Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Thursday, April 30, 2009

When fiction becomes reality

In my NaNo novel, my main character has a 2-year-old boy. He is the youngest of her 3 sons. In one scene, she is at the park with her son and 8-year-old twin daughters. Her son is drinking from his sippy cup while she's looking through a book, trying to find some information. (Yes, I KNOW it's called a "tippy cup." But "tippy" is just too weird of a name for that kind of a cup. I have always called it a "sippy cup" just because I like that name for it better!) Anyway, when he is finished drinking his juice, he holds up his sippy cup and announces, "All done!"

I have been trying to teach my own little boy to say "all done" just like the 2-year-old in my story. My son is 18 months old, not 2 years old, but I think "all done" should be easy enough for him to say. He's already said other words: "mama," "dada," "the," "dog," "yeah" and "yucky." (He usually says "yucky" if he has food on his tray which he doesn't like.) So for several days, I've been trying to get him to say "all done" and today, I am pretty sure he finally did it.

It sure looked like he did it!

We were at the table eating lunch, and he pretty much got most of the chicken, carrots and crackers I served to him onto the floor than into his tummy. (I have the world's pickiest eater.) And after my husband and I finished eating our sandwiches, I looked at him and said, "All done?" After many tries of getting him to say "all done," he finally said, "Alllllll done." (That's what it looked like, anyway!) He moved his head up and said "allllll" as he brought it down then said "done" when he brought it down all the way. I started laughing and copying him and we were both laughing over saying those two words that way. He kept repeating it even after I stopped laughing about it. (Yeah, it was like he was getting back at me for repeating it to him for so long! Ha!)

But after he said it, I saw the fictional setting from my story sort of collide with this real one. Granted, we were not at a park, and I don't have twins, but I thought it was an interesting juxtaposition of the two situations.

And as far as other fictional things coming into real life are concerned, I have a story in which one of my characters is named Jenny. She has long brown hair, just as my own real-life Jenny does. For one of the events at my daughter's school, I put her hair up in braids. In the story, the character Jenny always has her hair up in braids. Seeing my Jenny with her braids made me think of the fictional Jenny with her braids, even though her fictional counterpart is 4 years older than her. Still, I thought it was just like seeing my character come to life. It was like this little girl that's been living in my head for so long was now a real person! (Yikes! Scary thought. Wonder what OTHER characters I have are actually going to be a part of my real life....or do I even want to know?? I swear, I'll probably run away screaming if I happen to meet a nurse named Laura. As it is, I met this woman named "Malissa" years after I had November's Child published, and "Malissa" is the name of the main character!) (Also interesting: That I wrote a book with THAT title and both of my kids were due in November. Alas, they were both born early, in the month of October.)

I know this is something that happens to writers of fiction a lot. Sometimes, it's from our own doing, like with me teaching the baby to say "all done." And sometimes, it just happens on its own. Sure it can make our journey as a writer all the more fun and exciting, but sometimes it can be a little scary, too.

And on a related note: Maybe it's a sign that the baby would finally say "all done" today. Because I am "all done" with the articles I have to write this week. And I finished them a day early, too! They have been proof-read, fact-checked and submitted. Woo-hoo!

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thank God It's (Not) Friday!

Yesterday, I kept telling myself something: "It's only Tuesday." I kept telling myself that, because I kept thinking it was later in the week. More like Thursday or Friday. And I was looking at the things on my Writing To Do list for this week, and thinking, 'Eek! I have to get ALL of this stuff done!'

Maybe that turned out to be a good thing, though. Because I DID end up getting everything for the day done. I was REALLY in the zone yesterday and working on one of my books (which, by the way, is now 220 pages!).

I tried to squeeze in a phone interview which I have to do for one of my books, but that just didn't happen. As productive as I was yesterday, I couldn't do the phone interview I had assigned to Monday's tasks, because in addition to being busy with the writing, I was busy with the kids and housework. (I get up from my seat a lot for some....THING or another.) But I'll get that interview in. Sometime this week, for sure. Even if I have to do it on Sunday. (This is pretty much one of the reasons why e-interviews work best for me. It's just really more convenient. When I do a phone interview, I HAVE to sit at the desk and keep my attention on the screen, because I use Internet relay. So I could miss something the person said. Or the operator will get mad if I take too long to respond and disconnect the call, then I can't save anything. No TTY yet.)

