Scheduling a teen's life

A couple of weeks ago, I finally made the decision that I should no longer be micro-managing SweetPea's schedule.  I've been trying for a couple of years now to really get her to see the 'big picture' of our week and month, to learn to plan ahead and take ownership of what she needs to get done when--with little success. 

So I put together a planner for her and told her that from now on, she's responsible to keep it up-to-date.  (Bold move!)

I give her a pretty new 3-ring notebook, added a bunch of blank tabs and notebook paper, then gave her some time to do an artsy spine and cover to insert, and to personalize the dividers.  I went to Donna Young's website and printed out big double-spread calendar pages on card stock, front and back, then had her spend some time putting in all the important dates from my calendar for the coming year.

You know what?  She loves it!  It's now her "Life in a Notebook" and I have successfully passed the baton!  :-)  Each Monday morning we sit for a bit and update all our comings and goings, check in on projects, brainstorm ideas, and talk through what any given event will require.  I suspect that deep down somewhere she's an inveterate planner like her mom, and I'm having the fun of drawing it forth!


A writing lesson

A story I wrote was recently accepted for one of the Chicken Soup books, and while gratifying, the real 'meat' of this experience was what I learned about writing. 

I wrote this story a number of years ago, had it rejected by a magazine, and filed it away.  When I began to reconsider it for the CS book, I saw that it needed major rework on many fronts.  It was 500 words too long for their needs.  I was guilty of two major no-no's in writing:  writing passively instead of actively (too many "was's"--I had six in one paragraph!), and telling instead of showing.

But the real problem showed up when I faced the daunting task of cutting 500 words.  That's a whole page of typewritten material, double-spaced.  And since this was a true, personal story, I just couldn't see what I could cut without damaging the flow and interest of the story.

So I went to work with some experimental slicing and dicing.  What gradually became apparent was a more subtle problem inexperienced writers have, that of having too much 'stuff' in the story that distracts from the main point.  It could be other sub-stories, rabbit-trail descriptions, or events that don't really add to the story.

I had to ask myself, what story am I really trying to tell here?  When I answered that question, I saw that two other incidents I had included could be taken out without impacting the story.  In fact, by doing that and tightening up some of the "and then I's...", it gave a much greater dramatic punch to the actual story I was trying to tell.  And 500 words thankfully disappeared.


That's the key word here.  Tell one thing in one story.  Enlarge upon it, enrich the descriptions and word use, add some metaphors and similies, using vivid verbs, and you have a compelling read.  If you're a word-lover, it's hard to submit to the maxim, "less is more," but in this case it's true.

My dad is a landscape painter by profession, and he has preached this for years.  "Simplicity!"  He taught me early on that a really good painting is not one that has every jot and tittle of detail (we have cameras for that), but rather simple strokes in bold colors, clean composition balance, and focus on one main thing.  Funny how that parallels writing--and life.

Well, it was a terrific experience and one that will make me a better writer, hopefully.