Art and Art Lessons Learned — Watercoloring and Writing

Last night I attended a watercoloring demo with Ken Dey at the Battle Creek Art Center. I’ve taken watercolor classes before, but this style of demo was new to my experience. (And thank you, all my illustrator friends, for your cheers and encouragement at my untalented-but-willing painting-for-fun efforts.)

I do like to dabble with both sketches and paints, but I’ve never felt I was very good. That said, I know from my writing experience the more practice and more I study about the craft, the better I become. But any craft takes time to learn in order to get it…acceptable for others’ eyes. Time is a huge factor in pursuits. At least for me.

With most of my adult life focused on writing (v.s. illustrating), it wasn’t much of a surprise to find my mind last night translating what Ken was teaching into writing. So here are the things I parallel-learned from last night’s demo:

1)  Study and practice your craft under someone who is more experienced than you, someone who also answers even the most basic questions. (For writers, these can be conferences, workshops, webinars, writing craft book clubs, etc.)

2) Good equipment and materials make the act of doing your craft more seamless. (For illustrators, a workspace, paper, paint, and brushes; for writers, a workspace, working computer (or paper and pen), related computer programs.)

3) Have a plan. (Illustrators–sketches; Writers–theme, plot outline, and character sheets)

4) Start with general placement. (Watercolorers–wet on wet, section by section; Writers–rough draft, or what I call Raw Writing, loosely following the Three Act plan until your story is “done.”)

5) Take time to let it set. (Painters–wait till the next day, or use a hair dryer; Writers–time is your hairdryer. There’s no rushing the set time for us. Put your story aside a few days or months and come back to it with fresh eyes.)

6) Go back to fill in details. (For artists this would mean tree branches, grass blades, shadows, removing gumm, etc. For writers this is what we call “revisions,” like making clearer motivations for each action, working on language to make your words count, making sure your readers can use their five senses which you’ve planted in your scenes, etc.)

7) Say thank you to your friend who invited you to the demo (or whatever), and make sure to invite others to things you care about as well. (It’s a lot about connections and networking, people.)

Yet Another Tornado Cleanup Entry

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First need: Water. The first night after the tornado struck, we had gallons of water which I always have on hand “in case.” By the second night, we were using our neighbor’s outdoor spicket, as they have city water, so even though they were without electricity like us, they still had water available.

Second need: Food. As hikers, we always have dried food in our house. Others might not think a lunch of peanut butter on crackers with a can of V-8 and cup of applesauce is much of a lunch, but it is quite satisfactory. And grocery stores in some parts of town were opened, although we couldn’t store anything cold.

Third need: Shelter. Our house is now livable. It is far from the normal we were used to. While our master bedroom gets repaired, we’re sleeping in the smaller guest bedroom with our winter clothing stashed in the basement because there’s no room for them upstairs. And although we still have tarps over four parts of our roof, we are protected from the elements. We have shelter.

Fourth need: Love/ People/ Friends. Thank you. I can’t say that enough. Although you may not think that merely asking “What can I do?” is much, it is HUGE. We need the knowledge that others care. You do. Thank you.

Fifth need: Mental Stability. Throughout this past week, my husband and I each found ourselves repeating things, or forgetting things, or being unable to focus or concentrate. (And I apologize for continuing to repeat things.) Everywhere we look in a 360 degree circle, in every room, and at each section of our yard, there are things which need to be done yet.

I actually thought I was doing (mentally) much better after the power and water came back on. (We will have only partial power for perhaps months, and still don’t have internet service nine days after the tornado. I’m sending this through my husband’s work office.) But today as I was out doing two errands – taking several trashbags of clothing to the Salvation Army and stopping to get milk – I was at the checkout and asked the clerk if she was affected by the storm. She replied, “Thankfully, no, but this store was without power for a few days.” I smiled and nodded, then turned to leave, taking two steps before I realized I had neither paid for the food nor even taken the milk. Yeah. Although some people may argue there was doubt all along, I must admit that I don’t think I’m quite mentally stable yet.

P.S. I have taken 62 pages of notes in my journal so far, concerning this storm and clean up,… and counting. Most of what I’ve written is just jotted thoughts. I could write pages on any of those things. Oh, the writing fodder — to look over someday when I’m mentally stable once again. I may even read over these blog posts for the past week – and melt in sobbing embarrassment.

