How do you reinvent yourself and your career?

Hi everyone,

Jane YolenHere’s another question for summertime discussion suggested by Jane Yolen. “How do you reinvent yourself and your career?”

Has anyone gone through this? I have twice, the first time in my fifties. I won’t go into details because I’ve told the story before, but during the six years I served on the Springfield board of education, from 1982-1988, my writing took a hit. I only produced one worthwhile story in those six years and seriously worried that my career was over.

At the end of my service I decided to change my direction as a writer and reinvent myself as a poet. It was a relatively easy decision because I didn’t think I had much to lose. I chose poetry. I already knew most of the mechanics and had published a smattering of poems but for the next three years I focused on writing nothing but poems.

I had no plan, no strategy, no general theme. I simply wrote, read about poetry, wrote, read about poetry, and wrote.

At the end of that period I shared my total collection of 100 poems with an editor at Boyds Mills Press. I was offered a multi-title contract, beginning with SOMEBODY CATCH MY HOMEWORK, which was published in 1993.

The second time I reinvented myself came in 1996, only three years later. Maybe this wasn’t exactly a reinvention but it did lead to new opportunities. I decided that I wanted to become involved with professional books published for teachers. I think the motivation came from the six years I’d recently spent on the school board coupled with the frequent visits to schools I’d been doing since the 70s.

I partnered with Bernice Cullinan and we wrote EASY POETRY LESSONS THAT DAZZLE AND DELIGHT. Since then I’ve co-authored with several wonderful teachers and professors to create a dozen titles and four others are in the works. That change nineteen years ago has led to finding a new niche plus numerous opportunities to address audiences of educators at state and national conferences.

Jane, I know that you also work in several genres and recently said that you yourself hardly know how to classify yourself as a writer. So there may be a down side to wearing many writing hats. Conversely, a new challenge can reinvigorate a writer, get the juices flowing again and, in time, perhaps lead to a new fan base and expanded opportunities.

What say you?

David

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Four ways to keep your story interesting

Hi everyone,
David giving brief remarks
For those who like to write stories, here are some quick reminders of ways to keep things flowing.

FOUR WAYS TO KEEP YOUR STORY INTERESTING
David L. Harrison

ONE: NARRATION. You do most of the talking.
Fox was about to get the surprise of his life. Every hen in the hen house had learned kickboxing. Cackling softly among themselves, they peeked out through a crack and watched the unsuspecting thief slinking up the path toward his doom.

TWO: MONOLOGUE. Your character talks to him/herself.
“I smell chickens!” Fox told himself. “Straight ahead! A hen house is full of juicy, plump chickens! Here I come, my delicious, darling, juicy, plump chickens!”

THREE: NARRATION AND MONOLOGUE. Your character talks but you help.
“I smell chickens!” Fox told himself. “Straight ahead!” He had not eaten in three days. Not a fat mouse. Or a skinny lizard. Or even a sorry little grasshopper. He licked his lips and almost purred.
“A hen house is full of juicy, plump chickens!”
Fox’s tattered tail twitched. His hairy ears cocked forward.
“Here I come, my delicious, darling, juicy, plump chickens!”

FOUR: DIALOGUE. More than one character talks.
“I smell chickens!” Fox told himself. “Straight ahead!” He had not eaten in three days. Not a fat mouse. Or a skinny lizard. Or even a sorry little grasshopper. He licked his lips and almost purred.
“A hen house is full of juicy, plump chickens!”
The hen house leader pressed one eye against a crack in the wall.
“He’s coming!” Lily whispered.
Unaware that he was being watched, Fox crept up the path.
“Ready girls?” Lily whispered.
“Let him come!” came two dozen fierce voices.
“Where is he now?” someone asked.
“Shhh,” Lily whispered. “Just outside the door.”
Fox crouched, ready to spring.
“Here I come, my delicious, darling, juicy, plump chickens”.
On the other side stood a determined flock of warrior hens.
Someone was in for the surprise of his life!

David

My approach to writing this month’s W.O.M. poem

Hi everyone,

I posted my WATER poem for January on the 19th. On that same day I sent Lisa Martino’s high school students in Crescent City, Florida a step-by-step description of my thinking and writing processes that led to the poem. Today I decided to post them here as well. I’m always interested in seeing how someone else goes about starting and finishing a piece of writing. Maybe some of you will like what you see here. I hope so.

Dear Young Poets in Ms. Martino’s Class
January 19, 2011

Since Ms. Martino introduced you to Word of the Month Poetry Challenge, I have been following your progress. I am pleased by your enthusiasm and the way you have accepted the challenge of creating poems inspired by a single word. Good for your teacher and bravo for you!

