Posts Tagged ‘education’

I’ve Got No Talent!

I MET PAULA JEFFERY SEVERAL YEARS AGO in an online art group. The other day, we had a chat about how investing time (consistently) and effort (persistently) in any art form will eventually bear fruit—and she pointed me to this post, which she wrote for her own blog, but is graciously allowing me to share in an edited-for-length version with you. (And, yes, it’s about drawing, but really it’s about anything to which you’d like to apply yourself!)

* * *

I’ve Got No Talent
Paula Jeffery

Not long ago, I read THE TALENT CODE by Daniel Coyle. In it, he tells about a group of children who were monitored before and during the time they took music lessons. After a couple of months, as you would expect, some were doing really well, some not so well, and most were in the middle of that bell curve. The researchers looked closely for common factors between those who were excelling. They looked at things like the amount of practice they did, home environment, anything they could think of that might influence the children’s musical ability. They could find nothing. None of the factors they anticipated had any effect at all.

Until … bingo! Before they started lessons, all the children were asked, “How long do you see yourself playing music?” Their answers ranged from “until the end of term” to “a couple of years” to “forever.”  The researchers were amazed to find those answers sat perfectly aligned on the bell curve! The kids who saw themselves as musicians playing forever were head and shoulders above the rest, sometimes by as much as 400 percent—even if they practiced less! The kids who decided their music career would only last until the end of term were the same kids who were falling behind. The only common factor was their attitude to learning music before they even picked up an instrument.

This is not some mysterious, ethereal thing: It’s attitude!

Every now and again, someone on social media will say, “You’re so talented,” which is kind and lovely, but sometimes what’s unspoken is: “You’re lucky. You can just do this stuff. You were born with this ‘gift,’ and I wasn’t.” But I wasn’t a talented kid! I took art at school because I was lazy and it seemed an easy option. I wasn’t even allowed to take the art exams because my work was so bad. My adult life was spent happily stating I couldn’t draw a straight line.

Fast forward to 2014. I was 59 years old. Going off-piste one day on a visit to YouTube Land, I discovered art journaling. It looked like fun. You didn’t have to actually draw or paint anything recognizable, you could splash paint about and glue pictures from magazines. From there, I did a couple of courses (shoutouts to Tamara Laporte and Effy Wild), and I painted figures and faces. Then I did ICAD (the index card a day challenge: shoutout to Daisy Yellow). One of the daily prompts was “eye.” I hunted on YouTube for How to draw an eye and found a step-by-step tutorial. I followed along and, OMG, I drew a recognizable, not-bad-looking eye.

This was an aha moment. These techniques could be learned! Next, I drew an elephant, again from instructions! I was so excited. I thought, “I could learn to draw,” and there was no stopping me. I joined groups. Someone recommended Danny Gregory, and I joined Sketchbook Skool, founded by Danny and Koojse, and amazing tutors from all over the world opened my eyes and freed up my pen. I joined drawing memes and drew 100 faces, one each day, to see if it improved my technique. And guess what? It did! Now, I’m taking part in Imagining, the latest Sketchbook Skool Kourse (where our last tutor was the amazing Stefan G. Bucher).

For the last three years, I’ve drawn nearly every day. I’ve worked at it and studied hard. I try not to compare myself to others, and I absolutely LOVE what I’m doing.

Here are three sketches of my husband, Graham. I did the first in 2014 as part of my 100 Faces project. It was a massive improvement on previous portraits. The second I did in 2017, and I really pleased with it. The final portrait I just completed.

2014

2017

2019

 

So, when someone tells me I’m talented, with an undertone that suggests they couldn’t do it, I am tempted to sit them down and gently tell them that “Yes, yes, really, you can.” Their next line is usually “I’m too busy.” So busy there is not time in the day to take five minutes to draw something, anything? I learnt a lot about “busy” when I studied for my Open University degree with women who had three kids under school age and wrote their essays at the kitchen table in the early hours of the morning. And got their degrees. If you really want to do something, you will find the time.

