Friday, December 31, 2010

What Clay Taught Me About Writing

In the spring of 2010 I made the decision to go back to school and work toward my degree in Elementary Education. On my schedule that semester I had English 102, Cultural Diversity in Education, Geology, and the Geology Lab. Early into the semester, I realized the Geology and Geology Lab classes (same teacher/class hours) were going to be too much for my haven’t-been-in-school-full-time-with-hard-classes-for-fifteen-years brain to handle.

I needed to drop them, but since I was on financial aid, I needed to replace them with other classes (6 credits worth) so I’d still be full time.

That’s when I looked through the schedule and decided ceramics might be fun. Make no mistake, I had no idea what I was in for. I thought “ceramics” would be painting ceramic figures. I was very wrong. Ceramics was working with clay to make your own art, firing it in a kiln, glazing it, and firing it again.

Was I a bit intimidated? Heck yeah! I’d never in my life worked with clay or kilns or glazes, but I set to work and made my first piece using a bowl as a mold.

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The close-up is to show you there’s a design in the bowl. I didn’t carve it deep enough so it didn’t show up well through the glaze. This piece of misshapen work taught me I needed to carve deeper into the clay and that clay shrinks as it dries and is fired (also, it taught me that I don’t care for Robin’s Egg Blue glaze).

Sometimes, I need to cut deeper into my writing to make sure my plots/characters are developed enough.

Next I tried to make something without a mold (free building).

PC311476 I did manage to carve the design deeper into the clay so it showed up, but the form was sloppy and kind of disturbing.

Sometimes my writing is sloppy and disturbing too . . . though the disturbing part isn’t always bad. *grin*

The rest of the semester, I continued to learn about clay and glazing and improved my skills.

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I learned the more I write, the more I improve.

Then I learned you could attach clay to other clay by slipping and scoring (slip is a mix of clay and water to make a paste consistency that you put on the clay before attaching it; scoring is scratching up or cutting lines into the part of the clay that will be touching the other clay). This opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

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This taught me I shouldn’t be afraid to add elements to my writing to enhance it. Description can be my friend as long as I don’t overdo it.

PC311478I even tried the pottery wheel (this bowl is really small).

In the fall semester, I decided to take ceramics again (the only classes I took). I spent most of the semester learning the pottery wheel.PC311480 This bowl taught me I could put glass marbles in the bottom and they melt in the kiln. FUN! Most of the bowls I made on the wheel I gave to my sisters and didn’t get pictures of them (cause I’m brainless like that), but they were all large bowls!

Using the wheel taught me that sometimes work needs to be scrapped. One of my sisters asked me to make her a bowl set (large and small bowl) similar to one she received for her wedding. I tried over and over and over to make the bowls for my sister. I believe I ended up making seven large bowls and four small ones before I got two I was happy with. Those numbers don’t include the bowls I started on the wheel that didn’t even make it to the kiln (they fell apart right on the wheel). But there came a point when I stopped trying to make her bowls and moved on to making other things.PC031460PC311479PC311482

This taught me that sometimes I need a break. It’s okay to stop working on a novel and move on to something new. Did I go back to making bowls for my sister? Yes! And it’s okay to go back to working on the novel I set aside too. But when I got frustrated, I went on to make something else.

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The mermaid/fish vase is by far my favorite piece of the semester even though I had to glaze and fire it three times to get the effect I wanted. The first time I glazed it, I painted on the glaze. It wasn’t thick enough and the clay showed through more than I wanted it too. The second time I glazed it I painted it again, thinking the second coating would surely do the trick. It didn’t. I needed to go back and do it right. I re-glazed the mermaid, the fish, and the bubbles, then I painted them with wax. After they were waxed, I dipped the whole vase into the blue glaze. This makes for a thicker coating than you can get painting on the glaze, and waxing the pieces prevents the glaze (the one you dip the entire piece in) from sticking.

You’re probably wondering why I didn’t wax and glaze the piece the first time. For one thing, I wanted a wavy look (to make it seem like water), and for another thing, painting wax on each individual item and keeping it off everything else is time consuming and HARD! If I had waxed and dipped the piece, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the wavy effect I wanted. Sure, I would have saved myself some time, but I’m not sure I would have been happy with the end result. What I should have done was wax and dip it the second time instead of trying to paint it on again.

Making this vase taught me two things. First, that I shouldn’t try to cut corners in my writing. Doing it right the first time (or in this case, the second time) prevents me from having to do it again. But it also taught me that sometimes it takes many revisions to get a story I’m happy with. Even if it takes me a bit longer than I’d like to get there.

There are many more pieces that I made and that taught me valuable lessons, but those I’ve shown are enough to make my point.

“And what is that?” you’re wondering by now.

It’s this.

Working in clay is like writing a book.

Most of us start out having no idea what we’re doing. We think, “Hey, this might be fun. I think I’ll write a book.” But when we get into the process, we find out it’s not exactly what we were expecting. Still, we dive right in, determined not to give up. We write that book. It may be misshapen and probably didn’t work exactly like we’d hoped it would. We go ahead and revise and sometimes discover that it’s still not quite what we wanted. So we start asking questions, finding out more about our craft by reading writing books, asking other writers, following blogs, whatever it takes. Slowly (at least in my case) we learn more and more. We write more, we revise more, we learn different techniques.

We learn what we can add, what we should take away, how to polish it and revise it. We show it to others, get their opinions. Learn that what we’ve done is good, but there are still ways to improve. So we go back and start again (or at least revise again). This time, we’re happier with our work. Again we show it around, feeling all proud of what we’ve done, only to learn it’s still not quite where it needs to be. Something is missing.

The more I work with clay, the more I learn. It’s the same with writing. The more I write and learn about writing, the better my writing gets. I’ve been told by my instructors as well as some of the people in the class that I learned how to work with clay pretty fast (most of them had been doing this for years and hadn’t learned what I had).

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been the same with my writing journey. It’s been a slow process!

Technically, I wrote my first “novel” in sixth grade, and I continued writing through high school and beyond (mostly poetry). I took creative writing classes in college (my first go-round), but didn’t really learn much. I decided to take my writing seriously in 2003. I set to work on a MG fantasy novel. I joined a critique group. I read writing books. I got some good feedback and revised and revised and revised. In July of 2003, I gave birth to my fourth (and last) child.

This put my writing on hold. I no longer had time for critique groups or writing. I worked on my novel here and there, but my main focus was on my family. As JR got older, I went back to my writing. I sent out a few queries and got the rejections I deserved. I wrote a sequel to my first novel and started the other two books I’d planned for the series (Nano 2005, 2006, 2007). I revised some on them, but mostly concentrated on the first book . . . revision after revision after revision.

Just as I learned from trying to make my sister’s bowls, I learned a lot from writing those other novels; the biggest lesson being I needed to move on to something different. In 2008, I wrote a brand new shiny novel. I’ve been revising it, polishing it, making it all nice and wonderful ever since (I also had a full-time job for a while there so I didn’t have much time for writing). But that’s not the only thing I’ve been doing. I also wrote a Picture Book for the Cheerio’s contest (won a first prize), jotted down several ideas for new novels, read, read, read, read, read, and read some more. I also became a reviewer for (more reading with some writing on the side).

I sent out some queries for shiny new novel. Received rejections, did more revisions, and queried some more. I even entered a contest with the first 250 words and received an honorable mention.

An agent asked to see my full MS. I sent it. An editor asked to see my full MS. I sent it. I received a rejection from the editor, but before the agent had a chance to reject me, I let her know I wanted to do some revisions. She asked to see the full when I finished the revisions (that was back in May of this year).

The revisions I planned ended up being more than I had anticipated, and I’m currently doing a complete rewrite of the novel.

But that’s okay. Sometimes imperfections in the clay would be too much work to file or smooth out; it’s better to smash the pot you’re making and start over.

Here I am at the end of 2010. I thought for sure I’d have the rewrite done and sent back to the agent, but I don’t. Have I stopped working on it? No (though there were days I didn’t write). I’m near the end now and anticipate I’ll be finished rewriting and revising by the end of January (at least I hope so). I’ll send it off to the agent and see what happens. There’s a good possibility that even after all the work I’ve done, I’ll receive a rejection from the agent. I’m prepared for that.

The story has changed quite a bit, kind of like pottery does once you put it in the kiln.

When you glaze pottery, the glaze dries to a powdery finish that could be scraped off . . . it’s not until it’s fired again (and at a higher temperature than the first firing) that the glaze bonds with the clay. The heat changes it, and revising/rewriting/learning our craft changes our work.

Even if the agent does reject the novel, I’m happy with where it is going now. I like it much better now than I did before . . . just like the mermaid vase.

In 2011, I plan to finish up my rewrite/revision, and write another novel I’ve had on the back burner . . . I may even get to write one of the others I have waiting. I’m taking time off school (at least the Spring semester) and really concentrating on my writing.

I’m thankful for the opportunity I’ve had to work with clay and look forward to working with it again in the future because I still have much to learn. I also still have much to learn about writing and I look forward to 2011 as the year when I’ve finally written a novel that makes me happy (hopefully  more than one).

What do you hope 2011 brings for you (other than a book deal; we all hope for that)?

Happy New Year to all of you! Whether it be in your writing life or your personal life, may you be better by this time next year than you are now.

Improve on!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wednesday Weather


It’s cold and wet here today. We might get snow either later today or tomorrow.

This is bad.

Not that I don’t like snow, I do. It makes things clean and pretty and white . . .

But this storm is also bringing snow to Flagstaff and the roads on the way to Flagstaff. My kids are in Flagstaff and hubby and I are supposed to go pick them up tomorrow.

Between today and tomorrow, the forecast is calling for 1-2 feet of snow in Flagstaff. Of course, they’ll do their best to keep the roads cleared off, but they’re going to be a mess . . . especially on the way to Flagstaff!

Also, we’re supposed to go to my parents’ house for New Years. My parents live in Snowflake. In order to get to Snowflake, we have to travel over the Mogollon Rim (pronounced mo-gee-OWN or mo-gee-ON) which has a higher elevation and is expecting accumulation in the 1-2 foot range as well.


We may not be able to get our kids back home in time for New Years Eve, and we may not be able to go to Snowflake either. Hubby and I may end up spending New Years Eve here at home with E. Bummer. Not that I don’t love hubby and oldest son, but I was looking forward to being with my parents, brothers, sisters, and their families (some of them weren’t there for Thanksgiving but will be there for New Years Eve). We play games all night, eat delicious food (pot luck type situation), and have a never ending supply of Chex Party Mix. Then we toast the New Year with Sparkling Cider (most of us don’t drink alcoholic beverages).

That may not seem like much, but it’s a blast, and I was really looking forward to it.  *sigh*

Hopefully the roads will be clear by Thursday afternoon so we can still get the kids and follow through with our plans.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll do more work on my rewrite.

What are your New Years Eve plans?

Write on!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

To Do Tuesday

Well, we made it through Christmas!

Yes, that was a mighty feat in and of itself. *grin*

Here’s how it went down:

Saturday the 18th, youngest son, JR, and youngest daughter, K, were playing “horse” as they cleaned the hall. JR was riding on K’s back even though I’d asked them to stop at least a thousand times. K stood up and JR went down (hickory, dickory, dock . . . well, more like crunch). He cried and cried and said he thought his arm was broken. He did have some swelling, but nothing seemed obviously broken. Still, he insisted he’d heard it crack when he fell so I took him to Urgent Care (faster than the ER).

They did an examination and took x-rays but didn’t see anything broken. They said they’d send the x-rays off to a specialist in Tucson and let us know if they found anything. JR went home with his arm wrapped and a sling. By Monday he was still complaining and crying, and I called our primary care physician. Unfortunately, he wasn’t going to be in the office all week. The only one available was the nurse practitioner who works out of that office. I debated about just taking him in to the ER, but decided to go ahead and let him see the NP. She ordered more x-rays, and JR and I came home to wait for them to get back with us.

They called about three hours later and wanted me to bring him back into the office. I did, and they said he had a chip fracture on the end of the ulna (at his elbow). *sigh* They put him in a half-cast (which means it only covers the underside of his arm where the break is and leaves the upper part of his arm uncast) and wrapped it with a bandage. They instructed him to wear his sling and made an appointment with a pediatric orthopedic doctor for January 14th. In the mean time, he’s managed to loosen his arm in  the cast and is bending it . . . though he can’t straighten it, he can bend it at the elbow as he plays with his toys and video games, etc. I’ve tried to explain that he needs to keep it immobile, but he’s a seven-year-old boy and it’s hard for him to be inactive. I might have to take him in and have them do a full cast. *sigh*

Christmas Eve, hubby and I made another trip to Urgent Care because he smashed his finger while trying to switch out the hitching ball on the truck he borrowed from his friend (because hubby’s truck had some problems and ended up in the shop). No broken bones for hubby, but they gave him a splint to wear and told him to wear it for three weeks . . . he took it off Sunday and hasn’t put it back on . . . I’m beginning to see where JR gets it from. *wink*

Then K twisted her arm and ankle while playing on the trampoline (one year of owning it and this is the first real problem we’ve had so I guess it’s not bad), E smacked his ankle on the side of his bunk bed (metal frame), and J had a bit of stomach flu.

Still, we managed to get the tree up on the 21st, I managed to bake a few cookies, and Santa and Mrs. Claus managed to stay awake long enough to fill the stockings and leave presents.

Then the in-laws wanted to see the kids (we went to my family for Thanksgiving so they were feeling left out, I suppose). So MIL and SIL came down and picked up J, K, and JR (E stayed home) and took them to Flagstaff to stay until Thursday when hubby and I are supposed to go and pick them up . . . then we’re supposed to go to my parents’ for New Years on Friday and the kids go back to school on Monday.

So, what am I going to do today while the kids are gone? As soon as I’m done writing this blog, I’m going to jump in and see if I can get some work done on my rewrite (yep, still working on that). And later today, I hope to make some more cookies and do more laundry (maybe I can catch up while the kids are gone and aren’t changing their clothes every five seconds).

What fun (or not so fun) things have you done so far this holiday season? Did you all have a great Christmas, or was yours filled with drama and stress like mine?

Write on!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Just wanted to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! Hope your day is filled with joy and happiness. One of my gifts was an gift card so I’m very happy. =D We also got Family Game Night 3 for our Wii and I look forward to playing with the kids . . . as soon as we can drag them away from their toys. ;-)

What fun things did you get?

May your day be filled with the joy of the season.

Write on . . . or in my case, shop on. Yay books!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

So . . .

I haven’t gotten any more writing done, which is a bummer. Things have been crazy busy with the holidays and getting ready for the sale at the kids’ school (a Holiday store they do each year). Also, news that the kids’ school will likely be closing next year has put a damper on things. The district will be rearranging things so the kids and teachers will go to one of the two other elementary schools in town.

Anyway, I’ve been spending my time finishing up school (tomorrow and Tuesday are the last classes for the semester) and dealing with the sadness of not going back next semester. I’ll miss it, but I really need to take some time to get my house in order and get my novel finished . . . oh, and decorate the house for Christmas. Yeah, we haven’t even done that yet. And the shopping . . . yeah, that still needs done too. *sigh*

Hubby has purchased a few things for the kids, and I bought a stocking gift for each of the girls, but that’s the only shopping I’ve done. It’s strange since I’m usually the one doing all the shopping, but it’s also kind of nice that I haven’t had to worry about it this year. *grin*

Anyway, I’m looking forward to getting the decorating done, my novel finished, and getting back into a routine with my housework.

How have you all been? Are you ready for the holidays?

Live on.