Day 6 After the Tornado

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As word is getting out to people in town who were unaffected by the storm, or to distant friends as well, that we Carlsons were one of the home owners struck by trees and without power, and consequently for us, without water, since we’re on well water (think no toilets, showers, cleaning ANYthing, bodily or otherwise), people are asking what do we need? What can they do to help?

We are safe, and physically healthy. We are thankful (and amazed) that there were no injuries or deaths related to this storm. Just a few miles away at Fort Custer, Friends Carrie and Jim were camping over the weekend. They only had 15 mph winds there. It was a VERY strange storm.

As of this writing, we still do not have power or water.

But “first” off, THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONCERN FOR US. It means far more than anything we can think of (for you to do for us).

Thursday, Friend Dale, whom I’ve known since I was 11 years old – we call each other “cuz” ‘cuz we looked alike – she called from Mississippi to tell me they (in Mississippi) wanted to do something for us in Battle Creek, especially since people from our church went to help them after Hurricane Katrina. It was the first time I broke down and cried.

Friend Jan from here, came over on Tuesday and, knowing we didn’t have water, told me she wanted to wash our dirty laundry. Memorial Weekend was our 33rd wedding anniversary, so I’m afraid I procrastinated laundry enough to have four or more loads, including the plaster-covered clothes or towels used during immediate cleanup. Normally, I would have been embarrassed to allow someone else to handle our dirty clothes. Thank you, Jan. It wasn’t an emergency, but it sure was one big-ish thing we didn’t have to worry about doing (at a laundromat).  Whenever I smell Downy, I shall think of you and smile in gratitude.

“Secondly,” prayer works! Our regular Thursday Morning Prayer Meeting at church prayed especially for us, we were told. All day long yesterday, Jeff kept saying, “This has been a crazy day.” One example from the many things which happened: We’d been waiting since Monday morning for our tree removal people to come and get our tree. They finally called and said they’d be out Thursday afternoon. Our next door neighbors hired someone to clear our tree which fell on their house, and their guys were there Thursday morning. They’d stopped at the property line, and Jeff and I thought no more about it. We were in the basement with generator stuff, and when we came back up an hour later, their tree people had cut the tree off our house and down to the root ball. Uncertain at first what to do, Jeff finally went out and talked to them. They’ll come back and get the rest of the trees (not on our house) at some later date. BUT all this was in time for the electric company folk to come by and attach lines from the street to our house. SO, instead of weeks without power, we we’re supposed to get it “soon.” (I’m sending this from Friend Francie’s house.)

WHAT DO WE NEED? WHAT CAN YOU DO?

A neighbor wrote on FaceBook Sunday night, “Need bread,” and was inundated with loaves by Monday afternoon. It got me thinking what do WE need?

One, there are others in the area worse off than we are, some without insurance. They have needs far greater than our inconveniences of no power, light, or water. And, two, when you think of the millions of people in Third World places, or even here in America, who don’t have these, we absolutely have the four things people need to survive: food, water, shelter, love (like from caring folks like you).

Yes, it’s true that we have no water at our house, but Neighbors Mark and Cindy across the street have “city water,” and have graciously allowed us to use their outside spicket day or night. Mark calls me “Water Girl.” But “Water Man” (Jeff) helps carry, too. While we only have to walk across the street for clean water. Some people on this planet must walk miles for it.

Yes, it’s true that yesterday, we threw out all our stinking food from the refrigerators – and what a treasure to find a jar of unopened pickles in there — but we are former campers, and used to roughing it, just not in our own house. We find a lunch of peanut butter and crackers and V-8 and applesauce is quite satisfactory. There are also restaurants opened now near to us.

What do we need? The answer is fluid. On night one, tarps and nails. By night two, ibuprofen. A cell phone charger was vital for communicating with the many, many professionals needed – insurance, tree removal companies, roofers, building contractors, etc. (As I wrote this paragraph, the power came on. Hallelujah!!! The generator can be turned off.)

Although we have water (yea) we will only have partial power in our house because of broken walls and breakers turned off to that portion of the house, which only affects the den and master bedroom. But did I mention we have power?

We won’t have internet at home for a while, nor land line phones or tv, but those are SUCH luxuries, and only means a bit of inconvenience to do things we were used to. Life will come back better than before.

