This year I am writing daily in a journal. My subject: water. I chose water because I love everything about it -- swimming in it, sailing and kayaking on it, drinking it with a lemon slice, hearing it dive against the windows in a storm. And I've loved many bodies of water, from Crystal Lake to Lake Champlain to Richardson Bay, where I live now. I figured I couldn't possibly run out of ideas, even if I'm aiming for 365 entries. I'm calling it my #dailywaterlog.
Why am I limiting myself to water when I could just as easily write about the book I'm working on or ideas for new ones or about the ups and downs of the author's journey?
The reason is simple. The act of writing daily is a discovery and a practice. One day I know exactly what I want to write and the next I'm stumbling around. But every time I say, OK, write for just five minutes, I'm surprised by where I go. I've written about the water I'm served at a restaurant ("My gratitude for fresh potable water I kept to myself") to the Guppy, our small sailboat that you have to sit on the bottom ("I can feel the cold sea and the slap of the hull on the waves") to my ferry commute ("white petal of gull/catches the eye/cormorant dives/by the ferry port").
Choosing to focus on one topic is good practice, too. Repeating a question is a technique Buddhists use to unearth thoughts and feelings. How will I answer the question of water by the end of this year? Each day I will be stretching to observe more, to be curious, to investigate my response to this one prompt.
Pen and paper
My daily water log is not here. Why? Like many of us, I spend too much time online. At work, I've got two screens, and on my way to work I scroll through my mobile screen, and then on the sofa I've got my screen on my lap. The daily act of running my pen across a paper page brings me back to my childhood, back to when I couldn't stop writing.
Another benefit: I'm free to write bad sentences. My daily water log is free of any pressure to produce publishable work. It is a place to get back to the root of why I write: to record the human experience on this beautiful planet.
We're all connected, right? We're on Facebook, Twitter, blogging and monitoring all our digital connections.
And yet, I've become aware of spinning and spinning online; building ties and promoting, yes, but the virtual, in the end, is fleeting.
In college, I wrote my senior thesis on the works of E.M. Forster. (Look, here's my ancient edition!) Now, I confess, I don't remember the thrust of my argument, but I do know I was drawn to Forster's epigraph: Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. For Margaret in Howard's End, it was her hope to reduce the inevitable inner solitude that isolates humans.
When we make human connections, we nurture compassion. As Gary Schmidt (my new hero!) reminded us at the LA SCBWI conference, “Write the stories that will give kids more to be human beings with.” His five dictums to authors are: "Love the world. Love words. Make wonder. Pay attention. Make the writing serve." Read Schmidt's Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy to know how it's done.
It's what I've tried to do with My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer. As one librarian noted, the story "allows opportunities to understanding love."
The highest calling, I believe, is to write the truth. This is hard. "Make an authentic connection between author and reader," said Arthur Levine. "Truth is timeless."
I'm not the first to observe that social media is just another way people try to escape the isolation that plagues us. But perhaps the answer is to read (and write) more true, wonderful books to connect with our inner humanity.
"What would 10-year-old you want to read that grownup you can make?" With that one stroke, artist Tony Diterlizzi rocketed the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators into an incredible weekend of workshops and speeches. More than 1200 of us came together in LA to learn (and yes, to dance!).
My best guess is that I last attended 10 years ago. That's too long! It was great to come back as an author and to continue to learn. If you're a pre-published writer (as they call it), you can gather your own inspiration from the official blog of the SCBWI conference here.
Here is my favorite advice (culled from twitter!):
"Great writers use anticipation more commonly than surprise." -- Arthur Levine
"Separate the writer from the editor, the editor from the critic, and dump the critic." -- Karen Cushman
"Look to see what might have washed up on the shores of your story." -- Cushman quoting Tim Wynne-Jones
"Don't burn your manuscript; instead, set your heart on fire." -- Ruta Sepetys
"Quiet holds emotions. Make time for ideas to emerge." -- Deborah Underwood
"In a culture that has ceased to cherish its children, you are called to service....to cherish your readers." -- Gary Schmidt
There is nothing better than being in the society of your peers. And the reason I write was reaffirmed: To tell the truth.
Exciting news! Julia Denos is illustrating the cover of My Mixed-Up, Berry Blue Summer. Her style reminds me of my younger self -- free-spirited, climbing trees, bicycling to Crystal Lake.
I heard the news when I was at a novel-writing retreat at Vermont College. It was great to be back in New England, tramping briskly across campus. What a joy to share stories and book suggestions. When you are with other writers, the ideas just flow and the inspiration seeps in, just like snowflakes melting on my hands.
Here's what I've been thinking and writing about. I love getting email, too!