REMEMBER WHEN YOU WERE A KID and bored to tears at Hour Three of the eight-hour car ride to your grandparents’ house (pre-video games), and your mom would distract you with a game of I Spy? (“I spy with my little eye something beginning with the letter ‘D,'” you might say, hoping your parents would get the hint and pull over for Dairy Queen.)
Today, as writers, we can still play I Spy—only “backwards,” looking around our world (or the world of our characters) seeking objects that start with a certain letter or display a certain color or are made of a certain material (“I spy with my little eye something made of glass”). Why would we do this? Because we (and our characters) are pattern-seeking missiles—and focusing our pattern-making super-powers upon something as specific as “things starting with the letter ‘P'” can set a whole sweater’s-worth of associations unraveling.
For example: “I spy with my little eye something blue.” When I glance around my office, I see . . .
My business card . . .
My mouse pad . . .
The top of a Bic ballpoint pen . . .
The mat inside the frame of my college diploma!
Aha! That’s it.
When I finally graduated from Rollins College, my dad was so proud (or was that “relieved”?) he took me to the frame store and had my diploma framed. That same day—and this only a year before he died—we also stopped by the eyeglass shop to have his sunglasses repaired, ate bagels and scrambled eggs at Einsteins, and walked over to the drugstore to pick up his prescription.
That was one of the last “normal” days I had with my dad. He’d been sick—and then better, and then sick again—for several years. I haven’t thought of that visit recently, and have certainly never written about it. Maybe now I will.
So. What do you spy? And where does it take you?
KELI SIPPERLEY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF of Rourke Educational Media, sent this wonderful want ad: Rourke seeks experienced writers for work-for-hire book projects. We publish fiction and nonfiction for school and library markets. Authors must be able to research and write engaging content to specified grade levels and deliver clean, fact-checked manuscripts to specs on tight deadlines. We are expanding our fiction collections and especially need writers who write with voice and humor. Nonfiction writers who are simultaneously fun and informative are always in demand.
Send a resume, a brief unedited writing sample, and a letter of introduction that lists your subject-area interests to email@example.com. Previously unpublished writers are welcome. If you are serious about your craft and work well with editors, they want to hear from you. Visit RourkeEducationalMedia.com to see current titles and learn more about them.
NOVEMBER IS NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH (or NaNoWriMo, for those of us who like a little shortening with our bread). While NaNo may not be news, it is a great wake-up call for folks whose writing projects made like Rip Van Winkle over the summer. The scoop, according to the official NaNo site, is this: “On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.” Sign up and receive beaucoup support for this annual challenge.
There’s a NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program, too! The Young Writers Program allows 17-and-under participants to set “reasonable, yet challenging, individual word-count goals.”
SOMETIMES, WE ALL NEED STYLE HELP. Fortunately, there are many online resources that help writers (and editors) write right. (Sorry.) Here are a couple to get you started.
The staff of the (daunting) CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE knows how much their style guide weighs (oof!)—and how time-consuming it can be to search its seemingly endless pages for a simple guideline. Taking pity on those of us who’ve yet to bite the bullet and subscribe to CMOS online, Carol Fisher Saller (aka, The Subversive Copy Editor) wrote a CMOS Shop Talk article about using “the online edition to find things in the print edition even if you don’t subscribe online.” Save your back. Check it out.
The Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University also provides free writing resources—including both Modern Language Association (MLA) and American Psychological Association (APA) style guides—to users worldwide.
Got a different fave? Drop me a (not necessarily correct) line with the 411.