Turning Inward

As the weather turns colder, there is a phenomenon that is pretty common in the continental climate parts of the world. I can’t speak for the areas with a steadier climate as I’ve never lived in one, but up here while the change to autumn is all around you – notifying all of your senses – we tend to become a people of philosophy right before the snow falls and locks us up tight for a few months.

EscRBasin9-08

September on the Escanaba River Basin, Michigan

It might be because of the spectacular fall show. It’s one thing to describe the riot of color that slowly burns through all of the deciduous trees around you, and it is quite another to actually walk through the blaze and notice the few green branches that are still clinging to summer as the rest of the season has burned out around them. It’s amazing to note how dark green the pines are in the face of all that excitement, disapproving old caretakers that don’t understand what all the fuss is about.

It certainly is hard not to think about death when many things are singing their mortality as loudly as they know how. It’s easy to ask what your purpose is in life and why are we really here when you notice the things that will soon be gone.

It might go back to our farming roots. When you had to make sure that there was enough food to carry everyone through the winter, there was a LOT to be done in the fall months. After the harvest, there was a flurry of preparation that needed to happen, in the fields and in the house, to keep body and stomach together through the cold season. Once that is done, your brain is primed to planning and thinking with no focus to keep it occupied, and that’s when the philosophy starts.

Cozy Conversation

Always better with a lap critter.

Whatever the origin of this turn, our focus moves inward and we’re more likely to sit in coffee shops until all hours of the night talking over politics, religion, the past, the future… almost anything that we can imagine. It is truly lovely to have a soft cabled sweater and a cup of something warm and sweet to drink while these conversations are happening. A thick pair of socks or a handy lap blanket (or lap critter) adds to the cozy atmosphere and gives a boost to our creativity. After the harvest, somewhere between the start of school and mid-terms, and before the holiday season takes most of our attention, we turn inward and a lot of our most creative ideas come out.

So while the season is cooling, let’s get out there and… turn inward. Who knows, maybe you’ll think of the solution for world peace! Or maybe you’ll just figure out what to get Uncle Jim for Christmas. Either way, worth the effort.

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A misery shared…

Just kidding. Writing isn’t a misery… most of the time.

image Porter and Menolly, working hard at the “Learning Farm”

What I am laughingly trying to say is that if you’re having a hard time writing, you might consider a different approach: collaboration. It is amazing how much I can get hashed out just talking to a trusted friend or loved one about a story, and if the person you’re talking to has a vested interest in what you are writing, as in it’s their writing too, so much the better.

One of the tenants of first year English at the college level is workshop and collaborative writing. It always gets mixed results, and there hasn’t been any project structure that can account for all of the potential problems with group projects, but when it works, it is one of the greatest learning and writing experiences that you can get.

Now, most students have had a very bad group experience in school, and very few have had great ones. There is often one person in the group that is a leader and does most of the work, one who is a follower and will basically do the least amount of work to get a decent grade, and one person in the group who simply doesn’t show up. There are ways for individuals in groups to try and keep the work load and participation balanced, but so few students know these tactics or how to employ them, so they just go through the project as quickly as they can and keep their head down hoping for a passing mark.

This, of course, is not why teachers assign group work. If nothing else, seeing how other people view your work and getting their feedback on it is one of the best things to happen to any writer. While you might be writing for yourself, if you ever intend to be published, you are writing for an audience, too. If you don’t have any idea what the audience thinks about your work, you don’t know how to give the audience what they want.

On the collaboration front, if you have more than one mind working on a project, you’re guaranteed to get something more creative and more interesting to more people. You simply can’t get away from the fact that someone else will look at your writing with another perspective and other ideas will come to them that wouldn’t have necessarily come to you. If you’re actively trying to put your individual spin on a piece, you’ll get something even better because your separate perspectives are focused in one direction.

There are a couple of different ways that you can collaborate that are advantageous, and I’m sure you can come up with new ways, as well. You can write the entire story together, each pick a character or a couple of characters, switch off chapters, even one of you come up with character development and another work on plot while a third is creating the world. There are all kinds of ways for writers and creative minds to inspire each other and come up with great work.

So you might groan when a teacher assigns you group work, but there are a lot of great reasons to complete it, not the least of which is that you will probably have to do group work in the ‘real’ world, as well. And you never know, maybe this will be the group that changes your mind about group work?

And yes, this post was inspired by watching two one-year-olds (see the picture!).