Author: BAWriting

What Laura Ingalls Wilder Can Teach Us About Writing

This is the house that Laura built—Laura Ingalls Wilder and her husband Almanzo. Last week I had the privilege of visiting Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homestead in the Ozarks of southern Missouri. This pastoral white home set on a knoll in green fields is a writer’s paradise.

Almanzo and Laura built this house after moving to Missouri when they were just starting out. The house was built in sections, each room added as the couple had the time and money they needed to create their home.

Times were tough in those days and farming and survival consumed them.

 

I have to admit that I do not have a childhood connection to Laura’s books. I knew about her stories from the TV show, but I hadn’t read her writing. I think my nose was pretty stuck in LM Montgomery’s tales of Anne during those years. What can I say? Sometimes you just fall in love.

My lack of knowledge, however, certainly didn’t deter me from having assumptions about the writer.

I assumed that Laura was a writer for her whole life and that she lived in her childhood town even after she grew up.

But I was wrong.

 

Laura had moved from North Dakota to Missouri after she and Almanzo had their daughter Rose, and they lived in the little town of Mansfield for the rest of their lives.

Laura didn’t write her first book until she was in her 60’s. While she had written pieces for the local paper, it was Laura’s daughter who encouraged her to write her stories. Rose Wilder Lane had lived all over the country and become a rather well-known writer at the time. She moved home and during those years worked with her mother to create the Little House books. How much Rose was involved is a question surrounded by mystery and much speculation. While some surmise that Rose was a creative partner with her mother, Rose firmly insisted until her death that she had simply been the catalyst who encouraged her mother to get her words down on the page.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Rose Wilder Lane

No matter how the Little House books were born, there is no doubt that their stories have become a beloved feature in our canon of children’s literature.

Laura talked about writing these books as she watched the world changing and losing those things she had loved about her childhood. She wrote to remind us of the simpler times and to paint a picture of a world that she valued and thought had something to teach us.

Her stories are simple, but in their simplicity, they are profound because they are about real people living real lives, and nothing is more profound than life. Her accounts wrestle with the human experience from the perspective of a child, a perspective that is not easily captured.

But perhaps most importantly, Laura wrote what she knew.

As a writer I often think about that scene in Little Women when Jo is trying to write fantastical romances and Professor Bear kindly encourages her to write what she knows. I understand Jo’s disappointment in that dramatic scene. I want to think that my stories will be more than my life.

But over the years, I have learned that Professor Bear’s sage advice does not limit me to only telling what I have lived, but it does help me ground my writing and characters in emotions and truths that I can connect with and hopefully my readers can too.

I think that is what Laura did remarkably well. Her childhood during those years was not unique, and it could have been easy for her to dismiss her own life as usual or mundane. But it was the way that she used stories to create a world and share her understanding of those years that readers have engaged with for years.

Original Book Cover for the First Edition of Little House on the Prairie

The visit to Laura’s house was about Laura and her adorable writing room with a fainting couch and a living room with the best window seat ever, but there was no escaping the concurrent story of Rose and her encouragement.

Without that part of the story, we may have never had the opportunity to reflect on a child’s life on the plains all these years later.

Laura teaches us that writing what we know can be precious and insightful and allow readers to connect to truths across time and geography.

She also is a great example that writing can be wonderful at any age.

And Rose, well, she is a reminder to thank those who have encouraged us to write and to encourage those around us.  It was kind of an amazing thought that without someone I never heard of, there might not be the Little House books.

Laura’s homestead is definitely worth a visit.  The home is beautiful, and learning about the way that the stories came to be is inspiring.  Go here for more information about how to visit her home.  http://lauraingallswilderhome.com

If you can’t make it to Mansfield, I also really enjoyed the video Beyond the Prairie with lots of great stories about Laura’s life.

Here’s to writers who write their truth and the people who encourage them along the way.

 

Have you visited Laura’s homestead?  What motivates you to write?   Where do your stories come from? Who has been instrumental in your writing life?  

