"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Give the Gift of Words by Carol Curtis Stilz

Each of us has the power to choose words as we select gifts. We choose carefully, making sure the gift fits and is appropriate. What if we chose our words with the same thoughtfulness?
I relish books that give me delight like a box of chocolates with no two tasting the same. So my desire is to give my readers that experience. Even in this busy season I can savor words, images and sounds to use in my writing. Then I’ll record those images and sounds on my phone or in my pocket notebook. For those sensory details of smell and taste, especially chocolate, I must capture the essence in a word or phrase. That’s a challenge I face in writing picture books! 
If you choose to join me in building a storehouse of rich images and phrases, you will need a pocket size notebook and pen (Dollar Tree item) or a smartphone with space for recording photos, sounds, and videos. I’ll use both depending upon the situation. And, I’ll need a plan since I’m easily distracted, so I’ve written it as an assignment. Modify it to suit your needs. The teacher in me never retired.
First, be aware of scent, taste, and touch in your surroundings. Since readers are drawn into a scene by the sense of smell evoked in words, focus on scents. Is that the aroma of cinnamon, vanilla, pumpkin, evergreens, or peppermint? How would you describe it in a word or two? Then consider taste. Take that bite thoughtfully and let the taste linger. Sip that beverage slowly. How would a foodie capture the essence? Move on to experience textures. (One year my daughter wanted a fir tree for Christmas, or so I thought. What she wanted was a tree that felt furry and fuzzy like her grandma’s flocked tree.) How would a textile designer describe the feel? Is it different from the appearance?
Next, give attention to sight and sound. Look for images both black and white and color. Change your viewpoint. Look at your holiday decorations from a child’s view or a pet’s perspective. Observe how subjects react to light, or lack of light. When you watch movies and television, notice lines of dialogue and musical sounds, as well as what you see on the screen. Can you evoke the sound of silence? That one can be tough depending upon where you are. Record sounds and images on your phone or notebook. Snap a photo or sketch a special image or viewpoint that is clever. If space on your phone is an issue, use an SD card.
Finally, transfer items from your phone to your email or computer or index cards. Be respectful of copyright and do not share copyrighted material. (Oops, that means I don’t post others’ creative work on social media.) Save this collection in a useful format. (I like flashdrives for this step.) Label categories and record your sources with place, date and time. For handwritten notes, tape them to individual index cards. (Color coded cards work for me. A pack of white and a pack of four colors.) Organize them on a file ring. Make your own with a punch in each card and a keyring. Or, put everything in a special box or bag that closes tightly and pull out cards when looking for inspiration. (I’ve seen greeting cards, tea bag tags, napkins and ads provide inspiration to writers and artists.)
The gift I’m creating takes only minutes. An image or sound can be captured in seconds. Saving them for later use takes only minutes. I give myself the gift of mindfulness, living in the moment, enjoying the delights of the senses, and building a storehouse of treasures to share with my readers.
The challenge to transport my readers to my character’s world through rich sensory images came from outstanding authors whose workshops I attended. I am grateful for their shared wisdom and encouragement. At the Southwest Washington Writers Conference in Centralia, Washington. I listened as Melanie Dobson, Robert Dugoni, Veronica Noice, and Kyle Pratt shared their experience. At the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Kathy Murphy, known as the Pulpwood Queen, inspired and entertained me. You can meet Kathy (Patrick) Murphy as she interviews Fannie Flagg via Beauty and the Book on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gzDIMvjCtI4. She started book clubs from her beauty shop! Her book, The Pulpwood Queen's Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life will be a movie released by DreamWorks. Checkout http://www.thepulpwoodqueens.com/ for more information on 740 book clubs, their reading lists, and activities.
Happy holidays and a Prosperous New Year!
Carol Stilz