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.

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.

Writing in a Coffee Shop

pic from microsoft word clip art

One of my goals for this spring break was to take my laptop to a coffee shop and write.  Just about every time I enter into a coffee shop, I see people with laptops.  Clearly, there is a portion of the population who find them productive places to work, and I wanted to see if it worked for me, if pushing myself out of my quiet writing comfort zone worked or if I found it horribly distracting.

When I told my husband my plan, he responded by telling me about his good friend who works in coffee shops just so he can check out all the good looking moms who go in during the work day to meet with their friends though my devoted hubby swears he’s never carted his laptop into Starbucks to work.  Hmmmm.

My concerns with writing in a public place were that I’d see people that I know since I live and teach in a small town.  I worried that I’d spend my entire allotted writing time catching up with someone.  I was also concerned that it might be too noisy or that I’d spend my entire time watching everyone else since I am an avid people watcher.  My last concern was that I’d feel self-conscious and silly trying to write in public and that would squash my creativity.

I hoped that the change in venue would jumpstart the writing goals I had set for this week off of work, so Saturday afternoon, I packed up my clipboard filled with paper, my favorite writing pen, my favorite writing book for when I’m stuck, and my laptop.  I wanted all bases covered.  I chose a smaller shop for my experiment, and I went all the way to town, forgoing the small shop in my community, in which I was sure to see friends or students.

When I first walked in, I knew the first person I saw, the cashier.  Uh oh. She greeted me by name and began to chat, so I decided to sit on a couch out of sight of the front counter though knowing her did come in handy when she called out, “Amy, these your keys on the counter?” They were.

I ensconced myself in the rear corner of the shop on a comfy couch, and I didn’t feel self-conscious at all.  I began by writing by hand which I often do, but quickly switched to my laptop.  The words flowed. A few people came in and out of the shop, but it was relatively quiet other than the employees chatting.  I ended up writing over 1800 words and liking what I wrote. For me, this is a successful writing session.

I’m not sure that writing in a public place is something I would want to do every day or even every month, but to jumpstart my writing, it worked.

Apparently, my muses like the occasional latte too.  They definitely came to visit.

Staying the Course with “Leaverites” & Einstein

Sitting in the corner of my writing desk is a rock cairn that I bought at a mining supply store.  I didn’t buy it right away.  I came home, thought about how ridiculous it was to actually buy a stack of rocks, and then went back and got it.  It’s my favorite writing desk accessory, though my Einstein doll is a close second.

The rocks remind me to stay the writing course while Einstein, the guy who developed theories related to time, reminds me to be patient about it, not one of my strengths.

Hikers use rock cairns to mark trails and let fellow hikers know where to go. They are especially helpful when trails traverse giant slabs of granite, like they do in the Ruby Mountains near my home.  If you lose the trail, just look for a cairn, and then head toward the next one.  They keep you on the trail, or at least heading in the right direction.  They’re also kind of fun to build, to find rocks that will actually stay on top of each other and stay standing for any length of time.

Next to my cairn on my desk, I also have random rocks that I have picked up on walks and hikes.  I am no geologist or archaeologist; I just tend to look down while I walk, so I find rocks I like. I bring them home and set them my desk or in my classroom.

One friend who loves rocks and crystals told me that any type of rock will help break up negative energy. I have no idea if this is true, but it sounds great.  As a result, I have rocks scattered in every corner of my high school classroom.  I figure I need all the help I can get to help build positive energy in there.

When I first brought home a rock years ago, my husband asked me if I’d found another leaverite.  I was completely impressed with his geological prowess and got all excited that he actually knew what kind it was, until he explained himself. “Yep, that’s a leaverite,” he said.  “You should ‘leaverite’ where you found it.”

I was crushed.  My plain gray rocks were just that, a plain gray rocks.  Bummer but at least they now had an official name.  My rocks are all leaverites, and I use them to guide me, to remind me of where I’m going.  I am a writer, or at least I’m on my way if the cairn in the corner of my desk is guiding me correctly.

Stay on the “Write” Path – No shortcuts allowed

Yesterday I stole a few hours to myself and drove up the Ruby Mountains to a trail head near my house.  For some reason, it is a place that inspires me to write.

My favorite place to write on the slopes of the Ruby Mountains.

I set a chair in the shade next to a willow and for the first time in a few weeks, I got a lot of writing done.   A soft breeze blew; the air smelled like fall.  The creek that usually burbles down the mountain was just a muddy strip, so I didn’t get to enjoy the sound of the water, but I didn’t mind.  I wrote in my journal and then wrote a character sketch, an entire scene, and the rough outline of the next scene.

For the first time in a few weeks, I got into the zone, that space where the words just come.  Sometimes those words flow; sometimes they don’t.  I have the big picture in my head of my whole story, but it takes a whole bunch of words, written one at a time, to create that picture.  I’ve learned that there are no shortcuts in writing.  I can’t make the process shorter or easier.  It is what it is, and I have to write every single necessary word, one at a time.

At one point I looked up and realized that I was looking at one of the most fateful shortcuts in American history.  I felt like it was God’s little reminder of that lesson.

From my perch on the side of the mountains, across the valley I could clearly see a portion of the Hasting’s cutoff, the “shortcut” the Donner party took as they followed the South fork of the Humboldt river which meets up with the California trail just on the other side of the canyon. 

The Hastings cutoff  looped south around the Ruby Mountains and then back north to meet the California trail near present day Elko, Nevada.  Unfortunately for them, the route was incredibly difficult and actually added more than 100 miles to their journey.  It was this shortcut that led, in part, to their tragic demise on the eastern slope of the Sierra Mountains.

