyline dynamic for me. Because independence/dependence and protection/insecurity are huge themes for these characters. OK, enough thematic pontificating. Onto the music. It's way better than me yammering:



Are there any pieces of music that resonate with your creative projects? Do you have a touchpoint song that charges your creative juices? Or are you a "silence is golden" person when creating?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Hat of Win in Action

It may not be the best shot ever. But it's the only shot I have of the Hat of Win. A friend forwarded me this photo, snapped during a tactical demonstration when my young friend and I had the ever-auspicious task of Guarding the Box. This perennially-exciting challenge comes in when the artillery unit has to leave the piece and go do manly deeds elsewhere on the field. Because we don't like to leave several pounds of highly explosive black powder unattended, those of us lingering at the back with water and supplies come hang out with the box. Plus, the box gets lonely.

Sadly, though I have the Hat of Win, my young friend lost her cap in the excitement. We found it later, but she's bare-headed here. I promise she isn't usually such a slattern....

And the contraption draped unflatteringly over my shoulder? Portfire holders. Portfires are road-flare like flaming sticks that we use to fire the cannon. Lacking an extra man-at-arms, I got to tote the extras around and light the new ones when the one the firing position was using went out. It's not a glamorous job. It's even less glamorous when you run out of slow match (rope soaked in a chemical solution that makes it burn slow and very hot) and have to use magic fire instead.

Magic fire:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Summertime Diversions--on the Lake in 1780

This print made me smile. Maybe it's the idyllic summer scene. Maybe it's that the gentleman seems to have inadvertently begun using his sword as a rudder. Maybe it's the hilariously beefy arms of Miss Peggy Pullaway.



Actually, I think it's the ladies fishing in the background. Which raises to mind...are the ladies fishing an extension of the gender reversal seen in the boat? Or is fishing an acceptable leisure activity for 18th century ladies? I've my opinions--what are yours?

Regardless, I love the hat of the woman appraising her catch.

Print from the Lewis Walpole Library.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Coily the Spring Sprite: Laughable Nostalgia on a Dull Tuesday

Some days you just need a good laugh.

Coily the Spring Sprite can provide that.

Presenting "A Case of Spring Fever," a 1950s short about the importance of springs (!) that will make you wonder who thought it was vital to make an educational film about the importance of springs.



Sometimes nothing beats a good, incomprehensibly weird bit of nostalgia from the vault.

This short is part of an MST3K full-length presentation. But really--Coily is absurd and hilarious enough even without the commentary.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cries of London--Strawberries and Clothing Breakdown

I've mentioned before that I love the Cries of London print series. A quick and dirty background on these--they're a set of prints created by artist Francis Wheatley in the early 1790s. Fascinated by London street culture, he created this series of street vendors plying their trades.

"Strawberries" is one of my favorites. Mainly? For the clothes. It's not that the girl here is wearing anything particularly noteworthy--in fact, it's that her clothes are so ordinary and banal that I love this depiction so much. It's a wonderful snapshot of a lower-class, likely rural woman's dress--something we rarely get from period artwork. So--for one, it's a great lesson on basic late 18th century clothing. A quick breakdown, shall we?
Our young lady is wearing the requisite shift, with the loose sleeves rolled up just past her elbows. She also wears a boned, sleeveless garment of some kind--the verbal ambiguity of clothing terms has me at a loss as to whether to call it a bodice or to assume it's a pair of jumps, but regardless--a sleeveless, boned garment. With the shoulders covered, I can't tell if it has straps or not, but the high back and the way it disappears behind her arm suggest to me that it might have straps. This is significant to me as a researcher, because a common "ism" of reenactors is that women "never" appeared in public wearing only stays, and that there were no other sleeveless garments. Clearly, that's not the case--and though she is a lower-class woman, she is not a slattern (professional nor hobbyist), either. (Of course, the practical question becomes how, exactly, to properly recreate and--even more difficult--wear a sleeveless outer garment.)

She also wears a lightweight white kercheif tucked into the front of the garment. This is useful for three reasons. One, it prevents too much sun exposure (I've saved myself many a sunburn using a kercheif.) Two, it keeps one from being too revealing. And three--doesn't it look fetching?