I know that some of you may never have written poetry before so I decided to offer you a few tips. The idea behind the Word of the Month challenge is to help students become better poets. From month to month I hope to see you make progress toward improving your efforts, and I’m sure that you have the same goal. Having fun while you are improving seems to me like a good deal. Ready? Here we go.

STEP ONE
Take your time. Half the job of writing poetry (or anything else) is thinking about what you find interesting, what you want to talk about. Don’t grab a pen or touch a keyboard until you’ve taken time to think about it.

The word for January is water. What do you know about water? What does water make you think of? What would you like to know about water that you need to look up?

STEP TWO
Write down all the things yu thought abut concerning water. For example:
1. Water is a molecule made of 2 atoms of hydrogen and 1 atom of oxygen
2. Water can freeze into a solid state
3. Water can turn into gas
4. Most water is found in the oceans
5. There is no new water. There is only recycled water.
6. Why is ocean water salty?
7. Why is fresh water not salty?
8. Our bodies are mostly water.

STEP THREE
Choose something about water you might like to write about. For example, Water can freeze into a solid state. That’s what I selected for my poem for this month.

STEP FOUR
Think about what you could write about water freezing. Start another list.
1. water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit
2. At 33 degrees F, water is still water, just very cold.
3. At 31 degrees F, water is still ice.

Hmm. There must be a point, a moment, just as ice crystals begin to form, when water becomes a slushy, sluggish mixture of liquid and solid. At this point it can go either way. Warm up a bit, it’s all water. Cool down a bit, it’s all ice. Interesting thought.

STEP FIVE
Think about what you can do with this idea, this image in your mind. Can you compare water at this stage with something else? Think of similes that help you compare one thing to another. Or metaphors that state one thing AS another.

Here’s what I came up with. I compared the moment when ice is just on the verge of thawing to me in the morning when I’m just on the verge of waking up. I’m not quite asleep and not quite awake. I’m in a mixed state like water and ice.

Can you turn this thought into a poem that others will find clever because they aren’t expecting your surprise ending? Readers love strong endings!

STEP SIX
Now you have an idea. You are going to compare water with yourself and you want to surprise your reader with the way you end your poem. It’s time, at last, to start work on writing your poem.

STEP SEVEN
Here’s my 1st draft. It has a long way to go.

Water freezes at 32 degrees.
It’s close to thawing but can’t quite make it.
Another degree is all it needs
to wake up from its deep sleep,
feel life return like blood
warming its veins,
like me at that moment between
deep sleep and one-eye-open,
trying to decide whether
to greet the morning or dive below
its crystal bright surface
and slumber on.

STEP EIGHT
Work on it. Revise. Rewrite. Make it better. Look for words with similar beginnings (alliteration). Pay attention to where you make the breaks in your lines to help the reader “get” what you’re saying. READ EACH DRAFT ALOUD!

Two drafts later.

Ice is ice at 32 degrees,
close to thawing
but can’t quite make it.
One more degree is all it takes

to awake from its deep state,
feel life return like blood warming veins,
like me, so cozy, that moment between
safe sleep and one-eye-open,
deciding whether to greet the morning
or dive below its crystal bright surface
like fish asleep under ice.

Next draft

Ice is ice at 32 degrees,
close to thawing but can’t
quite make it.
One more degree
is all it takes to awake
like from a deep state,
like blood warming cold veins,
like me, still cozy, at that moment
between safe sleep and one-eye-open,
deciding whether to greet the morning
or dive below its crystal bright surface
like a fish asleep under ice.

Another draft

Under Ice

Ice is ice at 32 degrees,
close to thawing but can’t
quite make it.
One more degree
Is all it takes to awake
like from a deep state,
like blood warming cold veins,
like
me, still cozy, at that moment
between safe sleep and one-eye-open,
deciding whether to greet the morning
or dive below its crystal bright surface
like a fish sleeping under ice.

NOTE: I’m still not happy with this. I’m giving ice the human capacity to feel, to awaken, to possess a sense of warmth. This is sloppy of me and needs to be edited out. I also need more creative similes and stronger verbs and nouns.

A few drafts later

Under Ice

Ice is ice at 32 degrees,
molecules slowed in a dream-like state
lacking the heat
to make a change,

alter the day
like eyes under closed lids
flutter up from another place,
like

me, still cozy, the instant
between safe slumber and one-eye-open,
moving into morning or diving below
its crystal bright surface
like

a fish sleeping under ice.

STEP NINE
When you are satisfied that this poem is one to be really proud of – and not one minute before! – then you are ready to share you poem with the world.

So there you have a few tips on how to make your writing efforts pay off with stronger poems. If it’s too late to write a poem for this month, don’t worry. The pointers will work just as well for February. I look forward to seeing what you do with them.

Sincerely,
David Harrison