Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Invitation to Wonder, Too: A Writer's Journey

Award-winning newspaper columnist and Center for Creative Writing founder Elizabeth Ayres has authored Invitation to Wonder: A Journey through the Seasons. She describes what prompted the book, and the emotional healing writing can bring. The winning comment on her posts will receive an autographed copy of Elizabeth's Invitation to Wonder.

AA: How would you categorize "the journey" noted in the subtitle?

Elizabeth at the Patuxent RiverWriting Retreat-Workshop
EA: My background is poetry. When I moved back to southern Maryland, every wave, every leaf, every bird, everything spoke to me, everything put words in my head, but I wanted to give voice to this experience in such a way that it would be accessible to a general audience, which tends to be intimidated by verse space. I decided to write prose, and I proposed a monthly column of lyric reflections to a regional newspaper.

So there I was, writing about Nature each month, trying to express the amazing aliveness of the world around me, but also conscious of my readers: What would make the reflection most relevant, most meaningful to them? In "Butterfly Q and A," for instance, I started out writing about honeysuckle — that was what was calling to me at the time. Honeysuckle was in bloom, I was transfixed by the smell — but I also knew the column would appear in July, so I related it to Independence Day, an experience common to all my readers, so a connection between nectar and freedom emerged. Or with "Vigil." I'd been wanting to write about the stars for a while. As Columbus Day approached I thought, well, Columbus would have used the stars to navigate, so that's how I can link the two things together and make the reflection most meaningful to my readers. After four years, I had cycled through the seasons four times, addressing every major and minor event in the American experience: from Martin Luther King Day through Memorial Day and Labor Day, from Easter through Thanksgiving and Christmas, from Groundhog Day through Mother's Day and Halloween.

The seasonal progression became all the more apparent when I decided to record selections from the book as an MP3 audio download. I realized that Invitation to Wonder contained not one but five distinct themes, each of which can be experienced as we travel through the seasons. So this became A Journey through the Seasons, Celebrating the Journey, A Journey into the Cosmos, A Journey into Chesapeake Country and A Journey into Divine Presence. Then, when I decided to create a study guide for each audio; the series just naturally demanded to be called The Companion on the Journey Listening Guides. I give these away free with the audios. I had been resistant to the word "journey" at first — it's so overdone! But it seems to have been an inspired choice after all.

For an autographed copy of Elizabeth's Invitation to Wonder, post the best comment on the writing life.

Elizabeth Ayres is also the creator of Writing the Wave, Know the Way and her Center for Creative Writing is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Visit her at Invitation to Wonder.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Invitation to Wonder: A Writer's Journey

Invitation to Wonder
You never know who you'll meet through a Google search. I met award-winning newspaper columnist and Center for Creative Writing founder Elizabeth Ayres while researching great resources for writers. Since then, Elizabeth has written Invitation to Wonder: A Journey Through the Seasons. Here, she describes what prompted the book, and the help and emotional healing writing can bring. Read her first post in the series, and submit a comment or post on the positive effects of writing to Word for Words. The winning selection will be published on the blog and receive an autographed copy of Elizabeth's Invitation to Wonder.

AA: What prompted you to write the book?

Center for Creative Writing founder Elizabeth Ayres
EA: I grew up in southern Maryland. Our house stood on a bluff overlooking the Patuxent River just where it enters the Chesapeake Bay. I loved it as a child, but as a teenager I hated it. It was too remote, and there were family tensions I needed to escape, so I left when I was 17 and rarely returned. I lived most of my adult life in New York City, then in northern New Mexico. And all that time, I never really felt connected; I never really felt I had a home. I kept wandering around, lamenting my sad plight, the rootlessness, the alienation so prevalent in American society.

Finally, through a series of rather mysterious events, I moved back to where I'd grown up. The connection to the landscape of my childworld just gushed forth onto the page every time I sat down to write, and the more I wrote, the less estranged I felt, until I came to realize, I belong here in this place, I belong everywhere in the place called Earth. It was a powerful experience of healing for me, personally, and I think it's something we all need to cultivate. Intimacy with Nature's beauty, wisdom and mystery is the antidote to all our ills, really, because the feelings of awe Nature induces make us feel part of something larger. That's why I called the book Invitation to Wonder. I want my readers to step into the place where joy, amazement and insight meet as an ineffable response to the world around us.

To receive an autographed copy of Elizabeth's Invitation to Wonder: A Journey Through the Seasons post the best comment on the writing life.