I’m posting some photos on my FB page, but thought a moment ago that before and after shots would show more dramatically the comparison of damage done.

Many, many thanks to you all for your care and concern during this time.

SCBWI-MI Fall 2010 Writers Conference, Final Conference Post

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The final speaker-talk at our SCBWI-MI Fall Writers Conference was Darcy Pattison. She spoke on Social Media. First, she did a hand-show questionnaire. I must admit that I felt rather proud of our chapter with so many raising their hands to having a website, a blog, on FaceBook, on Linked In, on Good Reads, YouTube, etc.

Darcy told us to focus, that social media is driven by content.

Know who you are – What do you like to do, consistently?

Who is your audience? Kids? Parents? Teachers? Librarians? Writers? Illustrators? Your on-line presence is different, depending on your audience.

When do you do things on line? For instance, Twitter is today’s news gotten yesterday.

Where does your cyber audience live? (i.e., which listservs, forums, chats, etc)

Research what is typical for what you like. Follow 10-15 blogs. Join in on conversations; leave comments.

Why do social media? Darcy did it to find a peer community. (I can relate to this point. When I lived in South Dakota, there were a total of twenty-eight SCBWI members in both North and South Dakota combined. The closest member to me lived several hours away. My live critique group in Rapid City were all adult writers who thought what I wrote was “nice.” Yeah. Needed more than that – a peer community.)

Put sustenance of real value on your blog. Don’t let it just be about me, me, me. Let what you say be of value to your audience.

 There was so much more she shared, lots of interesting details or suggestions. Buy her books or CD, or go to a conference or retreat where she is a speaker. You will not regret it. Check her out at www.darcypattison.com (Thanks, Darcy.)

August Writing Challenge Followup

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YIKES-A-ROONIE! I just realized today that earlier this month, I put out an August Writer’s Challenge of writing 10,000 Raw (first draft) words by September first. How you doing? Surprisingly, I may make that goal. I know I have nearly 10,000 words started on a new YA (young adult) fantasy, but I’m not sure if I’m going to leave in certain bits to make it into a MG (middle grade) story or not, yet. I THINK I wrote nearly all those words this month, but I may have started in July, too. I’ve been a tad bit scatter-brained this summer.

Has this summer been crazy for other people as well? Family, travels, cleaning oil off of turtles… well, maybe everyone hasn’t been doing that last one, but I’d encourage you to help if you can… heat, humidity. There are lots of summer distractions for writers.

So… how have you done on the August writing challenge?

No more excuses. There are still six days left in the month. Get writing, already!

WriteOnCon, 2010 (and S.C.B.W.I.)

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I signed up for the WriteOnCon this summer with a bit of hesitancy and skepticism. Hesitancy, because I’m a long-time member of S.C.B.W.I. (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). If fact, I joined before the “I” was added. That’s neither here nor there.I’ve co-chaired two (live) writers conferences in this chapter, helped with several SCBWI conferences in CO, and was SCBWI newsletter editor for the Dakotas chapter. I’m rather invested in the organization, and will continue to be so, and continue to attend live conferences (like the one in October). The bug-a-boo (i.e., hesitancy): One of our Regional Advisors discouraged us on our listserv from attending this upstart conference.

I had skepticism about participating in WriteOnCon, because I simply had my doubts about how such a conference was going to work. As a past conference organizer (and of two others, non SCBWI), I was also curious about the technical side of it and how the sessions would be presented. Besides, one could not help but feel the excitement vibrating over the internet about it.

Once my decision was made to attend, I decided not to be shy nor embarrassed and put my name right out there, not hiding behind a user name like mewriter2. (Apologies to anyone who picked that name.)

This is the morning of day two of the first WriteOnCon. I’ve “attended” most sessions at the time they were presented, and must say WRITEONCON IS AWESOME! (Yes, I shouted. Sorry.) A large round of applause needs to go out to the conference organizers. I’m impressed with the variety of speakers, subjects, and methods of presentation (YouTube, narration, live, monitored chats).

Thank you risk-takers, Casey, Elana & Shannon. You three rock!

How To Write When There Are Others Around, Part IV — 1 More from Darcy Pattison

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In Darcy Pattison’s “Fiction Notes,” she addressed this very topic this week. There are too many other people to list who have also given suggestions. Gee. Sounds like a book idea! Wait. There are probably lots of books concerning how to write when there are others around.

