Writing on the Fly

My husband and I flew to California a few years ago for my niece’s wedding. The first part of the trip took us from Ohio to Denver, and I told my husband I was not getting off the plane until I had one or two blog posts written and maybe even a character sketch for the next A Family Affair book. (This would have been A Family Affair: The Secret.)

All I needed was my 19 cent spiral notebook, a pen, and a plane that didn’t encounter too much turbulence. I had no idea what I wanted to write about until I started writing. What emerged were a few tidbits about my writing process.

I plot out the basics of a story in my head, turn it around for days, maybe even weeks. When I think I’ve got it figured out, I grab a spiral notebook and start writing character sketches, then plot, and subplot. I have over a dozen half-filled notebooks containing stories. There’s the story I’ve planned to write and the one I actually write. They’re never the same. Readers might be surprised to hear this, but it’s true. Often, I have no idea how a particular situation is going to work out, until I’m in the story, traveling down that path…Then, I know.

I like to write with quiet surrounding me, but that’s more a wish than reality, especially with a dog in the house who insists on barking a play-by-play of what’s happening outside; squirrels in tree, joggers running by, the UPS man shifting gears…

When I’m creating plots, character sketches, blog posts, Gloria’s notebook entries, Charles’s letters, or other indirect story content, I handwrite them in a spiral notebook. The creativity flows, but I always struggle to read my penmanship. I encountered this same issue when we were on the plane and ran into turbulence. I closed my eyes and continued writing. I would like to say the almost illegible penmanship had to do with a bumpy plane ride, but it didn’t look much different than what I create at my kitchen table… Still, I was able to decipher it and while my almost ninety-one-year-old mother would say good penmanship is essential, I will settle for good content.

The Art of Imagination or Believing in the Make Believe

My mother used to say the whole house could be falling down and I’d be on the floor playing with the girls, lost in our make-believe worlds. True, but they were GREAT make-believe worlds! My daughters still remember dressing up in tutus and tights, their long hair pulled up in buns, as they danced to “Beauty and the Beast.” Of course, they were princesses when they danced, but they spent plenty of time creating their own adventures. I asked them last night about some of those “adventures” and here’s what they said:

Tigers. Not just any tiger…Siberian tigers. Ballerinas and Snow White when we cleaned floors. Dogs… and dolphins when we would swim. A bit older…Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (Daughter #2) 

We slid across the floor like rock stars on our knees, and “climbed” trees. I remember using a forked tree in the backyard as a “slingshot” to jump up and down. (Daughter #1)

Now that’s imagination at work!

The comment from my mother served as foreshadowing for a future career where I could create people, towns, and all sorts of emotional turmoil from my imagination. Of course, that career didn’t happen overnight. I took a few detours along the way, but eventually, I found my passion and the job that doesn’t feel like a job at all…

When my granddaughter turned two, she became my latest make-believe pal. I’d bathe her (in the kitchen sink) and we’d play “teatime” with measuring cups. I used my best British voice to entertain her. There was also a “house” my husband repurposed from a box one of his woodworking machines came in. (No, Mr. Campisi, you are not buying another machine so you can re-use the box!) He cut out windows, a door, and taped photos of family and friends inside the house. Great fun!

This might all sound silly and somewhat crazy, but playtime relaxes my brain, and opens it up to new writing ideas. Of course, playtime also creates memories, and for a grandparent, it doesn’t get much better than that!

Are you a memory keeper?

My sister says I save too much “stuff”. My husband would probably agree, and once, long ago, suggested I get rid of a few shelves of old books to make room for new ones. That did not go over well. I explained that each book on my many bookshelves had a certain significance and just because I’d read them three times, did not mean I wouldn’t read them again! But it wasn’t just about the content. Some books were given as gifts, signed with a heartfelt note. How could I get rid of them?? My husband never asked that question again. Instead, he built me more bookcases!

But I’m not talking about saving books. I’m talking about the intangible collections that I call memory keeping. What sorts of things do I save? Cards and letters, art projects from when the kids were in grade school, my previous dog’s collar…painted necklaces made from potatoes and macaroni…

One day I was cleaning out an old briefcase—yes, that was definitely from another life—when I came across the card on the left. It was from my middle daughter, Nicole. She was so young! I thought of those times and how she’d grown from a wide-eyed, curious young girl to a strong, determined woman. Overwhelmed with emotion, I sent her the picture in a text message. I didn’t hear back until the next day, with a response that said merely, “LOL”. Obviously, she is not yet a mother and doesn’t understand how a child pulls at a parent’s heartstrings.

I donated the briefcase and stuck the note in a drawer for safekeeping. When Nicole is home at Christmas, I’ll pull out the card, look into her eyes, and tell her how much I love her. She’ll smile and hug me. Then she’ll say, “Love you, too.”

And that will be a memory keeper.

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