I had every intention of making this blog post yesterday, but that was not to be. Ditto on Palms to Pines. Still, I did manage to get a lot of writing done yesterday, and I'm happy about that. Now the only thing I need to do is get myself used to the fact that today is Wednesday. Not Thursday. And not Friday. It's not Friday -- YET!

If it HAD been Friday, I would've panicked. I have articles due on that day, and they're not all done yet. (I'm getting there.)

But maybe I want it to be Friday because then I would've had that sense of accomplishment of getting more writing work done this week. And not so much because I wish it WAS all done this week. (Though a girl can definitely dream. Haha)

I was chatting with my editor yesterday, while in the mist of all the writing busyness. She told me she lost track of what part of the day it was, because she was working so much. I told her, "You have a time confusion and I have a day confusion!"

But so far, I have managed to stick to the schedule according to what day it was. Have to wonder, though, what day I'll end up thinking it is when Friday does, indeed, finally get here.


Friday, April 24, 2009

You, you, you, and, yes, even YOU!

For my English Comp class during those college days, I got back one of the many papers I wrote with the notation: "Do not use 'you.'" This was alongside a paragraph in which I had, indeed, resorted to using "you" in a sentence. I can't for the life of me recall the sentence itself, but for the purposes of this blog post, I'll provide some imagined example: "Most of the time, you can get away with using a word in a sentence even when some grammarians will only shake their heads and fuss over it."

With my teacher's warning in mind, however, I paid closer attention to just how I wrote those kinds of sentences. If I couldn't use "you," then what were my options? Read them and weep:

"One." As in, "If one prefers to drink milk instead of coffee in the mornings, then one has every right to do so." (Feeling prudish yet?)

"People." As in, "Some people prefer to drink milk in the morning instead of coffee, which is no crime, really."

The mysterious "you" that shall forever remain unnamed. As in, "Go ahead and drink milk in the morning instead of that cup of joe, if that's the preferred morning beverage." (I know, that sentence sucks. But you get the idea.)

The whole point of avoiding the use of "you" is to avoid a situation in which readers get the idea that the "you" is them personally, and not some generalized "you" being referenced. Such as the sentence "it's always nice if you send a card to your grandmother for her birthday" provoking a reader to cry out, "But my Grandma's not even alive!" In many cases, I saw some article writers resort to the following: "Sometimes you (and I mean "you" in general, and not "you" personally) might be able to get away with one or two grammar goofs in your writing."

Personally, I am not a fan of ANY of those alternatives. Oh, I tried using "one." I tried using "people." I tried to avoid using "you" (and I mean "you" the word and not YOU personally) in all of my writings. However, despite my best efforts, the pieces I wrote just didn't feel right. Using "one" was too archaic. And saying "people" sort of hammered in the impression that I was specifically referring to a giant chunk of humanity.

So I got back to using "you" in my writing, all the while dreading that my English Comp professor would hunt me down and beat me to a pulp with her ruler. To be honest, it just felt more comfortable using "you" instead of "one." I suddenly felt in with the times again! I was a hip writer again! I was finally my old writing self, using the same words that everybody else was using. Catch my drift, man?

I wrote my sentences using "you," all the while thinking that readers would be smart enough to know what I was talking about. That they would "get" it that I was referring to "you" in general and not "you" personally. Even though I had a couple of readers react with "no, that's not ME!" I still continued using "you" instead of "one."

Then reality struck. After a while and after many articles and essays appeared with that dreaded "you" within its paragraphs, I got struck with the first of many complaints from readers who took my use of "you" in a brand new negative way.

