Monday, February 25, 2013

Big Writing Bug, Small Changes

Writing has always been part of my life. I won my hometown library’s Be An Author contest when I was 10, and the writing bug bit me. But it’s only been the past three or four years that I’ve seriously committed to writing picture books and middle grade.  A lot has changed in my life since then.  Nothing monumental. But I find these small changes interesting. And they help to feed my writing bug.  
Reading. My interest in writing, as well as reading, started at the library. But you know how some bugs go underground during their lifecycle?  Well, my writing bug was like that. It burrowed deep down for awhile. During that time, my reading list was mostly adult fiction and largely based on book club picks. There were times, as much as I hate to admit it, that my literary life was a wee bit nonexistent. When my writing bug emerged and dried off its wings, my reading habits changed dramatically. Now my weekly library haul is a bit embarrassing, with more picture books than my canvas bags can handle. Most days I’m juggling a few middle grade novels because it is so hard to choose. I don’t think I’m learning to write well unless I’m reading. Unfortunately, some of my recent library fines could probably fund a writing workshop.  Whoops.    
Driving.  Before I got back into writing, my commute to the office consisted of music or a phone call to my sister.  Now my drive into the office is spent chatting with my characters. I’m not actually talking (or maybe I am and I just haven’t noticed), but it’s time to get to know my characters more and find out what they have planned for our work-in-progress during my evening writing time.
Watching movies.  Before I got back into writing, I talked a lot during movies.  A lot.  To the point my husband would sigh and say “Ok, are you ready to just watch the movie now?” I still talk during movies.  A lot.  But instead of commenting on who’s been in what movie, I’m blabbering on about story structure or why all of sudden I care about a particular character.  These were things I never actively tried to dissect before I got back into writing.  So, when I said no one would really notice how I’m doing things differently, this might be one that my husband notices.  He still sighs and says, “Ok, are you ready to just watch the movie now?”  I say sure, but I don’t just watch.  I try to learn from the story on the screen.  I think about the beat sheets from Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT, I try to figure out how it applies to the movie, and I think more about how I can bring some elements of a great screenplay into my own writing.
Consuming news. Before I got back into writing, I read the news on a regular basis, looking mainly for stories that interested me politically or emotionally.  I consumed the headline, the content, and moved on. Now I consume the news not only to educate myself, but to look for interesting characters and situations that might inspire an aspect of a story I’m working on or give me a spark to capture in my notebooks for future use.
Listening to conversations.  As a kid, I was known for my unbelievable eavesdropping skills.  I’ve tried to keep that superpower in check as an adult.  But as a writer, I see where this talent can come in very handy. I eavesdrop during carpool to figure out what the preschoolers think is hilarious or worrisome. I eavesdrop in line at Panera to figure out what the high schoolers on lunch break think is hilarious or worrisome.  And when I go into the middle school to volunteer?  That’s right.  I’m eavesdropping on my son’s classmates to figure out what they think is hilarious or worrisome.  The gossip doesn’t show up in my writing, but I certainly use what I hear to inform different aspects of my writing—characters’ mannerisms, word choice, and sometimes plot points. (Did you know that Finn gave Molly a necklace for Valentine’s Day? Ssssh, don’t tell Maggie or she will get so sad.)
So, those are the little ways my fluttering, buzzing writing bug has changed me lately.  There is one thing hasn’t changed much.  My house is still insanely messy.      
But the excuse is new…I’m busy feeding my writing bug.
Has your writing bug affected the way you do small things?


  1. First, congrats on winning your town's writing contest at a young age. That's awesome. As for how the writer bug has affected me, I also eavesdrop on conversations kids have. I love dialogue, so I try to incorporate remarks I've gleaned. But the desire to write has made me a pickier reader. It's hard to turn off my inner editor sometimes.

  2. Understanding story structure definitely gives you a new eye for watching TV and movies. I'm more selective about what I watch because of it. A fun show like Modern Family is so fun because of how clever the writing is, and how well the stories mesh together. Breaking Bad is simply amazing on all levels, but writing-wise it's stellar. So is Justified, and Mad Men. There are reasons those shows get the awards. Some other shows I've put on the backburner are usually because the plots are either because it's plots we've seen before with nothing much new brought to it, or the characters are saying hammy, expected things. I don't even mind a trite story line if the actors can transcend it and bring new life to characters. But when there's bad writing and predictible plot, sorry I'm finished. :)

  3. Great post. The writing bug def. changed how I read books and watch movies, even what I pay attention to in public (I've become a big time eavesdropper).


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