Category Archives: Writing

Tell the truth, write the story

“. . . tell exactly how it happened but write down for yourself the way you think it should have happened. Tell the truth and write the story.” —from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

At my writing circle last week, our group discussed how fiction writers often draw on real life experiences for their work. In some cases, these writers try really hard to transfer the factual events into their fictional stories exactly as they happened. They assume that something that really happened will end up feeling more authentic than some fictionalized flight of fancy.

Memoir writers must stick to the facts, because their readers approach non-fiction books expecting truths. But fiction writers get to have more fun. Their readers come to fiction with a different mindset. When fiction readers pick up a book, they do so with the unspoken understanding: This writer is going to tell me a really good story. They want the story to be the best possible version of a set of circumstances. Reality usually isn’t the best possible version of events so, paradoxically, fiction stories that stick too closely to real events end up feeling oddly . . . out of sync. Fiction works better when a writer takes the seed of a real event and then plucks out the weak spots and makes the story about what should have happened. 

Sometimes it’s helpful to look at life this way. Our past, the events and twists of fate that lead us to where we are today are the facts, and we can tell people exactly what happened. When we look to the future, we can say, “Well, that’s all well and good, but what should have happened is this . . . 

We can aim for the best possible version of events.

dream

Dream

 

 

Failing positively: Lessons from Henry Ford

“We have been taught to believe that negative equals realistic and positive equals unrealistic.” —Susan Jeffers

Wouldn’t it be enlightening to gather statistics on how many people have given up on dreams because someone told them their aspirations were unrealistic? How many hockey players have hung up their skates because a coach told them the National Hockey League was a long-shot? How many entrepreneurs have stopped seeking investors after being told their ideas would never sell? How many writers have filed stories in drawers after reading dire statistics about the state of the publishing business? How many people have given up because they’ve been told that “NO” equals sensible, but “YES” equals dreamland.

More importantly, how many people equate failure with negativity? 

Henry Ford didn’t see failure as negative. On a recent trip to Michigan, I took this picture during our visit to the Henry Ford Museum. (Side note: Please visit the museum, if you have the chance. It’s about much more than cars; it’s about life.)

henry-ford

“I would rather build a big plane and learn something, even if it didn’t fly, than to build a smaller one that worked perfectly and not learn anything.” —Henry Ford

Henry Ford would rather try something unrealistic and fail positively than try something realistic and succeed negatively.

Mind-twisting, isn’t it?

Sharpen those skates, dust off that business plan, pull the stories out of the drawer: Dreamland is a fun place to live, and failure is useful too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mistakes help us grow: The Effort Effect

best-to-comeDo you think skills are inherent, or do you believe abilities can be developed? 

How you answer that question might determine your level of success, according to Stanford psychology professor, Carol Dweck. Her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Successlooks at why some people achieve their potential while others do not.

Early in her academic career, Dweck studied why some children gave up in the face of failure and why others persevered and went on to overcome obstacles. She discovered that the difference lay in the child’s belief about why they had failed: Those who believed they failed because they lacked an inherent ability gave up, but those who believed they failed simply because they hadn’t tried hard enough became even more motivated to keep trying.

Dweck’s studies apply to education, sports, careers, hobbies and personal relationships, and there’s another layer to this too.

Some students didn’t want to be seen to fail. For them, looking smart was far more important than learning anything, so they only took part in activities in which they knew they would not fail. They avoided any experiences that would require them to stretch and grow. Other students didn’t worry about appearances and took risks because their failures gave them a chance to learn. 

In other words, some people want to showcase abilities they believe to be inherent, and other people want to enhance abilities they believe they to be malleable.

The good news is, Dweck discovered that people could change their beliefs and enjoy the benefits. When they learned to embrace failure and keep trying, they improved performance.

There’s hope for all of us who have ever said, “I can’t do math to save my life,” or “I’m no artist.” Perhaps we just need a few more failures and a little more perseverance.

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Read more in Standford Alumni

http://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=32124

 

Adjustments and appreciations

I have started a new writing contract, and this one requires me to make some adjustments.

My home is my usual base of operations. I wear comfy clothes, I take frequent breaks, and when I read my writing out loud to myself no one around me questions my sanity.

But for this contract, I need to put on nice clothes, walk to a bus stop early in the morning, and commute to downtown Ottawa. I don’t have access to my email at my office, so I feel untethered. It makes it more difficult to do things I love to do but don’t get paid for, like this blog.

Shock. To. My. System.

I know, I know—what’s the big deal, right? People do this every day. True, and I’m making the adjustment.

