I’ll Keep my Laptop, Thank You

Yesterday, a friend tweeted this article on The Guardian, “Unthinkable? Bring Back Typewriters.” While the author makes some great points about how using a typewriter slows the writer down, thereby making writers more intentional about word choices, and how typewriters remove the distracting allure of the internet, I’d have to say, “hell no!!” I’ll keep my laptop thank you very much.

In fact, I wonder if the author ever had to actually type something that mattered on a typewriter, like a research paper or even an important letter. If so, I think the nostalgia for the click of the keys would quickly wear off.

I still have my antique ribbon typewriter. It has lived buried in the back of my daughter’s closet for years. When I was seven or eight years old, my Dad brought it home for me to write my stories on. It made me official. I was a writer.

I never use it, but I’ve lugged the thing with me for my entire life. It weighs around 50 lbs. and represents my youthful attempts at writing, my dreams to become a writer someday.

My ancient typewriter that made me feel like a true writer.

My ancient typewriter that made me feel like a true writer.

I actually don’t remember writing that much on it. I remember spending more time trying to get it to work so I could write. The ribbon would come unwound, little mechanical metal pieces would get stuck. I remember jamming more than one butter knife in to get it going again.

You also have to hit the keys hard to get them to work. Fingers don’t fly over these old keyboards. Nope, typing a sentence gives the fingers a pretty good workout. One letter at a time.

If you hit more than one key at a time, the little letter bars fly up at the same time and stick to each other, creating a mess and nothing gets typed. It’s the equivalent of your computer screen freezing, but in this case all you have to do is reach a hand in and unstick everything. There are definitely days that I wish I could do that with my laptop.

All the keys stuck together in a wad. This happened a lot.

All the striker bars stuck together in a wad. This happened a lot.

Typing is a sensory experience unlike writing on a computer. There is the sound of the letter striker bars (or whatever they’re called) hitting the paper and the carriage. You have to watch where you are because at the end of each line, the typewriter doesn’t automatically “wrap” around. As the typist, you have to reach up and move the carriage back to the left margin. It’s labor intensive. Mistakes cannot be fixed.

The letters are also quirky, with each typewriter having its own “fingerprint.”

The Letters

The Letters

I loved reading mysteries as a kid (and still do), and I remember typewriters often providing clues. Detectives would study typewriter fonts with the forensic intensity that today’s CSI investigators go after DNA evidence.

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No MS Word conformity here. My typewriter has a definite style. The “e’s” are all red. For some reason it dropped down a half a line halfway through the word “kind.” If I had committed a crime and left a clue on my typewriter, I’d definitely be caught.

Perhaps it would be good to create clues for a mystery on this, but I think that’s about it. I won’t be cranking out any stories on this old thing, but I also don’t think I’ll get rid of it. It’s comforting to know that even though I haven’t used it since the early 1980′s, I still can. My computer would never work like that. I could not shove it in a kid’s closet, have kids sit on it during games of hide and seek, leave it there for 20+ years, pull it out one day, write something on it and then print it to paper like I did with my typewriter this morning.

I have no idea whatever happened to any of the stories I wrote, or even if I ever finished a whole story on it due to all of the issues with actually using it. Even so, when I think of my typewriter, I think of my 8 year old self imagining stories, and for that alone, I’ll hang on to it. It reminds me that yes, I am a writer.

An Idea Becomes Reality

It was the last class. The last day of school. Spring 2011. The kids were done with their final and sat in small groups, chatting, glancing at the clock, waiting for the empty, long, lovely days of summer to begin.

One group sat clustered around my desk discussing their writing. One student had written a screenplay but didn’t feel it was quite done yet. One had completed NaNoWriMo and had several more pieces in progress.  Another was looking for a publisher for his newly finished fantasy novel, and the fourth had been inspired by Ayn Rand this year and had a novel outlined with one or two chapters completed.

I listened to them, stunned. They were 14 and 15 years old and had novels completed!! I had just begun mine . . . at age 40.

I suggested that they trade phone numbers and emails, so they could workshop their pieces over the summer, and I offered to help. They liked the idea, but the bell rang, summer vacation began.

I thought about this group over the summer and wondered how I could help them with their writing. I had a few ideas but the seed for a website for them, for teen writers who LOVE to write, had been planted.