Her hat ensemble is worth noting--she wears a white, ruffled cap and what looks to be a worn, droopy felt hat over it. Felt hats could be made very fashionably, with stiff broad brims like a straw hat. However, get them wet too often, and they start to...drroooop. Which is what I assume has happened to this young lady, or that she's come by her hat second-hand.

She's wearing one visible petticoat--she may be wearing another that we can't see. She also wears her apron, a simple large workaday piece pleated onto what looks like a tape tie, rucked up. I was so pleased to find this particular print, because I love wearing my apron this way and it was nice to see that it's documentable that they did, too! Plus simple buckled shoes and basic stockings.

Something I learned while finding this print? The cute little cone-shaped basket she's holding is called a pottle, and was a measuring device. Though most fruits and vegetables were sold by the pound, strawberries were sold by the pottle. Which makes sense. Because strawberries, the girl selling them, the measuring basket itself, and the word "pottle" are all very, very adorable.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lindens--Flash Fiction

Remember how like three days ago I said I was going to suck it up and overcome my silencing stage fright? Perfect opportunity--Haley's June Flash Fiction challenge! I've never posted flash fiction before--so it fits my challenge ot myself! Plus, writing to Haley's prompt was really fun. I was inspired, mostly, by the deep scents of summertime drifting over my porch while I wrote.

Read up on the challenge and read last month's entries on Haley's post, but the gist--a 500 word flash fiction that starts out with body language. I think I made this one with a clear beginning, middle and end per the requirements (odd that this would be my uncertainty--you think it would be clear enough)--though it's a tiny snippet of what would be a larger story for the characters.

OK. Deep breath. Posting now.

Lindens

She closes her eyes as she inhales, leaning into the boughs of the linden as though she could envelop herself in the golden scent. Absently, she plucks a stem of milky-white blossoms and holds it to her nose, twirling it between her fingers. And then she sees me, holds me boldly in her gaze for a second, no more, then lowers her lashes, smiling with a faint blush on her cheek. Smiling as though I’ve caught her being very silly, being a child.

I am not quite sure she hasn’t known all along that I was watching her. I never did know, really, how much of what we had together she manufactured and how much I imposed.

“Lindens,” Anna says, by way of explanation. “They’re early this year.”

I nod, and suddenly the girl I’m with now is hanging on my arm, pulling me back toward the riverbank. Her voice is pitched too high and her dress, cut too low. I like that sort of girl now. Anna cured me of the other kind, the ethereal, wan, beautifully unreachable kind. The kind, too, that risks making a man love her. Anna catches the arm of the buxom woman in whose tow I am trapped, and chatters merrily with her. As though I am not there. Between the three of us, perhaps I am not.

The first stars scatter like sparks over the riverbank, and below us the dank brown water rolls, plodding and steady. The girl leans over me, breathing whiskey into my face and clamping a hand on my thigh to tell me what she wants.

She drags me off to her bed, and as I turn to leave I see Anna, backlit by both the moon and its reflection on the river. She raises her eyes to meet mine, just long enough to impart the profound shame I feel creeping into the pit of my stomach. Just long enough that I remember the brilliant blue of her eyes. Just long enough, and then her gaze is turned once more to the moonlit linden blossoms in her hand.

And I wonder, if I had known then that that image would be the last one I had of her, the blossoms caught between her fingers and their heady perfume surrounding her like a cloud, if I would have paid closer attention, remembered what she wore, when she smiled, what shade, precisely, her hair was when the moonlight caught it. But I’d imagined her from the beginning anyway. She was never who I cast her to be. She was merely Anna.

And if you like the idea of stretching yourself a little this month? Scurry over to Haley's blog and post your own entry!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Young Adult Fiction--Too Dark?

I love the dialogue that the internet allows, between blogs and news sources and twitter and facebook and all the other outlets. My thinking is spurred every morning when I check my google reader and the headlines. Usually, though, those musings are kept under wraps, maybe informing a blog post someday, but not immediately shared.

