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Do you, like me, have a manuscript, or two, or three, or even four, sleeping in a desk drawer? Do you know why it's there? Or, have you decided it's the best place for it?
I opened my file cabinet this week to find a manuscript I completed--yes, completed--in 1989. It's a historical novel and it runs over 100,000 words. I actually forgot about it, but it was there sitting under a stack of newspaper clips from articles I wrote decades ago. At first, I had trouble remembering why I had decided not to send it off into the big, wide world of publishing rejections at the time. Then, I read it, and my reasons became clear. It was pure procrastination.
Now, everyone procrastinates from time to time, but it seems writers tend to do it a bit more than other folks. Oh, we're not lazy by any sense of the world. That's not what I am saying, and I certainly don't consider anyone struggling to write a novel, an article, a short story, or a poem to be lazy. But writers as a whole are self-critical, and that leads to procrastination.
Reflection has been described as an art, a skill, a necessity for meditation, a method to create more ideas, and a technique to lean from one's mistakes. It requires a serious consideration over the many facets of one's life in order to benefit from the experiences acquired. But, can reflection on one's life help a writer? In a word, yes.
All of us think about what has happened to us in our lives. We revel in the good times and try to forget the bad times. We teach our children lessons that begin with, "When I was your age . . . ." We reminisce with childhood friends, "Remember when we . . . ." And, we deeply consider life's lessons when we face a tragedy or a loss.
Writers are a bit different. We reminisce or reflect on events constantly as part of the creative process. Now, I am not talking about reflective writing. Reflective writing, also called creative writing, is where a writer takes a specific event or observation and analyzes it and how it affected him or her or others. I am talking about using our experiences to make our writing better, and I believe this is especially true when writing for children.
For example, in the short story, Jumping Puddles, I wrote for Red Squirrel Magazine, I needed to convey both the anger and anxiety my 9 year-old main character, Angie, was feeling when the school bully, Missie, challenged her. I tried several ways to handle the confrontation, but they all seemed to say "Angie got mad." Then, I remembered an incident that occurred when I was 9 years old. I thought about how my body tensed, and how I was determined not to let the bully get the best of me. This is the result:
Fourth grader, Missie Taylor, jumped to the concrete pad in front of Angie. She leaned down until her face was just inches from Angie’s. “Like I said–a toad drawing a toad.” Then she shoved Angie hard.
“Go pick on someone else, Missie,” said Angie rubbing her shoulder. “Leave me be.”
“Not a chance Collins.” Missie stabbed a fat finger into Angie’s chest. “You owe me.”
Angie felt her cheeks getting hot, and her hands getting sweaty. She unzipped her jacket and slid her sketchbook inside. Wiping her hands on the sides of her jeans, she leaned forward and looked up. “I don’t owe you nothing Missie Taylor.”
Once I reflected on the experience and the emotions surrounding my childhood event, I was able to convey those feelings in my main character, and the editor agreed.
All of us have been happy, sad, tired, mad, emotionally drained, anxious, overwhelmed, humble and even haughty at one time or another in our life. None of us want to settle for just, "Angie got mad". We want to reflect on life--to use those experiences to provide a wealth of feelings and situational awareness we can access to make our words come alive for the reader.
Dreamer, believer, reader, writer