The next fall, I had a new incoming group of Freshmen and within weeks, a few asked if I would be willing to supervise a Creative Writing Club. Really?!? As soon as I started writing myself, teen writers began to appear in my life, but I had no time between working, coaching Speech & Debate, and being a mom to help them get a club started. Finally, in mid-winter, I proposed my website idea – what if we had a space online where they could post their writing, comment on it, maybe even take Creative Writing Classes? They loved the idea and the seed began to take root. Silly me, I thought it would take less time than a weekly club!

I still worked on getting these kids’ needs met at school and got my administration to approve a Creative Writing class. I wrote a course description and submitted it. Unfortunately, the powers that be “forgot” to put our newly approved course in the course catalog for registration, so no Creative Writing class. Back to my website idea.

Last spring, I resigned my coaching position which freed up my time, but the school year ended with no website and no upcoming Creative Writing Class. I spent my summer and early fall fixing that state of affairs.  The process has been a three steps forward, one-step back process. I tried to design a site myself: fail. Hired a web designer: some good but overall fail. Took a web design class online: WIN! (The Girls Guide to Web Design Rocks!!) but definite learning curve there! Took an online course on running on online business/website: WIN!! (Marie Forleo’s B-School also ROCKS!!).

I started this fall with a website in the works and a PLAN. This past fall, the Creative Writing Club finally launched. We had our first meeting in November and its been going strong. We meet every Thursday to write, learn, and workshop pieces. I completed building and designing my website and shared it with them in December – they loved it and this amazing group of young, talented creative writers helped to found . . . www.whereteenswrite.com.

They have been the most excellent group of “Beta” users, finding all kinds of elements of the site that needed tweaking, posting their stories, sharing, and being overall an amazing group of kids. Last week, I decided its ready to go “live” to the world. I “un-hid” the site from google’s search engines and so far, we’ve had a few more kids find us and log on. The seed that was planted the last day of school in 2011 is finally beginning to grow.

The site is designed for teens, ages 13-18, who love to write, who spend their free time writing and dreaming up their stories. If you know any teens who fit this description, I’d love it if you shared the link with them, so they can check the site out and possibly join our little community.

My ultimate goal is to offer online Creative Writing courses through the site. Few schools offer Creative Writing, and there is definitely a need there.

If you’ve wondered why I haven’t been posting here much, it’s because I’ve been posting there! If you’d like to join the email list without joining the community, you can do that on our Facebook page. You can also get updates in your FB news feed if you “like” our page.

What can you do?

  • Share the site with teens who love to write,
  • Check it out yourself and comment below with any suggestions you have for improvement/changes,
  • Go to Facebook and sign up for “email updates” and “like” our page if you want to stay connected to http://www.whereteenswrite.com.

2012 in review

This report is kind of fun – a good way to break my extended “blog break”! Waaayyyy back in June, I took a hiatus from my twice-weekly posting schedule. I thought (foolishly) that it would only last the summer. What I found was that once I got out of the habit of writing, it was really really hard to get back into it. I also, sort of, forgot about my blog.

Then, on Saturday, I had somebody “follow” my blog even though I haven’t posted on it, and yesterday, I got this report. Hmmm. Two little reminders from the universe that my blog exists.

I also have started thinking about writing again. I did complete draft one of my novel way back in August, and I haven’t written much since, but over the past few weeks, I realized that I’m ready to start writing again (and quilting). My sewing machine is depressingly dusty.

I also remembered two lessons this blog taught me:  “#1 – The more I write, well, the more I write; and #2 – The more I create, the more creative I am!” I know these are probably fairly obvious for many, but sometimes, its the easiest lessons that have the most impact, and for me they are simply true. I’m not sure that I’ll be posting quite as consistently as I was before, but I do plan on posting more regularly than every six months!

Below, is the WordPress.com 2012 annual report for this blog. It’s pretty thorough, except they don’t include the most entertaining tidbits. One of my favorite blog stats is all the search terms that led people to my blog.  The #1 search term? “coffee shop” of all things. Really? I think this is proof that people don’t just stick to page one of google search results since I think I’ve written a grand total of ONE blog dealing with writing in a coffee shop.

The saddest/funniest search term: “My son is a loser”! OMG! What did I write that led that poor parent here?!? My son is an ADVENTURE not a loser!!! And I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that even remotely matches those terms put together in one sentence. I’ve definitely written about “my son” and I think I’ve probably written about being a “loser” at something, but this hit is proof that google search terms are not always relevant – at least I hope so.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 7 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Blog Break

Ah . . . summer vacation, a time of lazy days sipping lemonade in a hammock with a good book . . . or not.  Maybe that’s what summer looks like for some people, but not this girl!