And I look for things to appreciate. The work is interesting, my boss is fantastic, and my co-workers are positive and supportive. The experience allows me to build my writing skills in a lucrative area. I learn to juggle domestic duties more effectively.

Best of all, I don’t have a work life like the one described by a woman on the bus. (Yes, I was eavesdropping.) She said:

“I break my day up because it’s the only way I can deal with it:

8:30 to 12:00 is work;
12:00 to 1:00 is waiting for lunch;
1:00 to 1:30 is lunch;
1:30 to 3:30 is work;
3:30 to 4:30 is waiting to go home;
4:30 is home.”

Wow.

I’ll adjust, and I’ll appreciate. And I’ll try not to let the blog slip . . .

stanley-park

Time and space for creativity: John Cleese

“. . . it’s easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things that are not urgent, like thinking, and it’s also easier to do little things  we know we can do than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about. —John Cleese

I’ll be taking a blog break for the next few weeks—time to refill my creative well. While I enjoy this breather, I will ponder the wisdom of the oh-so-creative John Cleese and his five keys to creativity:

1. Space – a playful a creative space away from demands, an “oasis of quiet”

2. Time – a specific period of time, because play must begin and end, otherwise it is not play

3. Time (No. That’s not a typo.) – all the time the creativity requires to turn a problem into an opportunity

4. Confidence – openness to anything that might happen

5. Humour –  silliness

When I return from playing on the open road, I will seek to play in his open mode.

A tale of three blankets, or accepting spiritual differences

I’m going to show you three blankets.

When my children were born—first my daughter, then my son—I made them each a blanket. Here is my daughter’s blanket now:

well-loved-blankie

Do you think she used this blanket a lot? Do you think it’s been washed a few times? Yep.

My daughter loved her blankie. It went with her everywhere. She slept holding it and dragged it around when she walked. When she started to kindergarten, she tucked into the bottom of her backpack everyday. When she got older and started going on Brownie and Girl Guide camping trips, she didn’t want the other girls to make fun of her for wanting a blankie, so she tucked it into the bottom of her sleeping bag. She felt it as she slept, but her friends didn’t know it was there.

Eventually she stopped sleeping with it. It didn’t go to school anymore. It stayed at home during camping trips.

One day years later when I was leading children’s time at my church I decided to tell this story to the kids. I wanted to take my daughter’s blanket with me to show everyone. When I asked her where it was, she didn’t have to think for a second. “It’s right beside my bed,” she said. She didn’t use it every day anymore, but she knew exactly where it was.

Now I’m going to show you my son’s blanket:

boy-baby-blanket

Do you think he used his blanket much? Nope.

My son barely glanced at his blanket. He never slept with it. He rarely picked it up. It never went to school or on any camping trips.

I had made this blanket for my son, and I was a little hurt that he had no interest in it. I wanted him to love it. Why didn’t he need a blanket in the same way his sister did? Sometimes I even tried to push him to use it. When he couldn’t sleep, I’d tuck it in beside him, sure that it would help. He tossed it on the floor. If he fell and scraped a knee, I wrapped him up in it. He shrugged it off. Eventually I was the one who had to adapt. I had to accept that he was going to have his own kind of relationship with his blanket.

But you know what’s really interesting? When I asked him where it was, he didn’t have to think for a second. “It’s right beside my bed,”  he said. He never needed it, but it was a gift of love from me, so he kept it close.

Now, let me show you a third blanket:

baby-blanket

This one I made for my daughter when she was about 7 years old when it became clear that the original one was disintegrating. It’s a new and improved version of the first. I thought she would love it.

She would have nothing to do with it. She wanted the comfort of the original, thank you very much, even if it was battered and torn and no longer serve a real function.

I shared this story with the kids at church because I think my kids’ blankets give us an insight into how we need to accept different approaches to faith.

  • Some people need to hold their faith close, sleep with it and touch it daily.
  • Some people’s needs change over time. When they are younger, they need a strong faith relationship, but when they get older they let it go. Or, some people don’t want faith in their youth, but when they get older or suffer a crisis, they seek it more.
  • Some people know right where it’s kept but don’t need it very often.
  • If we make fun of other people’s needs, they’ll tuck them away, but it won’t change anything.
  • We can’t make people let go of something until they are ready.
  • Just because something is new, doesn’t mean it’s better.
  • Just because something is old, doesn’t make it right for everyone.
  • If something is given with love, people will value it even if they don’t need it every day
  • We give our children a gift if they never have to think for a second to know where to find their faith.
  • One thing is for sure, we can’t force other people to have the kind of relationship with faith that we want them to have. It’s very personal. Even if we hand-make it for them or hand it down generation to generation, people have to forge their own relationships with faith.