To be precise, using "you" in my writing made readers think I was trying to act like some expert on some topic or another. For sentences like "you can try a bedtime routine to help your child fall asleep better at night" or "when you write your book, don't expect it to be perfect in the first draft," there aroused some debate from readers about me trying to impersonate some parenting expert or bestselling author. (And this criticism usually came from people I know.) This pretty much put me into a position of getting insults and teasing remarks thrown my way any time I opened my mouth about such subjects. (One person, who was not even a parent, took my comment on parenting with the following retort: "You should put that in your book.")

It's understandable, even natural, for readers to perceive the writer is acting authoritatively on the topic when using the word "you" in some sentences. It's just a natural instinct to perceive that kind of sentence as though it is coming from an authoritative figure, because we grew up with authoritative figures saying things like "you better stop sitting too close to the TV or else your eyes will get scrunched up" or "you need to eat your vegetables so that you can grow up big and strong." When it comes to sentences which offer advice, it's easy to take this as advice coming from an expert.

"You don't have to worry about grammar rules when you write the first draft of your book."

"You can always ask the bank to revoke the fee if you have proof it should not be there."

"Don't worry if the clothes don't fit; you can always return them if they are not damaged, you still have your receipt and you still have the tags."

But there is a very big difference when a writer is using "you" in those kinds of sentences. We writers are not acting as some kind of expert on writing, on banking policies or on retail. We are echoing advice that everybody practically knows by know. We know the first draft can have a few grammar mistakes, or hundreds of grammar mistakes, because it's only the first draft. (Hundreds of grammar mistakes? Yikes. That makes me cringe.) We know we can contest a bank fee and that we have to show proof as to why we are contesting it. We know we can return an item of clothing if it doesn't fit us.

So why even put these everyday facts that everybody should already know by now into our writing?

Because we as writers are not just stringing words together. We are acting as that gentle voice of reassurance of something. We are acting as guides on what we have learned and experienced. We are acting as entertainers, world-weavers, instructors and motivators in this crazy life where we tend to forget even the most simplest of things or just don't understand things in the way that we should. We writers have a duty to our readers to adequately and confidently inform, enlighten, reassure, nurture and educate on a variety of subjects with which we have armed ourselves with sufficient knowledge via research and experience.

This is how we are able to put together the writing we create, and the writing we have a responsibility to create. This is why we are able to confidently use the word "you" in a way in which readers are assured that this particular method is a method that could work. Seeing a sentence such as "when you walk to your car, carry your keys in your hand so that they can be used for self defense" will assure a reader that this is just one good idea they can put to use with the trust in the writer for having done adequate research on self-defense tips for women. We writers know that trust is there, and we don't want to break that trust.

So for future reference, when you (and I mean "you" the reader of this blog post) see the word "you" in a sentence, just know that, unless the writer specifies, it doesn't mean "you" personally. It just means some "you" in general. Some other unseen "you" that the writer needs to enlist for the purposes of an example or instruction. But it's an example or suggestion that you, personally, can consider for your own situations. Because many of us writers are here for you, personally.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Words of encouragement

I have read of several writing parents entrusting their children with the task of somehow or another encouraging them to write every day. One mother's son went so far as to hang a sign that asks "Have you written today?" over her desk.

It's a plus that writing parents have these litle nudges to write coming from their offspring. If there's one thing all writers need, it's support from their loved ones. And the encouragement to indulge in their love of writing.

That encouragement is something I received from my 7-year-old daughter today.

At storytime, I read to her a book titled Turtle Dreams by Marion Dane Bauer and Diane Dawson Hearn
. When I finished reading it, I said, "That's so cute. You know, I was going to write a story about a turtle one time."

All of a sudden, my daughter started excitedly bouncing up and down on the couch. "Write it now! Write it now!" she cheered.

"But I lost my notes," I protested.

"Write it now! Write it now!" she repeated. Wow, this kid needs to be within earshot of every single procrastinating writer. Haha.

Almost laughing, I said, "Okay. I'll try to remember my notes."

So I grabbed my notebook, grabbed my pen, then sat down at the desk. But before I could start writing the story, I had to try to remember the notes I had made for it so long ago. I never wrote the story because the theme was too similar to a popular children's book already published. But I had to think of a way to make my story different, especially since I had a young reader waiting for it.

