Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Writing workshops starting up again

I know, I know. I took a week longer than I said I would. I forgot that my day job started up again last Tuesday (I'm a teacher and that was the first day of school). Should've turned the calendar to see that.

So it's a new school year, the calendar that's run my life for the past fifty-two years (both before the desk and behind it*). Other people run on a fiscal calendar that extends from July 1st to June 31st. Still others rule their lives by other calendars - religious or cultural calendars come to mind.

Our calendars dictate our days to a great extent. In early times, most people simply lived by the seasons, not having any numbering system in place to keep track of the passing of time. As scientific knowledge grew to be a part of civilizations, the days of our lives became more and more important. With the dawn of the Industrial Age and the rise of Big Business, keeping track of hours worked and days on task became even more rigid.

Today most people wouldn't think of leaving home without first consulting a calendar, either a paper one hanging by a desk or a digital one on one's smartphone. In our house, We live and die by the calendar on the fridge. Everyone's work schedules go there, doctor's appointments, book signings, art show openings, birthdays, holidays, special occasions. You will often hear me say, "If it isn't on the calendar, it doesn't exist."

And it's true. In 21st century America we schedule, re-schedule and over-schedule our days, and have for a long time.

Sidestory: I took today off because of a dentist appointment. As I was driving home, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful late summer day. But the light looked different than it had just two weeks ago. Over the summer I'm out and about during the day all the time. I know what a summer day looks like.

But I don't know what a late summer day looks like. Well, I do, but only on the weekends. So, as I drove, I thought to myself, "It looks like a Saturday out here."

The reality, however, is that it looks like an ordinary late summer day. But I work inside during the week. For seventeen years I worked in a room with no windows. Then I moved to a room with a few, but there was an old Quonset-style greenhouse just outside, so I couldn't see much. For the past few years I've taught in a room with a beautiful bank of windows--that overlook a courtyard. So I don't see how the light plays differently at the end of summer except on the weekends. Hence, today "looked" like a Saturday to me.

And that, of course, got me to thinking about my writing and how my characters might think about their days. If I've given them a job where they work inside, how would the light affect them on the weekends? What about their calendars? Do they live and die by an electronic one? a paper one? Are their days their own or do they have to march to a dictated schedule?

And that, my dear writers, is today's assignment. Take a look at your current work-in-progress or the notes for the story you're about to write. Ask those same questions of your characters. How are they influenced by the passing of time? Do they count days? Even though this is my last year of teaching, I'm not yet counting down the days. Ask me again in April, though, and you'll probably get a different answer.

Keep that in mind. A character's answer might change throughout the story. What was important at the start might no longer be important at the end (which is an entirely different workshop!), but it also applies to how they track time. Are they ruled by their calendars? Do they "build in" spontaneity? Or do they just let things happen?

Grab your writing journal and make notes about your characters and their approach to time. Above all, have fun with this!

Yes, I'm retiring in a year and soon this blog will need to be self-sufficient. Drop a tip to help it keep going!

* I wrote poems about those days here, among other topics. :)

No comments: