Friday, April 5, 2013

what's to love: they'll hold anything

During this massive spring cleaning, I found a crate of file folders, a bit cobwebby, with unidentified bug carcasses scattered in the bottom. Ick. As I was dusting and sneezing and discarding, I found a bunch of lined notebook pages stapled together. I instantly recognized it:

It was the first book I'd ever made.

I must have written it when I was about six. The spelling and penmanship were both truly, um, unique? Creative?

But I was already choosing a genre: Child's Early Book. I knew what went into them, having read plenty of My First Books: mainly lists of stuff, like colors and animals and opposites and things children are learning.

So I came up with my own collection: I had a list of the rooms in our house. I taped in flowers from our backyard. I drew a list of feelings. (The one for scared made me fall over laughing.) I listed foods, random words, the letters of the alphabet, holidays... and I was already getting part of the lure of making your own book.

It sounds simplistic, but: you get to put whatever you want in it.

I was my own little curator; those notebook pages were my museum. I could write any list I wanted to, put it in whatever order I wanted. An addictive experience. While cleaning I also came across spiral notebooks I kept when in second and third grade, filled with one page stories, like "Miles Starts a Band," "The Faraway Castle," "A Day at the Zoo."

I haven't outgrown that delight. I love this, love this: I get to put whatever I want in it.

So yesterday, when I found an early scene in my current draft boring, I gave myself a shake. It's my book: if I'm bored, it's not working. So I made characters collide. Why do a stiff Hi-I'm-so-and-so-and-who-are-you scene, when you can make two characters literally hit each other, sputter, and then run off somewhere when a bigger threat shows up? So much more fun.

And I wasn't bored anymore.

I have to remember this more often: to delight myself in each scene, get my own heart going, surprise myself. I understood that when I was six: oh the delight of choosing which words got to go in my exclusive, carefully considered list of WORDS?  Which emotions on the FEELING page?

Okay. I'm being silly. But it's still true.

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