I started writing down what I could remember of my notes but I ended up asking my daughter for help. What I needed was a list of animals I would be using in this story. And it ended up being a fun exercise working with her and asking, "What kind of animal is like this or that?" I know I can always Google it. But interacting with her and testing her knowledge of animals was more fun! (I made a mental note to thank her in the Acknowledgments.)

That done, I wrote the story. I wasn't happy with how I worded the beginning (it was all wrong, wrong, wrong!), but this was the first draft. I could fix that later. The goal here was to get the story down. Just get it all onto paper and written down.

And despite getting a writer's cramp and my fingers getting numb, I was able to do just that. Woo-hoo!

I didn't have a title for this story, but my daughter wanted to hear it, anyway. "I love your stories!" she gushed as we sat down to read it.

I smiled and thanked her for the compliment. I told her how much I appreciated her saying that, all the while thinking, 'Gee, if only a publisher or agent would tell me the same thing.'

So I read the story to her. At the end, she smiled, clapped and said she liked it. Then she actually had an idea for a title. And the title she suggested was actually a pretty good one, too. I was overwhelmed.

And grateful for her encouragement. How wonderful for a writing parent to have gentle words of encouragement to write coming from their child, let alone a child they can also receive title ideas from.

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Kicking a writer while she is down

This week, I received some distressing news from a family member. I am not up to going into details on any of my blogs about this family crisis going on, but I will just say it was news involving my father. I have been distressed about it and really upset. Trying to figure out what to do to help.

Meanwhile, though, I'm also trying to focus on the work I have to do. I am having a hard time with that, but I know the work helps me to stay out of dwelling over what is going on. (And, believe me, there IS definitely work for me to do. Which is a good thing. I don't want that to stop. Really, I don't. If I didn't have any work to do, I might spend my free time dwelling over this "bad thing" going on and just lose myself in being depressed over it. In other words, the work helps me keep my sanity as I go through this. That, and my faith.)

Even though I am cutting down on some Internet things until I am stronger, in a more positive mood and able to think more clearly, I do check my e-mail. My e-mail account is what brings the work to me! But also, my family communicates with me via e-mail, since I don't yet have a TTY. Well, one e-mail I received yesterday was from a literary agent who I queried for my MG series. Unfortunately, it was a rejection. Sigh.

But the thing is, I'm not so stung by the rejection. I mean, you know, I'm pretty much used to getting them. It doesn't hurt to receive them. It's like, "Oh, well. Moving on!" I know the right agent will come along when the time is right. And I know the right agent for me is out there...SOMEWHERE. This agent just wasn't the one.

Still, I had to really wonder over how I got this rejection during this hard time. It's like Life decided to punch me in the gut with this thing about my dad, and decided to throw in a rejection for good measure. (Ha, that's almost comical.) I know rejections can come at any time. The rejecting editor or agent doesn't know what the writer is going through right now. And we can't expect them to know, either.

I am beginning to think that maybe I should not open any e-mails from agents, not until I can feel strong enough to deal with one other bad thing. Right now, I am just too fragile to handle other negative things. The rejection may not have stung, but it is still one other bad thing to take in. I really would have liked to have gotten an acceptance from somewhere for some project or another. Like I mumbled to myself this morning after my prayer, "I could REALLY use some good news right now." So maybe I should not open those e-mails just yet. I know I might pass on an e-mail that actually does have good news, but I just can't handle another negative thing right now.

Not just yet.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A silent world, a not-so-silent life

This morning, I caught an appearance of Marlee Matlin on Good Morning America. They were discussing her book, I'll Scream Later. I didn't know she had a book out but now I'm definitely gonna hunt down a copy.

Anyway, I was watching how she signed and talked at the same time. I know that in the past, she's been criticized for speaking as she signed. I'm glad she has not stopped speaking as she signed. Nothing against those who choose to sign without speaking, but one thing she says is that she is nothing like "silent" even though she is deaf. She is heard loud and clear. Her world may be silent, but her life is not silent. (My quote, not a paraphrase of hers.)

