W & P Q #7, with swimmers and the smell of chlorine

Madwoman in the Forest, Sports edition…..

Spent Saturday at the Section III Boys’ Swimming Championship down in Syracuse, because Number One Son qualified in two events. Actually, BH spent all day at the pool. I spent most of the day in the car in the parking lot, working on my laptop. BH would text me as one of Son’s events came up, and I’d shut down the computer and go in to watch and cheer him on. Combining parenting with writing isn’t always pretty, but it can be done.

He took 4th in the section in the 100 breaststroke and tied for 6th in the 200 IM. The breaststroke time was a personal best and a State-qualifier, so even though the kids up here have MidWinter Break this week, he’s got to get up and go to swim practice.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Here he is in full Mohawk-splendor cheering on a teammate who is swimming the 500 free. (He shaved the Mohawk off for finals, BTW. Kind of bummed me out.) (Photo: The Post Standard)

Running update: I had a small medical procedure done on my leg last week, but will soon be lacing up and hitting the road again.

Onto the questions!

You wrote: Do you ever get major panic attacks about whether the story you are writing is good enough? How do you deal with the uncertainty?

I freak out about my writing ALL THE TIME. As in, every day. Sometimes many times a day. I am a neurotic, self-doubting, insecure bowl of Author-Jello. The only way I know to deal with uncertainty is to keep plowing ahead. Also, never let yourself throw your manuscript into a blazing fire. Very bad.

You wrote: Any advice for a youngish writer who has a burning desire, passion, need to write…. and yet is completely at a loss for plot? I don’t even know if I want it to be fantasy or more realistic… I just have this ache to write something that I would want to read. I am also compelled to write a positive female role model for young girls (like Melinda) for girls — I’m a high school English teacher, and while I love the escapism of some of the popular fantasy books out there, I worry about the message they send to our young girls (i.e. that you have to change who you are – literally – to be with the man you love…)

But beyond that, I have no real plot ideas. Do your story lines come first? Or can you start writing and have the plot … sort of … come to you, like mana from heaven? Suggestions on how I can rustle up one of those dang plots? 😀

Sounds to me like you should give yourself permission not to worry about plot for a while. Just do character sketches. Sit down for fifteen minutes and freewrite about one of those girls you mentioned. Not a real person, make her up. Start with a small, specific detail, like a description of her fingernails or the smell inside her backpack, and run from there.

My YA novels usually begin in my frustration with a situation that many teens find themselves in, something that makes me upset. (WINTERGIRLS = Eating Disorders, f.ex.) But I think that if I focused on plot first, the stories would never go beyond “problem novel” fare. To me, the most interesting element is character. So I ponder a situation, do a lot of character freewriting, and wait for a new voice to pop into my head and start whispering. I do not worry about straightening out the plot bones until after I have written a mess of a first draft.

This might not work for you – all process is personal. But I do think you might enjoy just writing for a while, without overthinking plot needs.

NOTE: Last week I got an email from a student who had what she thought was a great core set of plot points for her novel. She wrote to me (very politely, yay!) and asked if I would please supply her with a few rising action and falling action sequences.

I declined (also politely). Sometimes, all the advice in the world doesn’t matter. You just need what Jane Yolen calls “BIC,” Butt-In-Chair time.

18 Replies to “W & P Q #7, with swimmers and the smell of chlorine”

    1. Me too!
      ANd the advice about character sketching.
      But for me usually characters come out of…nowhere. The look on someone’s face as I pass them on the street or the wind that blows on my legs.
      It’s so weird. I can remember where I was and what lead up to every major bump in inspiration I’ve ever had- down to a scrap of notebook paper that I scribbled the name of my main character on in junior high!

  1. I have that problem with plot too. I went to a workshop on children’s writing, and we did a character sketch answering some questions including who is she close to in the family and who doesn’t she get along with? Then they suggested, for plot, to think of the worst thing that could happen to this kid and do that! It really opened up a lot of possibilities for me, since I resist having bad things happen…

  2. This is for the panicked English Teacher who can’t find a plot:

    You are surrounded by plot issues in a high school.
    I collect plots, I know it sounds crazy but its how I get my writing material. When I hear of a problem situation in the world of the teens I write it down in a notebook that I keep with me at all times. When I want to write something different I drag out my ragged notebook and scan it for the plot that strikes my fancy. I like to write mostly fantasy, which is fine even with real life problems. I will study my plot and work it in to a world of faeries, kids and faeries, witches, etc. You can write both fantasy or realistic and get the message you want to convey across.

    Good Luck with plot collecting and writing.

    1. From the panicked English Teacher who can’t find a plot:

      That’s an excellent idea! Thanks for the tip. I often hear a lot more than I really want to hear, and maybe now I can start using that to my advantage 🙂

      1. Your right, use it to your advantage because the stuff you don’t want to hear is the stuff they need to learn the consequences to.

        I believe you will be listening through new ears now.
        Happy eves dropping.

  3. “The only way I know to deal with uncertainty is to keep plowing ahead”… yikes! And here I was hoping that uncertainty gets better once one becomes accomplished, etc. Good to know that it is, perhaps, just one of the discomforts of life that does not disappear.

    Awesome mohawk on your son, by the way.

    –Lettie

  4. Thanks 🙂

    Thank you from the English teacher w/o plot. You’re right, I do need to give myself permission to just write without worrying about going anywhere for awhile. I have all of these ideas on who the main character is, but I thought I needed to do have an end in mind before I even started writing. Maybe now I can start out by just getting to know her and then go from there.

    Thanks again!

    Steph

  5. I, too, am glad know that you freak out all the time. =) Well, not glad you freak out. Just glad that I am not alone in that! My friend is encouraging me to submit a one act of mine to an original play festival and I have been freaking out! I’m just glad to know I’m not alone. 😀

    P.S. I am wondering if I can get into the Book of World Records for the highest usage of the word “glad” in one paragraph. =)

  6. Congrats, #1 Son

    Please extend my congrats to Chris! The boys and I were in Price Chopper and saw a young man with a mohawk and a Mexico Swim Team jacket on.. could it have been him? If Sectionals and States are here, that means Spring is around the corner! YEAH! Best to all in the Forest, Lori 🙂

    1. Re: Congrats, #1 Son

      Alas, no. Chris is the only swimmer for ESM (that’s his school), because they don’t have a team or a pool. Last year, he practiced with Nottingham, this year, he’s practicing with F-M.

      But for the record? The Mexico Boys Swim Team RULES!!!! They dominated Class B at sectionals and are sending a number of swimmers to States.

  7. ahh…i used to swim the 500 free. my friend who held my sign would have signals to let me know if i was leading or if i needed to pick up the pace (move the sign up and down vertically or sway it from side to side)…great picture!

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