Then the argument can shift to this: “Well, I’m too busy doing other things I prefer.” That’s fine. That’s an “I don’t want to,” rather than an “I can’t.” (Occasionally, I hear an “I’m too busy” that really means “What I do is so much more important than your little scribblings.” But, hey, for those, I just nod and smile, nod and smile.)

Apart from my immediate (and very lovely) family and friends, social media has been the biggest catalyst for my artistic achievements. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have continued without the support of Facebook friends and groups. Inspirational, supportive, and non-judgmental art groups are amazing and always offer the message Yes, you can!

Now, I’m not afraid to say, “I’m an artist,” with no apologies (and no “amateur” in the mix).

Paula is an artist, writer, and self-publisher, who lives in the middle of England. Visit her site, PaulaJeffery.com or on her Amazon author page.

Backstory: Writing from the Rear View Mirror

YOU KNOW HOW THINGS LOOK DIFFERENT IN THE REAR VIEW MIRROR? A backwards glance can offer us a new perspective on where we’ve been. Like a literary rear view mirror, backstory lets readers know where we—or our characters—have come from. In doing so, backstory can reveal a character’s motivation, which, in turn, may elicit sympathy for that character’s present, less-appealing actions or attitudes.

WHAT IS BACKSTORY?
A definition
Whether we’re writing memoir, fiction, or a piece of literary journalism, backstory gives context to the story being told. It comprises events—internal (an anxiety attack, for example) or external (loss of a child, for example)—which have occurred before the story starts and are relevant to the story being told.

For example
In a story about a dissolving marriage, the loss of the couple’s child would certainly be relevant. If the child died before we meet the couple, then the death and the characters’ subsequent emotions are backstory—relevant past events.

However
In a story about a woman wanting to break the World Land Speed Record, the loss of the main character’s best friend’s child would likely not be relevant to the unfolding of the main story thread.

HOW CAN WE USE BACKSTORY MOST EFFECTIVELY?
Wait, wait, don’t tell me!
Opinions (of course) vary about how soon is too soon to incorporate backstory. For instance, brilliant film-and-novel-writing guy Robert McKee of STORY fame says to avoid backstory completely for the first three chapters! He believes this gives readers a chance to attach to the forward-moving story, creating a reason for them to care about what’s come before.

Other quite successful writers, however, actually start with backstory. In fact, thriller writer Julie Compton and I created a backstory workshop based on her well-received novel RESCUING OLIVIA, which introduces a fairly lengthy backstory passage quite early in the book. (CLICK HERE to read a post that uses RESCUING OLIVIA’S opening for an example.)

It is typical, though, for writers to hit the ground running. They’ll often start a first chapter in media res (in the middle of the present action), and then, in chapter two, turn back to consider earlier events to give their opening context.

Just say no to the info dump!
An “info dump” is a big chunk of information—especially backstory—“dumped” onto the page all at once. Whether your dump truck delivers your backstory via dialogue, narration, or internal narrative, readers will have trouble processing, and thus, remembering, backstory given in too big a lump.

Breadcrumbs
Instead, think of backstory as breadcrumbs. Scatter small bits along the unfolding story path, informing your reader of what’s happened in the past on a need-to-know basis.

Ways and means committee
Among other techniques, you might deliver backstory via

  • flashback (a past experience given in scene—including sensory detail and a “real-time” unfolding of events)
  • dialogue (your characters simply discuss events that happened before the story started)
  • or as internal narrative (your character remembers events and considers them internally).

Light touch
No matter how you deliver it, though, use as light a hand with backstory as you can. Err on the side of less is more.

Novel-writing resources

Enough about me! What do other folks have to say about backstory?

I’ve already cited Robert McKee’s STORY, but it bears repeating—and reading.

