When you're stuck as a writer, sometimes the best thing to do is ask a question. I'm a big fan of questions. I've found that they can clarify, encourage elaboration, and/or send the writer on a new, unexpected journey.
I recently asked people to ask questions about this post. People could ask any question they wanted. And, as always, the questions did their job.
Barbara asked, "Why do you take out your contacts before finding your glasses?" This is a clarification question. If I decided to revise the original piece, I could go back and explain that I removed my contacts because I assumed my glasses would be where they always were, and I wasn't expecting a hunt. This addition, if worded more eloquently, could add to the humor and/or build tension.
Several people asked about the children's sermon. If you want to know the specifics about that, I addressed it in yesterday's post. This is an elaboration question. People specifically wanted to know more about that point. Clearly, it stuck out, since several people asked about it (or, perhaps, I have a holy readership.) As a reader, I need to weigh the purpose of my piece---would it add to the overall mood if I elaborated on the sermon, or would it bog the piece down? I felt that it would bog the piece down, since my focus was Joel's tomfoolery. My next question should be: Should I cut the reference all together? Elaboration questions help the writer see what needs more information, but it also reveals what information distracts from the "big picture."
I received all sorts of wonderful questions, but one from Coby really stayed with me: "What are your kids' endearing habits?" This is a journey question, because it's related to the piece, but it is open-ended, designed to send me a new direction. I carried this question around with me, and I wrote a snapshot from my observations. The result is below.
1) Take something you have written and ask a person, or several people, to ask some questions related to the piece. Don't give the questioners too many parameters--just let them ask what they ask. (If you don't have something written, tell a story out loud and ask for questions).
2) Choose the question or questions that strike your fancy. If they are eloboration or clarification questions, blend them into your orignial piece to make a second draft. If they are journey questions, complete a freewrite or draft a snapshot based on that new question. See where the query takes you.
4) For inspiration, check out Paul, Corrie, and Coby's work from last week. (Join the party! It's fun, I swear.)
Simpatico (My Example)
Inspiration Question: "What are your kids' endearing habits?" (I decided to focus just on Owen)
Joel is still a painting in process. There are certainly splashes of color on his canvas, and the strokes are bold and confident. There is lots of manic orange and vibrant splashes of yellow. He's happy. He's fearless. He makes me smile. But because of his age, he is more of a Jackson Pollack at this point---you have to look hard, and guess at the images.
Now, Owen's painting is incomplete at this point as well, but it like an Impressionist piece---up close, it's a lot of beautiful dots, but stepping back, a stunning image comes into view. Owen is coming into his own, and I could not be more delighted.
Looking at Owen, I'm looking at myself. He and I are simpatico. It might be a first-born thing. We're both bossy, convinced of the virtue of our worldviews. When I asked Owen for one of his chicken nuggets, he thought about it, and finally made his decree: "No, Mommy. Too much sugar."
He doesn't limit his micromanaging to his mother. I was getting dressed, while both boys were playing in the adjoining bathroom. I heard Owen say, "Joel! Enough with the tampons! Put them away." The pieces fell together, for Owen had specifically asked me all about tampons just two days earlier.
Owen likes to know what's coming. Today, at the park, he asked me to play on the spider web (a collection of ropes) with him. He then asked me to sit next to him, on a particular rope, sitting with my hands folded in a certain way. I've known dictators with more flexibility than this boy of mine.
While on the spider web, I started making monkey noises, scratching my head and my armpits. HILARIOUS. He frowned and said, "You're not a monkey, you're just Mommy."
I pressed on, "Am I allowed to dance?"
I sighed. "What am I allowed to do then, Owen?"
His answer was quick, "You're allowed to hug me."
Oh, could I love this kid any more? Of course, I relate to his control issues---I lose my mind if naps end at 3:30, when I really want them to last until 4:00, at a minimum. If my coffee-paper-puttering routine is cut short, I'm breathing fire. So, I can relate to a kid who wants his family to run with the predictability of a Timex.
And, I relate to his need to get and give love. When I sat on a yellow jacket at the same playground, it stung me on the butt. It still hurts as I write this, sitting on an ice pack, over two hours later. Owen immediately walked over when he heard me yelp, held my hand and said, "It's okay, Mommy. Do you want me to kiss it?"
I considered it, an opportunity for my son to literally kiss my butt, but I just kissed him and said, "It's okay, sweetie." He nestled his head against me, kissed me on each (facial) cheek, and said, "I love you so much."
On the way home, Joel was saying "Da-Da," and Owen leaned over and said, "Joely? Can you say Owen instead?" This is Owen in a nutshell--wanting to control, yet looking for new ways to show his love.
He's a pleaser, like me. The start of preschool is bringing out my perfectionist tendencies. I already made my monthly play dough, and asked the teacher for more projects. I want her to know that I'm on-top-of-things, a helpful, resourceful mother in this educational team. I haven't quite figured out that she cares about Owen, and I'm not getting a grade. It's hard to accept this.
Owen is also trying to impress the teacher. He coughed in his elbow, like his teacher taught him. He smiled, eyes bright, and said, "Miss Speck (not her real name, but that's her blog name, as of now) will be so happy!"
Things are not always sunrises and roses. Two strong personalities are bound to butt heads. Just an hour ago, Owen declared, "Don't ruin my fun!" I'll try not to, Buddy, but it's bound to happen.
I look at my son--the leader, the thinker, the dreamer, the snugglebunny---and, like a painting, appreciate his beauty with each gaze, each perspective, each shifting of the light.