I just got back from Forensics Nationals, a super fun but not so relaxing week traveling with another coach and nine teenagers. Needless to say, sleep was somewhat elusive, and despite the best of intentions, I didn’t touch my blog.

Instead, I thought about my blog, a lot, and I’ve come to the conclusion, that I am going to be taking a break from my regular two posts a week. I started this blog and enforced a Monday, Thursday posting schedule with myself so that I would write. No matter what, I would sit my ass down in a chair and try to write something that maybe someone, somewhere would read. It didn’t always happen, but it did more often than not.

Over the past year, I have learned a few things:

  1. I found that I liked it – it was really fun to write, to push myself to think of something to write about. I feel like I found my voice in some ways.
  2. People actually read what I have to say – that, to me, is amazing!
  3. Sharing my writing at first was incredibly scary, but I got over that.
  4. Holding myself to a schedule that forced me to write was important to building my skills and confidence, but even if I don’t write every single day, I discovered I can pick up where I left off. Almost every single “writer” book, says to write everyday at the same time. Perhaps in some sort of dream world that doesn’t include kids, a husband, work, coaching, etc. that might happen, but my writing life is much more fluid than that and that’s okay! I managed to blog and finish a novel using my own process.

With those lessons in mind, I’ve decided to take a blog break. I’ll be posting, well, when I feel like it! I have not decided if I will pick my regular schedule back up this fall or not. I think I’ll decide when school starts.

In the meantime, I will be: revising my novel so that maybe someday people will be able to read that, taking a class to keep my teaching credential up to date, hopefully launching a website for teen writers, and maybe fitting in a quilt or two this summer. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Draft #1 – Done!!

A few weeks ago, Nathon Bransford, a writer and blogger I follow, wrote a post asking the question “How long does it take you to finish a draft?”

My first gut reaction answer to that question was “F-O-R-E-V-E-R,” but sadly, I couldn’t figure out how to embed this little video clip into the comments on his blog. It’s from one of my all-time favorite movies ever, The Sandlot.

Then I read some of the comments people wrote in response to his question. Not one single person answered with “forever” – just me, slow writer extraordinaire! In fact, I could only read the first 30 comments or so as they were just a wee bit intimidating.

Some people actually counted how long it took them to write an entire novel in days. Days!! I count down the days until vacation starts, or the age of a newborn baby, NOT how long it takes me to write a novel. Most people were in the 3-6 month range which to me is still mind boggling.

I suppose if I wasn’t teaching full time, coaching, participating in my own children’s lives, and I don’t know, eating and sleeping occasionally, I might be able to do that, but at the current level of “busy” in my life, I cannot see ever writing a novel worth reading in days or weeks time, a blog post or two maybe, but not a novel.  I’m more of a months/years novel writing girl.

With that said, I am happy to announce that I finally finished a very rough first draft of my very first novel, and I did it . . . are you ready? . . . in  460-something days (or just over 15 months). I can check that little to-do off my bucket list!! I wrote a novel – even though right now its in the “shitty first draft” stage, I’m still checking it off! Happy dance!

It’s around 105,000 words.  I’m thinking quite a bit of it needs to be cut, but I think I’d rather cut and tighten the writing up than have to add something.

I have no idea how long revising, getting it to readers, revising again . . . and again will take, but I’m guessing I’ll be true to form and go for months . . . not days. And then someday . . . maybe people will actually read it!

Cool Tool to Organize your Writing

I’m the girl who would rather go into an Office Max or The Container Store than the shoe department at Nordstroms. I love any little doo-dads that might make my life a little easier. I like to be organized; I’m not a neat freak, just organized.

This past week, I discovered the mother of all organizational tools on the net. It works with ANY project I can possibly come up with. It’s called Trello and happily, it’s totally free. I don’t get anything for writing this rave review. I just thought I’d share its coolness. It’s designed for working on projects with teams in a business setting. I, however, have decided it is also suited to writing a novel!

Basically, you can set up giant organizational bulletin boards. Each board has any number of lists. Then, each list is made up of cards. I created a board on my novel in progress. One of my lists was be “Characters.” Then, I have a card for each character in the story. The cool thing is that I can drag the cards and lists all over the place and easily re-arrange and visually see it. If you are a visual, big-picture person like me, this is helpful.

Check this out! It is not complete, but enough for me to see that this will work well!

 The cool part is that when you click on a card if “flips” over and you can add ALL KINDS of information to the back of it which means you can store all the information all in one place.  For my current WIP, I have character files in word documents, plot charts in some novel writing software I got, research tid-bits in an excel spreadsheet, research links online, and actual paper notes and sticky notes stuck all over the place. There is information everywhere, online and off.

