The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Writing…what a mess!

I’e had a week of fascinating writing workshops with third, fourth, and fifth graders at Brent International Schools in the Philippines.  When I pointed out that as I travel, I don’t pay much attention to official sites and monuments–like this one–but, rather, got entranced by a French door…by a French octopus in my salad…a fifth grader told me that her father is a writer and is the same way and takes photographs of his traveling family in the oddest places.

Over and over, I pointed to examples in my work that show the ways I get details from observation, from memories, from research.   I shared photos of my childhood in Ethiopia and showed little and big ways that those experiences found their way into books.  I challenged them to think about their memories, observations, research. 

One thing I learned–all over again–is that creative writing is a messy, messy process.  No one can say, “Sit down and go through these steps, and the result will be wondrous.”

But the mess has been fun for me.  I love the words and phrases I’ve gathered as we’ve brainstormed together.  One of them has already found its way into the novel I’m revising.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, the sugar clumps.  The butter puddles.  Laundry doesn’t dry.  But people have easy, open smiles, and one of the schools made me cry with the musical welcome and luminous photos of people just…well…being there for other people.

The power of one person to stand or sit with someone else in pain.

2 thoughts on “Writing…what a mess!”

  1. First, I love your blog.
    Second, I had to laugh about writing being a mess. Our museum doll club has been working on a book, which we self-printed and we’ll have it Friday. The girls came up with a concept this summer. We took a roll of Christmas wrapping paper, unrolled it across the floor and the girls wrote down or drew out ideas for the book. Then came the research. And then writing. And then re-writing, and just when you thought you might be done, some more re-writing. We were explaining to the girls how the book might not sound like what it started to, or it might not even sound like the last version they had seen. After we met that night, I came home and read this. I had been thinking writing is a lot like cleaning your room. You stuff things in the closet, that’s the first draft, then you pull everything out and make your room really messy. You resort it a little. You put some stuff in the garage sale pile. Some in the donation pile. Some goes in the trash. You look at what you have. You keep weeding it out until it is what you really need. Maybe that checkered turban looks cool, but does it fit with the rest of the story? Then you start to put it back in the closet, making sure it all fits neatly and the closet door will close. And finally your room is really clean, and your story works! We are hoping our story works. We’ll be finding out Saturday when St Joseph MO celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Pony Express. The girls are reading/acting out our story live, the word premiere, if you will, so they are pretty excited. And we’ll have tea, too. A little reward for cleaning up the mess!


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