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Cross-Train Your Brain for Creativity

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When I visit classrooms to talk about the writing process of By the Grace of Todd, I emphasize cross-training your imagination for maximum creative output. The looks I get from fifth-grade boys when I tell them that football players take ballet to enhance their agility and flexibility!

So to battle the deadline-inducing drafting burnout, I’ve started learning an advanced kind of doodling called tangle art. My teenage daughter is great at it, and I decided I need to give it a whirl to help me relax before I write. It’s been a huge help in clearing out the creative cobwebs.

As someone who writes professionally (and sadly neglects journaling), it’s really beneficial for me to do something artistic that I don’t have to reach perfection at or worry about selling.

IMG_0971I’ve also started listening to my favorite chillaxing music more as I draw and write. This is includes classical guitar, harp, Mozart, Bach… But when I’m really in a slump, I pull out my BTGOT playlist (PressPlay and some random dance trance music that’s not too “trancy”) because my brain seems to click into productivity mode when it hears music that I’ve been productive with before.

I also try to cross-train by occasionally working on plays or short stories, which is how I got started writing. The different styles stretch my grey matter and keep my brain cells breathing.

But there is a cautionary tale in all of this. When I finally allowed the wannabe artist in me loose after so many years in captivity to my writing muse, it took over. In fact, my warm-up sessions became so all-consuming that there were many nights I never got to the main event of working on my manuscript. So now I try to quit after thirty minutes and use the drawing as a reward if the writing goes well. Or even if it doesn’t.

What about you? How do you stretch your creative muscles?

Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD (Penguin/Razorbill Feb. 27, 2014). She and her husband live in the Midwest with their eleven kids and a parrot. When Louise isn’t writing or folding laundry, she directs her local children’s theater, where she’s playwright in residence.
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Juggling Multiple Points of View

I tried to learn to juggle in high school because I heard it improved concentration skills. While I could keep two objects moving at once, it was that third one that got me. After beaning myself in the head for the umpteenth time, I gave it up. I just couldn’t master the technique.

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So how does one master juggling several points of view in a manuscript? These are the methods I used in writing By the Grace of Todd, which has four POV characters: Todd, Lewis, Persephone, and Herman.

First, I established that even though the book opens with a prologue told from the Lewis the Toddlian’s POV, Todd was the main narrator. For my book, it worked best to have a central protagonist and use the other three character’s chapters to give insight into the story happening inside “the story.”

Then I had to establish each character’s distinct voice. This became complicated with the Toddlian’s Lewis and Herman, who both spoke rather formerly. To distinguish them from each other, I had Lewis refer to Todd’s mom as “The Mother,” while Herman, a scientific fellow, called her “The Maternal Person.” Lewis also quotes TV, which is how he learned English, while Herman quotes poetry and facts he gleaned from encyclopedias.

Here is a sampling of each character:

Todd: Life was a lot different on the other side of puberty. The Zoo Crew guys were loud and crude and didn’t care what anybody thought, and being with them was kinda awesome.

Lewis: On QVC, the shipping alone on the hottest pair of this season’s suede pumps with bows on the toes is only $9.97! I am not sure what shipping means, but are we not worth more than ten dollars to you, Great One? Will you not do something to right these wrongs, or must we appeal to Judge Judy?

Persephone (the cowgirl Toddlian): Wooo doggies, I thought. I checked out my cowgirl getup in the long reflecting glass in Spud’s water closet. “Howdy, pardoner. Yer gussied up awful purty tonight.”

Herman: Alas, neither the climb nor the paper could warm me. I would perish betwixt the pages, alone and unsung. Goodbye, Herman. You must be brave.

Another way I included an additional viewpoint was to have Lewis recount what Todd’s baby sister, Daisy mutters (she speaks fluent Toddlian). This makes it seem like the reader hears her inner thoughts.

Daisy: “That imbecilic brother of mine has lost so many pieces, I’ll never be able to build the DAISYNATOR THREE THOUSAND as I’d planned. There aren’t even enough pieces to construct the Binkie Boomerang. Succotash!”

Now for the juggling: Whenever possible, I write one storyline at a time, keeping the characters separate when they narrate a chapter. If I need to write two character POVs in a session, I break it up and go back and reread previous chapters for voice. But it’s definitely easier for me to only write one character at a time. I also have individual playlists for the characters, to help me focus and set the mood.

