I dedicated Spiral Into Darkness to two of my teachers. My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Gerald Mehring, and Sr. Josephe’ Marie Flynn, my sixth grade teacher. Together, they helped shape me into the person I am today. I could spend pages upon pages on how they influenced me, coached and mentored me. But I want to focus on Sr. Josephe’ and how she instilled in me a love of both reading and writing.
In sixth grade, Sr. Josephe’ had notecards with a couple of paragraphs on them. She called them story starters. She kept them on the corner of her desk in a stack. When we finished a test or an assignment early, she encouraged us to pick up a story starter and finish the story any way we wanted to. It was completely optional, and I don’t recall if we ever received credit or points for completing a story. When we were finished with it, we’d turn it in, and Sr. Josephe’ would go over it with us. Not so much the grammar or spelling, but the ideas and the theme, focusing on how we used our imaginations.
In just a short time, I raced through tests, quizzes, and assignments just to get the chance to get my hands on a story starter so I could finish the story. However, not every card had a “winner” of a story on it. Her rule was that we could only change the card out one time. If we exchanged the first card for a second, we had to write the story with the second starter. Still, I jumped at the opportunity she presented.
She encouraged us to use the story starters, and she encouraged us to read. Any books. Lots of books. Just as Sr. Josephe’ did with story starters, she would discuss with us theme, plot, characters, and setting. Every now and then, she would stop us after a chapter and have us predict what might happen next, and then we’d race ahead to see if we had predicted correctly. If wrong, she would take us back and have us look for clues for ensuing action.
She did more for my appetite for writing and reading than anything I can recall before or since having her as a teacher. I owe her so much and I am forever in her debt.
I believe that much like weight lifting and cardio work is important to the athlete, reading and writing is important to the writer. It does not matter what the writer reads. It is important that the writer reads. In one’s genre. Out of one’s genre. Nonfiction and fiction. Anything and everything. Doing so can only strengthen the writing.
I also believe that it is important to give yourself a break from one or the other, but not both. The writer has to at least do one of the two constantly, even if it is a smidgeon, a little.
This might be controversial to say, but I don’t believe in writer’s block. A writer can either read the way through or write the way through. One or the other- it doesn’t matter. For me, I write it through.
One last comment before I close. I do much of my prewriting in my head. I ask myself, ‘What if?’ and I play with the various answers. I am constantly putting this character to work. I am creating situations and circumstances for my characters and setting (remember from a previous post, that setting can be a character). Once I hit the laptop, I write based upon what I had been prewriting in my head. At times, it flows just the way I expected it. At other times, something will occur to me and I head off in a completely different direction. In either case, the outcome is generally a good one.
Figure two-hundred fifty words equals one double-spaced page with one-inch margins. If all the writer does is one page, it is something. When reading, if all that is read is one page, it is something. Just like taking a journey, it isn’t the speed as much as the steady progress on the journey. The writer builds page upon page. It becomes habit, and habit begets eventual success. And that is power.