in no particular order

I have been away from this blog for more than a year. I’ve been inventing “spare time” in my overbooked mother’s life to work on several writing projects. Most recently, I rewrote and resubmitted “But Not Barbara” to the Writer’s Union of Canada competition for writing for children. This year I worked hard to learn more about the children’s literature genre. I read a couple of hundred picture books. I regularly met with a picture-book-writing friend so we could wrestled with theory and finesse technique. I practiced some new writing techniques. I floundered a bit but also surprised myself with successes.
In short, I grew myself up as a writer of picture books. What could be so hard about that you ask? I know what you mean — it seems so simple a kid could do it, right? Don’t be fooled — writing an elegantly simple and entertaining story in 1500 words or fewer is a challenging practice. I have learned some tricks and tips on my writing journey that I want to record here at word whacking before all my new found nuggets of wisdom collect cobwebs in the neglected corners of my mind. So, before I forget them, in no particular order,
here are my writing-for-children nuggets …

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Writing Excuses

While surfing through iTunes for new podcasts, I discovered the Writing Excuses podcast series by  Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy Novelist), Howard Tayler (Cartoonist), Dan Wells (Horror Novelist). Just so you know, I NEVER want to be a fantasy or horror writer; and while I might like to be a cartoonist because it looks really fun, I would have to train a very long time to do it well. But it is precisely because these authors’ topics are so far outside my genre of writing and expertise that I have the most to gain from their entertaining style and  down-to-earth advice. The first half-dozen podcasts have already surprised and inspired me to look at the same-old/same-old in my work (mostly academic teaching, writing, and blogging) in a new light.

For example, the Writing Excuses Tri-Gurus take turns giving out writing prompts like “write a comic…” as possible exercises for listeners. Just for fun, and because I cannot resist a quirky experiment, my teaching colleague and I challenged ourselves to use the cartoon medium to “write” a definition for a very often misunderstood concept — “affirmative action.” It took us longer to write four perfect, short sentences for our cartoon image than it would have if we had defined our concept in a paragraph of writing. But our finished cartoon definition, rocks! It is simpler and far more memorable than any paragraph ever could be.

Experiment results: Now that I have seen one success in crafting a cartoon instead of writing standard prose, I am challenging myself over the next month, to try to “write” (e.g., university course material, emails, my creative writing, journaling, etc.) using cartoons and comic strips, whenever possible. For my “Writing Excuses” cartoon posted here, for example, I “scooped” Brandon, Howard, and Dan’s photos off their web site, opened up Photo Studio, and scribbled black “pen” lines over their images; then I imported that pen-drawing into Comic Life (free 30 day trial) and added the speech bubbles. And Voila! This cartoon process my be rough in my unskilled hands compared to a professional’s, but the big pay-off is that this comic-style of writing forces me to think long and hard about my core message. Indeed, cartoon writing makes self-editing an extreme sport that is both painful and exhilarating!

If you can get over the need for perfection, and get comfortable speed-scribbling your images to respect your practical time constraints — I would highly recommend super-condensing your prose and giving cartoon and comic writing a try. Who knows? By cartooning, you just might arrive at a deeper understanding of your own work.

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Image credit: Cartoon by jamm at wordwhacking.wordpress.com

Podcast mentionedWriting Excuses at http://www.writingexcuses.com/

Library thing collection: See all the books mentioned, recommended, or being read at word whacking here:http://www.librarything.com/catalog/wordwhacking

word whacking, copyright 2010 – Jessica Motherwell McFarlane, Ph.D.. Creative commons attribution, non-commercial sharing only (translation: feel free to quote me in context or use this entry but please always credit me for my work, thanks.)https://wordwhacking.wordpress.com

Fountain pen praise

During one rare moment in the January rainy season, the sun finally blazed out from behind the clouds. Ribbons of light streamed through the skylight windows of my favourite internet cafe. The sunshine, a steaming cup of tea, and my trusty laptop were my companions for the two hours my daughter was in her art class. The Saturday crowds packed the place.  I observed one fellow scanning the bustling room for an empty seat, fumbling with his shoulder bag and coat, and balancing his swimming-pool-sized latte on its giant saucer. I invited him to share my table. He accepted with a sigh of relief. We each worked for a while, lost in separate daydreams brought on by the gorgeous day. But, as is often the case in cafes, we eventually started chatting.

My table mate said he was a writer and that sparked a long conversation about the life of writing. This fellow writer raved about how much he enjoyed using a fountain pen to write out his first drafts long hand — a technique recommended by Anne Lamott in her book, Bird by Bird. I was intrigued by his praise for the humble fountain pen. Eventually, it was time for me to go and pick up my daughter. I said a cheery goodbye to my new writing acquaintance.

I can never resist a new experiment, so I bought a fountain pen the first chance possible. My new pen looked too complicated to simplify any writer’s life. But the moment I touched the the inky nib to the paper,  I couldn’t believe how fast my pen could race across the page.  My writing hand could almost keep up with my thoughts! I would never have guessed how such an old fashion invention could make writing so smooth. I loved the feel of the pen and the almost frictionless action on the page.

Experiment results: I carry my fountain pen with me wherever I go. The downside is my hand-writing has deteriorated when using the fountain pen, possibly because of the speed; the upside is I am writing more — and more often — mainly because it is a beautiful experience to have the fountain pen in my hand, composition book in my lap, cup of tea by my side, and no need to find a plug. I have a new found appreciation for this antique pen technology and, now, savour my electron-free writing sessions at my favourite cafe.

