Tag Archives: challenge

making of harry potter common room

Staring is necessary.

My IB students are reading The Things They Carried now and just finished The Great Gatsby. The order in which you teach books brings to light different aspects of them. I don’t believe I’ve ever juxtaposed these two titles before. So, as we read each vignette of The Things They Carried, the burden of being an observer in war is the thread I keep being drawn to. Both Nick and O’Brien seem to exist as a lens through which to view the story, take little part in the action, only rarely turn that lens on themselves. They are both writers. Go figure, I’m drawn to this persona, the observer. I know just what I’d do if I ever stumbled upon an invisibility cloak as Harry Potter did.
“Stare hard, retard,” people used to say when they caught me staring. And sometimes on my walks to work, I get so caught up in the physical details of the world around us that I just want to keep walking right past work, spend the day collecting images. I did this when I was in high school quite a lot. I’d walk to school, reach the building, decide to keep walking. I grew up in sister cities and I’d walk to the edges of them both, walk between them.
This is at least a part of why I prefer to walk to school even though Chris drives and works at the same place. This is why I prefer spring and summer days, because I can walk and walk without the extra weight of an umbrella or the inconvenience of getting cold or wet. I used to at least try to keep a journal collecting some of my impressions from the day. It’s been difficult to find time lately, but I’d like to try to get back to that practice, just a little writing before bed. *moves journal to night stand
I’ve sometimes felt ashamed of my observer personality (“Stare hard, retard”), but reading O’Brien I’m embracing that part of myself, feeling part of a tribe of storytellers. So, dear writer peeps, if this sounds like you, I have a challenge for you this week:

Spend 10-20 minutes sitting in public just observing everything you can.
Observe and record a conversation between two people you eavesdrop on.
Stare at an object. Stare again. Keep staring until you’ve written a two paragraph description of the thing.


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A Room Of Our Own: Don’t Always Trust Your Feelings

A paragraph came without warning. I was reading Great House on the way to a wedding in Seattle. I didn’t even have a notebook to write it down, so I wrote in on the inside cover of my book. Hardback or not, I wasn’t going to lose that paragraph.

I’d been struggling to revive an old novel all summer. It was working about as well as it has for me in the past to revive old boyfriends. A couple of good dates while hope and nostalgia are still fresh, then boredom and reality sit in.

I wrote the first draft of that book in 2005.

I’ve always operated under the assumption that everything we ever write is worth returning to, that time and distance allow us to return with a fresh view.

Now I see that this is only true to a point.

What’s at the heart of a piece of writing comes from an urgent need to communicate an idea. Those urgencies change as we age and experience (resolving old questions, asking new ones).

That paragraph?

The beginning of the book I needed to be writing now.

The very next day I started in on it and as I mentioned last week my goal was 1000 words per day, every day. That was a week ago and my word count total is now 3515. As that number implies, I had successful days and not so successful days.

The first chapter came easily and the writing was pure bliss.

Day 1: 793 words

Day 2: 1813

Day 3: 2824

Day 4: 0

The second chapter was a slog. It had moments, but the narrative voice and immediacy of the action of chapter 1 were not there. I was telling too much. Too much backstory.

I started to question the project itself.

Day 5: 3629

Day 6: 3821

As if that weren’t bad enough, I started to question what the hell I was doing trying to write novels anyway.

Imagine me sprawled belly up on a bed in the middle of the afternoon, whining, “I just don’t know what I should work on or why the hell I’m even bothering. There are so many other things I could do with my time.”

That is exactly what happened.

At the time, my boyfriend was gracious. He complimented me, offered words of encouragement, and promptly grabbed his children and drove to the lake, leaving me to figure it out myself.

I cleaned the house.

Three hours later, forty minutes before our dinner guests arrived, I started to work on an opening for a different draft of a different story I am also working on. I wrote three possibilites. None of which I liked.

My feelings of failure as a writer were unresolved after our guests left, but I had better perspective. Our friend had asked me over dinner how my writing was going.

I surprised myself by the clarity of my answer. I told them about my day and was finally able to laugh at myself. It had been a bad day, I said, laughing.

I read the first chapter of the new story to my boyfriend after our guest left. He loved it! But I got stuck in chapter two, I explained. Send it to me, he said. “I’ll tell you where you went wrong.”

I sent it. We went upstairs to watch the next installment of Breaking Bad.

The next morning he did read both chapters and confirmed for me what I already knew and listened while I strategized. I would highlight everything I would cut later (the telling, the backstory), but not delete the words. Deleting wasn’t an option. Okay, he said. Highlight, then. I could start chapter two with this line, he said. Or this one, I replied.

Writing today went well. Very well.

If I had trusted my feelings yesterday, I would have deleted all the writing I’ve ever done.


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