I’m not sure if I’ll do it all for this novel since I’m about four scenes from being totally done with draft one, but my next ones will definitely be organized with Trello boards. Check it out. I’d like to hear if any writers out there figure out any other cool ways to use it.

The Hero Cycle #3 – The Return

I’ve reached the last stage of the hero cycle in this series.  It is known as “The Return.” This is where all the people who watched the potential hero answer his call and embark on his journey welcome him home with open arms and shower him with gifts.  Really. That’s what this stage is all about.

I wrote about the initial stages here and here. The whole idea of the hero cycle is a helpful pattern to know if you are writing any kind of story with a journey or transformation of the main character in that it can help you figure out what comes next.

The final stage, the Return, is made up of three steps: the atonement, the return, and gifts.  The atonement is the most difficult to understand, but it helps if you break the word up into its parts, as in at-one-ment.  Often, the hero goes through the tranformation and becomes a hero, but they are a reluctant hero. They don’t really like this new role and are not comfortable in it. The atonement is where they literally become “at one” with the idea of being a hero. They accept their new role and are finally ready to return to their known world. It completes their transformation into a hero.

Throughout the entire quest, the hero has accepted the call, overcome all obstacles, and now, they are finally ready to live the life that awaits them as a hero.  This doesn’t have to be a life of fame or as a world leader. It could be that the hero has just overcome a significant challenge which changes their status in some way within their family or community, and they’re finally accepting of that change.

Harry Potter provides a great example of this.  He goes through the initial stages of the hero cycle repeatedly, but he doesn’t really reach the atonement stage until the later books of the series when he accepts who and what he is.  This actually allows him to accept the ultimate call to overcome Voldemort for the last time. His final return is after the giant battle and Voldemort’s defeat.  It is at this point that he receives his gift which is, of course, the girl!

While many writers employ all the stages of the cycle in their longer works, it is possible to focus on just one stage of the cycle.  Examples of this would be stories like Kate Chopin’s classic “The Story of an Hour” which focuses on “The Call” or Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” which focuses on the obstacles and challenges.  Both of these are well known examples, but you can probably think of many works which employ either the entire cycle or focus on specific stages of it.

This series has been a very simplified version of the hero cycle, but it hopefully serves as an introduction.  Joseph Campbell wrote extensively about it, and any internet search will turn up numerous resources.   I’d love to hear how this applies to your own works in progress or if it helps you at all in your writing journey.

The Hero Cycle #2 – The Initiation

When we think of “initiations,” we often think of drinking rituals or hazing type situations which somehow solidify a group. In terms of the Hero Cycle, or Hero’s Journey, the “Initiation” is the second major stage. I wrote about the first stage, “The Departure,” here, if you’re interested. This archetypal pattern appears in contemporary fiction, mythology, and film, and as a writer, its useful to understand in terms of plot and character development.

“The Initiation” is also made up of three stages: Challenges and Temptations, The Abyss, and The Transformation. The first two of these stages are pretty self-explanatory. This is the part of the hero’s journey where he is tested to see if he’s really truly a hero.  The first, challenges and temptations, include all of the smaller disasters and problems the hero must overcome. They test him.

In contemporary fiction, we think of these as all the disasters that just make the hero’s situation worse. If you look at a story like The Hunger Games, Katniss follows the hero cycle. She hears the call when her sister’s name is drawn and steps through the threshold when she accepts the challenge in her sister’s place.  Her “helper” would be Haymitch, whom she doubts.  Her journey to the Capital, her struggle to deal with this new world, proving herself in front of the judges, and trying to figure out how to deal with Peeta make up her challenges and temptations.  Because she successfully navigates these, she enters the second stage of “The Initiation,” the abyss.

The abyss is the ultimate challenge. It is where the hero goes through a metaphorical death and re-birth. For Katniss, this is the arena where she must both survive and keep Peeta alive. Her worst moment is when Rue dies, and it is here where she decides that Peeta will not die either. She becomes a hero and begins to engage in the action instead of just trying to hide from it.

The final step of “The Initiation” is the transformation. This is when the hero and the world see the hero as just that, a hero. For Katniss, this begins to happen when she recieves the salve from her sponsors. People start to view her as a hero which helps her to view herself as such. Like Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker, she’s a bit of a reluctant hero, and she doesn’t like the whole idea of being a hero despite the fact that she has transformed into one.

