I love words. I love the way they sound, the way they roll together in rhythms gentle or jaunty, the way they reach across silence and connect us. (When I was small I decided to make up my own language with my own invented words, but because I couldn’t remember what anything meant and no one understood me, my language was very short-lived.) I’ve been trying to wrestle words into stories for almost forty years now. There have been long droughts, the tug of other responsibilities, more than a few dark nights of the writing soul. But I am still writing.
When I am flat out of ideas, I’ve learned to set myself exercises to get myself writing again. Where I live in Minnesota we sometimes have fierce winters, so I think of these exercises as jump-starting my writing brain. Big Momma Makes the World, which won the 2002 Boston Globe Horn Book Award, began as an exercise in phonics. Many, many other exercises got me writing but ultimately ended up in the recycling bin. It doesn’t matter whether the exercise leads to a story; what matters is that I am writing.
Maybe some of you are looking for ideas, too, or struggling with getting yourself to the page. One thing I’d like to do in this space is share some of the exercises I’ve tried or am trying. Maybe some of them will jump-start your story brain, but whether or not exercises lead to stories, all writing is practice and makes us better writers (and in my case, a nicer person to be around when I am writing).
My cat Luna keeps me company at my desk, basking under the heat of the desk lamp. Snow falls, cat dozes, and I write.
As a beloved friend and writer used to say, “What’s against it?”
In spring 2018 my first grown-up book will come out, Searching for Minnesota’s Native Wildflowers, A Guide for Beginners, Botanists, and Everyone in Between. Published by the University of Minnesota Press, it’s a collaboration with a photographer friend and is a guide for folks who love to be outdoors looking for wildflowers with names as evocative as shooting stars and kittentails.
In spring 2019 The Lost Forest with art by Betsy Bowen will come out from the University of Minnesota Press. This picture book tells the story of how a piece of Minnesota’s virgin forests was mis-surveyed as a lake in 1882 and so was never logged. If you are ever anywhere in the vicinity of Bemidji, Minnesota or Grand Rapids, Minnesota, it’s worth a side trip to walk under those tall trees and back in time.