I feel like I’ve been on my own little Hasting’s cutoff for the past month, floundering around, trying to figure out how to teach full time, participate in my kids’ activities, and make sufficient progress on my novel without completely beating myself up and feeling like a failure.

As I sat looking at the route they took, a route that goes literally within fifteen miles of my house, I realized, yet again, that there are no shortcuts no matter how much I like them.  I like to take shortcuts, to mark items off my list just a little bit faster, so I can move on to the next item.  Writing doesn’t allow that.  For me at least, I’ve learned it is a slow process.  I’m learning to be okay with that.  It’s a lesson the Donner Party didn’t learn, and look what happened to them.

Even if I don’t make as much progress as I expect of myself, at least I’m not on the real Hastings cutoff.  My slower than expected pace will only add a month or two to my projected finish date.  Fortunately, it won’t lead to eating my neighbor for dinner, literally.

For that, I am thankful.  So, thank you God, for the very visual reminder, that I need to take this entire journey one word at a time.  It will take me as long as it takes as long as I just keep on writing and don’t detour off the “write” path.

Messy Desk = Inspiration

I’ve decided to give up on my desk.  I’ve rearranged it, organized it, tidied it dozens of times, but by the end of my every writing session, it looks the same way, disastrous. This is odd for me.  I’m a fanatically organized person.  If there was such a thing called “Organizer’s Anonymous” I would probably be a member. I love going into stores like Office Max and browsing all the organizational supplies.  It’s like how some women feel walking into Nordstrom’s shoe department.  My heart races, I pick up colorful packets of sticky notes or cool expandable files and think about how I can put them to good use, like some other women pick up a pair of shoes and dream of all the outfits they would complete.

In either case, it’s probably some sort of unhealthy obsessive behavior, but one which my writing space seems to be making a stab at healing in me.  Despite repeated tidying sessions and a vow to keep it clean, it just doesn’t.  Almost like it can’t.

I spent 20 minutes the other day scouring the house for my ipod ear buds, so I could listen to music, write, and tune out “Pretty Little Liars,” my daughter’s current favorite TV show.  I searched my bedroom, both my kids’ rooms, the family room, everywhere I could possibly think.  I finally borrowed my daughter’s pair, only to sit down and see a little piece of white wire underneath a precarious stack on my desk.

Several books, a binder, a three-hole puncher, a journal, sticky note pads, a basket of pens, and piles of loose paper balanced atop my long lost ear buds which had been there the entire time.  Thankfully, they hadn’t been completely digested or seasoned with the half cup of coffee I had spilled earlier on the other side of the desk.  I could still use them.

My desk seems to have mind of its own, almost like one of my characters that I think should be responding to a situation in one way but who insists on responding in their way, thank you very much.  I argue with them, but they usually win.  If I insist on doing things my way, I get stuck.  Sometimes, it’s just easier relent, let them have their way, just like sometimes it’s easier to give in to the arguing two year old (or sixteen year old).   So, I’m giving in . . . to my desk.

Writing desk, this is for you:  “You can stay a mess.  You can inspire me in your disastrous, paper laden state.  I will not spend time organizing, tidying, or pondering why you like it this way.  I give up.  I trust you.  I am learning the lesson that maybe I just write better in a messy space.  Thank you for your patience with me, and please, keep the inspiration coming.”

Writing in my Sacred Writing Space

“I am a writer.  Today I write.”  That has become my mantra.  And since I have said that to myself or even out loud daily for the past few months, I have written every day.  Some days it might just be to take notes or rework part of my scene list in my notebook while I’m waiting for soccer practice to end, but usually it’s at 5:30 am, sitting at my computer . . . writing.  I’ve been getting up an hour early before work everyday to write.  Sometimes its tough, but I think in redefining myself as a writer I have to convince myself of the truth of who I truly am.  And to do that, I need to write . . . everyday.  We all carry so many roles and often those are roles that we may not choose ourselves or that may not reflect or define who we truly are or want to be.  It’s pretty exciting to be doing that.  I am definitely enjoying it.

One of the biggest steps I made on this journey toward becoming a writer was to set up a little writing space for myself.  It is not a quiet serene space.  I always envisioned writers with quiet offices that had large widows with lovely inspirational views.  My “office” is a 2’ x 4’ plastic table set in front of some bookshelves.  But the shelves hold all my favorite books!  I also cleared off one shelf to create a “sacred space.”  Janet Connor, author of Writing Down Your Soul, writes about the importance of creating a sacred writing space in her book.  I’m also taking a tele-seminar class with her, and we spent two weeks on this process.  I have objects and pictures that are meaningful to me, that give me my own inspiration.  I also have a candle that I light every time I sit down to write.  I love my space, and it has become integral to this journey.

I’ve even created a writing ritual for myself.  I know what happens when I sit in this space . . . writing.  I don’t pay bills, grade papers, talk on the phone, or any of the other activities my roles as wife, mom and teacher demand of me.  My writing space is in the middle of my busy home and there is no door on it to shut out the world, but even so, it has become a creative “retreat” space for me.  Even though I’ve only had it for four months or so, my family has also acknowledged this as my space.  I have yet to find any Algebra homework on it, and when I am writing, they honor that.  And that I think is one of the greatest gifts of all.  I have defined a space and because I have honored it, everyone around me has too.  That’s exciting – maybe I am becoming a writer!!