Tag Archives: writing inspiration

Writing Life: Get Out in the World

Annual Sing for Hope installation of pianos in public parks, NYC. Photo credit: posted by Ashley Butler on Sing for Hope facebook (http://goo.gl/2PVae).

Annual Sing for Hope installation of pianos in public parks, NYC. Photo credit: posted by Ashley Butler on Sing for Hope facebook (http://goo.gl/2PVae).

As the school year ends, summer’s long days rush at me — in freedom, yes. Yet the value of my summers off (in addition to spending time with my boys) is the time it affords me for novel revisions.

Are You In or Out?

Both of the novel manuscripts I’ve been working on involve people out in the world.

In Breathing Water, the main character moves all through vibrant scenes from her mother’s house along the Miami River to art galleries throughout Miami to an illicit trip to Cuba to recover threads from her mother’s past. The characters in Wake are on the run through the Irish countryside. I’ve written stories where the main character works charter sailboats, or is the marketing writer for a corporation expanded into India.

My stories move. They travel. The world passes through their fingers.

They don’t happen on the couch in my living room or sitting here at the keyboard.

But that is the irony of the long hours it takes to write and revise a novel: no matter the life and adventure and other world the story captures, so much of that has to be created by a writer trapped at a keyboard indoors. Sure, we can all snag some laptop hours on vacation or mobile work from wherever we might be. Still, hundreds of hours get logged at a keyboard far from the action.

I am ready for that this month. I’ve spent the past two months out in the world — in classrooms with students, on an extended history tour of St. Augustine, at beach parties, at an amusement park… I’ve spent so much time “out there” interacting with people and other places that I genuinely crave uninterrupted hours to disappear back into the work on my novel that has been relegated to 15 minute blocks here and there in the past 2 months.

So no complaints about the work ahead.

Where Inspiration Lies

But a piece in the New York Times got to me yesterday, as a fabulous reminder of what it is to be an artist (amateur tinkerer or pro, in whatever medium) out interacting in the world.

Each year in June, the group Sing for Hope installs 88 pianos into public spaces throughout New York City — there for the sole purpose to be played by anyone who happens by. Each of the pianos is painted or decked out by artists and designers.

  • Click here for the NYTimes article or here for a video link, in which the reporting musician visits and plays with people at several of the parks.
  • For more information, including interactive challenges going on daily (to wit: musicians attempting to play all the pianos in one day, and random players posting pictures), check out the Sing for Hope facebook page here.
  • Are you closer to Cleveland, Paris, Omaha or Boston? The group Play Me I’m Yours is running similar projects with events in those cities; visit streetpianos.com for more info on that group.

I’ll be in New York next month, too late to check out the installation for myself — but the concept alone (and listening to songs being played by various musicians who’ve posted video) was enough to captivate me.

Get Out

As much as I will make the most of my free-to-work hours in the coming months, Sing for Hope is reminder to savor opportunities to go where you can find pianos in a park or fresh fruit at a market or conversation with a friend or the warmth of smelling horses out in a field or the crisp snap of wind in filling sails… or whatever other joys of summer that will stimulate your senses.

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What about you?

Where will you go — or do you wish you could go — to stimulate your senses or inspire your creativity?

To my regular readers, this also serves as a “hello,” as so many friends have inquired about my absence from some of our common forums. All is well — I’ve been busy, in great ways, with work. In February, I took over teaching a 5th grade class, which kept me busy planning not only writing, but U.S. History and science. I’ve kept going with work on my novel, but additional writing time has gone to nonfiction and education materials, including setting up a separate blog and Pinterest, sharing the title Mrs. T’s Middle Grades (Why “T”? I teach under my married name of Thompson). I’d welcome feedback on the new blog (email or DM me), as it’s a baby and in need of tweaking.

I look forward to reconnecting to hear what you have been doing, as well — either here or in our facebook or twitter forums.

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Writing Life: Today’s Job – Nonwriting Days

Considering my last two posts had to do with managing time and keeping the writing work moving forward, I shift gears today.

For me, today’s writing job, no exaggeration, is to sleep.

A week ago, I had been driving back and forth to Miami for three days to complete a writing workshop with Ann Hood. If you live outside a major city (think: New York, LA, Chicago, even DC), you know what that means. I live 60 miles north of Miami: the drive there is bearable; the drive out at rush hour is stop and go for two hours. Add to that, my son was home sick the whole time and we had family in town, so it was an exhausting few days.