One of Darcy’s suggestions is to use pen and paper. I do this so much — even journaling daily in marble notebooks — that I think about this suggestion about as much as I think about being a woman, i.e., it just is a part of me. So, thank you, Darcy, for rattling my brain a bit.

Not long after Hurricane Katrina struck, I headed south on a mission trip with PDA (Presbyterian Disaster Assistance). For the first few days, I helped cut trees and drag branches to the roadside for later pickup and became spotty with gnat and mosquito bites. During our shade-and-drink breaks, I’d whip the small notebook and pen from my back jeans pocket, and write furiously until we started up again. Then, during the leaders meeting, the director of the camp asked if anyone had a writer in their group — to work on the website, write down stories, etc. My fearless leader’s hand shot up, indicating that I was the only one in the group of 90-some volunteers there at that time who was “a writer.” One man from NJ who’d worked with me and the trees that week, confessed he wondered why I hid behind tree trunks scribbling all the time.

The next day, I was left alone in the tent camp, except for my gnat and mosquito friends, staring at the computer. The wall-canvases were pulled to the poles so I could look over my lonely territory. I stared at the screen, tried to organize my notebook thoughts, feeling lonely and deserted and wondering how I could stand the pressure of being the lone writer, and what I would write about first, when who wandered into the shade of my tent, but the big honcho in charge of all PDA camps in the area. Interview time!

I had lots to share with him from my scribbles to bring him up to current speed of the camp, and he gave me lots more to write about, dealing with the camp’s short history.

Robert Louis Stevenson (one of my literary heros) always carried pencil and pad with him and scribbled away notes and snatched bits of conversation. Of course, this was pre-notebook (computer) days. But there are many times when technology is unavailable even today. So… keep those notebooks and journals and a couple of pens (in case one runs out of ink on you) handy.

How To Write When There Are Others Around, Part III — Some More Solutions

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One very important thing I failed to mention concerning writing when there are others around, was/is personal discipline.

Besides my husband working in the den of our house for much of his work, we have company at our house now — for about 10 days. I’ll have a 3-day break at the end of next week before we get in a different set of company (family — hurrah!) for two weeks. I’ll have company in our house 24-7 for most of this month. It’s a might distracting for the writer.

It’s now 7 days into the month. How much writing have I gotten done so far this month? Confession: very little. Excuse: entertaining guests and traveling to touristy places. However, I have done some writing, and I’ll share the reflections of my experiences.

How to write when there are others around? Unfortunately, I’m not rude enough to shut myself up behind a closed door. Besides, when I do that, I inevitably get distracted by laughter from the next room — which I’m SURE was some great writing fodder story which I’ve lost out on. So…

1) Sneak away for a five-minute writing break. It feels glorious. You may feel sneaky and somewhat guilty, but glorious all the same. I know this. I am a writer. I need to write each and every day. If I end up not writing, I make Oscar the Grouch look as singing-sweet as Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

2) When you do get the chance to sneak away, do not — I repeat, DO NOT — spend your glorious writing minutes with checking your email, catching up on FaceBook, LinkedIn, favorite blogs, how far the Gulf Coast tar balls have drifted, etc..

3) Enjoy your company. Relish in visits from family. Love them to pieces. And learn to delegate. (e.g., “Oh, say… how ’bout if you folks clear the table and wash the dishes?” Then go sneak in your cherished writing minutes.)

4) Microize your normal writing goals. (I sure hope I made that word up instead of used some swear word or laser weapon. No time to research it now. Remember? I’ve got company in the next room.) Instead of giving yourself 3 hours to spend in revisions, limit yourself to one chapter a day. Microize your normal writing goals.

5) When company leaves, and there are sheets to wash, floors to mop, toilets to scrub, mountains of laundry to do, etc., don’t forget to work back up to your normal daily writing schedule. W.E.D: Write Every Day.  (Rats! Another made up word.  I sure hope that isn’t some acronym for a porno site. No time to look it up.)

How To Write When There Are Others Around, Part II — Some Solutions

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The problem: How to not be distracted when others are around, distracting you from writing.

The solution: I’m really not that vain to say there are solutions, but just hints of what might help you be less distracted. That being said, here are a few things which come to mind or which I’ve heard at writers conferences or in books or networking in general. But first a few general good writing habits:

1) Have the priority-attitude of actual writing time be important to you.

