Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Motivating Yourself - Just Try!

(from Turbo Monkey Tales archives)

"The aim, if reached or not, makes great the life." -Robert Browning

In a writers' workshop a few years ago, the leader asked us to stand up and twist around as far as we could, and then note how far we had turned. Then we did it again, but this time before we twisted we chose a spot farther than we'd reached the first time. You know what? The second time, everyone reached their farther point. The difference was that for the second time, we set a goal and were motivated to reach it.

Chances are, many of us have set goals for 2014. Now here we are, nearing the end of summer, and we may be having trouble reaching those goals--or we're wondering how to go about reaching them. 

A few years ago I read a story about Beverly Cleary that inspired me to try new things. When Beverly Cleary was a young girl, she entered an essay contest because her mother had always encouraged her to try new things. She won the contest, and learned from that experience always to try, regardless of the certainty of the outcome.

After reading that, I adopted the "Just Try" method for doing many things that seemed impossible to accomplish. And it worked! I found that just trying frees me from the paralysis of fear and self-doubt; it allows me to explore, to play with ideas and directions, and to go beyond what makes me feel comfortable. "Just Try" includes the possibility--and acceptance--of failure and looking foolish, thereby dissolving their power over me. I've danced more, sketched more, sung more, traveled more, written more, explored more, experienced more--accomplished more--than I would have by wishing or dreaming about them.

Here are 4 simple steps for trying anything:

1. Write down what you want to try.
2. Imagine yourself doing it. What does that look like? How will you feel?
3. Imagine yourself accomplishing it. What does that look like? What rewards come with it? How will you feel?
4. Try doing it. You don't have to do it perfectly or be the best at it, or even finish it--you just have to try doing it.

You'll find that whether or not #3 comes true, you will have done #2--which has its own rewards and is a lot further than #1.

What do you do to motivate or inspire yourself?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Awakening Memories for Authentic Writing

(from Turbo Monkey Tales archives)
Memories are practical and efficient things, serving us when we want them. We don't lose them; they just go to sleep until something pokes them awake. Recently I read the memoir of a writer who had grown up in New England, as I did, at about the same time as I did. Her experiences of being in college, listening to the music, watching the TV shows, wearing the clothing and hairstyles, knowing the weather, and the smells and sounds all felt so familiar. And as I recalled from her text how the mosquitoes came out at dusk and how fresh-cut hay smelled in summer, and how the frigid winter air dried your nose the moment you inhaled, and the sound of music wafting across a college quad once spring blossoms, other memories emerged which were uniquely mine.

I also remembered that when I was four or five, I'd slip into bed beside my mother every morning and slide my arm under her neck. I remembered sitting on the back stoop of my grandmother's house after supper, lingering over a Pepperidge Farm cherry turnover while crickets sang in the field across the road. I remembered the places in the arms of my grandfather's chair where the varnish had worn away, the flavor of water drunk from a garden hose, and that I used to imagine our neighborhood, which was laid out in an oval, was one giant merry-go-round.

Whether we write for kids or adults, whether our stories are set in reality or a different world, the present or the past, details like these are what infuse our stories with authenticity and personality. But how can we coax those sleeping memories awake, especially if they've been snoozing for years? Here are some ideas:
  • Listen to music from that time in your life.
  • Look at magazines or catalogs from that time. Paging through old Sears catalogs, which I buy on ebay, often trigger my memories.
  • Find smells from that time. Old Spice reminds me of my dad, and the original Avon face cream reminds me of my mom.
  • Ask someone who was with you then, like your sister or brother or cousin or best friend, what they remember.
  • Sit with a notebook and pen and write a list, or draw a bubble diagram as fast as you can of a particular place or person or event.
  • Read a diary or journal you kept, or letters you or someone else wrote at that time.
  • Read your favorite book from then. Recently I reread A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which a teacher had recommended to me. Although reading it as an adult gave me a different perspective from when I was young, I also remembered how particular parts of the book had impressed the young me.
  • Visit a place you lived in or visited often. It's astounding how much you'll remember--details will fight each other for your attention.

As your memories awaken from their deep sleep, you'll discover this very cool thing that happens--they appear as fresh and new as when they first happened, without the tarnish of use.

What do you do to spark memories for your stories?