When I was in 4th grade my friend Chad and I started writing books during recess. Chad was a more enthusiastic storyteller than me, so he took the lead and I helped fill in the details. I was the designer. While he wrote, read the stories to me, and asked for my input, I transferred the finished works into my much prettier handwriting, onto cut, folded, and stapled pages, with illustrations placed just so. There were thoughtfully spaced margins, covers drawn in colorful felt tip markers, title pages, and page numbers.
We wrote book after amazing book together. Mysteries, adventures, more mysteries, no romance, animal stories, and of course, more adventures, until Chad started getting teased for playing with girls. Then he moved away. And, of course, I quit filling in the details.
I haven’t written, or helped write, much fiction since. I don’t feel like there’s much of it in me.
To that point, what do I have in me as far as fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and memoir? What do any of us as writers have within us?
Our writers’ group, the Flying M-Inklings, is exploring that question with the writing exercises we do. Every Saturday when we’re together, we draw a prompt from a box, with great names like In the Belly of the Beast, The Argument, and Ways of Seeing, and we write to the assignment for a designated amount of time. We’ve described the space where we meet (the Flying M). That was amazing because somebody described the place from the bathroom (they’re really crazy bathrooms). Somebody else wrote from the point of view of the ghost of the person who originally owned the building when it was a garage. I wrote as a mouse who lives in the wall. We’ve written a list of unrelated sentences about a character we might be writing about. We’ve introduced a new character to our group by describing and explaining them, and we’ve shared an argument as an unbiased observer. One person wrote as an unwilling audience to a phone argument while in a bathroom stall. Somebody else witnessed the argument after a fender bender when the car’s passenger innocently gave a peck on the cheek to her unsuspecting driver.
Sometimes we feel truly challenged by the exercises. Other times they’re a piece of cake (sorry about the cliché, Daisy). Regardless, it’s been fascinating to see what each of us does with the prompts and it’s uncanny how our unique voices come through. If the responses were put into a pile and we read them anonymously, we’d know who wrote them.
I know, for me, it’s been a productive and enjoyable exercise. I’m thinking about how to frame things more creatively, how to think about a character or a place, how to demonstrate an idea clearly without forcing a reader to bridge the gap–those types of things.
It’s a little bit like being with Chad in the 4th grade again. When I meet with my group to write, it’s like being with friends at recess. They’re more enthusiastic storytellers so they take the lead on their pieces and I help them fill in some details. We work on a blog together so we consider images and layouts. We are writing piece after amazing piece. Books, essays, blog posts, memoirs, poetry, and of course, more blog posts. If anybody’s teasing us, we don’t know about it or we’re not paying attention. Either way, we’re having a good time. Maybe if I stick with this group long enough, I’ll end up working on a book again!
Shannon maintains her own blog with her daughter, Brittan. Called Salt Lick Lessons, the site provides fun and helpful resources, tools, stories and ideas of all kinds.