Today is different. I had to react to this post by the inimitable Ms. Janet Reid, Sharky agent extraordinaire and to other impassioned posts floating around the interwebs. I fear I must disagree--or at least expound a bit on--this and many other eloquent assessment of Young Adult fiction and the place of dark themes within YA.

The post was in reaction to this article on YA fiction from the Wall Street Journal. In essence, the article bemoans the fact that the shelves of the teen section in bookstores are filled with dark, heavy topics. So, is that all right? And even if it is not detrimental, is it desirable?

Here's my thought. I agree with Ms. Reid that the dark stuff--the drug addiction, cutting, rape, and suicide on the contemporary side--is realistic and part of the world teens live in. I agree that they should be able to explore the challenges and nuances of their world through books. I agree that most YA spreads messages of building strength and character, and learning agency, as Ms. Reid says.

However.

I also agree with the original article--entertainment does more than satisfy current tastes, it creates tastes. Perhaps the ever-increasing darkness of YA lit is testament to this. YA readers grow to like dark subjects, more dark subjects sell. Here's the thing. I don't think that books about cutting will make teenagers cut, or that books about homicide will make readers into murderers. However, I do think that books about dark subjects to the exclusion of other--very normal, also very "real" if we must use those terms--subjects will create a view of the world that is darker and less inclined to seek humor, beauty, joy, and any other number of, albeit dorky, nouns.

My own perusal of the teen section at my local B&N left an impression nearly identical to the woman quoted at the beginning of the article. Yes, I found books that I would give to my teenaged acquaintances to read. Yet the overwhelming impact--even merely visual impact--of the shelves was dark. From my own adolescence, I recall bright, colorful, inviting book covers with optimistic storylines and rich fantasy worlds. There were dark stories, sure--I didn't gravitate toward them. But there was always something for me on the shelves, too.

Today? I'm not so sure. A teenager who wants to find a positive, escapist story has to wade through mountains of dark books--literally dark, with piles of black book covers. I appreciate that teenagers have fears about their world and want to explore those uncertainties through books. Most of the books on the shelves speak to those fears. Yet, they also have hopes and--dare we admit?--the need to escape occasionally, too. Where are the books appealing to those desires?

I don't think, of course, that this is exclusive to YA lit. It seems that the darker the subject of a "grown up" book or movie, the more likely to receive attention and accolades. And yes, great art and great literature can come from dark subjects. Yet it can also come out of light, joyful subjects. I fear that we're focusing on the dark side of realism to the exclusion of the bright.

It is incredible to me that those in the bookish world can continue to defend the gritty, the dark, the violent, the sexual, and the provocative against censorship without realizing that, by their permission and their choices in the business of buying and selling, they have censored by elimination the other side of the coin--the light and, often, equally provocative. I don't suggest censorship of the gritty, but I do suggest that, whether we like it or not, we're shaping the tastes and mindsets of the consumer by what we put out there. That responsibility is great enough for the general masses, but even greater for young people.

Because in the end, here's the thing--young adults aren't stupid. They're savvy. They're smart. They don't need to be spoon-fed sensationalism in order to find enjoyment in a book. Perhaps it's time for everyone involved in publishing young adult lit to step down from the vantage point of both yellow-journalism-esque lurid trend-chasing and overprotective parental censorship and do what we should be doing for everyone: Publishing good, meaty, provocative books on every end of the spectrum. (Edit--Which, I meant to say, I think is the goal of pretty much everyone involved, barring the assumed ever-present evil sub-minority.)

And for me? Writing YA for the first time? Writing, even a post-apocalyptic novel that's inherently NOT dark and depressing, but hopeful? It only reinforces my desire to keep writing what I'm writing--real, honest, yet not dark. Because I think there's a place for it.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Stage Fright and Silencing Myself

I love reading blogs--I love seeing what all of you create with your fabrics and thread, your words and imaginations, your various mediums. Enjoying the beauty you all have created, however, implicates me a little. I don't share as much as I should.

Want to know why?

I'm afraid to.

No, really. I have awful stage fright. This would probably surprise most people who know me well--I don't exude the qualities of shyness most people associate with stage fright. I'm not afraid to speak my mind, I pipe up in board meetings, and I've never sweated giving a PowerPoint presentation to a class or a business meeting. But anything creative? Anything solely mine, created by me? I clam up.