Through this stage, she has undergone her Initiation and become a full-fledged hero. The hero’s final stage is the Return which I will write about next week.

The Hero Cycle #1 – The Departure

I still haven’t finished my novel’s first draft, but last week I dug myself out of a bit of a plot hole by relying on . . . my education. Shocking, I know, but it’s nice when those English degrees actually come in handy.

I was having a hard time transitioning from the all the rising action to the climax when I started to look at my main character’s entire journey. I realized that she had, in many ways, followed the traditional “hero cycle” or “hero’s journey” as discussed by Joseph Campbell in his seminal work A Hero with a Thousand Faces. I’m not sure how this escaped me to this point, but it had.

The literary theory behind the hero’s journey involves the basic premise that all literature contains “archetypes” or recurring patterns in myths and stories worldwide. The hero’s journey is one of these patterns, and by understanding the journey, we can then understand the story, the hero, and possibly ourselves or our world a little bit better.

So how does all this apply to writing? It applies because it works. As readers we instinctively understand the steps that a hero must take in order to, well, become a hero. If one of those steps is missing, somehow we know it, and as writers including all of the steps of the journey can not only deepen our work, but just make a well-developed story. It can fill in those missing holes.

Though it might sound complicated, the archetype of the hero cycle is not. Simba in The Lion’s King and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars are two heroes who follow it almost to the letter.  If you like the movie The Sandlot, Bennie follows a hero cycle when he dreams of Babe Ruth and faces “the Beast.”

The first stage of the Hero Cycle is called The Departure. It is made up of three stages: The Call, The Threshold, and The Helper.  If you research this, you will find a large variety of stages in the cycle and fancy names.  I’m writing about the eight major stages that make the most sense to me and that I teach to my high school students.

In the Call, the hero is somehow “called” to action. This might be through a dream, somebody literally crying out for help, or as in Luke Skywalker’s situation, his family is killed and he finds a robot with a weird princess message on it. Harry Potter gets called by a letter and then a giant on a flying motor cycle. It can be anything as long as it starts the hero on his journey and in some way changes the status quo that is his life.

The next step is the Threshold. This is where the hero decides he’s either going to accept the call and “go for it,” or if he likes life as it is, he stays put and is not a hero after all. A hero chooses to step through the door, or “threshold,” into his new role. He may not be comfortable with this; he may refuse it outright several times, but ultimately, a true hero will accept the call.  Again, think of Luke, Simba, or Harry Potter. They all embark on journeys to help save themselves or their world, but they aren’t necessarily sold on the whole idea at first.

The third piece of “The Departure” is “The Helper.” This stage provides the hero with some sort of aid which might be supernatural in nature or it might just be an object that the hero believes will help him to survive. For example, Simba has his friends and the monkey also gives him advice. Bennie in The Sandlot has his shoes that help him run faster and jump higher. Athena repeatedly helps Odysseus in The Odyssey. Luke has Obi Wan Kenobi and the force. Harry gets a wand and two true friends.  In essence, every traditional hero has some sort of object or people that help them along the way.

I’ll write more about the next two stages of the hero cycle over the next two weeks. Even if you don’t think you’re writing or even reading about a traditional hero, you might be surprised to find how prevalent this archetypal pattern appears in both contemporary and historical fiction. It really does speak to us, it just makes for a good story, and now I know it can rescue us when we’re stuck.

The hero’s journey image is from the Wikimedia Commons, a freely licensed media file repository.

Are you a Super Hero?

I participated in my final regular season Forensics/Speech and Debate tournament as head coach this weekend, and last night at the awards, each of the coaches shared something they had learned from participating in this thing we call Speech and Debate.

One shared that he had learned that the effective use of language to manipulate, persuade, or change people’s thinking was a super power. I completely agree. If we think about all of the language we see, hear, and use each day that is shared in the name of persuading us to buy a product, behave in a specific way, or agree/disagree with a belief, it is difficult to disagree.

The coach ended his talk by saying that the responsibility of using this particular super power is huge, and like all super powers it must be used only for good.  We all envisioned Spiderman when he said that and the 100+ high school students cracked up, but he made a great point.

Though he was talking to a room full of speakers, I instantly thought of my writing.  When we write words that others will read, whether through a blog, novel, story, essay, article, or even website content, we have some sort of purpose. Generally those are to inform, persuade, or entertain, but in each case, we somehow influence our readers. That is power.

I’ve been thinking, am I using that power for good?   Are you?

(Image is Royalty Free clipart from Microsoft Office.)