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Photo credit: Photo by jamm at wordwhacking.wordpress.com

Books mentioned:  Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott.

Library thing collection: See all the books mentioned, recommended, or being read at word whacking here:http://www.librarything.com/catalog/wordwhacking

word whacking, copyright 2010 – Jessica Motherwell McFarlane, Ph.D.. Creative commons attribution, non-commercial sharing only (translation: feel free to quote me in context or use this entry but please always credit me for my work, thanks.)https://wordwhacking.wordpress.com

debauches of book-buying

Here’s how it started: I was having coffee with friends, chatting about the mixed blessings of writing. I mentioned I was on the look-out for a book by Anne Lamott called, Bird by Bird.

“You are going to love that book; and get Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg, too.” my friends said.

At home I recounted the conversation to my husband and he added, “Well, I have Pierre Berton’s, The Joy of Writing; you could give that a read.” And so the snow-ball of book gathering started. I stumbled upon a resource of not just books about books, but books from authors who write about writing.

This genre of books is full of delicious surprises. For example, author Stephen King INSISTS we read voraciously (he also abhors the use of adverbs like, voraciously, but I will get to that in another blog entry). His advice is music to my read-a-holic ears. And Dorothea Brande (popular in the 1930’s for her work teaching writers) coaches us to “have periodical debauches of book-buying and magazine-buying.” Debauches of book-buying. Sounds like Heaven!

Following recommendations from friends, I have bought, borrowed, and begged to assemble my first reading stack of books that deal with many aspects writing and publishing. As I finish each book, I will give you, not a traditional book review — there are many reviews out there already, but rather, a brief consideration of how the book helped me as a writer. I will ask myself, “So what? Will this book change my writing practice? And if so, how?”

I, also, invite YOU take each author’s advice and put it through a vigourous “test drive:” check your traction on gravel roads; race up steep mountains; pop wheelies; slam on the brakes; put it in cruise control, kick back and take in the view; and come back here to word whacking and report on your writing performance as you employ each technique. Let’s discuss what works — and doesn’t — to facilitate our writing.

As I explore each book, I invite you to add YOUR experience as you read that book or give your views on the topic at hand. Would YOU change your writing practice based on the advice given? Or does the discussion here validate what you are already doing?

Now, its time to grab a book off the stack and start a test drive. “Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines…”

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Photo credit: Photos by jamm at wordwhacking.wordpress.com

Books mentionedBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott. Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg. The Joy of Writing: A Guide for Writers, Disguised as a Literary Memoir by Pierre Berton. On Writing, by Stephen King. Becoming a writer, by Dorothea Brande.

Library thing collection: See all the books mentioned, recommended, or being read at word whacking here: http://www.librarything.com/catalog/wordwhacking

word whacking, copyright 2010 – Jessica Motherwell McFarlane, Ph.D.. Creative commons attribution, non-commercial sharing only (translation: feel free to quote me in context or use this entry but please always credit me for my work, thanks.)https://wordwhacking.wordpress.com

word slacking

WORD SLACKING: the art of always finding something that must be done BEFORE you can sit down to your writing practice.

If you have guessed that I have started my blog, word whacking, as another way to avoid my writing practice — you’ve guessed right. Yep, this blog is a shameless exercise in “word slacking.” But I have and excuse: sometimes I have a story about writing itself: I want to write about writing; or write about not writing;  or write about others who write about writing. And if I give myself the chance to express these stories around writing, I might actually clear the log-jam of my thoughts and actually get down to writing.

My theory is: if I am going to be a word slacker, then I might as well excel at this age-old art. This blog is my celebration of the unruliness of my bustling, meandering, but well-meaning mind. I am hoping to my trick myself into writing SOMETHING even if it is not the novel, memoir, or essay I have scheduled to write — writing to avoid writing (twisted logic, but it could work, right?). Word whacking is my place to cut loose with word snacks — both humourous and helpful — that will whet my appetite for more writing. I, also, hope sharing my blog with you will bring you yummy refreshment and make your writing day more nourishing and rewarding.

Enjoy!

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Photo credit: Photo by jamm at wordwhacking.wordpress.com

Library thing collection: See all the books mentioned, recommended, or being read at word whacking here: http://www.librarything.com/catalog/wordwhacking

word whacking, copyright 2010 – Jessica Motherwell McFarlane, Ph.D.. Creative commons attribution, non-commercial sharing only (translation: feel free to quote me in context or use this entry but please always credit me for my work, thanks.)https://wordwhacking.wordpress.com

I must do

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Photo credit: Photo by jamm at wordwhacking.wordpress.com

Library thing collection: See all the books mentioned, recommended, or being read at word whacking here: http://www.librarything.com/catalog/wordwhacking

word whacking, copyright 2010 – Jessica Motherwell McFarlane, Ph.D.. Creative commons attribution, non-commercial sharing only (translation: feel free to quote me in context or use this entry but please always credit me for my work, thanks.)https://wordwhacking.wordpress.com

procrastination

I was deeply inspired by this brilliant tutorial on pro-crast-i-na-tion.


Click here to watch video:Procrastination

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Video credit: from Johnny Kelly on Vimeo. “Procrastination” can be found at: http://vimeo.com/9553205

word whacking, copyright 2010 – Jessica Motherwell McFarlane, Ph.D.. Creative commons attribution, non-commercial sharing only (translation: feel free to quote me in context or use this entry but please always credit me for my work, thanks.)https://wordwhacking.wordpress.com


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