Tom Farr of The Writing Cooperative has some good pointers in his “The Art of Revealing Backstory,” up on the TWC site.

You might also like this WRITER’S DIGEST article: “How to Weave Backstory Into Your Novel Seamlessly,” by Brian Klems

Finally, if you want to thumb your nose at my light-hand-with-backstory approach, here’s a super-successful memoir that shovels in about one full ton of backstory—in pretty large doses—and does so beautifully: WILD, by Cheryl Strayed.

***

Thanks to Caleb Whiting on Unsplash for Creative Commons photo.

A Book Can Be Your Writing Coach!

ARGH! THE DAYS OF A STUCK WRITER CAN BE FILLED WITH DRAMA. Unfortunately, that drama is generally not the kind that reads well on the page. Nope. All too often, when we’re stuck, our days (and heads) are filled with the kind of internal drama that keeps us from even getting to the page. Or is that just me?

If not, if that might, sometimes, be you, too, I have a shortlist of get-the-drama-out-of-my-head-and-onto-the-page books to share. Time and again, whether I’m making things overly complicated or doubting the direction of my work-in-progress, I reach for one of these five books to unstick me. I hope they serve you as well as they’ve served me!

My “let’s get back to writing” coach

I turn to JULIA CAMERON’S THE ARTIST’S WAY when I’ve been creatively sidelined for too long, Like nothing else, the basic tools of the Artist’s Way—morning pages and artist dates—bring my imagination back to life! After just a few days with Julia, I reliably find myself writing (and cooking and art-making) again.

My “find my writing voice” coach

NATALIE GOLDBERG’S authentic voice sings out from the essays that comprise WRITING DOWN THE BONESHer exercises and advice remind me it’s my authentic voice that makes my own writing sing.

My memoir-writing coach

Although I think PAT SCHNEIDER would characterize herself as a poet, I always seem to write memoir in response to the writing prompts in her WRITING ALONE AND WITH OTHERS. They take me back and elicit sweet, deep writing about my past.

My novel-writing coach

In YOU’VE GOT A BOOK IN YOUELIZABETH SIMS’S friendly, no-nonsense approach helps when I need to make a freakin’ plan for a longer writing project. I’m not writing a novel at the moment. But, boy, when I am, I’ll be turning to page 1 of Ez’s book, pronto!

My writing business coach

When I just need to laugh, just need to remember that most writers are crazy—not just me—yet they still get published, still deal with the demanding world of the writing business as well as their sometimes-treacherous inner worlds, I pick up ANNE LAMOTT’S BIRD BY BIRD. Invariably, it restores both my sense of humor and of proportion.

As JUDITH GUEST says in her foreword to WRITING DOWN THE BONES: It would be wonderfully efficient and clever for us writers to have learned our lessons only once; failing that, a copy of Writing Down the Bones on a table nearby could save a lot of grief.

I agree, Judith. And I’m piling all these other books right on top of Bones.

 

Storytellers of Tomorrow

THE STORYTELLERS OF TOMORROW Florida High School Creative Writing Contest

CW_word_0is presented by the Ringling College of Art + Design. The Ringling College BFA in Creative writing was created to support, empower, and honor young writers. Now, the creative writing department of Ringling is inviting Florida high school students to submit unpublished, original stories of up to 2,000 words for this inaugural Storytellers of Tomorrow Contest. The deadline is February 29th, so skateboard those entries right in! Click HERE for the full scoop.

This Public Service Announcement has been brought to you by Ryan G. Van Cleave, Creative Writing BFA Coordinator, Ringling College of Art and Design and author of THE WEEKEND BOOK PROPOSAL (Writers Digest), MEMOIR WRITING FOR DUMMIES (John Wiley & Sons), and more!

Subscribe for monthly writing prompts, resources & inspiration!
VoiceHeartVision.com ©2014-2019 Jamie Morris | Privacy | Terms & Conditions | Site design by Melissa Jo Hill