Wednesday, July 14, 2010

PPP or "Post a Paragraph Project"

Thanks (or no thanks) to the dated nature of blog posts, I (and you) can see that it has been two months since my last one.  Truthfully, I am finding the shift from book promotion to...something else, I'm not quite sure what yet, a little uncomfortable.  Lots of writers complain that promoting their books takes up too much time, and I agree that it was time consuming, but there was part of me that found it comfortably "doable" as well, compared to the nebulous and uncertain process of writing new fiction.  I'm a good student.  I can do assignments, no problem.  Each article or interview felt like a homework assignment, with known parameters: a specific word count, guaranteed readers. 

There is such a huge difference between the first year of a project, before you can even say for sure what that project is, and the last year that you spend with a finished book, in which you try to help it find its way in the world by getting it into readers' hands. 

I spend a lot of time, in my writing teaching, talking to people who are feeling in some way stuck or intimidated or uncertain how to form and sustain the disciplined and regular writing practice that everyone says is necessary in order to get much writing done.  I know the advice to give, but that doesn't mean that I can follow it all of the time.  (I'm like the fat gym teacher).  There are two things that I almost always tell people who are stuck in or feeling daunted by the early stages of a project, because I believe that if you follow these two pieces of advice, you will get unstuck and make breakthroughs.

1.  When you don't know quite what to write about, use prompts.  It doesn't really matter what they are.  Just having something to trigger you, something to respond to, will get you writing, and your writing will lead you where it wants to go.

2.  Keep writing forward.  Don't waste today self-editing what you wrote yesterday, before you even know what your story is really going to be about.  Write a lot before you worry about whether you're making the perfect craft choices.  You might need to write 3000 words before you find the right beginning for a piece, and that's fine. 

With this in mind, and because I would love to hear other voices, I'd like to try and experiment that I am calling, "The Post a Paragraph Project."  If you happen upon this site and this post, and you're looking for a creative kick-start like I am, I encourage you (would beg be too strong of a word?) to respond to my post (I'll put up a new one every few weeks, if there is any response to this letter in a bottle I'm sending out), do a free write and then post your favorite paragraph of it here for others to see.

First prompt:

Write a memory, fictional or non, based on the song, "You Are My Sunshine."

I'll respond to the paragraphs if anyone puts them up. 


Kim said...

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. The words go around and around in my head, much like the spinning of a merry-g0-round (from back in the day when spinning rides didn’t make me puke). Immediately I am transported back to my kindergarten class and the rickety piano playing and unsure voice of my music teacher. Of course, it didn’t sound like that at the time. It was the music and the voice of a woman who would shape my elementary years, most notably by slipping up and saying the word “damn!”, inadvertently teaching all of us five year olds how to swear. It’s a habit I still have today and thoroughly enjoy. And so, in honor of that filthy mouthed teacher…please don’t take my sunshine away.

Timp said...

I didn't grow up in the US so the song formed no part of my young days. I can't remember how it had come into my musical consciousness. But I do remember my niece Julia (who at the time must have been 3-4) singing it -- slowly, deliberately, not missing a note, but belting it out with the kind of strength some 'primitives' (ok, I am thinking of Hungarian peasant women on early Socialist TV) deploy -- unmodulated, shrill, unwavering. She didn't miss a single note and held out the end of "happy" ("happeeeeeeeeee")piercingly long. And this little creature is not so little any longer: she got married on July 4th.

Malena Watrous said...

Hi Kim. Thanks for responding to my letter in a bottle! I'm thrilled that you wrote something based on my little prompt, and also thrilled by what you wrote. I don't know if this is fiction or personal narrative, so I'll just respond to what I like without worrying about the truth or fiction of it (which is pretty much how I read most writing anyhow). I love "rickety" piano. I love the comparison of the words in your head to a merry-go-round, and how this takes you back to kindergarten, and the fact that you remember how a teacher would inadvertently say "damn." I have a three-year-old who is right now very linguistically impressionable, and who recently looked me in the eye and said, "Fucky fucky fucky." I had to fight to keep a straight face as I said, "I don't know that word. What does it mean?" He no doubt picked it up (in its less cute version) from filthy-mouthed me. Finally, in your paragraph here, I love how you come back around to the song lyric at the end. Thank you!

Malena Watrous said...

Timp: "I do remember my niece Julia (who at the time must have been 3-4) singing it -- slowly, deliberately, not missing a note, but belting it out with the kind of strength some 'primitives' (ok, I am thinking of Hungarian peasant women on early Socialist TV) deploy -- unmodulated, shrill, unwavering." This made me laugh outright (and I will not resort to the still-to-me-annoying short version, "LOL.") I know the kind of singing you mean, partly from having had to listen to a lot of baltic folksinging, and partly from Max (ah, he comes up again) who now has a habit of singing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" in that same vein, only he gives such emphasis to each syllable that he sounds like some kind of fascist dictator enforcing a singalong march as a form of torture. I want to see pictures from the Julia wedding! I hope that the box of wine that you provided was appreciated and savored by all.

Kim said...

Malena, thank you so much for the kind words. I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your book. It was amazing. In fact, it inspired me to start a book blog and I decided to write about your book as my first post! Your response to my paragraph cracked me up, and I think I am going to add "fucky fucky fucky" to my own arsenal of expressions. I love it!