 

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It’s All About Perspective

Over the weekend we took a little time to get out in nature and enjoy the quiet. Even though we live in the desert and our corner of it is pretty and peaceful, there is still something about heading down a dirt road into an expanse of untamed land.

The huge boulders are one of the amazing things to love about the desert. They come in a variety of shapes and are scattered in piles all over the landscape like Legos in a toddler’s playroom. While you can drive for miles through crazy Joshua trees with no boulders around, one turn, and you can come up on monstrous rocks ripe for the climbing.

It’s the juxtaposition of huge, smooth boulder piles and flat mesas dotted with spiny yuccas that defines this part of the desert, and we love it. There is nothing like clambering up the grippy rock to chill and watch the view and breathe in the quiet air.

This weekend, I was reminded about much perspective matters. I had climbed up into a shady spot of a boulder pile and was chilling out. It was a 100 degree day, so it was more suited to sitting still and observing than scrambling around on the rocks. In front of me was a view totally filled with other rock piles. Some of the rocks jutted up to the sky like fat arrows and others curved and fit together with the architectural precision brought about by years of weather and erosion. The shadows of the rocks to my back fanned out in front of me providing shade from the heat of the same sun that aided in painting the long grey obelisks at my feet and sending them out across the rocks. For the those moments, my world was filled with rocks.

My hubs headed on a short walk and explored the rocks out in front of me. He climbed some of the piles and then came back to sit with me in the shade. When we walked back to the car, I turned to look at the rocks I had been sitting on, one cluster among many, hardly unique.

It wasn’t until we got home that I saw this picture. He had taken it from the rocks in front of where I was sitting. And the amazing thing about the picture is that it looked completely foreign to me.

I had had no idea that the backdrop to the rock pile I was on was a valley of open space. I didn’t realize that that pile almost sat alone at the edge of the other piles and that there was emptiness all around it. My view into the rocks was cozy and close, but the one behind me was extensive and sweeping.

I could not see a complete view of my place in the world at that moment because of my perspective.

It got me thinking…how much does perspective factor in to the way that I see my life? How does it affect my view of the world, and how does it influence the things that I write?

The stark contrast of what I had seen during my day and the way that this picture captured the moment was a great reminder that my view is only one view. Both what I had seen that day and this picture are valid representations of the afternoon, but maybe sometimes it’s worth considering the way that my perspective is fundamental to what I can see in any moment.

Have you ever seen a picture that challenged your perspective?  In what ways have you experienced perspective shifts in your life?

 

 

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Trusting Yourself on Days You Can’t Write

Sometimes when I try to write, it feels like this grey, stormy sky.  It feels like there should be a lot going on, like words should  be raining down around me, but in reality I have a head full of cloudy quiet.

In those moments, I am tempted to make myself write…to just get the words out on the page.  And sometimes, I think that works fine.

But there are other moments when I give myself permission to sit in the quiet and wait.

I know that I can’t always force the words to come.

I can write and see if they begin to flow, but if they don’t, then maybe it’s not a day to write.

Maybe I need to get out and eat an amazing salad or see a beautiful tree or listen to an awesome song.  Perhaps I need some sleep or a little caffeine.  There is a chance I need a break.  Or some inspiration.

But what I always need is trust.

That is hard when the sky is quiet and the words are held up in the clouds.

Creativity is not a mechanism or a machine.  It is not something I can push and pull and contort to my own will. While it takes dedication and focus and practice, it also takes quiet and listening and feeling and being.

I have learned on those days when the words seem a little further away, that I need to let myself enjoy life, breathe, listen, and wait patiently for their return.

Do you ever have a hard time writing?  What do you do on those days when the words do not flow?  What are some things you do to get the juices flowing?  Let us know below.  

