Lisa A. Kramer

Author, Speaker, Theater Artist, Creativity Facilitator

Learning Literary and Life Lessons #NESCBWI14

"Because I wasn't mad I saw something beautiful. I saw a color I had never seen before." (Peter Reynolds)
In his keynote address at the NESCBWI conference yesterday, Peter Reynolds--award-winning author and illustrator of North Star, The Dot,  and Ish--shared his philosophies on writing, life, art and the way he creates. The above quote comes from a story he told about his (then) young daughter pouring water over his entire paint set thereby creating a color he could not describe. That color, eventually, made its way into his book, The Dot


His talk resonated with me on so many levels. From his idea that there are "two kinds of adults in the world"--adult adults and child adults--to his attitude that he is "a gentle rebel. Rules are suggestions . . . " I felt as if he was speaking to the person I have always been, but at the same time the person I have always been afraid to be.

I am an adult who will always look through the heart of a child. I am a gentle rebel who has been afraid to fully embrace the world as I envision it--which in many ways goes against the expectations of society.

The past two days have made me realize that following my own creative path is the way to live my life in a manner where I truly enjoy the journey in all its unexpected variety. I thrive in an environment of the surprising--where thoughts and inspiration strike when you look somewhere else. The call of a bird outside makes me look up as I write this, although I am not wearing my glasses so cannot see clearly. I note a streak of bright yellow but cannot see the form .Instead I imagine it is not a bird, but a golden fairy dancing to welcome fairy garden which is slowly growing in our back yard. By looking beyond what I see, I see a world that others may only catch a glimpse of--and that is the world where anything is possible.

[caption id="attachment_8049" align="aligncenter" width="584"]I'm sure little magical creatures are hiding out there. I'm sure little magical creatures are hiding out there.[/caption]

If I can learn to embrace this attitude fully--and let go of the need to be validated by outside forces--I will have lived my life successfully, whether I ever succeed in the eyes of the establishment. I am thrilled to live in a world with colors of my own making.

On Friday, I presented my workshop, "From Stage to Page: Using Creative Dramatics to Inspire Writing". I was nervous, as I always am before presenting to a new group, but especially this time as I brought two of my passions in front of a group of people who may have all been more experienced writers than I (By experience I mean already having books published--because let's face it I AM A WRITER who has been writing all her life. That's a lot of experience.). My nerves lessened as people began to enter the room in advance of the workshop, and were so kind and open and pleasant.

"I can do this," I said to myself "I know my stuff."

The results, if I do say so my myself, were amazing. Sure, there were a few people there who seemed a little reluctant to fully take the plunge and participate--but even they got something out of the workshop. Some of them arrived late, because of huge parking issues at the hotel, so I can't blame them for being intimidated as they walked into a room that was filled with creative chaos.

[caption id="attachment_8048" align="aligncenter" width="584"]It may not look that chaotic here, but this is a writing break between crazier moments. Note that the chairs aren't in their neat and tidy rows. It may not look that chaotic here, but this is a writing break between crazier moments. Note that the chairs aren't in their neat and tidy rows. You can almost see the creative energy shooting through the room.[/caption]

Although workshops at these conference often include activities, because of the nature of what I was doing the activities were different from those you will usually find. The first thing I did was ask everyone  to move chairs into some semblance of a circle. (My only complaint was they put me into a room far to small for a workshop that was based on drama activities).The following is a slight breakdown of the activities I did:
  • As a warm-up and getting to know you exercise, I asked them switch places in the circle based on their responses to comments and statements. (I am a writer. This is my first conference. I am nervous. I am excited. etc. ) This meant leaving their writing tools behind, which was a challenge for some.
  • I asked them to walk through space as different characters or with different types of emotions and sensations, focusing on feeling in their bodies how their body and mood shifted.
  • I led them through a guided visualization about a room, and a journey. I asked that they show what they were thinking and feeling on their bodies and faces. I wish I had pulled out my camera for this because there were some magical moments that only I could see:
The man who reached out in front of him, took a cup and drank from it.

The woman who cradled a baby in her arms.

The woman who smelled something very unpleasant.
  •  After this activity, I gave them time to write their journey down. I had a few people share and it was amazing the variety and creativity that came from one simple prompt: the person who sat in a library and had a drink from a bar that I could practically taste; the person who was in a prison cell and trying to escape; the person who started out afraid and ended up safe. (In an interesting side note, several of them started out afraid and ended safe--perhaps this reflects their personal journey into this activity.)
  • Next, and perhaps the most popular activity of them all, I had them hot seat characters they were working on. I asked them to embody the character, and then answer questions given to them by their group. Many of them learned things they didn't know, or discovered thin s they need to learn. They then wrote either journal entries or letters in first person, from this character's perspective.
  • Finally, we did a kind of freeze tag, where they got to play a character they wanted to explore while someone else played a character of his or her own. So, the teenage wealthy girl in search of adventure interacted with the troll from someone else's story, or an energetic boy conversed with an alien. One of my favorite moments was when several different characters had to communicate with some kind of creature (I thought it was a bull) who only spoke with grunts and eyebrow motions. I asked them to write a dialogue based on these interactions as well.
I believe most of the participants walked away from my workshop with ideas and inspiration. I hope they did (and if any of them read this I would love to hear more in the comments below). One thing I know for a fact that they walked away with, because I talked to a participant about it yesterday, is an instant group of friends who went through a strange little journey together. Conferences are places to meet people, but this workshop made them interact in new ways which formed a connection which, I hope, they won't forget.

I learned many lessons over the past two days (some which I will share in later posts) but I think the most important one came from realizing that I need to follow the path of the unexpected. Many years ago I would never have thought that I would be presenting workshops at writer's conferences, and now I want to present more. Many years ago, I never thought I would have two novels under my belt, one which I will have available for readers everywhere in the very near future, and a third underway.  A few years ago, I was unsure that I would ever create a career out of my patchwork life--but now I realize that my patchwork life is my career.

Peter Reynolds says, "follow your own North Star." Jane Yolen, who spoke on Friday night, encouraged us all to "give birth to shooting stars."

I plan to do just that. How about you?