Stepping Stones Blog

Sunday Salon: September 14, 2014

The bi-polar weather of the midwest has returned this week.  We experienced highs in the 90s on Monday and Tuesday, and then a record-low of 38 degrees on Saturday morning.  Today, however, is near perfection:  sunny and seventy, ideal conditions for a nice walk and family cookout.

Reading:  I actually finished three books since my last Salon post and have almost completed a fourth.  I still want to add more fiction to my current reading list, but that will come in time.

then againThen Again by Diane Keaton.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this memoir, as much for the subject matter as for the way in which it is presented.  Keaton’s voice is unique, and her Annie Hall ramblings are evident in her written word.  But it works!  She experiences the same life struggles as the rest of us … except the names are far more famous:  Woody Allen, Al Pacino, and Warren Beatty.

But I really enjoyed the way she structures this memoir.  She weaves her story with her mother’s in a seamless fashion, showing us a loving, supportive relationship between two independent women.   I have thought of writing my memoir as a part of my mother’s story, and this book showed me it is a possibility.

story of happy marriageThis is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett.  This was my first foray in reading personal essays, and this collection has inspired me to read more.   I would describe the essays as being part memoir and part writing treatise, and I was mesmerized by every one.

I must confess that I have not read any of Patchett’s other works, but I certainly plan to do so in the future.  I adore her writing style: vivid descriptions with fresh metaphors, detailed yet concise.  I plan to purchase a copy for my personal library, and use it as a textbook to help me improve my own writing.

storylineStoryline by Donald Miller.  I read Miller’s second book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, about four years ago; it is one of only a handful of books I immediately re-read.  In that book the author discusses the lessons learned while adapting Blue Like Jazz (a collection of essays) to a screenplay.  In essence, he discovered the primary requirement of a screenplay – as well as real life – is to have a good story with lots of action.  And he asks the question:   what kind of story are you telling with your life?

In this book, Miller helps the reader develop narratives for his own life.  He helps identify a theme, the supporting characters, the goals or ambitions we seek, the inciting incident to get us moving toward that end, the inevitable conflicts we will encounter along the way, and ultimately, the climatic scene that resolves the storyline and sets the stage for a new one.

For those who are interested in learning more about this process, visit the author’s interactive website, My Subplot.

creative life

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.  This book is often recommended to artists, writers, or any other creative types, to help develop their creative muscles by making art a priority in life.  I have tried reading the book twice before, but I suppose the timing wasn’t right.  This time, however, I find her words supportive and encouraging.  I have not necessarily learned something new, but the repetition of sage advice is always refreshing.

 

Writing:  I have focused on my NaNoWriMo 2013 piece this week.  My goal is to review each chapter and note what revisions need to take place by Tuesday, when I am meeting with one of my beta readers for lunch.  She provided wonderful comments and suggestions on an original manuscript, and I have incorporated those critiques in this process.

Quite frankly, I had not looked at this piece since the first of the year, and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Surprisingly, I still like the story and do not view this revision process as a chore, but rather a more focused creative endeavor.  I have lots of work to do, that is for sure, but I am looking forward to it.

Some of the major revisions that need to take place include:

  • Flesh out all major characters – currently they are two-dimensional and not fully developed.  I have found photos to represent each character and included them in my revision notebook.  I think this visual reminder will help me know them better.  Next, I plan to “interview” each character to learn a bit more of their back story.
  • Dialogue – oh my word this is difficult!  I tried so hard to make dialogue purposeful that I forgot to make it natural.  It is as though my characters are frozen in time and space with just their mouths moving.  This learning curve will be rather steep, I fear, but I look forward to the challenge.
  • Theme development – The title of the piece is First Impressionism and while the Impressionist component is quite clear, I am not sure that I have adequately fleshed out the unfair judgments that can sometimes take place when we rely on first impressions.
  • Appropriate reading level – the audience for this piece is Middle Grade, that is, 5th-8th grade girls (although I wonder if I could tweak it so boys would be interested as well…).  I know that I need to simplify sentence construction to meet this goal.

Interestingly, I don’t think there are too many major plot holes and the timeline seems to hold true.  I think that comes from my extensive planning and outlining before starting the project.

Anyway, I am excited to delve into this work one more time.  And if it goes well, I  may have plans for a sequel.

Blogging:  As I mentioned in the last Salon, I am going to focus on one blog entry a week for this semester – and then maybe return to a more vigorous blogging schedule after the New Year.

To that end, I have spent most of the summer in deep introspection.  I have read numerous self-help books and filled several notebooks.  I have looked at my past, present, and tried to discern the next step for my future.  Through all this work I have developed a “Stepping Stones System” which helps identify the “Soul’s Agenda”  I am sharing this system in a series of five blog posts, the first one being an Intro to my Writing Manifesto.

Other possible info:  I will be donning my “Grandma” hat this week.  We will be watching the Princess for five days (and nights) while her parents are out-of-town.  It has been a number of years since I have been fully responsible for a toddler – and quite frankly, I am concerned about my energy level!

I have planned several possible activities to help keep her occupied, such as baking M&M cookies, decorating a gingerbread haunted house, and painting christmas ornaments.

Pops has taken time off, so we hope to visit the zoo and the aquarium, and there will certainly be at least one trip to the mall to visit the American Girl and Disney stores.

We have several “new” DVDs to help us wind down in the evening, and I am sure we will orchestrate  several tea parties while she is here.

She goes to pre-school each morning and has gymnastics on Thursday evening, so hopefully she will be sufficiently entertained.  And come Sunday night…. I will collapse 🙂

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2 Comments

  1. readerbuzz

    You are going to be completely ready to write your novel in November. That will be so much fun.

    Enjoy your time with your g-daughter!

  2. I am jealous of all the reading you’re doing, not just the amount but the quality, especially Donald Miller. We watched Blue Like Jazz and enjoyed it.

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