50 ways your leaves to cover.

List 50 things that might happen in your story.

My writing (and otherwise) friend Michelle Hubbard taught me the most useful writing exercise I’ve ever run into. It always works (for me). And it’s growing more and more useful each time I use it.

A couple of years ago, our writing group met at the local Zuppas and Michelle told us about this exercise: write a list of fifty things that could happen in your book. We got paper placemats from the workers and started making our lists on the backs–don’t ask me where we came up with four pencils or pens–Michelle probably.

Heather, Michelle, and Michelle were in the midst of writing books, so the items on their lists were wordier than mine. I had finished my first book (unpublished) a few months earlier and was still working on polishing it up, so I made a list of 50 things that could happen in the new book I was just beginning; my items were brief.

The list started with things like, “She could ride a skateboard. She could babysit”–boringish stuff. But the more I wrote the faster I got and the more interesting and even outlandish my ideas were. My gaze skated around the room, out the windows, into my imagination, searching for inspiration.

One of the things I wrote on that list became the germ for the book I’m writing right now. This book started out as a Middle Grade contemporary novel. I had it roughly planned out, had written a number of scenes, and had begun composing the first chapters. I’d shared the first pages with my writing group (which has grown to include Susan and Jenny) and they all approved and offered a few suggestions.

Then I decided to change the book into a fantasy. I needed to drop a couple of characters. Suddenly my plan wasn’t going to work anymore, but there was still a lot I liked about it. And now I had to create a fantasy world! So I made a list of 50 things that could or should happen.

Worked like a charm. My story grew along with my list. This time the items on my list were much wordier and were this-story-and-its-events-specific. Now when I sit down to work on it, I have something to write about, a plan to guide me.

Recently, Heather and I decided to try an experiment. We want to collaborate on a story. We’ve chatted a teensy bit about what we want to write. On Tuesday I suggested we make a list of 50 things we’d like to have in the book. Dear Heather wrote her list up that very day, during our weekly writing session at the Orem Public Library. My attention was divided between my MG fantasy and ideas for the new book, so I only put seven things on my list.

Today I started working in earnest on it. (Heather emailed me her list two days ago and I’ve had to slap my hand–figuratively–several times to keep from looking at it before mine is done.) I wish to point out that we have no idea what will happen in the story. Here’s what we’re going on: MG fantasy, a boy and a girl, probably related to each other. Not a lot to frame a house on. I’ve thought a bit about what might be in the story, but once I started making the list, the book took off. I provisionally named and assigned ages to the two characters, came up with primary and secondary goals, a time limit, an “or else,” and some character traits. And my list is only 33 items long so far!

That’s all I have to say about this exercise right now. Just wanted to record how it’s grown from a scanty list of “might-be”s into a substantial story outline.

Life mirrors fiction: what if I take that first photo and mess around with it a bit?

Life mirrors fiction: what if I take that first photo and mess around with it a bit?

It’s been a fabulous month. Last night, Kevin Eubanks (Channel Five weather man) said it’s the coolest Utah August in ten years. There’s nothing like cool weather–instead of the usual Utah summer fare. It’s made my month.

A sample of August's cool weather.

A sample of August’s cool weather.

(Wish I had a photo, but I don’t. If I can get one later, I will.) The month started with Kerry frantically getting ready for a week at Camp Maple Dell. Amend that, I was the frantic one. Even though I wasn’t going anywhere, the furor still got to me. It was a relief to finally say goodbye for five days. Well, almost five days. With the help of Pam Zepeda and Matt Misbach AND Heather Bullough’s cupcakes, I planned and participated in a Scout Camp visit on Kerry’s birthday. He seemed so much to appreciate it and he was very happily surprised.

I got a bonus from that visit too–a story idea. This story will take some time and research to write, but I think it will be a really fun one.

I haven’t done much writing, yet I’ve done some. I’ve mostly been planning out stories and still having lots and lots of ideas. I love those crazy wake-up-from-a-dream ideas that turn into stories. Such plans I have!

Some of my work and a book I sometimes use to prompt my writing.

Some of my work and a book I sometimes use to prompt my writing.

I wrote a letter to Angela–Sister Angela Bateman–on her mission. It always makes me feel good to send a letter off to her. Such a simple act, yet so rewarding.

I’ve spent a good deal of time sewing dresses, and learning about it, for an organization called Dress a Girl Around the World. Of all the sewing projects I’ve worked on, this one is my favorite. I can’t say why. I also can’t express the pleasure I’ve felt in providing pretty, new clothing for those who may never have any other than this dress I’ve made.

My first two dresses.

My first two dresses.

My second two dresses.

My second two dresses.

Additionally, I’ve worked on my Angel Outfitters assignment as well as cutting out liners for Days For Girls. I’m planning to hand my cut-out Teeny Tears diapers to a lady who will sew them. I’ve turned scarves and blankets and my Teapot Dome quilt over to a homeless shelter. I was also excited to discover that I have enough leftover teapot fabric and quilt backing fabric to make two more dresses. What fun to come.

Watch out September, I’m on fire!

Teapot Dome quilt

Teapot Dome quilt

Some of the liners I cut out for Days For Girls. I now have callouses on the fronts of my fingers.

Some of the liners I cut out for Days For Girls. I now have callouses on the fronts of my fingers.

Willow and Stream

Willow and Stream

I didn’t plan to be an artist this summer. I planned to write.
Got to love how plans change themselves.

Funny thing is, I keep thinking about writing. My stories keep playing in my head, but I don’t seem interested in putting them on paper.

I’m actually not much into anything right now, but art’s the thing I do the most. Can’t consider reading and watching movies as “doing” things. They’re more like stuff that happens to you, that you submit to. Lots of submitting going on these days.

Does it make sense to say there’s too much sunshine? It’s too hot outside?

I’m in a blue funk. Wandering around at the bottom of a hole in my life. Not especially unhappy. Definitely unmotivated. Feels like pretending sometimes. Around others, I pretend to be the person I usually am. And I guess that’s all right for now. I expect to be back some day.

There's a couch in there somewhere.

There’s a couch in there somewhere.

So, I’m messing around with a lot of stuff right now–crocheting (which is a staple in my life), sewing, reading, writing a little, drawing, painting, studying. Maybe not feeling a lot of enthusiasm, but I expect it’ll come back . . .

Come fall.

Needed a cheerfuller post than yesterday’s. The title may sound ominous, but it only means that I’m trying to wring the truth out of myself. Susan Wooldrige called it opening the window, but I wanted to be more original and July-ish.

So, this is sort of a poem. Read More →