I finally figured this out when I took piano in college. I considered my education lacking that I hadn't had piano (say that in the sort of voice you'd imagine from a Jane Austen character), and so took a couple semesters. I don't mean to sound boastful that I say I was always among the best in the class in terms of performance ability and music theory comprehension--really not trying to boast, it just aids in understanding what I'll say next. Because despite being quite competent in playing all my pieces, doing so in front of the class terrified me. I won't say I was anxious, or felt some trepidation--no, constricting, trembling fear is more like it.

Now, the moral of that story is that I overcame it. I pushed myself out of my comfortable bubble, took a few deep breaths, and forced myself to start playing. And a couple bars in, the music became more important than my fears.

Yet, I've noticed as well that I don't challenge myself anymore. My reenacting friends sing--a lot. At night, the instruments come out and we spend hours singing as a group and performing for one another. I'm perfectly happy singing along in large groups. Never, ever solos. Rarely duets or trios--and those terrify me enough that a liberal dose of scotch is required beforehand. I don't have a perfect voice, but respectable, even, dare I say it, a bit pretty and adequately trained--yet if I feel I can be heard, distinctly my voice by itself or among a few, I don't sing. Pretty effective metaphor--I silence myself out of fear.

I share only what makes me comfortable--not in an internet safety way, but in an emotional way. I don't post excerpts of my writing--because I think more than anything I fear being judged. Better to put nothing out there, right, than to put something out there and have it dismissed--or ignored?

No, not really. You don't grow if you don't challenge yourself--and getting over my fear of sharing my creative endeavors is a challenge I need to face. Getting over my fear of sharing my mistakes, my foibles, ultimately, my proud moments. Why? For one, if I want to be a published writer, I have to be willing to stand proudly with my work--not hide behind it. For another, in a puritanical "hardship strengthens us" sort of way, it's good for me.

So--I'm challenging myself. Every fortnight--roughly--I'll post something that makes me nervous to share. Perhaps a piece of flash fiction, perhaps a sewing project gone awry.

I will not be posting vlogs of me singing, though. Just fair warning. Not happening.

How about you? Are you afraid to share what you've created? Or does sharing come as a natural extension of the process for you? Any great overcoming stage fright stories to share?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

First Attempts--Drafting from Another Angle

The school I work for is in the middle of a huge branding campaign. We're a confusing little entity in the university system, and are trying to get our name and message out to students in a way that, well, makes sense. So the Powers That Be hired a creative consulting firm to work with us.

In today's meeting, they shared Thing One and Thing Two--their first two attempts at marketing materials. Their presenter discussed how excited they were about the first attempt, the thought process that went into it, the innovative design ideas.

When he lifted up the posterboard, there was a quiet, restrained, but definite communal cringe.
That's first drafts for you.

First drafts are important--they get the ideas on paper, they start the creative juices flowing, they make a first stab. Sometimes they're pretty good, and give you a great head start. Sometimes they totally stink. It's what comes after first drafts that's important.

Before showing us Thing Two, the presenter shared that the team had really struggled with coming up with changes after realizing Thing One had some flaws. They threw ideas back and forth, tried a few things, played with text and graphics and colors.

Basically, they did a rewrite.

And the presenter didn't tell us--and I'm not telling you--anything you don't already know about creative endeavors, writing included. Revision is hard. Rewriting is harder. Redoing work you've already done is discouraging, and even more so when you feel like you've expended your creative energy on the first round.

But then the presenter showed us Thing Two.

And there was an unrestrained, appreciative communal gasp. The pieces were visually stunning and captured the concepts perfectly. In short? They were completely different from Thing One.

The work had been completely rewritten.

So what's the lesson on revision? First drafts are often just the bridge from nothing to beautiful work. Sometimes little or nothing is left of the first draft once all is said and done--and that's ok. Sometimes there's plenty of the original left,with just some tweaking. Regardless, holding fast to that first idea, those first words, won't get you anywhere. The point is to create, uninhibited, and refine it later, without attachment to what you created.

What do you think about Round One of projects?