2) Take up the Book-in-a-Week phrases: BIC, HOK, TAM. (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard, Typing Away Madly)

3) If you have difficulty writing a whole novel in one sitting, do as Anne Lamott suggested in her book on writing, BIRD BY BIRD — break the task into smaller units. You don’t need to (nor can you) write a novel in a day, but you can write a page a day.

4) Have a writing space which you only use for writing — no reading, no emails, just plain ole writing.

5) Take breaks. Do mini exercises for your neck, arms, fingers, legs, backside, etc.

On to suggestions to limit or deal with external distractions of other people:

a. If you have young children, tell them when you have your writing cap on (get an actually cap specifically for this purpose), that you can’t be interrupted except in cases of emergency. I used to define “emergency” to my students as fire, blood or vomit, but you may quote your own definitions.

That lovely first suggesting being said, I need to add here that I have always felt that family ALWAYS comes first. The kids are young only once. In my family book, I mostly only wrote when they napped or watched “Sesame Street” or were at school. But by the time they started school, I went back to a paying career with energy sucking emotions which drained any writing enthusiasm. Still, family comes first.

b. Turn off the phone ringer, and refuse to answer your doorbell. Yep: hide and ignore.

c. One writer friend hired a baby sitter twice a week so she could write undistracted by her children.

d. Set a timer for your writing time — even just 15 minutes! This is for both for you and for your family members. Explain you MAY NOT be disturbed until the bell dings. And it’s probably a good idea to keep the timer near you just in case little hands like to play with time.

e. I want to say “shoot the ice cream man,” but I realize that sounds terribly wicked. You see, we have an ice cream truck which is driven S-L-O-W-L-Y through our neighborhood twice a day. Only a couple measures of a familiar child’s tune is played over and over and over again. Also in this category are the industrial strength leaf blowers and professional lawn care people next door. I think for this grouping, a good pair of headphones or ear plugs are in order. I know some people listen to tapes of white noise to filter out the outside distracting noise, but I could just type next to our air conditioner if I wanted that type of noise.

f. Family comes first. When your spouse wanders in and out, and in and out again, remember, family ALWAYS comes first.

Library Rejection and Writers Block

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It’s sad enough when we writers get rejections from editors and agents, but what a big ouchie when we get it from our own public library.
 
I loved Hope Vestergaard’s FaceBook library write-in post — she is an Ann Arbor, Michigan, children’s author. She was very excited about the event.
 
I’ve volunteered to do things (programs for kids) in libraries in three states where I’ve lived. The programs have not only been well attended, the librarians have been enthusiastically grateful. I liked this write-in idea so much that I called and suggested we do it here at OUR library in town. I’ve met the children’s librarian here, and thought that her contact would be a great starting place. After all, we writers know it’s all about networking.
 
She called me back, after talking to other staff, and said no, because “kids would think it’s too much like school, and it wouldn’t work because of funding (needing a library staff member present).” I said I’d be there, volunteering and leading, and as a former elementary teacher, I know that kids love to write. She said, no, again.
 
I love to write, and love to encourage others to write, too. I simply didn’t want to leave it at that, which is quite against my personality. I’d consider myself more whimpy than pushy, but when it comes to writing, call me passionate.
 
I asked her to keep open-minded about it for some future date.
 
Knowing there are a couple hundred NaNoWriMo participants in our area, both in schools and otherwise (she hadn’t heard of NaNoWriMo), I tried a different approach. I suggested that November might be a great time for adults to gather. She said the person in charge of adult programing said no, too. I guess no from this library means “no; go away; don’t bother us any more.”
 
(Flashback to six years ago when we moved here. I asked the librarian at the desk if there was a place where a writers group could meet, and was told “no” then, too. Back in SD, our Black Hills Writers Group met monthly at the public library. It was a helpful and meaningful time. I wanted to share the goodness. So far, here in my town, I’ve failed.)
 
Well… there. Done Steaming off.
 
Sad Sandy
 
P.S. I wonder if I am burning library bridges by writing this here. On the other hand, is there even a bridge to be burned?
P.P.S. Maybe I should add here that I’m not yet my normal self right now –> Stupid medication for poison ivy!
P.P.P.S. Back to writing.