What about you? What books have you read that do more than one POV successfully? Are you a writer with any words of wisdom?

Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD (Penguin/Razorbill Feb. 27, 2014). She and her husband live in the Midwest with their eleven kids and a parrot. When Louise isn’t writing or folding laundry, she directs her local children’s theater, where she’s playwright in residence.
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Writing in the Cracks

“How on Earth do you find time to write with all those kids?” is the question I get asked constantly when people discover I have a large family.

My tribe.

My tribe.

The very wise and kind Eileen Spinelli (mother of six) once told me to “write in the cracks.” At that point, I was at Chautauqua for a Highlights Retreat and expecting my ninth child. (I was able to go on that retreat because my husband, who is the fueler of all my dreams, had taken a week of vacation to watch our kids.) At that point the cracks in my life were only big enough to cram in a short story, or snippets of poetry, so that’s what I focused on writing.

During that time I wrote during ballet practices and for a couple of hours in the evening when I would shut myself in my bedroom while my husband cared for the kids. But I really wanted to work on novels, so I decided to carve out more writing time. After the kids went to bed, I would hit the keyboard, writing until the words swam on the screen. I’d snag a nap in the afternoon (on good days) while the little ones napped and repeat the process at night.

Tight deadlines have forced me to find more productive writing times, so I’m currently trying to condition myself to getting up at five in the morning and writing until the kids wake up. I’ve found that my head is much clearer and drafting flows far better than when I’m tired at the end of the day. The problem I’m having is that I want to spend time with my teenagers and husband at night, so I don’t get to bed early enough to function without a nap next day, and the three-year-old has decided to boycott naps.

So, I’m still trying to figure out how to make more productive “cracks,” but if I can do it, anyone can! What about you? When do you do your most productive writing?

Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD (Penguin/Razorbill Feb. 27, 2014). She and her husband live in the Midwest with their eleven kids and a parrot. When Louise isn’t writing or folding laundry, she directs her local children’s theater, where she’s playwright in residence.
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For the Love of Little People

I’ve always loved tiny creatures: fairies, sea monkeys (yes, they ARE people, haven’t you seen the ads?), and even leprechauns. So it’s no surprise that my debut novel, BY THE GRACE OF TODD, is about a boy and the tiny civilization of humanoids that have sprung from the grime of his grungy baseball sock.

Today, I’m going to discuss how I developed the Toddlans. When Todd first discovers the tiny race on his sock, they are dressed in togas made from fibers and live in crude huts made of his filth. Their language at this point is a series of grunts and coos, which Todd’s baby sister, Daisy, happens to speak fluently. They live like cave men, roasting toe jam over tiny fires.

As the Toddlians are exposed to TV (specifically The Bachelorette, QVC, and John Wayne) they learn English using context clues. It was fun to intersperse their dialogue with snippets of commercials and TV lingo. But the language also posed a challenge: how does someone who’s never seen a pencil before describe it? Carpet becomes a fiber forest, cars are metal monsters, and dental floss is a lasso (for Persephone, the cowgirl Toddlian. Yeehaw!)

Todd interior final #8

Illustration by Patrick Faricy

Despite the difficulties of seeing the world though a Toddlian point of view, there were also some delightful things about working with little people. For instance, I had to be extra creative to accommodate them–almost like playing with dolls. They drink from Lego heads, sleep in a fluffy slipper, and swim in Lake Parkay (a margarine tub lid.) Plus, they can ride around hidden in Todd’s hair, although they might be heard screaming, “Slow down, for the love of all things tiny!”

I’ll close with my favorite bit of Toddlian trivia, the Toddlandian National Anthem:
Toddlandia, Toddlandia, our home upon a sock,
Toddlandia, Toddlandia, of forest, hill, and rock,
From the salty Sweat River to the wide Sebaceous Sea,
Toddlandia, Toddlandia, our love we pledge to thee.

How about you? Do you believe in wee folk? What’s your favorite read involving little people?

Louise Galveston is the author of BY THE GRACE OF TODD (Penguin/Razorbill Feb. 27, 2014). She and her husband live in the Midwest with their eleven kids and a parrot. When Louise isn’t writing or folding laundry, she directs her local children’s theater, where she’s playwright in residence.