My writing job in the week(s) leading up to the workshop had included preparing and sending a manuscript for the workshop, then reading and commenting on the 15 manuscripts for the other writers in the workshop. I mixed that in between commenting on student essays for classes I teach, and responding to submissions to the literary magazine I read for. This was in addition to regular daily writing, which included new material for Wake, a brief interview, and a couple blogs you’ve seen here.

The workshop then provoked new writing tasks. While the workshop was to focus on beginnings (making the first 250 words work), Ann Hood mentioned at one point how, in draft, characters most like the writer are often the flattest (Note: I blog about this advice later, here and here). Her advice inspired new insights into a main character I hadn’t spent much time with yet, so last weekend was spent writing two important new scenes. Also, the main response Ann had to my manuscript was a comment that it had reminded her of writer Alice McDermott. I knew the name, but had not read McDermott’s work, so a new writing task was to find and begin reading Charming Billy (which later made my annual best-reads list).

Round about then, the inevitable happened: mom caught the 8 year old’s cold.

This is how the week played:  I teach, and am in the last month of the year. My house looks like sheep have moved through.  Not hyperbole.  As a single mother, I have been done in by my house. The disposal died, causing the dishwasher not to work, and I won’t have time to get a repairman in until next week, which means I’m washing dishes.  I have student essays to read, which are completely disorganized after leaving all the drafts for them to work on with a sub while I was in Miami.  I spent Sunday teaching my son how to restore the research project he’d gone off-road with at school, helping him select a new topic, and directing him through online research.  Monday: student work and teaching, and helping the son who’d missed school all last week catch up. Tuesday: called in to sub for a colleague, so missed my planning time, which got shifted to the evening.  Wednesday, slept as late as possible.  Wednesday night: out with my college boyfriend, who I hadn’t seen in more than a decade and happened to be passing through town on business.  Thursday: shot.  Teach, then out late for son’s spring musical.  Friday, teach early, all day, then out all night to deliver and pick up son from his first middle school dance.

Today’s job: sleep.  Do not yet open eyes to the housekeeping and laundry put off through this week, waiting for you to wake up.

None of those things seem to have anything to do with writing.  They sound like the writer’s nemesis: a list of all the things that kept me from writing today.

I don’t see it that way.

To me, when I’ve just posted two articles on how to make the most of your writing time, it seems only fitting for the third to be about all the things that happen in the rest of our time, and the fact that some days your job is really just to sleep.  Some days, it is to mend house, or to jockey for strategic seating at your 8-year-old’s spring musical, or to go to work early to cover a friend’s class or to assist with the school Eucharist where the mayor shows up to honor your retiring head of school.  Other days it is to sit shoulder-to-shoulder as your son struggles through his first research project or be on hand as he dresses for his first dance.  Some nights it is to sit at a table along the sidewalk at Rocco’s Tacos with an old friend who has come to town, laughing and talking until the busboy says he needs to carry in the table and chairs because the bar is closed.

Strategize your writing time, yes.  But there are days when a writer’s life is about the living of life, the connections with others.  When insight and understanding comes from having lived through the weakness of sickness or broken appliances or bad schedules and struggling children.

So today’s post is in honor of those days — recognizing that today’s writing chore really is to sleep, recovering from the week’s experience so I’ll have it in me to write tomorrow.

An observation I would offer is that much of this week I was pushed out of my comfort zone.  Things did not go the way I wanted. I had to put my intentional schedules aside to do things I hadn’t planned on doing. I even managed to back into my ex’s car in my driveway – while leaving him to watch our kids so I could go out to meet the boyfriend I’d dated before marriage. Crunch.

As writers, we don’t write “screw up” as a to-do item on our calendar, but isn’t the imperfection of life where much of inspiration comes from? Awkwardness, inconvenience, failures, crossed wires, confusion.  The realistic brokenness of life happens out there — not in all our planning while sitting at the computer or our writing desk or wherever we work — but sometimes in those hookie moments when we needed to be working but life intervened.  It’s just worth saying, to all of us struggling to work writing hours into our days, there are times to embrace the chaos of life, wecome it in and even count it as part of your writing goal.

I wish you all a productive week — in the hours things go as you planned, and when they don’t!

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