 

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8 Essentials for A Day of Writing

Coffee, Coffee, Coffee

Or tea masquerading as coffee

@chromeyellowtradingco in the ATL

Technology (with a side of coffee)

Sometimes I want to write on my computer, but there are certainly days when I really need paper and an awesome pencil to get my ideas down.  And then there are those days, where an iPad is perfect for jotting notes and creating images.  It also helps to have a sturdy bag to carry it all, and my Patagonia backpack is comfy with the right organization inside.  And the charging cords, never forget the charging cords.

 

Earbuds

These little guys get their own category.  You can always write on a random napkin with a borrowed pen if you forget everything else, but your earbuds, they are a lifesaver when your chatty coffee shop partners feel the urge to utilize speaker phone or the music is not your jam or you need to drown out the world to hear yourself think.

Writing Space

Where I write can make all the difference in the world.  This is why I can often be found traipsing around the greater Los Angeles area in search of the perfect coffee shop or writing space.  And then there are the spaces that we create in our homes.  Comfy chairs are always nice, and it never hurts to have a trendy giraffe looking over your shoulder.

 

A Nice View

This might be superfluous, but I do think that having nice views and nature and beauty help the creative juices flow.  Some days my nice views are spectacular, and sometimes they are just a little flower outside a window in the city.  They don’t have to be grand to be beautiful.

Inspiration

Writing is a creative process, and in that process, inspiration is always welcome.  Wether it be art or going for a bike ride or the perfect quote to remind you of your dreams, find inspiration that speaks to you and fuels your creative drive.

 

found @shophemingway in Silver Lake

Tunes

There are times that silence is golden for life and writing, but plenty of times, tunes focus me and help me feel my words.  I have different playlists for different types of writing.  Some are for deadlines. Others are for dreams.

Snacks

There is no doubt when I write that I can get lost in the words, but it’s important to remember to feed that brain and those fingers.  Snacks and meals can be a source of healthy nutrients, and if they are tasty and beautiful, they can also be inspiration.

@bellesbagels@urthcaffe

@donutfriend

What do you need when you write?  How do you stay focused and inspired?  Where do you enjoy letting the words flow?  Tell us in the comments what makes your writing day perfect.  

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Accidental Writer: Debunking Myths of How Writers are Made

I used to think that I couldn’t be a writer because I didn’t have a childhood full of notebook scribbling and books illustrated with crayons. I didn’t write stories until I was in college, and those certainly left something to be desired.

I’m also not one of those people who reads books all the way straight through. I have books strung out behind me in varying degrees of unfinishedness and many stay that way forever.

And I’m not an exceptionally adept grammarian, so there’s that.

So imagine my surprise when one day I woke up and realized that I was a writer. There were none of the signs, and yet, here I am.

It was important for me to let go of all of those ideas that I had about what it means to be a real writer. I hadn’t been training since childhood under my covers with a flashlight, and I wasn’t going to stumble into the field as a journalist or accomplished line editor. I love to read, but rarely in a straight line.

But I do love words—not so much vocabulary and lists and spelling—but the power locked up in unuttered words to describe the ways that we live and feel our lives.

And writing, it found me.

During a particularly turbid bout of change, I started thinking about an experience, one that challenged what I thought I knew and left me a little unglued at the edges. Every night when I laid my head on the pillow, I’d string those words together into blurry sentences and gauzy paragraphs until I fell asleep only to repeat the next night.

All this brain writing led to excessive tossing and a husband who lovingly encouraged me to go write everything down so that we could both get some sleep.

That was my first book. It’s still on my shelf. It’s personal and waiting.

But it was the push that I needed to know that I could write.

And the rest, as they don’t say, is my present and hopefully my future.

I write and teach writing and think about writing pretty much everyday. And people pay me to do it, which is pretty cool. But there are plenty of days when I still wonder how the words find me. Maybe that is the point. Maybe we write when we are ready, when we give up.   When we let our experiences leak out in black and white. I’m still not quite sure how it works, and despite all the mystery and a complete inability to correctly use a relative pronoun, I am, for the most part, one happy writer.

When did you know that you were a writer?  Did you have all the signs from childhood or was it an unexpected journey?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  




 

 

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