March 26, 2009

Think First, Write Later

My thoughts aren't consistently as deep as the gentleman I photographed at the musee Rodin in Paris, but I have been doing a lot of productive thinking lately.

My thoughts have been focused on a writing project that I've been toying with for about four years. I've done lots of research including two site visits and field trips to museums, but I wasn't able to figure out how to tell the story. I want to write a middle grade novel about Manzanar, the Japanese Internment Camp in Lone Pine, California, but I was concerned that I couldn't write well enough to tell the story that I wanted to tell.

The internment of Japanese Americans was and still is a very sensitive issue. The racial overtones, and the horrific treatment of American citizens by their own country are volatile issues. Also, every fictional account I've read about this time period has been written by individuals whose family was somehow directly affected by the internment or by authors with Japanese surnames. I was unsure that it was appropriate for me to try to write about it or how I would do it. These issues have stymied my progress.

But in the past few weeks I've been thinking about the story in a different way . I've simplified the structure, one narrator instead of two, and also identified ways to incorporate factual details and portray the real people who will be included in the story. My goal is to create an engaging story and also accurately convey the history of this time. I think Ellen Klages' Green Glass Sea is a terrific example of how to blend historic realities with an emotional story. At a workshop I attended, Klages advised writers to write out a paragraph of someone's writing you admire and then try an exercise of parodying that style. She promised this would enrich our own writing. I have a blank notebook waiting for some of Klages' inspiration.

My research is now organized in crisp new file folders, and I'm working on incorporating all my notes into an outline. This will be the first time I've used an outline to guide my writing. I'm abandoning my usual organic approach for a litle structure. It's not time to stop thinking, but I think it's time to start writing.


Patty P said...

Clearly, the research needed to be done first! I'm glad you gave yourself the permission to go ahead with the writing. Sometimes, thats all we need. It's going to be a fantastic story Miss M.

Laura said...

Go Maggie go! Good luck with the outline:)

Maggie said...

Thanks for the encouragement, ladies! I'm hoping Spring break will be a productive time.