Thursday, August 28, 2008

Winchester's Rest Cure

Here I am at the famous Sofa Bed and Breakfast. My vet said I'm suffering from exhaustion. I'm working too hard, trying to get more to eat than the pittance The Writer gives me. So I'm on a rest cure.

Rest . . . rest . . . rest . . . must rest . . . I could get a job doing this.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Where is The Writer?

All right, she's been back from Hollins for weeks. But this blog has been pitifully neglected. Where is The Writer?

The Writer is a bit under the weather. Her doctor told her to rest. So The Writer has cut back on her work schedule.

Rest? If she rested any more, she'd be in a coma!

And she took a little trip--

To Alcatraz? Is she behind bars?

--to Colonial Beach, a little town on the Potomac River. She stayed in the famous Bell House bed and breakfast and read and ate fabulous breakfasts and walked along the river. She watched eagles and ospreys and saw a Great Blue heron and a cormorant get into a fight (the cormorant started it).

The Writer's favorite place is the widow's walk where Alexander Graham Bell and his father Melville Bell (who bought the house as a summer place) flew kites for scientific experiments. The widow's walk is on the third floor of the old house. The Writer sits up there and reads and even eats lunch.

We'll be back in full blog swing after Labor Day. The Writer is planning a new column, just for me.

I may not be around. I'm suffering from exhaustion. The vet has ordered me to rest.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Writing Monday: Small Is Better

When The Writer was preparing her lessons for her creative writing class this summer, she wanted her students to walk out at the end of six weeks with something they could submit. She also wanted them to learn to focus. The answer: writing small.

Their assignments seemed simple: a nonfiction article, a personal experience piece, a short short story, and a short story. Most of the pieces were no longer than 800 words. The short short story was 300 to 500 words. It was hard. The Writer urged her students to choose a small topic. This would enable them to narrow their focus.

How does this translate to writing longer projects? Every day when The Writer sits down at her computer, she writes small. Even if she's working on a novel or a research project, she writes small. She breaks the tasks down into manageable chunks. Heather Sellers, one of The Writer's favorite writing teachers (Page After Page, Chapter After Chapter) calls this putting a frame around your work. Frame the part you want to work on and focus in tightly.

Writing small steered The Writer's students from starting big sprawling projects, like a YA fantasy trilogy, that they had no hope of corraling in six weeks. At the end of the term, everyone walked out with at least one piece that was ready for submitting to a children's magazine, and some students had four pieces. The Writer was very proud. She hopes when her students work at home, they will remember that small is better.

What's all this small stuff? The Writer didn't take her own advice. I noticed she was bigger when she came home. She'd put on a few.

You're one to talk.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Winchester's Greatest Fear

. . . he fears this more than anything--more than the Mop in the Closet, more than going to the vet, more than being put in a cat carrier. Winchester is deathly afraid of...thunder!

I see you under here. Come out. It's not even a real thunderstorm. Just a few grumbles.

That noise is made by the great big Cat Giant who comes down out of the sky to gobble up highly intelligent black and white cats.

Anybody who believes that drivel is hardly intelligent. There is no Cat Giant! It's thunder! A noise made by the collision of hot and cold air.

The Cat Giant made up that hot and cold air stuff to throw everybody off the scent. You fell for it but I'm too smart. Oh! He's getting closer!

Don't get yourself in a state. The Writer just put out your food. I know you're hungry.

That's the worst thing I could do! The Cat Giant can see through house roofs. He looks for highly intelligent black and white cats eating supper. He swoops down and grabs them in his wicked claws.

Stay here with your silly notions then. I'm going to eat my supper.

Will you bring me a tiny little piece of kibble? The Cat Giant can't see through the ottoman.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Cat Days of August

It's 98 degrees in the shade. This summer heat is killing me.

Winchester, it's 68 degrees in here. We have central air.

August is a state of mind. It's a time of lazy afternoons, icy drinks on the front porch, little kids running through sprinklers.

Every afternoon is a lazy afternoon for you. What're you drinking? Can I have a sip?

It's chilled mango juice. Very tasty. And no, you may not have a sip. Get your own.

That's what I like about you. You're always so eager to share.

I think I'll mosey on down to the ol' swimming hole for a refreshing dip.

Dip? You run like a scalded moose if The Writer accidently flicks a drop of water on you.

Turn the fan up another notch, will you? When you talk, you blow hot air on me.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Writing Monday: Talent Schmalent

At Hollins University, where The Writer was teaching creative writing in the graduate program in children's literature, The Writer was astounded to learn that most of her students, maybe all of them, worried whether or not they had talent. The Writer was shocked because she herself has never worried about talent.

Maybe she should.

Winchester! You're back!

Why shouldn't I be? You're back. The Writer's back. As I was saying, maybe she should worry about having talent. That's probably why she's never won any big awards.

If The Writer sat down to write a book that would win an award, she'd never type a syllable. It just doesn't work that way.

Back to the point. The Writer never worried about talent because she began writing as a child. Writing stories was fun--who cared if they were good or not? When she grew up, The Writer kept on writing, this time for publication. She still didn't wonder if she had talent. She just kept working. If she felt her writing wasn't good enough, she worked harder. The Writer had no talent for anything--she wrote stories because she enjoyed it, and then she wanted it to be her life's work.

In the mid-1970s, she found a book called Talent Is Not Enough: Mollie Hunter on Writing for Children. Hunter, a British children's writer who had won the Carnegie Medal, gave a speech, "Talent Is Not Enough." Hunter quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Talent alone cannot make a writer. There must be a man behind the book." Mollie Hunter amended that quote to "A person behind the book." At the time, The Writer was struggling with that very issue. Eventually she learned that passion counted more than talent. She wanted to write about something important to her. In order to do that, she had to put her heart and soul into it.

The Writer told her students what she'd tell anybody--don't worry about having talent. Instead ask yourself, "Do I want to be a writer for children?" "Do I want it more than anything in the world?" If the answer to those questions is "yes," then get busy. It's that simple.

That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life. No wonder The Writer has never won the Newbery.

The Writer doesn't worry about that either.