This is true for me, too. I totally agree with her statement that even though she is deaf, she is not silent. I am not silent, either.

I have often pondered about how I am "very loud" on the Internet. As in, I chat with people, I e-mail people and I have blogs. I write stuff on the Internet. My voice is "loud and clear" on the Internet and it is definitely one "world" where being able to hear is not mandatory.

And even as a writer, I don't need to be able to hear to write my articles or stories. I can use e-mail for interviews and write that so-and-so said this to me via an interview -- an interview conducted in a way that required NO need to hear at all! And I can "pretend" I hear the rain fall or that I can hear a phone ring when these things happen in a story, because I am "there" in the story to hear them.

But it's not just through writing in which I am "loud" and "heard." I am "loud" in everyday things, too. I speak, cry out, cheer. I "bang on the keyboard" (according to my sisters!) and walk with footsteps you can hear. I stomp my feet, tend to "loudly" close a door or cabinet, even move things with noise.

If anything, a deaf person is far from silent! Even when they don't speak with a voice you can hear.

And that's true of a deaf person's spirit, as well. Our spirits are "loud" and hearing people need only take just a brief moment to tune in and hear what our spirits have to say. Because our spirits have quite a lot to say, and quite a lot to be heard by.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

What a feeling

When you're a writing parent, finding the time to write or complete an assignment can be difficult. It's rare that I get to finish a whole assignment in one day, but those moments do happen. It takes a lot of time management, patience and determination, but I have managed to get them written in just one day. Even if it means staying up REALLY late, or getting less sleep. Or not going out. Or socializing with people. Or even eating something, already! I make sure I somehow or another get it done. That I start writing it and I finish writing it in that same day.

And when that happens, I'm on cloud nine! HOORAY! I wrote something today! I want to do a happy dance! Go tell it on the mountain! I can totally DO this writing parent stuff after all!

I always feel a huge sense of accomplishment when I'm able to complete a writing project, especially if I am able to do that in one day. But when the going gets rough, the research does not go well, it takes hours to complete the assignment and the kids keep pulling me away from the computer, it really is a great feeling when I can somehow or another get it done.

But it's not just the assignments I try to complete in one day. Some days, I don't even have an assignment. Sometimes it's a chapter I'll be trying to write in one day. Or a poem, an essay, a blog post.

Like I said, it's rare I get to complete those tasks in one day! Let alone twice in one day. If I'm able to write a chapter in one day, I will feel like my life is complete. I can retire from that day knowing I accomplished something good with my writing. But if I don't get it done, it lingers with me. I feel bad that I wasn't able to finish something in one day that I SHOULD have been able to finish in one day. (And, yes, there are times that even my ability to finish a poem I start writing gets a little compromised because I get pulled away.)

I suppose I got myself into this "write something every day" habit from when my oldest was a baby. At the time, I was able to knock out an article every day. When I told one of my sisters this, who is also a parent, she looked surprised and said, "I wish I could write an article every day!" I was literally on a roll with the writing and ever since I have been trying to keep up with writing something, at least ONE WHOLE THING, every day. A poem. A chapter. A blog post. An essay. Just WRITE SOMETHING!

Yet there were times I just couldn't do it. Because of emotions, life in general, sickness, fatique, etc., there were times I couldn't write something every day.

But I still try to. I still try to write something, anything, every day. No matter what that something I manage to write is.

Because no matter what it is I DO manage to write that day, I still feel an overwhelming sense of joy and accomplishment after I do so. HOORAY! I wrote an article today! I wrote a poem! I wrote a whole chapter!

Heck, I'll be doubly pleased if I even manage to write a scene.

Because I know that any writing is better than no writing. Because I know that one more thing accomplished makes room for more accomplishments with the writing. Because I know that if I write something in one day, if I write it from beginning to end, I'll have that happy feeling to get me through the rest of the day.

Because I know how VERY hard it is to find the time to write one whole thing in one day. And when I conquer that challenge, it is a huge boost to my sense of accomplishment. That's part of the happy feeling that will result when I'm done.

And what a happy feeling it is.

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