I just got back from a fabulous week at the Write by the Lake writers retreat in Madison, Wisconsin. If you’re searching for conferences to attend next year, I highly recommend this program. I’ve gone the last three years. They offer a dozen different course options that provide intense study into a specific genre or practice for the week. Courses are for all levels from introductory to those with a full manuscript looking for a masterclass.
This year, I swayed from my usual path of nonfiction and opted for the course on picture book writing.
Here’s what I learned:
My instructor, Georgia Beaverson, had us do a writing prompt on the first day. We had to write down our first memory. The second day we rewrote that memory from another person’s point of view. She then made us edit our wordcount down by HALF (oh, the agony).
She said we could also try reworking the piece into different tenses, illustrating that a story can be told in many different ways, by different people, and sometimes reworking it can lead to great discoveries.
I’ve been working on my memoir for the last several years, and I’ve reworked some of my essays to be performed for adult storytelling. (I highly recommend taking a storytelling class if you have one in your area. I took one two years ago and it was wonderful!) What I learned by doing so was that moving around and utilizing the space I could tell in, I imagined new ways of describing the action or character emotions in my writing. Performing the scene helped me write a stronger scene.
In the picture book writing class, I adapted one of my essays to be told as a children’s picture book. The audience was entirely different, since I’d previously written and performed for adults. In this instance, I played up sounds, using onomatopoeia, stronger verbs, and I limited description where illustrations could play a role.
Using the same plotline, I now had three different ways of telling/performing the story.
Ohmygawd! Justin Timberlake was right all along!
The more you write, the better writer you become, and practicing different kinds of writing tools, genres, and craft elements are key. I was amazed at how each exercise in storytelling, whether on paper or a stage, shaped me as a writer. It was fun, challenging for sure, but rewarding across the board.
Sometimes when we’re stuck, we aren’t sure how to gain that forward momentum again. Whether or not you choose to pursue a different genre or space for your story, trying out different exercises can offer up different questions to make you think, explore, and get that creative blood pumping again.
Things You Can Try:
- Work with a critique group that has multiple genres – How will their feedback strengthen your writing? (Ex. Will listening to poetry help you improve your word choice and descriptions? Will the romance author help you write funnier characters or scenes?)
- Adapt your story into different formats (written, spoken, illustrated) – You may discover something new, or gain confidence in an area you previously felt uncomfortable in.
- Just play – Are you stuck on a scene? Is the writing starting to bore even you? Move around, make yourself do the actions! Try drawing it, what’s the action you want to portray? You don’t have to show this to anyone else, but practicing in new ways can help get you past writer’s block.
- Change the POV.
- Change the tense of the story.
- Change the audience you’re writing for.
- Read different genres. Listen to people tell stories. Note what draws you in.
How can you rewrite and/or adapt your stories
to learn something new about them?
Got an example?
Share your favorite way to practice writing.
Sent from my iPhone
Hi Jess – Thanks so much for sharing this. I’ve been talking about stretching creativity this way with other writers! Glad you had a great week. Can I share a link to your blog over on my blog this week?? I think other writers will learn from it! – Valerie
I had a lot of fun and felt I stretched my creativity in a much needed way. Of course you can share my post.
P.S. Blair Hull had nice things to say about you in her talk. ☺️
Wow, that’s so cool, Jess! I think you’re absolutely right about experimenting with different POV, genres, and approaches to open things up.
I’ve been wanting to branch out of my comfort zone (adult reader historical mysteries) and write a middle-grade mystery (3rd to 5th graders), for a bunch of reasons. One is that it’s such a great age to engage readers, plus I want to contribute in some way to the wonderful tradition that hooked me onto mysteries at that age, something that enriched my life and has always stayed with me.
But there’s so much I don’t know about both the craft and the publishing process, such as working with an illustrator, because even chapter books with pictures are so much more engaging for that age group. I don’t even know where to start…they call it a “comfort zone” for a reason, LOL.
Good luck with your memoir! It sounds like you are doing wonderful stuff. ❤
Well, I can tell you don’t worry about the illustrator because I learned an author has no input on who illustrates their work anyway! Lol. (Unless you have a famous, marketable connection.) The publisher chooses that.
Secondly, don’t short change yourself! You are a historical mystery writer, so you already have strength in research, plotting, and suspense. Those are big deals!
What if you played around with character sketches for your protagonist? Do you read middle grade books? You can combine a lot of what you DO know with a different audience.
Sometimes I record myself telling a story out loud so I can play it back and hear what’s important. If you were going to tell a story (maybe even a Concordia one) to a tween, how would you tell them out loud? What actions or personality traits might you play up? Does that give you a starting point?
Thanks for the encouragement! I’ve been reading middle-grade mysteries for a while now (this itch has been with me for nearly a year), and I’ve talked about my own writing process with 6th grade English classes on several occasions (some of them – it’s an honors class of advanced readers – have actually read my books!).
I was thinking of indie publishing the book, so I have absolutely no idea how that would work, or even if that’s the best route to go. But I need a completed book first, LOL, so I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.
I will be trying out your character sketches idea, that will help with me deciding which of the characters is going to be the protag. Thanks again, Jess!
Picture book, eh? That’s very interesting! I would definitely be straying outside my comfort zone if I ever took a course like that. I love that you are such a fan of writer’s conferences. I need to attend one someday.
Yah, I love me some writers conferences.
Thanks for this great recap of your time in Madison, Jess. I have been eyeing up Write by the Lake for a long time. Now I have a personal recommendation! What’s to stop me?!? Thank you also for these interesting tips. I look forward to giving them a try. Happy writing!!
I’ve attended the last three years and get so much out of it. It’s really a stellar retreat. I highly recommend it.
[…] getting all the buzz, then I decided to go and see what I could learn from them. After all, I like working in different formats because it teaches you new things about your […]