Elizabeth Ayres is also the creator of Writing the Wave, Know the Way and two Sounds True audio albums, and her Center for Creative Writing is celebrating its 20th anniversary. She lives with two cats, and spends long hours walking shell-strewn Chesapeake Bay beaches, plucking words from the soft salt breeze. Visit her at Invitation to Wonder.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ideas Into Images: Illustrator-Writer Adrienne May on Creating Characters

Illustrator-Writer Adrienne May
Artist, children's book illustrator and writer Adrienne May found her way into a second life career writing and illustrating children's books. She uses traditional and contemporary tools to create pieces in a realistic style, and takes the same approach to crafting her stories and characters. The tag line of her WinsomeWays online portfolio says it all "ideas into images."

AA: How did you get into writing?

AM: I came to writing by accident. My career destination is children's book illustration, especially children's picture books. However, designing characters and a world setting(s) are tasks that illustrators and writers must do. Writing was the result of thinking of children's picture books as visualized stories, rather than a series of isolated illustrations.

AA: With experience in fine arts, how do you approach writing the stories?

"Jamaican Doll," by Adrienne May
AM: When I write, visual imagery lets me immerse myself in the story. I try to experience each scene with all my senses. As a writer, I want visual imagery to be a stepping stone to a full-sensory experience of the characters, their world setting and any changes to them in the story. I need this in order to describe them to someone else. As writer and illustrator, I aim to reconcile the voice and physical appearance of each character, the pace of the plot and the narrative weight any physical illustrations must bear.

AA: How does that impact your role as an illustrator?

AM: In my illustrator role, I want to respond to the needs of the story, and update my drawings to reflect physical changes to the characters and world setting. (In one story a character became three years older, and I added three new characters.) While I draw, I ask myself what else is there to understand about the story. In the end, the illustrations ideally show details beyond the text.

AA: How would you describe "success" as an artist?

AM: From "Making Artists," and The New York Times article, "The End of the Great Big American Voice," by Anne Midgette:

"In the end, artistic success depends, as it always has, on intangible factors that no training program can provide. One is luck. Another is stubbornness."

'People who really persevere,' Ms. [Dolora] Zajick [mezzo soprano] said, 'find themselves in lucky places.'"

Tip: Try Adrienne May's winsome approach to illustrating your characters with words, and visit WinsomeWays for a visual tour.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Writing for Anthologies: Takeaways and Tips for Publication

Writer and Editor Anne Witkavitch

This week we conclude our series on writing for anthologies with writer Anne Witkavitch, who compiled and edited Press Pause Moments: Essays About Life Transitions by Women Writers based on the Press Pause Project.

AA: What were the takeaways for you on this project?

AW: I learned so much about the process of taking a book from concept to publication. There was tremendous value to wearing the editor's hat, not only writing for the book but also for selecting, editing and sequencing other writers' works. For example, editing multiple voices was a bit more challenging than I anticipated. You have to pay even more attention to achieve style consistency from page to page. I tend to be a person who can see the vision and big picture, and then home in on the details to bring all the pieces together. That came in particularly handy for this project.

AA: What would you recommend to writers seeking publication in an anthology?

AW: First, follow the submission guidelines. If the word count maxes out at 1,500, don't submit something with 3,000 words. Choose to edit first, or don't submit at all. Second, be professional. For Press Pause Moments, the e-mail was the first interaction I had with most of the writers, and first impressions always count even in cyberspace. Be personable, but to the point. Third, submit your best-quality work. Edit and proofread. This is a pet peeve of mine. I know how much time I invest in editing and revising. I can tell when someone has written something, checked it over, and then submitted the piece without any rework. Fourth and perhaps most important is to submit! If you write for you, and simply want to keep your work tucked away in a file folder, that's fine. But if you want to be published, anthologies are a great way to get your work out there and read.

Press Pause Moments is on Amazon
AA: Is there anything you'd like to add?

AW: Writing is a tough gig. Sitting down and writing every day is hard. Sending out your work is hard. Getting rejected is hard. But you've got to keep at it. I am a big proponent of having a strategic plan to guide your writing ambition. In fact, I teach a workshop in Goal Setting for Writers based on the Press Pause principles. It's intended to get writers to articulate what they want to achieve and then figure out how to get it done with one-, two- and three-year goal components. Life is dynamic, and if you don't know what you're working for, you can easily get knocked off course. In fact, the Press Pause Moments anthology's life cycle paralleled some major challenges in my life: the crippling recession, my sister's death from cancer and a major health issue. If I hadn't had a strong vision and plan and a lot of resilience and support the book would never have happened.

Finally, every writer should wear the editor's hat on a project involving other writers' works. I have edited several books this year, including another anthology and a nonfiction book. There is no better way to continuously improve your own writing skills!

For more information, see Press Pause Moments or Amazon. Or visit Anne's page at Western Connecticut State University.